Skedlemba Adventures

A creche that J worked with.

Skedlemba: Zulu slang,(adj): junker, second-hand, broken, falling-apart, like basically when something has been duct-taped that really shouldn’t be duct-taped, but somehow it still works.

The iThemba staff have christened my car skedlemba. J, our short-termer from Cambridge, arrived just 3 days after me, and skedlemba arrived the day before her–all three of us started at iThemba together. A white South African whose been living (and driving) in the States for the past four years now driving a black British Nigerian in skedlemba around Sweetwaters for 5 weeks–sounds like the start of a really bad sitcom.
I don’t think people really knew what to make of us–black guys selling stuff at the robots would ask me for money in English, but say, “Hey, what’s up?” to J in Zulu. Or the time at Life Group when Sizwe just burst out laughing because it was so funny to him to see a white person translating for a black person. Or the time J was treating me for tea, and the black waiter gave me the bill. And then there was Skedlemba himself– the time J started rolling away in the car because the handbrake wasn’t strong enough, or when we used an umbrella to ring the bell on one of those (typical) huge South African electric gates because I couldn’t get out of the car. So much laughter. So much praying. So many great conversations happened in Skedlemba over these past five weeks.

J was an awesome short-termer, and let me tell you some reasons why (and hopefully inspire you for the next time you go on a short term trip) :

She asked lots of great questions: How do I show respect here? How do I greet people here? Tell me about what people believe here. I just noticed something, is that typical, or was that just a specific incident? How can I show appreciation in an appropriate way in this situation?

She was culturally aware: Even though J did not know that much about South African culture, she was aware enough to realize it was different, and she needed to learn how to adapt to it. Many times short-termers are not aware of differences, or, they assume that others will accommodate their preferences, rather than jumping in and trying to adapt to where they are.

She came to serve: J was willing to do anything. She was not here as a cultural tourist, she came to work. That meant getting up early everyday of the week, it meant singing songs or telling stories to children even if she was not prepared, it meant teaching spontaneous English lessons to teens on a Saturday, it meant going 100% even when she had the flu for two weeks. J didn’t come with a grand plan of what she wanted to accomplish while she was here, she explained what her gifts were and said, “how can you use me?”

Sometimes I wonder about the value of short-term missions. Since my job is to help co-ordinate short-term missions trips with iThemba, I had to wrestle with the idea to make sure that I was really investing in something I believed in. Too often, short-term mission trips are done badly, those coming out are not well-prepared (or prepared just enough to be dangerous). Too often, the wealth of the teams, their Western individualistic mindsets, or their desire to accomplish things for their home church rather than help the host team stands in the way of their ability to really serve or grow.

However–short term missions trips can also have a huge benefit to the people going out and the host team. Our team was really encouraged by J’s visit–it helped remind us of the significance and importance of what we are doing in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza, it brought a mini-revival to the work that we do day in and day out. In only 5 weeks, J was able to build relationships with teachers in the area, and deepen the ties between people in Sweetwaters and iThemba projects.

Maybe short-term missions trips are like skedlemba. They aren’t perfect–in fact, there are probably a lot of problems with them. But, in our imperfect world, they can still accomplish something for the kingdom of God.

Thanks for coming J! We’ll miss you! See you soon!

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