I am going to blog separately for each leg of our trip. Keep it simple.
The first leg of our trip we traveled by bus (8 hours!) from Jo-burg to the Northern (Limpopo) region tucked in the mountains in the northeast corner of SA, near the Zimbabwe and Mozambique borders and near Kruger National Reserve. We stayed with Nancy, pastor from the US who came to SA 20 years ago as a missionary with her husband, John. A few years later, Nancy's husband died but Nancy decided to stay in SA. When they first arrived in these mountain villages, SA was still in the climax of Apartheid (separation, or legalized segregation and racial discrimination). Many of the villagers did not understand why these white people would come to their village and visit their homes. Jonas, an fear-inspiring 15 year old, was especially angry. But, in Nancy he saw a truly loving and gentle person and this changed his perspective and his life. Now he, and several of his brothers and sisters, are pastors for village churches in the area. He is known as the "go-to" person in the area. If you need something fixed or need help with something, you should call on Jonas. This reminded me of Kirk!
While we were in the Northern region, most of our time was spent in the mountain villages. We visited several village churches and participated in their lively singing, dancing, and shared testimonies and messages with them. We saw people truly worship God without desiring his blessings (what a challenge that was to us Americans!). They came together frequently as a community to share about how they saw God at work in their lives and their services were true celebrations. We visited two villages that were about an hour away from the mountains, closer to Mozambique, were we got to see churches conducting pre-school graduations. The children recited all of the lessons that they had learned (in both Sotho and English, as were all of the church services...impressive). These villages were primarily refugees or the children of refugees that fled Mozambique about 20 years ago. Many people risked walking through the Kruger (and risked attack by wild animals) to reach SA. Kruger is about the size of a state, like Iowa or so. That's a lot of walking.
We also got to spend a day in Kruger National Reserve. We left the house around 3:30 am and arrived at Kruger just after dawn (sunrise was usually about 4:15-4:30 am). We saw baboons, giraffe, zebra, impala, elephants, hippo, cape buffalo (a herd of hundreds crossed the road in front of us!), wildebeast, and a pride of lions! It was incredible. I didn't know if I would be wow-ed by anything anymore...you know, with TV, movies, Discovery Channel, etc. I was wrong. I can still be wow-ed.
Next time: the second leg of our trip: Johannesburg.