As Mike turned down the dusty dirt road toward the Mission, Todd shot me a look that confirmed my own fears. What had we gotten ourselves into? As white, American tourists, we had always been told to stay out of the black squatters’ towns; they were incredibly dangerous. We now found ourselves held captive in the back of Mike’s small Nissan pick-up driving straight into the middle of one of these forbidden communities.
Todd and I frantically rolled up our windows… meanwhile, Mike and Rose rolled theirs down the rest of the way and began waving to the towns people as we drove down the road. Almost every person stopped to wave back and offer a “hello”. I looked behind the truck to see a parade of children following us with bright smiles. You could see the excitement in their eyes as they realized their friends Mike and Rose had come to visit. Todd and I were amazed, and ashamed of our initial fears. How hardened had we become by our American prejudices?
Mike pulled into the yard of the Addo Faith Mission. It was a two roomed, brick building with a tin roof. It was simple, but much more structurally sound than the homes which surrounded it. I was saddened by the squalor in which the townspeople were forced to live. Many homes looked as though they would fall over in the next heavy wind. They all looked like jigsaw puzzles, haphazardly thrown together with particle board, old wooden palates, tin metal, and in some instances even cardboard. There was no insulation to the homes, and most had only dirt floors. Large families, and farm animals, were forced to share these small spaces they called “home”.
Although I had seen these deplorable conditions on our earlier trips to South Africa, our visits had been as outsiders looking in. We had merely visited a school, and a day care… we had not been truly welcomed into a community to experience life first hand. Addo, however, had opened its doors and invited us to experience the “every day”.
We were greeted at the Mission by Pastor Viki. Viki was 75-year-old retired police officer who had fled the turmoil in Zimbabwe and immigrated to South Africa after turning his life over to the Lord. Viki is one of the most spiritual men I have been blessed to meet in my life. Although he has little of worldly riches, he is richer in soul and spirit than I know I will ever be. Viki has worked with Mike and Rose through the years as a liaison for the Addo community. His efforts have helped bridge many gaps in the community- gaps of color, language, and class.
The Mission is non-denominational Christian. Mike and Rose solicit donations from religious organizations in the cities, and work with Viki to distribute resources throughout Addo. The Methodist church in Port Elizabeth donates clothing on a regular basis, while the Catholic church has provided school supplies for the children. Pastor Viki explained that the Mission served mostly children. Aids and alcoholism had hit the community hard. Many of the children were orphaned and being raised by older siblings or grandparents. In some instances, the children were raising themselves. Many families in the community had illegally immigrated from other war stricken countries in Southern Africa, and had little more than the clothes on their backs.
The Mission, however, does not merely distribute these supplies to the needy. It also works to teach the townspeople skills to help them better their lives and become more self-sufficient and sustainable. When you first approach the Mission, you see hard clay soil. With love, patience, and persistence, Pastor Viki has transformed this barren land into a beautiful co-op garden. The garden has been instrumental in supplementing the townspeoples’ meeger diets. The garden has also given a sense of purpose to many who have learned to grown their own food and contribute to the community.
Viki was excited to give us a tour of the Mission house. The small building had two rooms: one to serve as a kitchen and meeting room, and the other was a bedroom and multipurpose room. The furnishings were simple, including a hutch, table, and a rug on the floor for sleeping. Although there was no running water, Viki had arranged to purchase electricity from an individual on the outskirts of town who was fortunate to have a generator. To get the electricity from the generator to the Mission, however, was quite the feet! A series of extension cords were buried beneath the street (and many through mud puddles), then hung from room to room in the building. It was rather terrifying to see what lengths people would go to simply to obtain basic necessities we take for granted in America.
After touring the Mission building, we returned to the garden to find ourselves surrounded by curious children. Word had quickly spread of the two Americans visiting town. The more I looked at the growing crowd, the more need I saw. Many of the children had open sores on their faces and arms. Several were skin and bones, while others were scantily clothed. One boy was merely wearing a t-shirt… mind you, it was a chilly day (in the mid-50’s). The boy had no shoes, no socks, no pants, no underwear. He had a t-shirt. The shirt on his back was likely the only stitch of clothing he owned. I couldn’t help but think of my young son at home in Oregon who had a closet full of clothes that he hardly used more than once.
Todd was still weak from his surgery, so we could not stay long at Addo. We needed to return to town so Todd could continue to rest and regain his strength for our trip back to the States. My heart was torn. I wanted to stay and help care for these young children, yet I yearned desperately to return to my own son in Oregon. Todd and I left the little money we had on us at the time with Pastor Viki and promised we would return to help the Mission in its efforts. With tears in our eyes, we said good-bye, and drove away. My mind was at work, dreaming of things to come. I knew I must return to help the Mission to help those little hearts that needed a hand up in the world. I knew that whatever I planned, it had to be BIG! (To be continued… soon…)