Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (Lord Bless Africa)
Thank you Josh for this beautiful post!
For many years, the song “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica” provided the soundscape of the anti-apartheid movement. It was a rally cry, beckoning humanity to put an end to the atrocities committed during the apartheid era. Interestingly, the isiXhosa translation of this song roughly means “Lord Bless Africa”. He truly has blessed Africa plentifully; the glory of God is made known through its bountiful natural resources, breath-taking topography, and the beauty of its people and their hearts. I love South Africa. It has its issues, no doubt. Crime, xenophobia, gangs and burgeoning poverty continue to be chronic problems here. There is no easy, quick, or overnight solution to any of these issues plaguing this beautiful country.
The intent of our family’s trip is to broaden our collective worldview, to alternatively find education through unordinary situations. Here in Cape Town, we have been working with our church (Hillsong CPT) at a variety of afterschool programs throughout the townships. Each one is different than the other, but all of them are equal in the impact they make on the community they serve. On Wednesdays, we go to Tafelsig, an area of Mitchell’s Plain. MP is one of the largest townships in South Africa (around 300 000 people). There are some pretty decent areas of MP, areas that you might walk around in during the day. Tafelsig, however, is not one of those areas. Many people who live in Mitchell’s Plain don’t step foot in Tafelsig. The community has been held at a standstill for many years by rampant abuse of “tik” (methamphetamine; better known as crystal meth in North America) and gang crime. These gangs splinter the community, denying the people dignities as simple as walking around their community freely without fear.
Hillsong Africa Foundation is doing a noteworthy job of shedding some light into this seemingly unsolvable situation. Certainly, I am biased, but there’s more than enough work to go around. HAF runs a food program out of a local school, which is available to everyone in the community. They also have an afterschool youth program where kids come to play soccer, hang out, and learn about God. The first time we went, I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely did not expect to have ten children whose climbing skills rivaled monkeys clinging to my back as soon as I walked out to greet them. Most Canadian kids play ‘shy’ for what seems like forever. They take a long time to warm up to you. Not these kids; they constantly desire your sole attention. They all want to be thrown up in the air, or spun around in a circle, or simply given a hug, and these kids all want it to happen right now. A lot of these boys don’t have a relationship with their fathers. They didn’t grow up having after-supper wrestling with dad, or play catch with him when he got home from work. Anyone who has grown up without a father has a void within them that needs to be filled. God, being our perfect heavenly father and all, does a pretty solid job, but he can’t exactly come down and play catch with every little boy or tell every single one of his daughters out loud that they’re beautiful. He’s stuck using us imperfect, less-than-ideal humans as his tools, his instruments. These kids have so much love to give because they seek love and affirmation in return. Unfortunately, they’re willing to seek affirmation and acceptance almost anywhere, even if they themselves are hurt in the process.
HAF’s afterschool programs provide a place for kids to be themselves. They don’t need to put on any false pretenses, or wear a certain type of clothing, or eat a certain type of food. They can escape from the outside world where they are, to be frank, liable to be shot just by stepping out the door. We are not perfect. We don’t have all the answers. These problems can’t be dealt with overnight. Baby steps in the right direction; that’s all you can ask for at the moment.
Despite all of these dire social conditions, beautiful faces constantly greet us, smiles are unlimited, and manners oddly abound in this country. Lit-up faces and heartfelt thank-yous make this work rewarding, enjoyable and light. Africa’s inherent beauty is apparent no matter your surroundings. I could gush all day about South Africa, as could my whole family, but I’ll refrain. This country is addictive, though mired in a seemingly endless stream of problems. It’s stunning, stimulating and heartbreaking, all at the same time. I don’t want to leave. I think I could stay here my entire life.