People often ask me what I did when I was in South Africa. Did I help build a school? Dig a well? Teach classes? Play with orphans?
They seem a little disappointed when I tell them that I didn't do anything. This trip wasn't about doing--it was about listening, supporting, and learning. And boy did I do a lot of that!
This was called an "advocacy trip," and it was so different from other humanitarian trips that I've been on in the past. When I've been part of more traditional mission trips, it has sometimes troubled me that we show up for a week or a semester, do a little service, and then leave. It's always an amazing and fun experience for me, but I often wonder if we've done any lasting good.
This is why I was so drawn to this particular service trip. Take Action Ministry, the South African non-profit that hosted our trip, has a beautiful and godly development model. Instead of showing up as the heroes who are going to bestow solutions on poor communities, they find powerful leaders within those disadvantaged communities--faith-filled relentless warriors who are already doing all that they can to help those around them, even with limited resources.
Take Action then becomes a temporary bridge to the resources they need to further their work. They discuss the vision of the local leader with them, and then they help them apply for government funding, build quality facilities, access donations, and receive training, mentorship, and education. They become advocates for these leaders who are changing their own communities.
This development model is sustainable because it is not dependent on outsiders--it's about empowering those people who know their communities best. They are aware of the political, social, and environmental shifts that affect the work. They can do more than just visit twice a year to oversee things; they are there day-in-and-day-out. They are in it for the long haul.
I went to South Africa because I want to help. I want to come along side these heroes in their work and become an advocate for them. I wasn't totally sure what we would be doing, and I didn't know anyone else who would be on the trip--but I felt so strongly that I should go.
Honestly, I was scared stiff about traveling that far, leaving my kids for so long, and contracting weird illnesses (I might have a slight issue with hypochondria and it's possible that I packed the entire medicine cabinet), but Ryan and I prayed about the opportunity, and I just felt like I needed to take this risk in order to learn and to grow closer to God.
I am so, SO glad that I did. It was one of the most life-changing weeks of my life, not only because of what I saw and experienced but mostly because of the people I met. They showed me a new way to live and give.
Today I want to introduce you to the leaders of Take Action Ministry. In a few days I will introduce you to the remarkable rural community leaders and programs that they work with. Truly, I have never met people who so perfectly embody the scripture in Matthew 16: "Whosoever will lose his life for my sake will find it." I think you will see what I mean after you get to know them a little...
This is Wanda. She is the heart behind Take Action Ministry. She was living in Pretoria, a developed and beautiful city, but she had witnessed the heart-breaking poverty just minutes away in the rural townships outside the city, and she knew she had to do something to help. She started by reaching out to just one family--and over the years, her involvement with various communities, schools, and projects grew. A few years ago, she decided to make it official and started the non-profit with her incredible husband, Pete.
This is Pete. He just exudes love and joy--as you can see from the photo. He is a doctor who has devoted his life to service (he's been practicing for over 45 years!). He treated black patients during the years of apartheid, even though it was unpopular. I have never met someone with such a close connection to God--his prayers are so heartfelt, so sincere. It was beyond powerful to be lead in prayer by Pete. It's an experience I will never forget. These photos were taken when Pete was praying, and I feel like you can see the sincerity, just in the gestures of his hands.
Perhaps the most amazing thing that Pete and Wanda have accomplished together is their family. They got married a little later in life, after they had both lost a spouse, and they have loved and raised each others' children. And then in their later years, when most couples are settling into retirement and traveling, they have adopted four children from the rural townships. They came to know of their desperate situations due to their work in those communities, and they welcomed them into their home. A couple of their adopted children have intense medical needs, but they have thrived under Pete's medical care and Wanda's nurturing. So amazing. Their youngest is 4-years-old and Pete is 70--but he gives her piggy back rides and plays with her like any young dad, and it is just incredible to watch their bond.
Pete and Wanda have truly handed their lives over to God, and even though the sacrifices that they've made appear challenging to those of us on the outside, they radiate joy. Wanda said she is living her dream. I will never be the same after meeting this remarkable couple.
This is Annelien--the most beautiful woman I've ever met! Can you see the kindness in her eyes? It was the first thing I noticed about her when we met. She runs the administration of Take Action Ministry, managing the financials of all the various projects, communicating with local leaders, and coordinating all of their efforts. Here she is explaining one of their many projects, and she knows every detail.
She originally started at Take Action as a volunteer, but she eventually left her high-paying job in corporate finance to join the non-profit full-time. She is absolutely brilliant, so competent, and, most importantly, amazing at reaching out and connecting with people. Look at how these community leaders adore her because they can feel her genuine love and concern for them:
I grew to admire this woman fiercely in the week that I spent with her. This is one of my favorite photos from the trip because it's my two heroes together, both reading scripture--Gogo reading from her Bible in Setswana, and Annelein reading from her cell phone, translating into English. I want to be just like these godly women when I grow up!!
Jonna told me about how she has transformed personally as a result of their experience in South Africa, going from someone who felt lost and struggled with extreme depression to someone who is a powerful leader and a tenacious advocate for those in need. Seeing her with the people, she just belongs. It was absolutely incredible to hear about how much she has changed while in God's service.
And last, but certainly not least, I want to tell you about Crystal. Crystal is the American blogger that I mentioned in my previous post who put together this advocacy trip. She initially got involved in South Africa when one of her friends, Lisa Jo Baker (who is actually Pete's daughter) invited her to help with a fundraiser for a water point and playground for one of the community centers.
With the help of their blog readers, Crystal and Lisa-Jo raised the money, and then went to South Africa to see the project for themselves. Crystal fell in love with the country, the people, and the work that Take Action is doing. She felt convicted that she needed to stay involved and do more. She came home from the trip and asked her husband if they could fund all of the operating expenses of Take Action Ministry, and he agreed. Their family has been inseparably involved ever since, even bringing their three young children to visit earlier this year.
The next step for Crystal was to invite some of her blog readers to join in this work, and that's how I found out about it. I have followed Crystal's blog for a while and just admired and trusted her, so I decided to apply. Five other "advocates" joined me, and along with a few people from Crystal's team and from Help One Now (the American non-profit that has partnered with Take Action), it was such a varied and amazing group. None of us knew each other before going, and we came away with such deep friendships and incredible shared experiences.
And beneath all of her success and competence, she's still that gentle, humble, kind-hearted mother, and I think children can feel that. Everywhere we went in South Africa, kids flocked to her and wanted to be held.
Pete and Wanda, Annelein, Jonna and Darin, and Crystal have given their lives and hearts to God, and I want to be like them. I am better because I know them.
To read about the amazing leaders in the rural communities that Take Action Ministry works with, click here!