When it came to settling into our rental home in Durban, the thing that concerned me the most was the bathtub in our second bathroom. I wanted to change it into a shower. What seemed like a simple project, just adding a hose and a showerhead, turned out to be huge opportunity for learning. The first lesson I learned is that nothing is standard in this country! Some plumbing pipes are metric (we’d call this ‘Canadian’ growing up) using 15mm, 22mm or 30mm tubes, while some are standard American measurements of ½’ or ¾’. I had different size pipes laying on the floor by the time I was done massacring the bathroom plumbing and a rather large hole in the wall AND a not-so-insignificant leak dripping down onto the ceiling below! After weeks of struggles and 7 trips to the hardware store I called a plumber. I can say with thanksgiving in my heart that after exactly three months of living here we now have a working, leak-free shower in our second bathroom. The lessons I’ve learned from this supposedly minor household chore has become indicative of some of our other projects in the first 3 months volunteering here.
We thought that settling into our house here would be easy. Were we wrong! We moved into our house just over 100 days ago and just this morning as I type this Sonya is finishing putting up the curtains. You might not think this is a big deal but when the African sun comes pouring into your windows on a Saturday morning at 4:30am and the kids think it’s time to wake up, you too would be desperate for room-darkening curtains. The house, although taking up a lot of our time, has taken its rightful place on the back burner as we’ve been swamped (as we hoped we’d be) with many wonderful projects.
I am learning not to plan too much of the week ahead of time due to unexpected African-styled misunderstandings. For example, when I was asked if I’d give a class at a study weekend, little did I know what they meant was for me to give the entire study weekend. Or when asked if I could make sure each car in the volunteer pool received regular maintenance and oil changes, little did I know that every car was in desperate need of major repair and I’d spend two months juggling cars in and out of the repair shop while trying not to shut down our projects due to lack of cars.
We also have been learning to be careful what you we ask for. We enquired early on about why one of the Wednesday night bible studies had stopped happening. The answer came like this: “We’re glad you asked! Please can you bring dinner for 20 and prepare the study this Wednesday for us?” So we did and we are. We’re still trying to figure out how to empower the local Africans so they aren’t dependent on others to run their ecclesias.
Another valuable lesson I’ve learned in the 3 months here is that Mission work is NOT knocking door to door and handing out leaflets or standing on a pulpit for Sunday evening lectures. Mission-work-South Africa-Style builds on the principle that people won’t care about what you know until they know how much you care. We’ve spent these 3 months getting to know the interested friends and brothers and sisters here. We walk the neighborhoods picking up garbage, or stand outside the church and sing to those walking by. Or we take all the neighborhood boys to the soccer field and have huge 20 against 20 soccer games. (All the boys want to race the big funny looking white guy!) We sit down after school and help with any homework of the neighborhood kids. (They have learned to not ask Rick for help in English.) We invite all the neighborhood grannies to tea once a week and give very basic bible lessons. It’s through this principle of touch and teach and God’s enormous blessing which has driven the success of the preaching in South Africa.
One of the blessings of being in Durban is the constant stream of new Christadelphian volunteers. In the past 3 month we’ve enjoyed the company of Jon & Jane Foss & Family (USA), Adam Winfree (USA), Rachel Johnson (USA), Sam Turner (UK), Tom Garnand (USA), Lauren Ghent (CAN), Matt Bilello (USA), Charlie Taylor (AUS), Glenn & Chrissy Wright & Family (AUS). Sonya and I have loved taking on the role of House Mum & Dad for the volunteers. We’re finding that our house, being only 1 mile from the volunteer living quarters at the church, has become an important hang out for the volunteers. You can usually find Sonya cooking up a special meal for a homesick volunteer (sneakily Facebooking volunteer’s relatives and asking for their favorite recipe) or baking a cake for a volunteer’s birthday. I’ve spent a few of our precious off days either taking the volunteers up to the mountains for hiking, or into the rivers searching for hippo’s, or getting their passport stamps at nearby Lesotho or Swaziland countries. I’m also the unlicensed exercise instructor for early morning runs or extra-tough workout sessions. We call them CrossFit Durban Volunteer Style.
Our three kids are well experienced in at adapting to new houses, new schools and new surroundings. We were hopeful that their homeschooling and our volunteering could co-exist- and they have! The blessings that have unfolded have been numerous, as the kids have jumped feet first into the volunteer work. They come with us on almost all of our projects and we fit their lessons in between. Our kids help by teaching Sunday school lessons at the local pre-school, visit the sick kids at the disabled school and kick around the soccer ball at the after-school club. Friday mornings are extra special for our kids when we have our weekly volunteer meeting. The boys earn a few nickels by washing and vacuuming all of the volunteer vehicles. You wouldn’t believe how dirty these cars can get after a week of busy work in the mission field! We expected homeschooling to be our biggest struggle here but have decided it’s one of the easiest parts of our day-to-day life and we’ve reaped more blessings from it than we ever could have predicted.
Our first three months haven’t been easy. We’ve learned nothing is ‘standard’ either in plumbing or in preaching. When it came to my little plumbing job it took me weeks and many painful experiences until I realized I needed help from an expert. When it comes to mission work, I’m learning and trying to practice calling out to my Heavenly Father for help, guidance and wisdom in difficult times in the mission field.
Rick & Sonya Szabo + 3 kids