My roommates have left, the apartment is empty, and I am cleaning up, preparing to turn over the keys and get on a plane tonight. There has not been a single day when I was not homesick, when I did not long for my home with my fiance. And I am so excited to go back to him, to go back to our home and to our friends, and to our life together.
But this trip has been good for me. Besides being able to experience all the beauty around Cape Town, I have gotten to work with people I would not have considered partnering with before. I knew that I was going to learn about the religious experiences of sex workers, but I had no idea that I would be sharing office space with people who work in the office by day and sell sex at night. I have met many sex workers and played with their children. I have seen what it means for someone to be an impoverished transgender woman, but I've also seen their souls dance as they come together for support. I've learned about the struggles many people have on the street, and about the struggles people have in the townships. If one lives in either place, it is sometimes hard to keep dry. And in a cold winter when nobody has centrally heated homes, the wetter you are, the worse it gets. I've heard people talk about doing drugs just so they don't feel the cold and the wet at night.
I've also studied a lot and thought a lot about the church's theology of sex, and what it means to hold the idea that sex is something special and sacred, but also what it means when sex is a way to provide for yourself and your family. What does it mean to commodify sex? But then what also does it mean that economically, it is hard for many who come from poverty to leave poverty? What does it mean that unemployment rates nationwide in South Africa are high. What does it mean to have to support yourself and this job pays well when one gets enough clients?
But the most important thing I've learned is that Christ is not confined to those society would like to label as "decent". Christ sometimes shows up in the weirdest of places, like an organization that supports sex workers. They challenged my idea of who a Christian can be. I learned about experiences of growing up and moving away from the church, but I also learned about some who are faithful, who sit in that pew every Sunday, who pray and read their Bible, who have an active relationship with God, yet are also providing for themselves and their families through sex work. They made me wonder, who can a Christian be?
The complexity of Christianity is when we begin to see that others whom we would rather ignore or push out have the Holy Spirit in them too. Then we have to experience Christ in a new way, as active in the lives of those we would prefer he not work in. We must ask what being Christian means, what salvation means, what it actually looks like, and whether someone can be both saved and sinner, poor yet rich in heaven. It's complex. It's challenging. We have been struggling with it for over 2000 years.
And so as I get ready to leave South Africa, I think about them and I am grateful to have met them. I was homesick every day, I can't wait to go home, but this trip was good. These people are worth knowing, worth leaving my home and going halfway around the world to meet.