December 21, 2009

Standing on Shoulders – Brian Konkol

Posted in Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, South Africa tagged at 2:22 am by randallbutisingh

Standing on Shoulders

By: Brian E. Konkol

Throughout my life I have heard frequent stories of my adventurous uncle, Maynard Konkol.  Maynard, who was one of my father’s older brothers, was born in May of 1951 and was known for “breaking the mold” of typical Konkol family expectations.  Instead of settling down to raise a family in central Wisconsin, Maynard was inspired to pursue an alternative path, travel the world, and contribute to social development projects alongside various rural communities around the world.

Following Maynard’s graduation from the University of Wisconsin in Platteville, he applied to serve with the United States Peace Corps, and was eventually assigned to the city of Maseru, located in the Kingdom of Lesotho about four hours southeast of Johannesburg, South Africa.  From 1977-1979, Maynard applied his bachelors and masters degrees in soil and crop science at the Lesotho Argicultural College (LAC), which is located on the outer edge of the city.  In addition to Maynard’s high priority of building relationships and cultural immersion, his service at the LAC helped create numerous sustainable development projects, and his work has since been shared in the text, “Imperial gullies: soil erosion and conservation in Lesotho”, written by Kate Barger Showers, who is a senior research associate at the Centre for World Environmental History at the University of Sussex in England.

When Maynard departed Lesotho and returned to the United States in 1979, he decided to spend a few months assisting my father as they built a new home, after which Maynard would plan to accept a new job in soils research at Iowa State University.  My older brother was nearly two years of age at time, while I was only ten months old.  Instead of hiring a construction company to work through the various construction phases, my father, uncle Maynard, and other friends and family worked cooperatively and tirelessly on nights and weekends to lay a foundation and assemble the home which my parents continue to reside in today, over thirty years later.  Following each day of work, Maynard – who was known to be “green” and environmentally conscious long before it was trendy to do so – rode his bicycle to my Grandmother’s home each day to eat and sleep.

On September 17, 1979, following another day of hard work on my parent’s future home, what appeared to be a typical day of construction progress turned into an event that members of my extended family would never forget.  Maynard’s daily commute to my grandmother’s residence was cut short when he was struck by an oncoming vehicle less than a mile from his point of departure.  He died that day at the tender age of twenty-eight.  While I was clearly far too young to understand the seriousness of the heartbreak, my family and their friends were crushed by the news.  Maynard had traveled into distant lands around the world that many in central Wisconsin had never heard of, yet his life came to an abrupt close only minutes away from his childhood home.  My father, whose bond with Maynard was especially strong, was wounded in ways like never before.  Only moments after seeing Maynard peddle down the road, an accident would change everything.  Not only had my father lost a brother, but also a life-long best friend.

At numerous occasions during my childhood I viewed various photos of my uncle Maynard during our family “slide shows” in the living room of our home.  I can still remember the clicking sound of the slide projector and the smell of the buttered popcorn!  I loved to hear of Maynard’s amazing and adventurous travels around the world, especially those which took place in Europe and Africa.  Also, I could not help but laugh and smile at his bright-white long hair, stylish 1970’s clothes and glasses, and classic guitar.  It would not have been difficult to find him in the remote villages of Africa!  Through it all, I remember thinking about the far away places he visited, and how it all seemed like a world away.  As a young man in rural central Wisconsin, I always wondered what it would be like to actually visit some of the same foreign places where he served.  Amazingly, that day would eventually arrive.

Once Kristen and I were placed in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in order to serve as Country Coordinators for the ELCA Young Adult in Global Mission program, I immediately knew that one day I would travel to see where my uncle Maynard spent much of the final years of his young life.  I wanted to visit the Kingdom of Lesotho, walk through the streets of Maseru, and of course, explore the Lesotho Agricultural College and learn if anyone remembered him, or if there were any stories to share.  I wanted to hear the sounds of the streets, the feel of the soil, the smells of the plants, and close my eyes in order to visualize what it may have been like for Maynard nearly thirty years ago.  As Maseru is only a six hour drive from our home in Pietermaritzburg, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would be able to make the opportunity a reality.

A few months ago, after nearly eighteen months living in South Africa, Kristen and I finally took advantage of an opportunity to travel to Lesotho and visit the LAC.  As one can imagine, the opportunity to listen to stories about what my uncle may have experienced was a truly amazing occasion, for while I had never truly “known” Maynard, I felt a sense of connection that could not be rationally explained.  As we were led through the area by one of the local LAC workers, I was able to see some the areas with my own eyes that I had once viewed only through photos and slides in the comfortable confines of my parent’s living room.  The sights, sounds, and smells were wonderful, and it was an amazing occurrence that I will never forget.

As I write this reflection, my parents are sitting in my own living room here in Pietermaritzburg, as they are currently visiting South Africa for the first time.  Kristen and I have spent the past weeks alongside them listening and learning, and of course, experiencing numerous sights and sounds of South Africa.  As their time in the region comes to a close in just a few days, tomorrow will most likely be a major “highlight” of their journey.  We plan to rise early in the morning and travel the six hours to Maseru in order for them to experience some of what Maynard had experienced so many years ago.  I have no doubt that it will be an emotional experience, especially for my father.  Over the past weeks I have heard numerous stories about Maynard and his time in southern Africa, and I believe our journey into Lesotho will be something we all will never forget.  With all the excitement in the air, I doubt there will be much sleep tonight!

As I reflect upon this entire situation, there is simply too much running through my heart and mind to even try to capture and share in written form.  Through it all, I am amazed by how my life has worked out in such a way that I am now able to visit places that I once dreamed unimaginable.  And not only that, I am incredibly thankful for the love and support that Kristen and I have received from both of our parents, and how they are all willing to travel thousands of miles to come and visit us here in South Africa.  When I sat in my parent’s living room so many years ago and watched the various slides of southern Africa roll by, I never could have imagined that one day I – a “small town kid” from Amherst Junction, Wisconsin, would be walking through the same areas.  These days I am reminded that with God all things are possible, even if they do not seem probable.

While my parents are usually thousands of miles away, over the past weeks they have been sleeping under the same roof as Kristen and I.  There are times that I have to pinch myself, as it often seems so strange!  As I watch them move around the country meeting and greetings those whom have so gracious welcomed Kristen and I to this beautiful country, I have been thinking a great deal about the connectedness of family, which is something a great deal of South Africans consider at length.  While those of us from North America do not pay much attention to “the ancestors” and all who have come before us in life, these recent experiences retracing Maynard’s footsteps alongside Kristen and my parents have reminded me that we are all products of those who have come before us, and our opportunities arise because we “stand on the shoulders” of family and friends who first paved the way.  In a sense, I am beginning to believe there is no such thing as the “self made person” or the “do it yourself” individual, for we have been given opportunities, gifts, and abilities as a result of our environment and social settings.  Yes, a large deal of success and happiness is based upon individual effort, but I am certainly beginning to believe that our nurture – the way that we were raised and the situations we dwell within – have a great deal of impact.  While I like to believe that I have worked hard in order to “earn” the opportunities which I have been given, the reality is that they are more accurately a result of the undeserved gifts which I have received by God through my parents, those who walked this Earth before me, and of course, those whom Kristen and I are now blessed and honored to accompany.

I never would have imagined one day being able to live in South Africa, and I most certainly never would have imagined one day being able to visit where Maynard once lived.  And of course, I never would have imagined that my parents would be willing to step so far out of their comfort zones to come and visit!  Nevertheless, Kristen and I are here, and we have many people to thank for this amazing blessing.  I thank God for our parents, the various congregations who support us through faith, as well as family and friends around the world who continue to think of us, pray for us, and encourage us in numerous ways.  And of course, today I especially thank God for my Uncle Maynard.  I thank God for the ways in which he – and so many others like him – did so much for so many and how he inspired others to follow his lead.  And perhaps most of all, I pray that one day Kristen and I will be able to honor the blessings we have received by inspiring and supporting others just as so many others have done so for us.

As we come to a close on the year 2009 and look forward to 2010, may we all live our lives in a way that honors those whose who have come before us, and may we provide inspiration for those whom will eventually come after.

With peace and love this day and always,

— Brian Konkol

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December 14, 2009

HUMANITY

Posted in Philosophy, Psychology, Religion tagged , , at 4:39 pm by randallbutisingh

HUMANITY

A Paper read to youths of the Vir Dal of the Arya Samaj Organisation

I was asked to write a short paper on Humanity.   I know it will not be quite easy to address youths on this topic, but I do not underestimate your intelligence.  Most of you are in High School and some of you may be graduates.   To begin with, let me define Humanity.   The World Book says, a human being, a group of people, mankind.   It also says, human nature or character or quality; also a being humane, humane treatment, mercy.

Mahatma Gandhi says; “Humanity is indivisible”.  George Moore, a western writer puts it; “After all, there is only one race, Humanity.”  All Scriptures teach that all mankind comes from the same source.   God is the source.   He is called by different names by different peoples.   He is all pervading, all wise and all powerful.  His own spirit gives life to all beings; hence the concept; all life is one.

Like the bulb that receives the same electric current, but is only able to illumine according to its capacity, so do human beings reflect the Divine to a greater or lesser extent.

Outwardly each individual is unique.   Even identical twins have differences, which may not be discerned; just as in Nature there are no two leaves alike or no two petals of the same flower.  So too, there are differences in people due to geographic locations, language, culture and religion.

Because of our common origin, all men are brothers, and so we speak of the Brotherhood of man. Your teacher Swami Dayanand knew this.  His doctrine was not one of separation or exclusivism.  It was KRINVANTO WISHWA ARYAM – make the whole world noble.   It was a doctrine, not only for Hindus, but for all Humanity.   And what can be a better thing than having all mankind thinking, speaking and acting nobly.   That was his vision and that must be your goal.

I am aware I am speaking chiefly to youths who are aspiring with the help and guidance of their elders to carry the torch so gloriously lit by swamiji and handed down to brave men and women throughout the centuries.  Bear in mind that you carry the label of Vir which means courageous one, and you can be only worthy of the name if you practice the principles of Dharma (righteousness) which includes the practice of Humanity.

In our society, there are various religious creeds, each claiming to be ib possession of the Truth.   Swami Dayanand said that he did not come to form a new religion.   That was already there from the beginning.   Nothing has caused so much division in the world tan religion.   Instead of building bridges to unite, it has set up walls to separate.   There can only be one true religion, the religion of Love, one language, the language of the heart and one God.   When you chant the Gaytri mantra and meditate on its meaning, you see how universal it is; how every human spirit, regardless of its origin can feel its vibrations and become illumined by it.   By constant practice of meditation, you can reveal your true identity, which is one with the Divine being.  You then realize that all human beings have the same identity though individuality differs, and you become non-discriminatory as regard your fellow men.  You begin to see the Divine in all.  You envision in diversity.

To further illustrate the oneness of Humanity, let me make an analogy.   Each individual is a piece in the mosaic pattern of society, every piece with its own colour and shape blended to form a harmonious whole.   If something happens to any of those pieces, if it gets broken or is tarnished in any manner, it significantly affects the harmony of the whole.   So too, the behaviour of one individual either enhance or diminish humanity.

I shall now quote the thoughts of a Western writer John Donne.  He says:  “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.   If a clod is washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or thine own were.   Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The brutality and humanity perpetrated against his fellow man, is a result of, notwithstanding his academic and technological advancement, his not moving from unreality to reality, from darkness to light   His spirit still grovels in the dust while his body reaches for the stars.   He is so obsessed with shadows and mirages that he fails to recognize the substance.

To be perfectly human, one must be able to see the Divine in everyone no matter how base that person is; and to see that Divinity, one must leave the periphery of the circle where we are bound by attachment to temporal and ephemeral objects and journey inwards.   There we will see pilgrims from all creeds who have seen the light.   And as we journey towards Humanity and Nobility, let us have a genuine tolerance for our brother who tries to find God by another path.   I here quote from the poet:

“Into the bosom of one great ocean

Flow streams that come from hills on every side;

Their names as various as their springs;

And thus do men in every land bow down

To one great God though known by many names”.

Let us continually seek Him, if we are to find our Humanity.

The blend of different colours enhances beauty.   How would it look if all the flowers of your Garden were of one colour, or one shape, or one specie, or the rainbow just red or blue or just one colour?   The Creator in his infinite wisdom has made diversity in all things.   We can learn from Nature, from the vast variety of plants and animals – each specie thriving in its own kind of environment of soil, climate and weather; each flower displaying its own unique beauty to delight the eye and gladden te heart.   So too, in the realm of Humanity.   We have one skin which is transparent as can be seen in the Albino, but Nature has endowed us with varying degrees of pigmentation to allow us to adopt more comfortably to our environment.

Another point I would like to make is:  man is a gregarious animal.  He needs to socialize and to communicate with others of his kind, if he is to grow and develop and to find fulfillment.   But here he has to make good choices.   He must choose Satsang, the company of the wise.   Association with the wise will, as Bhagwan Baba so eloquently puts it, will dilute his evil tendencies just as sewer is diluted when it reaches the sea.

In our highly civilized and specialized society, man has become more interdependent.   He needs the service of his fellow men for survival.   It takes the service of more than a thousand men to produce the loaf of bread which you have for breakfast.   So you can understand how many millions of workers it will to take to produce all the amenities we need for a good standard of living in today’s complex society.   We have to go beyond the community, beyond the state and beyond the country.  In times of famine, pestilence, devastation by war, natural disasters of various kinds, we seek help beyond our borders.   Foreign countries render humane assistance in money, food, medicine and valuable human resource to help alleviate the suffering of their fellow men.

I shall now tell you of an incident of man’s Humanity to man, how others feel for others as they feel for themselves.   It was Christmas, the Season of goodwill when gifts were shared among family members and friends;  I turned on the television, and by chance I saw a show where the host was giving much needed articles to the poor and needy who had previously asked for help.   A young woman did not ask for anything for herself, but for warm covering for a homeless couple who lay on the cold sidewalk of a city in this rich and great country.   She got her request and took the gift to the delighted and grateful couple.  Another young woman used her $20.000 legacy to help the poorest children in the slums.   She took them to places they could never have dreamed of seeing.   Their little hearts were warmed by the generosity and compassion of this stranger who became their neighbour.

But what moved me more deeply was a little act of kindness from an old woman who made her living by collecting empty soda containers for recycling.   A hungry man after soliciting unsuccessfully the help he needed from other men who were engaged in the same activity, approached her and stretched out his hand to her.   Immediately, she took out two dollars from her pocket, gave it to the man and told him to meet her again in the morning.  A television crew was out that morning and filmed the incident.   She was awarded with a gift of five thousand dollars.   She did not expect reward.   What little she gave was from the little she had and from a generous heart.  It was more than the rich could have given from their thousands.

Your religion teaches that there is no forgiveness of sins;  but be careful how you interpret this and refrain from helping the poor and needy and those who despitefully use you.   Always bear in mind of Swamiji and the sadhu who used to abuse him every day;  how he never retaliated, was never angry with him, and one day he sent him the choicest of the fruits a devotee had offered to him;  how the sadhu was filled with remorse;  and from that day became one of Swamiji’s most devoted followers.

You practice humanity when you help the hungry, the homeless, the sick and suffering.I missed one of my opportunities to practice Humanity in a street of Georgetown, Georgetown, Guyana when a man stretched out his hand to me to ask for help.   I looked at him then went on my way.   But something struck me;  I had seen despair on the man’s face.  I turned away quickly, it was just a matter of a few seconds, hoping to find him and to give himhelp, but he was gone.   I searched for him a while, but he had vanished like a shadow in the night.   That incident and the look on my brother’s face is haunting me to this day.   I wrote a poem about the incident.   It runs thus:

A wretched stranger met me by the curb

With hand out stretched to beg for gold;

I passed him by without a word

And left him sad and unconsoled.

When on the way to seek my own

My conscience pricked me to the bone,

I hurriedly retraced my steps

To cheer my neighbour;

He was gone!

I sought him frantically among the throng,

But he had vanished like a shadow in the night;

I stood awhile in guilt and pain and shame,

My Lord came knocking,

I tarried, then opened, but oh! too late.

Sir Patrick Renison one of the great governors of the colonial era, once said:   “The Brotherhood of man is not only a fact of nature but a Divine command.   If God is the Father of all mankind, then all of us are brothers and sisters.   How many blood transfusions from some person of another colour have not been given to save the lives of others?   And because of our natural affinity, we find it easy to adapt into the environment and assimilate the language, customs and culture of other peoples.

Now, how can we add luster to Humanity?   Here are a few examples of great people who by their love, sacrifice and compassion have been great Humanitarians, and have helped to make this world a better place:

Mahatma Gandhi who gave up everything he had to serve his country, his people and his God.

Saint Francis of Assisi, who abandoned wealth and a comfortable existence and became a poor monk in order to serve the poor and suffering.

Mother Teresa, who left her home and country at a young age and went to India to help the sick and suffering.

Dr, Albert Schweitzer a man of four doctorates who left civilization and went into the jungles of Africa to help the sick.

Father Damien, a Catholic priest, who worked among the lepers in Hawaii for many years and eventually contracted the disease.

Abraham Lincoln, U.S. president who abolished slavery and set free thousands of slaves in America.

George Washington Carver, a U.S scientist, son of a slave who spent many hours in the laboratory to discover the many uses of various plants for the use of man.

There are many, many more that could be added to this list.   We cannot all be great like the persons mentioned above, but we can all do things within our capacity, to show our Humanity.  We can surely show love and compassion and as one writer puts it: ”write kindness in the heart of one individual”

So never let us miss an opportunity to do a good deed with good intent; for as the song says, “we do not know in what guise He will come to test us.  Good deeds enhance Humanity of which every human being is a significant part of the indivisible whole.

In closing I will leave a thought in simple verses.  It runs thus:

Little drops of water, little grains of sand,

Make the mighty ocean and the pleasant land.

Little deeds of kindness, little words of love,

Make this earth an Eden, like the Heaven above.

Namaste !   Om Shanti!  Shanti!  Shanti1

Blue Star Interfaith Group Address

Posted in Philosophy, Religion tagged , , at 3:44 pm by randallbutisingh

ADDRESS TO MEMBERS OF THE BLUE STAR INTERFAITH GROUP

This evening I will continue my observations on Love  and present some thoughts on the topic.  First of all I would like to recite again that Doha (couplet) which I recited on the first occasion.

Prem hi prem ka tatwa hai, Prem hi Ishwar naam

Bina prem sansar men;   Jivan hai na kaam ll

This means; Love is Truth and Love is God. Without Love in the world, life has no meaning.

Now I quote from a Christian Hymnal;

Beloved, let us love, Love is of God;

In God alone has Love, its true abode.

Then this is a quotation from one of my own poems inspired by a thought in the Reader’s Digest.  It says Life consists of three essentials – something to do something to love and something to hope for.  My poem reads:

Life cannot be blue

If we’ve something to love,

For no one truly lives

Who does not truly love.

What do we garner from the above?  This.  That Love is essential for a successful, peaceful and happy life.

Yes, many have found something to love which helps to make life meaningful.  It may be work, which if we love becomes a vacation.  It may be for a pet- a dog or lamb or horse, or any such animal, or it may be for another human being – a friend or lover.  In these experiences one may catch glimpses of the timeless, we may feel ecstasy – the flowers may appear more beautiful, to us, the songs of the birds sweeter.  We may stop for an hour to look at a sunrise or sunset; but this love that has its limits cannot bring complete fulfillment.  These experiences are gained from outward and temporary manifestations that is Maya or unreality.

How then do we need to find that Love which is wider than the ocean, deeper than the deepest sea and higher than the highest mountain?  We have to stop looking in the temples and churches and in places of pilgrimage and journey inwards.  This may be done by guided super conscious meditation, by prayer and devotion or by selfless service.

The Soul which is the image of God according the Jews and Christians, or a spark of the Divine according to the Hindus, identical in every one, is the abode of Love and is within this body.  It is there, ready to enlighten and illumine when we realize that Love is the Way and the Goal.

What happens when one is so enlightened?  Listen to this short poem on St. Francis of Assisi which I have written:

Love touched his eyes

The scales fell off

And He beheld the Lover, Christ

Effulgent, serene

Spanning space and time.

Then straightway loosed he his earthly ties

And ran singing in the street;

There he met a beggar for whose rags,

He did his costly robe exchange.

Then found and clasped the leper to his heart ,

Crying, My brother, my own dear brother!

St. Francis was a dissolute young man, the son of a rich merchant.  His every material need was fulfilled, but he felt unfulfilled.  In his sick bed he heard the voice of his saviour calling him to rebuild  the Church.  He immediately arose and from that day, he spent the remainder of his life serving the sick and poor.  He was a lover of animals and the birds would flock around him and he would preach to them.  The animals he would address as brothers; even the wolf was brother wolf.  He was not harmed by any of them.

Here is another of my poems which describes the Saint in a few lines:-

As full and free as the breeze that blows,

such is my love which over flows;

No wall surrounds, no heart enslaves,

No barrier time or creed enclaves;

It touches all, exempt is none,

Bird, beast and man, God, everyone.

The love of the Saint is full and free; it cannot be contained; it overflows and touches everything.  It has no limits, no boundaries.  It transcends and breaks barriers of every kind – race, creed, colour.

Hear what St, Paul says about Love:

Love is patient, Love is kind; Love is not jealous; Love is not out for display; it is not conceited or unmannerly; it is neither self seeking nor irritable nor does it take account of any wrong that is suffered.  It takes no pleasure in injustice, but sides happily with truth it bears everything in silence, has unquenchable faith, hopes under all circumstances; endures without limit.

Love casteth away fear.  No one fears the thing he loves.  There is so much fear in the world today because man has failed to exploit his greatest potential– Love which abides within all and which makes him equal with all.  Like the waves in the ocean, each individual wave dances and prances, trying to outdo the others, without realizing that it is the one with the ocean, and beneath that restlessness, there is calm and peace.  The individual soul will continue to be restless until it finds rest in Love.

You may hve read or heard the story of the prodigal son found in the gospel of the New Testament. The father in that story represents God who is ever waiting for the penitent sinner to return.  When you make one step towards Him, He makes ten steps towards you.  So as you seek him within, you will find your true imperishable self which is no other than the Universal Soul.

No one who loves unconditionally is ever poor, even he has very little material possessions.  Things material change, disintegrate, decay and vanish, but the Cup of Love is always full no matter how much is given from it.  To love is to give, to live for others and if needs be to give your life for others.  When you give to others, you give to yourself, like wise when you harm others you harm your self.

Lord Jesus was the incarnation of Divine Love.  Even when he suffered on the cross, he asked His Father to forgive his enemies as they knew not what they did.  His heart was so large; it took the whole world in.  A Hymn writer wrote this of Him:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love, so amazing, so Divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

To you members of the Blue Star Organisation of Florida, yours is the great privilege, also the challenge and opportunity to continue ceaselessly on your journey in Quest for true Love and so find your true self which is the imperishable Atma.

AUM  SHANTI  SHANTI  SHANTI!!!

— Randall Butisingh


November 16, 2009

“A search for opportunity”

Posted in Philosophy, Psychology, Religion, South Africa tagged , at 8:17 pm by randallbutisingh

South Africa: October, 2009
“A search for opportunity” by (Kristen Faith Konkol)

To view with pictures, go to: http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com

She looks up from the washing and rests her weary hands on top of the bucket to see where all the sound is coming from. As she walks out beyond the gate and down the path to the small patch of red dirt the sounds become louder and more familiar. When she reaches the area where the sounds were emanating from, she steps forward with uncertainty to the small group gathered. As her calloused and tiny bare feet come into the circle, all eyes are upon her. The sounds she heard were familiar ones…those of the neighborhood boys playing and kicking around a make-shift soccer ball in one of any number of informal spaces in the area. But when she approaches, she is met with many looks of displeasure, restlessness and discontent. The cackling and sighs under their breath make their feelings transparent. The “ball” rolls to her feet, and with one touch she unlocks a palpable sense of vigor and excitement. Small posts made of sticks and old bottles are put on either side of this makeshift (garage-sized) space and the competition begins. Although the first days and weeks of ‘toeing the line’ to be just ‘one of the gang’ [who used every spare moment to play] were brutal and sometimes defeating, she remained persistent, focused and simply tried not to screw up and hear the demoralizing criticisms with arms raised in her direction. She is eager to hold on to this rare opportunity.

Born in a rural area of KwaZulu-Natal (at the time simply Natal ), she was already faced with challenges that continued to test her and try to keep her down. As one of 6 children born to her mother and father, her life was quickly turned upside-down. With her father out of the picture from the beginning, she then faced an uphill battle as her mother died before she had reached two years of age. She and her siblings were then taken to an aunt in the Edendale Valley (just outside of Pietermaritzburg), where she still lives today. At the age of 5, she spent nearly a year of her life in the hospital fighting pneumonia for which they were told to plan a funeral. Today, her father, brothers and one sister have perished at very young ages (most presumably from HIV/AIDS) and one of her two remaining sisters is currently battling serious ill health. Her immediate family is all but gone. But it was from her father that she said that God placed this love and gift into her body…the physical gifts, love and passion to play the game of soccer. She knew she had to create that opportunity to shine.

Growing up in the Edendale Valley , she took advantage of any opportunity to play soccer. But as like many places in the world, opportunities for young women and girls to play sports (especially those “traditionally” for boys) was limited and she knew every time she got the chance to step out and compete with the boys that she had to prove herself. But she always asked herself, why? Why do people not want me to play? Why are there no girl’s teams? Why do they (the boys) get all the opportunities? As she got older, she heard that there were some girl’s teams in the country, but had no idea or resources to participate. It wasn’t until she was playing with a boy’s team that she was “seen” by someone in SAFA (South African Football Association) who had contacts with the likes of female teams. As her aunt had no phone and no way of really reaching her outside of finding the school she attended, she was a relative unknown. Her talent was not taken advantage of for lack of opportunity, exposure and ability to locate her. Then the call came in to the school…

Bayana Bayana (the female national soccer team) called her to come and train at a camp and play some matches with them when she was 15 and 16 years old. It was not long before that she was given her first pair of soccer shoes.  To put on the national uniform in the relatively new democratic country was an amazing feeling for her and opportunities she says she will never forget. Although the experiences were meaningful, she wondered what was next in store for her career, as there still remained relatively few opportunities for females to play in the area. ‘Here I was playing for Bayana Bayana and now I come home and it’s back to playing with the guys.’ Although she admits that playing with males helped her with her skill, speed and toughness, she always wanted the opportunity to compete with and against other females.

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that an organized league for females in the area was available. She has been playing on this team ( Maritzburg City ) since its inception and feels very happy that it was created. Although, she says, that part of her always wishes that these opportunities came earlier in her life as opposed to the latter stages of her career. Above all, she remains determined to create and encourage opportunities for female players today that she herself did not experience.

She remains with the local women’s team, and continues to play at a very high level, although the gray hairs on her low cut style are apparent. She spends many a weekend working with and coaching the next generation of female players and continues to assist SAFA with scouting of female players around the region. Her goal is to provide the opportunities and encouragement for young girls that she always yearned for. Although the days of females getting kicked off the soccer pitch by male teams and being scoffed at when arriving to play against male or female teams still happens (and did while I was there), strides are slowly being made.

It has been my privilege and joy to be able to call the person in this story my friend. We have not only played together in practices and games, but coached young girls alongside one another from all over the surrounding areas. Walking alongside and accompanying one another in mutual respect we have learned so much about not only each other but also about one another’s country, language and culture. Above all, the passion that we share is for women and girls to have the opportunity to compete, participate and enjoy the gift of games and sport…no matter what sport that is or where in the world that female may be!

With peace and blessings,

— Kristen Konkol

A great story from a brilliant writer.  Kristen Konkol is a rising  scintillating  star in the  journalistic firmament,  and honest reporting.   We look forward to her first bestseller.

Randall.

October 7, 2009

Canon William Granville Burgan

Posted in Buxton, Education, Guyana, History, Lusignan, Philosophy, Religion tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 6:03 am by randallbutisingh

Persons who were of great significance in my life – 01

Canon William Granville Burgan,  B.A., M.A.

I will name Canon William Granville Burgan as one of the most significant people in my life.  This was because I had the longest relationship with him than any one else in my teaching career, when he was incumbent at Saint Augustine’s Anglican Church, located at Buxton, East Coast Demerara, British Guiana (now Guyana), and manager of the schools in which he served for a little over twenty- one years.   He jestingly referred to his twenty one year incumbency as his coming of age.  When he celebrated it in 1946, I had the pleasure of reporting it in one of the media of the day.

Rev. Canon W.G. Burgan 1886-1958

Rev. Canon W.G. Burgan 1886-1958

When he came to Buxton in 1925, I was thirteen years of age studying for the School Leaving Examination.  To me a small boy, he was tall by my standard in those days, five feet, ten inches, the same as I am now, good looking and elegant.   I admired him from the day he came.  He was a family man with three sons and two daughters.   He was the only African, in British Guiana, at a time when University degrees were rare to procure both the Bachelor and Master of Arts degree in a British University.   He was a good writer and his articles submitted to the newspapers and the monthly Diocesan Magazine stood out as gems of the English language.

For a man of his ability, he was easily fitted for the highest post in the Anglican Church, but in those days of colonialism, he could only reach as far as Canon.  The highest offices, like the Arch-Bishops and Bishops went to the white British, regardless of their attitude or aptitude – an area of discrimination, even in the Church.

Rev. Father Burgan carried out his duties as a priest and manager of the Anglican schools he controlled with dedication and commitment, though at times in conversation with him, I sensed a sign of frustration, which happens to a mind that is at a disadvantage to function to its full potential.  However, his tasks at Church were not a one-day affair, as some may think.   Apart from the regular services every Sunday and  children service every month, he held a weekday service for the school children when he would teach them new songs.   He was a good singer – a tenor, and a musician, and he also played the organ.   One of the songs he taught, I can remember word for word, even to this day.  He also helped the choirmaster to train the choir and held Confirmation classes, which were regular for long periods every year.

He loved children.  I remember once he took us on an excursion to Fort Wellington, Berbice to meet with children of the parish from which he was transferred.  At that time we had the railway running then from Georgetown to Rosignol.  I remember him taking off his clerical collar and joining with the boys in a game of cricket.

Besides his duty as priest,  he was also Justice of the Peace.  Policemen would go every week with bundles of summonses for him to sign.  In those days defendants were issued summonses at their homes to appear in court.  I believe that was the reason why he never tried to settle a case between two parishioners, but would let them go to court.    However, that was one area I did not feel agreement with him.   But now, I can see his reason; “if you could be so stupid as to make trouble, I have no patience with you; go and let the court settle it; that’s what they are there for”.   Even when one of his sons got into trouble, he did not try to resolve the matter outside of court.   Poor “Mistress” (Burgan), as we were taught to call his spouse, went to plead on the boy’s behalf.   Once I had a case with one of my young fellow teachers who hurt me.   His father refused to pay for the doctor’s expenses;   the matter was settled when his father was summoned to appear in court.

As I grew up in the school and church, I sensed a bond between us, an affinity.  I was always at ease with him although he was strict.  He was interested in my knowledge of Hindi and told me that he wished he had learnt it.   He, however was knowledgeable in Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  I knew of a candidate for the Bachelor’s degree who would visit him often to get help in learning  Greek.   He gave me the books left by his predecesor, Rev. James Persaud, who was proficient in both Hindi and Urdu, and who kept Hindi services for the old Indian Christians, back around the late 1920’s.   His books included the Missal in Urdu, an Urdu grammar and the Six Schools of Hindu Philosophy.  He also allowed me to continue the Hindi services which his predecessor kept.

Canon Burgan, though erudite, knew that he could not know everything.   He would ask me to explain certain points in grammar as if I was his teacher.   I did not realize then that maybe, he was really testing me.   He was not prejudicial; he spoke well of those of his calling who were well educated e.g. the Metropolitan (Bishop) of India.   In 1940, he appointed me Lay Reader along with another colleague.  We did the reading of the two lessons at evensong and matins, and also held the burial services when he was absent.  He made it plain that he hated the Old Testament lessons.

When I got married, he gave me a choral wedding and returned the fee I gave him for the ceremony.  He also baptized my eldest two children before he was transferred to the Plaisance Village Church in the mid 1950’s.

When India gained her independence in 1947, he held a service for the Indians of Buxton and neighbouring Vigilance.  I attended dressed in my Indian garb and was asked to read the lesson in Hindi. When the wife of the Indian catechist died, throngs from the neighbouring villages and sugar estates attended.  He made me sing a Bhajan (hymn in Hindi) with them and also read the sermon for the dead in Hindi.

With all his effort and dedication, I sensed a frustration.  This is a dog’s job, he once told us.  He had to raise a certain sum of money every year to give to the Diocese, also to maintain the material fabric of the Church.  This could not have been done by contributions from the parishioners, as they were poor.   The takings from collections were small and some could hardly have paid the six shillings ($1.44) for their yearly membership, so he had to resort to entertainments to raise the required sum.   His yearly Tea and Dance had always been a success.  In the 1950’s the young Bishop Allan John Knight was transferred as Bishop, to British Guiana from Africa to help raise money for the Church, which was in a parlous situation, and which he said could not run without money, but he had not to do it himself, the parish priests had to do it.

After 1949,  Canon Burgan was transferred to Plaisance, a parish church closer to Georgetown, we still kept our good relationship.  I used to visit him in the vicarage where he and his wife lived alone.  By then, the children were all grown, married or abroad.  After retiring, he moved to his residence in Georgetown, where he passed his last days before his call to eternity.

When he was called to higher service, I went to the funeral home where his body lay for viewing. He looked peaceful in his casket.     His daughter Dolly kissed him on the forehead.   There was a funeral service held for him at the parlour;  a man in a  high pitched voice sang solo the hymn “Lord, I would own Thy tender care and all Thy Love to me” .   After the service I  followed his cortege when it was moved to St. George’s Cathedral.  There he laid in state for final viewing and funeral service which was attended by hundreds from various parishes, dignitaries and people from all walks of life.  He was later entombed at St.  Sidwell’s churchyard in Lodge Village.

To sum up his life, with the failings, errors and limitations which are inevitable to humans in this mortal life,  Canon  Burgan performed to his fullest in the state of life into which God had called him.   As he lived, so did he die and so will he gain eternal rest in the kingdom prepared for all those who “ran the race and endured to the end.”   I close this tribute with a  quote from one of my poems:

Now he is gone, no more for us his work;

Death’s icy fingers shut the heavy tome;

But in some fairer realm where waits his Lord.

A soul will rise effulgent and at peace.

Rest in peace, my pastor, my teacher and my friend!

Randall Butisingh

——————————————————————————————–

SHORT BIOGRAPHY

Canon William Granville Burgan, B.A., M.A.

Canon William Granville Burgan (1886-1958) was born in British Guiana.  His father’s parents were one of the founders of the village of Beterverwagting, on the East Coast of Demerara.  His father, Mr. William Garnett Barnett Burgan, who died in 1938, was a well-respected Head Master of various schools in British Guiana.

Canon Burgan was born at Beterverwagting on June 16, 1886 and entered Codrington College, Barbados in 1907, holding a Diocesan Scholarship.  After three years’ residence he took and passed the B. A., degree of Durham University and also won the Wilson prize in Reading and Education competed for annually at the College Commemoration.

On his return to the colony he was ordained Deacon in December 1910 and was attached to Cathedral Staff.  In the following year he was appointed Curate of the All Saints, New Amsterdam.  On December 28, 1912, he and the Late Rev. W. G. Kimber, then Curate of St. George’s Cathedral, were advanced to the Priesthood by Bishop E. A. Parry.

Late in 1913 he was transferred to St. Michael’s Parish as Curate in Charge and later became First Vicar on the separation of these districts from the main parish. In 1914 he proceeded to his M. A., degree from Durhan University.   In 1938 he was made Canon (St Alban’s) at St. George’s Cathedral.

During his many years at Belladrum, in addition to his ministerial duties he interested himself in the general welfare of the villagers.   He was Chairman of the Local Authority of Eldorado and as President of the Farmers’ Association and First Secretary of the Belladrum and Lichfield Co-operative Credit Banks.   He was instrumental in getting the farmers to increase the area under rice cultivation.

For his services in connection with the Credit Banks he was made a Justice of the Peace of the Colony and in order that the operation of the Banks could be effectively controlled a considerable area of undivided lands was brought under the provisions of the District Lands Partitions Ordinance.  For this purpose Government appointed him Settlement Officer for the partitioning, and the issuing of titles of the villages of Belladrum, Eldorado, Paradise and Golden Fleece.

On the death of the Rev. James Persaud, incumbent of St. Augustine’s Buxton, in 1927,  Mr. Burgan was preferred as his successor and here, too, he has interested himself in the farmers.  He has been President of their Association and Vice-Patron of the Farmers’ League.  At Buxton he was manager of a number of Anglican schools in the area.

He spent over 22 years at Buxton and in 1949 was transferred to a larger village parish at Plaisance Village from where he retired in 1956. He passed on December 15, 1958.

As a Diocesan official he has held the post as Secretary of the Board of Missions for many years.  On his visits to England he has given good service in advertising the claims of the Church and in making the colony better known. His services were much in demand by the Society for the propagation of the Gospel.  He was detailed on special duty to the Channel Islands and in the Diocese of Cork in Ireland and the work and claims of the missions in this Diocese was made known to those with no knowledge of conditions prevailing in British Guiana.

He was an intellectual, well read, and versed in Latin,  Hebrew and Greek literature.  He was keenly interested in folklore and historical research. He published many articles in the newspapers and magazines.  For instance, in 1942 he published in the Diocesan Magazine “A Short History of the Guiana Diocese”, which outlined the history of the Anglican Church in British Guiana.  Mr. Burgan also contributed  for many years, to a Daily Argosy column under the non-de-plume “Rusticus”. – L. E. M., which were vivid writings of country life in rural villages of British Guiana.

– Source: the Daily Argosy

October 5, 2009

Hindi Prachaar Sabha honours Randall Butisingh

Posted in Awards, Buxton, Philosophy, Religion tagged , , , at 6:27 pm by randallbutisingh

Hindi Prachaar Sabha honours Randall Butisingh

September 22, 2009 | By KaieteurNews | Filed Under News

…hailed as world’s oldest blogger and Hindi teacher

Mr Misri Persaud of the Guyana Hindu Prachaar Sabha, left, collects the award on behalf of Randall Butisingh from Indian High Commissioner to Guyana Sabeet Kumar Mandal.

Mr Misri Persaud of the Guyana Hindu Prachaar Sabha, left, collects the award on behalf of Randall Butisingh from Indian High Commissioner to Guyana Sabeet Kumar Mandal.

Guyanese Randall Butisingh, known as the world’s oldest blogger and a prominent teacher of the Hindi language, has been honoured by the Guyana Hindu Prachaar Sabha.

Butisingh was honoured for his work in promoting and teaching Hindi language when the Indian Cultural Centre hosted a programme Saturday to celebrate World Hindi Day.
Mr. Misri Persaud of the Guyana Hindu Prachaar Sabha collected the award on behalf of Butisingh.

Butisingh was born in Guyana on December 1, 1912. He grew up in Buxton, East Coast Demerara, where he received his primary education. In 1925, he qualified and was the first runner-up for the first Buxton Scholarship.

In 1927, he passed the School Leaving Examination and became a Pupil Teacher at the age of 15.
This was the start of a 45 year-long career, with a few short breaks, in which he served as a Class II Certified and Trained Teacher until his retirement in January, 1972.

During his career, he taught mainly in Buxton, with short assignments in Lusignan, Non Pareil, Ann’s Grove and Mon Repos.
His literary accomplishments include: A paper on “Hindi in Multicultural Guyana” and a translation of a biography of Mahatma Gandhi – from Hindi to English.

He became a member of the Guyana Hindi Prachar Sabha in 1976 and also served as the Sabha’s Hindi correspondent and editor of its journal, “Gyanda.”

Among the areas of his interest are Comparative Religion, Eastern Philosophy, the computer,  and, of course, teaching Hindi. In his late 70’s he learnt to read the Arabic script and is able to read from the Holy Quran. He can also recite a few of the Suras from memory. He can also read Urdu, a sister language of Hindi, written in the Persian script to a fair extent.

At age 89, he began learning to play the recorder and according to him he has acquired some degree of proficiency. He also practises on the keyboard.
Now in this, his 98th year, he is studying Spanish and art.

October 4, 2009

Let’s revive the Golden Rule – Video

Posted in Philosophy, Psychology, Religion tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:29 pm by randallbutisingh

Karen Armstrong is a provocative, original thinker on the role of religion in the modern world.

Karen Armstrong is a provocative, original thinker on the role of religion in the modern world.

Why you should listen to her:

Religious thinker Karen Armstrong has written more than 20 books on faith and the major religions, studying what Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common, and how our faiths shaped world history and drive current events.

A former nun, Armstrong has written two books about this experience: Through the Narrow Gate, about her seven years in the convent, and The Spiral Staircase, about her subsequent spiritual awakening, when she developed her iconoclastic take on the major monotheistic religions — and on the strains of fundamentalism common to all. She is a powerful voice for ecumenical understanding.

Armstrong’s 2008 TED Prize wish asks us to help her assemble the Charter for Compassion, a document around which religious leaders can work together for peace. In late fall 2008, the first draft of the document was written by the world, via a sharing website.

In February 2009 the words of the world were collected and given to the Council of Conscience, a gathering of religious leaders and thinkers, who are now crafting the final document. The Charter will be launched in November 2009.

“I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.”

Karen Armstrong on Powells.com

THIS IS THE VIDEO LINK:

http://www.ted.com/talks/karen_armstrong_let_s_revive_the_golden_rule.html

_________________________________________________________________________

Submitted by Cyril Bryan- Guest Contributor

September 28, 2009

The spirit of Islam

Posted in Religion tagged , , , , at 11:38 pm by randallbutisingh

This passage was taken from “The Muslim Mind” , the new edition of a book by Charris Waddy, a Christian, who interviewed a number of Muslims to get their views on Islam  It is a book worth reading by all who are interested in Comparative Religion.  It clearly shows that there is the same thread of truth in all the great religions, and reveals the failure of the many to interpret it .

The spirit of Islam is a wonderful thing, but it is forgotten even in Islam itself.

We need bridges, give and take between religions .  They should be fellows in a common task, but each pretensd that absolute truth belongs only to itself, and that the others are invaders.   All have an attitude which is ungenerous and irreligious.  It has cut away common actions for the same aims for centuries.

About 1890 an Armenian came to a mosque and asked for guidance.  He was one of a community that lived closely with Muslims.  He was directed to a certain Shaik who taught him, whom he greatly respected.  After a while, he said, “I have decided to become a Muslim.  I find your teaching and life better than that of our Christian people.”   The Shakh said, “If you do this, I will never give you my hand again, and teach you.  There is no need to change your religion to become a better man.   Think of your family and the division it will cause.”

– Ahmer Emir Yalman

Comment:

If all religions can view themselves as how this Shaik looked at it, their will be no cause for conflicts, no crusades to be fought, everyone will be able to live in peace.  As it is now, Religion is the cause of many conflicts.  Bigots do not budge from their dogmas and compulsions.  To hem oneself in a narrow circle and exclude all others has been the cause of discord among the proselytising religions.

– Randall Butisingh

September 23, 2009

GUARDIAN ANGELS II

Posted in Environment, Philosophy, Psychology, Religion tagged , , , , , at 1:05 pm by randallbutisingh

GUARDIAN ANGELS II

It was on a great looking South Florida summer afternoon in 1995. After I got home from work I decided to go for my usual two- mile walk around my neighborhood. Nearby was a large plot of land was occupied by a plant nursery and I would say that its length was about half a mile. I had a friend, Mike Roberts, doing some carpentry work on our house at the time, and I told him that I was on my way to go walking around the nursery.

Going west, about the equivalent of three city blocks away was the nursery. I rounded a corner on the west side of it and proceeded north going towards Eureka Drive, a main route. On my left were three houses, sitting far apart on remote farms, all enclosed by barbed wire fences and ferocious dogs; nothing else. Strangely enough I never looked skyward, but about midway on that half-mile strip I became aware of a sudden darkening of the skies up, and ahead of me.

I figured that I would be able to touch Eureka Drive, turn around, and be home before there was a cloudburst. Although being a seasoned seaman and knowing something about summer squalls, I underestimated nature and the fury of a Florida thunderstorm. Two more minutes, and the clouds broke loose like the biblical deluge; ten seconds and I was completely drenched with no possibility of seeking any kind of refuge or shelter and slightly more than half a mile from home, including the three city blocks.

This was no ordinary rainfall, there were countless bolts of lightening all around me, hitting the asphalt ferociously with circles of fire in front, sideways, and behind with no end in sight. Tears came to my eyes and I started wondering why I had been saved from a heart attack in December1992, only to die this way.

Then it all came back – between two and three o’ clock that same afternoon, Anthony Rivera, another officer on the job looked at me with squinted eyes and asked, “Hey Ram, do your religion or culture have women dressed in full colourful clothing and jewellery and can be described as Goddesses?” I responded in the affirmative and asked the reason for the question. He stated    “I just saw you in a big circle of fire surrounded by some of these Goddesses but the fire never touched you”. He asked a few more questions about the culture and religion of Hindus, all of which he described in his “vision”. About the fire, I told him that Hindus pray with a little fire burning in front of them and thought no more of our little conversation.

The torrential rain, thunder and lightening kept on, and on, with sparks and fire all around me, some as close as fifteen inches away from my feet. I kept on trudging and came across the previously mentioned corner and turned east, and after about nine minutes, in the wall of rain I made out a red pick-up truck headed in my direction. The driver stopped, and it was Mike ordering me to get into the truck.

I protested, not wanting to mess up his vehicle, he insisted, and stated the obvious danger. As we drove back to the house he said that when he realised the full fury of the storm he had to find me.

Was this the end of storm or danger? Not yet!

As we got out of the truck and started walking to a side door of the house a blue bolt of lightening hit the driveway, about three feet away from the truck’s tail end. The noise was deafening, and the flame was blue, the bluest we had ever seen, better described as a deep ultra violet, the size of a football, soccer, as called by some folks. On a lighter side, Mike laughed and said: “that’s your warning, Pat”.

Next day I sought out Anthony Rivera on the job and asked him to recount to me what he had seen in his “vision” the previous day. He reiterated everything without skipping a beat or changing his thought processes. After he was done I gave him an account of my horrifying episode, – his reply? He only confirmed what he had said on two different occasions.

I am not a practising religious person and I do not believe in coincidences, however, I do believe in a “higher order” that sends “guardian angels” to watch over us.

Anthony Rivera and Mike Roberts will be given a copy of this essay.

Patanjali Ramlall : Guest Contributor

September 20, 2009

Discussions with Brian Konkal -13 : South Africa

Posted in Education, Environment, Religion, South Africa tagged , , at 6:01 am by randallbutisingh

Discussions with Brian Konkal -13 : South Africa

Clearing away the smoke (Kristen F. Konkol)

To read with pictures go to: (http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com)

Smoke billows into the air, covering the landscape. The clear sunny skies have a hazy look to them as the fire burns away at the earth. The acrid smell hits your nose and you merely look into the distance amongst the rolling landscape to spy the source stimulating your senses. The dry Kwa-Zulu Natal winter months bring many controlled (and some uncontrolled) burns to the dry, crisp and pale landscape. The charred and blackened earth can be seen in vast hectors of land in both rural and cityscapes alike. As you travel down the roads, you are occasionally even made to detour as the smoke envelopes the sky and visibility is minimal. This blackened earth is commonplace throughout the months of June-August in our province (and some others) as a practice of cyclic renewal of the earth.

Oftentimes one may think how unattractive, stale and lifeless the landscape looks throughout these months. But with the first rains at the end of August, the green “fuzz” appears as you look over the vast areas of land. For amidst the charred and lifeless remains of earth springs new buds and blades of green. Renewal begins and the cyclic pendulum has swung, bringing beauty and color to the once inert landscape. The green “fuzz” gets thicker as the grass, plants and trees begin to taste the sweet drops of moisture from the swollen clouds. The beauty and fragrance of the flowering trees and plants tickles the senses as one walks down the road seeing eye-catching violets, corals, reds and other vibrant colors springing out from the buds. As the memory of the dry and charred earth fades, one is reminded that there is always more than meets the eye. For a snapshot in time of this blackened earth would not capture the potential and cycle of renewal that takes place in Kwa-Zulu Natal (and other parts of South Africa). There are so many life-giving occurrences that happen each and every day reminding us that there really is so much more than the senses can take in and process.

This can also be illustrated by a recent experience we were blessed with in Alexandra Township . “Alex” as it is known, is one of the oldest townships in South Africa and is situated on the outskirts of Johannesburg , close to Sandton, one of the very affluent and wealthiest suburbs in South Africa . In contrast, Alexandra is one of the poorest urban areas in the country. Picture over a million people sandwiched into a few square kilometers of space. As one enters the township many of the observed homes, hostels (housing thousands), dwellings and shacks are put together with any variety of resources. Here the color and vibrancy of trees, grass and flowers are replaced by dirt, garbage and bland colored materials of the make-shift small shops and densely crammed houses.

But just as the blackened earth provides one with the mistaken identity of a lifeless snapshot, the outward appearance of Alex is deceiving, for it is one of the most vibrant and alive places to have the opportunity to experience. The kids dancing on the corner, the soccer games happening in every available space, the women sitting, talking and singing as they sell their goods, the man sewing with amazing craftsmanship in his shop, people walking up and down the streets greeting one another with familiar smiles…life abounds! People flow in mass numbers up the main streets (6 in one direction, 22 the other) creating a notable buzz. The energy in Alex is contagious and one is reminded again that there is so much more than meets the eye. As we came to a seemingly ordinary and small room made of cinder block, we are told it was once the home of the world-renowned Nelson Mandela. Not only he, but so many other notable names such as Hugh Masekela (musician and trumpeter), Mark Mathabane (tennis player and author of the autobiography Kaffir Boy), Samora Machel (former Mozambiquan president), Alfred Nzo (South African Minister of Foreign Affairs 1994-1999), Wally Serote (poet), Annie Twala (the “Mother of Alexandra”), Sam Buti (reverend) and many others called Alex their home.

From one of the main streets we were then directed into an alley like area. From the portal of the road we entered the bowels of Alex and were treated to the sweet sounds of jazz. We were in one of the oldest jazz “clubs” in the country (oldest in Alex) and have an amazing cross-cultural exchange of learning local greetings with the people there. So many laughs occurred and so much was learned and experienced between two seemingly dissimilar people from different backgrounds. An observer would think it a group who knew each other for years. As dusk drew near, and we exited Alex, the “smoke” had cleared and we could see that this place was not the snapshot of a dry and blacked earth, but the green “fuzz” and vibrancy of so much potential, color and flare…the beautiful people!

What we are reminded of every day is how blessed we are to see the cycles of life here and to see beyond the snapshots and begin to piece together clips to the bigger picture. We are humbled each and every day to look beyond the sometimes challenging outward appearance and see the beauty and amazing gifts within the people we walk and serve alongside. For we continue to see that the blackened earth provides so many amazing green and vibrant blades of renewal and life-giving promise in so many ways!

With peace and love,

– Kristen F. Konkal

Rev. Brian & Kristen Konkol, Project Coordinators, South Africa
Young Adults in Global Mission, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
P.O. Box 28694. Haymarket.3200. South Africa.

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