Trip into the 2nd Poorest Township in SA…Expectations vs. Reality

Expectations:

Have you ever wondered what the people on the islands in the Indian Ocean think?  There are still dozens of tribes and islands that have still yet to be explored, which is a crazy thought to us, right?  We are taught from a young age that the Age of Exploration ended long, long ago, yet new groups of people are being reached very frequently.  I am currently in a small forgotten town in the middle of the Free State, which is the central province of South Africa.  These people are here for one reason though, and it truly broke my heart when I first heard it.  Years ago, a dam was constructed here in order to feed power to Johannesburg and Bloemfontein, two of the largest cities in South Africa.  The company which built it needed cheap labor, so they built a township

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Grabbing a picture with this little guy while playing soccer

directly adjacent to the construction site and relocated thousands of workers.  The damn was built, and all was fine and dandy, but the construction company just left the people in the township there to live permanently.  This has created a vicious cycle of poverty here, which in turn has affected thousands of lives in a very negative way.  At Oviston, the township we are working in, there is a sky-high percentage of young teen pregnancy, AIDS, and food deprivation.  I have been forewarned, even as someone who has done lots of work in townships, that it will break my heart drastically.  Although I feel prepared, I knowingly am headed into a place that the government would rather people not know existed. 

Another heads up given to me was by Charl, my mentor.  He told me to be prepared to be hung on and climbed on like a jungle gym all day.  He explained that this is mainly due to the lack of male influence in the township, mainly due to the AIDS issue.  Men that live to 40 are seen as old to these people, which is crazy because a lot of young parents are 40.  It is not a long life whatsoever, and it is supported by the negligence of the government.

 

According to everyone who has done this trip before (I am writing this section the night before), these kids are amazed by the simplest things.  It is mainly due to the lack of exposure to the outside world and the subpar education provided in Oviston.  Most of the kids we will work with are illiterate and have a language barrier in their way.  The main language here if Afrikaans, which is common in South Africa, yes, but English is a necessary skill towards making out of poverty.  In this country, English is absolutely crucial to the workplace, but these poor kids are never even given a chance to learn it.

Our plan is to give backpacks and small amounts of food to the kids of the township.  As hard as it is to swallow, we have to give the kids

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The Beautiful Sunset in the Free State

little amounts of food at a time.  They are so malnourished that a large quantity of food could cause them to vomit and react poorly to the over-intake.  We have planned accordingly, however, as our schedule has food spread out lightly through the day.  We are also giving them backpacks with school supplies that the congregation of the church raised.  We needed roughly 150 of them to have one for each kid.  As of Tuesday, we were sitting about 95 short, which was a few days away from a disaster.  Through prayer, however, God provided and gave us another 150 on top of the ones we already had, allowing us to find other ministries to use the supplies in.  God has blessed this trip beyond any expectations I could have set, and I am so ready to dive in head first tomorrow morning!  I will write part II tomorrow night, recapping the experience and comparing my expectations to the reality.

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First time making S’mores!

Reality:

It was somewhat what I expected.  The town was seriously so impoverished….it was truly insane.  These people are totally stranded and think that there is no life beyond their small town.  There is lots of interbreeding, causing some genetic issues in some kids, as well as lots of drinking during pregnancy, causing other various defects.  The kids were the happiest kids I have ever seen, though.  They just wanted to hug and run around and be with us.  Especially as a guy, the little boys were like magnets to us.  Most of them have grown up in a home without a father, so attention from an older male is rare for them.  They just wanted to be on our shoulders or in our arms…which was heartbreaking when we left because they refused to let go.  The whole trip broke my heart, but in a good way. It gave so much perspective about what I have and how lucky I was being born into the situation that I was.  These kids are taught to fend for themselves once they can walk…I am 20 and still rely on the advice and support of my mom.  It just makes me grateful.  Here are some pictures from the day and a half of ministry…words can’t describe it.

My Past in South Africa

The most common question I get about my missions work is, “Well…..how on earth did you get started with this?”  The answer is simple, actually.  The easiest way, however, is just to tell my whole story of how I came to travel so much, rather than answer a ton of questions strung out throughout the next year!

I was a Junior in high school attending the Wesleyan School in Norcross, GA. Wesleyan is known for many things, but most of all, it is known for green, perfect grass and an exceptional missions program for students.  I hadn’t been on a mission trip yet in my high school career and the first half of the fall semester of my junior year was almost over.  I was sitting in my living room at my old house where I grew up with an empty application in front of me, contemplating the outcomes and whether my heart would be in it or not.  As if God whispered in my ear, I just felt the urge to go.  So, I wrote out all of the answers on the application and came to the final question, “Which trips are you interested in?” Choices ranged from Central America to Eastern Europe.  All of the trips were on Spring Break, but with plans to travel with family, my only option was the summer trip to South Africa.

I’m guessing you are starting to get an idea of how this goes from there.  When I got off the plane in Johannesburg, the first person I met was Charl Van Wyk, the man who was later to become my mentor. Over the course of an amazing trip with my school, he convinced me to return several months later over Christmas break to continue to work.  I was a bit sick for the duration of that first trip and the flight, time zone change, etc. didn’t help. I returned home looking and smelling like I had just lived under a rock for the last 10 days. My mom picked me up at the airport in ATL and as she hugged me, crying, she remembered the first thing I said to her is, “I’m going back at Christmas”. Now returning for my fourth time, I am excited to see how God works through me again as I am returning for hopefully, ten months, by far the longest time I have spent there yet…

God has led me into the mission field and placed me in a place that I cannot imagine could not fit me any better than the Plettenburg Bay Mission and the work i have the privledge to do in the country of South Africa.  The whole process and the “sacrifice” of two weeks of summer I though I was making by going on my first Wesleyan mission trip that fateful summer has paid its dividends as the work of God always does.  God has directed my life in this path and I am so excited to see where he takes me next!

Why I left college and where that leaves me now…

7/4/17

Since I am doing a bunch of crazy things with my life now, I think it is only fair that I explain the story of the sequence of events that led to me temporarily leaving college for the ministry.

Since the first time I toured Ole Miss during my Sophomore year, I knew it was a front runner in my decision.  The campus is beautiful, SEC football, and somewhere a little further from home.  Seemed like a perfect fit for me, but I realized somewhere in the first three months of being there, it was not where God wanted me right at that time in my life. It was fun and I made lots of friends, but something wasn’t quite right… I wasn’t sure what…

As many of you know, South Africa is a place that holds my heart.  I have done the past two Decembers there working with the Plett Beach Mission and am very involved there. While there in December last year,  I learned that I may be able to intern for a year over in South Africa, so I naturally jumped at the opportunity.

Even though it was a big decision to make, the decision to leave Ole Miss occurred I’ve the course of two conversations.  The first was a conversation with Charl Van Wyk, my mentor in South Africa.  Per usual, Charl and I begin to plan my next trip before the current one was even over.  This time though, he came out with a strong and different idea — he suggested that I should intern with him for a whole year! That idea literally ate at me overnight until I talked to my mom for the second conversation.  I decided to just straight up ask her if it was OK to put college on hold to do this instead of “sugar-coating” it.  To my surprise, she totally was on board and the wheels were in motion.

After those two conversations, my mind was set.  I got home, called Ole Miss to let them know I wasn’t coming back for the spring term, moved out the next weekend and began working to save for my trip!  Since then I have been interning at the church where I grew up (Johns Creek Baptist) and working to save money, which has been a humbling and unbelievably challenging thing to do.  God is good, though. I’m hoping to have enough raised and saved to leave in August!

I hope everyone has a good Independence Day, God Bless the USA!

GB

The Start of My Journey

Some may know me and may receive a mission letter similar to this.  Some may not receive this as a hard copy so I want to just put it up here to make sure everyone can get the information!

I am excited to announce that I will be traveling back to South Africa for ten months!  God willing, I plan to leave in August and travel to Johannesburg to work alongside my mentor, Charl Van Wyk, interning as a youth minister. Charl is a native South African and a lifelong minister. I have had the pleasure of working with him three times for short term missions in South Africa since 2015. Charl is a Godly man, a stellar role model, and a true inspiration to me. He contracts with various churches in South Africa to start, repair, or grow their youth ministry programs.  I am excited to work alongside him and live life as a true, full-time youth minister for a year!

Many of you know that I first went to South Africa and fell in love with the South African people the summer between my junior and senior year of high school at Wesleyan (2015). That is when I first met Charl and he invited me back to serve that Christmas (2015) on the Plettenberg Mission trip. It was an amazing experience and I was drawn back to SA for a third time in 2016 for the three-week Plett Christmas mission. It was then, this past Christmas, when I felt the Lord calling me to more. I decided to explore the option of taking a year off from college and following where the Lord was leading me in South Africa.

I returned to the states after Christmas full of excitement and my parents supported my decision to take this past semester off from college to work and save money to use to self-fund a portion of my trip and prepare. I have been working at Chick-fil-A, teaching and coaching swimming, and also volunteering alongside the youth minister at Johns Creek Baptist Church learning more about youth ministry and that has been a huge growth opportunity for me from a maturity and faith perspective. My plan is to serve in South Africa with Charl from August 2017 until May 2018 at which time I will return home, work over the summer, and head back to school that fall. While I will be behind my peers academically, I believe the Lord is calling me to this year of service and I am excited to see all He has in store for me!

The preparation and financial implications of this longer mission have exceeded my expectations.  To fund my 10 months in South Africa, I estimate a financial need of $12,000 US dollars. This should cover my flight to Johannesburg and 10 months of very basic living expenses.  The money I have worked for and saved will be used to supplement my basic living needs and any incidentals that I encounter.

While in South Africa, I hope to have saved enough to be able to visit some areas of the countryside outside of Jo’burg also. I also plan to work alongside Charl on the Plett Mission again this Christmas as part of his core leadership team. For those who have followed my missions before, you know all about this trip; however, for those who may not, this mission is held on the coast of South Africa (Plettenberg) where we essentially direct and operate a Vacation Bible School hybrid program and love on South African kids for about a month.  I am so excited to do this for my third year and my first as part of the core leadership team!

For donations, I am pleased to finally say that I have officially partnered with Scripture Union Pennsylvania. This means that all donations to my trip are tax deductible. I have been working closely with Blaine Bergey, the Chief Financial Officer for Scripture Union Pennsylvania. He has informed me that if I gather checks written to Scripture Union with “Grayson Blount Mission Trip” on the memo line, he will provide tax return certificates to the addresses of the corresponding checks.  This is great news because figuring this part out has been the biggest obstacle for me in preparing for the trip. If you are interested in making a charitable and tax deductible donation, checks or cash (with an address for the tax return) can be mailed to my primary residence at 3600 Ivy Rd. NE Atlanta, GA 30342. Just to be completely clear and transparent, anything money spent over the 10 months outside the scope of the basic living necessities will be from my own personal funds. I want all contributors to feel confident that any contribution is being used carefully and wisely. If you choose to donate, receiving funds by July 1 will help me tremendously as I plan and prepare and secure living arrangements in Johannesburg.

Regardless of whether you choose to support me monetarily, I do ask that you please keep my travels and preparations in your prayers.  I will be keeping this blog very active throughout my travels, posting pictures and stories of what I see and experience.  I also have a new Instagram account dedicated to my missions with the handle @followgrayson.

I would love for you to join me on the new and exciting journey.  The next twelve months will be filled with uncertainty, anxiety, and a lot of smiles, so I really hope you will join along on the journey with me and watch the Lord show Himself in glorious and mighty ways!

GB