The longest ride to church

“Your way is perfect, Lord, and your Word is true. You are a shield to those who run to you for help.”
Psalm 18:30

“Keith Allen Drunkard; Keith Allen Drunkard. Please come to the ticket counter immediately!”
“Oh no,” we all thought, as we waited in the Altanta boarding area. “Keith Drinkard has already supposedly “lost” his mother once, and the teasing has been incessant. What now?” It turned out that Keith had left his passport on the plane from Detroit. Will he ever live this one down?

On Thursday, August 15th, by 9:00 am, the 18 volunteers from Mt. Pleasant Community Church had been equipped by prayer from Pastor Brian, and were leaving to begin our adventure in Madutle, South Africa. Two van rides, two plane rides, and 34 hours later, our rather tired group was unloading our luggage in front of the Garden Court Hotel in Johannesburg, South Africa. After our long, long journey, everyone was ready for a meal, a shower, and stretching out in a comfy bed. Although our bodies were tired, our spirits were full of anticipation for our upcoming ministry.

On Saturday morning, as soon as breakfast was over, we met with Sara Hansen, Orchard: Africa Missions Manager, to view and discuss a set of videos about the history of South Africa. We were all struck by the similarities between the colonization of America by the Europeans, and the colonization of South Africa by the Europeans. After a 400 year history of subjugation of the native populations of both countries, people’s eyes have been opened, but we as Christians need to ask God to “open the eyes of our hearts” because, in South Africa, hope has been lost in forgotten villages. The team also was introduced to the commitment of Orchard: Africa founders, Mike and Michelle Tessendorf, to raise up the Church, so that it may raise up the villages to give hope to these forgotten people. This is our challenge and our joy: to show the people of Madutle that each of them is loved and respected – to give them hope.

Later on Saturday, after a 4 ½ hour drive to the town of Mafaking near the border with Botswana, the team was awarded the joy of meeting Pastor Joseph and Mama Dorothy for a walk through Top Village. The purpose was to introduce us to a longer-term work of Orchard: Africa and to acquaint us with one of the former “poorest of poor villages.” This walk was our visual and emotional introduction to Orchard: Africa’s work. We met Mr. Monere, whom Pastor Joseph introduced as the village Chief, and, as the eyes of our hearts were opened, we eagerly contemplate opening our arms to the children of Madutle.
Debbi Meister

“Who Ya Gonna Call?…. CROSS PRODUCTS!!”

Dumelang –

What a glorious and filling (literally) day we have had today! Our day started with a debriefing with the Dihatshwane teachers from yesterday’s lessons. The teachers were so excited to get started on continuing with the lessons but before we began Octavia wanted to start the day off with all of us giving our testimony or a message to the group. Everyone’s words were so beautiful. I had so much admiration for all of the women and Paul’s messages and testimonies. When I gave my testimony it was very emotional for me and I found it so difficult to find the right words to say to this amazing group of people. But I found that even though I said just a little it meant a lot to the people who were listening. Having these meetings with the teachers is always such an amazing gift but it is also so wonderful to get to have tea-time with this group and get to mingle with them (also to have a break in a long day is always appreciated!). Elsie, the third grade teacher, was so sweet and brought us soup she made last night. It was so delicious and heartwarming to get to share a special homemade meal with everyone. Octavia and the staff also prepared sandwiches for us to enjoy while we had our tea. We all filled our stomachs with warm, filling food to help nourish our bodies.

When the rest of the lessons began a group of us went outside to hang out with the kids. This is by far my favorite part of the day, everyday in the village. The children are so full of life and hope and always have a bright smile on their faces. The kids love hanging out with us so much but I don’t think they realize how much we love hanging out with them and how much of an impact they are making in our lives. The best part of today while hanging out with them was when we gave them smiley face stickers. They were ecstatic to get stickers. They kept putting them on their faces and ours. It was so touching to hear all of the learners tell us how beautiful and pretty we were with stickers all over our faces. The children are so thankful for the smallest things in life.

To close up the teacher meeting, we got to explain all of the supplies that were donated for the school. Getting to hear all the joy in the teacher’s voices about all the supplies and books was so meaningful to all of us. The school received so many gifts from all the schools in the states that donated, that will be used and make such a difference in the Dihatshwane Primary School classrooms. The final words from the teachers of what they thought were full of appreciation and hope for their learners learning. It was a moving to hear their kind words about all of our lessons and the knowledge they gained from us.

To wrap up our final night in Mafikeng, we got the pleasure of having dinner with Mike and Michelle Tessendorf, Sara (the missions manager for Orchard: Africa), and the interns who are currently living in South Africa. It was a dinner full of friendship, laughter, and more scrumptious food. Sara and the interns (Griffin, Joel, Heather, and Jessica) were such gracious hosts and are doing such fantastic things here in the villages in Mafikeng. We couldn’t have made it through this trip without them (and Paul!).

As our trips is coming to a close there is so much to look back and reflect on. I have learned so much from everyone on this trip (the teachers on the trip, the Dihatshwane teachers, and of course, Paul). I am leaving Mafikeng a changed person and leaving a little piece of my heart here. I can’t wait to share this experience with everyone and anyone.

Since this is our last night in Mafikeng and we are heading out to Kwa Maritane, a game lodge, tomorrow afternoon after spending our last day at the school this will be our last blog for awhile. We are so blessed for everyone on this trip and for every life that has touched us.

 

We will see you all on Monday when we are back in the states!

 

Sale sinthle,

Michelle

Be The Change

Dumelang! (Doo-may-lawng.) Hi everyone, it’s Ryan here. I would like to send you greetings from Mafikeng and Dihatshwane village. This morning was a very tough and emotional morning for many of us. We started off by rushing out of the house (I think we are quickly adapting to “African time” J) and headed to Lonely Park medical clinic. We were quickly briefed on it beforehand and found out that it is a clinic owned by the government.  Wednesdays are typically women and children day, where mothers are able to bring their infants to get vaccinations (like polio and others) and treatments needed for free. When we got there, Papa Joe informed us that the District manager was there doing an inspection and unfortunately we were not able to go inside. The people working had their hands full and wouldn’t be able to show us around. Bummer. Papa Joe informed us that they only have about 3 workers, and a few college students doing their clinicals that are able to provide help. On average, they see about 3,000 patients daily. I can’t even fathom the stress and sense of overwhelmingness the workers must experience on a daily basis with that many patients and lack of supplies and resources. Papa Joe gave a brief talk about the ill and how often funerals are around here because of lack of supplies, medications and the lack of knowledge about diseases. We left the clinic and headed to Lonely Park Cemetery. What a humbling and somber experience that was. We got out of our van and looked over a sea of graves. There were rocks piled on each grave to help eliminate erosion of the land. We silently walked through and looked at all the tombstones and read each persons date of birth, death and day they were buried. For many of us, it reminded us of times when we ourselves have lost loved ones. It is very apparent here that some people will be missed more than words can say, and hearts should have to feel. We gathered around and prayed for those who have lost their lives and those who are left behind and had to say goodbye to their loved ones.  Afterwards, we rode to Dihatshwane village, giving a minute of silence, which turned into the entire car ride of silence as we all reflected, thought and prayed for what we saw this morning.

Once we arrived in Dihatshwane, we met Pastor Mpho and went on a few house visits to those who needed some encouragement, motivation, and strength. We visited five different people, all with different ailments, resulting from car accidents, blindness, severe bacterial infections, internal pains and so on. It was amazing to see that despite their pain and suffering, they were so welcoming, kind and grateful for us coming to visit them. We briefly learned about each person and their situation. Let’s just say, there wasn’t a dry eye amongst our group. It was very emotional and by the time we had to go back to school to teach our lessons, we were exhausted. I don’t think any of us will ever forget what we saw and experienced today. We are very fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity today and it is a constant reminder that we, as human beings must take very opportunity that life gives us to “be the change we wish to see in this world.”

Again, we thank each and every one of you who continue to follow our blog, support and pray for us. We think about you every night and day as we look forward to share our experiences with you in person. We will see you soon.

Silansinclae,

-Ryan and the Education Team

 

Hello everyone! This is Jennifer. After visiting the five individuals in Dihatshwane village, we returned to the primary school to begin our afternoon session. We began with a prayer continuing to thank God for the fellowship we are experiencing with the teachers of Dihatshwane Primary School. We all worshiped, singing Amazing Grace, and then singing a song we have all come to know and love that we learned from the Dihatshwane teachers. As I looked around the room during our worship time, I saw many tears streaming down the faces of our mission team. It is so uplifting to hear the amazing voices and spirit that comes out of these women and some of us just couldn’t help but cry when we heard them. Allison then led us in devotion and did an excellent job sharing the message of the gospel with our group. As always, we closed by having tea and enjoying fellowship with one another.

Next, it was on to teaching! Allison and Cindy began with a phonics lesson. I loved watching the excitement on the faces of the children as they chanted, stomped their feet, and clapped their hands while learning their letter sounds. The group of learners started the lesson standing near their chairs, and by the end of the song they were just inches away from Allison, all in excitement for learning! The school principal, Octavia, was very excited about the magnetic letters that we brought for the school, so she taught an impromptu lesson to the children using the new materials. We were able to see the strong memorization skills of the children during her lesson and saw the determination to spell words and create sentences with the new letters on their faces.

We took a break to eat lunch. Today was the coldest day it has been so far and the village was very windy. As some of us stayed inside to eat, others went outside in the cold to be with the children. Some of the children had said they wanted to go home because it was cold, but they stayed at school so they could participate in the rest of the afternoon’s lessons. It is indescribable to me the dedication and willingness of the kids of Dihatshwane. They are supposed to be on holiday this week, but today they braved the cold and came to school voluntarily so that they could interact with us and learn from us. What a wonderful God we have.

After finishing lunch, Andrea and Ryan reviewed their math lesson and homework from yesterday with the grade 4 students and then taught a new lesson on division. At the same time, Allison, Jill, Nicole, and I met with the Grade R teacher (our equivalent of Kindergarten), Nosi, to offer ideas and strategies for centers in her classroom. Nosi is an incredible person. She is brand new to teaching, only arriving at the school a little more than a month ago. She shared with us the struggles she has faced with this new class due to the lack of prior educators for this particular class, resources available, and parent involvement for her learners. Yet she continues on and does everything that she can for these children to help them grow and succeed. She speaks with such passion and devotion, and it is very evident that she is touching the lives of her children each and every day.

To wrap up our time at Dihatshwane Primary School for the day, Brie and I gave a presentation on how to include and differentiate for children with special needs in the classroom. Uncle D, who is a pastor’s assistant in another village, brought over three teachers from the preschools and learning centers from two other nearby villages to hear and hopefully learn from the information that we were to share. As I prepared for the presentation last night, I was so excited to share my knowledge on a subject that I am so very passionate about. However, as I was presenting today, I began to realize just how lucky we are in America to have federally mandated special education programs to serve students with diverse needs. We are so fortunate to have a disability identification process, multitudes of assessment tools, countless resources for differentiation, and the ability to have extra support for children with special needs in our American schools. In Dihatshwane, there are no such programs, trainings, or resources. My heart really ached for the teachers who asked me questions during the presentation about specific learners in their classrooms that they were struggling with, and for the learners who are not able to have all of their needs met without extra support. I could tell so much that these teachers wanted to be able to help these learners grow and succeed, but did not have the resources or specialized training to do so. Listening to the teachers of Dihatshwane share their stories really made me grateful for the opportunities that our teachers and students in America receive as a result of federally mandated special education programs.

We ended our session due to time constraints and will pick up where we left off tomorrow. We then headed to Pastor Mpho’s home where we met his beautiful wife and children. We felt so very loved and honored that his wife wanted to meet us and that they had invited us into their home to do so. The relationships I have formed with the people of Dihatshwane will not soon be forgotten. Sitting in their house, I felt as if I was talking with friends I had known for years. They are so welcoming and true people of God, and the message that they share in their everyday actions is very humbling.

We finished the night with another wonderful dinner (chicken, sweet potatoes, peas, and rice with a really delicious salsa) and our nightly devotion session. As we reflected on our day during devotion, it became evident to all of us that this experience is truly unique in its impact for each mission team member. We all are learning new things about ourselves, fighting existing and new battles within ourselves, and growing closer together as a team and closer in our relationship with our Savior. Tonight I feel surrounded by love, friends, and fellowship, and I am extremely grateful for the experience.

In His Love,
Jennifer

The Little Things That Count

Dumelang! (Doo-may-lawng.) We are learning so much here . . . including this South African greeting for a group of people. J

Nerves were high this morning as we climbed into the van on our way to Dihatshwane Primary School.  Even though we all love working with kids (whether we’re teachers, college students, or psychologists), the thought of teaching a group of students who aren’t fluent in English, in a classroom we’re not used to, in front of a group of very professional, eager South African teachers is very intimidating.   But, God was very gracious to us, and in our weakness He is strong!  So, here’s how the morning played out . . .

After filing into the classroom, we were welcomed with a challenging devotion from Mama Elsie (the Grade 3 teacher), worshipful song, and sweet prayer.  Then, as is custom for these lovely people, we enjoyed some tea and biscuits.   The tea having settled our stomachs, my partner Michelle and I started our lesson on Reading Strategies.  I think what amazed me the most during our lesson was how the feeling of teaching unfamiliar kids, in an unfamiliar environment, in front of unfamiliar faces all faded away as we just taught.  All the sudden the “learners” became our own students.  We laughed with them, encouraged them, taught them, and learned from them just as we do with our own students in the US.  Proving, once again, that kids are kids and teachers are teachers-no matter where you’re from or where you go. J

After our lesson, other groups taught the same students different subjects (including Life Skills and Mathematics).

While the other teachers were in the classroom sharing their knowledge with the students (see Andrea’s blog next), some of my other team members and I wandered over to the other school building to talk with the Grade R (Kindergarten) teacher about strategies she can use to make learning more meaningful and manageable in her classroom.  She is an amazing woman and teacher.  Her name is Nosi.  She came into Dihatshwane Primary School in June.  She’s only been teaching a month in this school.  She shared with us her joys and frustrations of teaching.  She loves her students and desires to help them succeed.  But, she feels impeded by the lack of student attendance and parental support.  The idea that education isn’t important or something that needs to be sacrificed for seems to be the biggest obstacle in student success.  As a teacher, this reality is both discouraging (because it seems impossible to reverse) and motivating (because it fires you up to overcome it).  After sharing these concerns, Nosi put it well when she said, “But, I know God is going to give me strength”.   Today was challenging, fun, and exciting.  But, I think the thing I will remember most about today is that our God is great!  Our fellow teachers here in Dihatshwane village are also our sisters in Christ.  We are all serving the same God and seeking to bring Him glory!  And, He is big enough to love, provide for, and direct all of us.  So, THANK YOU to those of you who are supporting us!  Whether it’s through prayer, your support has given each of us the opportunity to broaden our view of education and our God!

-Jill and the Education Team

 

HI there, it is Andrea now. Today was such an amazing day in so many ways. When we finished up tea and morning devotional with the Dihatshwane teachers I went and explored the school and played with the students while the other teachers shared their lessons. I found it shocking to see how few desks and tables there were in some of the classrooms and how the students had access to computers and televisions. This is not something I was expecting them to have in such a rural and remote area. In our exploration of the school, my teammates and I stumbled upon a group of students and, of course, immediately began to play with them. They shared some songs and dance moves with us, and we did the same. (I don’t think they found ours as entertaining as theirs! J) We then moved out into the field and I began playing soccer with a small group of them. These kids have SKILLS! I could not keep up! But, the kids were so nice and taught me how to be a goalkeeper and I taught them how to play keep-away. They absolutely loved keep-away because it allowed them to use all of their trick moves (especially when I was in the middle!) They would tease me with the ball and then laugh when I wasn’t able to catch it. It was a BLAST! Then, my partner Ryan and I were called in to share our lesson. We were so nervous to teach, especially because the Dihatshwane teachers were watching us, but the second I got in front of the students, my nerves left me. The first activity we planned was not as successful as we would have hoped. The students were shy and quiet and not answering any of our questions, but when we started teaching our new method of solving multiplication problems, the kids began to respond. By our third example they were JUMPING out of their seats to go solve the problem on the board or to answer our questions. It made it so easy to get excited and feel like we were impacting them. Seeing the light bulbs come on and the concept stick in their brain is the most fulfilling thing in the world, and all of a sudden, these kids were not “the kids in the school in South Africa” but they became our students. But, within all of this excitement, I can truly say my favorite moment from the day was the look on the Principal Octavia’s face when we showed them the nine’s multiplication trick using your fingers! Her eyes just got so big and her face lit up with amazement and wonder! She was so surprised at how the trick worked and how easy it made multiplying by nines! She could just not believe it, no matter how many examples she did. That look, the look of amazement, wonder and curiosity… that is why I want to become a teacher. Because of that look, I know that if I was to leave South Africa tomorrow, I have made a difference in this small school in Dihatshwane. It proved that God is everywhere and can work in amazing ways with the simple little things we take for granted.

-Andrea and the Education Team

Welcome to Dihatshwane

Yay! Today was the day we were all eagerly awaiting. This morning we all woke up with joyful hearts to finally be able to start being able to make relationships with the teachers and beautiful children in the Dihatshwane Primary School. After a delicious breakfast of French toast this morning, we had the wonderful opportunity to be able to meet and fellowship with many of the staff here in South Africa. We meet caregivers that go into the villages to care for the sick, pastors, gardeners, and housekeepers. We were all able to hear their inspiring stories as we fellowshipped with tea(very common here in South Africa) and biscuits (cookies). After this we made our way into the Dihatshwane village. As we were driving up I could instantly feel the goose bumps cover my arms of already feeling moved, as we approached the village school and watched the children outside. Children had noticed us driving up, and slowly a few of them started turning around waving and smiling their precious smiles to us. It melted all of our hearts!!! As we approached the front of their school the children were lined up so nicely to greet us with beautiful traditional African songs. Two of the songs were to praise Jesus, and one of them was to us saying how they love and appreciate us. I am pretty positive I can speak for all of us, but you know that feeling of having a lump in your throat and trying to hold back the tears as they well up in your eyes? Well, that was us as we soaked in the sight and voices of the children warming our hearts with so many emotions.  We are so happy to begin the rest of this week at the village school with more laughter, love, encouragement, ideas, and lots of dancing!

~Nicole

This is Vicky here. I definitely agree with what Nicole said about arriving in Dihatshwane village today. It was such an inspiring moment and one that I will not forget! After we saw the children for the first time, we said goodbye and went to have our very first conference with the teachers of the Dihatshwane Primary school. These women are amazing. We all sat in a circle and before we started discussing our teaching strategies, one of the teachers, Elsi, lead us in a couple of worship songs. Let me tell you, the people of Dihatshwane can sing! And dance! This was another moment where we were all holding back tears as we were rejoicing in fellowship being created. Following worship were some quick introductions and then we jumped straight in to sharing stories and struggles we have experienced with teaching in both America and South Africa. The similarities were more than we had expected.

During our lunch break, we quickly ate and then headed over to where the children were lining up for the feeding project that Orchard: Africa sponsers. The children were so joyful and after they were finished eating there was no hesitation to jump in and play! Whether it was throwing the ball, playing a game with rocks, or jumping on the teeter-totter, in a matter of minutes everyone was playing. I’m sure it was exactly like what you could imagine! We finished up the day at Dihatshwane with more planning time with the teachers. It was an uplifting day to say the least.

As we are finishing up the night, there is much anticipation for tomorrow. We are set to teach for the first day with subjects that we did not think we would be teaching on. God is good and we are learning to be quick on our feet and react to the situations that come our way. By the way, we finally got our luggage today!!!! I cannot express to you how much we appreciated getting into our pajamas tonight. The Lord has taught us much about being humble and we are thankful for that. And very thankful that we are able to dress appropriate tomorrow for our first day of teaching!

-Much love, Vicky and the team!