Fresh off the press!

During my last semester at Smith I took Offset Monoprinting. It was amazing!!!

I noticed some new qualities in myself. Though I’ve never considered myself an “artist” I placed a huge part of my identity into my art and needed it to fit my “vision” perfectly.

Here is the basic concept of printmaking:

  1. You create a template
    1. Buy and prepare your paper
    2. Create some kind of design
    3. Make your own colors through mixing pigments
  2. Prepare the press
    1. Make sure the blanket (where the template will transfer) is clean
    2. Align the paper perfectly onto the press
  3. Print and see what happens

So I would get really into making sure my design and colors were just right. I would spend hours upon hours in the printing press. I’d come home late, with paint all over my clothes, and feel just utterly defeated. Each line had to be exact. Each color placed correctly on the template. I wanted my art to be excellent. Somehow I felt like my art was an extension of myself, and I didn’t want to be misunderstood.

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“Purple Mountains Majesty” 5/12

It’s funny, because at Smith I sort of prided myself in not being “type A.” I learned early on that I was not going to break the curves at Smith. I quickly came to the end of myself and learned to study hard, but also let go. But for some reason, in printmaking I didn’t let go as easily (and to be clear, it was not easy the first time).

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So the process taught me through this struggle. I needed my prints to be perfect, but I only had so much control in the process. They weren’t going to be exactly how I envisioned because there is no telling how the template will transfer to the blanket, and how the blanket will transfer to the paper. So I had to let go. I had to accept my prints the way they turned out. And it was so freeing to do so.

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I learned a lot about pursuing excellence for the Kingdom though this, to remember that in whatever I do, “do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men (Colossians 3:23).”  As a Christian, I believe I am called to excellence. I am happy that I invested real time and energy into my prints. But my work, my pursuit of excellence must be onto the Lord, or else I’ll continue to walk home from the art studio defeated. My art, my life, should not be about me, and when it is, I am so miserable.

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“The Secret to Being Content” 2/4

This past year, I’ve been thinking about transformation too, and Bill Johnson in The Power that Changes the World agrees that “Everything we do is to be as unto the Lord, and done with all our might. This gives us the brilliant opportunity to worship God with our work (pg 70).” Johnson goes on to discuss Matthew 5:13-14:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”

He explains that Jesus is using the parable to make the point that salt must bring out a flavor (pg 113). I agree, as Christians, we should leave a flavor that points people to God. A flavor that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4: 8).

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Fearless

I realized a few years ago that the closer I feel to God, the more okay I am with death, and the further away I feel, the more terrified I am of it. I thought about this again while I was walking in the Swiss alps and read Hebrews 2: 14 & 15,

“Through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

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In Seelisberg, Switzerland, backpacking along the Swiss Path with my new friend Luna (right).

It’s so true. Fear keeps us in the pit and in chains. But more so, it keeps us from abundant life. Christ came to earth and died on the cross so that we might know life. This is the gospel. That through Christ’s suffering, sacrifice, and eventual victory over death, we might know Him.

 

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And as I reflect on my four months as a “trash lady in Africa,” walking around what seems like a fairytale land, all I can think about is abundant life. When I landed at OR Tambo in Johannesburg I was scared to even get into an Uber. People told me not to go, to hire a driver, to be careful. It seems like a lifetime ago. And I appreciate the heart behind all those sentiments, but at the same time, I’m so glad that the pull I felt from God to go was stronger than the fears of those around me. My hope in Him overcomes all fear because He is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Indeed,

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil (Hebrews 6:18,19).”

 

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I am grateful for a hope that anchors me because it’s just the coolest thing to obey God. I’ve spent the night in Soweto, ridden taxis in Mamelodi, and had pop and chicken in a stranger’s house in Alexandra. Somehow I created art with special needs adults out of trash ash. A swop shop came together in just one week.  I’ve connected with pastors, activists, government officials, entrepreneurs, and social workers. I’m just one person, and yet God used me. I am convinced that there is no greater thrill than to be the hands and feet of Jesus. To fearlessly obey Him, let go of plans, trust in His protection and provision, and embrace this abundant life. In essence, to have faith, which “is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).”

 

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The final piece of my project in Mamelodi was hanging the mural I painted with special needs adults in the community. I pray that this mural inspires people, drug users, children, and volunteers alike to be fearless. I pray that they would be encouraged to seek the Lord and embrace the city that He has prepared for them. The city whose architect and builder is God (Hebrew 11:16).

Heal their land

Someway, somehow, the Swop Shop opened on April 29th, 2019, my last full day in South Africa. God’s hand so clearly orchestrated all of it and wow, what a privilege it was to see everything come together.

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Rose and I in front of the Thandanani Swop Shop.

The first miracle was Rose. She volunteers with Thandanani’s day care and after school program. Thabo, the founder of Thandanani, and I approached her with the swop shop idea and immediately, she offered to take on the project. I was and still am awestruck! This was the biggest hurdle in my mind. Knowing I would leave the country soon, finding someone equally invested in the project seemed daunting. But by the grand opening, Rose was telling me what to do. She runs a tight ship and I am so excited to see where she takes the project.

 

 

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The second miracle was raising over $700 in just 5 days! Thanks to generous supporters, the Swop Shop was able to open. I am so humbled by the support people have offered, having never been to Mamelodi, and some of them, never even meeting me. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. This is an incredible start, and will give Rose and Thandanani time to develop partners that can supply more school supplies. The children were over the moon to earn just a pencil or pen; I can tell that this is only the beginning.

The third miracle was securing a recycle company to partner with. I felt a tug on my heart to buy more airtime and instead of googling like I usually do, I started calling. Before I knew it, I had a meeting with Econamic, a recycle company based in Pretoria West that collects everything from cardboard, to paper, to plastic. And they pick up on request! This was a huge hurdle because the Swop Shop cannot produce massive quantities of recycle material to make it worth their while and many companies in the Pretoria area only collect one type of recycle material. We set up a meeting, registered, and soon enough, the Swop Shop will generate a small income to fund more environmental education programs. The recycle company creates a closed loop system, which is so key to the sustainability of the project!

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Paintings using trash ash as as a medium, artwork by special needs adults with That’s It Art Gallery.

Beyond the larger hurdles though, a lot of sweet little things fell into place, too. The narratives art by special needs adults in Mamelodi was featured in the Swop Shop. It seemed fitting to display beauty from ashes (Isaiah 61:3) in the very place that I hope will bring healing to the land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

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Dinah Tshifura, City of Tshwane Environmental Officer, giving a lesson to the kids on recycling.

Many people in South Africa warned me that the government would be hard to work with, but honestly I had nothing but good experiences. In fact, the government officials I worked with offered me a lot of encouragement! This includes Dinah with the City of Tshwane, who came by to give a lesson to the kids about recycling. I am so grateful that Dinah came through. She spoke to the children in their mother tongue and explained concepts in ways that kids can understand, through the use of props!

 

 

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Overall, the Swop Shop opening is a testament to the goodness, faithfulness, and power of the Lord. By no merit of my own did this project come together. In fact, I probably got in the way. “For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen. (Matthew 6:13).”

Magic moments

Have you ever fully relished a moment? Life becomes slow and fast, real and surreal, all at the same time. It’s full and peaceful.

When I traveled to the Western cape last week, I had four moments like this and wow I am so grateful.

  1. Surfing in Muizenberg
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A borrowed surfboard, rented wetsuit, and very happy tourist in Muizenberg.

I’ve always wanted to try out surfing, and turns out Capetown has some of the best beginner surfing! I never fully stood up, but I got close. As the water splashed me in the face, I emerged, riding a wave, somehow half-standing, looking at the beautiful mountains surrounding me, and light glistening in the water.

  1. Running through Kristenbosch gardens

 

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Running is the best. It’s freeing, empowering, and honestly just makes me happy. And running in Kirstenbosch gardens brought me to a new level of euphoria. I soaked it in.

  1. Looking a Great White Shark in the eye
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White Shark Projects, Gansbaai, Westerncape, South Africa.

For literally over six months I’ve wanted to go cage diving with sharks and you guys, I’m here to tell you that dreams really do come true. I was nervous and cold. Great White Sharks are massive creatures. Nonetheless, I climbed in. I looked into the open sea. And suddenly, it felt like instantly, there was a Great White Shark in front of me, close enough to touch. Her big black eyes stared at me, and then she disappeared into the open space.

  1. Sitting on a bench in Gansbaai, looking out at the rocky ocean

 

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I’ve met a lot of really wonderful people in South Africa. People I will miss dearly. People I love. And as I looked at the waves crashing onto the rocks, I just accepted that in this place, right now, I love them. I don’t know how those relationships will change, especially as I return to the United States, but that’s okay. Because in that beautiful moment, I felt it all, accepted it, enjoyed it, and was at peace.

Creation was and is so central to relishing moments for me. It is referenced over and over in scripture, linked to knowing God.

“As the deer pants for the water brooks,

So pants my soul for You, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God (Psalm 42:1)”

Appreciating His creation causes my mind to think slower, my heart to feel more, and my soul to find peace. It’s something that I so desire for the children of Mamelodi and often find at odds with illegal dumping and the burning piles of trash being consumed by free roaming cattle and goats.

For the months of April and May, the City of Tshwane identified more than 20 illegal dumping sites where waste is frequently burned, releasing toxins into the air and exposing vulnerable members of the community to harmful material. Air, water, and land are all affected. The void between people and creation is widened.

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About a month ago, I visited the Heatherly municipal dumpsite, where drug users actually live and collect recyclable material to feed their habit. Trash spans as far as you can see.

All the while, schools are under-resourced across Mamelodi creating barriers for children to learn.

While I was in the Westencape I relished in moments, but I also learned about solutions to waste accumulation in the townships, such as the White Shark Project Swop Shop. Swop shop models have been implemented in the Eastern and Western Capes of South Africa with great success. Essentially, swop shops allow for recyclable material to be traded for goods that meet the basic needs of the community. Recycle material is given a point value which in turn can be used to purchase anything from school supplies to used clothing.

I am launching The Thandanani Swop Shop. This concept sees the potential of Mamelodi’s recycling micro-economy, which currently works to line the pockets of drug dealers, and seeks to redirect those resources into the education of children.  As part of the shop’s opening, the community will be educated by Tshwane city officials, who focus on waste education. This educational workshop will focus on what material is recyclable, the proper way collect these materials and possible dangers, as well as review the benefits of recycling and stewarding the environment well.  The swop shop model targets children primarily as the collectors to maximize the impact on Mamelodi’s culture surrounding waste and littering in the future.

By incentivizing children to recycle, we estimate that household waste will be diverted from landfills and illegal dumping sites. The perception of waste will be transformed in the community from a nuisance into a valuable opportunity for sustainable development.

Aid will be distributed to the community ethically and sustainably. Since children will work to purchase goods in the shop, we will avoid crating a dependency cycle in the community.  Children will learn value and trading skills, which will equip them to function as adults in the global economy later on in life.

The community will be incentivized towards maintaining and caring for public spaces, restoring ownership and pride in Mamelodi, thereby encouraging further investment. Our environmental awareness curriculum will ensure that future Mamelodian’s understand the full impact of illegal dumping as well as the potential of zero waste societies. These educational initiatives will therefore promote public health and create civic-minded citizens.

To get this project off the ground, we are raising funds for school supplies.

Will you consider partnering with the Thandanani Swop Shop to build the next generation of responsible citizens?

Narratives (part 2)

I’ve been working on conducting interviews in Mamelodi to get a full, documented understanding of how Mamelodians see and interact with the waste around them. So I started with my friend Thabiso, who I met in the Summer Jam Bible study.

I’ve been asking around the community, what three words would you use to describe Mamelodi and he said: community, greatness, devastated.

And three words he used to describe the illegal dumping sites: habit, circumstance, reality.

We discussed the origins of Mamelodi as a place where people would move to from their hometowns to work in the city. It was a space that brought people together with a common purpose. But now, Thabiso said, the sense of community has been run down and overtaken by individualistic attitudes.

One prevalent manifestation of this is the pull that many young people feel to leave Mamelodi once they can afford to. Thabiso opened up about his own struggle to stay in Mamelodi once he graduates, admitting that there is a desire to stay, but he’s unsure what he’ll do when the time actually comes.

Nevertheless, he said something profound about transformation in his community. That, “if you see a problem, you are the one equipped to fix it.” He reminded me of why I started thinking about trash in Mamelodi in the first place. I was on the way to another day teaching kiddos English and I saw a cow eating a pile of burnt trash on the side of the rode. This image was burned into my mind. It honestly seemed post-apocalyptic to me and I’ve struggled for a few years now to understand it. I suppose even after three months of asking questions, I still struggle to understand it. Somehow though, I believe that the Lord will equip me to address illegal dumping sites in Mamelodi.

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An illegal dumpsite where I collected trash ash to use as an artistic medium.

This week, I attempted to transform that shocking image from years ago and create new ones with the ash. I’ve been meditating on Isaiah 61, at the suggestion of a friend from church.

“To give them beauty for ashes,

the oil of joy for mourning,

the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;

that they might be called trees of righteousness,

The planting of the Lord that He may be glorified.

And they shall rebuild the old ruins,

They shall raise up the former desolations,

And they shall repair the ruined cities,

The desolations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:3,4).”

In line with most of the community activities I’ve planned in Mamelodi, I spent a lot of time planning what to do and then everything changed for the better at the last minute. LOL.

I had planned to paint a mural on my own for a local drug and substance abuse drop in centre named Thandanani, and ended up coordinating an art class of sorts for special needs Mamelodians. I collected trash ash from the nearest illegal dumping site, brought some paint, and got the class started. In hindsight, I find it fitting that these people, the least of these, people who are outcast, created beauty for ashes to transform Mamelodi’s narrative.

Indeed, Jesus taught,

“Blessed are the poor in sprit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:2-6).”

A township that many are looking to leave, devastated by decades of racist policies and laws, can be rebuilt, it’s story can be repainted, and it’s people encouraged by the truth of the gospel. Narratives are powerful and stories can change perspectives. Like the story Nathan told King David in 2 Samuel 12, which lead to repentance, transformation, and new life.

Please pray for me as I continue to work with populations on the fringes, the disabled and those struggling with addiction. May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in the Lord’s sight (Psalm 19: 14).

Lights on in Ethiopia

Ethiopia was easily the wildest trip I’ve ever been on. Wild and wonderful. I landed in Addis Ababa and actually had no idea where I was going to sleep, vague plans for the next few days, and the simple goal to have a time of rest and retreat.

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My first Ethiopian meal in Addis Ababa.

A friend of a friend picked me up at the airport, and unknown to both of us, we started on an adventure together! We wound up in Debre Libbanos camping on the edge of a canyon. In this small town, there is an ancient Orthodox Christian monastery where there are still regular services that you can hear echoing beautifully throughout the canyon.  People travel to this monastery for healing, to pray and confess, and also to tour. I was there to be still and listen.

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Outside the gates of the Debre Libbanos Monastery.

I spent time watching the sun rise and set. I sat, drinking the most amazing coffee, and saw light inch over and into the vast canyon.

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Sandstone canyon at sunset from the Ethic-German Lodge.

It got me thinking about a prayer that I often said while I was at Smith College. I’d always ask the Lord to make me into a light, so that I could shine on the Smith campus and tell people about Jesus. And the Lord really blessed my time at Smith with heartfelt bible studies in my room over tea, great conversations with friends, apologetic events, bold sermons, sweet discipleship and much more. I had the wrong understanding of light at the time though. I wanted to project light out of myself. To work hard, create some kinetic electricity, and then turn on a flashlight. But the light can’t come from me. It can shine through my brokenness for the glory of God, sure, but it’s always Christ that lights the flame in us. Indeed, Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”

Walking with God involves accepting that Jesus is your Lord and savior and inviting the Holy Spirit to dwell in you. And I believe it is Christ in us that shines out into the world. Just as the sun peers over the Debre Libbanos canyon, “it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).”

At the monastery I prayed that His will would be on my heart and guide my feet to walk in His ways. Indeed, “He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30).” Please pray with me that the Lords light would shine brightly in Mamelodi. There are so many nations represented in this township. So many hearts that need to be transformed by the gospel. I have faith that “the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations (Isaiah 61:11).”

Narratives (part 1)

Let me tell you about my friend Gretchen. We met my first semester at Smith during Professor Link’s office hours for Advanced General Chemistry, or Chem 118. We both showed up so often to office hours with a few other students, that eventually we formed a study group. And let me tell you, I would not have survived three semesters of Chemistry at Smith without this study group. Fast forward four years, Gretchen is living in Nairobi and I flew up from Johannesburg a few weeks ago to visit her.

In more than a few ways, Gretchen inspired me. She’s spent the last four years learning Swahili and watching her speak to people really shifted my view on language and role it plays in connecting with people. Even though I couldn’t understand the words being exchanged, I could see people warm to Gretchen as she spoke and somehow give me grace for being her friend. People were so surprised to hear a “Mzungu,” the Swahili word for “white person,” speaking their language. It seemed like these Kenyans were used to Mzungus swooping in, speaking English, and swooping out, or maybe staying in the country but isolating themselves in nicer neighborhoods and rental cars. This reinforces the narrative that the only languages worth spending your time learning are European or maybe Chinese. If you want to get ahead per say, you must learn English. And indeed, we live in a globalized world.

But then, all of the sudden, they hear a Mzungu speaking fluent Swahili and the narrative changes. People start to wonder why she knows Swahili? And the simple answer lies in the famous words of Nelson Mandela, “If you talk to a man in a language he understand, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, it goes to his heart.” Investing time in a language that the rest of the world says is useless to connect with others is radical love, and it’s exactly the kind of thing that Jesus calls us to.

Jesus spent time with the Samaritan woman at the well, a woman cast off from society (John 4). He seeks relationship with us, He wept (John 11:35), and ultimately died on the cross so that we may know Him. In Luke 10:38-42, when Martha and Mary hosted Jesus, Mary sat at Jesus’s feet while Martha was busy preparing the house. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha,”…” you are worried and upset about many things, be few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Mary chose connection and relationship, even at the expense of doing what seems practical. She was wise and sought Jesus first by being in his presence, because indeed, that’s what it’s all about.

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The view from our train from Nairobi to Mombasa.

One guy that we met on a train to Mombasa from Nairobi, another person amazed by Gretchen’s Swahili, said he’d like to exchange stories, and I found that interesting. He meant just totalk more, but it got me thinking more about narratives, the stories we embody, perpetuate, and internalize.

There are narratives floating around about Mamelodi, too. I’ve spent the last few months talking to a lot of people about Mamelodi. I’ve talked to security guards, entrepreneurs, university professors and administrators, young people at bars, social workers, youth pastors, and artists, even Capetonians and people from Joburg. People talk about danger, chaos, busyness, and the rioting that occurs every few months in Mamelodi. One Capetonian woman remembered the Mamelodi soccer team, the Mamelodi Suns. Some talked about the lack of education in the township and others spoke about the high quality of education there. Mamelodi encompasses stories of rebellion, unkept promises, disrupted processes, and micro economies.

And as I listen to all these stories, I wonder if the narrative of the gospel has taken root in Mamelodi. Do the children of Mamelodi know that they are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26)? Do they know that they are loved by Him (1 John 3:1)? The gospel is the ultimate narrative. It is the narrative through which I hear all other narratives. That “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).” He died for you and I, and He died for Mamelodi.