By Jordan Sickels
(everyone’s favorite O:A intern)
In the summer of 2011, I was lucky enough to go on the first Orchard: Africa mission trip to Zambia. At the time, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’d been to Africa before, I’ve taught VBS before, I’ve been on mission trips before. Oh, how the fool thinks she has nothing to learn.
Zambia was not like my last mission trip to South Africa. Instead of a team of five college girls, we were a mixed team of men, women, students, graduates, and staff. Instead of staying in a comfortable mission house, we were sleeping in tents in the village center (I had never been camping before!). Instead of a 30 primary-aged kids, we had two groups of about 250 kids, ranging from toddlers to teenagers. As you can probably guess, we had to do a lot of learning and adjusting on our feet. There was poverty in South Africa, but somehow, in Zambia it seemed to be exponentially more. The children didn’t have desks or pencils. They used plastic bags as soccer balls. Teenage mothers played handball while wearing their babies on their backs. Adults dug up roots for food. What did I get myself into? There was no way I could handle this!
One night, our host gathered the team around the campfire. He was a young man named Kelvin, who loved the kids and was a determined advocate for them. He expressed how much it meant it to him and the local families that we had used our money and resources to spend a week teaching the children about Jesus. That’s when it hit me. We may have paid part of our way, but so much had come from friends and family and even strangers. God had created this huge web beyond what I could have imagined to provide for our trip and to provide for the families in Zambia.
I know that our week in Zambia only scratched the surface. Poverty has devastated the rural villages of Myooye and Kakombo. Poverty leads to hunger, thirst, lack of education, and sickness. But as I realized with my trip, poverty is not something that I have to fix by myself. God is the One who is in control. I am lucky to have my rough experience in Zambia, because I know, although my small effort to defeat poverty is weak, God is using it as a vital part of his ultimate plan of restoration.
Reflections from Africa
God calls some to go next door with a plate of brownies. God calls others to go to Phoenix to worship with broken men praying for recovery. And God calls those who love Him, to go and mentor teens on a youth mission trip to California. God even calls some to go to South Africa to be his love to the impoverished. Where is God calling you?
“…and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8b
Now when I see offerings in the plate, I see food for a hungry child, or a quilt for a dying AIDS patient.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…..” John 3:16
As we marched through Top Village, I asked Papa Joe (the local Pastor) where do you find hope as you minister to the sick and dying? “I feel encouraged and hopeful when I share God’s love and people receive Jesus. I know they are going to heaven. I feel I am doing God’s will and I feel good. I feel bad when I am not able to reach some and they do not know Jesus.”
We stand with Papa Joe on the edge of a wind swept cemetery – white rocks piled two feet high over the graves of loved ones, many of whom died far too young because of the AIDS epidemic – and he says, “white people coming so far to see us encourages people in their suffering. It has a way of further breaking down the walls of Apartheid. It is very good.”
We meet with Pastor Patrick, the Pastor of Madutle village. He says to a few of us around the table, “you don’t know what it means for you to come here, just your presence makes the kids and people feel validated and important. Madutle was a village without hope but when people come from across the world the government takes notice and now, we are starting to get services – a school and maybe a clinic. You are like the Samaritan’s who bring the care of God. Writing a check, the feeding stations are important, but what is more important is that you come and you care. It means so much.”
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26-27
He took 11 people from Arizona to be ministers of His grace to those in need so far away. I think – who me? Who us? Such is the grace and wonder of God!!! Pastor John RLC
Today was our 6th day here in Africa. I am the first person awake and I did not sleep well. Mosquitoes have eaten me alive over night, perhaps they know that I have killed some of their relatives the night before. I think about what it would be like if this was just how life is. As I quietly crawl out of bed, I am sharing a bunk bed with Mama Georgia, I try not to wake anyone else in my room.. I sneak into the other girls room to wake up my running buddy, and the rest of the breakfast crew. Our morning run is good other than the fact that a neighborhood dog is loose on the street and we have to change our route. This is the way I like to wake up in the morning, my equivalent to a cup of coffee. In my head I talk to Jesus, about everything in my life, what I am going through, people that I worry for, obstacles I am facing, even with Robyn running next to me, it is still just me and my God. I can feel the Holy Spirit recharging me and I know that no matter how difficult life may seem sometimes, the strength of the Lord is within me. As I finish up my prayers, my running mantra repeats in my head to the rhythm of my steps, “My God is an awesome God he reigns from Heaven above with wisdom power and love my god is and awesome God.” During our run we pass many people on their way to work, the people in the neighborhood are leaving in their cars and the people walking to the neighborhood to work are coming by foot. I notice that only black people are walking. We smile, wave and say “good mornings” and it seem a joy to the people that we are even acknowledging them. Some who have seen us run all week even joke with us. It’s amazing how joyous and sweet these people can be even to a complete stranger. I get back to the house renewed and refreshed and my mind is focused on Jesus and His love. I know today is going to be a good day.
As we leave this morning to go the preschool in Top Village, we part ways with Betty. God has brought her to Africa for a special mission and she is headed to teach a quilting class for some of the village women. It warms my heart to know that God is using her to make a difference in the lives of these women with a gift she didn’t even realize she had to offer. As we head to the preschool we are very excited to spend time with the same children we visited on Monday. As we enter the classroom, faces light up in smiles and the kids immediately come over to greet us. They start by singing us some songs, both in English and in Setswana. We read stories and play games, but after that we just play. I look around and realize that each of us has gathered a group of playmates. Robyn sits against a wall with the quiet kids, Pastor John is picking kids up, some of us are holding kids, some are sitting with them on the floor, but Sydnee has found a special little group of followers to mimic what she does. She tweets like a bird, so do they. She jumps up and down and they do also. It is a complete mishmash of different people all here to do different things that connect with different kids.
After lunch we head back to the preschool to participate in the Top Village feeding program. We arrive early so we can have ample amounts of time to spend with the children before VBS starts. As we get there we are greeted by school children waving and smiling at us while the van is pulling into the village. When we pull in little faces can’t wait to have someone to play with them. The food is not ready to be distributed, so as we wait, we play with the children. This the most fun I have had the entire trip so far. We start tickle wars, Georgia is cradling a smiling girl in her arms, while using her as a shield to so other children can’t reach her. Sydnee, Jacob and Bobby are chasing each other and being chased in a dirt field. Bobby is challenged, these kids are much faster than the kids in America and Bobby is no longer the fastest. Jacob comes back and looks as if he has been rolling in the dirt, they have looks of fun and exhaustion on their faces. Sydnee sits down with Shawn, Robyn and me on the school’s porch and children begin to braid her hair, soon there is a crowd of children braiding all of our hair. They touch our hair with wonder because it is so different from their own. They tell us that it is soft and smells good. They touch it to their faces and embrace the smell. My hair stylist was particularly protective, not letting anyone else touch my hair, so she could do all the braids herself. A little boy lays his head in my lap so he can stare at me. He tells me he loves me and gives me kiss on the cheek. The teacher Mama Pretty, tells the children that it is time to eat.
I am again surprised by just how many kids show up to get food that in America may not be accepted even if it was free. Once again we run out of food, so saddens us that some of the children are only getting rice instead of rice and beans with meat. Apparently the preschool ran out of food, so they had to borrow from the after school program and then the after school program was short of food. The teacher assures us we did nothing wrong, that we gave each student the right amount of food, but this is normal and happens all the time. The kids don’t seem to care that they are only getting rice, but it still hurts our hearts.
In the afternoon Betty rejoins us and tells us about her experience:
“Every day here has been the most unbelievable experience of my life. The adults break your heart and the children restore you. I was afraid that I had nothing to offer when God called me to go to Africa. 2 days ago, I learned what he had in store for me. Yesterday Joshua, our fearless leader, took me to a fabric store…We bought what I needed to make a baby quilt. Today I gave a class to three beautiful ladies with such nimble fingers and willing spirits, we completed the quilt in just 3 ½ hours. The beautiful smiles show how proud they were. As they left the preschool-church to walk back to their village, Pastor Victor told me the weren’t the Orchard Africa employees I thought I would be working with, but ladies from the village who had no income. They are going to make quilts and sell them!!!! God had a wonderful use for me after all!”
We were all so happy that Betty got the have this experience. But we are also happy to have her back, especially Bobby, Betty is his bus buddy and he missed not ridding around with her.
Soon after we start our VBS program. The kids are running late, in Africa there is not really a sense of time and there is really no such thing as being late, perfect for me. Earlier in the week, Papa Joe told us that by Wednesday attendance drops to about half, but still all our kids come back. The is even one boy who sneaks in and pretends he belongs. Once we figured out he wasn’t supposed to be there, we figures maybe it was just a God thing that we had enough supplies for him also. The kids must really be enjoying their time with us since even their friends are trying to come in. I pray that we are leaving a lasting impression of the love of Jesus on these kids hearts, I know they are leaving one on mine. They have a fun filled craft day of making telephones out of plastic cups and string. As I test it out with the kids they tell me “I love you, you are beautiful” through their new toys. I reciprocate telling them “KeaIaboga (thank you), your are so beautiful and I love you.” There is a particular girl who has completely stolen my heart, her name is Kelesitsi. She comes to me at the end of the day and tells me she loves me so much and she will miss me when I am gone. I tell her to make sure she comes back tomorrow, when VBS is done I will give her my badge picture, so she does not forget me. I want to take her home with me because she is so precious. I hear Papa Joe telling them that they need to go home and it’s time to leave. Our work day is over, but I don’t want to leave, I don’t want to say goodbyes.
Our evening meeting is mostly a reflection of how each one of us feels about tomorrow being our last days with the kids. We are all sad to leave, but at least we have something to work towards when we get there. We give a gift of thanks to Georgia, Emily and Sydnee for all the extra hard work they put into getting us to Africa, a picture of each of them with the kids framed with space in the borders for the kids to sign their names. They are excited to have something special to bring home to hang up and remind them of their journey here in Africa, not that they need a physical thing to remind them. We stay up late getting everything ready for our last day and I lay down at 1am, completely worn out but still thinking about my wonderful day with the children. Angela Martin & Betty Warnke RLC
I woke bright and early with no one in my bedroom. As I wandered the mission house curiously, I heard the laugh of my bunk mates and I felt a cool breeze coming through an open front door. I go outside to see my friends, now family, laughing and writing their blogs. I asked them how much longer until I can start cooking. They laugh and said breakfast is at 7:30.
About 2 hours passed from my early morning wakeup and I find myself dancing to the beat of wonderful church songs as I set the table with my Mom. We gather pray and start to eat. Everyone tells me I did a great job with the sautéed apples and scrambled eggs. I sit and eat thankful that I have food and anxious about what’s to come of this day.
Just when I thought this morning couldn’t get any better, it did. We got to meet most of the Orchard Africa village staff. Pastor Victor went around the dining room and introduced everyone and the role they play in the village. Seeing the faces of the people changing lives is truly amazing. After everyone is introduced we were free to mingle. Through coffee, tea, cookies and biscuits we got to know everyone and made amazing memories. The truth is these are the happiest people I have ever met.
We head to Top Village preschool with fears of inadequacies but hopes that the children will teach us more. We arrive to a trail of preschoolers heading outside for a “potty” break. A boy starts to straggle behind the others. I wave, he smiles with immense joy and waves back. It’s crazy to see children of such a young age be so carefree. When they come back in we are ready to go. Papa Joe translates the instructions that we are going to sing two songs to them. We sing and dance and the children try their best. Who knew someone could be so cute with someone they just met. After our singing time was over it was their turn. They sing every song in both English and Setswana, which boggles my mind. They sing about the days of the week, the months of the year, the five senses and more. Each child sings with unfathomable joy and a bright light inside. Not only are these children good at being adorable, but they are also amazing singers.
When singing time is over, we gather on the rug for story time. While my Mom and Angela read the story and Papa Joe translates, the kids keep getting happier with the turn of every page. The story goes on and the kids giggle and smile. As the children giggle I notice a boy who is sleeping during the songs. He is awake now, but he is still laying as innocently now as when he was sleeping. We are informed that he has a tummy ache and a parent was coming to get him. Story time was over and we were getting ready to leave. With hugs from all the kids I truly felt their love and faith.
By now it was lunch and we came back to the mission house. Mama Ellen had made all the fixings for us to put together sandwiches. After we ate lunch we went back to Top Village for VBS. With time ticking away I waited anxiously for the VBS students to arrive. While I waited for them I started playing with some girls and boy who were in the after school learning program. I jumped rope for a while then I eventually say the kids coming in their worn out but still adorably red uniforms. Papa Joe started calling names off the VBS student list. When a child heard their name they smiled with love, joy and excitement and ran inside. After hearing all the names called I was excited to meet my group of kids. But then I noticed all the children who didn’t get chosen. It filled me with sadness to know that we can’t help them all. Though I know God sent me here with a purpose and chose each individual child for a reason, that cannot stop my want to help every face in this community. Sydnee York RLC
As we prepare to embark on RLCs first trip to South Africa, I have been thinking that our mission trip to Africa is a microcosm of our Christian lives. Jesus gracefully calls us from our sin and self-serving ways to a larger purpose for our lives. As Christians, we are to listen for God’s voice and what He is calling us to do to serve Him. On this mission trip, we will have an intensive experience of praying and listening for God’s voice and how He is specifically calling us to make His love known. This will not always be easy, however I trust God will give us the grace and strength to serve Him well. I find this to be also true as we live our lives of faith over a lifetime. Pastor John – Resurrection Lutheran Church