How is it possible to sum up two months of your life into one singular blog post? I’m not exactly sure. Nevertheless, I’m going to attempt to do so.
For those of you that don’t know me, my name is Jesse Bingham. I previously interned with Restoration Hope for nine months. I’ve had a heart for the nations, specifically South Africa, ever since I was a young girl. Through Restoration Hope, this summer I was given the opportunity to serve with our partner ministry in South Africa for eight weeks. It was nothing short of a dream come true. However, being a young adult alone in a foreign country was quite daunting at times. Everything about South Africa was new, unfamiliar, and completely unknown. But I really don't think I could have done it without my family. Now, I'm not talking about my family here in the States. They are extremely supportive of everything I set my mind to and I know I could call them anytime. Although, there's only so much a twenty-minute phone conversation can do. As an extrovert, I needed the physical presence of people to find comfort. My South African family was that source of security that I desperately needed during my transition. I'm so incredibly grateful for them and I miss them dearly.
During my stay, I lived with two of the mentors in the community. At first, living with these strangers was kind of uncomfortable and ultimately intimidating because I had never lived with anyone from a foreign country before. I had no idea what to expect, but soon enough the layers of awkwardness were peeled away when we all started to make fun of each other. Picking on people is my love language (just ask my father) so when these strangers began to poke fun at me, I felt perfectly at home. I know this may sound weird, but that's how we bonded. Although I was usually the butt of every joke, I enjoyed being around them. They always kept me laughing. They were the sole reason why I didn’t feel completely and utterly lost.
There are several little things that happened to make me feel especially accepted into this culture. The first was when Sizwe, a mentor to the children in Sweetwaters, called me his family. And he didn't just say it once. That's how he greeted me on a regular basis. "Good morning, family!" "How are you doing today, family?" "Family, could you please hand me that?" That one small greeting melted my heart every time I heard it. Gugs, my mother figure in South Africa and a mentor, started saying it too.
Before I went on my first home visit, Gugs spoke with the mentor I was shadowing. From my office, I heard her shouting, "You better protect my family today!" The other mentor seemed puzzled by this. None of Gugs' relatives lived on our side of town, much less worked in our office space. Seeing her confusion, Gugs explained, "I'm talking about Jesse. That is my family. Watch after her, okay?" I nearly started crying. I don't think those people realized how much their words meant to me.
One day I went to go visit some children in the community with another mentor. I got the privilege to visit the same kids twice a week allowing me effectively form relationships with them and the mentors. I was able to get to know the mentors in a way many people don’t because I literally got to live life with them. It was amazing and another instance where I felt a part of the community. Because of the kindness extended towards me, I felt (and still feel) like I belonged there. I felt accepted. I felt loved.
There were many time when I struggled with finding my true purpose for being in South Africa. I often questioned, "What am I doing here? These people can get along just fine without me. They don't need me." But that's when I heard God whisper: "These people may not need you, but you need them." And He's absolutely right. I did need them.
If I didn't have my South African family, I would have been so incredibly lost. I wouldn't have known how to say, "Hi, how are you?" in Zulu. I wouldn't have known where to buy a phone charger when mine went out. I definitely wouldn't have known that monkeys are actually extremely aggressive towards women and that I should avoid them. But because the Lord is faithful, He placed people in my life to teach me and help me grow. I believe that The Lord is always speaking to us. Yet, sometimes He has to take us 14,000+ miles, across oceans and away from home, for us to hear Him.
Restoration Hope and their local South African partner is truly fulfilling the call to “go and make disciples” because I’ve seen it and I’ve lived it. These mentors are denying themselves everyday and committing to the call of the Great Commission. So if you’re reading this, I encourage you to support these men and women in their pursuit of a better tomorrow for their nation. Because not only are they my family, they are yours too.
“Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.” 1 Corinthians 12:20