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It’s Official: I’m in Love With South Africa

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Y’all. My heart feels like it just might burst right in two. I have fallen madly in love with South Africa.

So many people asked me why I was going on this trip. Part of me knew why: so Lisa-Jo and I could meet with some of the local leaders here and see the work that Take Action Ministries is doing in partnership with Help One Now.

For many months, we’ve been talking and dreaming and praying and planning about how we can come alongside and help in a long-term capacity. I wanted to go and see first before we started any long-term commitment. It was important for me to get to know the people behind the ministry, to get to see the work in person, and to really have a better grasp of the needs in South Africa.

So that was one part of why I said yes to this trip.

But there was another part of me that felt like there were more reasons why I was going on this trip. That God had bigger plans and purposes — that He wanted to do something through this trip that couldn’t be accomplished by me just sending money from afar or reading about a ministry or even seeing pictures or Skyping with those involved in the ministry.

I knew I was supposed to step outside my safe Americanized bubble and go.

And if today was the only day we had on this whole trip, it was every bit worth me coming.

It was worth the time spent preparing.

It was worth a long drive to DC with my family and getting in at 3:30 a.m. in the morning only to discover there had been some miscommunication and our hotel was completely booked (and it was quite the adventure to find another hotel with an open room at 3:30 a.m.!)

It was worth leaving my family in DC and braving an 18-hour flight.

It was worth working through the what ifs.

It was worth every one of those things and so much more.

You see, because today I saw one of the beautiful examples of hope I’ve ever witnessed. Hope in the middle of what many would consider a hopeless situation. Hope where many would have long ago given up.

And not just hope, but joy, and life, and amazing impact.

But before I tell you about that hope, I want to first back up and contrast it with telling you about a woman we met with this morning who lacked hope.

We pulled up to her two-room shack this morning and you could immediately tell that she was tired, exhausted, worn out, and feeling completely overwhelmed with life. She lives in the shack with 3 other adults and 9 children. She spends her days taking care of her two young children and her neighbor’s children, as well as her nieces and nephews.

We tried to encourage her. We brought fruit for the children. We asked about her needs. But the whole time, her eyes just had this glazed over look. From what she told us, she’s been living like this for a long time and she doesn’t see a way out.

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She’s lost any drive or motivation she once had. And she’s just barely making it through each day.

Her facial expressions and tone of voice just exuded lifelessness and hopelessness. Take Action Ministries has been checking in on her and doing what they can to help her. They’ve encouraged her to do what she can to take some baby steps toward progress in her life. But she’s lost her drive and motivation.

As I watched her, my heart hurt for her. This is the only life she knows. She’s probably never had any good examples or models in her life. But at the same time, if she doesn’t want to take tiny steps to climb out of the hole she’s in, she’s never going to make any progress.

Take Action is going to continue encouraging her and making sure her children have food to eat and clothes to wear and they also want to do all they can to encourage her children to break free from this vicious cycle of hopelessness.

When we left her house, we had many discussions about what we could do to spark even a drop of hope in the lives of women like this. There are so many women who feel just like this mom does and it’s an epidemic that’s sweeping so many countries — including America.

For the next few hours, as we had meetings with the amazing folks from the Take Action Team. We talked more about the pressing needs, the greatest struggles, and how we can partner with them in the most effective manner.

(Side note: We’ve bonded so quickly with the Take Action Team — Annelien, Wanda, Jonna, Peter, Darrin, and Morne — that we feel like we’ve known them for years. These are truly some of the most selfless, warm, gracious, and giving people I’ve ever. They’ve opened their homes and hearts to us and we are already dreading having to say goodbye to them in a few days!)

All the while, my brain was in fast-forward strategy and analyst mode thinking of how we can actually spark hope for these women who are struggling with so much hopelessness. The need is staggering and there are no quick fixes or pat answers.

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As I was contemplating this, we drove up to our next destination, the Reagoboka Drop-in Centre and Early Childhood Development Centre, and sparks of hope came hitting at us from all directions. Elizabeth, the beaming leader of these centers came running out to greet us.

She was excitedly laughing and exclaiming over and over again about all of the wonderful things happening in their centers. She was the epitome of hope.

But here’s the thing: in many people’s eyes, she shouldn’t have hope. In fact, she should be exhausted, overwhelmed, and discouraged. She’s worked incredibly hard, managed what little she has well, and has poured out herself for her community.

In the process, she’s hit roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. Lisa-Jo shared more of her story tonight and you must go read it right now.

Because Elizabeth has chosen to persevere in spite of the odds, because she’s chosen to make the most of the little she has, because she’s chosen to do all she can to make an impact in her community, literally hundreds of children have been fed, cared for, loved on, and invested in over these past years she’s been running the home.

And we got to meet these children and we were blown away by the joy in their faces, the spark in their eyes, and zest they all have for life.

We played with the children, held the little ones, met the incredible team of Care Givers, asked lots of questions, saw their tiny facilities and how they are making the most of them for the 100+ children they currently help, and ate lunch with them.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.12.58 AMMy lunch today: a traditional South African lunch — samp (a kind of maize porridge) Morogo (spinach), and Mealies (corn).

The children were all smiles and hugs and the Care Givers were laughing and playing with the kids and exclaiming to us how much they loved working with the children and helping the community. All around, we saw hope bursting forth. I was contagious and inspiring.

And it was all because one woman chose to not be overwhelmed by her limited circumstances, but to do what she could, with what she had.

She has not only inspired and impacted countless families in this community, but her life will forever impact mine.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.15.26 AMThe Care Givers — don’t these look like such a fun group? They were so full of life and energy!


A big thank you to Anthony Churchyard for donating his time and skills to capture hundreds of pictures and videos for us today! There will be many more stories and pictures to come in the weeks and months ahead! I have dozens of blog posts percolating in my brain right now. 🙂

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  • Andrea Buwalda says:

    Hi Crystal. I’m so glad you are having a God-filled week so far. It’s awesome to see this sort of blog on your site. You should check out Shining A Light Ministry. Very similar. It’d give you lots of ideas for empowering women.

  • Amy says:

    Perhaps the 2nd group you met could reach out to the woman who felt hopeless? Are they close? Does the woman know about them and could perhaps bring the children there and possibly help out at the center as well? Yes helping yourself is a start but sometimes people don’t realize that there is hope out there and someone just needs to help show them the way….kind of like why you start your blog…. 😉

    • We had a lot of discussions about these sorts of things and will continue to do so. I was sharing with them this very thing — how sometimes women on my blog who were feeling desperate and without hope didn’t know there was hope because they don’t see any stories or know any women in similar situations who have found any hope. And how important it is to empower them by sharing stories of women who are just like them who have found a way to take tiny steps to get in a better place.

      Take Action has a plan in place (and help in place) to continue to reach out to her and other similar women and encourage them and find ways to give them hope — and we talked about specific ways we might partner with them to help them further this plan. And we had a lot of discussions on what brings hope and how do we spark that hope in women who are feeling so hopeless.

      I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m highly determined to continue talking, praying, watching, researching, listening, and having an ongoing discussion about this. I welcome input from those here who have experience in seeing/bringing/developing lasting change/hope in situations like this where individuals feel hopeless.

    • Debbie Auen says:

      I am enjoying your journey so much! I can’t get over the holes in the metal on their shelter and no shoes on them babies. Most people in America complain what we have, what a comparison. Thank you for sharing.I love the photos.

  • Erica says:

    Love this! Our ministry here is Guatemala is very similar and providing hope to just one person makes everything worth it. 🙂 Be ready though because you will look at everything differently and life will never be the same! You may even decide to be crazy and move your whole family to a foreign country like us! Praying for great things for your team!

    • Lori says:

      Hi Erica,

      Can you tell me the name of your ministry. I am originally from Guatemala and have been feeling the need to help the people there, as I know how tremendous the poverty situation is right now.


  • Anne says:

    I got the chills reading this. Keep spreading the Good News!

  • Jennifer says:

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us 🙂
    Praying for everyone, especially for the woman you described as having a glazed over look in her eyes–that was such a painful description.
    Are you finding any resentment at all towards missionaries?

    • Most of those were with here who are ministering are locals (long-time South Africans — to clarify: there are white and black South Africans, so most of the white people you see in the pictures (besides us!) are South African) and I have been so crazily inspired, challenged, encouraged, and blessed by watching them, learning from them, listening to them, and just seeing them have such hearts for making an impact here.

      • Jennifer says:

        I’m thrilled for you. Can’t wait to see the effects on your site 🙂

      • Vickie says:

        It is so good to read about the good works being done there. I’m so glad you made this trip to let us know the conditions of some of the South Africans and how we can help. So sorry for this lady and I hope she gets help soon. I’m sure the love that you were able to show her lifted her spirits and gave her hope.

  • Yippee! You’re off to such a great start! Praying for you and Lisa-Jo and Joy and all the rest. What a life-changing experience. So thankful you are there.

  • says:

    Hopelessness and weariness in these kinds of conditions are a normal reaction. Years of poverty and hardship can lead to serious mental illness like depression that inspiration may not fix. I say this as someone who has experienced major depression as a medical illness.

    The type of intervention available in America is most likely not available in the developing world. Not that America holds the key to treating depression.

    My heart aches for the people whose burdens are so many and the weariness caused by living a way that would be hard for me to fathom. When lack of basic human needs coupled with lack of opportunity are present, it is no wonder there is hopelessness. It is a matter of survival. Sometimes surviving should be honored as it is the greatest act of human will and hope there is.

    • Jennie says:

      What you wrote it so true. I was also wondering if she is depressed. We forget how privileted we are as Americans. It would be horrible to live daily worrying about if your most basic needs would be met.

  • MaryEllen says:

    So sad to see the hopelessness of this lady, but we know that the only true hope is found in Christ. Meeting her physical needs is only part of the picture; hopefully someone can introduce her to Christ and she will find her hope and joy in Him and look to Him to provide for her physical needs also.

    • Amy says:

      Amen. 🙂

    • Yes, that’s definitely a huge part of what Take Action is here for — seeking to provide a holistic approach to impacting communities here — physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. It’s amazing to witness the impact it’s having!

    • Kara P says:

      Amen. I was thinking about John 14:6 when Jesus tells Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Sometimes I think we hear this so much, we forget that Jesus is everything. It does not mean that we should neglect the physical needs of the people (remember the story of the Good Samaritan), but that Jesus knows the hearts of God’s children–their despair, fears, hopes, and love. He is the way to their true hope and love, the Father. Thankfully, when we reach out to the hurt and poor in Spirit (for theirs is the kingdom if heaven) we can remember that Jesus is the beginning and end, the way, truth, and the life–and that the promises he has made to us are the promises he has made to them. Our testimony is a prophecy in some ways, because Jesus has set us free means that he WILL set them free also. God bless you, Crystal. I am praying for you, and am so blessed that you are sharing your journey with us.

  • Kathleen says:

    Thank You for letting us in on your journey! So touching! You are awesome!!! Take Care!!!! 🙂

  • Sarah Mae says:

    I love you, I love this, and it’s all so WONDERFUL AND BEAUTIFUL!

  • Lana says:

    Thank you so much for sharing! And you are right that there is the same in America. I see it in my own city far too often. Praying for you all and your family in DC.

  • Stephanie says:

    I’m praying for you Crystal. You continue to inspire me, and I’ve seen you grow so much in the 5 years I’ve been following your blog. Christ is working in you, and I can’t wait to hear what happens next. It goes to show what one group, and even one person, can accomplish to make a difference in the lives of those who need it most.

  • Laura says:

    Hi Crystal, I’m a missionary at a children’s center in neighboring Mozambique. I am often in South Africa, although more for respite than for ministry. But the conditions are similar in the two countries. Bless you for going and seeing and serving and dreaming. Thank you for noting there are no pat answers and yet there are strategies and solutions (I call them Divine Strategies!) which can bring hope and change and abundant life! Thank you for using your blog and this large platform to perhaps spark a fire in one, or more, of your readers, to bring hope to others, across the world or across the street! Keep dreaming! Laura

  • denise says:

    Love the S. Africa updates! I love missions. And I love your heart foe others! Can’t wait to read more posts as you have time!

  • Jeanette says:

    This is fascinating and touching, thanks for sharing your trip with us!

  • Linda says:

    A three-some of Z’s who have also fallen in love with Africa, (its West side) are grinning from ear to ear, and so excited for you! I guess I really could make it 4 Z’s as I forget about all the years Aaron worked there as well.

  • Gloria-A says:

    Crystal you are an inspiration to me in many areas, but especially about not letting current circumstances, family, single parenting, young children, comfort zone, food allergies, prevent us from taking steps to do something to reach out and help others. I have a daughter preparing to head out to Kenya for her first mission trip with her university. My other daughter and I went through your posts on South Africa to get a feel for some appropriate clothing for my daughter. She was given a list of all the things not to pack. We got some good images to work from and went out to a thrift store to find skirts and tops.

    I just want to say my daughter (14) walked up to the computer when I wanted to show her the story and she said “oh my! She is so pretty!” “look at her!”

    While you look stunning in the pictures posted all made up for the video about writing a book, you truly are a beautiful person that shines from the made up pics to the time in the mission field. = )

    • Thank you so much for your sweet words of encouragement!

      We asked about clothes before we went and they recommended lightweight skirts/sundresses, tank tops or really light tops, and a hat (it was REALLY hot a few of the days — especially when we were outdoors in the blazing sun). At least in the areas we were in, women seemed to wear only skirts/jeans/pants/capris. I only saw shorts on a woman a few times and those were usually long shorts — like Bermuda length. And good shoes were a must. We were on our feet and walking a lot — often in really dusty/dirty areas.

      Anyway, I hope your daughter has an amazing trip!

  • Crystal, is the woman in the top story part of the family that Wanda built a home for? (I don’t want to use the name here on the internet.) So amazing to see it all come full circle. And that is the exact same way that I felt when I went to Reagoboka…just blown over by the HOPE. I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the needs at Maubane from the day before and thinking, “Can this really be done??” And then when I saw the joy at Reagoboka, I was like, “YES THIS IS POSSIBLE!” Amazing.

    Thanks again for sharing this experience.

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