Thursday, March 21, 2013

Showered with LOVE!!

Yesterday was a bittersweet day for us, as it was the last day of us teaching our students. This trip has been life changing in more ways that I can express, and yesterday was no exception. Our first class started much earlier than we were anticipating (miscommunication somewhere) So i ran up to the pool & we decided to have free swim for the students.The past two weeks I have been working mainly with students that could already somewhat swim, teaching them to side-breathe and keep their face in the water. I just watched in amazement as these students swam with such heart! They were very excited about pencil dives as well:

After class two boys who had been swimming with me asked if we could come watch them play rugby the following week and asked if we were coming back- it just melted my heart! I asked them to say their name and what they liked about swimming. Here's their little clip:

The teachers invited us for tea during their break so we were able to walk with the students back to the school, where the following took place:

I could have taken videos for hours, these students were so excited to share that they could swim and how much they loved it!! 

Tea time with the school staff was wonderful and I wish we took pictures. Franschhoek High School has a stellar group of teachers and we were so honored to work with them for the short time that we did! The headmaster mentioned in his thank you speech that we started something there and we had to come back to continue, We are feeling the same way! I fought tears as we sat with these teachers and had coffee with them, I was beginning to feel overwhelmed. How could our short weeks here have made such an impact on them & their students? It's what we prayed for and what we wanted, and it happened; I just didn't realize how big of an impact it made. After our tea time we walked to take a group picture with all the primary students that we taught, grades 1-7. The principal thanked us again in front of the students & again stated we needed to come back :) He then handed the time over to Mrs. Hoffman, who has been our main point of contact for the school, she is the teacher who set our schedule and really put things together. Mrs. Hoffman thanked us and shared how each of the students had made a donation to get us two gym bags from the high school, and that is when i couldn't hold back the tears any longer! She asked us to speak and I cried through the first few sentences as I spoke of how much we loved each and every one of them and how they have a special place in our hearts. Kopo spoke as well, and many of the students were crying when we spoke, it was priceless! We then took our group photo, which I will post when we get it emailed to us :)

We continued teaching throughout the day, we had 4 classes after our break. Here is a video of one of our students, Rebecca. She was extremely fearful of the water when we first started and would barely put her face in. This was her first time in the deep end (almost 10ft) and she shined!

Here is a quick video of our Grade 5 beginner students. When I say beginner, I mean some of them wouldn't even suit up for the first class, and when they finally did get in the pool, it was a challenge just to keep them in the water.

I am so humbled that God has done so much through our obedience to Him, I am completely blown away! I sobbed while writing this post, I stopped halfway through I was crying so much and completely at a loss for words. I cannot thank God enough for His goodness, His provision and His love. We could not have done this without Him, there is NO WAY i could possibly have this much love in my heart without him. Thank you to Jeff and Joan Smith and King's Swim Academy for sending us. Thank you for praying for us and encouraging us- no comment or "like" went unnoticed! Thank you to our few financial supporters who gave generously to help us serve these children and this community, we cannot say thank you enough!!

This is not the last of our posts, there is still so much that happened that we have yet to write and more that we still need to process. Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we prepare to come home and reengage in the Bay Area. We are excited and look forward to continuing to work together at King's Swim Academy San Mateo! At this time we are still trusting God for a place to live, we know that He will provide as He always has. We have had a few housing possibilities, but nothing we have gotten the OK from God for. We are looking forward to our last few days here in South Africa, then we fly home through London, where we will spend 6 days with our dear friends. 

Whatever you do today, share love! Love God. Love your kids, love your wife or husband. Love your family. Love someone else's kid. Share love with people who you think don't deserve it, they probably need it most. Hug someone. Smile at someone. Be thankful for everything you have, even if times are tough. It truly is better to give than to receive.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kopo writes a post....

Hello everyone. Here is a little insight into my life.  I'm beyond excited to be out here in South Africa serving together with my wife. Being out here has been a life changing experience for me. I wake up every day just ready to teach these kids to swim. Before we started our first lessons we prayed that this swimming pool would be a healing place for these kids. Since we started our lessons, this pool has been an healing place not just for the kids but for me and my wife too. We love what we do and we enjoy teaching swimming to these kids. We see that a lot of them want to learn how to swim but they are so afraid of the water. I had a 6 year old girl that she was so scared of the water that I had to help her get in. I carried her in and when she got in the water she threw her arm around my neck and literally almost pulled my beard off. I told her to let go of my beard and not to worry that I will hold her while she's swimming. It took this little girl 5 minutes to let go of my beard. I smiled the whole time even though I was in pain, I kept a straight face. I told her to hold on to the wall, I turned my back towards her and that's when it really hit me and I was telling myself " It's time to shave" We attend this great church here in Franschhoek that Jeff and Joan Smith told us about before we came out here and its called Shofar. We met Pastor Yannis Acavalos the first day we went there. The service was great and we feel like we've been going here for a long time. We talked to Yannis for a bit and we asked him about joining a small group while we're here. He told us that he will pray to see which small group would fit us better and that he will have someone contact us the next day. We got an email, text message and a phone call from one of the small group leaders named WP. He picked us up for small groups and we had a great time together, we met so many great people that night whom now we call friends. We got invited to go on a hike with them and we had a blast. My wife already posted about that. 

I got invited to attend a Shofar Men's Camp about 2 weekends ago. I thought it would be a great idea to go and connect with men of God. I rode up with a gentleman name Wessel and his twin sons James and John. We also had one of the guys from the church named Ricardo drive with us, here is a photo of us:

 Wessel took us along the scenic route to get to our destination. It was a beautiful ride and we all chatted on the way up there. We arrived to our destination and we started setting up our tents. I didn't have a tent or a sleeping bag but I was told not to worry, they would supply one for me. Ricardo had a big two sided tent so he stayed in one and I used the other one. I got to meet more men from the shofar church and we had a great time chatting. We had our first session that Friday night and it was amazing. There were about 600 men there that weekend. Some of the men brought their sons. I thank God that I got to be a part of this Men's Camp. God showed me a lot of things. My calling is to be on the mission field serving Him. On our last night during worship, we were asked to go outside and just look up to the sky and just worship him. I've never seen so many stars and I've never worshiped like that ever in my life and it was beautiful. The stars were beautiful.  I felt the presence of God that night and it was amazing. I had a great time fellowshipping  with so many great men of God. Here are some more shots from the weekend:

I always hear people talking about "living on faith". Well we have been living on faith for almost 2 months. All of this is voluntary so we don't get paid for it and since I had to quit my job to come here we have no income coming in. I thank God and I praise him everyday for providing for us and giving us great friends who have supported us since day one. Before we left He said not to worry that he will take care of us and He has. God is Great and he's been an amazing provider, protector and an AMAZING FATHER. We don't have a 15 year , 10 year or even a 5 year plan. We PLAN to serve God anywhere and any way we can.  

Joshua 24: 15
And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A piece of my heart...

Hello again! It's 6pm and I am WIPED! We only taught two classes today, but it is so much more than the teaching. We got our official schedule yesterday and now know exactly who and when we will be teaching, so that is very exciting! All the days vary, from only one class to four classes a day. Bear in mind this is an outdoor, non-heated pool :)

Last weekend was draining as well, both physically(we did an intense hike) and emotionally(found out a friend at home passed away & my friend's daughter passed away)It has been a lot to process and this blog is helping me. Yes, it is great to keep everyone updated on what is going on, but I also want it as an outlet for me and for us to look back and remember what happened while we were here. Not just the teaching, but what emotions we had, our thoughts and feelings.Last weekend was extremely draining. I didn't fall asleep until 3am on Sunday morning because I was crying and having it out with God. I was upset, sad, confused and tired. When I found out that my friend's 5.5 month old daughter died i was heartbroken, then I was furious. I prayed through tears, "God, I know this isn't your fault and I am not blaming you, but WHY?! Why didn't you heal her? I've been praying for her since before she was born(just before my friend gave birth there were complications, she ended up giving birth at 24 weeks & her daughter stayed in the hospital until last week when she died) Why did you give her parents and family hope when you let her survive being born at 24 weeks?" I cried for quite some time. Asked God for peace for my friend and peace for me. I don't have the answer to those questions, and I don't need them, I just needed to be real with God. And real with myself, I don't always have to have it all together, or have the most faith, It's okay to cry and grieve. I needed a release of tears, fears and  raw emotion. i know God is good and just and His ways are better than mine, even if I don't understand them. Sunday and Monday were nice days of recovery and refreshing. I had an amazing time with God and Kopo.

Yesterday was a full schedule, we had four classes of 20-25 students each! It was crazy. It was fun. It was overwhelming. It was lifechanging. These past two days teaching have really taken a toll on us: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  As much as I love what we are doing and know that we are exactly where we are supposed to be, it has not been easy. We have had students come that haven't been able to swim because they don't own a swimsuit, that was the one rule the school had regarding the swimming. However there are teachers that do not enforce it, so many students have swam in their boxers, tightie whities, undies, whatever they have. It's all the same to me. Yes, I am accustomed to children swimming in swimsuits, but I do not think that not owning one should stop them from learning to swim. Seeing their faces is absolutely priceless! Even taking a picture I cannot possible capture the joy on their faces when it comes time to swim. You would have thought we brought them to Disneyland! That is for most of the students. Yesterday we had three second grade girls that were so terrified, they screamed and grabbed onto us and did not want to even stand in the water. I had never seen anyone so scared, and I have worked with many a scared child, I was completely in over my head. I prayed and prayed and asked God to renew my strength like never before, and He did. I don't have it in me. Yes I love children but the love that is needed for this is too much for my heart. In the same class I wanted to scream & yell, or just hug and hold these students and cry. God is stretching me beyond my comfort, beyond my ability to love and teaching me so much in all of this. Yes, it can be frustrating, but I have to see beyond myself. These kids are crying out for love and attention, someone that will give them the time of day. I do love them, and I want my love to grow deeper as I seek God and ask Him to continue to change my heart. That God would help me to love like him, and that is crazy unless I really mean it. And He is testing that. Am I really willing to love people I don't know, that are irritating or rude or mean or whatever, not the students but everyone. I don't determine people's worthiness of love, HE does. This is all stuff I know, but really need to live out.

Something else God pointed out to me while I was writing the blog just struck me and brought me to tears, at the age of some of these students, I wouldn't be able to swim in that pool, neither would Kopo. We wouldn't have been able to go to that school either, it was a white school until 1994 when apartheid ended. That is mindblowing! Now, we can come and teach and swim freely, with all groups, blacks, whites & coloured. I believe this pool will be a pool of healing, not physical, but spiritual, emotional and mental. That children can come here and have fun and be loved on regardless of their home situation, social status or skin color. It is incredible and overwhelming, I am so humbled to be here. Today was great, challenging but rewarding. 

We had freetime at the end of class and I had girls talking to me and grabbing me and just wanting to be near me, and i got to hug them and they got to hang on me. It was so fun and freeing. It just warmed my heart to be able to give love. One girl told me "You are so friendly to us!" I felt a connection with these kids, even the non-english speaking ones, they knew we loved them. That is all that matters. Do we want them to swim? Yes. Will it be a waste if they don't learn? absolutely not! I could leave today and know that I loved them with everything I have, and don't have! I am overwhelmed that God has chosen my husband and I to represent Him here, we will do our best with His strength. Here's a shot of us in the pool today

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My husband is AMAZING! Blessed with the BEST!

Hello again! In my frenzy of trying to post my last update, I left out a very important part of my post. My husband has absolutely come into his own in the pool! I am so beyond impressed with him, not just as his wife, but as co-workers :) He LOVES these kids and even though he is new to teaching, he is a natural! The way he relates to them and just has this effortless way of connecting. Seeing God use him in such a unique way is so amazing. God has just been showing me day by day how perfect we are for one another, how His perfect plan is for us to serve together and how blessed I am to have such an incredible husband! Yesterday we had a lesson with a 23 year old man who works with Heather, the American we met at church. He is the Sports coordinator for a non profit in a city nearby. He was really scared about swimming but I told Heather to have him call us up if he wanted lessons, and he did. I got him in the water and had him going under and holding his breath. I really felt like Kopo should teach him so I let him take over. It was INCREDIBLE! They bonded, Kopo had him laughing and completely put him at ease. He was kicking by himself for quite a distance by himself by the end. He had a blast. And it really instilled confidence in Kopo concerning his own teaching. Here are some shots I got of them:

He is such an awesome reminder to me that when God calls us to do something, He will equip us and truly show that He is in control. I love my obedient husband and I am so blessed to have this amazing opportunity to serve together. His heart for others is inspiring.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A sense of belonging

This week was a very productive week,both swimming wise and socially. We met with the Headmaster of Franschhoek High School and got a mini plan in place for teaching swimming. It is hard for the older students to attend in the morning during regular classes, but we settled on two afternoons a week to start. On Tuesday and Thursday from 2-4pm, the pool will be open just for the High Schoolers to learn to swim. Once we get an idea as to how many students are interested, we will add a bit more structure; it is a start though and we are thrilled. M-F mornings we will have some younger classes come. Today we had our first class, 25 Second graders! The class was fairly evenly split between boys and girls, so we taught the boys first, and the girls after. It was challenging  yet extremely fun and rewarding. These kids are SO EAGER to learn, i fought tears the whole time. We have been given such an amazing opportunity to pour into their lives. Not just swimming, but love, acceptance, confidence and courage. Their teacher could not stop thanking us for coming, she seriously spent a few minutes just trying to grasp that people would travel so far voluntarily to teach her students and other students. She said she will bring them 3 times a week!!! Here is a photo we took after lessons.

Later we also had lessons with a much smaller group, around 10 students. That went well except for the fact that the pool was so freezing they could not get used to it and hopped out after about 25 minutes. We still had fun and so did the students. We took a photo with them as well.

Now onto our social/spiritual connections. Last Sunday was the first time we could visit a church since leaving home, and we were really in dire need of connecting with other christians. We visited Shofar, which is an amazing, multi cultural congregation. It is one of the few English speaking churches, which is a huge plus for us :) They have two services and we went to both to see if we liked one more than the other, both were fabulous and we felt right at home. People here are so nice and welcoming, we felt a true sense of belonging. I wrote a bit about the church in my last blog, but I am just doing a bit of follow-up. We ran into the pastor on Tuesday afternoon and he asked if someone had contacted us about attending a small group, we said no, and he assured us someone would be contacting us shortly. Boy was he right. Later that day I received 2 phone calls, a text message and an email regarding joining a small group-the same group not different calls ofr different groups. We were impressed with the diligence someone was taking to track us down and really make room for us in their group. We attended on Wednesday and LOVED it. We just connected right away and stayed til 10:30 talking to people(It ended at 9) They invited us hiking the next evening, Thursday, and another hike in Cape Town(an hour or so away) on Saturday. Thursday's hike was a great experience! On our way up the mountain we stopped to watch the baboons on the side of the road-AHHHH i was so stoked! I have been wanting to see baboons the whole time we have been here so i was ecstatic that we saw 2 troops, including baby babies :D Thankfully the baboons here are wild and haven't had a lot of interactins with humans so they are kept to themselves and were unfazed by us observing them for 15 min or so. Apparently the baboons in Cape Town have been fed too much by humans, so they associate humans with food and tend to attack people and are considered more dangerous. Here are a couple shots I got of them

We then proceeded up the mountain til we got to Mt. Rochelle, our hiking starting point. It was a breathtakingly gorgeous hike, the view at the end was incredible. Here are some photos but they don't do the view any justice.

We stayed at the top for quite a while, it was so peaceful and incredible, i can't wait to go again!!!! I must finish here as we are leaving in 35min to go to a 21st birthday in Cape Town! Minnie invited us, it is one of her friends' daughter. Have a great weekend!

*Consistency with teachers bringing students to lessons
*For the weather to cooperate and the wind to die down.
*For us to be able to love on these kids with God's love. We don't have it in ourselves to love them the way they need. We want them to experience the love God has for them.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Enjoying the slowness of Africa and being awakened to the dark reality of living here...

It has been a while since I last posted, I apologize for not updating. No excuses, I just didn't. Let's see, last Saturday, February 9, we participated in the 27 for freedom walk/run that I posted about in our previous blog. You can read info here . We boarded a bus with over 100 kids, it was quite the experience :) As we were running, there were children passing us barefoot! Just that morning I was worried about what type of workout pants I should wear, as I had brought several; these kids ran in what they had, I saw some girls in torn up clothes and many were barefoot. It wasn't a typical 5k, we ran mostly in sand which was right in the
middle of what seemed like a farm. We passed cows!

It was just amazing to be there and participate in an event that is so important here, to honor one of their heroes. At the finish line we got a cup of coke! hahaha only in South Africa I tell ya..

Since we were (and still are) waiting on the school to give us the students & schedule for our teaching, we decided to help Minnie out around the community. I joined the ladies on their house to house visits in the township(poorer area) The work they do is amazing. There are so many young mothers here, and/or women who didn't have any guidance growing up and now they have their own children and do not even know the basics about taking care of children. We went house to house(they visit 2x/month, they do this every day, so there are a lot of families they help) and their focus of the week was Safety. They explained to the mothers the dangers of electrical outlets, cords, every day items that could be harmful if not put away, and so forth.  These are women from the community that grew up there and know firsthand what it is like to grow up there and not know a thing about raising a family. I loved that i was just shadowing and supporting them, they have a great program and I was just assisting :)

Kopo and I also spent some time in the pool, as i am still training him to be an instructor- it was a lot of fun! Valentine's day was great, we ate out and ended the night at the local theatre. Unfortunately I got very sick, mainly because I didn't see a doctor at the first signs, so i went to the doctor on Friday, got an injection in my  arm and some antibiotics. Stayed in bed all day Saturday, and Sunday i was feeling much much better. We decided to check out a local church that is only a few minutes away. It was fabulous! It was a much needed time of spiritual refreshment. Very sweet people, we enjoyed ourselves very much! We decided to go back for the evening service and we are so happy we did. We were able to talk to the Pastor and find out his story & hear his heart which was nice.

We also met an American who has been living here since 2007, what a treat! She offered to give us a ride home and we ended up taking her out to dinner and talking for hours, we were all thrilled to be with fellow Americans :) We had really good talk about living here and the whole situation with the blacks, whites and coloureds, it is so mind boggling to us. *I just want to make something clear, that is how people are referred to here, it is not a racist remark or meant to be offensive, here, people are either Black, White or Coloured.* It sounded weird to us at first, but it was made clear that it is not rude, it is how people are referred to. The crazy thing about living here is segregation was so recent here, only 19 years since Apartheid. People stare at us, they can't figure out what we are, but they know for sure we are not from here. One of the biggest things I noticed was how the blacks and coloureds look at us, it is as if they aren't sure how to approach us, or even if they should. Once I started looking them in the eye and smiling, their face would change and they would greet us. As I explained this to Heather, the American, she offered more insight on this. She said that coloured people, especially kids, do not have the confidence that we do, so seeing someone that is not white walk around with their head held high is very intriguing to them. She bets if we gathered a group of coloured kids we'd have their undivided attention, it would be a great way to build their confidence. She lives in an all black community and works at a black school. She said it is crazy how the white schools here have everything: beautiful pools, tennis courts, courts and fields for every sport, the list is endless. The school she works at barely has desks if they are lucky, there are over 100 kids in a classroom, and there is not one field! She explained that technically the black kids are allowed to go to white schools but the fees(all public schools have fees here) are kept so high that there is no way a black family would be able to afford the fees without a scholarship.I was shocked and angry, it's so hard to know what is going on when we are in this little town that is very wealthy and thrives on tourism. I don't feel the racism to the extent that Heather was describing, but I get glimpses of it.We told her about the little girl from the squatter camp who was killed(see our previous post) and she was so upset, but she could see how it could go unnoticed if it was a white man who killed her. She said the sad reality is that unless someone of a lighter color is advocating for them, nothing will happen. The black voices fall on deaf ears here, it's sad, it's wrong, but it is the reality of life here. My heart sank.We talked a lot about racism, social justice, government policies, and much more. I am still processing it all and will update later as I still have so many feelings swarming around in my head and my heart. I had a terrible dream having to do with social justice and woman who was being denied a marriage certificate by her husband's family, she risked death if she challenged it. I woke up with a heavy heart and will spend some time today processing and praying and journaling. I feel like my thoughts are everywhere and so is this post, I'm trying!

We are beginning to see that God had more than the pool and swimming in mind when bringing us here, and we are determined to seek Him out on this. We can't change the world. We can't change a city or town, but we can make a difference one life at a time, and that is what we want to do.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The other side of Franschhoek...

(Kopo here) Well hello again to all of you. We just want to share a little bit about our experience today. Minnie (our contact lady here in SA) invited us today to come to where she lives to help her out with the kids that she's working with. While we were getting ready we received a call from her to see if we can come early to join her in a meeting that they were having at 2:00pm. We had to walk about 3 blocks down to catch a taxi. On our way down there we started asking people where can we find the taxi stand. One man took us down to where the taxi stand was and told the driver where we were going. So we got in the taxi van and there were 4 ladies in there and with us it's 6. We thought that we were gonna leave right away because we had to be at the youth house at 2:00pm. It was 14 minutes after 2 and the taxi driver was just standing outside. He waited for his van to be filled and then he finally jumped in around 2:30. There were 14 of us in this van. It was a different experience for both of us since it's our first time in South Africa. (Crystal is taking over as Kopo is tired. He did well!) The drive just a few miles away was heartbreaking. I was shocked to see how much poverty existed just a few minutes away from an area that was very wealthy. There were houses made of tin, children running around everywhere, garbage everywhere; this was a completely different world from where we were staying just a few miles up the road. When we arrived to the youth house we got to sit in on a meeting with various leaders from different communities, some local, some further away. It was great to hear what is happening here and all that is being planned for this year. Everyone was really excited about the pool and the lessons, as it apparently is much needed especially for towns further away. They spoke of many drownings happening because children who cannot swim are swimming in dams and/or rivers nearby. We are very honored to be able to pass on this life skill to this community, and we can already see how it will be used to change not only the community the pool is in, but other communities as well. 

After the meeting Minnie asked if we needed to go home or if we wanted to stick around, we opted to hang out a bit longer. She then told us the tragic story of a 2yr old girl who was run over by a van the week before. She died and there would be a memorial service for her in a neighborhood not too far from where we were. The neighborhood is known as Squatter camp, as people come and build a house out of whatever they have and it's grown quite large. So, after a quick stop at Minnie's place we walked to the squatter camp. Here is the place of Inam's memorial before everyone arrived.
My heart broke as I saw all the little kids who went to preschool with Inam.

Here is her memorial photo. Such a beauty.

When the memorial began we found out the whole story behind her death. She was run over when a man was speeding through the small neighborhood, when eveyone screamed for him to stop he did, she was still breathing when two men tried to get her out. Unfortunately man then reversed, thereby running her over again and killing her before speeding away. The man who hit her was part of the municipality nearby and has not been charged with anything, nor is anything being done to compensate the family. They have gone to the police and nothing is being done. It really gave us a better understanding of what these squatters go through, because regardless of race or class, justice needs to be upheld. It was great to be there to support the village and their family, they were glad we came. While there were very raw emotions, there was also a deep sense of joy I could feel even though I didn't understand a word they said or sang, until I heard them sing It is well with my soul. That really hit me. These people have nothing in our eyes, but they are they rich in faith and in God's love, and those are true riches. I cannot imagine what Inam's parents are going through, but I will continue to pray for them and their whole community. Please join me in praying as well. I also want to pray for justice to prevail in this case, even though it doesn't seem possible or hopeful.
Here is the view of the squatter's field where many children play. Such a beautiful view...

This is just across the field, hard to see all the trash and tin houses...

Thanks for keeping up with us :) We don't plan on posting daily, today was very special and we wanted to honor Inam by sharing her story and how much she impacted her community and how deeply she will be missed by all.