Thursday, June 11, 2009


Welcome to my mid-stream journey in this adventure. First, let me just briefly describe my experience up to this point for those who I haven't updated:

May 1, 2009 was my last day of my job as a Director of Website Product Management and User Experience Design. Long story short, I struggled greatly for months with a juxtaposition of core values between working for an American corporation and a newly kindled passion within me to serve in the capacity of social justice (whatever that means...I'm still figuring this out). After several months of considering different definitions of success (comparing the status quo of the American cultural perspective defined by consumerism and economic status against the personal and spiritual satisfaction of cultivating passion, service, and growth), I was blessed with an overwhelming "epiphany" experience that it was time to move on...regardless of the fact that I had no follow-up plan. In plain English, I quit my job in the midst of a volatile economy and have no idea what I am going to do next. But this epiphany, to me, was a deeply spiritual experience, followed by a whole slew of in-your-face affirmations that made the decision so easy to make. There has been no doubt in my mind that this was a decision of complete faith, following completely in a deep and spiritual calling.

These few brief sentences, which hardly bring the last few months of my journey justice, lead me to this moment. I am writing today from a camp in the vicinity of Magaliesburg, South Africa. I have joined the conversation during a weeklong conference themed "Amahoro", which means "peace" in Kirundi and Kinyarwanda. I can't even describe what landed me in South has been a sudden, God-driven experience that has left me completely exhausted and in the midst of some serious culture shock. I can sum this up in one embarrassing sentence: I came to South Africa without any real knowledge of the political, social, or economic history or present state of the country. My knowledge of South Africa consisted, quite simply, of the awareness of racial segregation and the release of a political prisoner named Nelson Mandela. That was the complete extent of it. On the drive from Johannesburg to the camp here in Magaliesburg, my new South African friend Marius had to define "Apartheid" to me. Perhaps this might provide an initial concept of how I have struggled with feeling out of place in this environment. These last few days have very much reminded me of the time I played Trivial Pursuit with a core group of UCSB History Professors and Academics...something I swore I would never do again. From an internal, socialpolitical perspective, this experience has been like a nightmare game of Trivial Pursuit with a bunch of history buffs that will just not end.

So, I find myself in the midst of theological academics, and those who are not University or Seminary professors are working directly for faith-based organizations - as large as World Vision (30,000 employees worldwide) and as small as individual groups working with the poor and oppressed across the continent. Sparking up conversation with other attendees at this conference has given the common icebreaker, "so what do you do?" a whole new meaning. Listening to the answers here leaves me praying and hopeful that they won't return the question. And, when they do, I have no other option but to be completely honest, "I am in between jobs and came to Africa on a calling (or gut instinct) that I had something to learn from this experience. I have absolutely no knowledge about the historical context of Africa, but am here to learn and grow and to hopefully build relationships as part of an unfolding journey that's spiritually led."

But let's get back to Amahoro..."peace". The vision and the conference were really the result of just a small, core group who believe there was hope for Africa. Of those people are my friends, Claude Nikondeha and Kelley Johnson (both can guess which are the dominant of each culture). I came here knowing very little about the conference and its vision, but after only two days I understand it to be the unification of African countries under a common hope that the roots of African culture and the westernization of the continent can be reconciled under God to inspire and cultivate change in a continent that has been ridden with corruption, violence, poverty, and disease. Africa finds itself in a season defined as "Post-Colonial". To just briefly describe my understanding of colonialism, it is the context in which the western world came into Africa to colonize the tribes under the assumption that the Western way was the "right" way (sound familiar?). In this context, then, post-colonialism can be described as the uprise and rejection of the fundamentals brought to Africa by the Western world. In just 24-hours, I experienced first-hand an Africa that longs to rekindle their sacred culture, and to find pride and confidence in the identity of that culture...a culture that was, long ago, stripped by a western world on a quest for dominance and power. Most painfully, such quests were often (if not always) made in the name of God.

As someone who comes from the background of Christian faith, I knew I specifically didn’t want my journey to Africa to necessarily be under Christian precepts because of my awareness of what Western culture has done across the globe in the name of evangelism (i.e. those hunter-gatherers are going to go to hell unless we “save” them). Even in this environment among Christians, and even though my belief system can be best described as “Christian”, I honestly find myself hesitant to engage in conversations of religious context because of my own rejection of many concepts and “truths” that have been passed down from generation to generation by religious leaders. But in this community at Amahoro, as I slowly begin to open up in being true to (and still discovering) my own authenticity, I have found a space of freedom to ask aloud the questions I cannot ask in most Christian circles, and a common desire to challenge our faith to be a conduit into fostering love, acceptance, reformation and peace.

I have sporadically jotted down my experiences so far at Amahoro (since I am finally drawing this first post to a close after processing and writing for several days). For the sake of readability, I will break up my Amahoro experiences into different posts. But first, to lighten things up a bit…I’ll open my visual communication with my very first encounter with South African wildlife on day 2 of my visit.

In South Africa, the monkeys are pests (South African racoons, as I call them, since they're attracted to the garbage cans). One of the staff at the camp was trying to shoo them away, while my Aussie friend and I were trying to photograph them.


  1. Thank you for sharing JJ- We miss you and are happy to read and see some of what you are experiancing..
    Love, Nicole and Neal

  2. Thank you for letting us all know what you're up to. Your FB comments hinted at a major life change, and it is facinating to read about your journey. Certainly you may find something that fits you well, say photo write well. Maybe you can write for us other uninformed, non-political, non-religious followers, in a way that we can understand and appreciate. Thanks!

  3. I second what Cindy said! Especially that last part!