July 12, 2009

Discussions with Brian Konkol -11

Posted in Education, Friendship, Psychology, Religion, South Africa tagged , , , , at 6:57 pm by randallbutisingh

Subject: South Africa – July, 2009

A must…perseverance, resilience (Kristen Konkol)

See with pictures at: http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com

She steps out of bed onto the cold, hard ground with a chill filling the air. She can see her breath with every exhale. She puts hot water on to boil for tea to warm her body before she begins her daily journey. She pulls on her tall socks and long skirt along with her hat and gloves and steps into the dark, star-filled sky. It is never easy to leave into the darkness of a winter morning, but she knows she must, for she must provide in the best way she can. She walks from her home to the main road and looks here and there for a ride on her first leg of the journey, but she finds none and continues on. She walks down to the highway and joins many others who raise their signaled hands and wait for the vehicles to pull over and give them a lift.

Finally, an old bakkie (pick-up) pulls over and she along with about 12 others climb into the bed of the truck. They huddle close together and pull the collars of their coats up high as the cold, swift wind of the highway screams by. The sun is now on the horizon as she climbs down out of the bakkie some kilometers later. She walks down the same familiar road to her final destination where she will work with her hands to make ends meet. She must make the journey, she reminds herself, for I have no other choice but to do it for my family. She perseveres, she is resilient

A sharp-witted man sits in his familiar place, nose in his books for hours on end. He studies the mounds of literature; he captures the precise techniques and scans the latest research day after day. When he is not studying, he is on his feet for hours on end, walking the corridors of the hospital, reviewing charts, studying up for the next time he is called upon. He has a gift and was blessed with those hands. His hands are skilled, practiced and proficient. He works flawlessly in the theatre (operating room), with the lives of so many in these hands with every precise procedure he very capably carries out. Years of practice and study have prepared him for the test and he is ready, he is confident. He sits for the written surgical specialty exam and knows he has done well. With only the oral exam to go, he knows he is but one small step away from being qualified as a surgeon able to practice in international medicine anywhere in the world.

He would be the first black South African to do so at this institution. He sits before the board of light-skinned faces and answers question after question without hesitation or intimidation. He has done all he can. Days pass and he finally receives word…they have not passed him and will now have to do it all over again. He is not demoralized, but yet is even more determined to overcome the obvious injustice and “make them” have to pass him when he is back later this year. I will not let them deter me, he reminds himself, for I will obtain the qualifications I deserve. He will persevere, for he is resilient!

She looks up from her garden as children come and go through the haphazard gate. With a limp in her step she makes her way to the house to see how the progress is coming on the inside. One young boy sweeps away the endless dirt that seems to blow in day after day. She sits down and looks at her feet. She has already lost two toes to diabetes and her swollen legs tingle endlessly from the lack of circulation. She looks at her ragged dress and wishes she could do more, but what can she do? Five of her children have already succumbed to the same dark fate of so many others, withering away from HIV/AIDS.

Only two remain, and her daughter has already taken to the life of prostitution to make a bit of money, and she knows her fate will one day be all too familiar. The children are left and she wonders what she can do. She must now look after the grandchildren, for they have so few other options. She worries about how she will put food on the table and clothes on their back as she cannot go out and work with her own poor health. All she knows she can do is pray, wipe the sweat off her brow, and head back out to the garden. For she must, she says to herself, for if the garden is all I can give them, then that is what I will do. She must persevere; she must rise above and be resilient.

Too many times I have seen, observed and heard these and other stores about perseverance and resilience. Injustice, poverty, discrimination and adversity weave a thread though the lives of so many here in South Africa . Even as some years have passed since democracy has so wonderfully been won, many continue to struggle each and every day. For it does not take days or months or even years to reverse the reality and life situations many have come to know, but generations.

I am humbled each day with what so many go through on a day to day basis and am sometimes paralyzed by the monumental peaks that have to be overcome. But what strikes me above all is the perseverance and resilience of those faced with challenge day in and day out. We must, it is said, for there is no other option. We must, we must, and we must…rise above and overcome for a better tomorrow!

Peace & Blessings


Web (personal): http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com
Web (project): http://elcamud.blogspot.com


February 18, 2009

Discussions with Brian Konkol – 9

Posted in Economics, Education, Friendship, Guyana, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, South Africa tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:40 am by randallbutisingh

“f-words….” by Kristen F. Konkol

Report from South Africa : February 2009

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

Super Bowl fever has now begun to subside as the days pass following all the publicity and fanfare. It is a strange phenomenon, really, when living overseas. You do see the international news showing bits and pieces of the multitude of stories leading up to the game, but you certainly don’t feel the same excitement surrounding questions of how sports fans will spend the day in the US. When I think about such an event, a lot of f-words” come into mind (not the ones where people are yelling at the TV!). Typically the football game is associated with food, fun, family, friends and funny commercials. In fact, I saw a statistic that said that Americans spend approximately $40 million dollars on food alone for Super Bowl parties….that is a whole lot of chips & salsa!!!

Outside of the US football means something very different as it translates to soccer to the rest of the world. Here in South Africa the preparations for very different football events on the world stage are underway as the nation prepares to host the Confederations Cup (champion national team of each continent) in June 2009 and the main act being the FIFA World Cup in 2010. Stadiums, roads, communication and many other facets are being prepared for the first ever hosting of a World Cup on the African continent. Both in Guyana and now here in South Africa I have been fortunate to be a part of football (soccer) both with children and young adults. To see the passion and the skills that are displayed are amazing where proper shoes, fields, goals, balls or equipment are not pertinent to get a game going. One simply plays with what you have where you are… whether it is out on the dirt lot with no shoes and a make-shift ball or on a nice thick lined grass field with all the nice uniforms, cleats and balls. I have thoroughly enjoyed these diverse opportunities and all the wonderful children and young adults I have worked with and played alongside.

When one also thinks of foods that would be typical for an occasion or event, I have enjoyed the variety of staples that countries around the world have in their diet. For example, it was typical for one to say in Guyana that you haven’t ‘eaten for the day’ if you haven’t had rice as it was synonymous with food in many areas. In South Africa the staple product would be corn, or mealies. There are seemingly endless varieties of mealie dishes that have been at the center of African family life for centuries. Mealie pap is the most widely eaten food in South Africa and it is thinner (porridge) or stiffer (like thick mashed potatoes) depending on where or when you eat it. It can be made sweet (thinner breakfast porridge), salty or rich. Thicker pap may be mixed with a variety of other vegetables or tubers and used with sauce or stew. Mealie meal is finely ground maize. Phutu (in Zulu) is a dish of crumbly maize porridge, often eaten with soured milk. Umngqusho (Xhosa word) would be samp (dried and crushed maize kernels), boiled, then mixed with beans, onion, potatoes, chilies, lemon and salt and simmered. Although these are just a few to name, I can not glaze over the mealie itself, which is simply a cob of corn that is popular grilled or boiled as a snack (although unlike in Wisconsin , most grill it without the husk). There is also a traditional beer (umqombothi) made from water, malt, maize and sorghum which is served at many celebrations from big beer pots. That is certainly an acquired taste!!

(See more at: http://www.zulu-culture-history.com/zulu_traditional_beer.htm)

Family is also something thought of very differently than we would think of as typical in the US . For many, when you say mother, father, siblings…this would constitute your immediate family. However, in some South African cultures, especially Zulu culture, your family is much broader. For instance, the same word in Zulu for mother and father are used for aunt (if it is your mother’s sister) and uncle (if it is your father’s brother) such that they act just as your parents. The word for cousin would be the same as brother or sister for the children of your mother’s sisters and your father’s brothers. It basically follows immediate lineage. The ties become much more communal and the family unit constitutes a larger circle.

The one f-word” that people here express very freely is that of expression of faith. For faith is not something that is taboo to talk about from Mon-Sat and is in so many threads of individuals everyday life. Personal faith life as well as congregational faith life stems into many aspects of ones existence, not just the time spent sitting in church. It is a topic talked about and discussed as frequently as politics and sports. It is a lesson that we can all learn in thinking about our comfort level and commitment to our faith and how we express it. In my experience here in South Africa church is not something to just “get over with” and get on with the rest of your day, but rather the main focus of the day for which the day revolves around. Attending worship here can take many, many hours…for instance, yesterday’s consecration of the South Eastern Diocese bishop was a 7 hour long service and program with approximately 9,000 in attendance. When the singing and dancing of songs takes place in that kind of setting, you are hard pressed to not be moved and feel blessed by the experience.

There are many differences in how various cultures express “f-words” such as family, football, fun, food and faith. What I am continually challenged with is how much I am able to appreciate the differences, embrace them and allow myself to be enhanced and learn from another culture. There are many preferences we have in how we express these f-words”, but the real question is how open are we to doing, experiencing, and seeing things in a new and different light as opposed to fitting it into that nice little box of the familiar.

With peace & blessings,

Kristen Konkol

October 12, 2008


Posted in Environment, Philosophy, Religion, South Africa tagged , , , , , , , at 12:26 am by randallbutisingh


South Africa – October 2008
Transitions: Inside and Out (Written by: Kristen F. Konkol)
To read online (with pictures) click here: http://briankristenkonkol.blogspot.com

This is a time of transition in many parts of South Africa. We are slowly moving from our “winter” to a time of renewal, blossom, and growth. The spring season is upon us after months of dry and dusty earth. Winter months commonly bring about the burning of fields and grasslands, leaving them blackened and charred.

The end of a dry winter is also a time bringing about windy and blustery conditions.. With spring, the rains have begun falling over the past couple weeks and the lush green landscape is beginning to envelope the scenery. Green shoots of grass poke up through the blackened earth alongside small, colorful flowers while the budding trees are exploding with fragrant blossoms in purple, yellow, pink and white. Even as some of the weather patterns are predictable, others leave you shaking your head.

A couple weeks ago, Brian and I were driving the 5 ½ hour trip back to Pietermaritzburg from Johannesburg. As we drove over the winding Van Reenen Pass (interesting fact: the village boasts the smallest church in the world capable of a full house of 8 people) outside of Harrismith, we glimpsed the Drakensburg Mountains. A smile came over our faces as they were top to bottom blanketed white with snow. We had seen snow on the mountain tops previously during this winter season, but never their entirety. We continued traveling and as we came to an area near Mooi River, about 45 minutes from our home, our smiles got broader and our heads shook with disbelief. The sides and middle of the road were covered with a fresh layer of snow. Fifty or more cars were stopped taking pictures of the isolated scene with some bundling up snowballs with ear to ear smiles stretched across their faces. As we peered to the left we saw an entire, open field layered with a couple inches of snow. The field was filled with hundreds of people running, playing, and enjoying what they knew would be a short-lived cover of snow. Some were making snowmen, but my favorite scene of all was seeing three or more games of soccer being played by the children in the snow, slipping and sliding as they went. A few kilometers later, there was no more snow to be found, but as we drove the rest of the way home we could not stop thinking about what we had witnessed. Where did this fit into our “preconceived notions” about South Africa? This just simply did not fit.

As foreigners, I wonder how many times we have images or depictions about what Africa, specifically South Africa is all about. Is it simply a place dominated by HIV/AIDS, poverty and reconciliation from apartheid; or a rural place filled with the Big 5 safari animals? Are our notions based on the media, books or stories we may have encountered growing up? And what do we do when we are faced with our mental picture not fitting into the reality? I am not suggesting that I have enough experience to dispel or correct all of these beliefs, but I do find myself experiencing so many different perspectives and ways of doing things that I couldn’t have imagined. A small example…as I went up to a counter recently to pay for an item (in a rural area) I was confused as to what was going on. People were not lining up “properly”, but rather fanned out approaching the cashiers in a big group all at once. Where’s the order, I thought, but somehow everyone else seemed just fine and had the system all figured out. Eventually I paid and moved on, but then remembered what a gentleman named Pastor Jabu told me a month before. He mentioned the idea of community and how being in straight lines or front to back just didn’t fit into this circular, inclusive way of living together. The traditional homestead is another example of community. The Zulu term for the traditional homestead layout is umuzi which consisted of two concentric fences of thorn trunks. The huts would be located inside the outer fence (according to family position/status) and the cattle in the inner circle with a smaller enclosure there for the calves.  Hmm, I thought…makes perfect sense now why paying at the register in my preconceived notion of “order” didn’t fit from a historical and cultural perspective.

There are so many times I could reflect on where these predetermined ideas about my surroundings and my observations have been challenged. Just as with every culture one may live in or visit, the important element is to spend a vast amount of time listening, learning, observing and asking questions. The premise of the volunteer program we are coordinating has this similar belief as we walk alongside and accompany our companions here in South Africa . There are so many new ideas, ways of doing things and perspectives to be gained from our friends and companions. All of us here serving with ELCA Global Mission are challenged each day to see, to experience and to learn about the culture of our South African companions so we can truly accompany, mutually exchanging with one another in the journey.

Just like a new season, we and the volunteers continue to transition as we blossom, grow and are transformed by our service in South Africa. Our images, ideas and notions are in turn expanded, enriched and clarified. I have no doubt there will be more “snow day”-type experiences we will encounter to make us smile and say…I never could have envisioned or imagined this! But what a gift.

Rev. Brian & Kristen Konkol
Project Coordinators, South Africa
Young Adults in Global Mission – E.L.C.A
Address: P.O. Box 28694
Haymarket.3200. South Africa.
Phone: (Country Code 027) 033-396-5494
Cell: (Country Code 027) 071-121-9692



From: randallbutisingh@hotmail.com
Subject: RE: South Africa – October 2008
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2008 13:37:54 -0400

It is always a joy to hear from you.  It gives my spirit a lift, my young friend; and also to read the writings of Kristen which are par excellent in content and good journalism.  The first paragraph of “Transitions Inside and Out” is sheer poetry in the beauty of its expression and its appeal to the emotion.

Yes, South Africa is a beautiful country and Capetown one of the most beautiful cities in the world, as far as my  knowledge of Geography goes, and the report I get from family and friends who live there or visit there.  I am glad that you two are enjoying the beautiful landscape and the coolness and salubrity of Spring after a harsh Winter. This ia  great compensation for the onerous duty you are performing and which no transitory material reward can give.

That you have to view portions of the landscape which have been scarred by the vicious system of Apartheid, and the proliferation of the HIV virus and Xenophobia, make it all the more reason why you are there for greater Service and a greater Reward.  Reward , not in the sense that you will be made rich with material goods, but that you will enjoy that which no money can buy, and which is everlasting, but only He can give – Happiness and Peace of mind.
Love and Peace,


August 9, 2008


Posted in Guyana, Philosophy, Religion, Thoughts tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 3:55 am by randallbutisingh



Brian and Kristen Konkol, a young couple, are missionaries who recently began working in South Africa. I have known Brian for a number of years and Kirsten, whom he married for over a year. I am proud of the work they did in Guyana before moving to South Africa in November 2007. They truly lived the gospel and are good writers. We have had several discussions on spiritual matters and I have been reading his regular newsletters which I found informative and inspirational. Here are two pieces from our discussions that I would like to share with you: I trust Brian will approve of them.

Randall Butisingh


From: Randall Butisingh:

To: Brian Konkol


There’s no doubt that the task you and Kristen have assumed is an onerous one.  It has to be so, as it is “the Greatest Task you have been assigned to” and it will need only people like you, dedicated and committed, to make it succeed.  … People who are willing to sacrifice their lives to build, as you said, “a better society,”… which will bring the Kingdom of God on earth. You may, at times, be tempted to think: “Why did I have to give up the ease and comfort I could have had, and endure all this? That is natural.  Our Lord had His temptations.  But what are the material things and pleasures of the flesh?  They are transient and cannot satisfy. But what you will acquire in your desire to serve cannot be taken from you. I mean the virtues like love and compassion, faith and hope, patience and endurance.  These virtues will sustain you.  The fruit of your efforts will not be the perishable things of the flesh, but the everlasting gifts of the Spirit. You will not need a comfortable living, as you will experience the Joy and Peace of a Life worth living and which is all that matters.

Kindest regards,



From: Brian Konkol

To: Randall Butisingh


Your supportive words always mean a great deal.  Thank you.

When it comes to the “material” side of life, I’ve been hearing a great deal as of late from friends and family about the current economic conditions across the United States.  With rising gas prices, rising food costs, the dipping housing market, and other contributing factors, people who were quite “comfortable” just a few years ago are now feeling the “financial crunch” that was once reserved only for the lower class.  Working middle-class people now have to cut expenses and start choosing between needs and wants.

When I hear of the struggles people in the United States are now enduring, I usually have two main thoughts.  First, I feel compassion for them, for I know that it is indeed a struggle, but secondly, I think about all the people around the world who have it much worse, and I feel as if people in the US aren’t as thankful as they should be.  It is certainly a mixture of emotions, and I often do not know how to handle it.  I do not wish to minimize people’s struggles here in the US, because they are difficult struggles indeed.  Yet, when you compare them to the struggles of those in Africa and other corners of the world, it is difficult to match them up.  There are many different kinds of struggles in our world, and I find it difficult to “compare” them when the contexts are so different.

Thankfully, the God of the middle class American is also the God of the struggling African.  And through the Spirit, God is able to walk alongside us all, and in the midst of our diversity, encouraging us to walk alongside each other.

Again, it’s good to hear from you.  I look forward to hearing more soon!

With peace,



May 1, 2008


Posted in Economics, Education, Environment, Poetry, Religion, Thoughts tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:32 am by randallbutisingh

Thought for today:


This is my letter to Brian and Kristen Konkol, recently appointed as missionaries in South Africa. They are dedicated and committed individuals, who were missionaries in Guyana before moving to South Africa a few months ago. They are now settling in and have asked my advice on: “How to reduce Poverty in Africa”. Here is my reply dated April 21, 2008. Your comments and advice on this most important subject are welcome. Feel free to contact Brian and Kristen Konkol with your help and ideas at:



To: Brian and Kristen Konkol:

Before I attempt to give my opinion on “how to reduce Poverty in Africa”, I will attempt to define Poverty. In my opinion Poverty is a relative term. How? An individual may have very little, and it takes very little to sustain life. He may live in a one room shack with one or no shirt on his back, but he works honestly for the little that he has; he is always cheerful and will gladly share the little he has and his shack with a needy stranger. He is the personification of contentment; his conscience is clear, his sleep at night is sound and unbroken and he lives without fear. Would you call such an individual poor?

On the other hand a person may be laden with this world’s goods, like an overburdened camel, much more above his needs; But he is the personification of greed; he cannot have enough; he is discontented; always wants more and more, never shares what he has with the needy for concern that it will diminish him. This makes him grouchy, irritable, and cheerless. His sleep at nights is unsound and broken because of fear that someone may come and rob him of what he has. Would you call such an individual rich?

Now, how about reducing Poverty in Africa! Africa is a continent, beautiful and potentially rich, but it has been exploited by foreigners and recently, after independence by its own leaders. There were very few leaders, among them being Nelson Mandela, who did not succumb to the plague of corruption. Billions of the country’s wealth and foreign aid have been stashed away in foreign banks by corrupt politicians while those whom they have been supposed to serve go hungry.

This brings us to the question of education. If the populace is not adequately educated in order to understand the issues and the ability to confront injustice wherever it rears its ugly head, exploitation and corruption will continue to have a field day. Recently two benevolent Americans have been working in this field. They are Oprah Winfrey who is spending millions to educate over a hundred girls in South Africa to become leaders in the future and Bill Clinton who is spending millions to improve Agriculture in one of the countries in Africa.

It should also be noted that Poverty is an attitude in some of the countries. The men leave all the hard work to the women. When they do not hunt or fish, they gather in groups and idle away their time while the women work in the fields. Recently a group of women banded together in a community, and refused to slave for their idle husbands.

We need people who can educate, motivate and inspire these people, raising them from their present level, especially the women to one of respectability. Here is where you and Kirsten can fit in and I know that with the meager physical resources you have but the abundance of will, dedication and commitment, you will make things happen.

Africa does not need to be spoon fed. But while they are given the tools to progress, effort should be made meanwhile to eliminate hunger and disease. You cannot preach to a hungry man about God; you have to fill his belly first.

Remitting of debts will be of little help if attitudes do not change.

Love, joy and peace,