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building a community to reach a community

South Africa: Day 5-7

After several days without access to Wi-Fi, we’ve now settled in at our gate at the Johannesburg Airport and are awaiting our red eye flight home. Tonight we’ll take an 11-hour flight to Amsterdam followed by a 9-hour flight to Atlanta. We expect the next 24 hours to be very long and tiring!

The second half of our week has been both stretching and wonderful. On Wednesday morning, we went back to two of the schools to do a second presentation in front of the assembled student body. Having one under our belt from the day before, we were a little more prepared and had the opportunity to build off what the others had shared the day before us. We again shared brief snippets of our testimonies with the goal of establishing the message that we – Americans and Africans alike - are the same; both broken in our human condition and in need of Christ, and both very precious in His sight. We’re thankful and humbled by the openness both the young people and the teachers and principals have exhibited toward us sharing this message.

It has become clear to us over the past week how desperate South African children are to hear that we count ourselves like them, one in suffering and one in hope. They see the privilege and the material wealth of America and assume that we have it “better”, in every sense of the word. For them, a visit from an American group is extremely special and rare. One of the principals shared with his students, “These white people have come all the way from America to see you – so know that you are special!” Our team has had many thoughtful dialogues about what it means to actively balance the task of minimizing our own privilege and emphasizing our common nature while remaining culturally sensitive and wise. We had read about their perspective of whites and Americans, but it was a different thing entirely to be on the receiving end of that unearned awe in person.

This was very evident in our experience on Wednesday afternoon, when we got to spend time with the kids at Hope of Glory. They poured into the center, dozens more than normal because they knew we would be there. And while we approached them with hesitant but eager smiles, they whole-heartedly embraced us, hugging us and kissing us and forming tight circles around us. The bolder ones attempted to talk to us in English or ask us questions while the shyer ones stood on the outside of the circle, smiling quietly and staring outright. Liz had the chance the take every child’s picture (as a present we will prepare for them when we get home) and the rest of us played pick-up games with them or chatted casually, getting to know each other.

We were also blessed with the opportunity to serve them lunch. This was a very powerful experience for all of us, as we dished out plates of pap (a traditional African porridge made with ground maize), stewed chicken feet, and pickled beets. I think the thing that was most challenging for us was when the food started to run out and the line still stretched out, seemingly never-ending, ahead of us. Our hearts sank as we began scraping the bottom of the stew pot and as Larry scooped out the last tiny spoonful of beets. And then it was gone, and there were still hungry bellies to feed. Yet the staff ladies at Hope of Glory acted as though this was expected, a common occurance, and dumped some extra rice they had into the empty stew pot, scraping the sides down and mixing it up. Then she handed all of the remaining students plastic spoons and waved at them to dig in.

And they did.

Happily, gratefully, posing for pictures, smiling and laughing with one another, thanking us and affirming that we were doing a great job at scraping down the sides of the pot to mix in the burnt, dried up pieces of stew.

This just blew us away. To experience both the crashing sense of sorrow at not being able to provide a hot, healthy meal for all who were there – and the overwhelmingly courageous gratitude in the ugly face of hunger – this was something we had never seen before. And hopefully the pictures Liz captured will continue to tell this story and remind us never to forget the very, very real struggles facing this tiny village. And to think – this village is just one small village in a large and hungry country, on a large and hungry continent. It made our own worlds small and enlarged them at the same time.

On Thursday, the somber awareness continued as we explored the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, which detailed the atrocities black South Africans faced for over 50 years and the pervasive prejudice and institutionalized racism that lead to it. It was an honor to walk through this museum with two women helping lead Hope of Glory who survived Apartheid and voted in the first ever open election in 1994 at the ages of 29 and 31. The pictures and movies were very hard to watch, but we felt it was crucial we did so, and we learned a great deal.

This morning was spent in some in-depth evaluation of our trip and the potential for future partnership with Hope of Glory, and then we delivered our two “tour guides” for the week back home to their families and made it to the airport a few hours ahead of Larry’s flight - and precisely 7.5 hours ahead of the ladies’ flight. :-) The time has flown by, though – we’ve filled it with great shopping and good eating! We will see you soon!

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