It was on the plane from Newark, New Jersey, to Johannesburg, South Africa, that I realized what I was doing. I was travelling 8,500 miles from my family in Southwest Ohio to the country of South Africa. I’d never been outside of North America and certainly not without my parents. This was crazy, but I had chosen to follow where the Spirit led, which meant three weeks of the unknown and potential discomfort.
Just months earlier, I was planning to be on a trip to Romania. But after a few things fell through, I started looking for other trips that needed another member. I felt drawn to orphan care but wasn’t sure where that desire was coming from. I also was interested in visiting Africa but thought again that this may have been for selfish reasons as I have family members from Africa. Then one day I got an email to stop by the Global Outreach office and it seemed like I couldn’t get there fast enough. I was anxious to get on another trip. I was handed a list of open trips, about six or seven of them, and toward the bottom of the list was a trip to South Africa with the description “orphan care.” I immediately took interest in this trip and was accepted to it that day. That day was five months exactly from the day our team left.
Let me introduce you to Bethesda Outreach. Bethesda is a group of foster homes, all on the same property, that cares for orphans. They do this by placing each child in a Christian home with a mom, dad, and siblings. The house parents love and serve the children in their house by exposing them to the Gospel. The Bethesda property also houses a school, Jabulane Christian Academy. Most of the kids living on the property attend JCA, but the majority of JCA students are from the community. JCA has about 250 students. The school provides children with a great education and exposes them to the Gospel.
We arrived at the Bethesda Outreach Team Center about 10 p.m. local time. We unpacked some groceries and quickly headed to bed. We were exhausted. I think we all slept well that night, but it was very cold. When we arrived, it was winter in South Africa. During the day it felt nice, especially in the sun. It would get up to about 75 degrees Fahrenheit. But, during the night, it got down between 30-40 degrees Fahrenheit. To top it off, there is no central heating, so wintertime means sleeping in sweatshirts and layers of blankets.
Some of our time in South Africa was spent doing service projects on Bethesda’s property. We painted fences and trim, we helped pave a walkway for the school children, and we painted sidewalk games around the playground. We also helped organize books in the school library and ran a concession shop for the kids when they hosted another team for soccer and netball matches.
When we weren’t working on a service project, we spent time with the kids. They finished school and homework about 3:30 each afternoon. When they came outside, we played games. Mostly soccer. But also, netball (a variation of basketball), capture the flag, and ultimate frisbee. My favorite memory from playing with the kids was when we decided to challenge them to a soccer game. The Cedarville team vs. the Bethesda team. The Cedarville team decided that we would all wear the same shirt to look like a uniform and we all put eye black on to make us look tougher. We marched to the turf field together playing rap music. We were ready to play soccer. But the number of kids on the Bethesda team seemed to multiply and we got crushed. They were way better at soccer than we were. We would play with the kids outside each afternoon until it was too dark to keep playing (about 6 p.m.)
In the evenings, we ate our dinner together and then prepared for that night’s activities. We took turns hosting each individual family over after dinner for ice cream sundaes. We also had the highschoolers/ young adults over a few times for game nights. The evenings were some of the sweetest times for me because we got to spend more one-on-one time with the families or teenagers. This time allowed us to get to know the house parents better and connect with them. We got to encourage them and thank them for what they were doing. We also got to pray for them. The house parents were such a blessing to me because I got to see their joy in taking care of these kids even through their exhaustion. They were worn out but very evidently, they believed in what they were doing and knew that this is what they had been called to. The house parents were pursuing orphan care wholeheartedly and wouldn’t trade their life for anything. The house parents opened my eyes to one way the biblical call to orphan care could look like in real life.
The last night we had a huge bonfire with all the parents and children. People shared testimonies and we sang a lot. Following the bonfire, we had to say our goodbyes. After spending two weeks at Bethesda, the goodbyes were very tough to say. We went around to each house to make sure we didn’t miss anyone. We hugged each child, house parent, and worker. This was one of the worst parts of the trip because I didn’t want to leave my new friends. Some of the children even started crying which made leaving even harder.
But our trip wasn’t over just yet. We headed to Johannesburg to spend about a week at Onthatile. This ministry is similar to Bethesda but on a bit smaller scale. Onthatile fosters children in a Christian home with parents and siblings. Onthatile has helped almost 30 children be adopted. They also run a small school. Onthatile hopes to be able to build some more houses on their main property to let foster parents live in. Onthatile allowed us to interact with fewer kids and get to know them a little better.
While we were at Onthatile, we got to do some “tourist” type things. We visited the Hector Pieterson memorial in Soweto. We also toured a huge Catholic church. On our last day in Johannesburg, we went to a slum community. There were half a million people living in one square mile. This was the hardest thing that I’ve ever seen. Even beyond the sad sight, it reeked. The smell was so strong and awful that it made me physically nauseous. I was so surprised by the sights and smells. It was unlike anything that I had ever experienced. Most people in this settlement have no indoor plumbing or electricity. There was standing water that ran through the camp that most likely contained body fluids. We passed out buckets filled with some food items like potatoes, flour, soup, and cleaning supplies like dish soap and laundry detergent. We also passed out small candies to the kids that we saw. This made them excited because they didn’t get them often. While we were here, we got to meet some South Africans who live in this settlement. They do their mission work here by sharing the gospel with their neighbors, leading Bible studies in their homes, and praying for the people around them.
This experience challenged my faith. I was trying to tell people about a God who loved them when they lived in such poor conditions. How do you explain to someone that the God who loves them enough to send his only Son to die for them is the same God who sees them living in extreme poverty and not being able to provide for their families? These people literally may not know where their next meal is coming from, and they’re supposed to believe that our God sees them and hasn’t forgotten about them? But our God does see them, and He hasn’t forgotten about them. Believers aren’t promised an easy life, but they are promised that they won’t face trials alone. Our God is with them, and He promises to never leave them or forget about them.
My overarching theme of this trip was “God is FAITHFUL.” God was faithful to work out all the small details to get me on this trip. He was faithful again to give me the best teammates who encouraged me each step of the way. God was faithful again to protect us and keep us all safe. God has been faithful to me at each turn, and He is my source of strength. When I am unfaithful to Him, He continues to be faithful to me. When I fall back into my old sin, He continues to be faithful to me. When I forsake Him, He continues to be faithful to me. He is faithful.
Major & Year: Exercise Science, class of 2025
Favorite Bible Verse: Exodus 14:14
Favorite Artist: Taylor Swift