Last week Tuesday I arrived in Europe. It’s incredible that I haven’t been blogging hundreds of photos of the amazing architecture, beautiful landscapes and eclectic menus since. But as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m not here for that primarily – I’m here to see friends. And on top of that the weather has been kind of moche‡, as they say in these parts. I also promised in my previous post that I would explain how I can afford to travel, not having much money.
My answer then was “by faith” which a few people have mocked me about. Let me try to explain.
Back in the early 2000s I was running my own (small) company when the elders of our church asked me to consider working there full-time. I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do, so I tied up jobs I was busy with and shut down my company.
With the exception of a few years when I worked for a newspaper as a subeditor and for Nikon South Africa, I have been working for the church in some way since. Part of that was in administration, but part involved travelling to far-flung places like Mongolia, France and Madagascar to assist young churches and to share the gospel. Early on I realised that I loved it and was pretty good at it too.
(A quick aside: The Rand/US Dollar exchange rate at time of writing is approximately R16 for one dollar. This hasn’t always been the case. Sixteen years ago, when I went to Mongolia, it was closer to R6, if my memory serves me right.)
That first trip to Mongolia in 1999 was very-much done by faith. I was working for a non-government organisation, where I earned a livable wage of around R2 500 per month ($400) and had to come up with R30 000 ($5 000) for the whole trip within two months. The maths obviously didn’t add up, and the church could barely pay its staff, so was definitely not able to help with my costs. People were extremely generous, though, giving me bits and pieces here and there. As I needed the money, I had it: the day I had to pay for my plane ticket; the day I needed to apply for my Chinese visa, and so it went. I even felt strongly to give someone in the church, who was in dire straits, R500 in the middle of it all. By the time I left for Mongolia I had about half the amount for my three-month stay and a return ticket from South Africa to China, but not one to Mongolia. I figured though, based on what I had experienced, that I would have enough money as I required it. And I did.
Later, I travelled extensively into Africa and Madagascar on “missions” trips. Some times the church covered my costs, and at other times it couldn’t. But every time, if I had peace about the particular expedition, or long-stay, I would dive into it, knowing that I wouldn’t go hungry. On one occasion, for example, I went to France for three months to support a church whose leadership had changed. Here, most of the costs were covered by my savings and the generosity of families in the French church who invited me to eat with them often. (Insert beaming face here.) I had decided that I was going to serve where I was serving, and that was that.
Recently I added up all the trips I’ve taken outside South Africa’s borders since 2002, including private trips.
And I have never earned more than R15 000 a month. In the last three years I haven’t even earned a salary per se, although I have managed to make some money taking photographs, and the two churches I served in Canada and Madagascar looked after me.
So, when I talk about faith, it’s about knowing when God is calling me somewhere and knowing that he will provide. Often, I have saved the money to pay for the junket myself. Often friends or complete strangers have given me money. I’ve even been blessed a few times with air miles, which have covered my plane tickets entirely.
And so here I sit in France. Back in December last year I felt strongly that I needed to come over to see friends in Europe. Two people in Canada sent me money that went a long way towards covering my ticket; a friend in Madagascar kindly bought my bicycle when I left the Red Island, which also helped, and went towards the ticket to see my mother in January.
Then, a few days before I left to come here a friend in Pretoria gave me a thin pink envelope. It felt as if it had, maybe, one note in it. Turns out that one note will cover most of my costs while I’m here.
At first I really struggled accepting gifts but over the years I’ve realized that that’s just the way God works – with and through community. I am humbled every time someone chooses to help me out on this mission I believe God has called me to, and they in turn are blessed enormously, I believe. A wise woman Waterpebble once told me that I had no right refusing people’s gifts. And so now, as hard as it is, I try not to.
I sincerely hope my story does not invoke any sort of jealousy or envy in you. Yes, I’ve travelled the world. But honestly, I’ve given up a lot to live this way, including a few (romantic) relationships that could quite probably have led to marriage. I don’t own a home or a car, and have no retirement plan. I have times of loneliness and very little to my name, apart from my camera equipment, some clothes and a few pairs of sandals. But, as someone reminded me today, I’m rich.
I’m rich in friendships – yes, I’m thinking of you wherever you are in the world. I’m rich in experiences. I think most recently of my school pupils from Madagascar, of the playground built in Canada, of weddings and friends in Madagascar, of playing rugby and cricket with the boys, of “my” girls here in France, of everyone I met and worked with in Nepal …
If this has helped your particular faith walk, in which you’ve been struggling, then I’m pleased.
And if you have helped me out in any way in the past (or plan to in the future) thank you. Thank you a thousand times for your generosity. You have not only blessed me incredibly, but also all the people I have been able to love, drink coffee with, and serve wherever I’ve been.
At the end of the day, to God be the glory.
‡moche: ugly, grey, cold, wet …