The past two Wednesdays have been filled with moments that I still hesitate to spill a few words on, as I fear furthering harmful stereotypes and subtle prejudices that I find creeping into my own heart and mind. Yet, I desire this space to be filled with honest words that track the development of my life and mission in Pretoria, and thus I cautiously write on. I want the fumbling attempts of my life to inspire others to open up to their own stereotypes and prejudices, and walk on a journey of transformation with the Spirit.
Eight days ago I found myself leaving a fantastic meeting with Luc Kabongo of InnerChange South Africa, my Congolese friend and partner in mission out in Soshanguve. He looked at me strangely as I remarked that I parked near the Taxi Rank (a huge place where people catch taxi rides throughout the city), but kept walking to his car. I thought nothing of it, enjoying the late afternoon sun and spontaneously deciding to quickly walk to the Mabopane train station before the sun went down to see if I could ever use it for a photo shoot. In the middle of the Taxi Rank, with several hundred South African eyes wondering what an American redhead was doing in their township, the classic scenario plays out like I am a traveling tourist.
3 guys approach. How are you doing? Shaking hands, not letting go. Hand in my pocket. Cell phone passed to 2nd friend. Me stupidly realizing I am being jumped. Spontaneous grabbing of man’s arm in a vice-grip, growling to give my phone back. Right hand extends vice-grip to 2nd man and begins shaking them loose. What am I doing?!?! Phone drops to ground and guys scatter. I look up, shaking. What had just taken place? And then I realize the hundreds of eyes staring at me. Why am I alone? I rush back to the car, thankful I am safe, grateful that I have an opportunity to fix Maxie’s phone at all, which is slightly broken.
Cue yesterday morning. I open my bedroom door in the flat (we had just moved here as they have begun Pangani renovations) and see a neat pile of everything that was in my backpack (files, credit cards, passport, ids). Why the heck did Curtis dump my stuff out and use my bag without asking? Shaking off the weird feeling, I move on, only to find out upon Curtis returning from his morning run, that he had found my papers scattered near a wall on the edge of our property!
Suddenly, I understand that our dogs had been going crazy at roughly 3am last night for a reason! Someone had jumped onto the property, opened a window in our hall, and snagged my backpack which was stupidly left out by yet another rookie mistake (Contents lost were minor, but significant: small digital camera, a few MacBook accessories, a jump drive, the laptop backpack). Somehow God (or the dogs!) providentially made this thief drop all my important identification, as well as having me remove my large hard drive and laptop from this bag the evening before. Stunned and a bit shaken, I realized I immediately faced a choice yesterday morning:
Would I live as a victim, or embrace this setback as provision and safety from God in several profound ways?
I stewed for awhile, and frankly, yesterday was lost in a semi-funk regardless of my attempts to release my (relatively small) losses in light of a much more major incident (ID stolen, laptop gone, my safety compromised). Sarcastically, Maxie and Curtis welcomed me to South Africa, and essentially gave me permission to confirm every stereotype that exists about this part of the world (high crime, violence, no respecting of personal property, let alone the more ‘racist’ stereotypes about Africans as thieves, etc), at least for the day.
But I realized something profound about my desire to at least not stew TOO long. I am not a victim, at least in the true etymology and meaning of the word. The dictionary on my laptop defines victim in the following manner, which I find provocative:
victim |ˈviktəm|(noun): a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.
Suddenly a rash of thoughts came flooding into my mind, and I realized this: I live many moments each week with a victimized mentality, and I am not a victim, although I sure find comfort at times in its mentality.
- I am not one of the UN estimated 2.5 million people being trafficked around the world right now.
- I am not one of every eight people worldwide without access to clean water.
- I am not one of the 1.4 billion people still living in extreme poverty.
I want to complain. I want to scheme. I want to find my stuff. I want to feel safe (this, is a legitimate right, although I do feel safe here!).
I want to fight the stereotypes of South Africans as violent thieves (the vast majority are some of the most generous, friendly people imaginable!). I want to release my possessions as luxurious gifts God has given me. I want to live in gratitude and freedom, not as a victim.
And Mom: I am safe. Stop worrying!