When I was young, people always asked me where I would go, if I could visit anywhere. My answer was always “Africa”. On January 7, 2019, my dream journey to South Africa began. With a mixture of nervousness and excitement, I jumped on a plane to Johannesburg, South Africa. The flights were long and I was anxiously awaiting the dream coming true. After nearly two days of travel, we finally arrived in Johannesburg. I will never forget the feeling I had when I looked out the plane window and saw the contrasting colours of green foliage and red soil. In that moment I thought to myself: “this is Africa.” A few days later, as I was hiking up a mountain in the morning, it finally started to set in: I am in the place where I’ve always wanted to be!
It was a hot morning, the kind of heat that leaves you parched no matter how much water you drink. The sun was beating down so hard and, compared to my normal home temperature of -40, it felt oddly refreshing. I was climbing the small mountain that overlooks our camp when, all too quickly, it was hard to catch my breath, so I took a second to sit on a rock nearby. I was struggling to catch my breath and started to panic. I sat there, thinking of everything that could go wrong. As these thoughts entered my mind, I became even more worried and started breathing even more heavily.
Then I looked around and realized that everything around me was still. I was sitting still and everything around me was also still and peaceful. I felt the gentle touch of God’s Spirit come over me with grace, reassuring me that I had nothing to fear and nobody to impress. I started upwards once again and, as I approached the top of the mountain I heard voices. I couldn’t make out whether it was singing or talking, and I thought that maybe it was some of my friends who had left shortly before me.
As I reached the top of the mountain I encountered a cross. I looked around and pointed out another, and then another! There must have been about 30 crosses on the top of this mountain, beautifully representing the sacrifice that our Lord Jesus made for us. I looked over and saw where the voices were coming from. A group of ladies from a nearby village were holding hands, singing beautiful songs of praise in their native language beside one of the crosses. I sat there and listened to their singing and praying in awe.
If I had let my fears defeat me, I never would have experienced this moment. As I looked out at the surrounding mountains, green trees, and bright blue sky, I was overwhelmed by the beauty that God has created in this country, both in nature and in human diversity. The way these ladies praised our God touched my heart and renewed my soul. In that moment I realized that even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, God understands them perfectly, and He understands my prayers as well, spoken aloud or silently within my heart.
That morning blessed me so richly and abundantly! Something I hope to take with me for this adventure, is to be present in all the moments of this journey. Being open to every moment, big or small, because I believe God is speaking to us and reminding us of His love in every one of them. I expect that God has amazing things in store for these next three months in this stunning country that is South Africa.
– Marissa Koop, Site 2 South Africa student, 2018-19
Strangers to Friends
Backing out of the driveway and onto the street, I returned a grateful wave as the gate shut. I punched in my next destination on Google Maps, pleased that the route looked clear and that I would be able to arrive by 11:15 PM. As I turned on some music and drove along the uncommonly quiet highways of Johannesburg towards Pretoria my mind was drawn to reflect upon where I was. After spending the better part of the week in the Soweto area, I had just said goodbye to our long-time partner Mpho Putu and his beautiful family. I was headed for Pretoria, where our group would begin their Afrikaner homestay experience the next day.
As I write this, it has been a week since I returned from my brief, whirlwind trip to South Africa, where I met with country partners and connected with our group. When I tell people at home that I go there for work they often comment on how fortunate I am. I can’t disagree, but not for the reasons you might expect. Yes, it’s is warm and beautiful, but I’m not there to lie on the beach or to surf. The reason I feel privileged to make the trek to South Africa is because of the incredible people that I spend time with.
If you don’t already know, let me make this clear: Outtatown works with some amazing people! Our leaders and students rub shoulders with and learn from inspiring individuals. They are welcomed with great hospitality and warmth and it was my honour to experience just a taste of those relationships while I was in South Africa.
Driving to Pretoria that night, I reflected upon my days with the group in Soweto. While there I had connected with Mpho and his student leaders. Mpho and his brother, Thabo, inspire me through their tireless work to invest in the young people of their hometown. What a privilege it is to pick Mpho’s brain regarding South Africa and its journey towards reconciliation. I eagerly anticipate building my relationship with Mpho and his extended family, both in the coming months and when I visit again next year.
While in South Africa I had the pleasure of connecting with numerous other partners. I joined Ilse and her family for a Sunday afternoon braai in Pretoria. I prayed with the Gould family as they put their sons to bed in Pietermaritzburg. I shared biscuits and pop with the Indian church leaders in Durban. These are but a few of the significant relational moments that I delighted in.
In his book Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson writes, “Friendship takes what’s common in human experience and turns it into something holy.”
The beauty of Outtatown is that, through the program, strangers become friends. The common experiences shared between friends are truly holy. These friendships urge us to follow Jesus. I give thanks for the hospitable and inspiring friends who give so much to Outtatown.
– Tim Cruickshank, Outtatown Program Manager