It has been one month since we returned from our trip across the pond and our latest adventure. In so many ways, this trip was different and we knew it before we left. The excitement of another mission trip took a while to really sink in, and for me it seemed like the excitement would never come. Between extra work hours, preparing for Grandma Rita, and lack of sleep, we were constantly reminded of the words my sister spoke to Stephen and me before our first trip: “The hardest part of a mission trip is getting there.”
Finally, the day came and I even got some sleep the night before. We had a late flight, so we had the whole morning to get ready. It was a good thing too because this was the first trip that Gregory struggled with too. Poor guy ripped our hearts out as tears rolled down his sweet cheeks. After hugs, kisses, and lots of tears, we were on our way. God’s grace was with the entire trip, but it was never more evident than during our traveling. We arrived at Atlanta International Airport, got tickets and through security with minor hiccups and almost no lines, and then found dinner with plenty of time before boarding.
The next morning (or really afternoon), we arrived in Amsterdam. It was our halfway point to our destination, and with a 22-hour layover we were able to leave the airport, rest, and see a little of the city. Amsterdam is a very pretty and yet very lost city. A building on the main street declares Jesus’ love, churches older than our country are placed in the middle of life along the canals, and yet a wrong turn to a side street takes you to the outskirts of the red-light district. It was cold and overcast as we walked the streets looking for food. We finally found a pancake house with enough room for our team to sit. Dutch pancakes and poffertjes (tiny Dutch pancakes covered in butter and powdered sugar) filled our bellies and warmed our souls as we laughed and tried new things as a team. We finished the day with the opportunity to go see the Anne Frank house. It was a humbling and sobering experience, and we just walked through soaking in the reality of her story.
We spent the next day travelling and arrived to Cape Town later that evening. Our first trip over the mountain was done in the dark. We stayed and worked in Grabouw, a mid-size town over Sir Lowry’s Pass from Somerset West. It’s funny as I write this, I was googling spelling and I came across “Top 17 Things to do in Grabouw.” It was filled with outdoor adventures and wine tasting. Our experience was completely different. Images of shacks on top shacks made of plywood and sheet metal and covered with the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen, tears from a single mom who just wants to provide for her son who is too depressed to do anything but sleep, and the smiling face from an older lady who was overjoyed to hear someone sing her “Happy Birthday” are what fill my memory. My heart was broken on this mountain in a way that it will never be the same again.
We arrived on Sunday and enjoyed time with our Every Nation family at EN Somerset West. After church we had ice cream and went grocery shopping for the week. The work started on Monday. Monday, we were at Village of Hope (an Orphanage/Foster center for kids who have been affected by HIV/AIDs) painting the bedrooms for the kids. Well, let’s be honest… Stephen did a lot of painting, and I played with the kids. As Stephen worked hard getting the rooms painted most of the day, I was able to go to one of the Educare Centers (preschools for the kids in the townships) to paint the playground.
Something to know and understand about the townships is that they are essentially neighborhoods, very large neighborhoods. The Western Cape is known as wine country and puts Napa Valley to shame. People come from all over looking for work in the vineyards. They set up these communities and then never leave. The newer townships do not have electricity, running water, or bathrooms. Disease runs right through them. This is where these kids live. Without the Educare Centers, the youngest would either roam the streets on their own, pry for anyone who is bored or lonely or the oldest drop out of school to care for them. Stephen had told me about this when he got back from his first trip, but it was not until Tuesday and I would fully see and understand this.
Tuesday, Stephen continued working hard painting at Village of Hope while I had the chance to go to ThembaCare Grabouw. ThembaCare is an in-patient, hospice center and has nurses, or Angels as we call them, who live and work in the community, checking on outpatients to make sure they are taking their medicine. It was with one of these Angels that I got to spend Tuesday morning with. We walked through her community, talked, and built a relationship. I got to see the love and care that she gives to each of her patients, and I could have stayed there. The township was dirty and smelly, but I have never felt more at home, looking into those dark brown eyes and telling them that God sees them and loves them.
Wednesday brought more Educare Centers, more manual labor, and then a worship service with the Angels. Thursday, Stephen walked with the Angels while the ladies went to Mama Themba and handed out care bags to new moms at the hospital. As we walked into the hospital, the amount of people there were overwhelming. The halls were full of chairs and every chair seemed to be full. We entered the maternity ward and the crowd did not stop. Mamas holding their new babies in the hall waiting to be discharged after having their baby the night before, four mamas to a recovery room having just walked in from having a cesarean, and eight beds in labor and delivery. A lot of these moms had no clue what they were going to go home to. I was talking with one mama and she told me that her husband was killed the week prior. She said it with such a stoic look on her face and just shrugged it off, “that’s just how life is.” I still don’t know how to process this.
As our week was coming to an end, we were able to visit some of the other projects that Thembalitsha has. Friday morning, we visited Graceland, another Educare Center but this one is in the middle of the vineyards. I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say Graceland is Stephen’s favorite place in the world. The kids at Graceland are some of the most loving, playful kids you will ever met. They are sweet and made me think of the kiddos that I love on at church. The only thing that could have made our time there better was having more time, but we had to cut it short to make our next stop: School of Hope.
School of Hope was the one thing that I prayed we’d be able to do while we were there. It is a school for students in 8th or 12th grade, and it is their second chance. The school system in South Africa only allow a child to drop out of school twice before they are no longer given the opportunity of an education. There equivalent of a High School diploma is required for any good job, and they do not have an equivalent option to a GED. School of Hope is their chance and they learn so much more than just the basics. They also learn how to give back. Right now, the Principal trainer for all the Educare centers Thembalitsha has is a graduate of the School of Hope, along with several of the teachers and one new teacher who will be starting to teach next fall.
This trip did so many things for us. Stephen spent 90% of the trip working with his hands and enjoying watching our team grow in love for each other and this beautiful nation, but most of all he watched God completely wreck me the way God had wrecked him on his first trip. In a lot of ways, this trip was a struggle in that Stephen wanted me to experience everything without his influence, but there was also so much that I could not process. Not going to lie, I have been a little crazy trying to process things since we got home, but God is awesome and He has a plan. Before this trip God was already stirring a love in our hearts for South Africa and the Thembalitsha foundation. He is molding us and preparing us for something great. The reality of the situation is that nothing is going to change overnight, and God will continue to take us slowly on this journey to what He has for our family. This adventure is one for the books and whatever He has for us, it will come back to this place and Thembalitsha. It all comes down to one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotes: “Some journeys take us far from home. Some adventures lead us to our destiny.” Here’s to the next adventure!!
Things to be praying for:
- God would continue to speak and give us direction concerning His plans for our family.
- Where will our next adventure be?