a day in the life of a domestic worker

She rises before the sun, shifting about quietly in her one-roomed shanty, careful not to disturb the three children sleeping on mats on the floor.  She slips on her plakkies, fumbles around for the bucket and opens the door slowly, to minimize the volume of the creaky hinge.  

She pauses, giving her mocha eyes time to adjust to the pre-dawn darkness.  Inhaling deeply, she notes the freshness of the morning air and thanks God for another day.  Making her way to the community tap, she bends to fill her bucket with water.  Lifting the full container to her head, she walks back to her shack, smiling and greeting groggy neighbors along the way.

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And so the morning routine begins: bathing in the large plastic basin with a cloth and a bar of soap; stirring pap over the paraffin stove; wrapping one of her late husband’s t-shirts around her hair in a way that makes it look like a work of art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAShe packs her uniform in a backpack, says a silent prayer over her sleeping children, and walks out the door.  It will be over an hour before she gets to work, sometimes ninety minutes depending on the taxis and trains.  She steps into the first available white minibus kombi and squishes in between the other early morning passengers, some talking on cell phones, others smoking.  She smiles politely at a woman about her age, and they form an unspoken bond.  

The bond of two South African widows, trying to make enough of a living for their children to attend school and not go to sleep hungry.

The sun rises, and she smiles a thank-you as she steps out of the taxi, the kombi pulling away with the driver’s right hand man still hanging his torso out of the sliding door, yelling, “Mowbray, Mowbray!  Kaapstad!”

She glances at the clock on her cell phone, careful that no one sees her tucking it back into her bosom, for fear it may be stolen.  If she picks up her pace, she’ll make it to work on time.

Pressing a finger to the doorbell, she waits outside the gate until a voice is heard through the intercom.  “Hello?”

“Hello, Mma.  It’s Zola.”

Click, and the gate is unlocked.

Two flights of stairs and a long passageway, and then, “Auntie Zola, Auntie Zola!” the two toddlers exclaim, skipping with glee to greet her.  She is at work, her twentieth year as a domestic worker, and she wonders whether her own children have eaten and dressed in time for school.

The next ten hours are spent feeding the twins, sweeping the floors, ironing during the children’s naptime.  She wipes her brow with the back of her chocolate brown hand, and doesn’t think twice about pressing her employer’s work shirts, changing his kids’ nappies or washing his breakfast dishes.

It’s the same work her mother did, and her grandmother before her, too.  

As she scrubs the toilet, she recites in her mind the verses that her grandmother had her memorize when she was a young girl:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:22-24).

    She knows she is not a slave, but she also knows these verses apply to any work situation.  So she bends lower on her hands and knees to wash the floor, and she works at it with all her heart, for she knows it is the Lord Jesus Christ that she serves.

This post was written for The High Calling, on the theme, “Your Work Matters to God.”  Read more stories on this same topic, or link up your own story here.


hot chocolate in june – a review

hot chocolate in june – a review

I must say, it really feels like this year, the Lord is bringing the exact books into my life that I need to read.

I review books for Ambassador International, and when I received the monthly e-mail advertising which new books were available for review, I gave the message a quick scan and nearly deleted it, having determined that I had already committed to doing too much during that month.

Then an author’s name caught my eye.

Holly Mthethwa.

Mthethwa.  I know that surname, I thought.

I recognized it as a South African name, and having spent a decade living in that breathtaking country, my interest was piqued.

I made some quick clicks online and soon discovered that Holly is a white, American Christian who went to South Africa to do volunteer work and ended up marrying a black, South African man.

Me too.

ImageNow I was too interested to simply delete the e-mail from Ambassador.  Instead, I let the arrow of my mouse hover over Hot Chocolate in June, and clicked “Request this Book.”

I’m so glad I did.

It turns out those few details were not the only things that Holly and I have in common.

In fact, in subsequent online conversations, she and I have decided that if we were to meet in person, we would be fast friends.

Holly starts her book by sharing the harrowing story of her father’s sudden onset of cancer and steady decline thereafter.  I, too, have watched a beloved parent waste away to that awful, awful disease.

She had my eyes welled up in tears with her beautiful writing as she recounted the details of those long and emotional months.

Following her father’s death, Holly traveled to India and later to South Africa, both for short-term volunteer positions.

Having also visited India on a missions trip, I so enjoyed reading about Holly’s experience as she witnessed cultural differences, extreme poverty and the heavy veil of Hinduism during her trip.  I could so relate to her own “Americanisms” as she shared the challenges and joys of ministering in a foreign context.

What I appreciated most about Hot Chocolate in June is Holly’s honesty as she fluctuates among a myriad of emotions and points in her spiritual walk.  She openly shares the frustration of the Apostle Paul, who often “had the desire to do good, but could not carry it out” (Romans 7:18).  She writes of her relational struggles and asks important questions of herself as she realizes, “I was willing to stick it out and persevere for all of the things that didn’t really matter in the larger scheme of things, but was I willing to do it for people, for relationship? … I realized this was going to require effort for the rest of my life ….”

Holly acknowledges the ongoing challenge as a Christian to die to self — yet she continues to trust the Lord and seek His will in her life.

During her brief stint working in an orphanage in South Africa, Holly met a man named Oscar.  Prior to her trip, she had accepted a position to work as an auditor in Wyoming.  Though her heartstrings were tugged to stay in South Africa, she fulfilled her commitment and moved by herself to a state in which she had never lived.

While she was there, her relationship with Oscar flourished, and to make a long story short, they got engaged and then married.  Holly moved to South Africa, and as she described her initial challenges as an American in a foreign land, I found myself nodding my head, saying, “Yep.  I totally get that.  Mm-hmm.  Me, too.”

I, too, have sipped hot chocolate in June, desperately trying to find internal warmth in the midst of a chilly S’African winter, with no indoor heating to be found.

As she wraps up this chapter of her story, Holly reflects upon how the Lord has shaped and molded her as she grasps her position in Christ.

This book was indeed a blessing to me as it allowed me to follow Holly’s journey thus far, and to clearly see the Lord at work in her life.

To learn more about this book, click here.

To connect with the author online, visit her at her blog or on Twitter @hollymthethwa

Please note: I received a free copy of this book from Ambassador International for review, and the opinions are my own.

the pros and cons of cross-cultural living

I was recently asked to share some thoughts with a college group about what it’s like to live in a cross-cultural setting. So far I’ve had the privilege of visiting Mexico, Honduras, India and Lesotho before spending a decade living in Cape Town, South Africa.



Perhaps I should preface this by saying that cross-cultural living is not for everyone. There are those who might thrive in a foreign setting but never get the chance to travel. Others might live in foreign contexts for work or as a result of other, external circumstances, but struggle the whole time. Nevertheless, even if you only have the opportunity to visit another culture without actually settling there, I would highly recommend it.

I was blessed to have had a wonderful experience, but it did not come without its challenges. Based on personal experience, here are some pros and cons to cross-cultural living.



Pro: It offers a richness to one’s life that cannot be manufactured. Travel books are great, but one can’t learn richness from a book. Movies can give a glimpse, but will never do justice to the smells, the tastes, the smiles, the accents, the people, the memories. In a word, it’s exhilarating. The experience gained can’t be replicated any other way.



Con: It can be hard, sometimes shocking, to re-enter one’s ‘home’ culture after seeing the world through new lenses. It’s even possible to develop a bitterness toward materialism and the surplus of choices. One can also experience an air of superiority toward those who don’t know any differently.




Pro: It will increase your dependency on the Lord like you won’t believe. You’ll need His help like you never knew you could need it before.




Con: It will make you feel like you’re two years old again when you realize you can’t do anything by yourself. By that I mean that you won’t know which exit to take off the freeway, or how to find the freeway in the first place, or even which side of the road to drive on, or which side of the car to get into, for that matter … You won’t know the difference between a grocery store and a hardware store, or what to buy at the store or where to find it, or how much it will cost in your home currency.




Con: It is exhausting. It took me five full years living overseas before I wasn’t constantly doing mental gymnastics every moment of every day. Trying to figure out currency conversions, unit conversions for things like temperature (for anything from the weather outside, to the setting on the oven to bake brownies, to the thermometer for my kid’s fever), cultural nuances, directions and locations, foreign brands. Add an unfamiliar language to the mix and the difficulty level of the gymnastics is multiplied a hundredfold.



Pro: It is stimulating. Mental gymnastics can be a good thing. It will expand your horizon and broaden your worldview. It will break you out of your mold of thinking things can only be done one way. Before I lived overseas, I never knew it was possible to make brownies without a box. Now my daughter has been raised to make brownies from scratch, moves to America, and finds boxed mixes to be the definition of boring.




Con: You will miss out on a lot from your ‘home’ culture. I cried like a baby when my firstborn had her first birthday overseas and nobody from my extended family was there to celebrate. I literally broke down in a parking lot and was convinced it wasn’t worth it, this whole ‘living far away’ business. Even after ten years, the ‘missing family and friends’ part never really got any easier.


Pro: Not always, but often, the Lord will provide new and deep relationships right where you are. These will obviously not replace the friendships you left behind, nor are they intended to, but they can help cushion the ache a little and add comfort while in a foreign place.




Pro: It will increase your desire and excitement for heaven. You’ll get a teeny tiny taste of what it will be like when “the great multitude … from every nation, tribe, people and language” will one day gather “before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).



Con: Well, there just isn’t a corresponding con to this one. To have every nation represented in eternity will be beyond amazing.




I absolutely loved the decade I spent living in a foreign context. I offer the ‘cons’ here only as a pinch of reality to temper the starry-eyed, honeymoon mentality that can sneak into the suitcase when traveling overseas.


And ultimately, even where there are challenges and frustrations, we can “rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4).


Having said that, I sincerely hope that the picture painted here is one in which the scales are heavily weighted in favor of the ‘pros.’


Cross-cultural living is hard, but so worth it.


What about you?  Have you experienced any of these pros or cons?  What would you add to the list?




malva pudding and motherhood

Today I’m breaking the mold of my usual posts to share some essentials:

A malva pudding recipe …

Malva Pudding 1

.. and news about the upcoming release of this book.



Because what better way to celebrate the arrival of an amazing book written by an amazing South African, than malva pudding!

I’m eight chapters into Lisa-Jo Baker’s first book, Surprised by Motherhood, and ohmygoodness, if you are a mom, it is a must read.

Lisa-Jo gets it.  All of it.  And she’s not afraid to share ‘Everything I Never Expected About Being a Mom’ ..

It’s all that you find out as a mom and wish the parenting books had warned you about.  It’s hope.  It’s glory in the chaos.

The book comes out on April 1st, but you can pre-order now by clicking here.

Can’t wait to share more about Surprised by Motherhood in the very near future.  But for now, the malva pudding.

This recipe was given to me at my bridal shower ten years ago, and it has been a winner every time:



Serves: 6-8



1/2 CUP  (125 ML) MILK

1 1/3 CUPS (200 GM or 375 ML) SELF-RAISING FLOUR

1/2 CUP (100 GM or 125 ML) WHITE SUGAR







1 CUP (250 ML) WATER

1 CUP (250 ML) CREAM






Congratulations, Lisa-Jo .. you and your words are a gift to moms the world over .. May the Lord be glorified through your ministry.

With thanks to Jon Mountjoy for the malva pudding photo


As I type this, a live broadcast of the memorial service for Nelson Mandela is streaming through my laptop speakers.  My screen has been flooded and inundated with tributes, quotes, images, broadcasts and expressed emotions paying tribute to a man used by God to change the course of a nation.

Here are a few links to comments and reflections from personal friends, both white South Africans who acknowledge the providence of God in the life and impact of Nelson Mandela:

First, a word from our pastor in Cape Town:

The Providence of God in the Life of Nelson Mandela

Here is Bronwyn Lea‘s account of her experience growing up in the heart of South African change:

Farewell Madiba

And another reflection from Bronwyn posted on Think Christian:

Nelson Mandela and God’s Providential Purpose

This flash mob by the Soweto Gospel Choir in a South African grocery store caused tears to well up in my eyes:

A beautiful flash mob in honour or Tata Madiba

And because I lacked words to express sufficient gratitude to God for using Mandela as He did, the best I could come up with was to honor him and ultimately the Lord with photographs I’ve taken over the years demonstrating the beauty of God’s creation in South Africa, and the peace that has been wrought to a country that could have crumbled:

South Africa – A Photographic Tribute

May the Lord raise up more leaders to sustain His work not only in South Africa, but from every tongue, tribe and nation.