Thursday, March 5, 2009

Back in South Africa

Back in 2000 I had the opportunity to work in a South African Township as a part of Youth With a Mission. Our outreach team of 10 was working at a new South Korean church plant called Green Village located in Philippe Township teaching English, helping with church, and facilitating a debate group where older students could practice their English. There were two students I remember most from that debate group, Luzuko and Bulelani. They were extremely sharp, motivated and determined. I always remember Bulelani because he told us it was his birthday and we made him a big cake and threw him a party. He was so emotional at the time and appreciative because people just didn’t get birthday parties there. The two months we spent in the township flew by but the relationships we formed with the people there were meaningful and we were sad to say goodbye. It was that experience that caused me to start looking for a way to change careers and pursue working with college students so for me it was extremely transformative in many ways; spiritually, emotionally, and vocationally.

I have always hoped to go back someday. In 2004 I was back in Cape Town with a study abroad program for 5 days and despite my best efforts was not able to get back in touch with the church or make my way to Philippe. Since then I have joined the ranks of facebook and about a year or so ago both of those guys found me and we have exchanged notes a few times. Well...I am currently working on the same study abroad program, Semester At Sea, and I just left Cape Town. My last two days there I had a chance to meet up with Luzuko and Bulelani for a few hours and talk. What an amazing experience to be reconnected! I met with Luzuko the day before we left and Bulelani the last day we were in port. I was explaining what I had been up to since being in SA and that the YWAM was a brief chapter in my life that was very meaningful and life changing for me. Both of them expressed how that brief chapter in my life and those that were on the outreach touched and improved so many lives there. Many of the kids we worked with have gotten out of the township, or been able to find work, or done well in school. Luzuko and Bulelani passed their high school exams with good marks but did not have the money to start university. They got involved with a program called SAEP and started a debate team among other things. This debate team won local and regional competitions and gained some amount of notoriety. They both did a little university but then had to drop out to help support their families…mothers, brothers, kids, etc. Luzuko has a two-year old girl now and Bulelani is expecting a girl in about 6 months. Luzuko works for ADT (security company) and goes around to township high schools to train students on basic computer skills. Bulelani works for an NGO called Love Life which educates younger students on HIV/AIDS prevention. They are still bright and ambitious but life is hard there.

Things in South Africa have gotten much worse since we were there in 2000. Crime rates are some of the highest in the world, HIV/AIDS is a big problem, and the unemployment rate is around 46% but is higher in the townships. Life in the township is still very hard, no running water, disease, poverty, etc. They are both going to try and go back to school and are both interested in trying to work or study internationally. It was encouraging for me to hear that my time in South Africa had made a lasting difference and that God is working there and in people’s lives much longer after we are gone. It was nice to see them face to face and know that I impacted someone’s life positively in a lasting way. At the same time it struck me that the investment in those lives and relationships didn’t end when I left back in 2000. They are still there living, working, surviving and I know that I can continue to play a role in helping them however I am able.

For whatever reason I was born in the United States and have unlimited access to resources that these two guys only dream of. What will I do with that privilege, how can I continue to help them and forge a relationship that has endured eight years and thousands of miles? I told Bulelani that if he gets to the stage where he is accepted to a school and needs help I would do what I could to assist him. Sounds like Luzuko may be doing a little better financially. Hard to tell really.

Melanie and I are looking for opportunities to get them some international experience/education…I’m going to look into exchange programs at the university I work at. If you read this and are struck to help them in some way let me know.

On a final humorous note…Bulelani said that for all these years he has been wanting to some day confess that it was not actually his birthday that day in 2000. He just said it was so we would make a big deal about it. I thought that was pretty funny and we both started laughing about it. He said he was really appreciative and that no one ever has a birth day party so I was glad we still did it. God is good and has a sense of humor.


Trevor and Sara said...

Okay, #1 - P-Town in my last blog was Portland, not Pullman. With that said, I must blog about you soon. :)

#2 - Beautiful blog on South Africa! Either of those young men can come live with me and go to college at WSU Tri-Cities...and I am serious.

#3 - You all need to move to the Tri-Cities, too.

Miss you and love you all!

Kayla said...

Wow, Luke. That is amazing. It's always such a blessing to see how God continues to work all over the world. Our church send a mission team to Uganda in January this year and we are getting involved in some very exciting projects there. If you want to know more, just check out my blog entry about Rafiki.

I love hearing about your family's experiences.

Nils Swanson said...

Luke, what an encouragement your time there with Luzuko and Bulelani must have been. Very cool. I am really glad you were able to reconnect with them and hear about the impact your life had on them. May you have more such encounters in the years to come!