This summer I will be returning to the Dark Continent, a place I once called home. I will hunt and fish with Starr & Bodill African Safaris, then return to a mission that is responsible for changing my life. In homage to my upcoming adventure, I continue to share a series of posts I first made in late 2011. I look forward to adding a new chapter to this story in the months to come.
RECAP- Our 2009 South African safari was amazing, and the hunting phenominal. Todd and I had both harvested a number of animals and experienced new, beautiful terrain. However, our vacation quickly took a turn for the worse. While hunting bushbuck toward the end of our trip, Todd collapsed in my arms… he had no pulse… he was not breathing… he was dying.
After what felt like an eternity, we were able to revive Todd and arrange for emergency transportation to the nearest hospital. He later faced surgery in Port Elizabeth for an undiagnosed heart defect. His prolonged recovery meant our two week vacation would turn into an entire winter living in Port Elizabeth. During our residency in South Africa, I was attacked by a cheetah and landed myself in the hospital, as well. All I could do at that point was laugh, and laugh some more. What else could the world throw at us?
Despite our tragedy, Todd and I grew to love the country and its people. After all, the country had given Todd new life, and me- a new appreciation for life. Our new friends Mike and Rose had blessed us with their companionship and introduced us to the Addo Faith Mission. Little did we know how much the Mission would help us heal. Helping the children at the Mission was our way to give back to the country that had given so much to us.
After finally returning home to Oregon, it wasn’t long before we began planning our next trip to South Africa. Todd and I both dreamed of continuing our hunt, while my heart also yearned to return to the Mission and help the innocent children of Valencia. In May 2011, we made our dream a reality. This time we brought along our good friends Matt and Connie and introduced them to the wilds of the Dark Continent.
As soon as we returned home from our 2009 debacle, I began to plan for 2011. First, I knew I would need funding. As with my prior trips to South Africa, I solicited donations from family, friends, and co-workers. I was successful in gathering a few hundred dollars to help buy much needed supplies for the children, just as I had done on prior trips to the country. On our earlier trips, however, Todd and I had only helped out a small handful of children, and the little money we brought was able to help buy only necessities. This time, I wanted to spread the wealth and help as many children as possible. The money I raised from family and friends would not be enough. I wanted to do something BIG. With inspiration from my friend Morgan, I was able to put my plan in motion.
Morgan suggested soliciting involvement from our church, which meant it was garage sale time! Although my undertaking was not a chuch sponsored event, I was overwhelmed by the number of families that committed themselves to the project. (Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints seldom shy away from service. For this, I am thankful!) Before I new it, I had a garage full, I mean really full, of donated items. “What is one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Not only did church members donate their used items for the cause, a number of people came by to help set up for my sale, and help man the tables on the day of my event.
Due to my schedule, I only had one day for the sale. I prayed diligently that the sale would be a success. I was hoping to make at least $500 to use for food and clothing to distribute at the Mission. Much to my amazement, and by the Grace of God, my one day sale generated over $1,200. It was a miracle! Keep in mind, many of the families we wished to help only earned the equivalent of $300 US dollars a month. It brought me to tears to know the number of mouths we could feed, and the number of bodies we could clothe.
Morgan also suggested we rally the troops of our church women’s group, the Relief Society, to make toys and clothing for the children. Our greater church community set to work knitting hats, 118 hats, to be more specific. We then spent several evenings as a group cutting fabric and stitching seams. Morgan had worked overtime finding patterns. We made small dolls for the girls, balls for the boys, and leg warmers for children of all sizes. All the while, members Matt and Connie’s church we setting aside good quality clothes their own children had outgrown. We were set! With the handmade gifts, donated clothes, and funds we had raised, I knew we could help a large number of children at the Mission.
We planned on spending two weeks in South Africa for our 2011 adventure. The first week was spent on an amazing hunt in both Natal and the Eastern Cape with Crusader Safaris. Todd harvested several bushbuck (to make up for our mis-adventure in 2009), and I completed my reedbuck slam. Matt and Connie made the most of their first South African safari and each hunted a number of species. We then spent a few days on the Indian Ocean in St. Francis with our good friends John and Jane, followed by a few days on photo safari.
Of course, we saved the best for last. With Mike and Rose’s help, we arranged to throw the party of the century for the children served by the Addo Faith Mission. We did not want to have our project perceived as a hand-out, nor did we want the children to think they were a charity case. Conveniently, Rose celebrated her birthday the week of our planned visit. We admittedly took advantage of the situation and planned a birthday party for Rose, inviting the neediest of children to attend. We would prepare them a meal for a king, and send them home with our “party favors”. Pastor Viki was charged with the assignment of handing out invitations.
After completion of our hunt, but before heading out to the Mission, we planned time to shop. After all, we had over $1,200 burning a hole on our pockets! (With the current exchange rate, this was almost 10,000 South African Rand.) We had plenty to spend on food, clothing, and other supplies. Pastor Viki indicated that we should expect between 80 and 100 guests to our party. Keeping that in mind, we headed to the store to purchase enough food to make traditional Curry Bunnies (or Bunny Chow) for the children. Before long, we had two grocery carts heaped full with food, and another full of soccer balls, wool blankets, toiletries, and school supplies.
During our shopping extravaganza, Matt felt inspired to approach store management about perhaps offering a discount on our purchase. After all, we were going to be spending much more in one transaction than their average customer would spend in an entire month. Much to our amazment, mangament was very receptive to offering a discount. After several minutes of closed door discussions, the store manager presented us with a gift certificate for 1,700 Rand (or about $250 at the time). The manager’s generosity moved me to tears.
After loading the cars with our new purchases, we headed out to the Mission for an experience of a lifetime. I felt so blessed at that moment to have the opportunity to share with the children, and the blessings continued to flow.
After chopping, slicing, dicing, and cooking for hours, it was time to get the party started. We opened the gates to the Mission just as school was letting out for the day. The line grew, and grew quite quickly. Connie and I set up a food line, and presented each child with their Bunny Chow, and a piece of fruit. It didn’t seem to matter how many children we served, but the line seemed to be never ending. Pastor Viki inidcated we should expect between 80 and 100 little mouths to feed. Clearly, there were more children in line than anticipated. We began to realize we would not have enough food, nor would we have enough clothing or toys to share. My heart began to fill with despair.
All we could do was keep serving the little food we had left until it ran out. I dreaded having to turn away any child when the food was gone. Connie and I were afraid that each ladle of stew we pulled from our pot would be the last… but just as we gave up hope, the Lord reminded us that He is full of Love and miracles! The food continued to spread, and we never ran out until the last child walked through the line. To this day, I cannot account for how we were able to feed all 260 tiny mouths that passed before us…. yes, 260! It was a true loaves and fishes moment.
After each child had a chance to eat, we passed out our toys to the children. With 260 small hands reaching out for their gifts, we again realized we would not have enough to send home with each child. We stretched the items as far as we could, and a few were left with nothing. Fortunately, we had extra funds available and promised to send more items back to the Mission with Mike and Rose in the coming weeks after we had returned home. Mike and Rose graciously agreed, and upheld our promise. They returned to the Mission the following weekend with soccer balls and blankets.
As Connie and I passed out the food and gifts, I could not help but notice how fragile, yet stoic the children were. Although they generally had very little in material wealth and were in poor health, they all still held their heads high with bright, shiny smiles across their faces. One little girl tugged at my heart strings more than any of the others. As I dished out food, the toddler merely stood by my side, and occassionally hugged my leg. She would smile from ear to ear each time I looked down at her. After a short time, she was crawling in Connie’s lap, and playing with her long, blonde hair. It became apparent to Connie and me that this young girl just wanted attention. She had turned away food. She had turned away toys. All she wanted was Love.
I feel blessed to have shared Christ’s Love with these children, and look forward to the day that I can return to them. I am hopeful that day will be soon.