It is hard to put in words what has occurred thus far. The campsite we were able to reserve was the only affordable option we found in all of our six months of searching, and we only found it about 10 days before we left for South Africa. Our hosts went out of their way to accomodate us by borrowing linens, towels, and blankets that we could use from surrounding neighbors.
As you can see by the pictures, it was simple tents, but an amazing & beautiful space in the middle of the bush. Initially, we were all a little intimidated by the long list of poisonous or dangerous animals we could very easily come into contact with in our new dwelling. However, we very quickly felt right at home and soon the youth were having the time of their lives.
We were able to have 22 youth from Choir 1 now ages 13 to 18 with us for the week. The campground space facilitated really quick bonding moments as we put everyone on a team and gave them each responsibilities. We had not been fully together for four years, so this was a magic moment… as we say in our family. We quickly, in the midst of amazing activities such as climbing a mountain, repelling, doing amazing races, treasure hunting, learning about the wildlife & survival tips in the bush, horseback riding, as well as Auntie Amy’s math class. In all these activities, we were able to get a keen sense of where they all were at spiritually and emotionally.
I cannot put into words the inspiration these youth are to me. It has been an incredible tough and lonely haul this past two years. The timing couldn’t have been more amazing for us to come together as many were beginning to feel incredibly weary in facing the reality of their situation. Most have been faced incredible pressures of physically protecting themselves whether sexually or by everyday dangers that exist all around them, the majority have no quiet place to study during the day, so many of them go to bed around 7 PM and get up again at 11:00PM and study until 2 AM or 3 AM in order to be a in quiet place where they can focus. The majority get up and prepare for the day at 4:30 AM and have at least 3 hours on the bus daily to get from their rural village homes to the secondary school that is equipped enough to potentially allow them succeed in obtaining a scholarship for university. Less than 1% of the population in Nkomazi has the opportunity to attend university due to the quality of the education and poverty of the families, and 67% of the population is under the age of 19, and 38% – 52% of the village population is infected with HIV making it the highest rates in the world. Many of our youth are in child led households, almost all have no parental guidance due to the fact the guardian they stay with has many other children to look after. One of our other girls last year got pregnant at 14, she stays in a house where there are 28 other children living with one grandmother as the sole caretaker. Youth in this situation have no covering and are incredibly vulnerable.
Coming to SA this time, I found myself crying out to God many times, afraid I have lost these kids…. Knowing the reality of where they come from. Knowing that all are in severe poverty and all have one meal a day and take exams on an empty stomach. Many of our youth had stories of taking exams dizzy from hunger, but determined to press on. My heart has broken as a mother’s heart would break, as they are honest about their struggle.
But these youth are not defeated, by the end of the week, they were fired up and renewed determined to fight the good fight of faith and persevere. The way they spur each other on to continue would put tears in anyone’s eyes. There is joy in their eyes, and a will to survive that is contagious. Each morning of camp, was began in very cold temperatures (it’s winter here), with each youth having a personal quiet time and time to journal; in addition, we had devotion and sharing times morning and night, many times these moments found us singing and laughing for hours. Some on their own have requested to be baptized and want to be set a part to let Jesus reign supreme in their hearts and lives….To be that light and share a message of hope in the midst of incredible challenges all around them.
Our whole theme for this camp was defining what a leader is and the character they must have to lead. We looked at many examples in the Bible: Joshua, Solomon, David, Moses and many Old Testament kings were some of our models. We challenged them in very practical ways in team building activities and challenging them to overcome fears or to do things they never thought they would do. We really pushed them physically, emotionally, and spiritually this week.
The success of the camp is very evident!!!! Thanks to all that sponsored a piece of this camp!!!
For the days ahead, I am left with some major challenges. One of our girls is now pregnant and is ashamed, thus ran away, so we have not been able to make contact with her. Another had a baby six months ago, and has also not shown up at her grandmothers. I have already spent many hours trying to find out where they are. Their educational scholarships have been removed. But pray that we will be able to have the opportunity to let them know they are still very much loved by our family here. I have six youth to get to the clinic, with physical needs, and a few that need to have a new schooling situation. I am in the midst of negotiating with the parent NGO, Music for Life, to implement a better system of following our youth after they reach high school level and are forced to return to their village homes because there is currently only a boarding school for the elementary level students. I have one girl in Grade 12, now needing to look at university options and six students next year that will also be ready for university. We need to find affordable options for them to continue with their goals and dreams. All of these activities have already taken me to Johannesburg (5 hour drive one way) and I will be doing lots more traveling the next two weeks to put this all together. Meanwhile, Amy is preparing a math workshop. Ben, my brother, just left yesterday for the US, but was an amazing help and mentor for the youth. We miss him. Please pray for favor and that God will indeed lead us to the right places for our youth to shine as they press on to achieve the dreams God has put inside their hearts.
Love you all. Thanks for following this journey with us.