What an amazing adventure! I knew Africa was far away – but I didn’t think about how much traveling there would be! Planes, trains, automobiles, vans, buses and safari trucks! And, of course, our own two feet! The journey began last June when I signed up to go on a 10-day mission trip to South Africa with 10 other ladies from my church. We met and planned for months – and now, Thursday, January 31, it was time to depart for the airport. Such excitement! We had first a 10-hour flight from Dulles to Accra, Ghana where we landed, changed out the crew and passengers, and had our passports checked (we stayed on the plane). We then took off for another 5 hours to Johannesburg. Our foreheads were checked for elevated temperatures before we could come into South Africa – fortunately we were all good! We were greeted by our guesthouse representative and wisked us away to our lovely rooms, a refreshing pool and dinner! The next morning after breakfast we returned to the airport for our next flight to East London. It was a shorter flight, followed by a very long van ride. We made it to Canzibe in time for dinner – which was traditional South African Bobotie, and moved into our house – 13 women, 2 bathrooms.
But, what exactly were we doing in Africa? About a year ago 3 women from my church had a vision to bring Entrust, a woman to woman discipling program, to the teachers and workers at 25:40 in South Africa. 25:40 was founded in 2003 to help save children impacted by HIV/AIDS and poverty in the rural areas of Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. This area is characterized by extreme poverty, high incidences of diseases and HIV/AIDS (more than 25% of the population) and lots of violence toward women and children. This beautiful area is sadly among the poorest regions in Africa, with more than 72 % of its people (about 4.6 million) living below the poverty line. 25:40 cares for these vulnerable children by having a safe space and advocating for them so that they are not the last rung on society’s ladder. Preschoolers receive both breakfast and lunch daily, health monitoring, and early education. School aged children receive a healthy meal, tutoring and assistance with their school work, as well as enrichment programs in the areas of English, Life Skills, Arts and Crafts, Gardening, and Hygiene. All of the children are monitored for health, emotional, or educational needs, and either the needs are met by 25:40 or their caretakers are assisted in meeting those needs.
The workers for 25:40 work hard to love and assist the children. Our goal was to not only encourage them but to also bring Biblical discipleship training to them. This required not only our discipleship teachers but also others to fill the voids left by the teachers and workers. Thirteen of us answered the call to go to Canzibe, South Africa to work in 25:40’s Masonwabe Preschool and the aftercare, to make home and hospital visits, and to bring nourishment to the souls of the 25:40 staff and local community women. Amber, Michele and Steffani taught the discipleship class. Maggie, Caren, Val and Joyce taught the older preschool class and Angela, Lauran and I taught the younger class. Tanya was the home and hospital visit person and Amy and Monique prepared our lunches and generally floated – putting out fires here and there and getting 25:40 business done.
Our first day on the ground was Sunday morning so we all dressed in our long skirts (only unmarried women wear short dresses) and went to church. It was so different from what we were used to! The women sat on the left side, the men on the right. There were no musical instruments – just hymn books and a pad for thumping to keep time. We individually brought up our offering and laid it on the altar during the service – two ladies immediately counted it right then and there and told the minister the amount. He said it wasn’t enough, so they had another offering! The church service lasted 2 hours and then we had lunch, followed by relaxing, prepping, napping, talking, and walking.
Although we had been told to expect rain on Monday, our first action day dawned bright and beautiful! I began with an early morning walk (with Monique as it was not safe for us to leave the mission grounds by ourselves) before morning devotions at 7:45. Here we sang and read scripture, prayed and began our day! After filing out of the building, we stood in line and shook the hands of everyone who came behind us, even the preschoolers, before going to our classes.
The preschoolers were adorable and loved the attention. We had table time and circle time, play time and nap time, story time and craft time, breakfast time and lunch time, and above all, potty time! They loved stories and making noise, singing and eating. When they played with the dolls, whether boy or girl, they would put the baby on their back and find a towel or piece of fleece to put over the doll and tie around their chest to carry the baby, just like their mamas or grandmas do (many are being raised by grandmas).
At outdoor time, they took car tires and rolled them around, saying “beep, beep” – these are their “toy cars”. We sang “Head, shoulders, knees and toes” with them numerous times.
We had a little guy, around 18 months old, come to our room so his grandma could participate in the Bible study. But he wasn’t happy unless I was holding him. On the 2nd day, I put him on my back and wore him, just like his grandma did! Preschool finished at noon – and by then we were worn out! The children got lunch and then most of them piled into a pickup truck and were driven home by the “taxi” driver.
After our lunch, which was leftovers or tuna, we prepped for the aftercare program. They don’t have a long program, but after school the children would change clothes and then come to the program. Here they got a hot meal and then activities by age group (grades 1-3, 4-5, 6-8). This program not only keeps them safe for a few hours and encourages them in school work, it also provides a hot meal. We did activities with them and on one day even painted fingernails. Part of our program with them was teaching that they are special – each has attributes given by God. On our second afternoon I had the girls grades 4-8 come to a separate room and we talked about how they were special and different from the boys because they would menstruate. I then handed out a purse to each girl that contained 2 homemade reusable washable sanitary pads, 3 pairs of underwear, a bar of soap, a washcloth, a toothbrush and some other small item. They loved the purses and the contents! It was so fun to see their delight and it made all the many hours of sewing the pads worth it!
Instead of doing preschool on our third day, I went for some home visits with Tata Nonno (an evangelist and translator) and Lauran, one of the other women from my church. Tata Nonno drove us to a nearby neighborhood, we parked the car and then, after collecting sticks to ward off the wild dogs, we walked around to the houses. We encountered chickens, inside and outside the houses, and nice houses (refrigerators and cement floors) and old houses (cooking fire in the middle of the room and dirt floor). Most were round because, although they are more expensive to build, they are thought to keep evil spirits from having a corner to stay in. We talked and prayed with the people. One old man, 92 years old and blind, told us that yes, he would like to have Jesus in his life, so we prayed with him. Another old woman, who wasn’t even sure how old she was, told us she never thought she’d see a white person in her house. She asked us to pray for her arthritic feet so they would carry her up and down the hill to get water for her family – her children were dead, her husband never came back from the mines, and she was raising 5 grandchildren on her own (they were in school at the time). She lived in a small rondavel with the cooking fire in the center and the bedding piled on one side. She offered to give us a chicken when we came back next time! At another house, the 11-year-old daughter saw us and gave us the biggest hugs! Turns out that although she has cerebral palsy and does not go to school, she did go to the aftercare program and had seen us there. She was thrilled to see us at her house!
At the end of our 4th school morning, we loaded back into the vans and drove on a bumpy dirt road for 1 ½ hours to the Coram Deo orphanage, also managed by 25:40. I gave the three 18” dolls I had brought to the little girls there and we played with the kids for a while before going to our lodging about 15 minutes away in Coffee Bay. Here we experienced paradise with lovely beach rooms on the Indian Ocean! I roomed with Maggie, from BCC and Kholiswa, the African program director for 25:40. We had the opportunity to go for a hike the following day to see the caves Nelson Mandela hid in during the revolution as well as to cliff jump into the ocean. It was quite the hike – up and down hill, over rocks and rivers. We went into huge caves, sat in fresh water pools and ultimately, climbed barefooted up a cliff to jump into the ocean water far below! It was scary and amazing! Later we also went by safari jeep to “Hole in the Wall”, a well-known natural arch on the Wild Coast not far away.
Early the next day we began our homeward trek – a 4-hour ride to the airport. We began with a flat tire, got stopped by the police twice and made it to the airport with 15 minutes to spare! This was the quick flight to Johannesburg where once again we stayed at the Sunrock Guest House. Three of us had an early morning big adventure planned for the next day – the Elephant Sanctuary. Our driver Norman met us at 5:45am and drove about 1 ½ hours to the sanctuary. He told us some South African history and pointed things out to us as we went. On our arrival, we first got to see the playful meerkats. Then on to the elephants! We fed them, brushed them, rode them, petted them, held them, walked them and even got kissed by them.
What an experience! Our next stop was the Lion encounter where we not only saw some beautiful lions and tigers, we also played with some 3-month-old cubs!
And if that was not enough, we went on to a couple of African markets and then went to another animal place where we petted and fed giraffes. What a day!!! Our driver drove us directly to the airport where we met up with the rest of our team and boarded our plane, returning the way we came with a 5-hour flight to Ghana and then a 12-hour flight back to the US.
Unfortunately, my adventure did not end there.
After getting home, I snuggled into my bed for a short nap and a couple hours later woke up with a raging fever! Since 104.1 is not something to be messed with, I called my husband and he came home and took me to the hospital. I knew I had a cold, but after many tests, I found out I also had a kidney infection and an inflamed liver and, the following day, a bad case of diarrhea! What a way to come home! But what an amazing trip – to see the body of Christ in action as each member of our team was so important to make the whole trip work!