Becoming Chris Kamalski

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

Tag: University of Pretoria

Friday: Not Simply A Math Teacher.

Electric Guitar Shredder + Quantum Physics Student + Heart For The Marginalized. Imile has it all!

The morning was spent in a blur of wedding planning frenzy, sitting inside Moreleta Park Church where Maxie works trying to connect all the dots between this day (22 days before our wedding), the mountain of what we still needed to do, and the mini-Road Trip we are essentially hosting for 9 Americans the week prior to our wedding, an awesome but semi-daunting prospect. Maxie and I are deeply aware that our wedding serves as a catalyst for family and friends to come celebrate with us, most of whom have never set foot anywhere on the African continent, and who will likely visit South Africa just this once. Hence, we truly desire to host them well, providing a mixture of fun wedding week activities designed to introduce people we love to the South Africa we live and work in each day.

I then headed almost straight over to Imile de Villiers house, a gargantuan shared commune space that serves as one of the 3 Intentional Living homes throughout Pretoria. A loose network of friends and university/post-university students, there are 3 homes with 10-12 students sharing space together in an experiment fusing community and a common heart for missional engagement in the needs of one’s city together with the reality that for a college student, rent must remain as cheap as possible. Imile is one of several guys who leads this communal experiment, seeking to create intentional space for students to discover who they are, all while in the forging process of completing university degrees.

I met Imile (and many other Intentional Living people) first through 3rd Place, the local faith community I serve alongside in Pretoria. We spent several weeks together last June on a World Cup Worship Tour that Maxie organized through Moreleta Park Church, Imile shredding the electric guitar for our touring band while I attempted to shepherd and pastor the team alongside Maxie, all in the context of the first few weeks of the soccer World Cup as South Africa welcomed the world this past June. I was immediately struck by his genuine heart, soft spirit, and receptiveness to God’s mission within the world. Imile is truly an unassuming guy who leaves a large wake behind himself of those he has come alongside to bless. In short, we immediately hit it off and begun a coaching/mentoring relationship that has continued to this day.

As 2011 began and Imile told us that their communal Intentional Living experiment was literally moving into the neighborhood next door to Clydesdale, where our missional community resides, I was ecstatic to explore the possibilities of how NieuCommunities could partner alongside the IL homes, walking with them as their hearts for God’s mission influenced people throughout Pretoria. While this hasn’t materialized to the degree that I was initially hoping at this point, I’m still confident that after our wedding, God may be brewing something for us to pursue together.

Nonetheless, Imile and I greatly enjoy spending time together every few weeks, exploring all that God is inviting him into as he finishes up his last year of undergraduate studies at the University of Pretoria. Imile is completing studies in math and physics, and describes his course load with terms that lose me immediately (He was learning Quantum Physics last week for example). Yet his heart is clearly moving him towards a life of missional service, engaging in the meeting of practical needs for the marginalized around him. It seems like each break from school finds Imile gathering a small crew of friends around him and setting off to another city around Africa, visiting missionaries who are engaged in creative work that empowers Africans. Imile shares this same heart, thus leading to the central question of our time together most weeks:

How does a math and physics student engage in a world teeming with need all around him?

I love watching Imile wrestle through this, balancing the reality of why he has chosen this course of study (Why we pursue what we do is a complex reality for all of us to come to grips with) with what is spilling out of his heart. We don’t really know at this moment exactly where God is inviting Imile to engage after this last year of studies ends, but one thing is becoming certain: Imile is not simply a math teacher.

I cannot wait to see how God fuses together gifts in complex numerical theory with a heart bursting to see the poor and marginalized enjoy the dignity that they deserve. All I know is that I am privileged to have a front row seat as this story of redemption unfolds.

(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?’)

A Monster Slowly Dying?

(Each Wednesday I will attempt to post a story or reflection about some aspect of the work that our missional community, NieuCommunities South Africa, is currently engaged in here in Pretoria. I’ll simply attempt to answer the question, ‘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 into sustainable mission around the globe?’)

This past Sunday evening at 3rd Place I reconnected with Nic Delport, a sharp young theology student at University of Pretoria who facilitates 3rd Word, weekly discussions on the Scriptures for our young church community. Nic has just entered into his practical year of studies, essentially a mixture of internship and practical learning opportunities that seems to include a bit of travel for most young South Africans, whereby they visit and learn from other faith practioners throughout the globe (Side note: What a healthy practice for Western seminaries to begin, although my hunch is that there is a lingering mentality that Africans ‘must travel West’ for the ‘best’ in theological thinking, which I find to be rubbish).

Needless to say, Nic had just returned from a month visit to the States where he spent time with his girlfriend who works for Disneyworld as an “African animals expert” of some sort (Another HA!). Sunday night, Nic walked straight up to me and asked to have coffee early this week, wanting to ‘share his experience with Americans’ with one of three Americans he knows in Pretoria. Amused and a bit curious, I quickly agreed, and set up coffee for Tuesday afternoon.

Our conversation meandered all over the place, from the familiar (“Everything is huge! I like Motel 6’s! The food portions are massive, and I love meat!”), to the ‘truer than I’d like to admit about my countrymen’ (“It seems like most people I met were incredibly overweight! People were largely disinterested in conversation with me, and rarely asked anything about my life and experience as a South African”), to the universal (a lot of shared laughter over cultural mis-steps that take place whenever anyone enters into a culture foreign to their own).

As we were leaving, Nic said something that stopped me in my tracks, and has my mind spinning even now as I type these words. Even though it was merely his observation, I wonder if he is onto something. Nic said, “I think the States are like a monster slowly dying, and that for most Americans the US is the whole world to themselves.” Granted, this perspective may be somewhat harsh, and not accurately reflect both the political, economic, nor spiritual realities of America’s standing in the world. I found myself instinctively wincing as he made these comments, simultaneously wanting to defend my homeland while admitting that in some instances, he may have a point.

With the growing chatter of China and India’s massive growth in almost every sector of public life, seen in arenas as serious as Time magazine features to the silliness of the recent Office episode spoof where Michael Scott voices America’s anxiety in hilarious ways, to the lingering effects of the recession and subsequent lack of new job creation, I wonder if Nic could be onto something.

Regardless of agreement with his assessment however, I found myself ‘on mission’ yesterday morning simply listening to the experiences of my South African friend, offering an ear in helping Nic process the wild mixture of emotions he faced while in the States last month. Sometimes I wonder exactly what it means to be an incarnational reflection of Jesus as an American in the midst of the complex reality that is South Africa. Yesterday, that simply meant coffee with Nic, listening as he reflected on time in my homeland. I hope it served him as much as it helped me…