Well friends, it's been an intense, wonderful, crazy, emotional, amazing and life-changing three weeks here in Olievenhoutbosch! I feel like I have already learned so much that even if the trip ended now, I I would already be different when I go home. Yet we still have another leg of the adventure to experience as we travel to Cape Town tomorrow! But as for Olievenhoutbosch...

Firstly, I will share what our basic day looked like. There's 11 people on my team and we all stayed at different host homes throughout the week. So our host families would drop us off at the church in the mornings and we would all pile into "Bileam" (What we affectionately call Hein's taxi van, which is the Afrikaans version of Balaam. So I can officially say I took a donkey to school every day. :)) and ride together to Olievenhoutbosch Christian school to work for the day!

During the mornings from about 8:15 to 10:00 we would assist the teachers in our assigned classrooms. I was placed with grade two, a sweet group of kids who I came to love very much. I helped the teacher, Ma'am Gladys make copies, grade assignments and tests, and helped kids one on one with their work. My favorite part was when I got to teach Bible stories a couple times. I love making the stories come alive and being dramatic, so it was quite fun and I'm pretty sure the kids loved it too. :)

I had 12 kids: Precious, Darren, Olwethu, Owethu, Mtkozisi, Brianna, Mpho #1, Mpho #2, Solomon, Brian, Mandisa, Sanele, and Brian.

At 10 am we take a half hour break. Recess for the kids, tea and coffee time for the team and staff. :) At 10:30, back to class. At 11 or 11:30 (depending on the day), the team went to devotions with the after care staff, otherwise known as the mentors.

By the way, those mentors. Wow. They are amazing.

They are a huge reason why these last three weeks were so impactful to me. There was such a spirit of love and acceptance among them that I felt like they were family after only the first week.  I felt so at home when we worshiped and talked about the Word together; it was the highlight of my day every day. They work as volunteers, so they don't get paid to do what they do, pouring out their lives every day for these kids who stay for after care. They plan games, Bible stories, worship, and other fun activities for the kids, willing to dance and be silly and crazy with them just to make a difference in their lives. They constantly live as Christ-like examples before these children and this community, and their lives point not only the kids to Jesus, but also me and my team. I cannot express how much they encouraged me not just with their words, but with their lives and testimonies. They will always be close to my heart.

After devotions we had lunch with the kids, which was usually pap (a porridge made from ground maize) and some kind of meat and sauce on top, usually with a vegetable like cooked spinach or mashed sweet potatoes on the side. It was different at first, but I got used to it quickly and learned to really enjoy their food. :)

We then commenced after care activities, which were different every day. Some days we had a Bible story or games, but my favorite days were when we had praise and worship and danced with the kids! SO much crazy fun. :) Then we went to our assigned classes and helped with homework until Bileam arrived at 15:30 to take us home and our host families picked us up. Very full days! So much learning, so much fun, and so many challenges. And I am thankful for all of it.

God did some really powerful things in my heart these past few weeks. I learned so much it's hard to process it all. Well, first of all, I learned to dance! And not just any dancing; I learned some South African tribal dances! Dancing in front of people is something I have NEVER been comfortable with. For whatever reason, I always felt judged. But this trip is about getting out of my comfort zone, and I definitely did! (Dancing like a fool to Party in the USA? Yes, definitely out of my comfort zone. :D ) But I think dancing is something God wanted to use in my life to help me discover my freedom. Those children taught me so much, not only about dancing, but about freedom. Children aren't concerned with impressing others; they just dance for the joy of it. If it brings fun and bonding with others, who cares if you look like an idiot? Oh, to be more like a child. :)

Similarly, I learned how to be vulnerable. Specifically, that it's okay to be vulnerable. We all have vulnerabilities, but it's allowing the Lord to use our weaknesses for His glory that makes the difference. And He can't use them very well if we only ever want to hide them. I am learning to trust myself completely to my perfect Father, and not to people's imperfect perceptions of me. Learning that it's okay to let my guard down and just be me, because I'm already accepted in Christ. I'm not perfect, but I am perfectly loved! I am free to rest in His love and expose my weaknesses to Him,  because I'm covered by grace.

Exposing your heart (in the right circumstances) can be painful, but it's so freeing and healing for the soul. It's a good pain, a growing pain. It's allowing God to tear the mask off your heart that you used to make yourself feel comfortable around others and appear well. It's allowing the Healer to rip the bandage off your festering wound so He can breathe life and healing into the pain. Because hiding our wounds never helped anything.

But when we allow the growing pain and self finally gets out of the way, joy and love can flow freely in your relationships. Your focus is on enjoying and blessing others, instead of always trying to hide your flaws and appear good enough. There is so much freedom to just love and be loved, which is what we were created for anyway. Once you get past the pain, you discover the blissful freedom on the other side. Your heart is unburdened. You are free. It's amazing, and so worth it.

 Over all, I'm learning what exactly this "abundant life" really is that Christ offers us. It's something that can't be taught, it must be experienced through the Holy Spirit.

So, those are my deep thoughts. I hope they can bring you encouragement in some way!

Tomorrow we are off for the next adventure with Jesus! We are leaving for Darling, a small farming community in the Western Cape tomorrow; it will be about a 20 hour bus ride and we will arrive Thursday afternoon! We will be working with youth and children there, and it will be a lot more intense! I'm so excited! Prayers for the journey are appreciated! Thank you SO much to all of you who have so generously supported me through prayers and donations on this journey!

Friends, keep pressing into freedom, resting in Perfect Love, and discovering the fullness of life that Christ died to give us! <3

John 10:10 The Message

"I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of..."