Monthly Archives: March 2013

Post 33. Strangely safe

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The Doulos.

The Doulos.

Ship life was intense and stretching.  It was obvious from day one that I was going to learn a lot about diversity  of   culture.

I shared my first cabin with 3 other girls; an Indian, an American and a Korean. There were some interesting moments.  Cleaning rosters were made and stuck up on the wall.  After a couple of weeks we noticed the Korean girl wasn’t doing her cleaning duties.  We called a cabin meeting and asked her what the problem was.  Her unblinking reply was, “In Korea, younger girls do everything for the older one.  I am the oldest in this cabin.”   Our unblinking reply was, “Well you’re not in Korea.”  Things did improve a bit, but it was hard for her.  There were some who were highly qualified and had to scrub decks and wash 100’s of dishes every day.  For many, being in the kitchen was only for women.  Well, that thinking didn’t last long.

We all had our way of doing things.  The results were often the same. We learnt quickly that our way wasn’t necessarily the best way.

Life was full.  There were different departments and we all had a job.  It didn’t matter what we were before we came onboard.  We worked where we were put and there were no arguments.  If we didn’t get on with someone and asked to be moved, we were made to stay there until we got on.

I started in the Book Exhibition.  It was apparently the place to be.  It was a lot of fun and lots of hard work.  We did inventory, orders, stacked the shelves in different languages and learnt how to deal with all kinds of people.   The plan was to be in South America for 2 years and it was compulsory that we learnt Spanish.

We sailed from one port to the other and every time we set sail, the exhibit had to be covered and tied down.  If the weather was good we were able to set up for the next port while we were sailing.  If it was bad, and we were throwing up, we prayed the books wouldn’t be lost at sea.

There was a HUGE storm on the trip from Jamaica to Mexico; massive waves, lots of sea sickness and many bookshelves that hit the deck.   It was scary having to go up in the howling wind and beating waves to tie the shelves down properly.  It was one of the biggest storms experienced by the Doulos.

There was a lot of sea sickness, but life had to go on.  Michel, our cook from France, kept running between the deck and the kitchen.  He could barely stand, but there were mouths to feed.  Those who managed to get to the dining room for breakfast were served by very pale waiters and waitresses.  What made things worse was that Michel had grabbed the food colouring instead of the vanilla essence.  The porridge was green.

It seemed that some had psychological sea sickness.  Em Namuco was violently ill and had been in his cabin all morning.   It had been announced the previous evening that we were to set sail in the middle of the night.  He was surprised when someone knocked on his cabin door to tell him that the ship hadn’t sailed after all.  We were still firmly moored.

There was danger but a strange absence of fear.  There were nights when everything was calm and we would lie on the deck and look into the crystal clear, starry night.  Everything around us was in pitch darkness.  We were like a tiny cork bobbing on the ocean.  Not another thing in sight.   The only sound was the ship’s engine.

I was very aware of how small I was in an ocean so deep and wide.  There were many times God spoke of His love for me, reminding me that His love was as vast as the ocean I was sailing on.  No matter how high the waves got and no matter how big the storm became, as long as I was in that ocean, I was safe.

Post 32. The Amazon

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Belem is between the Toucan and the monkey.

Belem is between the Toucan and the monkey.

I just couldn’t scratch my itchy feet.  I had been at home for 3 years.  I wanted to see the world but didn’t want to travel for travel sake.  There needed to be a mission, something constructive to do at the same time.

Over the months I had made a few enquiries about mission organisations to see where I would fit.  That was when I heard about the Doulos; Operation Mobilisation’s converted ship.  It was the largest floating bookshop in the world.  It was a self contained “town” with schools, hairdresser, dentist, hospital, laundry, bakery, nursery, offices and 250 people from all over the world.

It sounded like a dream come true; to be able to see the world and work at the same time.  I sent in my application knowing it would take a while to hear from them.  Resigning from two jobs, both needing a months notice was a bit risky.  If I resigned and wasn’t accepted on the ship, I would be jobless.  I decided to take the risk.  It paid off and I was off to join the ship in Brazil.

The agent’s response to my resignation was, “What a waste,”  but Wilf and Val were excited.  Dad had been putting money aside in our Post Office accounts and I drew that out.  It was exactly the amount I needed to pay for my ticket from Cape Town to Rio and I had some savings to get me through the first couple of months.

I was beside myself.  I couldn’t wait to get to South America.  The ship would be sailing from Brazil to Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, Mexico, Florida and then through the Panama Canal and all the way around and back to Brazil.  It would take two years.

I sat on the carpet in our little passage and found my favourite book*.  I knew it off by heart and every photo had been touched over and over again; for years.  I was going to the source of the Amazon River.

I flew into Rio and straight onto Belem with other new recruits.  There was an open jeep waiting for us and we were driven to the ship on some very rough roads.  It was in that jeep that I met Henriette Hugo; a very beautiful French speaking Huguenot from Cape Town.  We were kindred spirits.

As I walked up the gangplank one of the flirty O.M. boys asked me my name.  When I said “Linda” he said, “Oh that means “beautiful” in Spanish. Muy Linda”.  I was flattered, but not there to flirt, so I smiled and was escorted to my little four berth cabin.

*See:  Books and Jazz

Post 31. Do your own dirty work.

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The crèche I had an agreement with, finally opened.  I had worked in Point Road for two and a half years; travelling in and out of one of the most infamous parts of Durban.   The children had won my heart and I was sad when my time was up.

The church crèche was a disaster for me.  It wasn’t a happy place and the teachers were all really uptight.  I stuck it out but it was hard to get up in the mornings.

After 9 months and just before I went insane, I got a half day receptionist job in a building society in Yellowwood Park.  It was combined with an estate agency.  It was a small branch and from day one I clicked with the “naughty” estate agents.  They reminded me of the kids I was working with; they lied, they always wanted their own way, they played “I’m the king of the castle and you’re the dirty rascal,” manipulated and seemed to be fixated on  underwear and private parts.

They would constantly ask me to lie for them.  I somehow managed to get around it until the day my boss told me to tell a client he wasn’t in.  I put the call through anyway and he wasn’t happy.  He called me into his office and asked me to close the door.  He was upset.  He asked me what had happened and why.  I lovingly and calmly told him that I would not be lying for him or any of the agents.  If they wanted to lie, they could do their own dirty work.  I pointed out to him that he could trust me.  If I wasn’t prepared to lie for him, he could be certain that I wouldn’t lie to him.  If he was happy with that deal, then I would be happy to stay on.  If not, I would have to leave.  He was happy with the deal.  The agents just had to agree.

I loved them and they loved me.  I could say anything to them because of that love.  When they were getting out of hand with their jokes I would ask them, with a smile on my face,  to please close their door and they did.  They listened and asked questions about my faith.  We laughed at ourselves and each other.  They gave me a hard time and teased me until we closed shop at the end of the day.

I went back years later to visit them.  The lady at the front desk asked me my name.  With a big smile on her face she said, “Oh, THE Linda Lowe; the one who wouldn’t lie. I’ve heard about you.”

I found it funny that a simple thing like honesty had made such a big impression.

Post 30. Wisdom

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Going home was difficult.  It was small and tight.  I had just travelled all over Southern Africa.  I was used to lots of space.  Poor Wilf and Val did their best to help me settle but it didn’t really work.

The only thing I knew was that I wanted to work with children.  I was promised a job at a crèche which was being constructed and it was taking forever.  I was frustrated and bored.  After a year of non-stop activity I found it hard to sit still.  I poured out my heart to God and into my diaries.  The pages were full of disappointment and discouragement.  As the months went by I started to lack confidence.  I hated telling people I didn’t have a job.  It became more and more difficult for me to socialise for fear that someone would ask me.

Seven months later I signed up for a one year Child Care Course.   The institute was in a dodgy part of Durban city and I attended evening classes.  My subjects were Nutrition, Child Development,  Child Psychology and Business Knowledge (accounting).

I dreaded the thought of accounting.  All my math teacher nightmares came back to haunt me.  I walked into my first Business Knowledge class slightly nervous.  The lecturer took one look at me and said, “You, in the front row please.”  What did she see?  Did I look like trouble?

I did well and got my diploma.  My love for children grew and I began to feel a stronger tug in that direction.  I applied for a job in the worst part of Durban and got it.

Port Natal Child Care Centre was at the end of Point Road, Durban’s red light district.  It was for children of prostitutes and sailors.  They lived with their mothers who had many visitors for many sleepovers.  There was such turmoil in their little lives and they were experienced beyond their years.  Sleep time was the worst time of the day for us; for many of them, sleep was not a happy thing to do.

We worked shifts so we could stay sane.  It was demanding and exhausting.  When we had mornings off we went down to Addington Beach to tan and swim.  It was during one of those mornings that I learnt the need for wisdom.

I had made friends with a hermit looking guy who seemed lonely. I wanted to help him somehow.  He seemed interested in my faith and he asked good questions.  One day he asked me to go for a walk with him.  I had time, so off we went.  He led me into an isolated park and before I knew it, he grabbed me and tried to kiss me.  Only God knows how I got away from him.  I ran all the way back to work with my stomach in my throat and eyes burning with fear.  I knew what I had been saved from.

Wisdom started to teach me:

I was not the saviour of the world.

I could not be a friend to every lonely person I met.

I needed to set firm boundary lines around my life, to keep the good in and the bad out.

I should NEVER again allow myself to be led into such a dangerous place.

I needed others to be with me in my mission to help the disturbed and needy.

 

I needed wisdom more than I needed anything else in my life.

Post 29. A few sizes up.

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The tour was on.  I was the sound mixer for New Song.  Our minivans were packed to capacity and there was always plenty of junk food.  We drove from city to city all over South Africa, Transkei, Botswana, Bophuthatswana and Rhodesia.  We set up in schools, churches, fields and any hall that would have us.

It was intense; packing and unpacking sound equipment into the trailer, setting up and doing hundreds of sound checks; rolling up cables and picking up heavy equipment.  I got the nickname “Schweppes” for being such a good mixer.  I wasn’t sure I deserved such a compliment.

We went into some scary places.  Hillbrow was something else.  It was the downtown of downtown Johannesburg.  There were so many lonely people who didn’t have family like I had.  They were lost and very alone.  I had taken my family for granted and hadn’t given a thought to how others lived.  My life had revolved around myself and mine.

People wanted to talk and tell us their woes. There were times when there were tears; from us and them.  After every trip into Hillbrow, I could feel my heart getting bigger.  I was able to take more and I was feeling something that I hadn’t felt before; compassion.

We walked through the townships of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth to call children for kid’s clubs.  Whenever we could, we set up a place for the young people to come and talk.  We saw lives changes in front of our eyes.   The more I saw, the more I realised that what I had was something beyond me.  It had the power to change lives forever.

Our trip into Rhodesia was interesting.  When we drove between towns, we had to go in convoy and in some areas we were told to duck down and hide.  We would lie there expecting to be shot at and we never really got used to being followed by armed men.  It was the end of the war.

In every place we stayed with local people.  We were treated like kings and queens and we made some lifelong friends.  I learnt the art of giving even when I didn’t feel like giving.  After concerts, when we were exhausted and ready for bed, our hosts would want to talk and open their hearts to us.  I learnt to go the extra mile and to make time to listen.

So, we ate and drank and worked hard.  There were conflicts which we learnt to sort out and personalities we just had to get on with.  We learnt to accept different cultures and realised that our way wasn’t always the best way.  There were adjustments and changes, and our hearts grew many times over.

By the end of the year there were lots of tears and promises to keep in touch.  Most of us were twice our size and it wasn’t just that we had more than one slice of bread after dinner.

I had only seen Wilf and Val once that year.  I was tired and I couldn’t wait to get home.  I walked into No 28, up the stairs and into the lounge.  I was surprised.  Everything had shrunk.

Post 28. Moo Hills

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I had itchy feet.  Rigby and Sue had left for Bible College and I needed to get out.  Youth for Christ was running a year programme called Y-1 so I decided to sign up.

I travelled with Rig and Sue to Half Way House,  to a cute little farm called Moo Hills.  That was to be my home for three months.   There were 30 young people full of life and energy, ready to take on the world.  I would be away from my home for a year.  It sounded like a life time.

Our dorms were converted cow sheds and it was very earthy.  Each room had 6 bunk beds so we lived in each other’s pockets and all kinds of lessons were learnt.  It was there that I learnt how to hand wash and iron my clothes. I really missed Val.

We dreaded the 6 am morning trumpet call.  It was loud and right outside our dorm.  I had sung many songs about an angel with a trumpet and people disappearing.  I was always relieved to see that it was just Johnny.

It was my first experience living with people who weren’t “white South Africans.”   Alistair Lowe from Rhodesia was no relation but he was a brother to me. On our weekend off he came to stay with us at No 28.   It was a first for my family too.  He was hilarious.

We had rules at Moo Hills.  Lobo the dog was not to be fed, lights out at 9, only one slice of bread after meals, no relationships between the sexes allowed and absolutely NO physical contact.  All those rules were broken,  but not much went unnoticed by Charlie and Wendy Paine and Sean Daly.

Lobo got fatter and fatter and so did we.  We talked way into the night.  One night we had a brilliant idea.  We lay on our bunks with our feet up against the wall.  On the count of three we stomped as hard as we could.  The girls in the dorm next door thought it was an earthquake and ran out onto the field in their pyjamas. It was freezing.

The girls joked that if ever we wanted some physical contact, we could go to Sean for a haircut.  Only if we were guilt free.  Once he got us under the scissors he would ask how we were doing.  We were convinced he could see right though us.  We didn’t have haircuts that often.  We heard that Alistair, when under the scissors and the stare, couldn’t take the guilt anymore and bellowed out, “Ok, ok, I fed Hobo!”

At the end of our three months of discipleship training, we were put into teams.   The music team needed a sound mixer so I auditioned.   Thanks to Wilf I had a pretty good ear and I got the “job.”

It was an intense three months of early mornings, excercise, study, kitchen duty, learning how to live and so much about loving God and others.

We packed our bags and jumped into minivans for our 9 months of road travel.  What we had learnt at Moo Hills was going to be tested.  We were going to find out if what we had learnt was going to work.  Or not.

Post 27. No pork, no bacon

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I had NO idea what to do next.  I spent my “well deserved”  holiday a bit concerned.  I wasn’t qualified to go to college.  I didn’t want to anyway.  There was no way I wanted to work at the bank.   I was starting to wonder if I would end up in a supermarket, just as my maths teacher had said.

At the same time, there were three things I felt strongly about:   I had a feeling I wouldn’t marry a South African.  I had a feeling I would travel.  I had a feeling I would marry a pastor.

While I dated South African guys, I didn’t meet one  I wanted to marry.  Over the years there were a few serious proposals which I happily turned down.  Some were pastor-types.  Now they were interesting. One took me out for dinner. Forget about “should you kiss on your first date?”  He proposed to me all the way home and kept going at the gate.  He talked about a how I could help him in his ministry.  What an asset I would be to him.  He was desperate.  I was desperate too.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the car.  He became pretty famous- for doing the wrong thing.

Another one was a full on, “no pork, no bacon” type.  We had met at joint youth camps over the years.   He was the most eligible pastor’s son and in much demand among the young girls.  I needed a partner for a banquet so I plucked up all the courage I could find to call him.  He courteously told me he was dating someone but something could be arranged.   He called the next day to say he was available.  After lots of interrogation as to how it happened, I had a date.

He had a fancy sports car and Val made sure he got lots of avocado sandwiches.  He kept coming back.  He didn’t like that I wore earrings or make-up. He tried to convince me that eating bacon was the cause of my bad eyesight.  There were lots of rules and regulations except for the ones that really mattered.  We argued about everything and we didn’t last long.

A lot of time was spent getting them to keep their hands to themselves.  They didn’t make it easy for me to stick to my guns.  It wasn’t my  fault I was “so irresistible.”

I knew what I wanted, and it wasn’t that.

In our youth group, we were encouraged to write down the qualities that we wanted in a husband.  My list was long. It was a perfect description of Jesus; except he played a guitar.