I remember as a child hearing missionaries speak and say things like "We're the only gospel witness in a city of _____ million people." Looking back, I can see how much a comment like that discouraged me. "How can we ever hope to make any sort of difference at all" I would ask myself. I want to paint a different picture for you, one in which the Word of God is being carried all over the world in many different ways.
Having been pursuing missions work for the last several years, and having spent almost 2 years in South Africa, Amber & I have come to realize that God is doing His work all over the world, and that people are being saved and lives are being changed. By no means are we the only ones working, but He is faithfully ensuring that the ministry goes on. We have met people of many different nationalities, cultures, and backgrounds who understand the saving grace of God and are working to relate that message to others. And that message is taking root in thousands.
Just before leaving South Africa our family had the chance to visit one such ministry. Tshepo Ya Bana (meaning Hope for Children) is a "children's home" started in 2003 by Mark & Chris Harding. I use quotations around the term "children's home" because what Mark & Chris have done is open their own home to many orphaned South African children. This isn't a huge organization. In fact, Mark & Chris carry the bulk of this ministry on their own, depending on volunteers from South Africa, Europe & the US. They haven't pursued financial support or large donations, funding most of this ministry out of their own pocket.
Their home is located near Hammanskraal, a township just north of the Johannesburg/Pretoria region. In fact, all the land around them was recently purchased and transformed into a safari park/game farm. Often they are able to look out their window and see zebra, rhinocerous, various buck, or other quintessential african animals browsing around outskirts of their property.
Often when one pictures a children's home you think of big buildings, rows of beds, kitchens, bathrooms, laundry, etc... With this you should just picture your own house, or probably even a bit smaller, lined in every crevice with baby beds, play pens, dressers, and other vital items for children. Mark & Chris are both pushing their 70's, yet they continue to show the grace, stamina, and strength it takes to care for 16-24 children. Most of their children are infants or toddlers. Frequently their children are adopted out to various countries in Europe (the US currently doesn't have a good adoption policy with South Africa). Several of the older children will be with the Hardings until they complete their education, and at least one of their children has special needs, appearing to have been afflicted with some form of palsy.
Within all this turmoil, chaos, and confusion around them the Hardings shine brightly. Even in the short time we were there we were amazed at their ability to function, to laugh at things that would normally cause you to pull your hair out, their willingness to take time and fellowship with us on a deep level. Rarely in my life have I been so humbled by my own lack of committment and patience. This couple will one day receive great rewards. I know they wouldn't want this story written, but I can't help but to share with you the encouragement they poured on us.
While we were there we had the opportunity to help in some very minor ways: Finishing a new roof for the toolshed, providing a meal, holding babies, and some other small things. While doing this we were able to experience some enjoyable events as well, such as catching a snake (Amber & Meredith weren't as impressed as Brian, Liam, & I were). Spending just over 24 hours there changed my entire outlook on dedication and ministry. To see someone give so deeply of themselves, with no thought of anyone ever noticing is a challenge. As I think now of the work they do, I can't wait to get back to Welkom and follow in their footsteps.
In their own words they have expressed concern for how long they can continue. Yet every life they reach is a life changed for eternity. I feel privileged to have met this couple. A young lady from the Netherlands who has volunteered her time there wrote an interesting article, which you can read here: Tshepo Ya Bana
Their work and life is just one of the many encouragements we have experienced in our short time overseas. I think most of you know that we are back for a short time to raise funds for the establishment of a new children's village. We have kicked off our fundraising efforts, and while we only have a few thousand in the bank currently, we are excited about some contacts and possibilities that God has before us. Our plane tickets say we return to South Africa on February 3, 2010. We hope to have the funds required raised by then. We can't wait to return and jump back into things on that side of the Atlantic. Please pray for us as we continue to pursue a ministry of love for our God. Pray also for Mark & Chris and their work with the children of Hammanskraal.
Restoring Hope International Website