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5 Things God Taught Me in South Africa

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by Virginia Harding Virginia was a member of EM's 3-Month IMMERSION program in South Africa during the winter and spring of 2021.

Since returning home from my 3-month IMMERSION trip to South Africa, I’ve had some time both to relax and to reflect on what this experience has meant to me. I wanted to share a few things that the LORD has highlighted to me, and that I hope to keep doing now that I'm back in America.

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1. Notice God’s intentionality in my life

Last year, before anyone knew what the full extent of the lockdowns would look like, God directed me to join a 3-month trip starting in January instead of going in the Fall. God, of course, knew how Covid would end up affecting everyone’s plans, and wouldn’t you know it, the first season of IMMERSION programs able to go out post-Covid was in January. I may not always see the reason why He asks me to do something, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t one, or that it’s inconsequential. And surely even the reasons I notice are only a piece of the full story. I can trust God’s instruction because He knows what will happen better than I do, and His ways are higher.

2. Love and care for Creation

In the time that we spent near Kruger Park, there was a common theme of appreciating God’s creation. At the house where we were staying in Marloth Park, we got to see and interact with a variety of animals from our front porch, in a space that was more their habitat than ours. In conversations we had with locals, whether they helped with animal rehabilitation or oversaw rhino conservation efforts in Kruger Park, their attitude was to steward God’s creation and encourage others to do the same. An appreciation for God’s creation respects God as Creator and allows us to live in better harmony with creation.

africa mission trips

3. Engage wherever God places me

When we were in Vastfontein, all of us experienced God’s intentional placement, either at the school or in visiting Tannie Hannetjie and her family. I did not have as much interaction with the kids at the school as many of my teammates did, but hearing their personal stories, I could see how God intentionally placed my team members at the school to use their abilities for His glory. The interactions I experienced at Tannie Hannetjie’s were valuable too, and I can understand why God placed me there. God is at work even when I’m not a part of everything that’s happening. My job is to be diligent with the part I’ve been given.

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4. Find my way to contribute

One morning at Tannie Hannetjie’s, I was having a rough day, and I ended up talking with one of the women I’d gotten to know. She reminded me that, in Christ, I am no longer fearful, but strong. She encouraged me, reminding me that the opinions and thoughts I have matter and that speaking up helps. God knew that that was what I needed to hear, and it’s something in particular I’ve held onto, and continue to remind myself of when I have something to say. Since my natural inclination is to sit back and stay quiet, I’ve started to ask myself, “What is the atmosphere here? If it’s a God-honoring one, how can I contribute to it, and if it’s not, how can I push it in that direction?”

5. Let go with gratitude

Coming back home has been harder than I thought it would be. I’m still trying to adjust to a different routine, and I find myself missing my team members. One day when I was really upset, I asked God, “Why would You bring us so close together only to disperse us?” The answer I got was, “Would you rather have not had this experience? I brought you together because I had a specific purpose for you, and it’s not like you’re never going to see one another again. You know you will, whether it’s on earth or in heaven. If anything, I gave you a sneak peek of what’s to come.” However, with that message came a warning: don’t make these people your god. I value the experiences I had and the relationships I made for what they were, but I also look forward to what God has in store for me.

I will be forever grateful for this trip, on account of the experiences I had, the people I met and how it has shaped me as a person.

The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Psalm 126:3)

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