The Nest in Drankensberg in South Africa is a mountain resort hotel and conference center five hours south of Johannesburg. Here there is a picturesque golf course, hiking trails, river with pools, waterfalls and mountain views. Outdoor activities include: croquet, lawn bowling, tennis, horse ridin and white water rafting.

Promoting the ‘best scenery in South Africa, where you can unwind, relax and do absolutely nothing”, the Nest stands in stark contrast to what I will see and do next week in Northern Malawi. But for now, I am grateful for these four days of a retreat venue, and am luxuriating in the salt water pool, fresh African air, bright summer sunshine and cool evening breeze. Three delicious, four course meals are served in the dining room, and tea twice daily on the veranda. This is European South Africa at its best.

The spiritual direction retreat I am leading for the Nazarene missionaries in the Southern Region is going well. Though only a few have read books by Henri Nouwen, all are attracted to his contemplative spirituality, vulnerably faith-sharing and gentle wisdom. Small group sharing has been a delight, and I’ve enjoyed watching how the Spirit moves in and among us as we open more deeply to the Divine Presence.

Four days and eight sessions later, I am ready to leave behind the spiritual ‘retreat’ and embrace the ministerial ‘advance’ the awaits us in Malawi.As Henri Nouwen writes: “communion with God in solitude leads to community relationships with God’s people, and on to compassion and ministry in the world.” (Spiritual Direction, p. )