September 19, 2012

When I traveled to South Africa, just over six years ago, I had no way of knowing the lasting impact that it would have on me and my ministry. At the time, I was on the verge of graduating seminary, and God willing and the people consenting, being ordained in the Episcopal Church. My mind was filled with finals, finding a parish to serve, and planning a cross-country move, but God interrupted, as God does, by way of a Seminary Consultation on Mission (SCOM) grant that I was blessed to receive and humbled to accept. So in March of 2006 I went to visit the Diocese of Grahamstown in South Africa for one month to learn more about how the church there is responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

While I was there, I traveled from city to township, from parish to orphanage, from school to medical center, listening to both the people there, and the Holy Spirit, who was abundantly present in their care for one another and their hospitality to the stranger (me). I grew in awe of the ministry that they were able to do with such limited resources, and the love and gratitude that they continually expressed to one another. I went to one village where I noticed that there were few people my age—there were people my parents’ age as well as children, but few people in the middle—and when I asked about this, I was taken to the edge of town where there were gravesites as far as the eye could see, many of them with mounds of dirt on top, meaning that the person had died since the last rain fall. As the realization that my generation was being decimated by this horrid disease washed over me, it was all I could do not to burst into tears or cry out to God in anger. And yet, when I worshiped with people on Sunday mornings, there was so much joy infused into their prayers and singing that it was difficult to stay mad at God. This isn’t to say that the people at worship didn’t have their concerns that they took to God, because they certainly did, but it is to say that their belief in Jesus our Savior and Redeemer, the giver of Eternal Life, filled their very being with such a powerful hope that it overflowed into their worship, creating an unparalleled joy that nothing in this world could lessen. How could I not be transformed by their witness?

I think of the people I met there often, and remember them in my prayers. They taught me that blessings abound, despite evidence to the contrary. This is a belief that comes back to me when I need it the most: when the world seems like a hurtful place or the church seems to be losing its way, the memory of the people of the Diocese of Grahamstown makes me pause, and reconsider where there is blessing. And so you could say, receiving that SCOM grant and going to South Africa gave me the insight I needed to become the person I feel like God calls me to be: a person who seeks blessing, and a person who lives into hope.

The Rev. Martha Korienek, M.Div.
M.A., 2015, Diocese of Los Angeles