How are your donations being used?

How are your donations being used?

We are so immensely grateful to you for your support and belief in our work and service. You have contributed in so many ways, financially, with supplies and with your prayers and faith in the work we are doing.

It became abundantly clear today how much basic need there is. 150 homes in the township burnt to the ground and 89 resorts and homes in the rest of Knysna were completely destroyed. While there was a lot of damage to the homes of wealthy white people, 40% had no home owners insurance and so many are left essentially bankrupt. While resorts are being rebuilt, the jobs they provided have been lost to the black people and so many are left completely destitute with nothing on whichto fall back. The interconnectedness and interdependence of the community has never been more apparent. The man who opens our gate at Pezula got no municipal help because only his roof, doors and windows were blown away by the fire winds. This meant the pigs got into his home and destroyed everything foraging for any food they could find. Payday is still a week away for him and so my sister went and bought him food today. There are a hundred stories like this and we have heard them all day long. People providing hay for the bushbuck, water for wild animals, fruit for the birds. The charred black remains of trees have been spiked with oranges for the birds. Burnt tortoises and reptiles, deer with burnt hoofsand small mammals are filling the rescue centers for animals. Even the baboons have been given some grace with their incessant theft and breaking into homes!  8 people died, two of them firemen.

The immediate outpouring of help during a disaster is a beautiful thing - it is as if, for a moment communal suffering awakens the heart. The usual defenses fall away and suddenly there is a rush of charity and good-will, a shared suffering to which everyone can immediately relate and respond. Differences and hostilities melt away. It gives us a brief glimpse into what a loving, interconnected community could be like. However, it is always very short-lived and in just a few weeks this will be forgotten as people get on with their lives. Their hearts will close over again, the old defenses will reassert themselves and Knysna will be back to business as usual, absorbed in self interest.

This is why the work of breaking down defenses, healing old traumas, and reconnecting people to their souls and their hearts is so essential - so that we can live in harmony and love, with nothing but a willingness to give and serve, and that this be a permanent state, not just a brief opening to the light.

Your investment is in the long term vision of this possibility. There is no immediate visible, and tangible result, no expressions of gratitude for being encouraged to enter into the hidden hell of your life and do the hard inner work. It is truly an act of faith on your part, to trust that the work we will be doing will result in deep inner change that will lead to communities where there is open-hearted giving, listening and presence, not just short term emergency charity.

This all reminds me of an old parable I once heard about a vision of hell in which people were sitting at round tables. In the middle of the table was a large pot of delicious stew. Each person had a long spoon to reach the pot, but the spoon was so long that they could not fill it and get it back to their mouths - so they were doomed, with the tantalizing aroma of food, to be eternally hungry.

Heaven surprisingly enough showed exactly the same scene - the same tables, the same stew, the same spoons, but here everyone was laughing and joyous. What do you suppose the difference was between heaven and hell?

Thank you all for your ongoing generosity and open-hearted giving and for wanting to contribute to creating heaven on earth, by changing lives from the inside out. To be able to offer this work for free to those with nothing, is truly a blessing of sustenance and nurture, growth and freedom - in their lives and in their community.

What you do for the least, you do for me….

 

Always Look Deeper

The requirement is to always look deeper.

I want you to know that I can feel the support of all of you back home. It means more than you can ever know. I wish there was some way to really tell you what this experience is like. I wish there was some way that I could convey in words the complexity of this place. But I know it is impossible to do it well.

Everywhere you look in Khayalethu the signs of poverty overwhelm. The poverty is like nothing you will ever see in America. We have poverty, but we do not have poverty like this. The shacks.....”called informal structures”, are made from anything they can find.....wood, plywood, tar paper, corrugated metal. There are some government built homes. To get one of these is like hitting the lottery. They are wood homes with a few windows. They are not much bigger than our average bedroom. Maybe 10x15. This is their castle. And it is rare. Every street is littered with mounds of garbage. Used dirty diapers, garbage bags ripped open by the starving dogs, discarded food containers, household items that are no longer usable.....it is endless. There is no infrastructure here. What does an entire community do with garbage when there is no plan for what to do with the garbage? It is so tempting to look away. Isn’t it always so tempting to look away? But that is not the requirement....the requirement is to look deeper.

So I looked deeper, and saw the people. The streets are filled with people. Every face I looked at appeared to be embedded with sorrow. There is a wisdom and a knowing, and a heaviness that can only come from deep, deep suffering and in Khayalethu it is everywhere. The children are running and smiling, being playful. But behind this normalcy it is impossible not to notice the sorrow. The weight of this life is apparent in every single person. It seems to fill the air.

As we watched the activity on the streets. Lyndall pointed out two women sitting in lawn chairs......surrounded by dreary buildings and garbage, they were sitting outside enjoying the beautiful day. Lyndall and I commented on the colorful, vibrant umbrellas shading them from the sun. The splash of color seemed to signal the need to look even deeper....past the suffering, past the embedded sorrow....to the splash of hope. The faces are complex......every face here has embedded in it the imprint of sorrow. For me it is the eyes. The eyes tell the story. But there is also a resilience and a strength. And also a splash of hope.

This was our first day of work in Khayalethu. Lyndall and I were quiet, reserved before going to the township. That is unusual for us. Our conversation is often serious, but always littered with humor, and often filled with laughter that draws attention. But not today. We were quiet, contemplative....as if we were preparing. Not nervous, but filled with the gravity, the deep responsibility of what we were faced with.

We had two women scheduled to see us today. Our first two sessions. We were unsure of how to present our work....how to explain what we do in a way that was meaningful and filled with the deep faith that is the very essence of their survival.

The first woman....arrived dressed as Lyndall said.....as if she was about to have “tea with the queen”. Her hair was perfectly set, she wore all red.....a red jacket, red skirt and matching red shoes. I was deeply, deeply touched by her regal walk as she came to greet us. She hugged both of us and told us that she was open......she wanted a deeper connection, to God, to herself. Our experience will be a part of me for the rest of my life.

The second woman.....only found out about our work on this day. When we offered her the work, she looked a little shocked, and very hesitant. Two hours later, she knocked on our door, entered, and said.....”I would like to be your next one”. She sat and shared her story with such openness. Her sorrow and heaviness seemed to fill every cell of her body as she talked. As she cried.

Working with both of these women I felt such a deep sense of responsibility and honor. Both women opened themselves to sharing the sorrow they have experienced. We experienced the sorrow together. Lyndall and I explained that we knew they had suffered entirely alone their whole life but that today we were going to experience it together. All of us....Lyndall, myself, and and each of them......we were going to experience it together. It was the first time they were able to tell their story, the true story, unencumbered by the defenses they have built around it for survival. They opened themselves to it with such grace. With such love.

At one point during the second session, I looked at my hand. This beautiful woman was holding my hand so tightly, as she cried, as we all cried. As we all experienced her unbearable suffering, together, it felt more bearable. It made sense to her. She was able to identify the shame she had carried her whole life since the age of eight. For the first time, she was able to see that this shame did not belong to her. It belonged to her perpetrator. I was struck by the contrast of my white skin with her very dark skin, and how she was holding my white hand to her face. and I was aware that in this complete connection we knew each other. I was aware of how often we see the contrast of our skin and see only difference. How we define ourselves and our differences on the very surface of our being. But in this experience, I looked at our hands filled with connection and love. I could hear the sobs from Lyndall and I knew that together we had all looked deeper. We had all followed the requirement to look deeper. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

THE REQUIREMENT IS TO ALWAYS LOOK DEEPER.

The Wave

THE WAVE……..Last night I woke to a powerful image. I was thinking about a variety of sporting events I have attended in which the entire group of spectators joins in support of their team and erupts into a loud and joyous WAVE. It is always exciting for me to wait until the WAVE gets to my part of the stands so that I too can stand up, throw my arms up in the air, yell, and joyously celebrate the love we all have for this team. If they are winning…..we celebrate and feel that elation together. If we are losing…..we are willing to suffer the loss together…. the wave of support lets everyone in the arena know that we stand together in our suffering of that loss. We keep the WAVE going to try and rally the team, letting them know they can draw on our strength to keep fighting. We only know a few of the people sitting directly by us……the rest….are strangers. But the bond we feel is unmistakable……our shared experience of loving this team is all we need to join in. Isn’t that beautiful? 

As I thought about this I thought what a glorious formula that could be for life……..all of us banding together to show our love and desire to celebrate or suffer with humanity, with ourselves……not focusing on our differences, or our shortcomings…..but instead seeing that we are a people that share the experience of elation... sometimes, and suffering...other times. That we understand, I mean really KNOW so much about each “stranger" we walk past.….the experience of hope, loss, self-judgement, insecurities, need for love, desires…..on and on and on. If we KNOW this in ourselves, then we also KNOW it in that person. I love the idea that we could use this knowing to join in one glorious and unending WAVE……an unending WAVE where we all stand up, throw our arms in the air, yell, and willingly open ourselves to suffering with, and celebrating the love we have for this team.

Charisse Lyons