“This Little Light of Mine” – Serving Children in the “Africa” of South Africa

“What time is it?” shouted the little girl, Imihle, who was standing right outside the yard barefooted where we were staying.

“It is 1 pm,” I replied, realizing that she has no watch to tell time.

“When is the Center open today?” Imihle asked again.

“3 pm!” I shouted back.

For the next two hours, she, her little sister Isi, and several of her friends just stood outside of the fence waiting and passing time among each other. Unlike children in western countries, these children had no toy, no ball, and no iPad. For them, coming to the Education Center would the highlight of their day.

Transkei is the homeland of the Xhosa Tribe.

This is Transkei, Eastern Cape, South Africa — one of the poorest districts of South Africa and the Homeland of the Xhosa Tribe.

The Xhosa language is very entertaining because it has “clicking” phonetics!

“Here we discovered the ‘Africa’ of South Africa,” shared Theo and Debby, the founders of the Education Center and our Workaway host for the week. (see https://www.facebook.com/QoloraEduCentre)

This is our home in Transkei and our hosts Debby and Theo.

Feeling Hopelessness

After driving 8 hours through remote valleys, urban masses of people, and the final 24 kilometers of bumpy dirt road, we arrived at a remote village called Ngclizela in Transkei, East Cape. Theo and Debby, welcomed us with a big pot of hot soup and briefed us on the challenges here:

“Few people work. Few people plow. Most children have no fathers. There is no running water and there is not enough electricity. They live off monthly government grants so having more children means more handouts. Men here spend their time drinking. The cows are slaughtered for special events, not for income generation…”

Children are mostly without fathers.

When I texted World Vision, a Christian NGO focusing on the needs of children, who also work around this area, I received the following assessment:

“One of the biggest issues is poverty, with many people surviving on social grants… rates of unemployment are quite high. Agriculture could be a great way for people to sustain themselves but most of the areas struggle with access to water… With COVID, the need for water has been highlighted even more… There are also child protection issues in the areas – early marriages are common, fighting (stick or faction fighting) among the youth of different villages are common and sometimes lead to death as well as physical and sexual abuse.. this year we had a number of cases of child suicide.”

The more I thought of the situation, the more a feeling of hopelessness began to sink in. How will they break out of this vicious downward cycle of poverty, addiction, violence, and fatherlessness?

Walking through the village fields.

Ministering as a Family

The Education Center was closed for several months due to COVID. So our first morning was busy cleaning up the center and clearing spaces for the opening in the afternoon.

Then they came. There were around 12 children of all ages from 3 year-old to 16 year-old that rushed into the Center. The Center suddenly came alive with kids jumping, laughing, and running all over.

Walking with the children to the Education Center.

We didn’t know what to expect so our first afternoon with the neighborhood children was just playing different games with them, such as Spikeball, jumping rope, puppet, Legos, Duck Duck Goose, and various games my children learned when they were the same age as them.

We were exhausted, but happy to see that they have so much joy.

Playing with the children at the Education Center.

Afterward, we sat down as a family and began to plan how we should run the program for the coming days. There was much discussion. Given that Christmas was coming up, we try to have a Christmas theme in all the activities. I gave my input but I realized that my children didn’t like many of my suggestions, especially my suggestion for the Christmas skit. It was amusing and encouraging to see Joani, Olivia, and Nathan taking over the planning and they began to make a list of activities, prioritize them and put them into logical sequences for the different days. Although my ego was a little bruised, I can see that they have confidence in their decisions, especially given that they are much closer in age to these neighbor kids than I!

To celebrate Christmas, we did a puppet show telling the nativity story.

“You know dad, not many children will be able to handle living in this remote village,” Joani reminded me. “You should feel happy that your kids are not complaining.”

Indeed, half of the days we were here, there were electric blackouts. One even lasted for almost 24 hours. Sometimes there was no hot shower and no running water when the pump had no electricity. And most challenging of all, there was no wifi.

Eating in the dark due to electric black outs.

But because my three children had lived in rural China for many years and sometimes even lived in a worse environment than here, they were used to the inconveniences. Joani even shared that the place was much better than she imagined!

The biggest surprise for all of us was the amazing cooking by Theo. He used to be a chef and it showed. The way he cut the meat, prepared the food, roll the dough, added the spices, and served the food all showed his true color. For one week, he literally gave us a food tour of South Africa. We had Bunny Chow, oven-baked pizza, fat cake, warthog sausage, kudu game meat, goat meat chop, black pot stew with rice, hand-made pasta, etc. As Debby put it, the family clearly enjoyed every South African dish going by the squeals of oohs and aahs and photos taken around every meal. We returned the favor in a small way by cooking Chinese hotpot and stir fry for them one night.

From Hopelessness to Hope

On Sunday, we attended church (The Church of Movement) in a small metal shack literally next to where we live. When we got there at 10am, they were putting tiles on the dung floor, hanging drapes on the wall, and putting a platform as the stage. As they set up the church, one person began to sing, then everyone naturally joined in. After one song, a different person began to sing and everyone else joined in again. Sometimes, someone prayed out loud, and then everyone also prayed. We just sat there and watched in amusement and amazement at how natural, free-flowing, and full of the Spirit it is to worship God. Although we couldn’t understand the Xhosa language, we worshipped just the same in spirit. Their singing was so loud that you can hear it several hundred meters away. One old lady prayed so loud and in such fervent voice that after every sentence, she has to take a very deep breath. Even children got on stage to swing with the gospel music and learned to lead the congregation.

After one and a half-hour of singing, the church was finally set up. We were expecting some preaching but they just simply continued with more singing and praying. At 1 pm, they were still going. We waited another 30 minutes. They kept going. After 4 hours of enjoying such natural and vibrant worship, we had to go to eat and to prepare for our afternoon time with the children. To our amazement, when we walked past the church at 5pm, they were still singing!

While worshipping at this tiny shack, I heard the Lord say to me, “When there are people worshipping, there is hope for this place.”

My heart suddenly was filled with joy and I began to praise God and thank God for showing me this vision. Even though this church is just a “little light”, it will shine bright especially in the midst of darkness.

Photo with the pastor in front of the church.

God then reminded me of the song that Bob Pierce, the founder of World Vision, like to sing when he held revival meetings for children around the world: “This Little Light of Mine”.

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine
Oh, this little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine

Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m going to let it shine
Hide it under a bushel? No!
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, all the time, let it shine.

Don’t let Satan [blow] it out!
I’m going to let it shine
Don’t let Satan [blow] it out!
I’m going to let it shine
Don’t let Satan [blow] it out!
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, all the time, let it shine

I decided to share this song with the children when they came to the Center the next day together with hand motions and they loved it! It became the theme song for the rest of our days at the Center.

Singing “This Little Light of Mine”

Children are the Little Lights

Just like the song above, I believe children are the “little lights” that will bring hope to this place.

For one of the crafts, we showed them how by only making one straight cut on a piece of folded paper, the paper becomes a cross and the words “Hell”, “Life” and “Love”. We encouraged them to know that through the cross, God can take away “hell” and bring “life” and “love” to them and their family.

With just one cut, the word “LIFE” and a cross was formed.

For another craft, we asked children to cut out an outline of their hand on a piece of paper, color it, then write one wish they have for Christmas. They then paste the cutout handprint on the wall to form a colorful Christmas tree. Everyone had fun, but what really struck me were what they wrote:

“My wish is that my mother would find a job” (Mihlali)

“I wish for me to pass at school.” (Lunathi)

“I wish for my father to come back for me and my brother and for me to have a best friend.” (Onika)

“I wish for good thing in my life.” (Ingamathi)

“Is South Africa doing better or worse after the end of apartheid?” I asked Nasiph, a 17-year-old year girl who came to the Center.

“The men drink a lot,” Nasiph replied shyly after a long pause. “But women are being educated, so that is good.”

Photo with Nasiph

Indeed, through the dedicated effort by Debby and Theo as well as many people who volunteered and donated for this Education Center, a new generation of Xhosa children is being formed. One of their vision is to focus on helping kindergarten and elementary students to build solid English at an early age. Debby reminded me that although there seem to be a lot of challenges that the people of Xhosa faces, one thing they do have, and that is “community”. There are no orphans here because they open their arms to whoever is fatherless or motherless.

Leaving

The day before we had to leave this village for our next destination, when I was reading outside the house, I heard someone singing the song “This Little Light of Mine”. It was Imihle teaching the song and the hand motion to her little sister Isi by herself in front of her own house. She remembered all the words and all the hand motions, and now is passing it on to her little sister!

Imihle was teaching “This Little Light of Mine” to her sister outside their home.

Debby wrote, “The Su family enjoyed meeting our community and the light will keep shining in our rural hills long after they have left.  Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. #Sufamilyadventures.”

My hope and prayer are that God’s light will continue to shine on these little children, this village, and the entire tribe of the Xhosa people. May You also be the living hope to the community in Transkei, South Africa, where many are fatherless.  May You be their father. Thank you, Lord, for giving this picture of hope. It will not be hidden under a bushel. Satan will not be able to blow it out. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

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One thought on ““This Little Light of Mine” – Serving Children in the “Africa” of South Africa”

  1. How lucky we were to meet you all. Even though you travel as a family unit, it was super to get to know you all individually as well.

    You’ve captured the essence of life in our village in your story about your stay with us.

    The children will remember your Christmas visit for many years to come and the light you brought will keep shining.

    Safe travels as you explore the rest of South Africa and venture further north.

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