You Belong There Too

JULY 2017

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by Erika Maxton Erika was part of the 3-Month South Africa IMMERSION team last fall and the 6-Month Africa IMMERSION team that just finished their journey in June. The 6-month team traveled from New York City to live with families and serve alongside local ministries in South Africa, Lesotho, and Namibia.

I’ve learned a lot. Too much to fit nicely into a few paragraphs. I could tell a lot of stories, share a lot of learning moments, but instead, I’m going to share people. In each country—South Africa, Lesotho, and Namibia—we stayed with host families. Here are the people who welcomed me with open arms:

The Timmerman’s felt like home. Always letting me in on their family jokes. Relentlessly quoting movies, and if it was a movie I had never seen? They popped some popcorn, poured some chocolate milk, and we settled down for a mid-week movie night. They wanted to share with me the things that made their family tick, whether it be music, movies, or Christ. Life was crazy in the Timmerman home, but they allowed me to come along for the ride. And at the end of the day, we always found time to sit down, drink tea, and talk about the deep, meaningful things in life. They loved me during the wonderful days, and a little extra during those tough days.

Ikaneng called me her sister. When people asked what I was doing in their village, Ikaneng would say, “This is my sister, can’t you tell?” I didn’t know her language, she only knew a bit of mine, but we were sisters. Working in her garden together, “My sister, sometimes when I am bored I just come and weed, even where nothing is planted, just because I love to farm.” At night, reading before bed, light from the oil lamp illuminating our books, “My sister, I am reading from Acts…I think we are all supposed to be Peters.” Seeing a herd of goats (undoubtedly my favorite animal), running through the village, “My sister, look, all of your friends!” Living in a place where nothing was familiar, I found comfort in my sister.

The Loftie-Eaton’s know no stranger. Everyone is family to them, and the moment I stepped into their life I was a "Loftie-Eaton" whether I liked it or not. Of course, who wouldn’t want to be part of a family that is never short on laughter and has the best cooking in town? They brought me into their Sunday routine; church, ice cream cones, a stop at the ocean, off to Ouma and Oupa’s for tea, and back for an afternoon nap, but even more, they brought me into their family. Evenings at their home, sitting around the kitchen table with so many conversations going on, I was reminded that Jesus wants us to love and laugh with the people right next to us.

The Timmermans, Ikaneng, the Loftie-Eatons, they loved me selflessly, a beautiful reflection of Christ. See, I don’t think Jesus says, “Come into my house,” and then looking at our dirty feet says, “Oh, but wipe your feet first.” I think Jesus says, “Come on in!” not even noticing our dirty feet because He already washed them for us.

He looks at me, a girl with a tear-stained face, dirty feet, so many mistakes, and He says, “That one, she’s mine.”

This alone surpasses my human understanding, but really the miracle goes further. He allows us the pleasure and the privilege to turn around, call Him Father, and say, “The creator of the earth, He’s mine.”

I came to Africa and these strangers allowed me the privilege to call them family; they gave me a place where I felt I belonged. Christ loves me unconditionally, and in His arms I have found the most beautiful sense of belonging. Stranger, friends, family—I hope you know you belong there too.

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