A team of 129 of us from Soul Survivor Watford have just come back from 10 days in South Africa, serving at LIV, a children’s village just outside Durban. It was an incredible time of getting to know the kids and staff at the village; sharing in the vision of LIV with the founders, Tich and Joan Smith; joining with LIV in their community outreach and experiencing something of life in Durban. The opportunity to serve alongside some incredible staff members and volunteers was fab and to work alongside them to serve some amazing children was humbling and very special.
I’ve been back in Watford for 5 days now and if anyone out there offered me a flight back to Durban and the opportunity to head back to LIV again, I would be jumping at the chance. But realistically that’s not going to work, so instead of putting my energy into wishing I was back in SA, I’m trying to work out what I can do here and now in the normality of everyday life that fits in with all that I experienced half way around the world.
So here are a few thoughts that let you know a bit about the trip and things I hope will help me process what I’ve experienced and turn my reflections into action.
Firstly I guess I need to remember to remember.
Remembering the trip won’t be difficult; it was an incredible time not only to get involved in the work of LIV, but to do so alongside some great friends and the rest of the church family. It’s important though that I chose to remember the things that hurt, the things that shocked me, so that in my memory this trip doesn’t become some sort of tourist expedition, but rather an experience that shaped me and will continue to do so.
I need to make a conscious effort every day not just to remember what happened, but how I felt during our time away. How I felt when I spent time getting to know the kids; how I felt when I visited a school that was part of the largest informal settlement in the area; how I felt when I joined the LIV team for part of their community outreach; how I felt when Joan and Tich shared their vision of the village with us. And I need to allow these experiences to go deeper than feelings; to allow them to shape me as a person so that what I do will be out of the overflow of these experiences and their effect on my life.
Linked into that I need to see what practical steps I’m going to take to shape how I go forward from here. Yes, it’s important that I remember what’s happened, but after that it’s important to act on these memories and change because of them. How exactly this looks right now, I don’t know and this is something I really need to sort out if I want this trip to be more than a big adventure to another country.
I need to allow the closeness of the memories direct the choices that I make, particularly in the coming days and weeks as these will be what shape the coming months and years.
It’s absolutely vital that through everything I say and do now I’m home that I portray a reality of what I’ve experienced. Not a glorified image that brushes over the rawness of the reality of life for so many, but equally not an image that guilt trips people into supporting an unrealistic portrayal of what we experienced.
A highlight of the trip for me (besides watching the sunrise over the beach at 5.30 on the last morning- amazing!) would have to be the opportunity to share lunch with one of the families in the village on the Sunday we were there. It was amazing to be a part of a family, getting to know the mother, spending time with the kids and sharing a meal with them.
We got a tour of the house, they danced for us, we joked together and learnt games together. It was great because we formed relationships with one another and spent time alongside some incredible people. The mothers don’t always have an easy job bringing up the children in their homes but the love and care that is evident in the home is an amazing testament to the work the mothers are doing and the care and support they receive from Tich and Joan.
Forward from here it’s going to be a combination of remembering to remember everything that happened during the last 10 days, letting those memories sink in further and make a real difference in the choices I make and the way I go about my life. And realising that my life cannot stay the same because of what I’ve experienced and so turning my experiences into actions here and now to make a difference.
Another factor that I think is really important to remember is the power of prayer in this all. Ultimately we do all things through the power of Christ and so actually when I feel on top of the world helping out at LIV, or utterly hopeless and helpless when I see Amaoti, or now I’m home and feeling like I’m not doing much, I need to remember that it’s the same God who is working through me and all those in Durban serving Him by working alongside the last, the least and the lost. And actually it’s God that’s able to make the difference, not me!
And finally (I’ve almost finished!) I realise a lot of this has focussed on the parts of the trip that were the hardest and have left me with lots to think about and it would be unfair to leave it at that.
A massive positive was spending time with my course mates and others from the church whilst experiencing all this, serving alongside each other and supporting each other through the highs and lows as family was really good. And most amazingly, the time spent at LIV was overwhelmingly positive and the days on the village were incredible- it was great to see the difference that LIV is making not only in the community but in the lives of individual children and families. It was also brilliant getting to know some of the staff and volunteers at LIV and hearing not only their passion for the LIV vision and what they stand for, but also for the children as individuals and their restoration and development into young leaders.
Watch this space…Over the coming weeks we will be posting other people’s reflections of their time away- they’ll be well worth a read (and I’m sure there’ll be some great photos, too!).