The main reason for my recent travels was YAGM Retreat. All 10 YAGMs in South Africa came together, along with our country coordinator and her family. Communicating just what a retreat is, and why it is important, can be difficult. After all, it might sound like I took a vacation.

In many ways, that is true. I was out of Cape Town, I was doing new things, I was with some fantastic people, and I could speak American English, use sarcasm, and break out into show tunes at a moment’s notice.

However, it is also not a vacation. I didn’t spend all of my time just hanging out with my friends, and I didn’t have wild adventures for the sake of having wild adventures.

I think the best way to communicate my YAGM Retreat is to give you a sketch of a “Day in the Life.” So here is a quick sketch of our week together, so you can see just what “retreat” means to us.

 

Saturday 23 November: Travel to Drakensberg Mountains, reunions with other YAGMs (tons of squealing, hugging, laughter, and story-telling). We had a braai for dinner while watching the sunset over the mountains. After eating far too much, we quickly talk of logistics for the week, although some of us stay up late into the night talking.

Sunday 24 November: Day trip into Lesotho. Lesotho, the third poorest country in the world, is a land-locked monarchy surrounded by South Africa. Lesotho also happens to have some of the most gorgeous scenery of anywhere I’ve ever been. We spend the day touring the area- schools, cave paintings, visiting a sangoma, and playing with local kiddos. While waiting for dinner, some of us discuss the concept of “calling” and what this year is leading us towards vocationally.

Monday 25 November: Our Sabbath Day! We start with worship in Royal Natal Park, which is interrupted by lawn mowers and then by baboons. Worship is postponed until we can find a location where baboons won’t try to steal our communion bread! We spend the majority of the day hiking and being in God’s green wonderland of the Drakensberg Mountains. I join the “nature walk” group instead of the serious hikers. Every 30 minutes or so, we stop for conversation and to marvel at the surrounding scenery. We have some free time for personal Sabbath, a book discussion, and a fun-filled dinner together!

Tuesday 26 November: Drive to Pietermaritzburg and spend the whole day doing logistics, handbook reminders, questions for Tessa, etc. Dinner is MEXICAN FOOD. No for reals- I ate salsa. Having Taco Tuesday made me cry tears of sorrow and joy at once.

Wednesday 27 November: Another “work day” of sorts. We started the day with morning prayer and a fantastic Bible Study led by Jon, Tessa’s husband and our Associate Country Coordinator. Jon has so many gifts, including his ability to challenge us as a group and as individuals. After our Bible Study, we did a session on compassion, including one-on-one discussions with a partner about ways we are being remade through our YAGM year. The discussions are deep, emotional, meaningful, and life-giving. We are on our own for lunch, so I head to a shopping center with some fellow YAGMs to pick up Indian food! After lunch, we spend some time talking with Rev. Philip Knutson, ELCA Global Mission Staff in South Africa. Philip leads a wonderful discussion, followed by “free time.” The Leiseth kiddos were in a school Christmas choir concert, which I attended with their parents and a few other YAGMs. Afterwards, pizza and a movie! We watch Amandla!, a documentary about the role music played in fighting apartheid. At the end of the day, we are emotionally and physically exhausted, but I am so grateful for being challenged in good ways.

Thurdsay 28 November: Thanksgiving! We spend the whole day doing puzzles, playing games, coloring, cooking, baking, doing dishes, singing, dancing, playing music, and being a family. We feast on delicious foods, sharing each other’s traditional Thanksgiving dishes, and play more games! We end the official retreat with a blessing service. There are tears, hugs, and so much love and support it is palpable. Many of us have phone calls from home at night, before the 10 of us stay up far too late telling stories and laughing too loudly. It is a perfect day with my family, before we all depart back to our respective homes in this complex and wonderful country.

Friday 29 November: Departure Day! We eat breakfast and head out to our respective buses and taxis to head back to our placements sites or to each other’s sites for site visits. The good-byes are hard, but we are blessed to have found such a beautiful family in each other and to know we will be together again in March!

 

I hope and pray that your Thanksgivings were just as full of love, support, and community!

 

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