by Laurie-Ann Copple
I’ve been praying for keys to reach the township and farm kids. In some ways, it’s been hit or miss, and a definite growing experience. We often have special bonding times with individual children, right from the very start. We are still learning and making some mistakes as we grow, but not ones that are major.
We first had our eyes opened to starving children when we were at Iris Global Harvest School, in Pemba, Mozambique (June and July 2016). During the very popular Children’s Day holiday on July 1st, the Pemba base hosts up to 5,000 children for a day of songs, games, candy and a chicken meal with rice, cabbage, Frozy (soda) and cake. The youngest children get to go with their mothers. We were a part of helping children get into groups and get into the games. When the children finally got to the canteen, their thumbs were inked so they would not be able to return and eat a second meal. They were that hungry that they could easily eat far more food at a sitting than we would eat. We were to see this again in South Africa. Yet what surprised me was what happened with a widow’s children when we were hosted by “our” widow Maria Valisora. The Harvest School leaders had paired Tony, myself, Katie Heap and another girl with Maria for Village Immersion. We were given a box of beans, rice, oil, spices and other things for a meal together. It was the start of a beautiful friendship with Maria, and we were given sweet hospitality in one of the worst hovels I’ve ever visited in Africa. It was a place at the bottom of a hill, with holes in the walls and ceiling. It was not safe from thieves or rain. Eventually we partnered with God to get her a newly built block home, but we couldn’t have done this alone. That is another God-story in itself!
We had decided when we were at Maria’s that we were tired of rice and beans – since we had been eating it every day for a very long time. She offered to make matapa for us, which is a green leafy vegetable that we are fond of. We gave her 200 mets, and she went off and got the ingredients. The lunch was like heaven on earth, it was so good. We had it over rice. She gave the leftovers to her children, who were scraping the leftovers off the pot. I was distressed that they weren’t eating with us, although perhaps they got beans and rice after we left. These children behaved differently than the kids at the base, but perhaps they didn’t have ‘orphan spirit’ issues.
Kids (and adults) with orphan spirit never feel like they have enough. They don’t know their identity, are insecure, and often hoard in fear of not receiving anything. They don’t feel deserving, so they believe they have to sneak, steal, hoard and worry about the next meal (or anything else) that comes. I remember hearing a talk by Valerie Britton, the wife of my Iris papa, at the Iris affiliate church in Williamsburg (and Richmond) Virginia. She’s worked with orphans in Russia, and described that sad, unloved mentality very well. Many of us have that poverty spirit in the first world. It doesn’t just happen in Africa. I had it, until I felt secure in my identity as a child of God. I always felt I had to strive desperately for approval. Orphans and those with orphan spirit do as well.
Then we arrived in South Africa two years ago and we got to know some of the children at the Footprints base near Johannesburg. We stayed there several nights as we prepared to go to Robertson (Western Cape base) for our extended outreach. These were very sweet children, who knew they were loved, and some could even be quite cheeky. Tony engaged with them by teaching them about Canada. We had offered some maple candy and stickers from Canada to the base leaders, and they decided to make a home-school class out of it. These kids weren’t hungry for food, but they gladly received love and hugs from us.
Then we arrived near Robertson, at the Western Cape base, and stayed in an inner kloof ‘farmstead.’ Outreach included meeting people in the coloured neighbourhood in Robertson, a visit to Niquebela, the Xhosa township, loving on kids that were in a South African orphanage. Some of these kids were pulled out of abusive homes, and definitely had attitude issues. I worked with twin girls – one of them was very naughty and couldn’t understand why I didn’t allow her to play with my cane or glasses (two years later I did allow a farm girl to do that, and thankfully she promptly returned them, but not before Tony had taken a picture (shown below).
We also were part of the Vinkrivier kids club, although we did not join in with the crèche, despite my love for toddlers. After we spent three weeks in Robertson, I had a very strong impression of whom one of our main calls was towards. I kept seeing eyes and faces of very sad ‘Cape Coloured’ children, who did not feel loved, and their eyes were crying out in pain and despondency. While there would be others we would also love on (widows, divorcees, vulnerable teens, inmates, etc), these ‘latch key’ kids of farmers, shop-workers and township folk would be our primary ministry. We didn’t know who that would work out, since Western Cape base doesn’t have a true “children’s centre.”
Minmarie kidding around with L-A's glasses and walking stick, watched by Danie.
When we returned to Canada in late August 2016, we began an intense downsize and preparation phase. I drove down to visit my Iris ‘papa’ Brian Britton, and also see David Hogan, whom I met two years earlier, and also at our Harvest School. While I was on the way there, I stayed over in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I didn’t want to get caught in a snowstorm in the Pennsylvania mountains and decided to break up the long drive to Williamsburg from Ottawa.
That night, I had an intense dream where the Hershey Chocolate Company had decided to sponsor me 20 thousand US dollars to become the “Hershey kiss lady” to the latch-key kids of South Africa. I was amazed. What did this mean? I didn’t think this could be literal, but it did involve South Africa and loving on township kids. I found out later that we didn’t qualify for such a bursary, but that they do have Hershey Kisses in South Africa (we haven’t found them yet, but we might). I’ve had to take Laura Secord maple candies instead, as a taste from Canada. I’m sure the dream’s meaning will become more clear with time. My then-employer, prophet Darren Canning, believed Jesus was just reassuring me that our expenses and needs would be met; although I believe there is another, deeper aspect yet to be discovered.
And then I met the real children in person. After we arrived in Worcester, I got to know the beautiful daughter of our Afrikaaner guesthouse hosts. You guessed it, a toddler. Donnalee has a love for apples and sweet smiles. She knows she is loved and is a curious little girl. Then there are children at our church in Worcester who love to dance with flags during worship. And then in January 2018, we helped with the kids clubs in Worcester, and in Vinkrivier. We also became teachers at MasterPeace Academy. Monday’s club was in Avian Park, and while there are always at least 30 children, there have been as many as 60. Almost always there are some new children, so we often need to introduce ourselves to the new ones. I know many come primarily for the polony and cheese sandwiches, juice and fruit. We are thankful that these are paid for by My Father’s House Worcester, since the cost can add up, although sometimes we bring our own sweets, art activities and other surprises. While many kids are quite patient if we need to cut sandwiches in half (for increased numbers), others get restless and loud. If they don’t think they are getting their share, they can get very loud. Occasionally some have been so disruptive we have sent them out without food; and then they’ll bang on the door hoping to be let in again (the noise is not a good since our booked room is in a library). Some days, a child can eat three sandwiches and three pieces of fruit. I can’t eat that much and I’m plus size.
We found that the kids in the Riverview club are also always hungry. Our leader, Dr. Mella Davis, also runs the school where we teach science, music and art. Mella often gives these kids cookies, juice and fruit. A couple of months ago, Mella began to ask us to bring food and treats for the kids (I share teaching duties there at least once a month). She would have pizza parties, cake parties, sleep-overs and even a pool party. One day however, Mella brought banana bread and juice and it wasn’t enough. She had chocolate and it wasn’t enough. One boy called out, “Miss Mella, we’re hungry!” Sometimes Mella would help with food to some families, but couldn’t afford to help them all. It would be on a case by case basis. So since then we have been bringing jam sandwiches and naartjies (satsumas).
I had an idea of bringing sandwiches to the Roodewal primary school – but Tony stopped me on that one. If I started this, it may not be sustainable, and I would be expected to continue that ministry for some time. Could we afford that? It may be hundreds of kids. So instead I offered to bring sandwiches, fruit and juice to MasterPeace Academy on Tuesdays, right before my art class. At the time we had a very small class size – two students from Zweltemba township – very sweet black Xhosa boys. We came to love these boys, and they loved spending lunch with us. Mpho preferred my sandwiches to his mother’s and said so. We found out later that sometimes his mom is too busy to feed them breakfast.
Tony got into a routine of taking the boys swimming (as exercise) and then going to McDonalds for ice-cream cones. Sometimes there would be more of a meal involved. Sometimes the boys would be brought over to our house, so that they could have their music lesson and science experiment using equipment we couldn’t bring to the school (such as our stove). And the boys would stay for fruit, ice cream and sweets. Now let’s fast forward to the end of the second term, where Tony could not host them for a reward movie of Mr. Bean videos, due to a doctor’s appointment. So a later visit was arranged, with the boys and Mpho’s mother. However, the mother asked if their visiting cousin could come instead. This resulted in us feeding three hungry boys, who had had no lunch, and likely only a bun for breakfast. Was that mom cheeky? We’re not sure of the circumstances, but we did have these hungry children in our home, so we fed them. What did they have? Toasted chicken sandwiches, bananas, apples, cake and milky coffee! We were amazed, but maybe we shouldn’t be, we’ve seen them eat before, even at an Indian restaurant, where we were treated by principal Mella. I asked a close friend what was going on - why the boys would be that hungry. She told me that many African kids (and adults) would often eat sporadically, depending on the food supply in their home. So when they would have food available, they would ‘load up’ and eat and eat and eat. (I also remember the Mozambican cooks telling me during Pemba base kitchen duty, to put more and more rice on the plates. I had already put a large amount of rice, but they wanted a LOT more, without planning out the amounts to stretch. No wonder there were stretching of food miracles at the base – if they weren’t planning the portion size! God more than filled in the gaps).
Then we had our last group of hungry tweens and teens. We had up to eight girls (and once a boy), who are from Avian Park. They agreed to be trained to become leaders for future Mailbox Club Bible studies for children. These Mailbox clubs would replace the Monday kids’ club, since the material is designed for small groups. The only available day to train them was Saturday, and the Avian Park library was not available. So Tony picks them up and brings them to our home. Tony originally believed that we wouldn’t feed them other than giving them juice, and perhaps a cookie. However, they were hungry. The first day was cake and cookies with juice. Then it grew to juice, sandwiches and fruit. Then it expanded to include freshly made cake (which was fine, since I was using leftover pears or apples from the Monday kids club). One girl asked me after eating all that, “do you have any more cake?” She said she was always hungry and began eyeing the two tomatoes we had in a bowl on the counter. I explained that we were having those for supper, so they left those alone. I hid a second cake I had baked earlier, since we were having dinner guests not long after their Mailbox Club meeting. But yes, the second cake would easily have been eaten.
So all this experience with child hunger has been very eye-opening and I have been praying about it. I googled child hunger and found these sobering facts! Child hunger is at 13 percent of the world-wide population. That amount is one in six children in both the United States and Canada, with higher numbers in the Nunuvut Inuit population (food is extremely expensive there). The numbers for Africa are even higher – 34 percent of Mozambican children are starving, and one in four South African children are also affected. This leads to inability to learn at school (if they even go to school, since uniforms cost money), and some are stunted due to malnutrition.
I’m praying about what God would have us do concerning the kids we work with and love on. I had originally hoped that we could have a store-front ministry, where we could live in the back, but have ministry in the front room(s). I could feed and love on kids say, twice a week. But this hasn’t worked out that way. What might work out in Robertson, doesn’t seem to work out in Worcester. Going outside of our gated retirement village into the townships for kids clubs, or bringing small groups home for a visit is a better answer.
I received further confirmation about feeding the children during a prayer time on June 24th, 2018. Tony and I lead a soaking prayer group that was born out of a ‘Street Ministry Team’ from our church in Worcester. We have met twice in our church, and the latest meeting was held in our home, because the church building was closed for the winter school holiday (South Africans love their holiday breaks). So we prayed for specific things, including the issue of child hunger in the Worcester townships. After I shared my concern, one dear lady had prayed and said that her eyes were opened to think of her part time gardener and maid. They likely were just barely getting by, and had children to feed. Did they need some extra help feeding their own children? Food costs had already increased through the extra VAT tax just two months prior. Even cheese and meat were taxed, although brown bread, milk, fruit and vegetables were not.
Then I lifted up my own heart to the Lord during the communal soaking time and Holy Spirit spoke to me. He reminded me of a vision that Heidi Baker shares about in the film Compelled by Love. It’s also shared in Jason Lee Jones’ song “Song of the Martyr.”
Heidi shares about a vision where one million children come to her. They were children from all over the world. There were so many that Heidi was overwhelmed. She was told to give them something to eat, just as Jesus told the disciples to feed the five thousand. Jesus gave her a piece of flesh from his bleeding side, and when Heidi took it, the flesh became bread. She was told to give it to the children to eat. This probably was both physical and spiritual food. Jesus told Heidi, “because I died, there is always enough.” And her dream continues on about the cups of suffering and joy – cups that Jesus also drank.
In Jesus’ food example, he took pity on thousands of people, who may not have eaten for days. They were just curious about Jesus. So Jesus took what he was given, a little boys lunch. He gave thanks, broke the bread and fish, and the food stretched to fill the bellies of a multitude. This miracle was written about in all the Gospels (Matthew 14, Mark 9, Luke 6 John 6) for five thousand men (plus women and children). It happened again with four thousand (Matthew 15 and Mark 8), although I wouldn’t be surprised if this miracle occurred other times as well. This food stretching miracle has happened in small and big ways at Pemba base and other bases too. This is not just a biblical miracle that happened with Jesus (and earlier with Elijah, Elisha and the widows’ oil - 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 4). So this is not a new phenomenon – extreme physical hunger with spiritual hunger that brings a special response from God.
So after Holy Spirit reminded me of Heidi’s vision, he then gave me one of my own. Instead of seeing children from all over the world, I had South African children surround me. I saw Xhosas, Cape coloureds, white Afrikaaner kids, Zulus and many others that I couldn’t yet identify. Perhaps some of the others were third-culture kids, otherwise knowns as missionary’s kids. Jesus said to me, “You give them something to eat.” And, “You are giving them food to eat. Please continue. There’s always enough because I died.” Then I was reminded of something that our Afrikaaner pastor Johan Schoonrad said in a recent sermon about Jesus feeding the group of 4,000. Jesus used what was sown towards the miracle – he had the seven loaves and a few fish. Johan shared that bread symbolizes all the needs, not just physical bread.
Then in the impression I was given, Jesus asked me to use whatever WE have at hand. He will make the resources stretch or bring more to us as we need. He said, “Don’t worry, just do.” So that is just what we will do! We’ll see what happens on this exciting journey of feeding and loving on South African kids!
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Blessings and love, Laurie-Ann
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Tony and Laurie-Ann Copple are Canadian missionaries and can be reached at email@example.com
48 Hooggelegen, Langerug, Worcester 6850 Western Cape, South Africa
Johan and Marie Fourie, Iris Western Cape Base, PO Box 765, Robertson 6705 Western Cape, South Africa