Over the weekend, we got to know the Cape Town that most Americans visit.
We saw the Cape Dutch architecture of Stellenbosch, South Africa’s wine country, and visited countless boutiques and art galleries. We ate some of the best food I’ve ever tasted and got hooked on local iced coffee, which is pretty much secret code for “slightly-coffee-flavored milkshake.”
Even more memorable: we bargained for souvenirs at street markets (some more successfully than others) and saw penguins on the coast, attended the church that founded Living Hope, spent a team-building afternoon painting mugs with Living Hope staff members, ate fish and chips by the water and met a sea lion named Heppie.
And after all that, everyone’s favorite part of the weekend was the mountains.
The bible tells us that back in the day, the creator of the world made a habit of doing really cool things on top of mountains. Plenty of familiar biblical scenes were set way above sea level.
Abraham prepared to offer his son on a mountain in Moriah (Genesis 22). Moses received the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20). Jesus gave the famous ”Sermon on the Mount” on a mountain (Matthew 5:1) and chose His apostles on a mountain (Mark 3:13).
Jesus also spent evenings in prayer on a mountain (Matt. 14:23), and when He gave a difficult teaching concerning the fate of Jerusalem, He and His apostles were sitting on a mountain, almost as if looking over the city as a visual illustration of His message (Mark 13:3). It’s the same setting Jesus chose for a time of prayer and reflection before His arrest and crucifixion (Mark 14:26). Not to mention that it was on a hill outside of Jerusalem, Calvary, where Jesus, the one who spoke the mountains into existence, was hung on the cross.
Table Mountain and Cape Point don’t even come close to Mount Sinai in elevation, but they took our breath away. It’s easy to see why people have historically climbed mountains to get that feeling of being closer to God and the heavens. When we trek up to great heights to see granduer on a scale we can’t experience anywhere else, hearing nothing but our breathing and our heartbeat as we climb, I think we do meet God.
It’s not mystical, it’s physical. When we separate ourselves from endless distractions and surround ourselves with the beauty of creation, we allow for moments of uninterrupted focus on the almighty. God can do a lot in our hearts with those few moments.
So maybe we can’t get closer to whatever plane heaven exists on by climbing. But we sure can distance ourselves from those first-world diversions that take up so much of our time — something our team has been learning a lot about while navigating our work with Living Hope. Ashlyn showed me her phone this morning; a notification popped up telling her that her screen time was down more than 75% compared to her norm this week. There’s been far too much to see and experience in South Africa to bother with the virtual world.
Even though living the tourist life on our last two days was amazing and provided much-needed time for reflection after a whirlwind week, our hearts were definitely stuck on the families we met in the townships. We passed Red Hill on our way home from Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa, and got a chance to wave and shout our goodbyes to the shanties on the side of the mountain. It was fitting that the last scenery we saw was the first informal settlement we visited.
I remember feeling sadness as we passed by Red Hill, not just because it meant we were heading to pack up for the airport and go home. The mountains gave me time to reflect on the mission part of the trip, and I was ready to go back and do it all again, this time knowing what moments to savor and not worrying about finding good lighting with my flash-less camera or taking notes for this blog.
There were plenty of moments that were too intimate to photograph or write about. Members of our team crying together and comforting eachother, praying out loud with strangers for the first time, listening intently to one another even when they disagreed and sharing significant pieces of their life stories after only a week of friendship. Those moments made the trip for me. They made me so thankful for all the ways that other people are: scarily different from me, entirely unique and packed full of gifts that cover for my weaknesses. We only make up the body of Christ together.
For the record, I should include here that this weekend was only 10% quiet reflection. We tried to keep the music on the introspective side but suspicious amounts of Khalid and early Taylor Swift crept in. We joked incessantly with Fransi to ward away the dread of the last van ride and lunch with him. We took a LOT of pictures. But in the 10% there was plenty of time to stand still and think.
We need more of that. Not necessarily traveling or hiking mountains, but time in silence with God. Maybe a bench in a park or a table at a Starbucks or a hill overlooking Raleigh, a trail you can walk or a comfy chair by a window. We need that kind of time in our life to devote our thoughts and our words to Christ and rearrange our hearts and our priorities to focus on what’s real and what’s eternal.
Thank you for following along with our South Africa blog. Keep up with Campbell University Spiritual Life by following them on Instagram at @cu_spirituallife and @camelsonmission.