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
Today started if possible even more beautiful than yesterday. The sun was shining birds were welcoming us as we all got out of bed. Breakfast today was an easy day of leftovers. As Georgia and I set the table Georgia placed cards at each setting made by the beautiful children of our congregation back home. A fabulous reminder of the love and support that allowed us to come here. While we nourished our bodies I couldn’t help but notice there was considerably less talk today than every other day. Perhaps the Lord knew we needed to quiet our hearts and minds for what we didn’t even know we were about to encounter.
Our first stop today would be Lonely Park cemetery. As we drove in the van Papa Joe taught us a song in Setswana. We try our best to sing with the same beauty Papa Joe does and we hope we do him proud. We know any song we sing to the Lord will please Him. We pull up to the cemetery and the air in the van already feels heavier.
We step out. The cemetery is deserted of the living it is rows and rows of rocks piled high upon bodies of mothers, sons, daughters, fathers, and far far too many babies. Some of the fortunate have the headstones, most have a small metal sign with nothing more than a name, date of birth, and date of burial. Some have nothing, it is these that break my heart. How will anyone ever know the impact or the purpose God had for that individual. The truth is they won’t and it is because Africa is at war, at war with an enemy they can’t see, that speaks a language they don’t know, and they are losing. The enemy is HIV/AIDS. We continued to walk around the cemetery we come to an area that was entirely children and babies and more were nameless than not, it was almost too much to bear. Did someone hold them and tell them they love them while they were here? The only comfort I find id knowing they are in Jesus’ arms now. While Papa Joe is explaining to us how expensive and difficult it is to have a funeral in Africa, a man from the village comes by and asks us to “please not move their cemetery.” Joshua tells him we are not here to do so, he wants to know why we are there then, Papa Joe explains we are looking around. The man says “ they are important to us.” We nod to them, my heart breaks again. We listen as Papa Joe says the cemetery is almost full and they aren’t sure where the dead will be buried soon, I will say a prayer for less death therefore less need.
We load up and leave the cemetery and head to Top Village to visit the sick. There isn’t much talking in the van on the way there. We get to the village and are met by the preschoolers which brings smiles to our faces. Praise God for the lights in the children. Mama Dorothy arrives and meets us, we are prepared each of us with an armload of quilts to lay over the sick while we pray. We travel home to home. The people are so sick but so grateful for us to be there. I feel so humble. The beauty in these people is not lost but is seen through their illnesses. We come to one house special to Papa Joe, he explains to us there is a Grandma there taking care of her 2 granddaughters one of whom was recently kidnapped and abused. I know I am not the only one whose heart stopped and rose to their throat. We pray for them. I will pray for this family always I know. Some things you know truly break Jesus’ heart, I saw that today. We walk around the village until all the quilts have been delivered including one to Mama Dorothy’s home. What a true hero and a beautiful soul. We go to lunch at Steers and I feel blessed.
After lunch we went to Lonely Park Clinic where they treat the sick. The facility treats thousands of patients and the fact that it is smaller than my home does not escape me. We walk quickly through it evident how difficult it must be to meet the needs of dozens of patients let alone thousands. As we listen, a woman sits next to us with a baby in her lap with the most beautiful smile. Another reminder that Jesus is here too, she offers him to Sydnee to hold, Sydnee anxiously scoops him up. They share a moment and it is time to go again. Another building of heroes. Now it is time for VBS I feel relieved to see the faces smiling and ready to greet us after the morning we had. We share yet another amazing afternoon of beautiful children I’m afraid to say teaching me far more than I am teaching them but what I do know is Jesus’ is present in every moment. Emily York RLC
Today’s Bible Reflection:
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?“ he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
I wake up with the song Siyahamba on my lips. “We are marching in the light of God, We are marching in the light of God!” We have been singing this song in Sunday School in Phoenix. I would call it an ear-worm, except it doesn’t annoy me. I love this image of persistently using our feet to do God’s work with His help. I sing this to myself all morning. My constant singing may not annoy me, however, others may be annoyed. I don’t bother asking them. “We are marching, oooooooh….”
Angela has woken me to go on a run. This is mostly quiet fellowship. We hear birds, barking dogs, a train, birds and cars, but the only sound we make as we run is the breathing (mine like Darth Vader’s, her’s less so) and our feet hitting the pavement in the well manicured neighborhood of the mission house. This run tires me and my feet now, but gives me energy to get through my day.
Today we go to Molawane Village preschool. Most children here are orphaned and/or vunerable. Many are HIV positive. ALL of them are exceptionally adorable. No really. How did they get so many cute kids all in one place? They dance for us, showing off their amazing alphabet and counting skills, and now their 5 senses (I TOUCH wit my hands!). We teach a little. Most children have shoes, 2 however are barefoot because they are the naughtiest and take them off. Needless to say, they are probably the 2 who win our hearts most. When we leave the students are asked to give us big hugs and kisses. They all fight over us to hug and kiss and we smother eachother with love.
I am extremely irritated with the entire idea of apartheid again. Sorry, God, I will try to be a more forgiving Christian, but I mean …really? Jerks.
After we leave our new best friends, we walk with Papa Joe, Mama Elisa and Mama Mavis around Molawane Village. Orchard Africa sponsors caregivers who care for, love and comfort sick and/or dying villagers. They are bringing us to the homes of people who are dying of AIDS and other illnesses.
We are followed by more and more children of all ages as we walk through the village. These children are not in school. They are unwashed with worn out clothing and enormous smiles. “Shop” we say to them. Shop is a thumb game that has no purpose other than greeting and acknowledgment. The dirt roads are full of broken glass, beer bottle tops, pieces of rusty barbed wire, old animal bones, goat and chicken droppings, thorns and trash of all kinds. They are barefoot. Jacob reflectively gives one a rand. “No more,” I say, “They will all expect that, and you don’t have that many coins.” Sigh.
We stop at the homes of the sick and dying to give them quilts from our church. Papa Joe asks each patient if we can come in and give them prayers, blessings and a quilt. The ones who are home all agree to let us into their modest houses. Most are in a tiny room; maybe there is a couch, maybe a chair or two, maybe a thin rug on a dusty concrete floor. One sits on a blanket outside her home with her blind mother and developmentally disabled young son. They are all thinner than you would think possible. Large brown eyes in tired faces. They wear worn out yellow Converse, tennis shoes full of holes, fluffy purple slippers or have skinny bare feet. We visit mothers, fathers, grandmothers, daughters, wives, an infant son. They can not make eye contact for long. They say thank you for the beautiful quilt. We lift our hands over them and pray for strength and peace. They thank us again. They all suffer. They all need so much prayer.
It’s a long walk. Windy and sunny. Mama Elisa and Mama Mavis do it all the time in their flat worn out shoes. Nearly everyday, they patiently walk to over 20 homes all over the village. Patients that they bring food to, monitor meds for, arrange doctor visits, houseclean, cajole, and love unconditionally. They are tiny, quiet and look so frail. Do not be deceived! It is like all the nonsense of life has been whittled out of them. They seem to be concentrated strength, kindness, calm, persistence, modesty, strength, decency, caring and did I mention strength? When I grow up I would like to be half as amazing as them. One quarter even. Hands and feet of Jesus indeed.
Back at Top Village to teach. Schoolchildren are coming to the after-school program. Red and black uniforms, tidy but worn out. Dust covered black tie-up loafers. They greet us by running after the van as we enter the village. Our 22 students are mostly in the classroom. They give us hugs and are excited to see their picture nametags.
We re-enact Moses freeing the slaves. “Let my people go!!!!” we all shout to the Pharoh (Pastor John). We pantomime the plagues. The dying cows were especially enjoyable to portray. Then Moses (Shawn) leads all of us out of Egypt. The children are cheering; today’s lesson is praise. We have seen where they live, we have heard the stories of their lives, and they sing with uncontainable joy. Papa Joe is leading them in song now as they march and dance through us (the Red Sea) standing on either side. “We are marching in the liiiiiight of God!” they sing, “We are marching in the light of God!”
Robyn Mcdannold Harper