In Search of the Elusive Photograph

a guest post by Steve Hovda, my dad

Simple math would have solved the problem but in haste I proudly made one of my first purchases at the grocery store after our arrival in Cape Town, South Africa, a small box of Grape Nuts…for about 110 Rand, or $9.00 American.  And so, it begins. 

This was not the only faux pas, as my wife will be quick to interject.  Learning to drive a stick shift from the right side of the car on the left side of the road through roundabouts, U-turns, mountain switchbacks and construction zones provided dozens of amusingly, terrifying moments. The simple task of ordering shawarma in the Market (Think “some of each” at the Mongolian BBQ.)  produced a cuisine which burst with flavor, to put it euphemistically.

English is spoken here.  The robust enunciation which seemed to flow seamlessly from English to Afrikaans and back was wonderful to listen to but lent itself to entertaining misunderstandings and often the unnecessary admission, “we are from out of town”. 

Oh, yes…

Maybe I should have mentioned this salient disclaimer.  We were not only from out of town, but we have spent 134 years (my wife and I combined) in the United States. This was our first foray across an ocean. 


“What is your takeaway?”  The school teacher in me wants to run through the myriad experiences, observations, sensations, relationships, impressions, and newness through the filter of that one snapshot, the “Kodak Moment”, the one metaphoric explanation that encapsulates the three and one-half weeks we spent at the tip of the African continent.  IMPROBABLE? MAYBE IMPOSSIBLE! 

I must start here…

After five years of shameless pleading, guilt assessing, and selfish intercession on the part of our daughter, Christina (or, Christine as she has become known in her element) we finally caved.  Grudgingly, that is to say, with eager delight, we acquired passports, purchased tickets, packed and boarded.  This process took us about two years, given the level of our eagerness.  We had the pleasure and benefit of a seasoned guide for the journey, Dylan Quist, who was returning home after discovering that North Texas surfing is substandard. 

Even without the wealth of experiences throughout the Western Cape, including multiple sightseeing excursions along mountain roads, miles of pristine beaches, botanical gardens second to none on the continent, penguins, baboons, a safari, the Cape, Robben Island, the Waterfront, museums, vineyards, the popular marching ducks, new foods (hake, kudu, ostrich, potjie), etc., the memories created seeing the Quists in what had become their natural habitat, were priceless.  Abducting our grandchildren five years ago, and moving them to Cape Town has taken some time to forgive.  Which leads me to the perfect segue as I search for that “take away.”

Brenda (names are fictitious) approached my wife and me after a meeting in Ocean View where the Quist’s invest themselves.  She expressed a lengthy and tearful “thank-you” for not being “stingy” with our daughter.  That may have been the seminal moment I had been looking for.  But it doesn’t stand alone.

The aforementioned meeting may get closer.  In a word, according to the Care Center Director, the common denominator of Ocean View is “grief”.   Not only was the city amputated from the lively district of Cape Town and forcefully relocated in the 1970’s, but poverty, violence, gangs, and hopelessness are in the air it breathes.  The director reminisced that the reason he located the Care Center at its present spot is due to the claim that in three years prior to starting his ministry, there were more than 100 homicides within 100 meters of the chosen location.

The meeting was his idea.  Ideas are hard to come by.  NGO’s, denominational outreaches and not-for-profits abound.  There are over 250 registered churches in the community of about 35,000 people.  It would be easy to ask, “What more can be done?”  But he did ask, and part of the answer was grief.  He sent over 150 invitations to residents who had lost children to violence to meet in the Community Center next the Care Center for a time of healing and restoration.  He optimistically set up 50 chairs.  Eight women, no men (that is a story in itself), showed up.  They were embraced, counseled, prayed for, wept over and encouraged.  The grief was palpable, but so was the encouragement.  I stood next to the director during the session as he explained that one mother whose son was murdered, sat three meters away from the mother of the murderer.  At the close of the meeting, one of them came to embrace the director, and thank him for his efforts.  I was the beneficiary of a hug as well.  The snapshot may be taking shape.  Or, maybe it is becoming become a tapestry.

I have referred to the ministry at Ocean View as the Red Bull of missionary work.  I’m not sure the Quists or the beverage company appreciate the comparison but it is an attempt to suggest that the risks and challenges attached to the work in Ocean View, and similar locations are comparable to the Series of daredevil endeavors on TV. 

Upon closer observation, that metaphor breaks down pretty quickly.  I now refer to it as “niche” ministry.  The perception of risk seems to get lost in the relationship-building, nurturing, extreme caring, lifestyle-intersecting, Matthew 25 operation that is Quist. They don’t build local churches, start Bible studies, organize children’s clubs or sports programs which are all viable extensions of the bigger picture in some venues by some people.  Rather, they take a hands-on approach with Muslim leaders, convicted felons, gang-leader wannabes, battered women, abused children, and yes, mothers of murdered sons, and mothers of sons who murder. 

A panorama of snapshots may help, but anything tangible is going to miss the real picture.  There is something decidedly intangible, invisible, eternal in what they do.  That made our visit vitally essential and personally rewarding.  In the words of my wife, “we would go back in a heartbeat”.  There was a strong emphasis on the “heartbeat”.

It also made the elusive snapshot, well, elusive. 

What are you thinking?