We had the joy of welcoming a team of five wonderful individuals from First Reformed Church of Zeeland, Michigan earlier this month! 16-year-old Kameron joined his mom Becky, as well as Nichole, Sara, and Nancy to serve for a week at Beautiful Gate. What a brave guy! It has my pleasure as a year-long volunteer to share in this experience, just three months into our time here.
My husband Andy -also a year-long volunteer- and I picked up the team at the Bloemfontein airport on Saturday. Having been a member at First for less than a year, I didn’t know anyone very well. I was pleasantly surprised and blessed to be received with excited greeting and hugs! Anyone who’s traveled a long series of flights and drives knows the magnitude of showing kindness and joy even after days of travel! After some humorous confusion regarding the presence of the rental van’s emergency brake, we were on our way to Beautiful Gate. After all those in-flight hours with the ladies, we weren’t surprised when Kam decided to join us in the truck!
After a tour of the grounds, the team began their service in the houses on Monday. There were no particular projects this week, just a chance to be helping hands to the house mothers and children. The team members arose early to feed and dress the children and then divided into mini-teams to help babies in the soft playroom reach milestones and provide special activities for the children in play group. In the afternoon and evening, it was back to the houses to help feed and bathe children and get them into their pajamas for bedtime.
These days can be long, loud, and challenging as team members work through the daily tasks of caring for 12-15 children and navigating this task cross-culturally. We were so thankful that the team was able to embrace this task wholeheartedly and respectfully. They made an effort to learn both the children’s and house mothers’ names quickly and Kam even took it upon himself to communicate as much as possible in Sesotho.
The most beautiful thing about this team was their servant hearts. Lindiwe commented during their first evening here that we don’t always know exactly what to expect in terms of tasks when we come along on a trip like this: “Who knows- one moment you might think you’re caring for babies all day and then we might tell you we need you to paint the office!” Although no painting of the office was actually deemed necessary -due to other previous hardworking, helpful teams- it was clear through the gracious actions of this team that they would have taken on anything that was asked of them with a servant’s heart and no complaints.
One team member commented how many many mission trips are service projects with a particular goal in mind: paint these houses, clean up this building, sand and re-finish these walls. These projects are important and also easy to understand; folks know the job and the directions and they are ready to dig in and work, start to finish. She went on to say that this kind of trip was different; it required a willingness to step in wherever need, to be ready for various tasks and directions during the day, and to have enough flexibility to serve each child and housemother with compassion. Throughout this week, the compassion of this team was clear.
We, as staff and volunteers, experienced the compassion of this team, as well. Part of their ministry included toting extra suitcases to transport items from the US that are difficult or expensive to purchase here. There were new shorts for staff kids, scrapbooking supplies for the adoption scrapbooks, quality new resources for the school here, and a carry-on of necessities and early Christmas gifts for Andy and me. When one is far from home, things like this really warm the heart, especially when one isn’t yet used to living in a new place. We have never been so happy to see Reese’s peanut butter cups in all our life! This gesture of love meant so much.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we give thanks for the First Reformed team. From their expressions of laughter and joy, to Kam’s first dirty diaper change, to a daring trip up Lancer’s gap ending in torrential downpour, this team was a blast to host. Although we feel terrible that three of the team members left with food poisoning (!) we trust that their time here was meaningful and we praise God for their safe travels home. We give thanks that they were able some ‘home’ here and for their cheerful servant hearts to all of the Beautiful Gate family.
Kam, Becky, Nichole, Sara, and Nancy- thank you for answering God’s call and showing his love. We also thank God for Cyndy and Jackie; though they were not able to be physically present, we know that their prayers and support helped to bring you here and sustain you. We praise God for your willing hearts and pray that God continues to shape you through your experience at Beautiful Gate.
“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"
2 Corinthians 9:7-8 ; 12-15