I was honored to be a member of Abiding Presence’s first mission team to South Africa.
Many things in Africa captured my heart: The stunning landscape. The beautiful birds. The devotion of the mission staff. The remarkable stories of the local women. But nothing captured my heart as much as the little girls.
I played with all the children, of course. Taught all of them in our mini-Vacation Bible School. Read books to them in the pre-school classrooms. Played with them on the playground. Pushed them on the swing. I vastly enjoyed my time with all the children. But for some reason it was the girls I found myself drawn to. Maybe it’s because my own youngest child, my little girl, is 10 now, and not so little anymore.
Or perhaps it is because of the special project I chose to bring to these girls. When we were gathering as a mission team in the months leading up to our trip, we discussed how we could all contribute our time and talents. We had teachers and artists among us, so we were collecting school and art supplies. I found myself wondering what my special contribution would be? At one of our meetings, Alec Zacaroli, one of our team leaders, mentioned how young girls in Africa know practically nothing about puberty. It is not talked about in school like it is here and the subject is taboo for girls in tribal society. The only thing they learn is shame and fear, and they are terribly unprepared emotionally and physically.
Are there ways we could help these girls? Talk to them and give them facts about what is happening to their bodies? Give them supplies to be better prepared? And lastly, tell them that they were created by God, so they should be proud and celebrate that.
Yes, I decided, this is what I wanted to do. As a woman and as a mother, I wanted to help these girls.
I spoke to a group of about 30 girls at a public school near the mission. They were shy but attentive, and a little too nervous to ask any questions. But as they do when any visitor comes to their school, they showed their appreciation with song. For those of us who were there, watching their performance was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
Working with 25:40’s counselor, I also spoke to a younger group at the mission. These girls were clearly more nervous about the subject, but I hope my talk helped them. One girl was brave enough to ask a few questions. I was very proud of her. Each received a bag with supplies, hair barrettes or ribbons, and a sparkly pencil. You would have thought it was Christmas, these girls were so thrilled.
These girls face a very uncertain future. Will their parents barter them away in marriage for half a dozen cows? If she doesn’t agree to the marriage, she may be abducted by her future husband’s family. To escape this fate, she may intentionally get pregnant, making her an undesirable marriage candidate. It’s very possible she will drop out of school because she just doesn’t see the point in an education when she knows her parents will insist on a marriage at age 14 or 15. Or she may become a victim of the violence that young girls are so vulnerable to in her culture.
I think of these little girls every day, and I pray for them. I ask you to please pray for them, too.
Before my family and I left for South Africa and during the whole stay there, I kept a journal of my impressions and experiences. Before the trip, I wrote that I didn’t really think I would experience an “aha” God moment there unless I kept my eyes and ears open and went with the flow. What I later realized after a few days on the mission was that you have to take the first step. You have to summon all your courage and faith and put yourself out there first. Then God will take it from there. A passage in an African-American sermon Bible says, “For every step you take, God will take two,” So, I learned that if you just trust in God and take the first step, you never know what exciting, wonderful journeys lay ahead of you. By taking the first step of going to South Africa, the rest of the logistics and plans simply fell into place perfectly in God’s hands. He took care of us during this faith journey, even though we did get a flat tire along the dirt road to the beach. I encourage you to take a leap of faith and serve boldly; trust that God will keep you safe.
One moment in my trip did stand out to me. It was Thursday morning, the morning of a national holiday in South Africa, Women’s Day. All of the girls and women on the mission team and quite a few local women dressed in their Sunday best gathered at the Canzibe chapel for service. We started off with a few hymns and Bible passages. Then Zoraya Stern, a member of our mission team, preached to us about what being a mother and a woman meant to her. She shared about her struggles and how God tested her as a mother. Her sharing moved many of the local women and even brought some to tears. This kind of opened everyone up and just broke the ice. Amy Zacaroli, one of the founders of 25:40, asked all the women if anyone would like to share their testimonies. An older woman came bounding up the aisle and broke out in a local hymn and everyone in the room joined her, effortlessly harmonizing with each other. At this moment I really felt God, with their voices filling the room and them sharing their personal stories and testimonies, it touched me deeply. Now, I’m not the crying type. I don’t cry in sad movies or anything but at that moment, the barrier just broke and out came the flood! I know I will never forget that memory and I never would have experienced something like that if I hadn’t gone on the trip.
If you decide that going with the next mission team is something for you, I can guarantee you will make lasting memories and become stronger in your faith. So take that bold first step and say you will do it. God will guide you from there.
“Here I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in.”
Have you ever heard that voice calling you? Or, at least thought you heard a voice. Did you open the door? I can’t imagine how many times that voice has tried to reach me…I just couldn’t hear it, or perhaps I didn’t want to hear it. Is it perhaps because I was afraid of opening that door? Did I fear what I might hear? Did I fear what I might be asked to do? Will He ask that I take up the cross and follow him? What if I can’t do it? What if it just isn’t in me? I wonder how many times I’ve come close to opening the door…to just turn around and walk the other way. I never thought to trust the last part of that verse…that He said “I will come in.”
The first time I can recall very clearly hearing His voice was in the process of adopting our baby girl, Marissa. My husband, Allan and I stood at the door for an entire year……so afraid of opening it! The list was endless of all the “why’s” it didn’t make any sense. Would we have what it would take? Could we afford it? Would we have enough love? How would we provide for four children?…the list goes on. But, the voice was persistent and we finally opened the door…..and He did come in. He came into our hearts like a rush of water filling us with His love and spirit to make it all possible. We didn’t have to do it alone. God had come in……and the blessings began to unfold.
That voice came again….and there was another knock at the door…the 25:40 Mission Trip to South Africa. Did I hesitate? Yes…some….but the timing was all too right to ignore the opportunity. My oldest son, Nicholas was being confirmed and the mission trip was scheduled for that summer. What a way to take that immediate step from confirming your faith to putting it into action. But, even as we opened the door and stepped through…there were plenty of concerns and worries. How will God use our gifts to help the children? Will it be too painful to see such devastating poverty? Will we be able to set aside our comforts and truly do God’s work? Will I have the strength to carry this cross and follow Him? Again, I focused on me….”will I be able?” I had forgotten again that He said, “I will come in.”….and His blessings began to unfold before our eyes…yet again.
And with these blessings ….there was “Growth”.
When Nicholas was in preschool many years ago…there was this beautiful tree in front of the school and it was the favorite gathering place for the children to play after school.
After a couple of years in the school the director knew that I liked design and had asked me to design a logo for the preschool. Meanwhile, my good friends Amy and Alec, who would become our mission trip leaders, were starting up 25:40 and they too had asked me to design a logo for them.
Both logos were inspired by Nicholas’ handprint he had used in some of his preschool artwork. That small symbol that represented so much — in the preschool, the “openness” of the hand demonstrating a child’s willingness to learn, an open heart to receive. In 25:40, representing the innocence of a child, taking that child by the hand — one child at a time. I never dreamed that the two were really part of one larger plan…..God’s plan.
This same preschool here in Springfield was instrumental in helping us prepare materials to take to the preschool on the mission. … I reached out to the familiar teachers and the preschool joined us in our journey. The directors and staff pooled ideas together and gathered a wealth of suggested activities to share with the children. In our planning, I was also reminded of the quote that was used in the preschool logo, “Growing in the Son” and ideas started forming for the mural that Alec and Amy had requested that I do for one of the preschool classes while on the mission.
Half way around the world…what would we find there? God….God was there just like He promised……
The preschool on the mission also had beautiful climbing trees….and you could always find children on them throughout the day. The teachers and the children showed a thirst for learning and growing. And, God was faithful as He provided us with everything that was needed. He had come into our hearts and taken our hands to grow our faith together in ways we could not have imagined.
The blessing unfolded in the course of the week……..
As a member of the mission team working with the children in the classroom showed me how focusing on one child at a time CAN make a difference.
As an architect and designer, using my hands to design and paint the murals for Nosipho and her class was the most satisfying and fulfilling project to have worked on — and client to have served.
As a woman, to have shared my faith journey with other women regardless of language or culture made that special hand shake all that more personal.
As a member of this church family, my faith has grown hand in hand with my brothers and sisters in Christ while gathered for prayer and fellowship.
As a mother, I was reminded of the many years I held the small hand of my son…..and, how now it was time to start letting go of that hand….as I watched him embrace the hands of the children we were there to serve.
As a child of God, I was reminded that we are ALL His children as we placed the handprints on the tree, regardless of color, language, culture, or color of paint, each handprint reveals another child of God, and with each handprint an impression was left on my heart. My prayer is that we all continue to Grow in Him, and the next time He knocks, that we won’t be so hesitant in opening the door.
First of all to be truthful, when I first heard of the mission trip and that I could go I thought of it as a way of being able to go to another continent. Because you see I have a crazy dream you could call it or a wish to be able to visit every continent in the world. (That’s including Antarctica, crazy right?) Well as I went to the meetings and we started making lists of what to bring and who for, I began to reeeeaaallly understand where we were going and what we were going to do. I then realized, maybe not at first, but the real reason that I wanted to go was to help these kids see God.
One of the most stressful things that happened was, not really on the mission yet, it was getting there. My mom and I had a 13 hour flight followed by an immediate 5 hour flight. (For people that haven’t traveled that long in a plane before, it reeaallly leaves you sore.) By the time that we got in Johannesburg my mom was freaking out because the plane was late and everybody was texting us hurry hurry. We didn’t really see the airport because we were being rushed too much. But once we got our bags, we were looking franticly for the gate and as we both turned the corner we saw the rest of the group jumping and yelling, “They’re here!” That’s the first time I really saw God……in the family of God.
The second time I saw God was while we were there with the kids. Nick Munster, who was also there with us, and I sanded and varnished tables for the after-school care kids. When we were done and moved the tables into the classroom the kids’ faces just lit up like the sun. Asking if those were for them and jumping up and down for joy when they saw they got something new.
I saw the face of God in those kids, also, when we played soccer with them. When Nick and I played soccer given that we’re not the greatest soccer players they’d run and juke us out and when they would score a goal on us with our pathetic attempt to block with giant smiles on their faces. I saw the face of God there as well.
Finally one of the best places I saw God was with our hosts the van der Walt family. Taking us all in and caring for us, their daughters playing hide and seek with us, Wikus and Carina with their amazing preaching. They made us feel at home, but the most I felt at home was while eating and talking with everyone in the kitchen – THE number one gathering place for us all. Now those were only the top three places I saw God, but He was practically everywhere you looked, the land, the sky, even all the sheep and cows on the road. God is everywhere; all you have to do is look.
This week has been amazing from working with the children in the preschool; getting the chance to teach the children in the aftercare; and joining in the celebration of Women’s Day. Words cannot describe how full my heart is with longing to return to this place again. I have been received as a sister and a friend. I have come to realize that the blessings that God has bestowed on us others still pray for. He is here in this place and we feel him in this place. But he is using our lives to help the people here realize His blessings for them. Never before have I felt so strongly that I am His hands and feet in this world. I am forever changed by what I have seen; those I have touched; the hands I massaged; the noses I cleaned; the songs that I sang; and the hugs that I have received. If you ever wonder where you should be in this world, go and look for it. Ask Him first where He would have you go and then say, “Send me.” There is a blessing for you if you follow His will. You will never be the same.
The week before we arrived was a Western touristy Africa week, where we mostly received. It was about playing and seeing things like animals and Cape Town, staying in nice places, hearing African music, and feeling the joy and the vibrancy here. And then we flew many, many miles to the Eastern Cape and looked forward to experiencing a side of Africa that may not be rich in one way but richer in another. Allison and Lauren came alive once we were here with their own age group and the children. They just blossomed. It was fulfilling to see so many young people enjoy each other’s company, to see them play and learn together. I am absolutely awestruck with the aptitude, potential, receptiveness and attentiveness of the children. I underestimated these kids. I saw kids behave better than I see at home. I am confident the teachers are dedicated Christian women who will empower these children on a daily basis. The only sting in my heart is the expressed hunger for attention. It stung every time when I was surrounded by children with eyes just longing for love.
The thing that impressed me the most the first days here were when Pila talked to us about child abductions. (Parents secretly arrange for their very young daughters to be married to older men so they can receive payment for them. The girls are then abducted and forced into marriage). Then the next day when we went to the school and saw all these beautiful girls filled with life. The school is one that no one in Fairfax County would want to attend. The kids go there on bad days and the trip there is better than staying at home, though the conditions are deplorable. The storage they had and the equipment and the classrooms is a testimony to the children wanting to learn and being in school. It really makes our first world concerns pale in comparison … Should we have a swim and dive team in Fairfax County when they are worrying about whether they have chalk to write on the board? It really makes you think about what’s important
I was impressed by ability of the children to focus despite their tough living conditions. They were a real joy to be with. I had a blast helping teach them, play with them, work with them and I was amazed at their positive attitude and high energy. When the kids started chanting “Jesus #1” after Allison’s instruction at a village one day I truly felt that they were touched by what we did but we were even more touched by their response. Because they knew we weren’t doing the instruction for our own edification, we were doing it just purely to help them. We weren’t looking for thanks and praise. We were looking for them to do exactly what they did, which was give it to God. There is so much more that we can do not only for them but for the mission that I highly encourage and challenge those at Abiding Presence to feel the call to come and feel the experience for themselves the joy of serving here in Canzibe. The whole Zacaroli family serves as an inspiration to our church.
When I first got here I didn’t have any ideas or expectations. So when I got here I was really surprised and happy to see how the teachers were and what the kids were like. It was really refreshing to see how happy everyone was and how excited they were to learn, even though they didn’t have tons of books, tons of toys and materials. They were so excited and so eager to participate and to listen. It was so refreshing to see that – their excitement. The twinkle in their eye when we taught them and they learned something new. On Women’s Day it was really powerful seeing how strong their (the women in the community’s) faith was even though so many bad things happened to them. It would give them an excuse to lose their faith, but it didn’t. It made their faith stronger. It made me want to discover my faith and make my faith stronger also.