On the 2nd Thursday in December, many decades ago, I came into this world in a small hospital room on the outskirts of downtown Durban; St Aidans Mission Hospital. Summer was in full swing in my beautiful hometown, a coastal city on South Africa’s eastern shoreline, known for its sugar cane crops, its beautiful beaches, its warm Durban hospitality, and its stifling humidity and heat in the summer months. I was the firstborn of a young Christian couple who loved the Lord with all their hearts. My parents were active in ministry in our church community for as long as I can remember. They were founding members of our local church, a mega-church with a congregation of approximately 3000 people. In my last year of high school, my parents went into full time ministry and became ordained ministers in the Full Gospel Church of God in South Africa.
We went to church 6 days a week: Sunday school on Sunday morning, Sunday service at 11am, Sunday evening service, Tuesday prayer meeting, Thursday home cell, and Saturday youth group. Mom led the women's ministry. Dad was an elder, home cell leader, and mentor to many of the young and aspiring pastors at church. Our family had the kind of generational history in the Full Gospel Church that I recognize in many of you in the Covenant Church. The church was my place of belonging and our family was known across the denomination.
My journey to the USA: Scott and I met through my aunt Vish who was up in Vancouver BC visiting her daughter Naomi in the summer of 1998. The family went to Creation Fest in Eastern WA. Aunt Vish helped in the prayer tent where Scott came in to find some reprieve from the heat. Scott was reading the book, God is a Matchmaker by Derek and Ruth Prince. My aunt, by nature a curious and outspoken person, asked, “Why are you reading that book? Are you looking for a wife?”
They prayed together, exchanged addresses, and promised to stay in touch. A few weeks later he got a letter in the mail from aunt Vish, that began something like this,
“The bible says it is not good for a man to be alone…!” Out popped a picture of me. The letter went on to suggest that Scott would really enjoy meeting her unmarried niece, Angelina, in South Africa. Aunt Vish had been trying to set me up with a husband for several years.
So began a 2-year long-distance courtship. I moved to the USA in November of 2000. Scott and I were married on Dec 2, 2000.
Life in Seattle was challenging and unfamiliar. I missed my robust support network in South Africa. I was in a new marriage with someone I was still getting to know, a new job and a whole new culture. Everything was different. The Seattle weather was gloomy and gray. I missed the sunshine of Durban, the ocean, and the people. I longed for something familiar, someone familiar, a friend who knew me and with whom I could relax and know that I was known and loved without question.
The Seattle Freeze was real. Everyone I met had their 2 best friends and their dog; there was no place for someone who was culturally different, brown in a world of predominantly white Seattlelites, chronically homesick, and trying to find my place in a cultural environment that was polite but not warm and welcoming like the South African culture I was used to. I finally found my friends in the immigrant and transplant community and settled into my new job and married life as best as I could. Our marriage was not without its challenges. That added a new level of challenge to the already difficult business of moving to a new country.
Dealing with new things every day is exhausting. For instance, navigating the grocery store was a challenge; a trolley was now a ‘cart’, the cashier was a ‘checkout person’, and I was standing in the ‘checkout line at the grocery store’ not the queue at the supermarket. When I asked the checkout person for a packet for my groceries, she looked at me weird. Would you like a bag, she asked instead! The products on the shelf were different. I asked for grated cheese but was directed to shredded cheese. Where was the beef mince? Oh, that’s right, it was ground beef, not mince.
I longed for the familiarity of biscuits, not cookies, Rooibos Tea, scones that were round instead of triangles, Nandos Peri-Peri Sauce, braaivleis, not BBQ meat, and the familiarity and belonging all those things represented. There were countless other similar scenarios. The pavement was called a sidewalk, Americans drove on the wrong, errrr left, side of the road, and put their groceries in the trunk of the car, not the boot. It took 3 years for me to stop longing chronically for my people, stop wishing I could hear a familiar accent, or stop feeling like the odd person in the room.
In the summer of 2007, we were surprised to learn that we were expecting not one baby, but two. We were delighted! Matthew and Zander were born in April of 2008. They were the most delightful blessings God could have bestowed on me after what felt like a 7-year uphill trudge. We tried hard to find a church community where my family felt like we belonged. When I married Scott, he attended a great church in Mountlake Terrace, but I wanted to find a community that felt a little more familiar, a little more like home.
In the spring of 2018, we stumbled upon Creekside in a Google search. Our first-time visiting at Creekside, several people came up to us and welcomed our family. In the following weeks, Nancy Boyd made sure to seek me out and introduce me to others. Vinod and Swetha always stopped to chat after church; it was comforting to find some commonality in our shared Indian heritage. I wondered if Creekside could become the place of belonging I was longing for but I held on to my reservations, wary from too many failed attempts to reach out and create community among people who already had theirs.
That summer we went to the church campout and Becky Watson invited me to attend the bible study at Lynn Morris’s house. Lynn, with her expansively warm heart, welcomed me into the fold. She pursued me with her engaging manner and her repeated attempts to reach out and let me know that I was loved and thought of.
In 2019 we moved to Salt Lake City for what was supposed to be a 5-year work contract. There too, Lynn pursued me, calling to see how I was doing, sending me the next bible study textbook in the mail, and encouraging me to do the study alongside the group. Nancy and Linda Sakamoto sent us cards in the mail, reminding us that the prayer team was praying for our family, and enquiring after our new life in Salt Lake City. COVID happened in March of 2020 and our family returned to Snoqualmie to work from bedroom offices, like the rest of America and the world was doing. Lynn again invited me to attend the bible study on Zoom. There was a warmth in that small group and a sense of caring that I had not encountered in a long time.
When Zander started to complain of headaches, the ladies in the bible study prayed with me. On that fateful and traumatic day in December 2020, when we finally realized what the cause of Zander’s headaches were, the bible study ladies wrapped their arms around me and did not let go for the rest of those awful days and months as Zander battled cancer and our family dealt with his death. Mark and Tim rallied around us and became regular visitors at our home and on Zoom, and later in the ICU at Seattle Children’s. The Creekside family flooded us with love in the form of countless acts of kindness, delicious meals, money to help with expenses, and prayers that went up for our family constantly in those 12 months, and I am sure, continues for us still.
My family did not just find belonging at Creekside. We found a lifeline in our darkest moments, support when we thought we couldn't bear the weight of our heavy burden, love when our hearts were broken and our spirits crushed. We are humbled, we are grateful, and we are thankful for each one of you who has taken the time to get to know us and welcome us into the fold. We are thankful that you upheld us when we had no more strength left to stand.
I share this to let you know how much an act of love means to those struggling to find community, and what a difference a kind word, a thoughtful gesture, and the love of a caring community makes.
As we move deeper into the holiday season, take a minute to look around you and seek out the newcomer or those who are alone. Let them know that they are welcome in our Creekside family. Yes, the holidays get busy, and we often feel overwhelmed with the numerous chores and commitments that seem to mount. Stop for a moment. Get off the man-induced roller coaster life imposes on us. Consider the gift that we were given that very first Christmas, the gift of pure love in the form of Jesus Christ our Savior. Let that love inspire you to love those God has given you the privilege of walking this earth with.
Let’s remember that the gifts we put under the Christmas tree are nice to have but the gifts that make the biggest difference and have the biggest impact, are the gifts we can’t put under a tree. The gifts of love and kindness, thoughtfulness and inclusion, belonging and care are the gifts we should all strive to give this holiday season. No matter if the Christmas cards are not mailed, the cookies are not baked, or the holiday lights are not strung. Hold on to the gift of love embodied in our Lord and let that be your motivator this Christmas and throughout the New Year.