Becoming Chris Kamalski

"There's a Writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us" ~Don Miller

Tag: InnerChange

What NieuCommunities Lives.

Maxie and I spent much of last week with our extended NieuCommunities family in Golden Hill, a neighborhood in San Diego. An inspiring, filling time watching their community multiply and birth fresh expressions of mission!

Rob Yackley, Director of NieuCommunties, is helping Jon Huckins write a book describing the postures of mission that form the common rhythm that make up the heartbeat of missional community together. It’s called Thin Places and is supposed to be out early this coming year! As a part of the story-telling process, they are gathering feedback about NieuCommunities’ impact around the globe. I thought John Hayes’ words were especially powerful, and accurate in describing what we were about:

“There is a ‘come and see’ authenticity about NieuCommunities that is so reminiscent of Jesus calling the disciples out of fishing boats on the shore of Lake Galilee I can almost taste the salt air. At the same time, the “come and see” community is balanced by a “go and do” mission that gives me hope for inside-out change in neighborhoods in the global city. At a time when many are talking about missional communities, NieuCommunities quietly and expertly goes about doing it—forming young men and women and transforming neighborhoods. The vitality of NieuCommunities is less about what is being said than what is being lived.”

[John Hayes, founder of innerCHANGE and author of Submerge, Living Deep in a Shallow World.]

If you are able, will you prayerfully consider partnering with us financially as we end 2011? Our potential transition to Vancouver has caused our financial needs to grow dramatically.

Under Construction.

The InnerChange South Africa team and property, both under construction. (Pictured L to R: Julie, Rebekah, Luc Kabongo, Johannes Manganye, Emily Rhoades; Not Pictured: Petunia, Moskie, Bahati Kabongo).

Incarnation is extremely difficult within the context of one’s own family, let alone towards neighbors next door. To deliberately choose to live among fellow South Africans in Soshanguve, a township just outside Pretoria, is another matter entirely. I have great respect and admiration for my dear friends within InnerChange, an incarnational order made up of communities of people who vow to live among the poor and marginalized of our world, in as similar a manner and way of life as possible to those around them. I count Luc and Petunia Kabongo as some of my dearest friends here in South Africa, and really value spending time facilitating spiritual direction, reflection, and internal prayer with their team one Tuesday morning each month.

Generally, I arrive just as breakfast has started and join the team for a common meal, followed by one of the my favorite things that InnerChange does as an order, which is spend part of each Tuesday morning praying for an individual + team as an entire order. A team member from one of their 20+ communities sends around a widely distributed email, and ICSA uses symbols from each region of the world to both remember, and intercede for, this particular team. I love sharing in the wider work of what my CRM family is up to around the globe! We then spend time interceding for each other, and the work of mission that God has placed within our hands. Usually, Luc or one of the other teammates then leads a short discussion around some missional content for the morning.

Luc then ‘turns the mic over to Chris,’ which I find awkward since there is no sound system present! It has been a long journey in discerning how best to introduce concepts of listening, discernment, reflective prayer, and spiritual formation to a mixed team of men and women, Africans and Westerners. I find myself constantly having to shift worlds. A simple example of this is the fact that for many Africans, silence of any form is a foreign and relatively unwelcome occurence, as opposed to a central discipline of spirituality for many Western Christ-followers. I try to blend a mixture of reflective journaling, spiritual formation exercises, and open sharing (again, a relatively foreign concept for Africans who are typically used to listening respectfully to any pastor or ‘leader’ who speaks with authority). It’s been a stretch at times, but I am beginning to see some fruit in simply ’tilling the soil’ of a different form of spiritual experience.

InnerChange South Africa is under construction in all ways at the moment, so walking alongside their team as ‘spiritual director’ is really interesting right now. As a team, they are growing (from 3 to 6 full-time community members), doubling in the past year. As a physical presence within Block HH in Soshanguve, they are more and more well known, embarking on a massive renovation/expansion of Luc and Petunia’s home in Soshanguve for the purpose of hosting guests as well as a central ministry location for their growing missional reach.

I love what God is up to in the lives of my friends!

Apparently, something smells.

Tuesday: Prison Guys, Directionally Challenged, + West Wing Liturgy.

Emthomjeni Youth Prison. "A Place Of New Beginnings," truly!

Up early this morning. Coffee and general fumbling around, as the coming winter peaks through mid-autumn here in Pretoria, drawing a coolness to the morning air that begs a few minutes more under the covers. Out the door on my way to Baavianspoort Youth Prison to meet the Pure Hope team (alas, sans Maxie as she is required in another meeting this morning) and to continue our Life Compass course with 17 inmates.

This is the second time we have facilitated this course for youth in Block B of ‘Emthomjeni,’ a prison vastly different within the South African penal system for its emphasis on education, rehabilitative work, and as their slogan says, “A Place of New Beginnings.” Regularly, the hour plus that Maxie, Bianca (one of Maxie’s Pure Hope students), and I spend facilitating this course for ‘our boys’ is the most meaningful time I spend in South Africa on mission each week. This morning was chaotically normal for us, as we lost six of our boys to the last day of a course on Anger Management that a local psychologist was presenting that many of the inmates were required to sit in on as a part of their rehabilitation. While we are grateful for the opportunity for inmates to process their anger in hopefully increasingly helpful ways, it is depressing when it comes at the expense of them having to miss our training course.

We are nearing the 2/3rds mark of this 4 month course, designed as a holistic look into one’s past + present from every conceivable angle, including one’s timeline, personality profile, natural skills + abilities, and a host of other windows into the life that God has birthed within us. All of this past reflection is done in one big soupy bowl, building slowly upon each other in the hope that one’s self-awareness will crystallize into a life vocation (a ‘call forward’ by the Spirit into the life we were created to live) and vision that carries these inmates through the rest of their sentences and out into freedom and a dramatically different life than what they have previously imagined. This morning ‘tedious’ describes best our efforts, as we were tallying scores from a host of personality, spiritual gifting, and leadership tests, seeking to make sense of how we are wired. Much of the morning, Bianca and I moved among the guys in the room, seeking to translate overly Western questions (“I am able to speak enthusiastically and clearly about doctrinal truth”) into language and concepts that make sense within an African context. It’s tough, to say the least!  But the guys were heartened as we announced that in an effort to catch up, we have been granted a double session of time with them next Tuesday by the head of the prison block we work in.

InnerChange South Africa friends (Luc, Petunia, Moskie, Bahati Kabongo, Johannes Manganye. Not pictured: New teammates Emily, Rebecca, and Julie).

We leave a bit early so I can scurry off to catch the last hour + of time with our sister organization with Church Resource Ministries (CRM), InnerChange South Africa, a monastic order living in simplicity among the poor in Soshanguve, a large township outside of Pretoria. I have worked closely alongside Luc and Petunia Kabongo and their team for several years now in a variety of capacities, and am currently joining their Tuesday morning rhythm of breakfast, prayer, learning once a month to provide spiritual direction for their growing team, facilitating an environment of listening + reflection for our friends who live in an environment where need is constantly at hand. I rushed late to join their team this morning, a bit frantic and still thinking through our time in prison, unaware I was taking the wrong highway towards Sosh for almost 20km! ARRRRGGGGHHHH! Flipping the car around, I finally arrived to their entire team waiting for me (DOH!), a mere 25 minutes left in their morning.

Feeling ashamed and apologetic, they were gracious with me, welcoming me into their midst even as they were wrapping things up. Knowing I would not be able to facilitate spiritual direction as normal, helping them to process where God is at work within their lives and mission, I fumbled around, seeking for something to offer them. In the hesitation, Luc mentioned that he can rap in French, which just destroyed everyone, and quickly solidified into him becoming the latest performer at our wedding in a few weeks! I left the team with a powerful song from Jesus Culture entitled “My Soul Longs For You,” thinking about the question of where they found themselves in desiring God at this point in their journey, seeking to open the conversation that at times, we must ‘desire to desire God’ again in our lives, and that this dryness is a part of life!

Tuesday nights at the Reed's house for NieuCommunities dinner and conversation.

Talking with Maxie as I made my way through the city, getting lost yet again (How long have I lived here?), I now sit at my computer, needing to press on in final preparation for our weekly Tuesday evening dinner and learning conversation with NieuCommunities, a core piece of our missional community’s rhythm each week. Tonight I facilitate a conversation birthed from our submerging posture, seeking to meld disparate thoughts of how Jesus dwelt among men with the larger meta-conversation that still resonates within everyone’s mind here, namely the aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s killing and the lingering questions of justice that many South Africans are raising to any American they can find (Cue, US!). I recently re-watched a few powerful West Wing episodes from the end of season 3 that touched on this very issue, and thus I’m  going to bring clips from these shows as a framework to ask larger questions of justice and how Jesus lived among us, showing us an example by which we are to live. It’ll either be the most brilliant thing ever–or the largest stinkbomb in teaching history!

Whew, I’m tired even writing this! What an abnormally full day! Tomorrow, rest and reflection, and hopefully some restoration awaits.

(Each day this week I will post a story or reflection about some aspect of my work and life that our missional community, NieuCommunities South Africa, is currently engaged in here in Pretoria. I’ll simply attempt to answer the questions, ‘What does a week in my life look like? while framing that within the larger question of ‘What stories are you co-writing with God in South Africa, and how does this story fulfill your unique mandate to apprentice South African leaders in the way of Jesus into sustainable mission around the globe?’)

Picking Up A Shovel.

May_receipting ltr

Click on the link above to see a little something I wrote up for CRM’s monthly receipting letter to all donors in May 2010. Privileged to continue figuring out how to carry this story…

Meet My Friends In Soshanguve.

Anna, Petunia, and a clown, somehow in charge of a group of Hospice Care Workers.

I can’t wait to return to the dusty roads of Soshanguve, one of many township slum areas (think ‘a South African Tijuana’) stationed nearby most major South African cities originally as a forced settlement area for black South Africans to live separate from ‘white’ South Africa, yet be near enough to commute in each morning to work. Since the fall of apartheid in the early 1990’s, these sprawling mega-cities have evolved into the proud home of the majority of black South Africans. ‘Sosh’ is no different, and yet it’s realities are staggering: It is home to at least 1.5 million people, with an unemployment rate likely hovering near 40-50% of the population and an HIV/AIDS rate at least that high, if not higher.

Got a pretty large extended family of South African sisters now...

Luc and Petunia Kabongo lead the InnerChange team that lives incarnationally among the poor of Soshanguve. I befriended the Kabongos upon my first visit to Sosh in the summer of 2008, and knew immediately that I had found a kinship among new friends. Among the many holistic ways that they care for the poor in their neighborhood, I have come alongside Petunia and Anna, who are both nurses leading a group of Hospice Care Workers who provide compassionate care for hundreds of families who are dying of complications related to the HIV/AIDS pandemic sweeping through South Africa (South Africa has the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the whole world!). My job is to provide sustainable care, spiritual direction, and ‘loose’ group therapy for these Care Workers, that they may continue to offer themselves to their neighbors.

Pretty hard to take a clear self-shot with a giant Congolese man. My good friend Luc Kabongo.

Luc and I have become fast friends and partners in a short time this past year. We have begun to meet regularly together for accountability and mutual peer mentoring, as well as to strategize as to how we both can utilize our gifts to transform Soshanguve in holistic ways as God restores this forgotten place. Likely, I will begin leading their growing team in spiritual direction and a process of spiritual formation this year, as well as potentially exploring how we can influence a network of local pastors Luc is involved with in Soshanguve.

I can’t wait to see my friends again!

The Week That Was: March 9th-13th, 2009.

A little Apprentice birthday breakfast for Adrienne at Cappuchino's

A little Apprentice birthday breakfast for Adrienne at Cappuchino's

The Week That Was: You’ve heard plenty of thoughts for now on our community’s experience supporting our brother Oupa this past weekend out in Soshanguve at his brother’s funeral.  In some ways I think we all continue to carry the emotional weight of what we saw and experienced.  Plus, Oupa returned yesterday evening to Pangani, and so our need for compassion in caring for him truly begins now.  This week has been pretty heavy emotionally for some reason.  I don’t know if it is the combination of all of the things we have learned and experienced starting to catch up on us (we’ve been through quite a lot already, and are only 2 1/2 weeks into our first learning posture, “Listening”).  I actually realized this afternoon while spending some time in solitude at Lorraine’s (see post above this one) that I have been out of America now for 50 days, and as of next Monday, will have been outside the US for the longest period in my life.  Mmmmm, a Chipotle burrito sounds really good right now.  Missing home a bit. 

What have I been up to this week though?  Mostly beginning to listen and discern the Spirit’s voice as to where/how/what I am to begin becoming involved with in mission and ministry this year.  On Monday that looked like meeting with Cobus, a sharp young Afrikaner pastor here in Pretoria who is involved in the South African emerging church discussion.  We had a fantastic chat over coffee about everything under the sun, and he was super interested in my experience at the Institute for Spiritual Formation (in fact, he was fairly emotional when I began describing how God had begun to meet me through my time spent in direction).  There is a real possibility that we may continue meeting for direction and other conversation in the spiritual formation world.  

The next day Curtis headed out to Soshanguve with Doug to meet with Luc and Petunia Kabongo, who lead the recently-begun InnerChange team out in the township.  They are seeking help primarily for Petunia’s health care workers/volunteers (she is a Registered Nurse who helps lead a local NGO that does hospice care for HIV/AIDS patients primarily) because of the frequency in which they carry grief and death with them.  Petunia mentioned that there are weeks in which up to five patients pass away that they visit, and that there is no outlet for method to grieving a ‘professional’ loss like that.  I have walked the various Blocks in Sosh that they work in, and can testify that their care is much more relational and friend-like than professional, so I can’t even imagine what it would be like to walk with death in that manner.  We began dreaming about establishing spiritual direction groups for her workers (there are 23 more permanent workers/volunteers), which would be an amazing/hard/powerful environment to be a part of, and to use my gifts in.  Luc and I also began dreaming about possibilities of training various pastors throughout the township that he is in relationship with in how to grieve well.  Seems like much of my work as a spiritual director in Soshanguve may center around this subject matter, which would be profound and growing for me.  I feel heavy considering this possibility however.

Luc Kabongo, Director of InnerChange in Soshanguve, with Daniel, a local youth he mentors.

Luc Kabongo, Director of InnerChange in Soshanguve, with Daniel, a local youth he mentors.

Today, we spent the morning in our Bible time working through a Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading–Google it, profound way to experience the God of the Scriptures) in Psalm 139.  I felt burdened and overwhelmed during much of it, and the line ‘Your strength will support me’ (Ps. 139:10, NLT) just wrecked me.  I desperately need to be carried by God in these days, and wish to live a life in dependence with the Spirit.  We then headed out to celebrate Adrienne’s birthday at Cappuchino’s, a fantastic restaurant, and I got HOOKED UP with a R19.90 breakfast that was the bomb!  Took some sweet pictures, and headed home.  I spent the afternoon at Lorraine’s retreat house just down the road from Pangani (a 7 minute walk), where we explored beginning a spiritual direction relationship together (for myself), and collaborating in some upcoming opportunities to partner with her and her existing network of ministry with the Ignatian Spirituality Center here in Pretoria.  I napped, rested, and just worked on ‘being’ this afternoon. SO NEEDED.  So, that’s me.  You?

Where I Am At The Moment: Sitting in my room slamming out a quick update before we head out to The Cuban Cafe to celebrate Adrienne’s 26th birthday, and Dayna’s mphfdh (undetermined) birthday.  Nursing a headache on a grayish day in Pretoria North that would best be described as a ‘stay in and chill with a hot cup of Rooiboos tea (with milk, sugar, and 1 equal packet), a book, and a fire (if it weren’t still humid summer).  But, dancing, merriness, and mirth await.  I’m excited, aren’t I?

On My To-Do List This Week: So much. Partly why I’m overwhelmed.  Let’s see: Read several books (Transforming Mission by Bosch, Spiritual Direction by Nouwen, a book on leadership for our Grip-Birkman training next week), do a bunch of self-evaluation stuff for our Grip-Birkman training, get out those ‘lovely’ postcards I’m still procrastinating on, begin monthly donor updates.  Not much, huh?

Procrastinating About: Hmm. Apparently To-Do Lists and Procrastination are synonymous this week.  Ugh.

Books I’m In The Midst Of: See above, plus I’ve begun reading Stephen King’s brilliant work on the art of writing a book, On Writing.  Time to start leaning into my gifts here, and begin crafting marvelous collections of lyrical gems (Anybody?).  Seriously though, one of the things I’m so excited about this year is simply beginning to take seriously my writing–through this blog, and into more actual pieces.  I hope I have some books in me…

On The Current iTunes Playlist: New U2.  Didn’t love it at first, but it keeps growing on me with each listen.  And old-school worship songs like DC Talk’s “My Will,” Jars of Clay’s self-titled acoustic album, “Come and Fill Me Up.”  Solid!

I’m Thinking About: Too much.  Want and need to chill.

Next Trip:  Tomorrow.  Head to meet with Cobus and others to begin a reading group in David Bosch’s work Transforming Mission.  His wife will be joining us.  This is widely considered one of ‘the’ books in the missional church conversation, so I can’t wait to dive into it with a wide variety of local South Africans.

South African Word Of The Week: Curtis has been arguing the use of “JACKED UP” this week, debating with us that it actually means an organization that has it’s things sorted and in order.  Obviously, he is wrong.  If I write this sentence, what do you think: “The US economy is jacked up right now.

How I’m Feeling About This Week: Pretty overwhelmed and drained right now.

Prayer Request: Rest.  Being with God, not Doing (I’m fighting running too fast and hard already, and having to always say yes and ‘be on’ with our community. Want to truly be myself).  Discernment, wisdom, and pace in how to move into the above opportunities to engage in practicing spiritual direction here in South Africa.