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My Experience in South Africa
“I’m really in Africa,” I’d told myself, as if to confirm what was really happening (pinch me!). As I stepped off the plane, I didn’t feel very ‘different’. Actually, I felt like I wasn’t far from home, just at a summer camp of sorts.
On the way to campus, I didn’t see herds of elephants or wild Africans wearing animal skins. Instead, I saw buildings, cars (and traffic!), and trees - much like downtown New York City.
But what I was about to experience was far from the NYC Manhattan feel. I was about to be in the midst of a mass of impoverished people, living in run down, crowded shacks.
On the outside, these Africans appeared very different than the average American. They wore the same pair of clothes each day (like WE would ever do that), most of them barefoot, dirty, and hungry. But, get close enough to them, and you’ll see they‘re a lot like us: they’re hurting, and they each have a story.
I spent one month in 2 different squatter camps called Diepsloot and Kya Sands. In these areas there are 20,000 people living within a 2 mile radius - talk about claustrophobic! Our main goal while there: To tell the natives about salvation through Jesus Christ, how to become his disciple, and how God can change their lives and in turn, use them to make more disciples. The goal: huge. The amount of people: overwhelmingly vast. How could we possibly accomplish something so much greater than ourselves? That’s what I found out as I let the Holy Spirit work and speak through me, and ultimately, touch the lives of many.
One of the outreaches we got to do while there was a program for the children. We’d walk to an open area, set up our one amplifier/microphone, turn on some music, and gather the children! After dancing with the kids (they were so adorable) and having a blast, we’d do the program, involving the kids in skits and games, all of it teaching them about the Lord and what the Bible says.
On other days we would simply go shack to shack, meeting the natives and getting to know them as best we can. We’d help them out with laundry, sweeping, or cooking (that’s really all they do), and through either their broken English or our translator, we’d talk to them about God.
One day as we were walking along, I met a woman who opened my eyes more to the love of God, and I got to introduce her to Him. Her name was Loveness ( a common name). She had a husband who was away at work (having a job there was rare), and apparently no children. After some conversation I asked her if she knew Jesus. She replied that she had never heard of him. One thing to note: that morning I had asked the Lord to lead me to someone who had never heard of him before…and he did!
I told Loveness the Gospel. I told her that God created us to be with him, but our sins separated us from God, because he is perfect and can’t even look upon sin. Our sins cannot be removed by doing good things or ‘being a good person’ (Ephesians 2:8-9). According to God’s standard (perfection/10 Commandments), we have broken the law and therefore, deserve to die (Romans 6:23). But God loves us, and wants to give us eternal life and wants to fellowship with us (John 10:10). So He gave up his only son to take the brutal punishment for our sins (Romans 5:8). But if you just hear all this, it means nothing. It’s not all about religion, following a bunch of rules, going to church every week, or appearing ‘good’. It’s about experiencing a real, personal relationship with the Lord.
As I told Loveness about Jesus, I began to feel a heavy burden for her, and I pictured her in chains, bound to something. At that moment I began to cry, completely heartbroken for her (and pretty embarrassed at my outburst). God brought verses to my mind, one passage specifically being Isaiah 43, which says, “But now, this is what the Lord says- he who created you…’Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.’” I knew the Lord wanted to proclaim freedom to this woman. He wanted her to know that even though she goes through suffering, he promises it won’t consume her and that he would be with her through the pain. Through this, I realized how much God loves each person in the world individually. He knows us by name and desires a relationship with us, no matter what country we live in, our social status, our bank account number, or how great of a person we are. Loveness may be seen as a poor woman living in a shack, hidden among the masses, only to be forgotten. And I may be seen as a rich person living in a house, having far bigger influence due to my many social media outlets. But we both were born with the same problem: we were lost without Christ. But the Lord knew that the day I met her, she would come to know who Jesus is and surrender her life to him. We’re now sisters in Christ, and not so different at all.
I went to South Africa, expecting a ‘life changing’ experience. Instead, I went to South Africa, and realized we’re so alike amidst our physical differences. We all know suffering (although different types of it), and we all know pain. More importantly, we all are desperate for a savior, grasping for a hope to cling to. The sad truth is most people cling to things that have no solid foundation at all (possessions, people, money, addictions), and are left with only more emptiness. I can tell you that having Christ within me is not just about ‘knowing’ the Lord lives in me, but it’s about experiencing Him working in my life, doing things I could never have done on my own (John 15:5). I love Africa and can’t wait to go to Ethiopia and Uganda next summer!