Friday, December 31, 2010

Our Year in Review

* For those interested, "2010 in South Africa: Our Year in Review" is also available in print form, which includes a variety of pictures and additional information. For those who receive periodic newsletters via Email, please see the PDF file attachment found within the original December 31st correspondence. If you would like a printable newsletter with pictures for personal use and/or distribution, please send a request to bekonkol@yahoo.com.

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As we approach the conclusion of 2010 and prepare to turn calendars to 2011, I find it an appropriate time to reflect, share some highlights of the past year, and express thankfulness for the continued outpouring of love and support.

First and foremost, the most wonderful event of 2010 for Kristen and I was the birth of our son, Khaya Tews Konkol, who came into the world on October 13th at Parklands Hospital in Westville (Durban), South Africa. From the moment we first set our eyes upon him, we realized that our lives would never be the same! While we had considered a variety of names in the months leading up to his birth, “Khaya” was deemed the best fit, for “Khaya” is an isiZulu word translated into English as “home”. Among other ideas, we believed choosing such a name would not only honor the place of his birth and those whom he was born alongside, but also serve as a daily reminder of the connections and “home” he shares with friends and family in North America and beyond. “Tews” is Kristen’s maiden name, as we wished to pay tribute to her incredibly loving and supportive family, in addition to carrying forward the Konkol family surname which we also deeply cherish.

All together, Khaya Tews Konkol is a reminder of the gift of life and the “home” we find each day through our identity as recipients of God’s incredible love. In other words, we have long believed that a “house” is a physical location, yet a “home” is a state of mind and deeper awareness of acceptance and sustained peace. And so, we thank God for Khaya’s safe delivery, the excellent medical care, his continued growth, the wonderful compassion of friends and family both near and far, and most of all, for Kristen. While I have been Kristen’s top admirer for many years, my appreciation and love for her grew massively on the day of Khaya’s birth, and over the past months it has only increased, for her courage and faith is truly remarkable. I could not be more proud of my partner, best friend, and lover. Khaya is incredibly blessed to have such a wonderful mother, even if he does not yet fully understand just how great she is!

In addition to the birth of Khaya, throughout 2010 Kristen and I have continued to enjoy our roles as Country Coordinators for the South Africa-based Young Adults in Global Mission program of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Global Mission. After serving in Guyana over the course of four years, it is quite amazing to realize that January will already mark our third year on the shores of South Africa alongside the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA). As Country Coordinators we have experienced the joy of three separate groups of young adults participating in the program, and while each collection of participant learners is different, we believe God has done wonders “to them” and “through them” as they seek to develop into globally formed and globally informed servant leaders who return to the USA ready and willing to serve. Through it all, we are incredibly fortunate to have been welcomed into South Africa by our local Lutheran Church hosts three years ago, and we thank God for the ways in which we continue to learn and grow alongside them as people united in faith and seeking a world that embodies reconciliation, transformation, and empowerment for all people.

The role of Country Coordinator is one that we truly cherish, for it has provided a wide variety of experiences during our time here in South Africa. In contrast to many North American volunteer service projects, the focus of Young Adults in Global Mission is leadership development, for it acknowledges that we as North Americans have a great deal to learn from our companions around the world. And so, in a way that is “upstream” to common trends of cross-cultural engagement, the young adults enter into South Africa not as experts coming to “fix” the people and/or culture, but as participant learners who come open and ready to be challenged and changed through a process of accompaniment alongside our South Africa hosts. I could share countless stories about how such experiences have led to a profound positive impact upon volunteers and hosts, and I am honored to be placed in a situation in which we can facilitate, animate, (and agitate!) our participants each step of the way. I look forward to continued growth of this program in South Africa, and we thank God for all in ELCSA and the ELCA who continue to provide us with so much encouragement.

In addition to our formal roles with ELCA Global Mission, both Kristen and I continue to be involved in a variety of life-giving activities. For example, in addition to her new role as mother, Kristen has continued to provide leadership for a local youth soccer academy in their speed, agility, and quickness program, she consults the local Project Gateway school as a health advisor, provides management for the Human Performance Lab at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville Campus, in addition to teaching biochemistry, physiology, and lab techniques in exercise physiology. As if this all were not enough, Kristen continues to pursue her PhD in the area of Sports Science, and has focused on the research area of immunology and the impact of activity and nutrition among black African children. And of course, Kristen continues to dearly enjoy running, swimming, hiking, and has embraced the joys of taking Khaya on walks while strapped into his baby carrier! While the overall activity schedule can be demanding, Kristen has handled it with grace and determination, and looks forward to more wonderful experiences in 2011.

As for my own roles, in addition to the responsibilities of first-time father, I continue to greatly enjoy the role of Country Coordinator, for it allows Kristen and I to guide a wonderful group of participant learners, while also continuing to learn a great deal about God, the world, and our own place within it from our local hosts and the volunteers themselves. In addition, I continue to enjoy preaching and teaching in the local Lutheran Parishes, participation alongside the Lutheran Theological Institute student body, and ongoing post-graduate study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s School of Religion and Theology. In addition, I have enjoyed the opportunity to produce a variety of theological articles in the USA and South Africa, and have been asked to help edit an upcoming book of South African sermons. I have experienced new opportunities to consult with the Lutheran World Federation Youth Desk and ELCA Advocacy Office in Washington, DC., and I continue to enjoy running, biking, weight-training, and hiking, and have also discovered a new love for playing spontaneous (somewhat ridiculous!) songs to Khaya on my guitar. All in all, it has been a great year, and I look forward to more in 2011.

In terms of the months ahead, Kristen and I will bring Khaya to the USA for the first time in 2011, as we will participate in our bi-yearly ELCA Global Mission “Home Assignment”. From mid-April until mid-June, we will visit a significant number of sponsoring congregations who have graciously supported ELCA Global Mission in an opportunity to thank them and share and receive stories and ideas for the future. In addition, we will participate in annual meetings in Chicago and southern Wisconsin in order to review the past year of Young Adults in Global Mission, and also select participants for 2011-2012. And of course, because most of our congregation visits will take place in Wisconsin and its surrounding states, we dearly look forward to the opportunity of visiting with our family and allowing Khaya to embrace his Wisconsin family roots (…I hope to purchase his first Green Bay Packers cheese-head)! All in all, the year ahead is something that excites us all, for while there will undoubtedly be challenges along the way, we trust that we are never alone, and for that reason we have nothing to fear and everything to embrace.

All in all, it is quite amazing to consider how much has happened over the course of the past twelve months. In addition to the countless joys of our roles mentioned above, last year at this time Kristen and I were preparing for our first vacation as a married couple (…in January of 2011 we were fortunate to visit Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Malta), we enjoyed visits to Wisconsin (…due to assignment responsibilities, I visited in April, while Kristen traveled in June), we hosted family and friends here in Pietermaritzburg on numerous occasions, in June and July we were able to enjoy South Africa’s successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup, and of course, in October we welcomed Khaya into our family. While life certainly took some dramatic twists and turns in 2010, we give thanks to God for all that has taken place, and through it all, we look forward to the most important calling of our lives: parenthood. Through it all, while physical distance may continue to separate us from many family and friends in the USA, Kristen and I continue to grow closer to one another and with Khaya, and in addition, we are amazed by the sense of connection we feel with loved ones here in South Africa and those across the ocean. We give thanks for the amazing love and support received from so many sources, and we pray that our service here is done in a way that makes such people proud as we hope for more wonderful opportunities in the years ahead.

We thank you for all the love and support in 2010 and the many years before it, and by God’s grace, we look forward to more wonderful experiences in 2011 and the many years after it.

With peace and love,

Brian Konkol