Often times the best books, the best movies, the ones we walk away energized from, aren’t the ones where we have the entire storyline figured out in the first 10 minutes. It’s the stories that hold us in anticipation as they unfold, illuminating unexpected insights or events. It’s the ones that continuously reveal new layers as we are drawn in deeper. The stories we are touched by are the ones that embrace the mystery that fills life, giving it struggle, but making it rich.
We have most definitely been living a rich story in these first six months of 2010. We started the year by stepping out of the director’s role in the community center we originally came to work with. If you asked us then what our plans were, we only knew that it was time for us to step out – and pause – to catch our breath – to give God time and space to fill our depleted spirits. The Psalmists have a beautiful word for this. Selah. Pause and think on this.
Selah opens space to reflect on what God has already done – all that has happened.
Selah clears space to allow an awareness of who God is - and who we are in His presence.
And Selah opens our hearts to anticipate what God is in the middle of doing – what is about to come.
Pause and think about this.
Our pause looked a lot like giving ourselves the time to live in to relationships as our hearts have longed to do all along. We built shacks and tutored kids and had bible studies and mentored leaders and hosted short term missionaries and lived life with people in our community. The very same community we have been giving ourselves to for the past two years. But all this was done in a sense of quiet focus. We were intentional about living well on the path God has already directed us down – but keeping our hearts quiet and our ears sharp - listening for signs of what new turns might be coming.
When Bill’s mom was suddenly unresponsive after surgery – and after a month of praying and struggling along with family, her death came – we were so far away. I was convinced it was time for us to be going home to the states. We were hit with how precious and delicate our moments with family are. How much we are missing by living across an ocean. Life, death, babies, birthdays, Sunday dinners, grandparents. Our finances have also been dipping low – our savings gone & monthly support not enough to pay our bills in Johannesburg. It just made sense to begin looking homeward.
But God’s story had another twist we weren’t anticipating. The mystery, the struggle, the richness unfolding. He began illuminating ideas, dreams and desires that would keep us here in South Africa. He began bringing us back around to the same words and promises He gave us in the beginning of His call to us into South Africa so many years ago.
With our hearts once again open to the fact that God’s ways are not always our ways – the way he works far surpasses the way we know to work or think – we began to ask God not for help in our ideas, but to be open to see the glimmers of what He was already busy doing….where He was sending rain and snow to water the earth in our story and the story of our community in South Africa. We are filled with joy and confidence recognizing that God is working in us and all around us to provide opportunities for us to stay put and continue on with our mission and ministry in South Africa.
Billy now volunteers full time with our local church as pastoral care especially for our church family, ministries & partnerships within Zandspruit. The relationships we have spent two years building in that space gives us access and trustworthiness in a community filled with its own great needs. Billy has been gifted with this amazing mix of strengths in both project management and being highly relational. His developing role is emerging as one of initiating community engagement, mentoring local leaders, investing in continual conversations and time with communities to build trust and understanding in how we can work together to grow together & bring about change that brings transformation (remember the divide in cultures and color and economics are still great here). This may look like attending house churches, leading discussions, helping individuals with a scholarship application, creating a budget… or walking 5 kilometers with someone just to have the opportunity to listen. By walking life with people, trust is built which gives both parties some ground to speak into each other’s lives. If
individuals change - and change other individuals - communities transform. This is a truth we believe strongly in. Programs provide great opportunities to grow, but only relationships disciple from the inner most core in people’s lives.
Billy also works with organizations and universities who have resources for areas of need but don't have the relationship to know how to step in well. He’s been able to help with job placements and recommendations for University money to provide opportunities for individuals or larger scale projects and he’s been invited multiple times as a guest lecturer on healthy & sustainable community engagement. Plus, his strengths in IT development have been put to great use in the church. That is something that has really been lacking and strong IT connections give us a road for communication and helps us be more efficient and take care of each other better.
Although our ministry within our community is something we do together my (Trace’s) role has a bit of a different feel to it on many days. While I am also walking life journeys with local leaders in the community, I am involved more with children’s ministries here in South Africa. Our kids here are so vulnerable. Death, hunger, abuse, family addictions, ancestor worship, abandonment – are all too common in their little stories. Many don’t have solid families to encourage and protect them as they grow. Through seemingly simple things like tutoring, doing crafts, teaching bible classes, swim lessons, playing with and loving these kids – their tough skin born of urban poverty begins to melt away revealing the glow of treasure that each child is. I tell them over and over and over that they are GOOD. That God knows their name and loves them all the time. I also have been honored to be invited in to other NGOs in our area - to serve them by using my love for photographic storytelling to help them tell their own stories with beauty and dignity and light.
Our kids also have their special places here too. Madyline (15) is part of the worship team leading every Sunday at our church and she is a strong leader in the youth & participates in teaching a small group in VBS these past three years. She helped teach a swim class to 11 little squirrley children last month and when the weather gets warm, we'll do it again. Harrison (13) tutors with me each week and helps with special events like feeding programs or craft days or presentations in the kids’ programming. And Avery (10) reads to a group of 1st and 2nd graders every week. We are thankful for them and proud of them in the same breath.
We feel deeply that, for this moment, we are to be here, in this space in South Africa, continuing to offer God and our community the best we have to give. That God, in all His power, will accomplish what He has set out to accomplish through & around us. That you have the opportunity to be a part of this ministry, these people, this journey along side us. Thank you for all you have already been a part of. It’s beautiful to have a family, a tribe – loving and supporting us and lifting this beautiful, messy, difficult, amazing life here in South Africa up to our Father.
With Love and Appreciation for the journey –
Bill(y) & Trace DiCocco
Isaiah 55 (The Message)
"Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water!
Are you penniless? Come anyway
—buy and eat!
Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything's free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now, listen carefully to my life-giving,
I'm making a lasting covenant commitment with you,
the same that I made with David: sure, solid, enduring love.
I set him up as a witness to the nations,
made him a prince and leader of the nations,
And now I'm doing it to you:
You'll summon nations you've never heard of,
and nations who've never heard of you will come running to you
Because of me, your God, because The Holy of Israel has honored you."
Seek God while he's here to be found, pray to him while he's close at hand.
Let the wicked abandon their way of life and the evil their way of thinking.
Let them come back to God, who is merciful, come back to our God, who is lavish with forgiveness.
"I don't think the way you think.
The way you work isn't the way I work."
"For as the sky soars high above earth,
so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don't go back until they've watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth not come back empty-handed.
They'll do the work I sent them to do, they'll complete the assignment I gave them.
"So you'll go out in joy, you'll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thornbushes, but stately pines—
Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God."