(Written by Larry Howl)
First impressions, they say, are lasting impressions.
The first day was finally here: the first Abiding Presence 25:40 mission team to the Canzibe Mission in South Africa was about to meet the staff and children at the preschool sponsored by 25:40.
You run through how the dialogue will go in your head, but you know that in the first few seconds, all the Xhosa language you managed to learn will be exhausted. Will we be able to connect with the kids and work well with the teachers? Pray some more that the kids will understand the lessons that Joyce Cristina, Clare and Allison prepared. Wonder about whether we’ll have the right tools and supplies that the guys will need to build new desks and repair equipment.
What surprised me most was that it didn’t just go well – it went incredibly well!
We met some of the staff first thing at chapel; friendly greetings, warm smiles, and then we learned the Xhosa handshake, not too different than a college “secret” handshake. And then the first children. Beautiful wide, inquisitive eyes, some sheepish smiles, and m any happy handshakes and greetings (“Molweni/Hello”). They acted so happy to see us, and we were happy to finally get to meet the kids and teachers we’d waited so long and traveled so far to meet.
Not everything went like clockwork, though. The number of preschool kids was way less than expected due to transportation issues (presumably a broken down vehicle, but who knows for sure?) Cold, wet winter weather is all it takes sometimes for the driver to decide not to make the journey on the dirt road some days…. Nonetheless, a good number of preschoolers walked here and we had plenty of kids in the classroom for the first lessons we would teach on nutrition and dental hygiene.
The amazing thing about these children, these beautiful kids, is what good students, good listeners, they are. No kids acted up; no kids acted like they didn’t want to be here; and all of them participated. Not one sported an attitude, like “do we really have to do this”? ALL of them were motivated to learn and be here. Can’t help but compare that to some of our public schools…
The afternoon sessions went equally as well, but a much higher number of kids came. There were at least 30 students per class and even though they were older than the preschoolers, we saw the same, wonderful attitudes. All well behaved, eager to learn, and having a great time listening to us Americans who just converged on them…
We capped off the evening with a spaghetti dinner for the teachers and the mission’s pastor Wikus and his lovely family. We all joined together in the chapel for song, prayer, and an amazing slide show that Alec put together on very short notice.
We saw the Lord’s work in so many eyes, in so many places, and in so many ways. If this first day is indicative of the way this week will go, it’s going to be an awesome experience.
I have no doubt we’ll be witnessing Christ everywhere. Even with the cold, wet rains that are forecast for this week. No doubt we will have many lasting impressions.