Here we’ve got some reflections from some more of the team who headed out to Durban at the beginning of this month. Christie, Liz and Matt let us know their thoughts from the trip and what this means for them…
I’d always told myself and other people that I wasn’t an ‘International mission trip’ sort of person. I just didn’t feel called to that kind of thing, that was for people who were braver and much better at being a Christian than I am. Africa scared me.
Then I found myself booking a flight to Durban to spend 2 weeks working with orphaned children.
During the weeks leading up to the trip, I realised that it wasn’t the trip itself that scared me, it was the idea of seeing things that would leave me unable to live life in exactly the same way afterwards.
I was scared of how it would change me.
What would happen to me as I engaged with a culture so different to what I know, and saw the poverty that I’d only ever heard of second hand, or seen in Oxfam adverts? Changing was what seemed to happen to people on mission trips, and changing was what has happened to me.
It seems that at the moment words like ‘Poverty’ and ‘Justice’ have become buzzwords in the culture of the church. The conversation about poverty has taken centre stage in the last few years, and I think this is really positive. But as with everything, there are two sides to the coin. Often when we talk about poverty, we are presented with nicely gift wrapped statistics about how there are 27 million people in slavery today, or that there are 48.3 million orphans in Africa. Everything that we understand is so dwarfed by these numbers that it’s impossible to comprehend the reality of what a large proportion of the world are living every day. We agree when people tell us that God’s heart is for justice, we sign email petitions and we donate to worthy causes, all of which is important and right.
But somehow, we end up with a sanitized idea of what poverty is, replacing real people with statistics that dehumanize them, because the reality is that that’s easier. Numbers preserve our hearts from breaking for living, breathing, feeling people that are suffering.
I spent much of my walk with God engaging with poverty in exactly this way. Selfishly, I was unwilling to let God break my heart for the things that break His because the scale of the suffering scared me. So I put on a show, I used the buzzwords, and externally I looked like I was engaged with the fight for justice, but my heart was cold. Going to South Africa marked the beginning of a change in that.
I spent some time reading Jeremiah while we were there, and this passage struck me;
Jeremiah 8:11 says ‘They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.’ (NIV).
The things that I saw in South Africa made me realise that people are wounded by poverty. Everyday, people are struggling to stem the flow of their life as it slips away because of preventable disease, or lack of shelter. When I read this verse I felt God showing me the need to take poverty seriously, not as a buzzword, but as a reality that the world is suffering from a wound that we cannot treat with lightness. The problem is enormous and there is a heaviness that comes with understanding even a small part of it.
The good news is that we all have a hope. No matter how large scale the problem, God is larger scale. Although what we accomplished in two weeks is a drop in the ocean of poverty, God always makes more of our actions and mustard seed faith than we ever thought possible.
Now, the question for me is this; Am I willing to get my hands dirty and dress the wound that is making so much of the world’s population suffer? Can I do that with grace, always taking seriously what people have suffered and sharing their pain? After this trip I think I’m more inclined to say yes, but there is still a long way to go and a lot of fear to overcome. Luckily, God is very good at dealing with me and we’ll get there eventually.
As we got off the coach and walked along the covered walkway to the hall I could feel the tears beginning to rise. It was a shock, I’d only just arrived and nothing had happened and we’d met no one yet!
The next week of serving this special LIV family was inspiring, challenging and yet very ordinary. Covering school books, making up stories and drawing pictures to illustrate them, sorting and moving things from here to there – just ordinary things but together making a huge difference for the LIV family by achieving in a week what would take them months.
We also had the privilege of going into the nearby Cottonlands community and visiting Amaoti where it all began for Tich and Joan. We drove past the sign saying ‘Warning, beware of highjacking and robberies beyond this point” and gave out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to 1000 school children – probably the last thing they would eat that day. Again just ordinary things but making such a difference.
As I woke this morning and reflected on the experience, I suddenly understood why those tears came as I arrived at LIV. It was love. LIV is a place that illustrates 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. In a place where there is every reason to be fearful … Children deeply traumatised by their experiences with physical and emotional issues needing specialist support. A village situated right next to a community with immense problems … and yet love overwhelms and pushes fear away.
Tich leaks tears every time he talks about Jesus, and his love for Jesus is evident in every part of his life of complete obedience to the Father. The Father’s love just flows over into the lives of the people living in the village: staff, volunteers, children and visitors. We were so blessed to be there and to witness and be part of such love.
My challenge? How do I live outside the fear obsessed culture here and play a part in bringing the overwhelming, life changing, extraordinary love of Jesus into our community in very ordinary ways?
I went to South Africa during a period in my life when I felt distant from God. My life and priorities had become consumed by work and my daily struggles, all pushing God out. I was desperate to be God-centred again but so drained from life that even reading my Bible felt a duty not a joy. I went to serve His church; wanting but not necessarily expecting God to do anything ‘in return’.
After walking around LIV village with the various projects explained I spent much of the week helping to sort out the accumulated donations in ‘The Shed’ – a massive barn-like structure. Two-thirds of these donations would have gone in a skip without a second thought in the UK, but in South Africa everything had a use. If LIV didn’t have a use for it, they knew someone that would.
The lack of manpower was the only reason that so much had gathered over the years. The work was filthy and sweaty, especially in the hot sunshine, but nonetheless rewarding as the progress made each day was evident and much appreciated by the local team we worked alongside.
Probably the highlight in my eyes though was the church service on Sunday. Having worshipped through manual labour throughout the week, coming together with everyone as one church was beautiful. The joy and love that the Christian community in LIV have for one another and for God is full and overflowing and infectious, particularly as they sing and dance. As we praised God and glorified Him, His presence was potent.
Though we may live thousands of miles apart, we worship the same glorious God and will one day be united as the bride of Christ. As I worshipped and gave God the time to speak, He reminded me of who He is and what He has done for me. I don’t think I needed to travel 6,000 miles to hear God speak, I think that He was just waiting for me to listen. Though I wandered from Him, He has remained faithful and has renewed my passion for Him and His church.
While many of the children at LIV will have experienced trauma and horrors that I can’t begin to imagine, the power of the Holy Spirit and the faithfulness of the mothers and leaders at LIV to God’s plans is more life-changing than this world will ever comprehend. Just as every donation found a home, so at LIV every child has a home and opportunities. To paraphrase one of the LIV mothers – “while there is life, there is still hope”.
With God all things are possible, even saving a broken child like me.