Originally posted Dec. 1, 2012, at Breathe it all in. Republished with permission of the author.
Since arriving in South Africa I’ve read many thought-provoking, educational and inspiring books. But none of them have moved me quite like “The Brave Little Fish,” a story read in the Grade 6 class I help out in. In the story, a bored young fish tells his mother that he wants to leave the only stream he’s ever known to see what “lies beyond the mountains.” He says:
“I’m tired of swimming in circles. I want to see the world; I want to see what’s happening elsewhere. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life swimming round and round in this spot. I want to see if there’s another way to live in this world. Once I have learned, I will come back and tell you about it.”
I was literally choked up in front of the entire Grade 6 as the teacher read this story. It might as well be called, “The Brave Little YAGM” (I’m volunteering this year as an ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission or YAGM) I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that life before South Africa was nothing more than swimming in circles, but the fish’s desire to “see if there’s another way” resonated with me like crazy. The teacher had the kids imagine ways that they can break away from their own “boring circles.” They shared things like: be the first in their family to pass Matric (high school), not become pregnant as a teenager, and go to university and get a job to support their family. Pretty inspiring and humbling as I discern my own vocation.
As I swim through the foreign seas of Mabopane, the people I meet along the way never fail to teach me what it means to be brave. My friend often uses the phrase “Ke tlaba strong” I’ll be strong. She described it as the equivalent of when I say “I’m fine,” but am actually not fine at all. Since learning the phrase, I’ve noticed that the teachers at the crèche say “O tlaba strong” — you’ll be strong — when kids fall and scrape their knees and such. In either form of this phrase, there is no choosing whether you’re going to be strong and courageous. Even if you don’t want to be, you just WILL be. I mentioned to one of the crèche teachers how tough I’ve noticed all the kids are. She responded, “Well, they must be.”
This last week I had the opportunity to reunite with the other seven global mission volunteers and our country coordinator. What a blessing it was to hear each of their stories of their journeys thus far. I found continued encouragement hearing the ways each of them have been faithfully strong, also surrounded by supportive communities in different parts of this beautiful country. (Not to mention we got to celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin pie!) Alongside the other volunteers, I continue to search for answers, realizing that I often don’t even know what the question is these days.
I don’t know how the story of the brave little fish ends, just as I don’t know how the story of the brave little YAGM will. But I’m continually grateful for a community at home that sent me away to explore with such grace. It’s a blessing to be a part of the beautiful things that God is already doing in Mabopane.
Find a link to Rachel Hunstad blog Breathe it all in. at Lutheran Blogs.