Stephen in South Africa

Stephen Jones recently returned from South Africa, where he has been supporting educational work. Here's his report:

Awesome African Adventure!

After much prayer and preparation (plus lots of air miles!) I finally reached Mtuba Christian Academy, Destiny House Children’s home and Grace church at the end of July. I had been invited to offer support to the staff and pupils in the Academy by the Principle Leonard Mthemba and Elders of Grace Church. However, the three weeks spent in the school brought more blessing to me than I could ever have imagined and both deepened my own faith as well as taught me so much about sacrificial giving – both from the adults but especially the children in the different communities.

It was a privilege to be able to offer advice and support to teachers and teaching assistants working in very different classroom environments to those that I would normally see in my own schools. The welcome of the teachers and their desire to improve the learning opportunities for the children was both humbling and inspiring. During the course of the three weeks we worked together to produce new resources for classroom display, the teaching of phonics and developed differentiated learning tasks for the pupils. On my last day it was thrilling to see how one of the teachers had transformed her classroom from pupils sitting in singles rows of desks all undertaking the same tasks, to working in groups on tasks appropriate to their learning needs.

Each day it was a blessing to wake up and drive to school – along country roads with pot holes and dust which may mean I never complain of UK roads ever again! I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to say that my daily commute took me past families of giraffes, gazelle, zebra and wart hogs.

The school day would begin at 7:30 am with the arrival of the children in fleets of white minibuses and cars – clutching their packed lunches and school books and in their immaculate uniforms. All the more impressive when you consider many homes did not have access to regular water supplies or electricity.

From the moment of arrival pupils were exuberant and this continued throughout the day. Their excitement and desire to learn was refreshing. However, the biggest thrill for me as a Christian teacher was the freedom of worship in the classroom during opening devotions and assemblies. The natural rhythm of the children and ability to sing in harmony was incredible –  it would be amazing to have this same freedom to worship in the classroom in the UK.

So many lessons learnt from children who had so little – but willingly gave part of their packed lunches everyday for those who had little or no food. To parents who worked hand to mouth trying to eke out their money for a days work over several days or those who had to leave their children in the care of the extended family or friends to be able to give them a chance of an education and improved life opportunities. Frequently this meant not only working in a different town or city, but in a different country.

Whilst at Mtuba I was also invited to preach on one of the Sundays at Grace Church. Worship was spirit filled in Zulu, Afrikaans and English – the children taking charge of the flags and marching around the church – just like Emmanuel. God challenged many during the meeting and it was evident that we were encouraged to become worthy Ambassadors for Christ, the key text for the day.

My hosts for the three weeks were Geoff (an Elder at Grace Church) and his wife Tudi. Their home was 13km from Mtuba in the middle of a forest – with no neighbours for several km – the quietness (no traffic or noisy neighbours – except the Mango stealing monkeys!) was precious and gave a lot of opportunity for contemplation and prayer. I learnt so much from Geoff, Tudi and members of Grace church about sacrificial giving, loving everyone and seeking God. These memories will remain with me forever and have helped me significantly in my own Christian journey.

I’m looking forward to strengthening the links with Mtuba in the future and would ask you to pray especially for Grace church, Mtuba Christian academy and Destiny House – more specifically:

·         That the school and church can raise the final 150,000 Rand to complete building a four-classroom extension to the school.

·         Pray for Prim as he leads the new After school provision – both for resources for the activities and that parents will be able to pay for the child care – as this is his only income.

·         Pray for the Elders of Grace Church as they seek God’s direction in the future – new leaders of small groups and church leaders.

·         Pray for the Christian staff that they can be Ambassadors for Christ, showing his love by their actions and commitment to the children.

·         Pray for changes to the law of adoption so that children in Destiny House can more quickly be linked to ‘Forever Families’.

·         Pray for the school that their limited income will continue to be managed wisely to meet the growing demand for education.

·         Pray for music ministry and work with the young people led by Colin that he will continue to grow in his Christian faith and his example will be a light drawing the young people closer to God.

·         Pray for Geoff and Tudi as they begin to plan for retirement that God will direct them to the right place for this retirement and raise up new leaders in the church.

There is so much more I could say and so many more experiences to share – if you would like to know more or perhaps how you could further help the communities of Mtuba then just ask!