Who is Ashley Els?
I really struggled with this question – it’s something that I’ve been wrestling with for a while now. It’s easy to define ourselves by what we do and what we have. The culture of today tells us this and leads us to neglect the essence of who we truly are at our core, down at the fibres that we have been woven together with.
I recently have discovered who I am and will forever continue to do so… I am a teacher, a lover of all things coffee, an amateur writer of sorts, lover of people but above all a son of my loving Father.
What is your best childhood memory?
Definitely travelling down to my grandparents, who lived in Outeniqua Strand (a beautiful stretch of the Garden Route), early in December. I’d go before the rest of my family and spend time with my precious Nanna. We’d bake, cook, chat, go to the beach and catch up. A week or so later the rest of the family would arrive. I remember just sitting that Christmas looking at everyone laughing, cherishing every moment. It was so wholesome and fulfilling.
If you had a chance for a “do-over” in life, what would you do differently?
Nothing… I shy away from the idea of “do-overs”… Being naturally flawed as a human being I continually practice to a live kinder, more loving life. There is enough pain, callousness and hurt in this world, I don’t want to be a part of that but sometimes, I am… However, I can learn and “train” not to be. The moments that most consider as “do-overs” help me to do that. They open my eyes to small moments where kindness can become who I am. The moments we’d classify as “do-overs” in our lives provide the opportunity to learn and grow. Each and every moment has shaped me into the person I am today. Without those moments that challenged me; stretched the daylights out of me; and pulled me in every direction – forcing me to step up, mature and grow – I’d be a crappy human. Aaaaand, I still have a very long way to go. The point is, the moments that could become “do-overs”, I try see as “new-beginnings”, because it is not the end, just the beginning of a small little path of kindness and love to be paved.
What do you feel most proud of?
My family and myself…
As a family, we have had a disconcerting moment or two. One thing that stands out over the course of our lives was the death of my father. At the age of 14, I lost my father to a botched robbery. He was a staggering 37 years young.
My grandparents had lost their son; my aunts, their baby brother; and me, I lost my father at a time in my life that was crucial. Despite this, we have risen overcome the heartache (mostly, haha) and dealt with the loss. In all honesty, without any hesitation or shadow of a doubt, it is only by the kindness, love and grace that God has poured out onto our lives. Straight up, yo!
I am most proud of, and would like to honour, my grandparents and aunts for traversing the hyperborean plains of heartache, grow increasingly more loving and always being present. In the face of our loss, I’ve seen them bear the depths of their souls in anguish and from that place a compassionate and appreciative living was cultivated.
I’m kinda chuffed of myself for being who I am today (I had A LOT of help!!). By the love and grace of Jesus, friends and family over the years who have journeyed with me and have never given up and have never stopped praying, I have become who I am today. I still have a long way to go, but I have an incredible community who supports, loves and encourages me to grow – for that I am incredibly grateful. They call me out on my crap and speak life into the potential within me.
If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be and why?
My Bible for sure, a knife and my cell phone. Within the Word of God I find my hope. A knife is just always handy to have and my cell phone just makes distance communication just a bit easier. Only slightly though. 😉
What do you want your tombstone to say?
“A man after God’s own heart who loved fiercely and lived kindness.”
What is your passion project?
I’m an Educator so making a distinct difference in the lives of those I encounter daily would be an aspect of my passion project. Teaching in an all-girls school, as a young male, my passion is to change their perceptions of themselves and females in general. The media devalues women and dictates who society and culture thinks they should be. It tells them that they’re not enough without a man, that they should settle for relationships that demoralise and devalue them. Time and time again I am shocked by how girls perceive the (terrible) ways boys and men are treating them as acceptable, it has become a cultural norm. My heart is to break that… My dream is that when the girls leave school that they know their value – that they are enough and sufficient as daughters of the Father and content with who they are. My passion is to see a revival of self-worth in the perceptions of the girls I teach. Similarly, the opposite for men is true – to teach them how to step up and step out. A wise woman once told me what a wise man once said, it goes like this:
“The most difficult thing about being a man is being a man.”
Let that sink in for a while…
Also, I would love to build a community that forms a safe space where people can authentically do life together without pretence. When people are accepted for who they are and when they are taught to embrace their story they can experience permanent transformation in the deepest place. I dream of a place where truth is revealed and where roads will be crossed, connecting people so that they are sustainably built into and cultivated into the people they were created to be – to fulfil their true and full potential.
What’s your favourite kind of coffee?
There are so many. I just really love all types of coffee! If I had to narrow it down, I would choose the following two: a ristretto cappuccino (always a double!!) I used to be a big double capp and americano (when I thought milk was for babies) fan – I then saw the light… The flavours in the ristretto capp are just that much more soul soothing.
Ultimately, a Chemex is a firm favourite – the flavours are always so prominent and because of lack of milk one can have a few cups without “over doing” it (not that there is such a thing in a barista’s life, psh). There’s always extra to go around so the Chemex is like a community coffee, which is always (mostly) a fun time!
I’ve had some pretty incredible single origin Burundi beans out of Long Miles Coffee Project and a few delicious Ethiopian Yirgacheffes.
In which coffee shops are we likely to bump into you?
Most likely Vintage Coffee. It’s such an incredible space and I volunteer there. If you’re a Friends fan you’ll know what “Central Perk” is. To me, Vintage Coffee Menlo is kinda like that. There’s always someone you know, something interesting going down or a laugh to be shared. Other than that, I make my way out to Father Coffee in Rosebank every so often and if I’m there I definitely make a stop at EB Café – I’ve been influenced and taught well ;).
What does a perfect day look like?
Waking up early, spending time with God, sharing a Chemex and a good breakfast with my community. A day at the pool or beach with a braai and a nap on a couch somewhere in between all of that. Endless conversations with laughter and banter are a must. Ending the day with good food, delicious red wine and wholesome company would be the ristretto to my cappuccino. 😉
Follow Ashley on Instagram. Photographer: Shannon Venter