Well, Easter is with us: the time for remembering God’s grace, love, and purpose for us
Today is also special to me because it was one year ago that I moved to Stellenbosch. The past year has been one one of major challenges, questions and choices; but also one of the greatest excitement, discovery, growth, joy and purpose. Let me remember with you some of the highlights of this past year. For those of you whom I’ve been fortunate to see recently, I hope you’ll pardon the remiss repetition; for those further afield, I do miss you and you are always in mind!
One of my earliest recollections after moving on 19 April last year to a little flat nestled in the shadow of the Papegaaiberg, sheltered by a row of oak trees in a quiet street, was from last Easter when I was walking back to my flat after Sunday evening worship at Stellenbosch Baptist. I was awe-struck by the huge cross up on the Papegaaiberg. The cross was brilliantly lit up and it gave me a quiet, warm, reverent feeling of God’s presence in this town. That cross is now again lit up this evening as I write and, every time I see it, it is a reminder to me of how much I love this place and all it has taught me.
There are so many reasons I love this place — the mountains, the laid-back atmosphere, the culture, the accessibility — but it’s the people I’ve met around here, and so many from the church, who have welcomed, encouraged, challenged and stretched me in really exciting ways. As one who moved here knowing about three people studying at the university, but with a kid’s wide-eyed, somewhat anxious wonder, it’s been flippin’ awesome to get to know so many of them and experience a great sense of community and identity with them.
I’ve really been blessed with some awesome friends at Stellenbosch Baptist Church (SBC), where we worship, and shared some good times with a diverse bunch there. I felt so welcome and at home when I joined the compassionate SBC folks for the first time, though I also missed the friends from churches back in Bergvliet! But nevertheless, my new friends here took me into their homes and hearts in a big way, and I have felt so privileged to walk with them since.
I’ve been challenged here in so many ways. Since September-or-so last year, the privilege of spending much time with people studying the whole alphabet of subjects from accounting to zoology has had me thinking and praying much about my own studies and direction. I wrote my Unisa (SA correspondence university) third-year computer science exams in October last year — a fair frantic panicky scramble if-it-wasn’t-for-the-last-minute-I’d-never-get-anything-done affair as usual to get through the year’s work in time — and gratefully received my Diploma in Datametrics with distinction.
I’m still working towards one day finishing the BSc, with computer science, etc, but work and other experiences this past year taught me that it’s in other areas that my passion lies and needs to be fuelled. It’s been exciting to discover what I believe is God’s leading in new, recognisable ways — every day now I come to a greater understanding that He’s been working around me this past year and that the courses I believe I’ve been lead to do, the town in which I’m living, and the people I’ve met and with whom I’ve shared these experiences will one day all come together to serve a purpose I couldn’t have imagined.
So, accordingly, I registered at the end of last year to start a BA Health Science and Social Services also with Unisa, specialising in psychology. Apart from psychology, my subjects this year include philosophy, anthropology, biblical studies, comparative religious studies, and theology. It’s all deeply fascinating stuff, and what’s really cool is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts: the subjects link up in so many unexpected ways that they form an even bigger, exciting picture.
I’m really excited about the studies now: when I registered last year, I didn’t really have a clear picture of what I would “do” with what I was to learn. Now, in the past weeks, possibilities and passions have just fused in my mind in such an exciting way that I regard the prospects which are unfolding from an entirely new perspective, and am really amped to give great gusto to my studies. A lot of that perspective which I’ve gained is thanks to learning more about how God’s at work and how to recognise His will through discussion we’ve been having at SBS, our church’s student bible study group, following scriptures and principles a dude called Henry Blackaby unpacks in a workbook called “Experiencing God: Knowing and doing God’s will” I can *so* recommend this: it has been drawing me back into a deeper relationship with my God and teaching me so much!
I must tell more about the mountains here… There’s not enough time to get enough of them, or to describe the beauty and magnificence of Jonkershoek and the other mountains that surround Stellenbosch, and the majestic and mystical wonder they hold. I’ve enjoyed some supremely good times up in Jonkershoek in particular — it was such a joy to “rediscover” it at the beginning of this year that I think I must have hiked and biked around there almost every day in the first week or so of February, culminating in a birthdee celebration there. That Saturday was a definite red-letter day on my calendar: it was such a privilege to get so many friends together from Stellenbosch and Cape Town. (The ladies at the Jonkershoek tea garden make the best chocolate milk shake I’ve had in a long time). I was really fortunate that my friend Chris from the UK was also down holidaying, and that he and his cousin, Janine, could also make it (*wave* !).
The Coetzenberg mountains also contribute to making this town a biker’s paradise. They’re just five minutes away from my doorstep, and my bike is crying out for some more dirt and exercise there after some illness (on the parts of both of us)! There have been memorable moments made up there cycling with friends from around here, and walking up to the cross on that mountain at full moon two months ago, just before I started my present Real Job. I haven’t even mentioned picnics in the botanical gardens or the occasional starry or thundery night lurking in Jan Marais nature reserve… but you get the picture :-)
Up until two months ago, all this has been happening between bits of contract work I was doing, mainly from home. I worked mainly with Dr David Green, an innovative and dauntless medical doctor with whom I worked back in the Sunesi days, on the IT side of a TB adherence project; he was later interviewed in the “Sunday Times”,<URL:http://www.sundaytimes.co.za/2002/06/02/news/cape/nct01.asp> [dead link], demonstrating the SMS reminder system which was his brainchild to help TB sufferers and other patients remember to take their medications.
Between work on that, there were other brief bits of development for some other companies, including some database work at Electric Genetics, which shares offices at UWC with the South African National Bioinformatics Institute (SANBI — the people with the big Cray supercomputer and other toys, who do scary DNA stuff); and also some web stuff for a UK Internet exchange. These jobs were both notable for their timing: they were totally unexpected and were a tangible reminder that our Lord cares for the practical things like our need to earn a living.
At the time when the EG job came about, I also had the opportunity to spend some inspiring, challenging weeks with Stephen and Ryan, two legends from Stellenbosch Baptist, as we lead a “seekers'” bible study group. Those were some really amazing days when we really saw God in action in our own lives and in the people who came to the group seeking answers!
That was the pace of most of last year, but the need for a Real Job with a regular income persisted until a spate of interviews this Feb unexpectedly (I’d applied two or three months previously, and all but forgotten about it) resulted in an appointment at SANBI, to handle the database development on a project researching HIV in South Africa. At the moment, I’m learning bits about genetics, molecular biology and immunology in order to try to understand what I’m doing there. It’s interesting work, though it makes my brain hurt quite badly!
SANBI is located on the campus of the University of the Western Cape, in Bellville — roughly midway between Stellenbosch and Cape Town. As mentioned, EG shares the office space there; so I see folks there with whom I worked briefly last year, as well as two with whom I worked at my first Real Job back in Cape Town in ’98! It’s a small world (but I wouldn’t like to have to paint it[*]).
[*] If that made you chuckle, it’s from Jack Handy, IIRC. There’s some really good (and weird) joke-type stuff of his at Brett Anderson’s site at <URL:http://www.brettfish.com/>. Brett’s a good oke who’s involved with Theatre Sports and also writes some good stuff for a mailing list he calls ThortForTheWeek. Check it out there ‘cos he’s got some really important things to say and is writing a passionately stirring book, “ALL”, which you must also look out for when it’s published.
The work at SANBI has so far entailed meeting with quite a few specialist researchesr from UWC, UCT, Stellenbosch University, the University of Natal and elsewhere to understand and try to integrate their requirements for weird-type data gathering and analysis. The last of these meetings, two weeks ago, had me flying up to Durban to meet up with some of the project co-ordinators and researchers at the med school there. That was the first time I’d flown, and it was quite an experience, especially since I was fortunate to have a window seat just forward of the wing of the 737. The flight, starting at 06h30 into the rising sun, was something almost spiritual as I gazed at the rugged beauty of the mountains and serpentine rivers from 39 000 feet above the expansive, undulating tracts of land.
The train ride through to work at UWC takes a little more than an hour; it affords me some study time on the way there and back. It’s really two trips, since I generally change at Bellville to the somewhat dodgey line going through Unibell to Langa, etc. The last twenty minutes or so of the trip back to Stellenbosch in the evenings I always enjoy, with the sun setting above the vineyards, and the clear mountains in the distance. A magical welcome back home!
“Home” is now a flat I share with two others, in the block next-door to where I was last year! My flat mates, Jenni and Damian, both of whom I met at SBC, are pretty awesome characters (hi guys!). Jenni’s studying psychology; consequently the flat is a bit like a mental asylum sometimes (and that just with the two of us there!!). Damian (sometimes-partner-in-crime when getting the bike dirty on the mountain) plays the bass in the band I should have mentioned already… J3:16, that is. Ryan (already introduced, playing lead and singing), George (on drums) and Ilze (also singing and guitar-playing) complete their line-up.
J3:16 is the result of a really awesome synergy of talented individuals who share a common vision and produce an earnest yet intimate, widely-appealing acoustic rock-y sound and powerful, catchy lyrics. Listen out for them, because I believe God is going to continue working in and through them in a big way. They’ve been in the studio recently to record four tracks (in what can only be a God-sized miracle, the studio here at the Conserve — one of the best in the country — was provided at a really good price which God also provided for, together with a producer and engineer). They also played some gigs and worship evenings earlier in the year. All you folks looking for another band with whom to gig, enquire within and I’ll put you in touch!
On the subject of music, the most kiffest album I’ve heard recently was Third Day’s “Conspiracy no 5”. It’s an energetic, rousing, Southern rock-influenced album — their second — from ’97. Highlights which just blew me away included “I deserve?”, “This song was meant for you”, “Who I am” and “Your love endures” — check it out!
All that brings us to the present… I got back this morning from visiting family and friends back in Cape Town. Yesterday was a relaxing, rejuvenating day (after a particularly early start to see the sun rise!) as eleven of us from my old church in Bergvliet strolled up Lion’s Head mountain carrying a cross in remembrance of the first Good Friday. It was a really special time spent with my old “family”, and I must spend more time back there as soon as work and studies permit, and catch the salt spray or a sea breeze from atop those mountains!
Now it’s back to a bit of studying and some essays and more random assignments: exams are a brief three weeks away! With quite a bit vying for ascendency at present, studies being particularly important and pressing, and having had too much of the sickie thing lately, I’ve been asking the boss-man at work about working part-time there. That’d be tricky but it’d make a huge difference (like maybe seeing less incandescent light and more sunlight, and being maybe a little better at writing to y’all without having to resort to the once-in-a-blue-moon group-mail thingy!); so I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to work out something like that in the coming weeks.
Tomorrow, in many ways, symbolises new beginnings and renewal. For me, it’s the start of a new year in Stellenbosch — one about which I’m particularly excited. It’s also the celebration of the miracle that marked the start of the Christian faith; the celebration of life after life. With all the new things that have been happening in my life, it’s a time I’m going to rejoice in new beginnings; to go up the mountain and think Einstein’s thoughts after him: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Much love, peace and happiness to you and all whom you love
Make your life a mission — not an intermission
– Arnold H. Glasgow