I'm spending the first half of December in Durban, South Africa, leading a team of incredibly wonderful people from our church on a missions trip. I was here last December, with another amazing team. After a flight cancellation, three airplanes, layovers across the globe, and 4 solid days of ministry with school age Zulu children, I'm finally sitting down to reflect, process and, well, blog.
Our mission here is to support a local organization called Ithemba Lethu. Ithemba Lethu means "I have a Destiny" in Zulu. In truth, the wonderful staff of IL could survive without our help. We are not here to save the day in typical American, independent cowboy fashion. Quite simply, after seeing the incredibly way they are changing the world, we begged them to let us participate, to literally ride their coattails. We wanted to get in on what they're already doing and thankfully, they said they could use us.
Ithemba Lethu works in the public schools in the townships, educating school children (beginning in grade 5) about the risks of HIV/AIDS and about each child's immeasurable value to God. They believe you can't do one without the other. The kids have grown up in poverty with little to eat and little to hope for. They do not actually know their infinite worth to God when they start the program.
42% of pregnant mothers in Cato Manor are HIV positive. Forty-two percent. This means that 42% of infants are at risk of contracting the virus in -utero or during birth. If the children living in Cato Manor do not contract the disease in infancy, there is a very large chance they will contract it later in life. The townships in South Africa have one of the highest rates of child rape in the world. These children are in danger every day, all the time, of contracting the disease that has spread like wildfire in their midst. The children know all about HIV/AIDS. They see it everyday, lurking in the shacks of their makeshift community. They have lost parents, aunts,uncles, friends to the disease.
We went away to camp with 140 school age leaders from the local township schools and the incredible Ithemba Lethu staff youth workers. The kids spoke Zulu and a little English and the Americans spoke English and absolutely no Zulu. The goal of the weekend was to hang out with the kids, teach them that they matter, and introduce them to the love of Jesus. We had all kinds of plans. Crafts, beads, balls, jump ropes.... But, when it came down to it, we ended up sitting around a lot, trying to break through the language barrier. We sat with them during meal times, we sat with them during activities. We sat at the piano, teaching them basic notes. We sat and smiled. We had a few significant conversations and we cheered like insane fans during their outside competitions. We walked with them on the beach and showed them how to make bracelets. Then, we sat with them some more. By nature, I'm a task master. I like having to-do lists and outlines. I began to wonder what we were accomplishing. Admittedly, I'm not very good at sitting, resting or just being present.
It just seems terribly inefficient.
Turns out, the sitting around was the best possible gift we could have given these kids. Our very presence, our unrelenting efforts to sit next to them and turn jump ropes for them communicated the very thing we had hoped. That they matter, that they are worth the time of a few crazy Americans. And that God loves them. We gave them the gift of presence. We showed up and stayed. Much like God shows up and stays with all of us. Presence is not something one can quantify or measure. You cannot represent it through statistics or pie charts.
We'd appreciate your prayers as we head off to another camp today.
I can't wait to spend some quality time just sitting around.