There was a dream I kept dreaming for years, yet had come to convince myself it would only stay in the dream world. How ridiculous it would be to see African leaders step foot into my hometown Indiana to function as missionaries. No one would understand that, no one would see the validity, it would just be ridiculous. I am so grateful that NeighborLink thinks in the ridiculous realm, because that dream came true in November 2010.
Armed with nothing but passion to serve, a group of five Afrikaaners (one of the white South African populations) found their way to Huntington and Fort Wayne Indiana for ten days. One call to NeighborLink and we were set up with several great opportunities for service. Raking leaves, handing out food at the Community Food Harvest, and working in some local churches brought a very unique understanding of service and poverty in America. It changed these five South Africans’ lives forever and brought a new understanding to the core of poverty globally.
Handing out candy as opposed to pap (a white corn base substance served to South African poor) was surreal. Complaining in the lines of the food pantry made no sense. Overweight poor and the complexities of poverty in America seem to spit in the face of the rest of the globe’s crisis. It forced these five to remember that they were to love their neighbor and serve accurately, regardless of their preconceived understandings of the word “love”.
Andrew Hoffman, director of NeighborLink gave each of us shirts at the end of our time with him. The logo says “Love your neighbor” on the front. I wear that shirt with a great deal of pride as I re-enter my work in Pretoria, South Africa. One day while wearing the shirt at my son’s soccer practice, another parent came up to me. He sarcastically said to me, “Love your neighbor? Impossible!!!” I laughed but asked him why that was. It’s difficult to love a neighbor in South Africa. Especially in the city centers. Most have given up on trying, as this gentleman had. I see my role to model, or at least do my best, the way forward. But I realize I am not alone in this effort. My five Afrikaaner friends stand in the same gap as do the countless others we work with here.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve my former home, Andrew. And thank you for the inspiration to look hard at the ways we love our neighbors tangibly here in Pretoria, South Africa.