Well….we could not have scripted a better ending to our experience. We seriously feel so fortunate to have had the final day of winding down and enjoying a pretty incredible safari experience. Our team enjoyed a spectacular game drive seeing elephants, giraffes, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, baboons, monkeys….aaaaand seeing a bit too much of the lions. We had a pretty remarkable experience with a few lions and they put on a show for our team….let’s just say spring is in the air 🙂 At one point we were within 5 feet of the lions staring straight at us through and open to the air jeep. Some of our team were a bit nervous 🙂
We then had a chance to enjoy supper overlooking the Kruger river, a swim in the pool, and getting caught in a torrential downpour and lightning show. It was a well deserved wind-down by a team that has invested a lot. We thought we’d share a few highlight photos of our drive.
We said goodbye to a couple of our team members in Johannesburg as they headed out to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and our team now finds itself awaiting our final flight back to Winnipeg in the Toronto airport. We are a tired bunch….but head home with our hearts so full & with a sense that we have become fmily over these past couple of weeks. We are grateful to God that he has gifted us with the last couple of days and a smooth journey home thus far. Hopefully we will be on Winnipeg soil in a few hours giving our families giant hugs at the bottom of the escalator!
As I write this we are driving through the mountains en route to South Africa. Our time in Swaziland has come to a close. Once again, there is a collective feeling of gratitude & a powerful sense that God has moved in our midst. A couple months ago when we began gathering together as a team to prepare our group, we put out the challenge for each individual to be fully open to what God wants to do in their lives through this experience. To those that had been before, we asked that they remain open to God doing something new. To those that had never been, we simply said “be open and God will do remarkable things.” Many days later as this experience comes to a close these words have now come to fruition. God has indeed moved powerfully within our team. For some, we have been shaken to the core. For some, it has dug down deep. For some, our hearts have been broken. For all of us God has revealed himself through these precious friends. I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 13 when he says God’s kingdom is like discovering a fortune buried in a field….when you find it you would sell everything you have to buy the field knowing that it holds things far more valuable in comparison. This feels like a great way to put into words some of what we feel.
Our final day at Enaleni was again a significant one. We treasured the final moments with the children. We took some time to celebrate the Gogo’s (the grandmothers) who are the ones that started caring for the kids before any supports were available. They have been faithfully caring for these children for over a decade….faithfully….everyday. It is always humbling to be among them.
Today was also significant because we had an opportunity to visit the home of S’petho, the child who tragically passed away last month. There was six of us that had known him that went to express to the household that we were grieving with them and praying for them. I can’t put into words how meaningful this visit was. There is something sacred and incredibly privileged to be invited into someone’s grief and this was what happened for us. We were welcomed into their vulnerabilities even in the midst of a culture where this is a rare experience. We shared with them how much he meant to us and how grateful we were to have known him. Together we all had a chance to pray for the homestead and to visit his grave. In Swaziland it is common practice to bury your family on your homestead. We all gathered together, shed many tears & stood in solidarity with his parents.
The afternoon we gathered with the many children to sing our last songs together….to share our encouragements to them….and to pray over our children one last time. In our final minutes we played as hard as we could and the care point was full of laughter & joy. We were drenched in sweat as we played an epic game of catch the Canadians, as Andy and Adam got their last workouts hoisting children in their, and a few of our team members engaged in some pretty significant conversations with some of the older teenagers.
We also had the opportunity to share supper with the Langa family (Pastor Peter & Precious and their children) and to shower them with encouragements, gifts, and just connect with them over some extended conversations. Their friendship and partnership is a gift to us and we had a chance to pray a blessing over them on behalf of Riverwood.
There is much reflection yet to be done. For now, we are all exhaling a bit, feeling the satisfaction of knowing we put our full selves into the past 8 days. We are excited to experience a bit more of Africa as we take in a half-day safari and to spend an evening together with our experiences now packed away to bring home.
We are off to hang with the elephants and rhinos 🙂
As our last day at Bhobokazi was winding down, I found myself in a quiet moment leaning up against a fence post just outside the grounds of our care point. While quiet reflective moments are certainly not plentiful on these trips, this moment seemed to grab a hold of me. The noise of kids and adults laughing, playing, singing was hanging in the air and yet there was an almost silence that hovered over the valley of Bhobokazi nestled in between the mountains. My heart erupted with emotion as I considered where we have been and how far we have come. I was moved to tears as I considered how amazing it is to be a part of this and the words that rang through the air amidst the beautiful hum of activity were “God I am amazed at what you have done.” It seems to me that moments like this define for me the most intimate worship experiences….where action & faith intersect and we are given a glimpse of how God’s hand moves in the midst of that.
Today was emotional. It was our last day with our kids at Bhobokazi. It still amazes me every year how significant a connection can be made in such a short time. It was tough to say goodbye. We again encountered a few heartbreaking stories of children whose innocence seems to be stolen by an oppressive force around them. Stories of young teenagers forced to raise a family alone on a homestead. Stories of a mother who lost 5 of her 6 children due to the effects of poverty. When we literally come face to face with these stories we cannot help but have our hearts broken for them.
At the very same time, in the middle of the heartbreak, we are overjoyed. If there was a better word for overjoyed I would love to use it because that doesn’t do justice to what our hearts feel. There are so many incredible things happening at Bhobokazi. Today we were able to watch the graduation celebration for some of the older kids that have completed the Ngesikhatsi training, a program designed to teach teenagers how to deal with grief. It is having a massive impact on them. We are so thrilled to see Mduduzi (the care point Shepherd) investing so much into the children. Again, a story of a child that emerged from the care point and was invested into. Now he is leading them. What a picture of how our help can resource a local solution. Swazi’s helping Swazi’s.
Once again our team did amazing. They invested everything they have. Every drop of sweat, every tear shed, every hug held a little longer, every smile exchanged. These children were loved. It is an incredible gift for us to be given the opportunity to represent you all in this place and to count ourselves as the faces and touches of each of our sponsoring friends back home. To all you reading that invest into monthly sponsorship, please hear us as loud as you can….thank you. It is making a huge difference.
Tonight we enjoyed a rather competitive and intense game of Skip-bo where some of our team saw a side of their pastors that they may not have known about. We are doing well….we are tired but the fulfilled kind of tired. Tomorrow we put our all into our final day here on the ground at Enaleni before turning our eyes to home. Can’t believe we are almost done….it just goes to fast. – Jon