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August 18, 2016
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August 18, 2016
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Summer Trip Update


Day 1: Team Arrival (July 4th, 2016)

Happy 4th of July! Today, the full force of the 2016 New Covenant (NC) & Compassionate Life Foundation (CLF) team arrived today from the U.S.A.! And we couldn’t be more excited. For over the past week, Tom and Linda Mulanix, Neil Richey, Jaime and I have been preparing for our teams mission trip. We have been as Linda has said, “shopping until we drop.”

After the team physically walked across the border into Swaziland, they travelled by van to the Maguga Dam. There, the landing party (Tom, Linda, Neil, Jaime and I) met them. While we took the scenery at the Dam, we definitely noticed the effects of the drought that is plaguing Swaziland. There the water is easily 50 feet below the spill way. The buoys guarding the dam from wayward boats are sitting on bare rock and you can see trees that have not been decomposed by the water since the initial dam of the Nkomazi River. This was a definite reminder to sparingly use water at El Shaddai.

After the Maguga Dam, the whole team travelled to El Shaddai, the children’s home (ESM) and primary school. There was much story-telling of past trips, experiences and the culture of Swaziland. After arriving at ESM, the team unpacked into four complexes (rooms, bathrooms, kitchen and dining room) that were amazingly prepared by Chanel and Anton. Unfortunately, the team could not be welcomed by Charmain (The amazing woman and founder of El Shaddai Ministry and Primary School) since a medical emergency pulled her away to South Africa. The team then got adventurous and courageous and led all the children (above 1st grade) in worship. There in the pavilion with the sun setting over the mountains we praised our God and Savior. The children led two songs and our team led three songs. What a great way to end a long day for the team.

Just kidding, that wasn’t the end. We had a delicious dinner (thanks Chanel) and laid down the ground rules for the team. After, we prepared all of the CLF extravaganza (See Thursday’s Future Entry), hospital and Manzini Mini-Extravaganza (Seen Sunday’s Future Entry) give-away bags. I can’t believe we got most of this over to Swaziland in our luggage with only 14 of us! We have over 400 toothbrushes, toothpaste, candy, washcloths, and bibles, just to mention a few. Now the newly arrived reinforcements are looking at me tired and longing for sleep. I suppose I will be a merciful leader and call it a night.

Surprise! As we return to our huts, no running water! Let the buckets of water and showers by cup and baby wipes begin! With the medical emergencies recently and no water, this is a reminder that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but that of spiritual evil. The need for prayer is an understatement here. Pray for our team. For protection, for patience, for love, for kindness, for compassion, for words to speak to children who have been through so much evil and hurt and for a deeper relationship with our Savior, Jesus.
- Kiel Vanderhovel

Day 2: Paint, medicine & some food! (Tuesday, July 5th, 2016)

Today I woke up on the side of a mountain. This is our second day in Africa and first full day at El Shaddai. At 6:30 a.m. there are no sounds. The world is just waking up and I didn’t even hear any birds. I was going to take a picture of the sun coming up on the mountain, burning the previous night away, but even a picture cannot do justice to how beautiful this place is.

We had a lot to do. Painting at the school, having clinic open for kids here at El Shaddai and people in the community, our morning was full. After breakfast and morning devotions, I trekked off with the paint crew, down the hill a ways. We passed the El Shaddai garden, huge and lush. We passed a cow. As we entered the school grounds, we passed classrooms of primary kids, bedecked in their blue uniforms. Some craned their necks to look at us or pause from their studies as we walked by. Not all the kids there are residents of El Shaddai. Many live in the area and down the mountain. They seemed a little more reserved, wary of our presence. They weren’t as free with their greetings and smiles.

Our team was joined by the girls from the high school. They were on break from studies and assisting us in painting the classrooms. One of the many astonishing things to me is how well all the kids here know English. They easily talked with us, often sliding right in Si-Swati to talk to each other and back to English for us. Any shyness soon dissolved away and the girls were covering themselves in paint as much as the walls. We chatted about our lives with them, telling them about our kids and jobs. When they asked us about America and the teenagers there it was hard to give an answer that didn’t seem shallow. What to say? “We have everything we want even though we don’t often think so.” “Our kids are sometimes bored and ungrateful and have more toys and electronics than you may ever see in your life?” But we had a great morning and got our tasks done.

The nurses at the clinic had a tougher job. They were seeing kids from El Shaddai and anyone in the community who could make their way up the hill. Most of the kids here are significantly smaller than the dosage for the ages on the back of the box, so even figuring out dosages for medicine was tricky. While their work mostly entailed fevers and coughs; there were a couple cases that were heartbreaking. A teenage boy brought in by his teachers which they seemed to believe had appendicitis. His mother gone and aunt entailed to take care of him, he really had no one to help him. A taxi ride to the hospital could be 200 Rand. In America that might be about $10 but here it’s months and months of income.

After lunch, we awaited the arrival of two semi-trucks, packed with food for El Shaddai and the community. Food that was provided by the money raised through Compassionate Life and the sponsorship of the children at the orphanage. Our task was to unload and then redistribute the food between here and some for the school and community. 100 pound bags of rice, brown sugar, mealie (cornmeal) bags of beans and containers of oil. All in total about 20,000 pounds of food. Food that will hopefully last the next six months. School was out then and we had an audience of kids watching us, running between us and playing all around us. The kids. There are 86 kids here at El Shaddai. They are orphans either by the death of their parents or by abandonment. I could go on and on about the kids here. Their bright eyes and ready smiles and hollering “Hello” every time we walk by. The toddlers in the baby house run right out and yell to us and giggle, readily taking our hands and wanting to be picked up. The bigger kids are asking “What is your name?” and “Who is your sponsor child?’ They watch us as much as we watch them. Full of love and hope it is them I pray for hardest, not because I sponsor a child as well but because they have so much possibility here. They are orphans but they are not alone.

Truthfully I am exhausted. Between the day and half travel to get here, to my body adjusting to the jet lag it is natural. However this is a kind of physical exhaustion that is exhilarating. Exhausted from painting and carrying 100 pound bags of food, and running after kids is different than the type of tired I feel at home. I am tired but not ready to stop, not ready to go to bed. I cannot wait until the morning.

Tomorrow is a new day to paint, more clinic and some gardening. We are not here to do for them but to walk alongside them to help with what they already are doing. God got me here, and now it’s my turn. I already know on Day 2 that I will be wanting to return. If I could be perfectly honest, I can see myself here for longer than two weeks. Africa and Swaziland and the kids of El Shaddai are already in my heart.
-Heather Powell

Day 3: Sunrise Devotionals, Mountain Views & Gods People (Wednesday July 6th, 2016)

We are on our third day here at El-Shaddai (what? Is it really only our 3rd day?). I am still amazed that I am here in this small country of Swaziland that nests inside of South Africa. I am still amazed at the beauty of this country. I have witnessed glorious sunrises, sunsets, and eaten every meal in front of this gorgeous mountain range, compliments of our glorious God.

I had the honor of leading our 8am morning devotional atop the “Big Rock” that looks out over the mountains. It happened to be one of my favorite topics, the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-14). As the scripture states, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body-whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free-and we were all given the one spirit to drink.” We are here on this mountain to share with the Swazi people the gifts each one of us have been given. We have the compassionate, the leaders, the healers, the givers and the doers. But we all are also realizing how much bigger this is than any of us. The Swazi people have been given gifts as well, and they are sharing those with us. The Swazi people we have met here at El-Shaddai have beautiful spirits, with an enormous faith and trust in our God.

After our morning devotional, a large part of our group went to finish the painting at the El-Shaddai School. Myself, Allison and Cynthia, both RN’s, went back over to the clinic to open the medical clinic from 9am – 1pm for the clinic. We also needed to finish cleaning and organizing the supplies. We still had an enormous job in front of us, even though we had finished quite a bit the day before. The exhaustion is hitting some, or maybe all of us, at times. Jet lag, cold showers, and long days are the most likely contributors. But for me personally it is the mental and emotional challenges I am having. Knowing that there is so many needs and not enough time, not enough hands. Working in the clinic we saw many sick children from both the El-Shaddai House and the El-Shaddai school. They are often lacking the most basic medical care. A fourteen year old came to us today in severe pain. His teachers brought him in after finding him on the floor. The boy had told no one he had not felt well for over 24 hours. As the events unrolled, we found out he was without a mum or dad. They both had died of AIDS and the boy had been living on his own ever since his grandmother became ill and was taken to South Africa. This breaks my heart and I want to take him home with me and say, “There! That problem solved.” But this would not resolve this issue nor any of the surrounding issues. The struggles and challenges the Swaziland people have to overcome are larger than the just as real issues we have in the United States. The truth is all of these issues are bigger than us. What I am coming to face head on is that we cannot resolve the issues, we MUST rely on God. We are, however, to live out that compassion, to share the gifts and blessings we have been given. As Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matt 25:40).

Later in the evening we played with the kids. There was the option of playing with the older kids, the young kids, or the “Baby House” (stay tuned for new photos or videos). I tried to visit each group, say hello and play for a bit. Whichever child I interacted with, no matter the age, asked me which child I sponsored. I was a bit surprised that the children know who their sponsor family is. They cherish it! They live for the photos, the letters, and knowing they are sponsored gives them a sense of security that they will have a place to rest their precious heads. These are not words, they are real in an everyday sense to these children. They need to know this safe haven that Compassionate Life Foundation and all their sponsors help to support will be there as they grow up in this uncertain world.
-Mary Shinabarger

Day 4: Swazi Extravaganza! (Thursday, July 7, 2016)

The Swazi Extravaganza was the one day that all of us had been a little nervous about. There are only 14 people on our team and we had around 250 children that would be attending. The numbers that were given to us were, to say the least, rough estimates. But, as always, God was with us and carried us through. With the help of some community members, some of the homeschooled girls and the teachers who see these kids every day, we were able to pull off a successful, fun-filled day for everyone….minus a few hiccups here and there for good measure.

We had 10 different stations set up around El Shaddai school grounds. Each station offered something different. There were sack races, face painting, minute to win it games, and broom ball amongst other things. Our team of 14 was divided into each station and had the help of one or two homeschool girls. All of the classes, grades 1-7, were given a schedule and their grade number had a corresponding station number for every half hour so that we all knew where we were supposed to be at any given time. The teachers kept the schedule and were given signs with an animal on it so that his or her class could easily identify one another. Throughout the day there were some notes taken in regards to how we can improve the extravaganza for the next trip. All in all everyone, including the adults, had a great time getting to laugh and enjoy the light heartedness of the day.

At the beginning of the day every boy and girl was given a wristband. At the end of the extravaganza, any child wearing a wristband would receive a gift. Compassionate Life was able to make gift bags for every grade, including staff. The bags included items such as tooth brushes, tooth paste, wash clothes, candy and snacks, pencils, a bible, playing cards, crayons, coloring books, etc. The children started coming out to collect their gift bag and you could see the curiosity in their eyes. They weren’t sure what to think. Even after giving the bags to them they didn’t really know what to do but as more and more started opening them, excitement filled the courtyard. Cheering and laughter erupted! They were showing each other what the other one had gotten, reading to each other and eating their snacks together. Walking around, you heard the words, “fun “and “happy”. A little girl had approached one of our team members and told her, “I am so happy today, we are so happy!”

Here in Swaziland, there isn’t really such a thing as “play”. These children are born into a life of work. Unlike us, they don’t have the luxury of free time. If you have time, you do something to help the family, whether that be gardening, cooking, cleaning, or building. So to give the kids a day where all they get to do is play games and run and laugh and be with one another, not having to think about what the next task could be, is a gift in itself. Please know that you did that. YOU. Without your prayers, your support, your giving, Compassionate Life Foundation and the 2016 Swaziland Mission Team could not have facilitated such an amazing experience of love and fellowship. So thank you for opening your hearts to a people that are most deserving of all the compassion and generosity one could be given.
-Jennifer Hartwick

Day 5: Movie Night! (Friday, July 8, 2016)

Today was full of emotion, both joyous and scary. The main focus of our day was to spread love through the giving of food packets to the community surrounding El Shaddai Mission and its staff that keeps it running smoothly. After cleaning the sanctuary at El Shaddai and prepping it for a community wide movie celebration for later that day, our team met with the staff of El Shaddai Mission. The members of the staff are the house mothers, cleaning ladies, and maintenance man. We surprised them with 50 Kg bags of maize (enough to last a family 4-6 months), cooking oil, two bags of beans, bag of brown sugar, and a bag of rice. The staff began to cheer and broke out into songs of praise to God! It was incredible! This was a magnificent way to start the day.

The next thing on our daily schedule was to deliver the mentioned care package to four of the staff’s houses. We walked and walked and walked up and down hills through beautiful scenery caring these gifts of love. We traveled over 5 miles round trip, finding out these ladies do this every day to take care of orphans at El Shaddai. They allowed us to meet their families, see their homesteads, and get a glimpse into their daily lives. What a blessing. While the rest of the team finished preparations for the community movie night, Jaime (a trip director) and I went to El Shaddai School to separate the students into members of homesteads for the movie that would be watched at 12:30 P.M. after school at the mission. This movie night would be the culmination of the celebration started at the extravaganza the day before, showing love to the families that live on the mountain (village of Ekufikeni). Each homestead that attended the movie night would receive a 50 Kg bag of ground mealie (corn) to help their families through the drought that is ravaging the country. This was a significant undertaking. There were several problems to overcome: 250 students, language barrier, head teacher (principal) not being in the school that day, not electronic data base of students, and the desperation of the families attending this school). We quickly enlisted the help of a 5th grade teacher that took charge of the situation and was invaluable. We found that there were 81 homesteads represented at El Shaddai School of which 75 were not associated with a member of the El Shaddai Mission staff (already receiving their care packages). We created a list of homesteads and marked a number on the students’ wrist bands from the day before and headed up the mountain to El Shaddai Mission.

By the time the movie started, the estimated number of people in attendance was 400 and the bags of snacks were being enjoyed. All was going great! The movie ended and the announcement/process of handing out the mealie was being explained, yet there was a commotion near the back of the sanctuary. A teacher rushed into the student section and pulled out a limp child shaking in the midst of a seizure! He ran out of the back of the sanctuary. Immediately, the two members of the team that are RN’s sprang into action. Members of our team began to pray and others ran to get medicine. The little boy made it through! However, at dinner that night the RN’s told us what they were assessing through this event. They did not think that he was going to make it. In the U.S., they would have done things totally different and he would have been fine. In this developing country, that is not the case. One of the RN’s said that she administered a medicine in a manner that she never would have in the U.S. and was hoping it would work because the normal way was not available to her. Another twist to this scary moment, was how the life giving medicine was acquired. The RN that had brought the medicine to Swaziland, of which it was in her room, had it because of a recent bought with vertigo. The doctor prescribed this medicine, commonly used for seizures, because the first medicine he tried was not working. She was not even going to fill it at the pharmacy, but felt she should. God is so good! He knows what we are going to face before it happens and places us in situations to bless others.

So, can you now see why I said the day was filled with emotion! But, it was not over for me. I had another opportunity to interact with my families sponsored child, Bandile. Bandile has had a difficult life. I was told that prior to arriving at El Shaddai Mission, he lived in a household filled with abuse and violence. He is emotionally damaged. He can show anger and violence himself, undoubtedly dealing with things of the past. Yet, I see such a tender heart. We bought him a 2016 Swaziland team t-shirt and I gave it to him Thursday night. To my surprise, he wore it on Friday! Thursday night I had the opportunity to show him videos of Lily and Eli and tell him that we loved him and prayed for him. I could see his little chin quiver as he looked straight ahead, not wanted to cry in front of me. Today, I gave him my 2016 Swaziland Team hoodie (I have an identical one so we can be twinkies) and immediately he put it on with a smile as big as Swaziland on his face! We sat on a rock and watched videos and looked at pictures on my phone with his friends, while he proudly told his friends who Lily and Eli were in each picture/video. I love this little guy and will have a hard time saying good bye to him tomorrow for 2-4 years. He is in a great place for him to heal and learn how much God truly loves him, but it will be so tough driving down that mountain tomorrow.

This has been a wonderfully full, but emotional day.
-Neil Richey

Day 6: Sala Kahle--Meaning “Stay Well” (Saturday, July 9, 2016)

I think too many of us Saturday was looming in the future and seemed to come way too fast because it was when we would have to say goodbye to everyone at El Shaddai. We started the day with our normal routine – 6:30 devotion, 7:00 breakfast, but then got everything packed into a tiny trailer and stuffed into the Kombi. We drove up to the main area around the children’s houses to say goodbyes. I knew that saying goodbye would be hard but it was so much more heart-wrenching than I had imagined. Who knew that I would feel so connected to these people and children in a matter of a few days?

I was happy when Bongiwe, a 14 year old home school girl, was there to say goodbye. I spent two days painting with her which gave us a chance to talk and get to know each other. We had shared our favorite movies and music. She loves to read and write and told me about great books she had read. I told her that writing is my least favorite – which is part of the reason I became an engineer. We sang Oceans together acapella and sang along to music from Neil’s phone. As we shared our last moments together on Saturday I reminded her that she promised to write something for me in Siswati. She broke my heart a little bit when she told me that she had looked for me after the food distribution the day before and couldn’t find me. I ran to the van and got my journal and a pen and she wrote Inkhasi ikubusise “may God bless you” and udumo malube kuwe “may praise be offered to you God” in the journal along with her favorite bible verse and the books she told me to read. We hugged and got a picture together before having to say goodbye. I wept over saying goodbye (and I’m not a cryer!).

Many people asked me what we would be doing on the trip and if we would be sharing Jesus with the people we meet. Over and over I saw that Charmain, the Aunties, the teachers, and everyone dedicating their time to these kids have been teaching about Jesus. There are verses posted in the classrooms at the school and many of the kids were most excited about the small Bible they received in their gift bags. It is not a head knowledge of who Jesus is and what he taught. It is a daily reliance and dependence on his love and provision. Knowing this makes it easier to be able to leave El Shaddai. It is evident that God is at work on that mountain and he is watching after His children. The second part of the day was the opposite from the morning – a day full of shopping! We went to a glass factory where they turn recycled glass into beautiful artwork and various types of drinking glasses – stemware, karaffes, etc. The factory employs more than 40 people per shift and many people make their living off of bringing in used bottles for money. Our next stop for shopping was the Miracle mile, which is a collection of stalls filled with hand-made crafts and goods. It is customary to haggle with the patrons here but I found that I could not drive a hard bargain, knowing this may be their only source of income. It was fun to see what everyone came back with – anything from soapstone carvings, paintings in bright colors, various beaded jewelry, wrap skirts, and even a couple slingshots! Our last stop was cut short due to road construction and a detour. We only had about 15 minutes at the candle factory. It was amazing to see an elephant or leopard come to life from a ball of wax in the hands of the craftsman – in a matter of minutes!!

Today was a day I will never forget and I think everyone has taken a piece of Africa to share with all of you – our friends and family that have supported us!
-Kalyn Froeschle

Day 7: Chase the Darkness (Sunday, July 10, 2016)

There are days when you find yourself caught up saying, ‘Wow…I’m actually in Africa.’ ‘I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing…I can’t believe I’m doing what I’m doing.’ Whether it’s driving and seeing the amazing mountain views, having a group of Swazi’s sing to you…or just taking in a moment…This is Swaziland.

Today, we got to celebrate church with our friends in Manzini. This is a different community then those up at the children’s home at El Shaddai. At the Manzini church, Compassionate Life leads a tutoring program where they feed the children as well.

This was my third opportunity preaching at Ebenezer, which is always a unique experience. Church in Swaziland, in and of itself is such a unique experience period. It’s a celebration…FULL of singing. No…you don’t get it. FUUUULLLLL of singing and celebrating. The kids sing. The teens sing. The moms and grandmas sing. They all sing. Together. A lot. One always leads…everyone else jumps in. Next song…someone else leads…it’s incredible. Even offering…offering is a celebration…the bucket is up front, and the kids, the parents, everyone, celebrates as they dance their offerings, humbly giving them to God.

As a pastor- the hardest thing for me is to preach a message across cultures, and not just because we use a translator. But, having our team here, as well as our Swazi friends- there are plenty of story’s and illustrations that often don’t go cross cultural. Baseball references- they don’t work. My sense of humor- often doesn’t work (and that’s true at home too). Many things don’t necessarily translate.

But the great thing is that the message of Christ ALWAYS translates. Grace translates. Hope translates. Light translates. Mercy, forgiveness, love translates. We talked about how Jesus looked at a crowd listening, and said ‘You are the light of the world…a city on a hill…’. On this trip we have seen and heard many accounts of darkness- of evil. Stories that will break your heart. DARKNESS. But, the amazing thing about light- is that even the smallest of lights- CHASES the darkness out. All it takes is a small little light to help you see in the middle of the darkest night.

Whether you’re in the heart of Swaziland, or working in Mid-Michigan, or whether you’re a student trying to find your place to fit in, or perhaps a new empty nester redefining what normal is- you have a light to shine. So what is it? What is that light that God has given you? You don’t have to go across the planet to shine. You can do it, right here and now. You can. You should.

After church, we played with the kids and some of the parents, (especially moms and grandma’s) for a few hours, participated in another food distribution, and just continued to build those relationships. That’s what we do. Relationship. It’s all about relationships. Relationships with friends who we see every few years. Relationships with one another. Relationships with our heavenly Father. And THAT’S how the light shines. It’s not OUR light to shine. It’s HIS light to shine.
Blessings.
-Phil Owen

Day 8: Swazi Cultural Village and Government Hospital (Monday, July 11, 2016)

We started out the day by sleeping in! It was interesting to talk with everyone and see that we all felt almost anxious about our extra hour of sleep. We felt like we needed to be doing something, but sometimes we need to rest so we can be at our best. We got to visit the cultural village and see the traditional way of Swazi life. They have a very structured society, with the males as the figurehead. The whole homestead is surrounded by a fence to keep animals and intruders out. In order to enter, one would have to go to the gate and announce “Enkiya!” so that the household could sent their young girls out to determine if the visitors were friend or foe, because enemies traditionally don’t attack women. There were different fences around the huts, and the number of bars on the fence showed what the hut was used for. The Swazi culture is very spiritual, they have a lot of faith in their ancestors and the words of their witch doctors.

We all had a lot of fun chasing the monkeys around the compound. After the tour of the homestead, we watched a performance of traditional Swazi dances. They are all very beautiful and energetic. They voices of the Swazi people are amazing, I don’t think that I have come across anyone who is scared of singing. One of the last songs that they sang was very moving. It talked about their desire to unify Africa, because they had spent so much time fighting each other, and they were ready for peace.

This was my second time on the trip, so I was more prepared for the government hospital than some of the others. Coming from a nursing standpoint, there is so much that I want to change in the hospital. Everything is set up in wards, so there are multiple beds in each room. It is not a very comfortable place, surrounded by cinderblocks and chipped paint. It is a very cold place inside. A lot of the doctors are volunteers from other countries that come, and so there is not a lot of consistency or quality of care. We brought diapers and gloves to the Head Nurse at the children’s ward, and she was so thankful, saying that we had made her day. They have to share gloves between patients, and to think that in the USA I change my gloves sometimes more than 10 times on the same patient. The children’s ward had one machine to take vital signs with out in the hallway. The parents and family members are responsible for the care of the patients, and have to stay there at all times. They have mattresses that they place on the floor to sleep under the beds of their loved ones. Most of the care is provided by the family members.

A lot of the children were there for burns and broken bones. One of the children had been kicked by a horse. I know several children had been burned by boiling water, but I feel like that must be common when they cook over open fires, and boil water in large pots. They have an abandoned baby area, however most of these people are now adults that live with disabilities. There is a man who has Cerebral Palsy that has been there for the last several trips, and has been in declining health each time. We took care packages and made pipe cleaner crowns for the kids and their families, and you would have thought that it was Christmas. The kids and their families had the biggest smiles, and they all thanked us and God for blessing them. We took pictures of each kid, and the parents were so thankful to have them. We were all out in the hall at one time, and there was so much laughter that we thought someone had gone back in, but we looked through the windows and they were all playing with the crowns and coloring books. Before we came it was a very somber time, but I am so glad we could bring so much joy with such a simple gift.

I also visited the women’s orthopedic ward. There were women that had been there for weeks waiting for surgery. Almost all of them had been there for at least 2 weeks. There was one girl who was 16, and when we asked to pray with her, she was so thankful that we had come, and she continued to tell us how much of a blessing we were to her and everyone else, and she thanked God for sending us. It was very moving.
-Allison Tubbs

Day 9: It’s African Safari Day!!! (Tuesday, July 12, 2016)

One of the most anticipated days started with a man banging on mine and Jen’s door saying we slept in too late and that our group had already left, causing us to miss the safari. Panicking Jen jumped up to open the door only to find our fearless pastor, coming to let us know we were late to the morning devotional.

Everyone was filled with excitement as we drove to Kruger Park. When we arrived we immediately jumped into open canopy vehicles and started our journey into the 2.2 million square kilometer park. The cool thing about Kruger Park is there are no sections, no cages, it’s all free range. Purely untouched nature. Our driver Kelvin was outgoing and had a great sense of humor, which made the day so much more fun. He explained to us that “The Big Five” are the five most difficult animals to find. It includes leopards, elephants, water buffalo, lions, and rhinos. Only 3 out of 10 groups see all five on their Safari and we saw every single one!

The first of the Big Five that we saw was a leopard, it had dragged an impala up into a tree to keep its meal away from other predators. We spotted the impala in the tree first, so we waited around for a few minutes hoping the leopard would make an appearance. After waiting a few minutes with no signs of him showing up we left to go find other animals. But not long after we left Kelvin, our driver, got a call saying the leopard had just jumped up into the tree. Screaming with excitement we quickly turned around and sped back to the tree, getting there just in time to watch him jump down out of the tree. It was such a cool start to the day.

We journeyed on, seeing elephants hiding behind brush, lots of impalas, families of wart hogs, and female lions all nuzzled up with each other. We found a White Rhino bathing in the sun, with 2 inch thick skin and ears that can rotate 360 degrees. It was the most majestic pile of rocks I have ever seen. We came up to an open area where there was a lone elephant not far from the road we were on. Slowly but surely he sauntered over not even 20 ft in front of us as he crossed the road. We couldn’t believe our eyes. A short stop for lunch, or as we called it “linner”, for it was 4 pm. Then the safari got really good. As the sun started to go down more animals began to come out. Giraffes, which I was most excited to see, crossed the road in front of us with a group of zebras.

We always knew there was something good ahead when we saw large groups of cars parked in the same area. As we drove closer to a group of cars our driver shouted “Giraffe fight!” At first we thought he was joking but surely enough as we rounded the corner, two giraffes were leaned up against each other. Fighting for ownership over a mate. These fights can last around 8 hours and sometimes they will fight to the death. We couldn’t have been 30 ft away, taking pictures and videos. We were all in shock that we were actually witnessing this. It was incredible. I mean how many people can say that they saw two wild giraffes fighting?

Sadly we had to start heading out of the park because it was getting dark and the park was closing soon, but not before we stopped to watch a cheetah lounging around the base of a tree. We attempted to get a few pictures before we headed out. Amazed by all the things we had seen and experienced today, while watching the sun set behind the mountains. The view here just never gets old.
-Christi Waldo

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