Saturday, November 12, 2016

Come with Me to South Africa and Meet the Heroes There

I wish that each of you could've come with me to South Africa, to hug the children, hear the singing, feel the Spirit of the people, and have your hearts and lives changed.  The next best thing I can give you is this full report of the people I met and the work they are doing.  And thankfully, a super talented photographer was on the trip with me, Kyle Shultz of Shultz Photo School, so you get to see his beautiful images along with my words.  I hope it will give you a taste of my experience.

Last week, I wrote about the amazing leaders of Take Action Ministry, who are finding heroes within disadvantaged communities in rural South Africa and empowering them with the support and resources that they need to further their work.  Today I'd like to introduce you to some of those inspiring community leaders:

You already met the incredible Gogo. And if you missed that post, please go back and read it because you are going to fall in love with this precious woman, just like I did!  Of everyone on my trip, Gogo made the deepest imprint on my heart.  I plan to frame a photo of her hands--weathered from a lifetime of service, immersed in the Word of God--to hang on my wall.  She just exudes such closeness to the Lord.  In fact after she read scripture to our group of volunteers, she said with tears in her eyes, "I know Him!  I know Him!"

I want to know Him too, in the way that Gogo does.

Gogo's daughter Elizabeth has built an incredibly powerful after-school program for the children in their community out of Gogo's small home.  This is needed because many rural South African women are employed as domestic helpers in the cities, which means they have to travel to work two hours each way by crowded buses.  Their children are left unsupervised before and after school, fending for themselves in communities that don't have consistent access to food and water. These children can also become victims of sexual assault or be targeted by drug dealers who want to use them to sell drugs.  Most of these households do not have fathers in their home, and some are even headed by older children.

So Elizabeth started the Reagoboka Drop-in Centre to give these children a safe, loving place to go while their mothers are at work.  It is amazing to see how well it runs: The children come right in after school and line up their backpacks, greet their caregivers with a gentle touch on the arm (a traditional sign of respect), wash their hands, and line up for a snack.  Then it's time for homework help and singing practice.  There's something in the children's eyes that says, "I am cared for.  I am happy.  I have a community that loves me."  It is very different from many of the other children that I saw around South Africa.  There is a beautiful spark of hope.

The younger children are part of a preschool that is overseen by the lovely Miss Sophy.  With the help of donations, Reagoboka was able to build a two-room preschool behind Gogo's house and receive funding for Sophy to be trained in Early Childhood Development, and it has made an immense difference.  She has learned how to use a lesson plan, how to teach with questions and interactive activities, and how to problem solve to make her lessons more effective for young children.  Surprisingly, most caregivers and teachers of young children in rural areas do not have the skills or natural instinct to teach in this way because they were not taught or raised in this way themselves.  An incredible organization called Abba's Pride has an Early Childhood Development training program that Sophy has been able to attend, and she has really taken ownership of her classroom and "her kids" as she calls them.  It is so beautiful to witness.


While I was observing all of this happy busyness at Reagoboka, I caught Gogo's eye across the courtyard.  She was sitting under a tree in the shade reading her Bible, and when she saw me watching her, she grinned and started pointing toward heaven with both hands, reminding me where to give the praise and glory.  My heart about burst on the spot.

Beyond just caring for the children before and after school, the Reagoboka Drop-In Center also sends caregivers into the community to do home visits and check on the most vulnerable children's families. It reminds me of a social work program, but the social workers don't just show up to observe, make notes, and leave--they step in to really help.  They will lend a hand with childcare, wash clothes, prepare meals, assess needs, make a plan of action, and really get to know and love the families.  It is a remarkable model of Christlike love for the children and families of a community in need.

The Reagoboka Drop-In Centre is a place of overwhelming hope.   It was like being washed over with a wave of joy and relief after witnessing so much hopelessness in other places we visited, and it helped me to envision what is possible at other community centres where Take Action Ministry is involved.  I am clearly not the only person who has noticed this, as many other after-school centres in South Africa have been coming to Reagoboka to observe their model and their systems so they can emulate them. 

Thanks to the amazing leadership and faith of Gogo and Elizabeth, the message of hope is spreading.  Truly, as the kids sing in this video, "Let us go and praise the Lord!'

I want to tell you about another incredible after-school program that I had the privilege to visit.

This is Pastor Robert Nemalili and his beautiful wife, Mokgadi.  They run Horn of Salvation After Care, and it is held behind their humble home.  Like Reagoboka, kids from the community come after school to receive a meal (usually a bowl of vitamin fortified porridge) and to get help with homework and reading.

Amazingly, Pastor Robert and Mokgadi don't receive any sort of compensation for their work with these children--they just do it out of the goodness of their hearts.  I can't imagine welcoming dozens of kids into my backyard every day after school to help them with school work, but Mokgadi and Robert consider it a calling and a blessing.  

They all meet on a small patch of dirt behind their house, under a ripped tarp, and incredible learning takes place.  Mokgadi has never been formally trained as a teacher,  but she has a God-given talent for teaching children to read.

Starting in Grade 4, South African children must pass year-end exams in order to move on to the next grade.  For children in rural schools, this is extremely difficult and as many as 50% do not pass.  They start to fall behind, year after year, and many eventually drop out of school.  Mokgadi is intervening and offering remediation for those students who need additional reading help, and last year, all but two of her students passed the national exam!  (And the only reason that those two didn't pass is because they started with Mokgadi mid-year and didn't have enough time to catch up.)  She is so gifted that teachers from around the area are begging to send more students to her after-school program.

Fortunately, thanks to help from Take Action Ministry with petitioning a Christian organization for a building and raising funds for its renovation, Horn of Salvation has just moved out of the Nemalili's backyard into a bigger, safer facility.  They will be able to expand their services to bless more children starting this month!

I'm sure there will be lots of music and dancing in celebration of their new facility, as that his what these kids do best.  We were privileged to see an hour-long music performance under the ripped tarp in the Nemalili's backyard.  Mokgadi loves music, and she has passed that on to these beautiful children.  It was an afternoon I will never forget.


 You must see it for yourself!  Click the video below.  And watch their amazing swishy skirts--they made those themselves out of grocery sacks!

Reading, music, dance, joy, and love--all happening behind one humble little house in South Africa.  I absolutely loved meeting the children there.

The last project that I want to highlight today is an amazing place called Busetsa Wood, started by Take Action Ministry and now run by a remarkable man named Peet.

Busetsa is a Setswana word meaning "to take back or renew," and the mission of this woodshop is to help vulnerable young men take back their lives by becoming skilled woodworkers. Many of these young men come from broken homes without the influence of loving fathers; most have fallen behind in school and have had to drop out, making it impossible for them to find good employment. Peet teaches them how to use reclaimed pallet wood to build amazingly beautiful décor and furniture.  He lives there on the premises with his wife and seven children, who also help to run a small orphanage there, and it's just such a beautiful ministry.

There are so many remarkable things about this work.  First of all, the mentorship between Peet and the young men.  It is truly an apprenticeship where he can work with them one-on-one, building their skills slowly until they have mastered what they need to know--and all the while, talking to them about life, the Gospel, work ethic, and what it means to care for a family. 

Second, the job creation for local young men--and jobs close to home.  As I already mentioned, most jobs are in the cities, which would take these men away from their families day and night.  When Take Action set up the Busetsa woodshop, they purposely looked for a location that would be very close to the rural communities that they serve, so people could easily walk there.  They hope that the woodshop will grow and create jobs for many men in the area, so they can stay closer to their families.

And finally, another really hopeful aspect of this work is its potential for growth.  South Africa has developed industry and economy in the big cities, which gives small businesses like Busetsa a market and opportunity for growth.  A lot of African countries have programs for locals to make handicrafts but no market to sell those products within their own countries (so Americans must sell the products in the USA), whereas Busetsa can really grow into a thriving business on its own, without being dependent on outsiders. They've already been commissioned to do all of the furniture for a restaurant within a nearby safari park, and they've been able to do some product bids with Toyota trucks and elsewhere.  They also hope to eventually export to the United States and other countries.  No doubt the company will continue to grow, as will their impact on the lives of many young men and families in the Hamaanskraal area.  And to think, it's all made of reclaimed pallet wood!

Don't you just love the Africa that they made for each of the advocates that came on my trip?  It is a treasure that I will keep forever.

So many amazing people and programs...and in every single case, it started with one person noticing one need in their community...and then taking one step to do something to help....and oh how it has grown and grown and transformed lives.  It is truly amazing how God can do that.

I hope these people have touched you as much as they have touched me.

Last, I will tell you about one final hero, Pastor Norman--a man who is reaching out to a group of 400 children in his extremely rural community.  This is probably the neediest of all of the communities that I visited, and while I initially felt totally overwhelmed by the need, my feelings started to shift as I saw how full of hope Pastor Norman is for what the Lord can accomplish there.  My  heart longs to help, and I will be doing some fundraising for this amazing cause.  I can't wait to let you know how you can help too.

Click here to


  1. Amazing!! And these pictures?!? Wow!

  2. Ok, that brought me to tears. Seriously. I sit around feeling sorry for myself because of my little problems and the few imperfections in my charmed life, and WOW. Look what is happening in the world and what children and living - and even THRIVING - through! I can't wait to see how I can help as well!

    Also, those pictures?! WOWZER!!!

  3. This is so humbling and inspiring all at once! How beautiful they all are- it really touched my heart... Thank you so much for sharing this...I can't wait to see how I can help as well!! And those pictures and videos...I know it sounds crazy but I just want to hug them all!! ❤️

  4. Thanks for sharing Rachel. I just love the photos. Oh to be that good at photography. To capture the essence of each person! Well done. With Love and Laughter, rodney


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