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My Mission Trip to Africa

By Nikki Pheneger
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #64, 2005.

Nikki Pheneger describes her short-term missionary visit to Mpumalanga, South Africa.
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Nikki Pheneger

Nikki and some of the kids
Three years ago, my mom and I were driving through some Arizona mountains and we were able to get a radio signal. During the drive, we were listening to a program about Africa and all the little children who had or have AIDS. It broke my heart as I learned how many people and children were dying and orphaned from AIDS. I began a discussion about it with my mom and it brought me to tears.

Ever since, I have dreamed of being a missionary to Africa. God placed that calling on my life and in January 2005, I had the chance to get just a little taste of what my calling would be.

After getting a job, sending out support letters, and raising the needed amount I found myself on a plane for 20 hours to Johannesburg, South Africa. Actually, we had a layover in London and spent some time there exploring. We also had a four-hour drive to Mpumalanga, South Africa.

Our team was there to build a playground for a day care. However, before we left, we had learned that all our equipment and the missionaries' things arrived in Israel. So we were all trusting that God would provide us the equipment we would need. And, of course, He did. A friend of the missionary supplied us with the things we needed to make the playground.

Play Dough Girl - they never learned her real name. She hung onto them wherever they went.
The first day we were very tired so we just had a team meeting and then went to bed but most of the team was too excited to sleep. (At least I was!) The next morning we got dressed and went to church. Their service was so beautiful. The choir sang a capella and they sounded much better than bands in most churches I have attended. The service was about four hours long, even though our pastor shortened the sermon. What amazed me was that the children sat still through the whole thing. It was very hard for me because I was not used to doing that but I am happy we were able to witness that amazing service. Later on that day, we headed to the work site and started the construction to build the playground.

However, about three hours into it a very fierce storm with maybe 60 miles per hour winds came - only to find out that is a normal storm for them. Unfortunately, our power went out for the rest of our stay. However, we survived and it was an experience to live by candle light.

On Monday we woke up, went right to work, and were able to get a lot of work done, until we saw kids coming to the day care. My friend and I went and played with them.

Nikki and Sesau. He's wearing her hat—which she ended up giving to him.
A girl who lived with the missionary was teaching us Zulu and we were able to learn some of the children's names. When she was talking to the teacher, we learned that most of them were orphans. That is when we held the children a little bit closer and loved them a little bit more. One whom I became very attached to was one I always loved to hold. I never learned her name but I called her my "Play Dough Girl" because every time I saw her she had a piece of play dough in her hand.

While working on the playground we found the clay was too wet to support the Gum poles. (A type of wood that comes from a tree called a Gum Tree.) So the missionary, my friend, and I went to get rocks to fill the holes. However, we did not get the truck close enough to the pile of rocks so my friend attempted to back the truck up. She had her license but she had no idea how to drive a stick shift. That was a very interesting sight to see.

After surviving the trip for the rocks, we went back and worked on the playground even more.

When we arrived to what we called "home," we found the electricity was still out so we went to the mall in town.

The next morning we took the chance to see some beautiful waterfalls and rivers. We took so long just staring at God's awesome creation. Some of us actually climbed to the bottom of the falls and stood under it. The water was freezing but I'm happy that I did it.

Throughout the day along the side of the roads, we saw street venders selling things. Of course, still being tourists, we bought some things to bring home.

When we were done walking around, most of the group went back to the worksite to complete what they could on the playground. Five of us from the team went to go to an orphanage to take the kids to a petting zoo, moonwalk, and a party we threw for them. I was blessed to be one of those five. Those kids were so precious. On the way to the petting zoo, I had two kids on my lap. I became very attached to one of them. His name is Sesau. (I'm not sure if that is the correct spelling.) He became my shadow through out the day. He wanted to wear my hat and had it on all day.

The finished playground
Another little boy was named Emswadila. I became very attached to him as well. However, he has a very sad story of how his life was before the orphanage. His parents used to beat him and when you lifted up the back of his shirt, you could see scars. The missionaries wife showed me and I had to look away because I began to cry. He was also receiving medication for TB and had full-blown AIDS.

A little boy my friend became attached to was named Cipo. He was only an infant. She cared for him the whole day. Nevertheless, all the kids stole the team's heart.

Some children were afraid of the rabbits at the zoo but some were very brave. They even had the chance to ride a pony. I found myself telling them to hold on tight. Though they could not understand me they still had the biggest smiles I have ever seen on any children.

However, like every day it had to end. After taking the kids to the playground for the other teammates to see them we had to take them back to the orphanage. Sesau tried giving my hat back to me but I told him it was his. He walked off, we said good-bye to the workers, and then we had to say goodbye to the children. They ran up to us wrapped their little arms around our necks and legs saying, "Bye-bye." I kissed them with tears running down my face.

I could not at first find Seesa and want so much to say goodbye. Then, I saw him run up and he gave me a big hug around my legs.

On the way back "home" the tears began to flow as we talked of how we would miss them and how we hoped God would heal them all from AIDS. My Youth Pastor said something that I will never forget. "We can't forget that they are slowly slipping from our arms and into the arms of God." We cried because the reality of some of them not living for another 10 months sunk in unless it was God's will for them to be healed. So I remember praying in my heart, "God, if it's Your will for the little kids to grow up, heal them. If not, God hold them for me until I see them in Heaven."

The next day we went to a different hotel and were able to go and have dinner with an actual African tribe. They put on a show for us and other guests. We also got to eat a meal cooked by them.

During the meal, the chief usually eats by himself but this time he chose to eat with us. That is an honor and I cherish it.

After the dinner, they brought some people out and had them dance with us. God never gave me the gift of dancing but of course everyone always picks the one who can't dance, namely, me! Even so, I loved taking part of it with my friend and others and the tribe itself.

The next day was also amazing because we were able to go on a safari. God's Creation left us in awe once again. We came very close to the wildlife and even had the opportunity to have an elephant charge us!

When we returned to the hotel, I was chosen to draw the sign for the playground. I had some help from my friends painting it. We went back to the playground after packing everything and hung the sign.

On our way back to the United States I thought of all the hard times we had in Africa. Sometimes the weather delayed our work. Our equipment did not show up. Our electricity stayed out. Our team's money ran short. We almost hit someone because we were driving on the wrong side of the road. We got lost late at night. But, it was all worth it. Through it all God supplied our needs. Most of all, the kids made those hard times worth the effort. I would do it all over again.

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