As I shared in my last post, the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity in South Africa is astounding. God continues to chisel away at my preconceived ideas of what ministry in Africa is supposed to be, and to sweetly but firmly call me to His plans day by day. My idea of my work here to share the love of Jesus in the impoverished black communities, and yes, that is the bulk of what we do. But of course we can and should serve Him anywhere, all the time, with every breath.
When we first moved here to South Africa two months ago, and literally while we were still unpacking, a fellow missionary friend asked me to come with her to visit an elderly friend of hers who was recovering from hip surgery. All sorts of ungodly thoughts flashed through my mind. “I have no time—we just moved in.” But she's white and privileged and my ministry is to the black and underprivileged.” You get the gist. My friend, Sandra, knew how to rope me in and told me this elderly woman had two dogs, and dog lover that I am, I succumbed, all for the wrong reasons.
Once we arrived, I was quickly charmed not only by the dogs, but also by Rita, the antithesis of an elderly invalid. She was feisty, hospitable, and in great physical condition except for her hip. Her nails were manicured, her short spiky hair had a spunky streak of color, and her legs put Sandra and I both to shame. Turns out she was a ballerina in her younger years.
Soon after that, there were complications from the hip surgery, and Rita was hospitalized two more times, and I visited her as often as I could, always coming away feeling ashamed with my attitude going in, essentially something like, “Sigh, I'll make the time to bless this needy woman with my selfless appearance.” I'd always walk away knowing I was the one who was blessed by her fabulous sense of humor and zest for life.
Things deteriorated very quickly and took us all by surprise. More complications, enough concern to make sure Jesus was Lord and Savior of her life, and soon thereafter, she left us, still full of spunk and vigor but with a body that just gave out.
My last, and probably only true gift to her was to have the honor of officiating at her memorial service. I was so blessed to be able to give tribute to a fabulous lady and cherished new friend. Rita, thank you for enriching my life so incredibly much in the short time we knew each other, and I can hardly wait to see you dancing on new legs on streets of gold, with all the dogs and animals you ever loved frolicking with you!