Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Month Already!



Wow, I am amazed that tomorrow is already February! It has already been almost a month since I arrived! Time does fly. It is a strange feeling because on one hand I feel like I have been here months already because I have experienced so much. On the other hand, it feels like time has flown by since the minute I arrived. Now being in my second week of full time school, I feel much more acquainted with the way things run and my position as a teacher. The daily routines and activities have gotten a lot easier for me and I’ve gotten used to my own schedule. I’ve also gotten to know some of the students a little more and have been enjoying spending time with them outside the classroom. Nwabisa and Nontando (see picture top left) are a couple of the bright and cheery ninth grade girls that always bring a smile to my face. They are an absolute joy to be around. Last Wednesday several of the girls drew pictures for me to put on my wall (top right) which made me feel oh so special. While I know it is important to maintain a student/teacher relationship for the long term teachers, my ultimate goal here is to form relationships with the students and make them feel comfortable opening up to me about anything. I absolutely respect the discipline the teachers here try to maintain, but it has been a little difficult for me to be more that way because it does not come naturally. I am getting the hang of it in my classes though, but I try to make sure to show them I want to be their friend outside of class. I could imagine that would get more difficult if I were to stay here longer.

Lately I’ve been feeling so unworthy of God’s multitude of blessings and provisions He has placed in my life, and I wonder why He has given me so much when so many people receive so little. Yesterday evening when I was outside enjoying the sunset (see picture top right) I was asking Him that and all of a sudden He spoke to me. It was so clear and direct that I didn’t even really need to process it. He told me that if I went through more difficulties in life then I wouldn’t be strong enough to come here. In a way it made sense to me and in a way it didn’t. If I experienced more trials like the students here have, wouldn’t I have more to relate to them with? On the other hand, I know myself to be not strong when it comes to trials in my life, and if I were to experience more I might not want to come to a place like South Africa where people are faced with more difficulties and hardships than I can even imagine. Regardless, I was so beyond amazed that God spoke directly to me and answered my biggest question since coming here. I feel His presence with me stronger here than I ever have before and feel my strength renewed daily by Him. It is amazing.

Before I go, I have a prayer request that I am going to keep a little vague for now. A few important things I have kept close have gone missing, and I have so far had no luck finding them. Everything will be okay, and for now I have a peace about it all, but it would be wonderful if there were to turn up again, so prayers for that would be much appreciated.

I wish I could share so much more, but my time (and I’m sure yours) is limited so I’ll leave the rest for later. Thank you all for keeping up with me and my little African adventure! Till next time!

P.S. The picture on the bottom right was taken today in Arts & Culture class. The kids had so much fun with sidewalk chalk!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On My Own



Well, as of Saturday I am officially on my own here. The team left and I am now the only person staying at the Retreat Centre. It will take some adjustment after being used to seeing thirteen other faces here every day. I was pretty down after they left. I like the peace now, but I loved having them around. I got especially close with one of the girls named Katrina. We would take walks together at the end of the day and talk talk talk. It was so great having her around to spend time with at the end of the day and spill my guts to. As you can probably guess, she's the girl with me in the two pictures above. Today I was surprised by a sweet letter she left behind for me which made me oh so happy :) I know we will stay in touch and I feel so blessed to have already made a good friend during my time here.

Although I'm sad the team left, I know them being gone won't detract from my amazing experience here. I am so blessed to have a few of the staff members take me under their wing and make me feel so much at home here. In addition to me, there are four other young American female teachers here and they have all been so welcoming and friendly. Having them here makes all the difference. The whole staff has been so warm, welcoming, and encouraging, and I can see now that Bridges is incredibly careful at selecting the perfect people for this place. Everyone is perfect for their own position or subject they are teaching and I am amazed to see each unique staff member working well with everyone else. Susan Wadley (her and her husband founded Bridges Academy) also arrived on the 15th and will be here for a month total. It has been wonderful having her around. She has been staying with the students in the girls dorms and it's nice to know she's just next door to me. I am going to be helping her a little bit on the weekends with fun projects and activities with the kids. On Sunday we both oversaw beading, which got pretty messy and chaotic but it was so much fun watching the girls (and a few of the boys) get so into it.

This week is our first full week of school and so far it has gone well. I'm a little busier now with class prep and a fuller class schedule, but our work days end at 4:00 (since we have to be at the school at 7:30 every day) so it's nice to still have a portion of the day left after I get off, except on Wednesdays because I'll be doing after school art activities at 4:00. And because I'm only teaching four classes total (two art classes and two Arts & Culture classes), my schedule is significantly lighter than the full time teachers, who should all be getting medals of honor. I don't know how they do it along with all the extra things the do, but somehow they do. God has called the perfect people to serve here and I feel so honored to be a part of their team for a little while.

Well, that's it for now! Before I go, here are some things to pray for: Some of my art classes haven't been easy. It's taking a lot more than I thought to get the older kids into even trying. Pray that I can make it more exciting for them and that they'll actually get something out of this class. Also, pray for my first devotions that I'm leading for the 10th grade girls tomorrow. Pray that the Lord will speak through me and give them exactly what He wants them to hear every time I lead. And lastly, pray for the new kids. Some of them haven't been saved and are struggling. Pray for their hearts and that they will open them to the Lord. God is so present in this place and I know that with your prayers, He will be living in each and EVERY one of these kids' hearts. Thank you again and again for your support and prayers!!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

And Let the Classes Commence..



Today marked the official first day of school! As I mentioned before, last week the Rock Harbor team had them for the week before they all returned home for the weekend. While the students were away, a bunch of adorable little kids from Bridges' OVC program (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) came to stay for the weekend. It broke my heart to hear some of what those precious little kids go through on a daily basis, and it was so great to see them being taken care of and entertained by the team. On Saturday I went to Stellenbosch with a couple of my friends/fellow teachers for their Saturday outdoor market, which was so much fun! For those who don't know, Stellenbosch is a charming little town about 25 minutes away from where I am. There are a ton of amazing shops and restaurants and I always love spending time there.

On Monday evening, the students returned. It was so great seeing them with all their stuff, ready to settle in. After they arrived, the staff members spent some time in the stifling heat helping all the students find their uniforms. What a task! Oh yeah, did I mention how hot it is here?! The last couple of days have been around 100 degrees! Before yesterday it has been perfect, but if this heat keeps up I might melt away. Our classroom doesn't have air conditioning and gets incredibly hot during the day. I'm sure I'll get used to the extreme temperature eventually if it continues, but for now I'm barely hanging on.

Today, because it was the first day of the new school year, all the students and staff gathered for an assembly before classes started. The staff made a circle around all the kids and prayed over them and the new school year ahead. Afterward, classes began! Since mine wasn't for a few more periods, I sat in on Rebecca (my co-teacher)'s classes. It was helpful to see how she handled the classroom and interacted with the students. By fourth period, I was up. My first and only class for the day was Arts & Culture with the 9th graders, all seventeen of them. I was pretty nervous at first, but by the second half of class I was a lot more comfortable. For me right now, I'd say the biggest challenge is getting all their names down. They're SO crazy and so different from what I'm used to! Once I have them all down and know them all a little more, it'll be a lot easier to call on them and manage the classroom over all. I'm glad I get to ease into the school schedule by only half days till the team leaves next week. I'll be sad to have the team gone! It has been so great having them all around and seeing their faces every day. I've especially gotten close to one girl on the team who I already know will be a lasting friend. I feel so blessed to have already gotten to know some wonderful people here and to have formed some relationships that will extend past my stay here. God is so good. Thank you all for your continued support and prayers!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Start of Something New



What a comparison this week has been to last week! I am so grateful for those restful days of adjustment but by the end of the weekend I was ready to get started with things. I had to include a picture of myself reading because that's basically all I did my first few days here. Thank goodness for my Kindle! I also went to the beach with the nice couple who picked me up from the airport (hence the penguin). It was nice to get out for a day. Sunday was when it all began with the team from Rock Harbor arriving that afternoon. They were all exhausted but made it through the day. That night we all went to dinner at a local nice pizza restaurant and I got to know them all a little more. It's been great having them around and I'll be sad when they go. Monday was a bigger day. It was my first day at the school and getting aquatinted with the staff, as well as the day the kids arrived, all fifty-two of them. Their bright smiles immediately brightened my day and I was glad to have them here at last. Because the team has them for the week, I don't get to see much of them during the day while I'm at the school. But when I get back they are all around because they will all be staying at the Retreat Center while the team is here. Last night the team put on a bonfire out in the fire pit and made s'mores for everyone before the kids stole the show with amazing singing and dancing around the fire. It's moments like last night that really remind me why I came here. There is no description that could do justice to the worship they sing and the prayers that they pray. I think they could have kept singing forever.

Today I at last met Rebecca, who I'll be co-teaching with for both Arts and Culture or grades 7&8 (which they clump together because there are only 2 seventh graders) and 9 and Art for grade 11. On Wednesdays we'll each be teaching our own class because the two classes will be colliding. Her and I are planning on meeting tomorrow about our first week of classes. I'm excited and a little nervous to get started, but I'm already getting ideas for the art portion of the classes, so I'm ready to take them on. This week is going to be all preparation at the school before classes officially start next week. Though next week classes will end at noon and the Rock Harbor team will get the kids for the rest of the day. I can't wait to get to know the kids by name, and I know it will get a lot easier when I start teaching them.

As for the weather, it's been incredibly hot during the day, but cools off significantly at night, with a steady breeze/wind throughout so I can't really complain. I still can't believe I'm in Summer! Thank you all for your continual prayers and support. It means the world to me :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

And the Adventure Begins...



Well, I made it!!! There were a few bumps along the way but I am just so grateful to be here in this beautiful place. And I was given the best send-off I could have ever asked for with almost all my family and close friends showing up! It meant so much having them all there hugging me goodbye, taking pictures, and praying over me. I even got an amazing hand made Africa workbook for my travel over! I've never felt so loved and supported :)

But back to the bumps. On my journey over, I experienced to of my biggest travel fears: extreme turbulence and lost luggage. The tiny plane that I rode from Medford to San Fransisco warned us before we even took off that we were going to experience "heavy turbulence" and to stay seat belted for our own safety. The pilot warned us again before takeoff and sad the last fifteen minutes coming in were really bad. I think it would have almost been better for my own sanity not to have the warning because right then and there I wanted to deplane. Sure enough, the turbulence was so bad the plane was not only moving up and down, but swishing back and forth. I was clinging onto my arm rests for dear life praying out loud. Don't worry, no one was sitting next to me. I can't tell you how happy I was to get off that plane. From then on my whole travel experience was filled with little sleep and a lot of discomfort. And to top it off upon arriving in Cape Town I was told my bags were still in Frankfurt. Great. So I was stuck wearing my nasty travel clothes for two extra days. But you know what? Once I got to Bridges...well, even once we started driving there and I took in the fact that I was really here, I forgot about all my travel woes and was just SO incredibly happy to be here. My living quarters immediately made me feel right at home. I can't believe I get my own space complete with a spacious bathroom and kitchen filled with everything I need! Today I was taken to the store to do some grocery shopping and I finally got my bags back! So now that I have some food in the kitchen and am completely unpacked, I feel more settled in and ready to focus on other things.

Right now, I'm actually the only person staying at Bridges Academy because everyone else is still on winter break till Monday. Most of the staff doesn't live at the school and those who do are from the states and are still gone visiting their families. Those people will be back on Sunday, along with a team from Rock Harbor church that will be here for two weeks. Because the team will be here taking over everything, I don't officially start teaching till next Monday. This gives me some time to ease into what I'll be doing and get aquatinted with everything. It will be the perfect transition for me, especially after a few days staying here on my own, settling in and getting used to the time change. I just love the complete peace I feel being here knowing that this is where God wants me right now. He couldn't have picked a better place :)