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Zanele and Sibusisile

Experiencing South Africa

“Ngokuba uNkulunkulu walithanda izwe kangaka, waze wanikela ngeNdodana yakhe ezelwe yodwa ukuba yilowo nalowo okholwa yiyo angabhubhi, kodwa abe nokuphila okuphakade.” —John 3:16

Zulu, one of South Africa’s eleven official languages, is such a fascinating, beautiful language! Quoted at left is the beloved Bible passage many know by heart, John 3:16. This was one of the many passages that I reflected upon during my two-month volunteer trip in May 2018 to the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa, where I assisted in two early education centers for the local South African children. What led me to this opportunity? This leap of faith? My first experience of South Africa (and first time out of the U.S.!) began with a 17-day tour with the Concordia University Chicago Wind Symphony in May 2017. Every four years, the Wind Symphony has the opportunity to travel abroad for a two-week tour, so when it was time to plan the 2017 trip, Dr. Fischer knew right away that we needed to experience the breathtaking culture of South Africa.

Themba churchWithin those two-and-a-half weeks, we had six Reformation-based concerts that shared a bit of our culture and integrated the African culture into our music. Visiting the sights of Johannesburg, Kruger National Park (you MUST experience a true African safari one day!), Cape Town, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, and various rural villages was life changing. ​My favorite part of the journey was when we ventured to Themba Trust, a Lutheran school serving grades 9-12 in the rural Mpumalanga region. UwaPerforming for the students and receiving a concert from them, which included traditional tribal songs, praise chants, and lots of dancing, showed me that these students were the reason I wanted to go back. We were housed in similar conditions as the students, at the base of a mountain (with lots of hyenas) in small huts, with only cots to sleep on and barely any running water. The most breathtaking moment was at night, when the galaxies exploded in the night sky, and God showed us one of His best creations — a clear, unpolluted starry night.

Girls from PongoloNot only did I find God through the nature of South Africa, I found him in the people. It is a very God-loving country, with a majority of the population being Christian. It is also a country that needs a lot of help. Over 50 percent of the population of South Africa is under the age of 15, which means that there are millions of orphans and children without families. The education programs are in crisis and are not finding enough teachers and government support to create the classrooms needed for this young generation. Through the Lutheran Education Association of Southern Africa, they are determined to ​“​.... link, equip and encourage Christian educators and workers in Ministry by following the core values of grace, Christian character, servant leadership, excellence and collaboration​.

One of the main services that LEA-SA provides is the opportunity to open early education centers through Lutheran parishes throughout the country. They create a unique business plan, curriculum training, administration documents, Christian teacher training, and other opportunities for educational workshops. Financial advice, budgeting, building plans, and other important foundations are supported through their assistance. While they are actively training Christian teachers throughout the country, they are always​ open for volunteers. That’s where I came in!

Helga Hambrock, born and raised in South Africa, is a Senior Instructional Designer and Assistant Professor at Concordia University Chicago. She is also a founding member and first chair of the Lutheran Education Association for South Africa. I got to know Helga from the first Wind Symphony tour. She helped plan and guide us through that life-changing event. She also reached out to us and described their need for summer volunteers to serve in South Africa. I knew immediately that God was calling me towards this.

In order to go on this journey, I had to raise money for the airline ticket. By God’s grace, the host families I was going to stay with offered me all housing accommodation and food, so that decreased the costs greatly. I still cannot express how grateful I am for the people the Lord blessed me with in my life—through family, friends, and members of my congregation, I was able to raise the $1,200 dollars needed for a ticket to Johannesburg. Even before the journey, I felt God’s hand leading me towards this nation.

Upon arriving, I stayed in Pretoria for a few days to recuperate from the 17-hour flight (plus a 10-hour layover in London). There, I was able to go on a game drive in a national park, where I saw tons of wildebeest, hyenas, and even giraffes!

I went on to Luneburg, nestled within the western region of the KwaZulu-Natal state. ​This area is filled with breathtaking mountains, valleys, rolling hills, farmland, rivers, and so much wildlife! It’s really indescribable; it is a land filled with beauty and God’s richest blessings in His creations. It was such a joy helping at the ​Pongolo Valley Primary School!​ This is a preschool-kindergarten-grade 1 school with about 75 children. What a blessing to these kids to receive such a wonderful education! The children were all Zulu-speaking natives, who are already beginning to learn English. It was definitely a huge educational experience for me to work with students with such a large language barrier. But kids are kids, and they are such a joy to work with!

children playing at PongoloRuth Beneke, founder of Pongola Valley Primary, created this school with her own will and money. For the sake of the children in this region, she has dedicated great time and effort to enrich the children’s lives through quality education and the Gospel. If you are interested in seeing updates about Pongola Valley, feel free to explore their Facebook page. Donations are always welcome, as well!

It was a refreshing way of life. I became at peace with myself, especially during the early morning walks and sunset hikes I savored. God’s creation is truly full of wonders and breathtaking beauty. Words and pictures cannot describe the true extent of the goodness He has blessed us with on this earth.

Even now, I miss hearing the chittering of the morning birds, the fresh mountain air, the hazy clouds resting on the earth, the (many) cows mooing, my heavy breathing when I struggled to climb up a slight incline (my poor calves still hurt), and just being in awe of the beauty around me. Thank you, Jesus.

Of course, the school was a great experience as well! The kids were little stinkers (they caught on that I couldn’t understand much Zulu and liked to use that against me at times!) yet were so enthusiastic to be at school, to learn, and were just so fun to get to know. It’s amazing to think how far these children will go one day. They have so much potential.

After leaving Pongola Valley, I spent my remaining time at the Vulingqondo Primary School, a part of the Umbilo Lutheran Church, which is preschool and kindergarten. The children were from the inner city and consequently had more experience with English! It was amazing to interact with these children and see their love for education and Jesus.

The greatest thing I learned from this trip, is that kids are kids, no matter what their background, location, family life, wealth, quality of life, language, etc. The innocence of a child is one of the most precious gifts that God has blessed our earth with, and He has given us the responsibility to educate and encourage positive growth and faith in them.

I think that’s pretty beautiful, yeah? Siyabonga, Jesu! (​Thank you, Jesus!)

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika! (​Lord bless Africa!)

Eden Schultz is a student at Concordia University Chicago.

Auther and children

Photos courtesy of the author.