Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

An American in a South African Tree

Written by: on October 7, 2022

Jason challenged us at the beginning of the Advance, to be open to the strange and stranger; to lean into that which is out of our control or comfort zone. I do not know about anyone else, but my mind is still grappling with the experience in Cape Town.  So much to unpack, but I have not had sufficient time to even begin pulling things out to decide if it is “clean or dirty”, souvenir or transformative gift, or beneficial to apply now or goes on the top shelf out of view. My learning adventure of openness and leaning into zones outside my comfort is continuing even now as I sit in my South African bungalow in Sodwana Bay where I have been scuba diving. I keep asking Jason’s question, “God what do you want me to see and know in each moment?”

Our journey of Global Perspectives has not prepared me for the experience of driving in a “new way”.  I have felt like I have been in a giant pinball machine working to avoid potchasms, livestock, live people, and speed mountains.  I have experienced the anxiety of sensing that the residents here are not fond of my white presence.  My scuba diving “boat” rides out to dive sights has been more like white water rafting on heroin.  I am almost out of RAND and the thought of navigating the ATM without my co-travelers’ providing cover has me avoiding the crowds. What does God want me to see and know? Global perspectives? Duh! Well, maybe my sense of lostness is speaking of global perspectives.

All that to say, reading N.S. Lyons, The Upheaval was way too much for me to wrap my brain around.  And though Denise read Acceptance Address by Mr. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn while I was driving us through the South African mountains, much of Solzhenitsyn’s words bounced off the car windows never really landing in my brain.  The one thing that has stuck with me from both Lyons and Solzhenitsyn is that radical change is (has been) brewing.  Cultural/economic/religious/political arenas are up for grabs, and how humanity responds to the shifting ground will reveal our future. What does God want me to see? I answer this with an example from my diving today.  The first dive today we found ourselves in a decent current.  The fins I rented here just left me unbalanced because I had to kick vigorously to stay still enough to take pictures.  The extra work meant I went through my air faster.  Quickly I regretted not packing my own fins and dragging them halfway around the world so that I could handle what the ocean may offer.  God revealed there are times the things I read are like trying to scuba against a current with weak fins and I run out of gas. Maybe when I return to these authors, I will have better equipment.

One other dynamic of these two articles that struck me was a lack of umbuntu character. They both seem to highlight a polarized views.  The prevalence of the umbuntu theme from Cape Town is predominant in my thoughts. Layering umbuntu with the clarion call for mindfulness in the midst of change raises questions for me. How do we as Christians approach umbuntu change from a Trinitarian foundation? How do we embody this in our leadership? How do we remain self-differentiated and recognize we are because of the other in leading our communities through change?  Can we remain cognizant that we are better together because better together makes us each distinct from the other?

In searching for a resource that can offer another voice to my map making, I have found Geopoliticafutures.com to offer a broad content in diverse formats. It covers varied regions across the globe.  I have found Lex Friedman’s podcast to offer a conciliant approach and adds to an umbuntu layering.  However, I am ever cognizant of the voices of Tom and David Chivers, How to Read Numbers: A Guide to Statistics in the News that I must use wisdom when processing information.  It is easy to move into the comfort zone and interpret the cultural/economic/religious/political arenas that fit my biases.

Oliver Wendell Homes Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” My American mind in South Africa has indeed been stretched.  What does God want me to see and know?  I must be curious like Zaccheus and climb up into a tree to get a new perspective of Jesus; to see what Jesus is doing. Climbing up into a South African tree as an American is challenging work. I hope I can contextualize my tree top experience for the ones whom I now share umbuntu.

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

10 responses to “An American in a South African Tree”

  1. mm Jonathan Lee says:

    Hi Nicole, glad you are safe and having an awesome time! Im sure you will have so much to unpack after you come home. Hope you travel back safely~ what is one global perspective that is unique to South Africans that you have been learning and observing?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Jonathan thank you for your travel blessings!
      I am not sure yet how to answer your question. The South African culture of hospitality challenges me regarding how do I live into grace.

  2. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hey Nicole…thank you for this post. I love your capacity for metaphor! Beautiful tie-in of our global perspectives journey, the articles from this week, and your learnings from diving and driving in South Africa. Having experienced the driving side of things with you, I really resonate with your comment/observation: “…maybe my sense of lostness is speaking of global perspectives.” I think there is something disorienting that happens when we are confronted with frames/experiences/situations/perspectives outside of our own place in the world. Indeed, your Homes’ quote is right on–there’s no going back!

    Thank you also for the additional resources you noted…I’m looking forward to exploring them.

    And thank you for your questions. I’m particularly curious to hear more of how you are considering exploring the idea of Trinitarian umbuntu with your congregation? Do you see an adult education experience in your and their future? Something else?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Elmarie, I am curious to see how I live into Trinitarian Umbuntu with this congregation as well!! LOLOL

      Not sure what this will look like. In January I begin teaching Sunday school class called Theology for Dummies so this may be on place I focus the conversation.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole: I love the one-liners that emerge from your posts. Your thoughtful journey through South Africa and the long-term implications on a new normal are encouraging to read and witness.

    Not to take you too far back, but Lyons’ reminded me of some of the challenges you had with your previous congregation and community. Living in a new location, do you still see any of those same oppositions as you previously did? I’m wondering how much of it is connected to the denomination vs geographical location.

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Kayli thank you for pushing me to reflect on my journey. I think the oppositions in this new context are something I am still listening for. I think they will come to the surface the longer I am there. I do think the nature of consumerism is in place but I think they are more open to transformation.

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Denise: I have never heard of Geopoliticafutures.com, I’ll check it out. SCUBA diving is a fun past time while thinking about what God wants you to learn and get out of the experience of traveling to S.A. My mind was stretched too and I went away from Cape Town with a lot of new insights. Sounds like you did too; let’s keep climbing trees.

  5. mm Eric Basye says:

    Hey there. Crazy to think that you are still there! It seems like SO LONG AGO that I was there, but really, it has only been just over a week. How quickly we bounce back to our mundane routines. Press in and enjoy your time. Excited to hear your reflections of your travels on the backend, and how this experience will forever shape your geopolitical worldview.

  6. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Well said my friend!
    What we encountered on our journey definitely caused my way of thinking to be changed by the experience. I will be chewing on the experience for a long while. Particularly, in what Jesus is saying to me about how his goodness is manifest in the midst of injustice and poverty.

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