Thursday, September 11, 2008

Connections

A few weeks ago a friend approached me with a giant smile and asked, “So, what you think about Brett Favre not playing with the Packers anymore? This whole thing must be driving you crazy!" Of course, these words would not have been too strange if I were back in Wisconsin, but to be asked about the former Green Bay quarterback in the KwaZulu-Natal Province of South Africa? With that one question, I was reminded of how the world is most certainly “shrinking”, and no matter where one lives around the globe, we are intimately connected in ways like never before.

There is much discussion about “globalization” in our world today, and as a result, there are numerous explanations and various understandings of the term. There are some that emphasize the cultural exchange of globalization, some mention the Internet and mass communication technology, some observe international political developments, while others focus on global economics, multinational corporations, and foreign trade policies. Whatever the case may be, at its most general level “globalization” suggests that current features of our world are increasingly connected, and there is a growing intensity of our connectedness. In other words, what we do and what we say has an impact on people around the world more so today than at any other point in human history.

As Country Coordinators for the E.L.C.A.’s Young Adults in Global Mission Program, Kristen and I have been fortunate to visit numerous areas around South Africa. What continues to amaze us during our travels is that, no matter where we go there are constant reminders of globalization. Whether in the urban centers of Cape Town or Johannesburg, or the rural country-sides of Mapumulo or Rorke’s Drift, we are likely to see someone wearing a professional basketball jersey or a major league baseball cap, perhaps watching the Oprah Winfrey Show, reading Sports Illustrated, or listening to Jay-Z or Beyonce. I might walk into a store and see items from The Gap, Pepsi, or Nike, and amazingly, I have even noticed products originating from within miles of my hometown in Wisconsin (…who would have thought Wausau Paper and Kimberly Clark would make it this far!).

As we meet new friends and enjoy numerous conversations, what we find increasingly amazing is how, with the dawning of the Internet and globalized television news networks, many people here in South Africa have significant knowledge of what is taking place in the United States (…some are more informed on American current events than most Americans are!). Whether it’s the upcoming Presidential Elections, this week’s weather forecast, Hollywood gossip, and of course – all the drama surrounding a certain football team and its longtime quarterback, all one has to do is click on a computer, grab a newspaper, or tune-in to CNN or the BBC, and the information is readily available. As a result, people in this country – and around the globe – hear more and more about what is taking place in the world, and as a result, we are affected more and more by what each other does or chooses not to do.

While it is amazing to learn of our various connections with people around the world, when one looks a bit closer, it becomes evident that the process of globalization is not beneficial for everyone, especially not for those in the developing world. For example: international trade often has a way of exploiting developing nations and widening the gap between rich and poor; the Western-controlled media has been accused of damaging and/or destroying native cultures; United States television programs seem to provide false ideas of what North American life is truly like; foreign advertisers increase demand for expensive products that people do not need, cannot afford, but eventually learn to desire; and international sporting events often cause underfunded athletes in poor nations to see themselves as failures for not getting the “glamorous gold” like their wealthy competitors. Yes indeed, people are becoming more and more connected around the world, but in this globalized world where the playing field is certainly not equal, we are forced to ask ourselves: What is the nature of the connections? Who benefits most from those connections? Who is hurt because of the connections?

Kristen and I believe a significant part – perhaps the most important part – of our Global Mission service in South Africa is communicating the “connections” shared between North Americans and Africans, and trying our best to play a part in strengthening the positive connections, as well as “transform” those connections that are harmful to our global companions. As people of faith, we believe it is critically important to understand how our behaviors and decisions have a way of impacting people around the globe. As the world is getting smaller, and as Jesus reminded us to care for our neighbors, we are forced to remember that our day to day actions do not only effect ourselves, but our various “neighbors” around the world. The amount of gasoline we choose to pump into our vehicles, the types of foods we choose to purchase, the amount of clothes and electronics we choose buy, the volume of waste we choose to put into the environment – while all these choices might appear to be small and private matters, the reality is that they have profound public consequences for all our global neighbors.

As a way to explore our various connections, Kristen and I decided to launch a new program website which will allow people to learn more about those living and serving here among us in South Africa. The site, http://elcamud.blogspot.com will be filled with writings from American volunteers serving alongside us through the Young Adults in Global Mission Program, but also, it will contain numerous contributions from local South Africans who contribute to the program as our co-workers and hosts. One who visits the site will be exposed to current events, personal perspectives, people profiles, and a variety of other creative writing pieces. The overall goal of this venture is that people in various parts of the globe will be reminded of their connections, and through increased awareness, will make renewed efforts to make better use of those connections for good. We hope you will make time to explore the site and follow its development, and if possible, share it with as many people as possible.

And so, you may continue to find Kristen and my personal reflections on http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com, but we hope you will also take time to visit the new site on a regular basis (…we expect to have new postings each week). For those interested, one can “sign up” to be notified when new entries are made, and if desired, you may feel free to make comments and enter into a “global conversation”.

We look forward to being in touch.

Brian

Installation Service

On August 17th we were officially installed into the ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa as Country Coordinators of the Young Adults in Global Mission program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The worship took place in Applesbosch, located in the province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The worship service was led by South Eastern Diocese Bishop Louis Sibya, and the installation by ELCSA General Secretary Bheki Mathe. The service was attended by various pastors, congregation leaders, and ELCSA members from throughout the area. As you can imagine, Kristen and I were honored to have been welcomed in such a profound way.

Please continue to pray for this cooperative effort between the ELCA and the Lutheran Church here in South Africa.

With love,

Brian & Kristen