Feb 3 was one of our team member’s 21st birthday. Sibusiso, we call him Snowy, was so surprised when forty people shouted so loud from the cafeteria that he could hear us in his dorm room. “We want Snowy! We want Snowy!” All of us made a human tunnel for him to walk through as we congratulated him and shouted happy birthday!
We let him walk into the dining hall first to see all the tables covered with balloons and party hats. His chair had a balloon taped to it with “Happy 21st Snowy” written on it. His gold party hat was made special with red and white garland around the bottom. The whole group chanted “Speech, speech, speech!” Everyone got quiet but Snowy couldn’t speak; his eyes were red with tears. He pulled his shirt collar up over his face so we couldn’t see but we all knew. We all cheered for him again. Once we quieted down, he finally spoke. “I want to thank you all so much. I never had a birthday in my whole life.” His voice choked up again. We cheered once again and let him get in line for his supper first.
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We had a chocolate cake with ice cream for dessert. Snowy got to blow out birthday candles for the first time. He is such a sweet kid and from the way he looks, I did not expect him to be as kind as he is. He cares for the team like a family and if there is any discomfort in the group, he senses it and wants to make sure everything will be okay in the end. He totally deserved this surprise and all the love that came with it. My heart is slowly wrapping around each of the young people here, and I’m trying not to think about when this time together will end.
 
For Monday and Tuesday this week, the session topic was Soul Therapy. Desree, who lead the session, and her husband Mpho work at the YfC National Office in Johannesburg. Desree divided the kids into groups of 6 and brought worksheets for them to write on. I missed the first day’s session but it was basically about admitting that you personally are a broken person. We have all been hurt, and our responses and perspectives are a result of that brokenness and hurt. You don’t always think about it that way, but it is completely true. Our experiences mold our outlook.

Once we put down our pride and admit “I am a Broken Person,” we can move on to healing. That involves forgiveness, which was taken care of on the second day. We first have to identify the people who had a part in our brokenness. Writing names down makes the memories flood back. For this exercise, it helps for the pain or anger to be present because you can deal with it now and make the choice to forgive whoever it was that hurt you. On the flip side, it is at times more difficult to forgive ourselves than others. We don’t let go of the wrong choice we made and keep bashing ourselves about it. We have to let these things go if we want to become a “Recovering Broken Person.”

Desree had everyone sit outside on this most beautiful day and pray about the names we wrote down. We also had to go back and feel the emotions we experienced at the time the person hurt us. We had to feel the bad choice that we once made for ourselves. Then, we had to make the right choice and forgive that person. If you needed to forgive yourself or for God to forgive you, this is the time and place. This exercise was such a freeing encounter.
 
Week three is here. The kids are tired. They aren’t giving 100% in rehearsals, and I don’t blame them. This schedule here is so grueling; Wake up 5:30 am and don’t get to bed until 10:30 pm. And they’re rehearsing and learning and thinking all day long. Not to mention the emotional stuff they are dealing with, talking about serious subjects like their relationships with their fathers and people they know who have or had HIV/AIDS.  I honestly don’t think I could have made it through training when I was their age. I was going to classes at FSU, everything paid for, cushy apartment with my friends. They are living out here in the bush, on the side of a mountain. Leaders tell them what to do and what time to do it, and how long they have to get it done. They’ve given up an entire year of their lives to make a difference in others’ lives. I was beat on the first day! I would be completely burnt out by now if I had to follow the same exact schedule they do. There is one girl who is leaving today. She’s from the team that will work in an area called Durban. I think she just can’t handle the intensity of the training. It’s sad because now that team is one short, and the leader Sane is stuck with replacing her, or possibly changing their performance to work without her two and a half weeks in.
 
During the first week, all four teams worked and learned together. They did drama classes and dance rehearsals as one team. One team, Ikageng, is the group that stays on the campground for the year and facilitates for groups coming in. Change Agents is a team that does drama and dance in Zulu. They work in the Kwa-Zulu Natal province, which is where almost everyone is of the Zulu culture and speaks Zulu. iThemba, Zulu for Hope, is the team that goes to Germany. They consist of 3 smaller teams that will travel separately once they are in the country. Finally, the team that Khanyisa is training is called Buyela, which means Return. This team will travel around the whole country of South Africa and possibly other southern countries. Each of these teams has a different program that they present and a different audience to capture.


Mel and I didn’t have a rehearsal for one of the dance sessions, but a dance workshop with three of the teams. We based it on the class that Ballet Magnificat! did with us on the Expression weekend. We first talked about the fruits of the spirit. We had found Bible stories that represented each fruit and split the kids into 9 groups. Each group had to dance their story without rehearsing. Mel chose a different song for each group and they were so heartfelt.

For dance and drama rehearsals, the teams have separated and Buyela has been working on our own dances for the production. We are using all original music except for a Michael Jackson song or two. Mel has been so excited about the one song that she’s been working on it since before we left Tallahassee. The team learned the first part of it today. The main character in the story is trying to make a life choice; does he give in to peer pressure to party and be loose like his friends (and his father), taking the risk of contracting AIDS, OR does he do what his heart says and be pure, honoring the memory of his mother who died of AIDS. The song works so perfectly with the confusion and tension that this character, Mpho, is dealing with. The lyrics say “Everyone’s taking control of me/feels like the world’s got a hold on me/ I’m so confused will you show to me/you’ll be there for me.” The team learns so quickly! It still amazes me how they want to rehearse the dance “one more time” before going to supper. The last section they learned today places Mpho center stage with the other 11 people in a semi-circle around him. The guy playing Mpho has such intensity in his face. His eyes cry out with MJ’s voice for someone to tell him the right choice, someone to be there for him. Our team manager, Blessing, Michael Mel and I cried when we saw the dance. And this is only the first half! The team members don’t even know what the production is about at this point and THEY were crying! This play will be so powerful. Please pray with us that the LORD will go before us and prepare our hearts and bodies for the emotional strain we will endure which comes naturally with a topic so intimate as the love of a father.

Michael was able to do some research with the group, asking about their experience with HIV/AIDS. He asked questions like -How would you react if someone close to you told you said they had AIDS? -Have you ever known anyone who suffered with AIDS? -What do people expect when they go to a bar or to a party? We must know the way young people think and speak if we Americans are going to direct a play about teenagers in South Africa.

We just gave our team the script tonight. They read through about half of it together and we will read the rest tomorrow night.. They all said the script sounds awesome and they can’t wait to get started. Michael is busy writing more scenes, cutting the longer scenes and placing the songs within the dialogue. Now that we have a solid idea of who will play each character, I am getting more excited and inspired. Our group is unbelievably talented and eager to get started. I pray for humble spirits and for unselfishness as the weeks go on. This production is technically a musical, with a few live songs, loads of dancing and passionate acting.
 
We are training a team named Buyela, a Zulu word meaning Return. The names of all the YfC teams use Zulu words because Zulu is one of the most common languages in South Africa.

There are so many different contexts in which to consider Buyela. Let’s start first with the country of South Africa. As you probably know, there is a pandemic of AIDS killing the young people of this country. Where does this problem start? We believe it starts with the family. There is a vicious cycle of fatherless children who grow up and become fathers who leave, or women who marry men who will leave. If we can change the HEARTS of men to return to their sons and daughters, their family, the cycle will begin to disintegrate.

We’ve been told that YfC South Africa has lately been the black sheep of the entire YfC organization. They received funding from the SA government who began to decide what YfC participated in. YfC SA even changed their mission statement, removing the name of God completely. Their mission was to equip young people with information about AIDS and do testing. This year, YfC will return to their roots. They are putting their focus back on God and we believe that this production is part of a mandate from the LORD to return to Him.

Our goal is to see families restored and united. We want to see parent-child and child-parent relationships revived as in MalachI 4:6 “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.” We desire a return to family as God intended.

YfC SA as a whole has returned to at commitment to four key points, and these are the foundation of team training.
-Godliness in Lifestyle
-Devotion to God’s Word and Prayer
-Passion for Sharing the Love of Christ
-Commitment to Social Involvement
 
After Youth Week the six of us were almost alone on the campground. Just a few of the YfC staff have been around this week. Thursday (tomorrow) starts our leadership training and we are so glad to finally have a set schedule! The team members who will be trained are arriving Sunday night to begin classes on Monday.



The six of us were moved from our rooms yesterday because the staff was worried about Mel. She’s gotten over 30 bug bites in just  a week, some from mosquitoes, spiders and probably some ants. The four grown-ups packed up our two rooms and moved to two slightly larger rooms, which will give Alana and Isabel a lot more space to place inside. The rooms are on the other side of the same house we‘ve been staying in.

Before we thought we were moving, we planned on being in this same room for another full week. We all thought it would be best if we cleaned out our rooms and sprayed some bug spray to be safe. The guys even mopped the floors!
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We had all of our mattresses and pillows and comforters and rugs outside so that our rooms could get squeaky clean.
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Sunday night, a few more of the team leaders arrived! They are the leaders who will go with the international iThemba teams to Germany and Spain. This is our dining hall where we have all our meals together.
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The windows through which the monkeys watch with jealousy as we eat our food. Not joking. I didn’t have my camera for that time but there will be some monkey pictures soon.
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Another house on the camp ground. It’s an interesting round building with a thatch roof.
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Another view of the house. It's two separates places, with a door for the upstairs and a door for the down stairs. Some of the windows on the downstairs are ground-level,and snakes could get in if you leave the windows open. No thank you!
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Three bungalows. These are the only dormitories shaped like this on the grounds. They sleep four to six people each.
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A closer look at the bungalows.
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The tabernacle is where all the services were held during Youth Week. It was formerly known as the Afrodome. Not sure why.
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And these are The Stairs. The lovely, lovely stairs. 37 steps - I counted. We will become good friends with these stairs in the next couple of months. Our rooms are up the stairs and classes will be held in some of the multi-purpose rooms downstairs and our meals will probably be served in the cafeteria down here as well. At least my legs will be toned!
 
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January 2nd, a week after arriving in Cape Town, we found ourselves at the airport again (newly renovated, by the way, to accommodate for the FIFA World Cup!). This time, we were heading to Johannesburg for Youth Week and Team Training. The band who would be doing worship at the youth camp was taking the same flight as us. We got to meet all of them and we FINALLY met Rolf, YfC SA National Director, his wife Lizzie and their kids, Kyle, Tenille and Mkhail. The two and a half hour flight on Mango airline was over quickly enough, and Vivian from the Youth for Christ Training Centre was there to pick everyone up. We filled two vans, about thirty people. Michael and Stan mostly talked with Emilio on the way to the YfC camp. He is the Cape Town director of YfC with his wife Claudine. They invited us to their home for supper the first day we met them! It won’t be until March when training is over.

Youth Week started on January 3rd, but almost 600 kids were already there the night before! Our group from Cape Town got there in time for dinner and the dining rooms were packed with people. This camp is not only for South Africans, but kids from all over southern Africa. There were people from Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and even from Germany and Netherlands. In total, there were about 900 campers. There was another group from America of 25 adults who were counselors for the week. Michael helped a couple of them with their Acting and Film class, and the kids had a blast. They did hilarious improv and wrote their own movies to be filmed the next day in class. Michael didn’t make it to the second class, however. He got a nasty stomach ache with cramping and a fever, and ended up going to the doctor. The verdict was that the change from succulent steak braais every night to mass produced camp food caused a war in his intestines. He got three prescription medications to take for about a week. The doctor visit and prescriptions cost 570 Rand, which converts to just over $75 U.S. Not a bad deal. And he felt better in three days. Michael said he was glad it was him and not me feeling so sick. How sweet!
Each night of camp we all attended a worship service. The band we flew up with led the songs and each night there was a different speaker. An American pastor named Rob Mallan was the main guest but Rolf spoke one night as well.

The theme of this year’s Youth Week was The Ultimate Goal, so the sermons encouraged the students to set an ultimate goal and making steps to achieving it. One of the main topics for the speakers was absent or inattentive parents. They talked about forgiving your parents and many of the kids made that their Ultimate Goal. On the last night of camp, students were allowed to go on stage and give testimonies to the congregation. Many kids had either forgiven their dad for leaving them or made a goal to contact their father. It was heartwarming to see kids making decisions that will keep them from holding grudges that will only hurt themselves, especially if they don’t even know the person they are angry with.

During the day, all the kids were involved in sports teams. They played soccer, netball and football among other games. The teams were decided by what region of the country you came from; inlands, coastals, cities and outside SA. Each group, made up of hundreds of kids, came up with a name, wrote a war cry and created a dance to perform in front of everyone else.
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Coastal Chaos - coastals
The names and cheers and war cries were judged and given points going toward a total at the end of the week.
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Exodus for Christ - inlands
All were judged on participation, excitement and creativity.
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Urban Giants - cities
Each team painted a banner with their name.
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Southern Salad - southern Africa
I was told by a friend who visited SA for a soccer camp that the kids here are so excited to participate in sports and group activities. This performance from all the teams definitely proved that for me. Everyone shouted their loudest and danced their hardest. It was so much fun to watch. By the end of Youth Week, Urban Giants had the most points.

This week wasn’t all about sports and competitions. The evening services focused on young people and their relationship with their fathers. YfC SA as an organization is returning it’s focus to family. We believe that the Lord can stop the tragic cycle of fatherless families. The leaders interviewed several of the Youth Weekers asking about their relationships with their fathers, and most of them had only negative things to say. I believe that forgiving their fathers, even if they don’t know him, will free them from anger and allow them to love more. The services led to many of the students either making a choice to work on forgiving their father, or forgiving altogether. There were about 50 young people who stood on the stage the last night of Youth Week and told the crowd that they decided to forgive their fathers. It was heartwarming to know that these people were really going home changed, and their lives will be different this year.
 
We’ve made it to South Africa! It was sad to leave our families on Christmas Day, but our destination was beautiful and I am SO glad to be here. We flew from Miami to Washington DC. We had a 5 hour layover in DC and luckily the airports decided to make the wireless internet free as a gift to people like us who had a long time to wait.
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Dulles Airport under the South African flag!


Mel and Stan’s flight from Ohio to DC got delayed, so we had to finish the trip just the two of us. We were both a little nervous, but we ended up sitting next to some cool people on the 14 hour flight from DC to Johannesburg. They were a group of three girls, one of which has a brother working in Jo-burg. They were going to meet him in Cape Town then take two weeks and drive up the coast back to Jo-burg. Another girl works for an organization that is mainly an after-school program. It’s for kids who have or know someone who has AIDS. There are counselors for the students if they need to talk. Once we get our production running, we may try to get our team to the States to perform and spend time with the kids at this after-school program. It would be exciting to have the team from SA interacting and connecting with people in the US who have similar problems and issues but who come from a different background, and completely different continent. We exchanged phone numbers and emails so we could keep in touch.

Johan and his wife Dayba picked us up at the Cape Town airport. It was so good to see them! We’ve spent time with them in Tallahassee, and it was fun to now let them take us around their hometown. It was 11 pm when we got in, so we couldn’t see the beautiful mountains that surrounded us until the next day.
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Dayba on the balcony of Johan’s parents house.
This area is called Strand. Several of Mel’s family members live in this area, and we will stay in a house here as well when we get back to Cape Town. Johan’s father is a pastor in a town about 15 minutes away called Macassar. Mel’s parents live there and go to Pastor Page’s church. The church is in the same building as Restoring the Sound, an awesome place where we will be working at the end of March. I’m looking forward to working there. There is a recording studio and practice rooms and a pottery room. Our Team Training does not begin until January 17th, so Michael and I have been able to do some tourist-y sightseeing and we’ve gotten into the culture which is one of the big reasons I wanted to come to South Africa.

My two favorite places Johan and Dayba took us were Gordon’s Bay and Green Point. I don’t have any photos of Gordon’s Bay yet. We didn’t know we were going sightseeing when they took us to the Pick N Pay. We had some pies, which are pastries filled with different mixtures. Some are steak, or chicken, or curry and there are many other choices! I like the Cornish pie, which is just veggies and the veggie curry pie. So delicious! It’s like a portable pot of curry. Once we got our food, we drove up the mountain a bit and parked at an overlook where we sat and stared at the ocean for about half an hour. We could see how the mountains surrounded the bay and the tall hotels make me think of South Florida.
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The other place Johan and Dayba took us was to Green Point. The waves here were HUGE!! They splashed up on the wall.

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This photo doesn’t show it, but you can see Robbin Island from Green Point. It’s the island with the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for thirty years. Since it’s summer, everyone is on holiday doing tourist stuff. We didn’t book tickets early enough for the ferry to Robbin Island so we’ll have to wait until we get back to Cape Town.

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Michael and me at Green Point
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A guy was surfing when the tide started coming in and he was stuck standing on this rock. He had to climb up at least 15 feet to get up to where we were standing! His wife threw her towel down like a rope to pull him up. It was pretty crazy.


Every night in Cape Town, we were invited to a braai (bbq) or a potjie (pronounced POI-key).  You cook a potjie by putting all your ingredients (veggies and meat) into a three legged black pot that sits on top of the coals in the braai. The first one we had was a seafood potjie at Erin and Garth’s house, friends of Johan and Dayba‘s. There was little tiny shrimp, mussels, calamari and I’m pretty sure I saw a little octopus arm as well. All that and the veggies were cooked in a white cream sauce then when it‘s ready to eat you scoop it onto a pile of rice. I’m not a fan of seafood but I didn’t want to be rude so I tasted a bite of each type except the octopus arm. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much seafood at once! Maybe it was just in my head, but I started feeling a little queasy so I stopped eating. We spent the rest of the night talking about Boyz II Men and listening to their Christmas album.

Dayba told us that a very South African meal is a lamb potjie. Funny enough, we had one a couple of nights later on New Year‘s Eve at Mel‘s mom‘s house. My favorite potjie though is the curry! After we spent the New Year’s celebration with Mel’s family, we went to Erin and Garth’s house where they had a curry potjie waiting for us! It was probably 2 am before we ate but it was delicious!
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After we ate, they taught me and Michael how to dance. A song called “Welcome to Cape Town” was on. Very appropriate. Needless to say, I was awesome :)
All of us had been busy getting ready for Youth Week and visiting family so we took it easy on New Year’s day. We relaxed and Michael and I took a dip in the pool at Johan’s parents house. We weren’t able to spend much time with Pastor Ivan and his wife Cecilia, but they were so welcoming. Their home is so lovely and peaceful. I was so grateful that they allowed us to stay there without even meeting us. South Africans definitely take care of their guests.