Like countless others, years ago my husband, Dave, and I set out on our life journey. We were young then, and full of enthusiasm for God’s kingdom, our world, and each other. We met on a Nazarene college campus, and that meeting has taken us now through a lifetime of Christian service.
It’s been a journey to say the least—some seasons filled with excitement and fulfillment, and other seasons of disappointment. Yet through it all, our hands have been in His, and His ways we’d not change if even we could.
Ultimately, we came face to face with that unwritten deadline called retirement. What do you do with yourself after years spent in God’s service, either in the pastorate or on the Christian college campus? Between the two of us, we couldn’t really face this deadline because we still feel like we are 21! So, we delayed and just kept serving in a wonderful local church. But, as the years sped by, and that deadline kept looming out there—unknown, but inevitable--we both knew that one day we would have to step into another new chapter of life.
At last, in the fall of 2012 we bit the retirement bullet and signed off the payroll and walked into the unknown! Not a whole lot different than we had done in other chapters of our life, but still different enough to be more than scary.
My husband has always preached that nowhere in the Bible does it mention retirement, so now in this new unknown we had to somehow “practice what he had preached!” Being in good health and always up for an adventure, we decided to offer our services somewhere in the world as part-time volunteer missionaries. Together we felt we had a few skills that could still be used somewhere. Neither of us really cared where we went, and tentative invitations were extended from India and Australia. But, for whatever reason, neither of those doors opened.
And then, we were invited to South Africa to teach at the Nazarene Theological College near Johannesburg. When our children were small, we had a missionary speaker in our church from Africa, and at that time both of us felt a tug toward Africa. This tug was so strong that we pursued it through the Nazarene Global Ministry Center in Kansas City, U.S., but life happened, and other doors opened, and Africa became a fading memory. Could now be the time for us to revisit that tug from years ago? And so, we accepted!
Between the two of us, we felt that this should truly be an adventure of faith, so we didn’t make any big pleas for support, but just set aside a few funds that we had and trusted the rest to God. Just getting to Africa became a challenge. Since we agreed to stay longer than 90 days, an extended visa had to be purchased, and that process got complicated and elongated. Without the visas in hand, but with everything done we knew to do toward getting them, we put our faith in Him, purchased our tickets, and waited. The first Africa miracle occurred when the visas arrived less than 48 hours before our departure. And so it was that on January 10, 2013, we boarded a plane in Portland, Oregon, heading for Johannesburg.
We arrived in Johannesburg January 12, 2013, and staggered off the plane totally jet-lagged. Together we’ve traveled a good deal, but we’ve never agreed to “live” somewhere other than the good old USA. It seems common to me now as I write this, but our first view of our new thatched roof African chalet was like looking at something out of a magazine. Do people really live in these “chalets?” Yes, they do, and even though we have kept our accoutrements meager, it is a comfortable arrangement. (Photo right: the chalet)
We left Oregon and a cold, wet Northwest winter and walked into a warm, comfortable African summer. That was a blessing that we were anticipating. Cold, wet winters can be miserable!
Yet, the welcome we have received and continue to receive in Africa has gone far beyond the weather. The Nazarene leaders of southern Africa, local pastors, college instructors—all of these have accepted us with gracious open arms—more than we ever dreamed. But it is the college students who are a true inspiration. Each morning we meet for chapel, and each morning I’m humbled to hear these young men and women sing and pray and share their testimonies. When they pray, THEY PRAY! Everyone prays aloud—not just the old folks, but also the young ones! And their singing! It’s a combination of African songs and the old hymns. To hear them sing is like visiting heaven. They sing their African songs in a chant style. One person somewhere in the crowd begins, and then the others echo. It has a beat and sound that are unforgettable. I’m not hung up on hearing the old hymns, but it has been a joy to revisit some that I hadn’t sung in many years.
But these students go far beyond their singing and praying. Each of them has a story that can bring you to your knees. One young man stood in chapel and shared that he was mugged on his way to school. The muggers took all he had—equivalent to about $25 (USD). He said that if it hadn’t been for his prayers and God’s protection, they would have killed him for that dab of money. Such is their dedication to receive an education for service. From what we’ve seen in South Africa, the church’s future is in good hands. It’s been years since I’ve seen such dedication and seriousness about the call and ministry. (Photo right: Yesterday before I left I had the final meeting with my class. We had a brief discussion, and then I asked if I could pray for them. After that, they asked to pray for me, and it was one of the most touching memories of my life.)
So what about our decision to come to Africa? There are many things that we could do with these years, and it’s not our place to suggest that others should go to another country for even a short period of time. There is certainly plenty to do at home! BUT… God and the church need people to come alongside and assist. That’s what we have tried to do for this very short time. All sorts of skills can be used—teaching and preaching, yes! But that’s just for openers. Whatever you do now, God can use it in your retirement years. Or, if your health isn’t the best, perhaps you can partner financially with another who is able to go.
South Africa is a beautiful country that we have tried to enjoy to the fullest. It is a country similar to our own with its deep-seated racial issues. It is a country with plentiful natural resources. It is a country emerging rapidly into First World status. Our church is growing rapidly in Africa and that leaves many doors for assistance. Our lives have been forever changed by this adventure—on every single level. We’re leaving Africa with those miracle visas neatly stamped in our passports, but the biggest miracle is the one that is stamped on our hearts—South Africa has made an indelible mark, and we will never be the same. We are smitten with South Africa and will most likely return physically. But, if for whatever reason we do not, we are thankful for a church that makes this sort of adventure possible even in our retirement years.
-- Kathy Slamp is the founder of Vessel Ministries. While in South Africa, in addition to teaching at NTC (South Africa), the Slamps have also been speakers at Africa South Field's PALCON, numerous churches and clergy development meetings for the field.