Just Like Old Friends

For the past few weeks, every morning, my team and I have piled into a van and driven to a township called Olievenhoutbosch. It’s a place where I’ve seen real material poverty, yet so much Light has shone through. We’ve been working at one of the schools there, each of us assigned to a different class. I’ve been with one of the grade 3 classes and I will love those kiddos forever. The kids aren’t served lunch at school unless their parents can afford to send them to the after school program, otherwise they bring lunch or a snack to eat during break. But never once have I seen a kid without food during break time. Everyone shares with each other, they take care of one another. It’s beautiful.

Last Friday the kids had a “fun day” to reward them, because all week they had been taking tests. Each kid was given 3 tickets, one for a hotdog, one for a cold drink, and one for a party pack full of candy. Ongeziwe, (he’s so creative, always drawing little people that he cuts out and passes out to the class to play with) he leans over to me and says, “Ma’am, I am going to buy you a cold drink.” That is love. He doesn’t have much, yet was willing to give up his cold drink for me. The kids here are so rich in love.

But there’s also a lot of hurt here, a lot of brokenness. Ongeziwe, the same kid who offered me his cold drink, asked me the other day “Ma’am do you beat children?” I told him no, I would never beat anyone, but then a couple other kids joined in, “Ma’am if you don’t beat children they won’t respect you!” This broke my heart, because that’s the culture here. They come to school and we shower them with hugs, but when they go home many of them get beat. A grade 2 student, named Duncan (I don’t know him very well but last week he kept hanging out with me after school) came to me and said “ma’am, I have a scrape on my leg.” He began rolling up his pant leg to show me, and I’m imagining a small scrape because he wasn’t acting like he was in pain or anything, but in reality it was a deep gash. I could see straight through the skin on his leg and the wound was gaping open. I asked him how it had happened “My friend and I got in a fight ma’am, he had a knife and cut my leg.” All I could do was hug him.

There is brokenness in Olieven, just like in the United Staes, just like anywhere. And it’s not because the people here are materially poor, but because we’re all spiritually poor. But I can’t fix that. Only Christ can, only He can provide the type of radical reconciliation that our world needs. Christ has just called me to simply be with these people, share meals with them, join in on their jokes and conversations, and to have full confidence in Him and His mighty works. I’m here so that God can use these relationships to further His kingdom. I’m here to learn alongside these people about what hope and love in Christ truly is. I am here to join these people in prayer. I am here to hold their hands. I am here to give a hug.

Thursday was our last day at Olieven. My heart is broken after saying good bye to all these kids that have become my friends. But it is also so full remembering the laughs, and joy that we shared. Thursday during the after school program we all joined our classes and had a dance off. My grade 3 kids planned our dance themselves and honestly we got out there and killed it. Let me tell ya, I wish I had video proof, but as my grade 3 friend Timoteo (he’s all confidence and too cool for school, but as I got to know him, he’s also so full of love and always busting a dance move) put it, “Ma’am, we were number 1.” I share this memory because it was such a moment of being a part of their community. I was like an old friend, joining in on their dances. And so many moments like this have happened with these kids, them allowing me to join in on their inside jokes, teaching me their games, sharing their food with me. I’m overflowing with gratefulness.

Because of these kids I know Jesus Christ and His love better. He is so clearly shining through their brokenness. In the past few weeks I’ve witnessed both the joy and the sadness in this beautiful township. I see Jesus clearly at work here, but I’m also heartbroken over some of the stories I’ve heard from these kids. These kids know about Jesus, but I pray that they truly KNOW Him. That they know that they are loved and they are worth it, because Christ loves them and their worth is found in their Creator. My eyes fill with tears because I have learned to love these kids, I love them so much, and when they ask me “Ma’am are you going to come back?” “Ma’am will we see you again?” and then “Ma’am, no maybes, please say yes!” all I can say is, I don’t know. Because I don’t know if God will bring me back to Olievenhoutbosch (Although I truly pray He does and my grade 3 kids are praying too), but I do know that if they truly KNOW Christ I will see them again in heaven where we will rejoice, and laugh, and dance together again, just like old friends.