by Jessica Risinger
In May, five of us had the opportunity to travel from the US to South Africa, joining other volunteers from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom for International Office Celebrations. It was a chance for us to be together in person, with each other and with the volunteers in South Africa. We met new faces, sat through several sessions and learned a lot from each other. It was such an encouragement to be in the same place! Everyone who came had sacrificed time at work, time with family, and a week of their everyday lives in order to be there. We were willing to make those sacrifices because we believe in the work Hands is doing. It is more than work: it is our calling. Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse the two!
After our morning prayer meeting, we loaded up three vehicles and drove to the community of Siyathuthuka. It's a beautiful place and it was the first community I visited during orientation two years ago! We met at the care point. In the last two years, the front of the building had been painted and covered with the brightly colored hand prints of the children. A sign of hope in the last place you'd expect.
It's hard to describe all of the sensations of walking in community. There is a peace that comes from being in a place where you can feel God working. There are struggles, too: the heat, the unforgiving sun and sandy soil. Bentwell, our group leader, serves Hands as a member of the Regional Support team, which serves many communities in South Africa. As Hands we want to know those we serve by name, and know their stories. As we walked along the dirt roads of the community, I was challenged by how much Bentwell knew about the people living there and we were able to pray for them. It is obviously he has made real connections with these families.
We visited a gogo (grandmother) named Emily*, who was sitting outside with her daughter and a neighbor. Her oldest grandchildren were in school, and her youngest grandchildren were a few yards away playing at the family market. We sat on the ground between the kitchen and the garden on a woven reed mat and heard her story. Emily spoke in SiSwati, and Bentwell translated for us. She told us that she is from Mozambique but moved to South Africa hoping she could give her family a chance at a better life. She was very happy in the first community she settled in, but unfortunately the entire community was relocated to accommodate the construction of Mbombela Stadium prior to the 2010 World Cup. I had let my guard down and those words hit me. They penetrated deeply. Emily continued, telling us her worries about her older grandsons. She hoped school would help them stay on the right path, but they are rebelling. She asked us questions about our own lives, too. Our conversation was not unlike a conversation I would have with my own grandmother. I felt her value and I knew that this woman who was, and is, so desperately loved by God was somehow so easily diplaced by the world.
After being relocated, Emily was very unhappy. That community was not her home. Her discontent led her to eventually move to Siyathuthuka and she is much more content. She told us she wants to stay there the rest of her life. Some of her grandchildren go the to care point and Emily has gone there herself for the care giver support days. She says they've helped her feel connected in the community and make friends. Those days have given her hope!
After visiting Emily and her family, we returned to the care point and waited for the children to arrive. We played hop-scotch; and hoola-hooped, though we could use a lession - or five - from those kids! Of course, we sang and we danced. We sang Siyabonga Jesu (Wahamba Nathi) which is all about thanking Jesus for walking with us because He is always there. And he is. On that woven reed mat next to gogo Emily, in a little place called Siyathuthuka, when the world walks away: Jesus walks in, and he brings hope with Him!
*name has been changed for confidentiality