By Peter Carey
In June 2023, a group of ten people from Burke Community Church traveled to remote South Africa to minister to vulnerable children. In this series of posts, we are sharing the perspectives they gained in that experience. In today’s post, Peter Carey gives us view into his short-term missions experience as he recounts the journey.
For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!“ – Romans 10:13-15
This opening scripture appears later in my journey but it’s a good jumping off point for how I came to be part of a team that traveled to Canzibe, South Africa to support 25:40 and their mission.
I have been attending Burke Community Church for over five years. I have supported mission trips financially but have not been able to travel until this opportunity came up. 25:40 is a ministry built on the words from Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Across multiple sites in South Africa, the dedicated men and women of 25:40 find and support vulnerable children, disciple young men and women, and work towards restoration of responsible parenthood.
The Decision To Go
In October 2022 there was an interest meeting held at the church for a trip to South Africa commencing in June 2023. The trip would include running a mini-soccer camp and tournament for the kids, coming alongside the 25:40 staff and supporting them, facility maintenance and general assistance wherever needed. Over the next several months, the team came together. It included a pastor and his wife (co-founders of 25:40), the executive director of 25:40 , a father and son, an administrative specialist, two teachers , and two military retirees. This team was unique in that there were not many shared experiences across the group. The binding attributes were that all attended Burke and had a desire to serve those in need.
We met monthly running up to the trip. We learned about each other, prayed for one another, shared our struggles and our nervousness about expectations. Would this be an experience that would change me and my relationship with God? Would it be a let down and something I regretted doing? I had second thoughts about the trip in the weeks before we left. I was busy with work and was just returning from another long trip. I didn’t think I’d have the energy needed to be a good teammate.
I prayed about it and God was quick to answer me. Just before we left we were tasked, in a teams of two, to prepare a devotional for one evening of the trip. I was teamed with Jenny, one of the teachers, and assigned Romans 10:13-15 as our devotional passage. Not just ours but each of the devotional passages were God’s instruction to go and tell all creation about Him. It’s amazing how God prepares us when He gives us the honor and privilege to be His hands and feet in the world. He swept aside my doubt and fear and filled me with a sense of excitement and wonder as the trip approached.
The travel to South Africa was not easy. It started with a delayed flight from Washington DC to Newark. But the team was in high spirits. They played games, told stories and laughed their way through a multi-hour wait. The humor and grace the team displayed let me know that the next ten days would be absolutely brilliant. But the longest leg of the whole trip lay ahead; a 15 ½ hour flight from Newark to Johannesburg, South Africa. It was a long flight (especially for those trapped in a middle seat). But again, the difficulties were handled with humor and the stories that came out of that flight lifted all our spirits over the next few days. We landed in Johannesburg and were whisked to a hotel to spend the night before starting out again in the morning for a flight to East London, South Africa. This is where we would start the overland part of the journey to Canzibe – a five hour road trip over roads that were at times paved, at times gravel and at times a mystery…were we still on a road??
Arriving late in the evening on Sunday night we settled into our beds and most went right to sleep. We were warned that conditions at the camp could be austere, but the lack of power — which also meant the lack of running water — was a surprise. A tree had fallen on the power lines and the power company would spend the next few days working to restore it. The team was not deterred. We met the local pastor that was housing us in the church compound next to the 25:40 facilities. He had candles ready and explained all we would need to do for our bathroom needs – simply fill up buckets with water from the rain barrels and let gravity take it from there.
A Typical Day
In the morning we woke up early and started what would become our routine for the week. Quick clean up followed by breakfast in the main kitchen. Dan, 25:40’s executive director and our temporary cook, would make a name for himself as he kept us all fed through the week. Somehow with only a gas stove and a grill he managed to make three meals a day feeding not only our group but many of the staff and local people that would make it to our meals. It was an amazing act – not as miraculous as two fish and five loaves of bread feeding thousands but amazing nonetheless! After breakfast we gathered with the local staff including the in-country director of 25:40 (Wikus) and his wife (Carina) as well as the leader of the 25:40 team at Port Alfred (Tata Nono). There was a staff-led morning devotional conducted in both English and Xhosa (the local language). The pre-school children sat through the devotional and ended each morning session with a prayer. It was truly inspiring hearing them praise God in their language. While I didn’t understand the words, the honesty of their love of God rang clear and loud.
For the rest of the day, the team was split up. I worked with Louie, the other retired military man, on facility maintenance while the soccer team did three to four sessions a day. Debra, the administrator, led crafting activities for the staff and after school kids and contributed across the board. When she wasn’t doing that, she turned in to the team Mom making sure we were all taking care of ourselves and ensuring that we had whatever we needed. Alec, the pastor, and his wife Amy, a counselor, talked with the staff, provided counseling to those in need, led home visits and were there to answer any questions we may have had about 25:40 or the local area. Dan, as stated, had the loneliest job. He was in the kitchen or at the grill most of the time. He really sacrificed himself. His example of selflessness will stay with me. Not only was he often alone cooking but he also had to sleep by himself in a separate room with only goats outside his window for company while we were all in another building.
After the evening meal we would take turns doing dishes, cleaning up and preparing for devotional. Each night there were up to twenty people packed in to the kitchen to share God’s message. The two team members would read the passage and we would all discuss how we understood it and were putting words into action. All the passages reflected God’s direction to go out to the world and spread His message.
Celebrating With The Community
While we were there we celebrated the 20th anniversary of 25:40 and it was an incredible celebration. Tribal leaders, community members and families from throughout the area came to rejoice and sing God’s praises in thanksgiving for the efforts and life changing experiences they had due to 25:40’s commitment to the people in the area. It was truly an honor to be able to participate and see the joy reflected from all the faces in the crowd. At the end of the celebration there was a soccer tournament. The BCC team was sadly defeated by the local team 1-0. Congratulations to all the participants, it was a hard fought match on what can only be described as a difficult playing surface.
The next morning we left the compound and made our way to a decompression stop before heading back to the US. We stayed at a lovely resort on the Indian Ocean and for the first time in a week Dan didn’t have to cook! We continued our devotions and bonding. We ended our last night in South Africa with a series of affirmations about our teammates. The common refrain that was heard was about servitude – how each person shared more of themselves than was thought possible.
After a 40-hour travel period (driving, flying, waiting, flying, waiting, flying) we all made it back to DC. It was emotional departing from the group. These were my brothers and sisters in Christ and a part of my family. In the short time that I got to spend with them, they grew upon my heart and I am going to miss them. I have high hopes that I will be rejoined with them on another trip to support the team in Canzibe in the future. Because I will be going back should another mission trip be planned!