my africa experience

First, THANK YOU for everyone who supported me financially and through prayer. You helped to IMPACT so many lives. Mine included. And below, you will see just how you did that.

Can anyone say life-change? That is all I would have to say to sum up my trip to South Africa, but I am sure that would be not be sufficient enough description for you, right? I’ve been on mission trips… local and in Mexico but have never experienced anything like what I experienced in SA.

Well, WOW. Where to begin? How about just my journal entries with a tweak or two? This will make for a long blog entry, but detailed! I really hope you are able to catch a glimpse into what I experienced. It’s a lot to look back and remember and I am still sifting through everything… I am super tired and a little jet-lagged – so please ask questions or whatever to help me tell you more – because I am sure there is LOTS MORE than this.

Pictures: Link to Flickr

Audio from Worship Night at Oceans

On Friday, March 16 after the 36 hours of travel time, we arrived at Port Elizabeth Airport in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Since it was late and already dark, we headed straight to our accommodation at Seaview Guest Farm. Our humble dorms consist of 4 sets of bunks beds, a showerless bathtub, a toilet that doesn’t flush well and a sink. Oh and complete with monkeys and HUGE spiders.

On Saturday, March 17 we began our day with breakfast at Seaview. Breakfast at Seaview was always interesting because we were never quite sure what dish we would be presented with. One example is when we were given what could only have been Sloppy Jo meat with shredded cheese on toast. Strange, huh? So we sort of ate that and left for the day. We spent most of Saturday at Oceans of Mercy Children’s Village. Working in the yard and playing with the kids. We had the pretty large task of pulling up wild grass, weeds and plants from around the electric fence on the property. Apparently, all of the junk touching the fence was shorting it out – causing it to be of little protection to the women and children living in the house. Since squatting is not illegal there’s a law in South Africa that states that any black African has the right to enter your property and set up a home, unless fenced in. It’s a law that followed the ending of the apartheid era. So, needless to say, pretty much every house has a fence. A rainstorm shortened our work day and changed our plans to go to the beach with the Oceans kids. We did however, go to the beach with just our team. It was cold and windy, but BEAUTIFUL.

On Sunday, March 18 we went to church at a black squatter camp. Unlike townships, squatter camps are non-government funded communities. Millions of South Africans live in these poorest of conditions where homes are made of anything that folks can find. Car hoods, different types of steal, etc. Our church was in a small steal building with nothing but rugs covering the dirt floor – cost of materials provided for by Oceans and other organizations. The power and presence of our Almighty God was the strongest I had ever felt in my life. Tears welled my eyes and streamed down my face for almost the entire service. Even when their native Xhosa was the only language spoken. Pastor Schaun (he’s SA native, our team leader and Westside’s Missions Pastor) was asked to preach to this squatter camp church. The most powerful part of the service was when Schaun told of his involvement in the apartheid and asked for their forgiveness for this role in it. He told them he was once a member of the South African Army. The cries from the congregation are something I will never forget.

To help explain what this means, we were told that this apology can be compared to a nazi soldier (active during the holocaust) entering a Jewish synagogue and apologizing for this involvement in the holocaust. Some may feel differently, but that is the example given to us.
The deep pain that remains in the lives of these black South Africans is evident. For those who don’t know… SO MUCH of the problems plaguing South Africa today, stems from the apartheid. The Apartheid was a social and political policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by white minority governments in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. There are generations and generations of black South Africans who are still trapped in poverty as a direct result of the apartheid. (more info on the apartheid)

I am not completely read-up on all of what the apartheid was so take any of what I say with a grain of salt. I am simply relaying information I was told. I encourage you research some to learn more.
Monday, March 19 and Tuesday, March 20
Side note: During breakfast on Tuesday, monkeys raided our room. When we opened the door after breakfast, as fast as lightening, 3 monkeys ran out of our room. Having chewed on one of my roommates toothpaste, ate our snacks and several left little presents behind. All this in maybe 30 minutes of time.

The main point to speak on for Monday and Tuesdays is that these were the days of HIV/AIDS teaching at township schools. Our team divided between 3 schools in the Motherwell and Markman township areas. Our lone purpose for going to these schools was for no other reason than to teach ABSTINENCE to help STOP the spread of HIV/AIDS… through knowledge and relationship… one child at a time. Weeks prior to our trip we had extensive training sessions to provide us with the appropriate information to teach to the kids we would encounter. On Monday, our first school (I don’t remember the name) would not let the team enter. Apparently our letter was “lost” and they had “assessments” that day. On Tuesday, they finally agreed to our team coming in. We later found out that this school was the hotbed for shady behavior. Teacher/Child sexual abuse, rape, physical abuse, 85% of the children surveyed were HIV positive, etc. HUGE problems. A very sad situation. A situation made worse by their attempt to cover it up.

My school was called Mfumisukoma Primary School. And is the largest township school in the Port Elizabeth area. In my situation, our teachers were incredibly welcoming and excited about us being there. In fact, they were already in the middle of HIV/AIDS unit in their Life Science classes. I had a class of 40 seventh graders. I taught the importance of abstinence – not just for the AIDS prevention but for the condition of our minds and bodies, physically and emotionally. I spoke out against rape and encouraged girls to be say NO and to respect themselves and boys to respect girls in the same way.

These kids broke my heart. There I was. In front of a class of students who were probably smarter and embodied more promise and potential than I have – yet don’t have a place to go or the opportunity I had at their age. There was one girl in particular who completely broke my heart. She had to have been accelerated in her grade because she was SO young. Her hair for done nicely with barrettes, her clothes were neat and she even help me translate to her class in Xhosa. You could tell she and probably her parents (if living) expected excellence from her. And it broke my heart because she has so much potential yet nowhere to go. Her only way out of the lifestyle she was born into is to become a foreign exchange student or something.

On Tuesday Afternoon we held a VBS for nearly 500 kids in the Motherwell and Markman township areas. I helped Megan lead worship songs during 4 rotations. This was probably the most exhausting task of anything else we did. The language barrier was quite evident and it was a struggle to keep order. But God was in control. I personally didn’t get to see any other rotation of the VBS so I don’t really know what went on… but it was awesome!!!! We handed out juice boxes and hot dogs to the kiddos. These are kids who are SO poor they might not have eaten for days. They came out in flocks because they knew we would feed them. But picture this. We handed out the juice and hot dogs to tiny kids and then in just a quickly, we saw parents stealing the hot dogs from their kids. Some parents beating their kids right out in the middle of VBS. Throwing their kids to the ground. Yelling at them. And no one from the community even reacting. We saw men grab girls in the street… dragging them toward the back of houses and into houses (most likely to force sex). Right in front of our eyes. With no remorse.

It’s all too much to grasp right now.

On Wednesday, March 21 we had a morning debrief that lasted for over 3 hours. During our debriefs we would go around the room and share what touched our hearts, what broke our hearts and would hand out beads to individuals on our team we deem showed risk, compassion, service or leadership. Surprisingly, I received 3 beads during our mission, one for service and two for leadership. Later on Wednesday, we went back to Oceans and hung out with the kids and caregivers. I decided to spend some time talking with Zo Zo who is one of the most amazing women I have ever met. She is only 25 years old and felt God called her to live at Oceans when she heard Mama Gladys (the lead caregiver at Oceans) on the radio of all places. She is devout Christian and has a passion to become a social worker. She loves children and has passion to do whatever she can to help children escape injustice and know their worth in Christ and in the world. After our team went to dinner we headed back to the Oceans to celebrate 2 birthdays of girls on our team. We had a final ‘goodbye’ celebration that consisted of cake and ice cream, singing and dancing. Megan lead American worship songs and Zo Zo (with a surprisingly powerful voice) lead us in some traditional African songs. There’s a link of audio of Zo Zo and us singing above.

Saying goodbye to Mama, Zo Zo and the kids was SO hard.

On Thursday, March 22 we headed 2 hours outside of Port Elizabeth to Kariega Game Reserve for our safari. Pictures are the best way of describing this which you can find on a link of on Flickr. We stayed at a B&B. And had an awesome candlelit BBQ outside with our team. It was an awesome way of closing out our time together in South Africa.

On Friday, March 23 we embarked on our journey home.

On Saturday, March 24 we arrived in Washington, DC. and quickly realized we had missed our Kansas City connection flight because South African Airlines got us in an hour or so late and had the wrong time posted on their schedule. SOOOOO we had to figure out something else. Needless to say we were all aggravated and just ready to go home but we couldn’t. Our only option was to split up into 2 groups and head to St. Louis and from St. Louis, rent vans and DRIVE HOME. Otherwise we would have to wait until Monday to fly out because everything else was full. So, finally after 42 hours of traveling… we got home at about 7pm when I should have been home that morning at 10:30am. SAA might be getting a strongly worded letter from me.

In a giant nutshell, that was my trip. I know that was a lot to read… so if you read it all, congrats! You should get a prize. But instead just comment with the words “GOOD LORD that was long”… haha.

Again, I love you and am thankful for your support during all of this journey. I think it will take days and even weeks to completely sift through and uncover all of what I saw. I know I will never be the same. And I will definitely go back again. In fact, throughout my time there I’ve felt God tugging on my heart in the area of missions. I had a peace and energy in SA like I have never felt before. I felt more alive in those few days than ever before. At this point, I know God will have me do more and more missions. That is both scary and wonderful. I don’t know what it means for the longterm but what I do know is – is that I want to be in the middle of God’s will and if moving to South Africa or some other country is His will… then that’s what I will do.


  1. John,
    while i appreciate your comment, i have to disagree. it is true that i am just now learning all of this and have not lived through it but i find it very condescending for you to come on my blog and accuse me of speaking nativity and with ignorance when i have done nothing but quote directly from individuals from this community. that is how THEY see it to be. i understand this is sensitive material and if you believe differently, that’s your prerogative, but must ask you not to insult me and my intelligence in such a public way. thank you.

    because of this previous comment all further comments (from anyone) will be held for approval. this is a place of respect and individuality, but not one for riticule with no explanation.

  2. Les

    That was HUGELY powerful! And three beads! I’m impressed. Having had some of that experience vicariously through my wife, I know that, as long as you say your post was, it doesn’t begin to express a minute fraction of the experience. There are no words in any language to describe God in Africa.

    And thanks for your encouraging comments. They came at a most opportune time when I really needed it. Thank-you!

  3. Heather

    “GOOD LORD that was long . . .” 🙂 But, I would’ve read more. I am so excited for you that you were able to have this one of a kind experience. I can only imagine what it was like. I’m glad everyone made it back safely, even with the mishap with the flight. I definitely hold all of you in great respect for stepping out into the unknown and doing something so far out of your comfort zone. We are definitely “rich” in this country and we have no idea how good we have it. Thanks for sharing even a little of your experience.

  4. Melissa

    WOW, Crystal – that was beautiful … I wasn’t even there and my life has been changed 🙂 It’s a pleasure working & serving with you each day.

  5. Maria


    I’m so happy the Lord was with you on your trip. There’s nothing like experiencing brothers and sisters in Christ in another culture. Especially seeing the enemy’s merciless suffering, and how the children of God take that as sharing in the Lord’s suffering and ultimately in his glory and joy. They often have more joy than we do.
    It puts our American culture in perspective and makes us thankful that The Great Restrainer has kept the Christian influence strong here. But, it’s also a wake-up call to our apathy and self-absorbsion.


  6. Hi Crystal

    Glad that you enjoyed your time in Port Elizabeth and thank you for caring enough to demonstrate your love for some of our poorest.

    You did throw me a bit with your comment; “Since squatting is not illegal there’s a law in South Africa that states that any black African has the right to enter your property and set up a home, unless fenced in. It’s a law that followed the ending of the apartheid era. So, needless to say, pretty much every house has a fence.” and I asked the question on the local Port Elizabeth Forum if there really is such a law please see the replies here:

    Keep up the incredible work.

  7. thank you for the information. residents of PE were the ones who told us that… so i am unsure why they would say that if on some level it wasn’t true.

  8. Rob


    Thank you for your time and effort in what you wrote. I don’t know you at all, except for the comments you post on Anne’s site. I think it is great that you are following God and doing what he wants you to do. I look at my life and think how hard it would be for me to just up and leave everything here and go to a country where there is little. I pray that you keep seeking what God wants from you.

  9. Okay, so I looked at those pictures already,and I wasn’t ready to comment. I guess I’m still not because I don’t know what to say except “Praise God” for you and for you heart to love and serve. I am so thankful for you.

  10. Crystal,

    You put into words beautifully the experience of SA. I applaud your candor. God created a special woman when He created you! God bless!

  11. Hi Crystal-
    I have absolutely no idea how I found your blog but I am glad I did! I love Jesus and Africa too! I am praying about fulltime missions work in Swaziland. This summer I get to take our youth group to SA and I am looking forward to it. Check out my blog, I have lots of stuff about Africa on it.

    Blessings to you-

  12. Gina

    Hi Crystal –
    Thanks for sharing your SA experience. You wrote it both beautifully and powerfully. SA is a place that both facinates me and breaks my heart at the same time. I’m sure you will be forever changed. Thanks for sharing!


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