When Marshall Grant, Jr., returned from two-and-a-half weeks in South Africa in 2003, he was so smitten by the country’s beauty, “He talked about it like he did a woman,” said Malaka Grant, who married him soon after.
In addition to the country’s natural beauty, “I really like culture, I really like learning (about it),” said Grant, Jr., a 1996 graduate of Springfield North High School.
Not by coincidence, “One of the things that attracted me to my wife is she had a different understanding of life,” he continued. A native of Ghana, “She had a different kind of food. She looked different. She had an accent.”
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What he calls “the opening of myself” to other people and cultures has, for now, landed the Grants in a house along the Indian Ocean, from which they do mission work in South Africa as whales and dolphins swim by.
A love for things international might not have been expected from Grant, Jr., who, before going to South Africa, says he had never left the United States. (A visit to Canada “doesn’t really count,” he says.)
He grew up the son of two college graduates, his namesake father, who works at Navistar, and his mother, Gail, whose career teaching art in the Springfield City Schools included a stint teaching her son.
One of Grant Jr.’s most formative educational experiences took place in the North High biology classes of Richard Dellapina and Tom Weigel, the latter of whom Grant Jr. calls “the crème de la crème of biology teachers.”
It was because of them that he went on to major in biology at Virginia’s Hampton University.
Another foundational Springfield influence — the Church of Jesus, where his father is an elder - led to Grant Jr.’s meeting Malaka in Bible study two weeks after both arrived at Hampton. “We became really close to one another really quickly,” he said. Together they stayed active in campus ministries while in school, then continued in the field through the Atlanta church they joined after graduation.
Heeding a physician’s advice to steer clear of medicine because it was becoming too much of a business, Grant, Jr., went to work using a skill he started to develop while installing the first set of computers in Hampton’s biology labs, IT. “It was something I could do,” he said, and, because he’d learned with the focus of the self-taught, he was in demand as the Y2K arrived.
Today his skill produces enough remote work with U.S. firms to support two entities. One is the Grants’ family of three daughters and a son, ages 8 to 14. The other is the ministry the family has been carrying on since moving to South Africa at the beginning of June, 2016.
“I’ve always thought Christianity in general should be holistic,” Grant, Jr. said. This approach guides his answer to the question “I know the gospel of Jesus Christ, but how do I then make it work?”
He has been getting help from his South African partner, Elric Van Rooyen.
Grant Jr. is working with preachers he says are able to “regurgitate” the words of television ministers broadcast from the United States but lack a Biblical foundation. At the same time, the partnership is drawing people 18-35 to youth cafes that offer both spiritual fellowship and training in fields that can provide steady work and help to develop South African economy.
Although still affected by the history of apartheid, Grant said “South African people in general look at blacks (in the context of) where we want to go as a people. It’s an aspiration.” This attitude is held continent-wide at a time when Africa needs fewer traditional missionaries and more help of the sort Grant said Nelson Mandela spoke when African-Americans asked how they might help South Africa: by coming to teach South African blacks the kind of skills African-Americans use every day.
“Black Americans - I don’t think they know the influence they have in the world,” he said. He said that opens great possibilities for leadership. “On the flip side,” his wife added, Cape Town, the country’s capital, is home to a gang called The Americans who “murder people ad nauseam.”
Grant Jr. says that working in South Africa has given him a much deeper appreciation for life in the United States. “Until you come to a desert,” he said, “you don’t know what an oasis you’re from.”
How long the Grants will stay in South Africa is unclear, although they may find it difficult to leave a diverse culture they love and their ocean-front home.
“We’re playing it by ear,” Grant Jr. said. “I don’t put time limits on things. I am person who (says to himself) when the job is done, it’s done.”
But he does have a sense that he always will have a place in his life for international experience. During a stop in Atlanta on the way to Springfield, he found himself missing “accents and languages I don’t understand” and strolled through the Buford Highway Farm Market near Atlanta.
There, among the huge variety of foods and differently spiced voices, he found himself feeling at home in the world once again.
For more information about the Grants and their work, go to 34DGZ.wordpress.com.
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