Gifts for my Children

african sunset 3“Are you going to emigrate?”

This is the question on everyone’s lips since we returned from our trip to Australia and New Zealand. It’s a valid enough enquiry, given the statistics showing that over a million South Africans have done just that.

It is also one laden with emotion. Emigration divides families and friends physically, but in many ways, also emotionally. There’s a sense that the pioneers taking the plunge are ‘braver’ or ‘wiser’ than those that stay behind. For me, the most difficult emotion I wrestle with is the idea that I am doing my children a disservice by choosing to stay in South Africa.

It was a thought that again crept to the forefront of my mind in Australia….

…As I walked the scenic and safe coastal path in Perth (it disappeared briefly as a swarm of flies accosted me).

…As our family hopped on a ferry in Brisbane one evening, disembarking into a buzzy crowd on the other side of the river without once glancing nervously over our shoulders.

…As we watched the uneventful news on the local TV station.

…As we drove into city centres where no-one slept on dirty blankets at street corners.

Yes, of course I want all this for my children. I want them to be safe. I want them to live in a society where the biggest news item is a toddler wandering off after builders left open a door. I want them to have opportunities not linked to skin colour. I want them to be free of the fear and resentment that taints the edges of my own society. I want them to live in a place of justice and order, where judges can’t be bribed or prison guards bought.

These are beautiful gifts and I am exceedingly sad that I can’t give them all that in South Africa.

And yet giving them those gifts means that I would struggle to give them others that –although less tangible—I value…

…The closeness and richness of family – grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

…A sense of the fragility of life. It seems a strange gift, but I think it is the realisation that life on earth is fraught with uncertainty that drives us into the arms of an eternal God. And bringing them into His arms is the most precious gift of all.

…The riot of African cultures– colours, tastes, music, laughter—that enlivens me with joy and creativity. I hope it does the same for them.

…The soulful beauty of this place. The silhouette of a thorn tree at sunset, or a herd of elephants roaming past, touches me more deeply than any other sight on earth. My country is breath-stealingly lovely and I want my children to experience it and appreciate it as much as I do.

Are my gifts valuable? Some will think not. Sometimes, in the deep, Eskom-induced darkness of night, I even doubt their value myself.

I am grateful that I showed my children another place and another way of life, one that is not stained with the complexities of South African life. I pray that one day–with this knowledge–they will make choices for themselves and their children. I pray even more fervently that when the time for those choices comes, South Africa will be a place where young people feel they have hope and a future, where fear will not dominate their decisions – a country different to the one Paton describes:

“Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing. Nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley. For fear will rob him if he gives too much.” 

Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)

Some may consider me a fool. Perhaps I have indeed laughed too gladly, stood too silent in the sunset-veld and given too much of my heart to this place. But I would not have it any other way. For now I choose the beloved country where I feel the most alive – this place that my heart whispers is home.






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  1. What a great story and I’m so glad you realised intime what a beautiful country we live in here in S.A. Its will be time enough when your children grow up and can make their own decision, hopefully it will the right one.

  2. Dankie, Joan.
    Dit raak my baie diep, veral omdat my twee dogters in Switserland is en nou is die groter en wyer wêreld hul woning. En dit voel soms of my tuiste klein en amper onsigbaar vir hulle is. En die dinge wat vir jou kosbaar is het hulle helaas agtergelaat.

    • Thanks Estelle. I didn’t touch on how very difficult it must be to have your children leave. As much as I want them to make their own personal choice, as your daughters have done, I imagine there is such a wrenching feeling in having them on the other side of the world. xxx

  3. That was truly heartfelt and beautiful…. Thank you Joan.

  4. Thank you for sharing so deeply. You echo many of my thoughts. I am grateful we have a faithful and loving Father who is constantly with us wherever we are. The best gift we can give them, is letting them see the relationship we have with our heavenly Father, Son and Holy Spirit and praying for them to also have a deep, trusting relationship with Him.

  5. Joan, your words carry hope…a gift.

  6. I have a “warm-heart” feeling when i hear anyone choosing to stay in our beautiful land. It is difficult to sever the roots of Africa.

  7. Your words have bought tears to my eyes. You have managed to capture with words the mixed feelings this country and the choices have brought about for me too. I have chosen to stay – for those very same reasons! Thanks for putting it so beautifully and for helping me to realise why I love this country so much.

  8. Thank you Joan. That was so well written. It causes me deep deep pain that I do not get to share day to day life with my mom, sister and cousins. That is why so much of my writing deals with this. However, although we could move to join my sister there is something about the ease of life there that puts me off. Life in the UK does not have the same ease and I think that is better for my boys. I have to keep reminding myself that life is not about a comfort zone, finding the very best place to live. Life is about staying in touch with God and his purposes. The recent trip to SA was a precious one – I refuelled my self with the warmth of my people and relaxed into the unmatched elegant beauty of the place.

    • Thanks for your insightful thoughts on this Cathy. I love something Corrie ten Boom says in “The Hiding Place” – the only safe place to be is in the centre of God’s will. For those who leave country & family, those reunited times become particularly precious. I remember the times with my Dutch grandparents with such joy – we had to cram them full of love and meaning.

  9. Your comments really touched me deeply Joan. We are in the aftermath of having my sister leave for Australia, and we are all finding it hard – on both sides of the ocean, for different reasons. Your comments and reasoning for staying in South Africa resonate strongly with my own.

    I guess in the end, no matter where you find yourself based, you have to find inner peace, and really hang tight with God, looking for His blessings around you every moment. Those blessings and his Love are in every corner of the globe, we just have to turn our thought to them and bask in the sunlight of His Love, and his MANY blessings, which for us in SA come in such a rich diversity of colour and culture 🙂

    Thanks for your honest and inspirational blog!

  10. So true what you say about emigrating or staying in SA. We have also debated it, whether we should go or encourage our children to leave with our grandchildren. But then we come back to the fact that our friends who have emigrated can’t wait to visit every year, that we were nearly mugged in Albany, Australia but our instincts, finely honed by SA saved us and in Perth we witnessed hooliganism and vagrants on drugs in the streets. My husband and I have travelled extensively over the world and still believe South Africa is the best place to be despite all its problems!

  11. Your comments struck a cord in me too. There is no place like home. Although we have challenges, I believe that these are simply due to the fact that the world is a sinful place. Europe is experiencing its own onslaught of problems since the attack in Paris. All we can do, is love more with God’s love, pray more for his grace and mercy and be the best that we can be where-ever we are. South Africa still has the friendliest people on the planet and we are here for a reason. Let us embrace every moment.

  12. Hey Friend, what a wonderful, heart-felt, and real post! Although our situations are different as I sit here as an ex-patriate in South Africa, questions are posed to me about when we too, will leave South Africa – to return home. I decided to blog about those thoughts as your blog post initiated much reflection and yes, gratitude for the opportunity to live 9 years of life here so far as a family. Thanks, Friend!

    Here’s a link to what I shared…

    With love,

  13. Thanks for a glimpse into your world.

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