I’m going home.
It wasn’t real until our flight took off and I could see the sunset over the beautiful South African landscape.
Now I’m on our final flight to LAX not knowing how to communicate what I’ve seen. How I’ve grown. How the people around me have evolved spiritually.
My words aren’t going to do this semester justice, but I might as well try to get it all down.
I guess I’ll start at my service site experience. In Pietermaritzburg, I served with an organization called YFC (Youth for Christ). This group has two different outreach types; homeless children outreach and community outreach. I personally had involvement in both. Every Tuesday morning we would go to a downtown spot called Restop, where YFC had a storage unit as their headquarters. They were focusing on the parking lot area where several of the children lived. I can’t explain completely what my group saw. We saw 12-year old’s living in absolute garbage; street conditions significantly worse that what I’ve seen in San Francisco. These kids could speak English, but it was difficult for us to just talk to them. We had no experience in the local culture or sports, so we had no conversation topics. We couldn’t really ask about home because a big reason these kids are on the streets is because of how home has treated them.
We watched literal children ‘smoke glue’ right in front of us. We watched teenagers smoke substances equivalent to bath salts out in the open.
And what does the public do about this? These kids are outcasted and ignored. On many occasions, we would meet a kid who would want to go to rehab. But kids who don’t have ID’s can’t go to rehab.
We were brought along for home visits; where we would take a child and revisit home. Our lead social worker’s English name was ‘Blessing’ (his isiZulu name was unpronounceable for us). Blessing was awesome. He would translate and keep us updated on certain situations and would teach us about respect and how to treat the families we met. Blessing was once a street kid but had an adult, such as himself now, that chose to mentor him. He was inspired and lifted himself out of poverty.
One home visit in particular was for a child named Jarvis. Jarvis wanted to go to rehab, but he needed a birth certificate from his mother to be able to go. We went to the mother’s house and her situation was dreadful. She had no idea how old she was; her face was covered in scars and overwhelmed by sadness. She currently lived with her abusive boyfriend and needed help. The home she was living in was fairly large for the community, but red writing and masks that were on the outside walls sent chills up my spine.
Jarvis couldn’t get his birth certificate. His mom didn’t even have an ID for herself. His father was nowhere to be found.
I almost became numb to what I was seeing. The stories I was hearing.
In Cape Town, my group visited an elite soccer academy named Ubuntu Football near a town called Oceanview. This soccer academy was run by two missionaries who were absolutely awesome. The group recruits elite soccer talents in the area and invites them to their school. This school is just like every other school, except it teaches leaderships and other amazing life skills. The kids were awesome. We were put in charge of an SAT prep group; four or five of the kids were preparing to go play soccer in the United States.
These kids knew a ton about American pop culture. It’s crazy to me how access to social media can change everything about a kid. Our conversations went from racing to shoes to rap music.
Our last site was at a place called Soteria; a type of preschool located in the heart of Oceanview.
Before I describe the preschool and it’s story, I have to describe Oceanview.
Oceanview is a community that was developed for colored people to be relocated to. During the apartheid years, colored people for forced out of their communities and into Oceanview. As of today. Oceanview is plagued with violence. There are three major gangs in the community, and it’s known as one of the most violent developed communities in Cape Town. Shootings and murders happen often. Kids and community members are known for getting caught in crossfire, killing them as well.
Soteria is a preschool placed directly in the center of it all. Yohon, the native South African who started Soteria, has worked in Oceanview for a number of years. He decided to start this preschool when his 5-year old son was killed.
Every January, he goes to every gangster in the community and asks if they have a child between the ages of 4-6. He takes these kids and put them in his preschool everyday to keep them safe. Over the last five years, over 400 kids have gone through his program.
We were assigned to work in a classroom at the school. These classrooms were shipping containers stacked and shaped to develop a campus. Seeing the kids in these classes were heartbreaking. These are 4 and 5-year-old kids who are literally traumatized and completely numb to death. Some had scars all over their bodies. Some wouldn’t speak at all. Almost of the kids had possessive problems; we weren’t allowed to pick up one child because another child would become angry and attack the kid we were picking up. There is a wild story that Yohon told our other group; that a man was shot 11 times and killed right outside the campus. All the kids, being numb to it all, went out and started playing with the dead man.
But through it all. These were kids. We played soccer. We used hula-hoops. I told them silly stories and we sang songs like ‘Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star’ and ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider.’ It’s easy to see these kids as projects, but they are just children.
What’s amazing is the faith that Yohon has. He doesn’t fundraise or beg for donors; his prayers are always answered with and unexpected phone call or wealthy person showing up at the school to provide the campus with their daily meal or much needed supplies.
I feel like my words can’t do this place justice.
We even spent the day with a family that lives in Oceanview. Even though we only spent a day with Ann and Freddy Abrams, we were family. They took us in, showed us their church and their lifestyle. We even met with them a week later for a traditional South African braai. The food was amazing.
I attended a church in Pietermaritzburg called North Hills. The church was comprised of mainly large middle-class families and community members, but the openness of the church was amazing. The second time we there, a lady named Kim asked us to take communion with her family. As we were taking communion, she told us that we were family no matter where we came from, simply because we share the same Father. The church taught me how authentic and relational American churches need to push for. I saw how the church is supposed to love.
The staff at Pietermaritzburg were amazing. They were always open and honest with us; answering our questions no matter how stupid they were. If we had a question about Zulu culture, Nommy answered. If we had a question of Jesus, Reg answered. If we had a question about community development, Cynthia answered. If we had a technological question, Greg would answer.
But not only were they amazing resources, they were our friends. Our parents for three months. Our family.
I’ve seen God move in ways I couldn’t predict. I can’t put it all into coherent sentences, so here is a bullet point list to get my thoughts out:
As I continue to process the last three months, more and more things are going to pop up as I remember the immense semester we just had. I haven’t even written about the amazing adventures we had; bungee jumping, shark diving, zip lining, or safari. Maybe that’s for the future.
I already know my next adventure. I’m heading to Cuba for two weeks in May on a short-term mission’s team. Sorry mom.