I have always lived by the quote, “Who we are is our gift from God, what we become is our gift to God.” Our Sunny Star this week has not only been a gift to God, but to everyone she encounters. Stephanie Hammons is one of my sisters in Chi Omega and she inspires me every day to be a better person. This week’s format is a little different; Stephanie wrote this letter to me and after asking for her permission, I thought it was too lovely to not share. I hope you are just as moved by her journey to Africa as I am and that you too will want to be the change we wish to see in this world, as Gandhi so famously said.
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all of my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” –Philippians 1:3-6.
I was in South Africa for about five weeks. I stayed in a small rural town called White River. The majority of the time I worked in three nearby villages: Kaboqueni, Mbonesweni, and Dwaleni. Within these three villages we did vacation Bible schools where we would share Bible stories, sing worship songs, play games, provide free meals, and just love and spend time with the kids.
I really loved spending time with the kids in the villages. We would teach them American games like Duck Duck Goose and Simon Says and they would teach us many of their native games, which usually involved spirited singing and dancing. Sadly many of the kids are orphans. This is a reality that was hard to comprehend while I was there. I still don’t think I can fully comprehend it. But while I was spending time with the kids it was easy to forget their circumstances because of how joyful and alive they are. The kids immediately would welcome you in and were so affectionate. The love and care I felt for them made me think of how much more God loves those kids. And it is so cool in the Bible to read that God has a heart for the poor and the orphaned and the widow, and His followers should too.
I also helped with weekly feeding programs in each of the three villages. We would arrive in the morning and help prepare the food and then distribute it and hang out with the kids in the afternoon. One of the weeks included helping out with a Soccer Camp that provided free meals and clothing for the children as well. We would do Bible study with the kids, play games, and do soccer drills. The kids love soccer, especially during the excitement of having the world cup in their country. During the Bible study I would lead with help from a local volunteer. She would translate for me and it was so neat to hear the kids share what they were thankful for, what they wanted prayer for, and how they were desiring to draw closer to God.
When I was in Africa, God did and taught me so much. Throughout the whole process of planning the trip to Africa and during the trip itself God taught me a lot about living and walking in faith. It is easy to feel overwhelmed or defeated when you are in a place like Africa where there is so much suffering and injustice. But God reminded me that He is in control and that He has a plan. And we just have to listen to Him and be obedient to what He calls us to do. And as the body of Christ we are called to take care of the widows, the orphans and the poor. This trip reminded me of this truth, and that all followers of Jesus are called to this.
God also taught me that I should look to Him to be my comforter instead of the little material comforts this world has to offer. Being without certain comforts that I usually have at home made me realize that I don’t need them and that God will supply all of my true needs, and that God will be my comforter.
This trip also reminded me about the importance of being obedient when God calls me to do something, and that there truly is nothing worth more than knowing Jesus and living a life following after Him. During my time in Africa I had the blessing of being surrounded by missionaries who left their normal lives to be where God has called them to be and to live for a purpose beyond themselves. God used them to inspire and challenge me. I don’t want to settle for anything less than a life of deeply loving God, loving others, and “making disciples of all nations”.
I would love to return to South Africa some day. I just have one more year of college, and I will be in prayer about what God wants me to do once I graduate. I feel like this trip opened my eyes and my heart to what God has a heart for and the life of loving and serving others that He calls all of His followers to.