Monday, May 14, 2007

Family Ties

I talked with my Grandpa and Grandma Rice tonight and got the run-down on exactly which of my relatives are in South Africa and how they're all related to me. The downside of not having a family that lives together all in the same holler (that's Stoney Creek--the community I grew up in--talk for hollow/neighborhood in the mountains) is that you have relatives you're closely related to but have never met and whose names you don't even know.

It was fun to talk with my grandparents about my trip. I appreciate their support and shared excitement. It's been very cool the way my Africa plans have made it more of a priority for me to learn my grandpa's history. You see, my grandpa grew up in South Africa. His parents were missionaries there. He turned a year old on the ship taking his family to South Africa, and, minus a few years here and there for furloughs (during the Depression when they had to stay in the States longer than planned because they couldn't raise enough money to return), he lived in South Africa until he was 19 years old. That's when he returned to the States for college, which is where he met my grandma, but that's another story.

Tonight Grandpa said that he wishes he could climb into my suitcase and go along. It will be fun to come back and compare stories with him. It's nice that South Africa is the last stop on my itinerary, so the experiences there will be freshest when I get back State-side to catch up with folks.

Grandpa's advice to me tonight as we talked about places like Edwaleni and Izingolweni and Port Shepstone was that, as I write, I try to understand the people. He says so many of the books Americans write about Africa don't really come from an understanding of the culture. His advice is very much in line with the purpose around the writing part of this trip that I'm slowly able to articulate better and better. When I began planning this trek to Africa, it was just sort of a murky sense that was difficult to put words to.

My concern as I sign up to do some writing for various organizations working in Africa has been that I do not want to go to Africa and write stories about all the things the Americans are doing to save the Africans. I don't think those stories would be true, and I've wanted to make sure I'm not partnering with organizations that want to tell those stories and want me to help tell them. Instead, I'm very interested in telling the stories of what folks in Africa are doing. Sometimes the purpose of telling those stories will be so that we Americans and others can come alongside them with the resources we've got to support the work they're doing. There will be many different versions of what "coming alongside" will look like, but all of them are a more whole, more body-of-Christ way of understanding our relationships with each other. Just like the way I need folks to come alongside me and help me get to Africa.

I'm also hopeful that God will use me to tell the stories of folks whose stories need to be told but who have no outlets for telling their stories, in essence to give voice to the voiceless. It is humbling to think of the possibility of being another's voice, of representing that person well and truthfully. And, then, as I type that, I realize that God himself already has given me and all Christians the task and opportunity of representing Him well and truthfully. So the idea of representing others, of being their voice is nothing new.

1 comment:

James said...


I look forward to meeting with you.

I believe your Grandpa Carl Rice is my Great Uncle, ie. my Dad's (Lowell LeRoy) father's (James Lowell) brother.

I'm in Durban, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
My Dad's brother (James Winfred? Rice) is in Stanger, SA.

Would you let me know when you're in our "holler"?

My cell is 083 4 12 12 10
My work no. is 031 2053019
My home no. is 031 2619911
My email is

Btw, my Mom's name is Martha Barton - she may have been in contact with you previously.
I know that she's been enjoying reading your Africa blog.

James LeRoy Rice
PS - we can "put you up" at our place, if you would like / need a accomodation, whilst you're in our area.