3/27/2013 8:01:00 AM Building relationships is chief accomplishment of South African mission
When Pastor Mark Yackel-Juleen makes his last official trip to South Africa in 2014, he'll do so with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, he's excited to pass the baton of leadership to another member of a team of which he has been a part since making a first visit to the country in January 2008.
On the other hand, he will miss the relationships he has built with people in the southern part of South Africa as well as the work that has helped that area grow relationally and in terms of sustainability.
"Those of us who go over get as much as we give," Yackel-Juleen says. "It has opened our eyes to some amazing things and to the good people over there who are doing good things with very little."
Yackel-Juleen's most recent visit to South Africa came in October, the fourth trip to the country in five years. The first three trips were working trips involving up to 20 church members and farmers from the Shetek Lutheran Conference.
However, the October visit was an "honorific" event. It included the synod bishop and conference deans - Yackel-Juleen is presently dean of the Shetek Conference. It was an opportunity for area Lutheran leadership to see what was being accomplished in the rural regions of South Africa. It also was a chance to meet with officials from the Ondini Circuit, the Lutheran leadership equivalent of U.S. synod leadership.
And much has been accomplished.
In those first three trips, the team's mission has been to work with the Zulu people in farming land which had been returned to them by the government. Their rural area is located south of Johannesburg, north of Durban and in the foothills on the east side of the Drakensberg Mountains.
It is a remote area of Zulu villages, which are very poor, have little or no electricity and struggle with an HIV and AIDS epidemic. Yet, Yackel-Juleen says there is much joy among the people there and an excitement to work together.
"These are people who have very little, yet they live with joy, even a sense of abundance," Yackel-Juleen says. "When you worship there, they have no piano or organ - drums, maybe, or they use their hymnal as a percussion instrument - and they sing with joy and celebration.
"And they really want to work with us."
Indeed, Yackel-Juleen emphasizes that this is a partnership between people in Southwest Minnesota and the Zulu people in South Africa.
"We like to use the language of 'partnership,' because it's not us going over there and doing things for them. We're going there to work alongside them," Yackel-Juleen says.
For much more on the ELCA's partnership with South Africa, see the story on the Faith & Family page in today's issue of the Cottonwood County Citizen on newsstands now.