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.
When we first ministered with the Vinkrivier farm kids near Robertson, it was August 2016, near the end of the South African winter. Tony played sports with the kids, and I was assigned to do art with some of them. There are some keen artists in this bunch, and I connected with an older girl named Carmen. She was interested in Canada. Others were interested in the Canadian pencils I brought as a gift, as well as Canadian flags and maple candy. I even decided on using my own name in South Africa, rather than a nickname, when one of the farm girls told me that she really liked my name. Double names are common among the coloured Cape community. Since this demographic is our main mission field, this was a perfect fit. I don’t mind being called Mama Lala (in Mozambique), Ann (in Kenya, Sierra Leone and Pakistan), and Rabia (to the Somali refugees). However, there is something special about using your own name!
So we returned to this area on our long-term mission, and began to work with different kids groups. Tony fitted in well with Nigerian YWAM missionary Folla, who runs a kids club three nights a week bordering on the informal (shack) part of Avian Park. Tony began his children’s ministry here, once a week usually on Fridays. I joined him in January in two kids clubs (My Father’s House in Avian Park, and Riverview kids club in Riverview), and we became teachers at MasterPeace Academy. Tony teaches science daily, and music weekly. I became the weekly art teacher. This was a stretch for both of us, but with encouragement from Principal Dr. Mella Davis, we grew in our fields. We especially poured love, encouragement and teaching into Khanyo and Mpho, who live in Zweletemba township. They are Xhosa and are gentle, fun-loving boys. Khanyo is gifted in art, and Mpho may be ADHD, but under that disability, he’s smart, and very spiritually sensitive. He’s also funny. We have come to love them, and we trust we will love the two new boys who will join us near the end of July for the winter term.
In February 2018, we also re-joined the Iris Vinkrivier Farm kids club, which is located near the Rooiberg winery off R60. This group continues to be a handful, but we found inroads to many of them – for example I am known as the pencil sharpening lady, and the artist auntie. They loved my prophetic drawings that we scanned in black line form. They were able to colour in my drawings in unique ways that totally absorbed all of them. Normally this club is loud and rowdy. The day we brought out my drawings, they were quiet for more than 45 minutes!
The other clubs have benefited from my other side – as teacher and musician. Mella Davis asked me three times to lead a teaching time with the Riverview kids, and these went well, so I did the same with the Avian Park kids. It has been these two kids clubs where I had some intense God moments where I was filled with searing compassion for a specific child. In the case of Riverview, I brought a teaching (Gospel in Colours), as well as jam sandwiches and naartjies (satsumas). All went well, and I had a few extra satsumas left over. While five of the older kids were in music class with Tony, one of the littlest kids came up to me and we bonded. I asked him if he’d like a naartjie, and then asked for a hug. He didn’t know much English, but he gave me the sweetest long hug. It was during that moment that my heart was deeply filled with compassion and joy. I’ve hugged kids and been hugged before, but this was different. It was like we were family.
The next My Father's House time was in Avian Park with 60 kids. We didn’t have our translator and our teen helpers were not as helpful as we needed. However, God broke through in a connection with two of the children. These encounters were in the midst of the other children becoming louder and getting annoyed at the teen leaders. I was working at the juice station, which requires concentration. Even with being careful with the cups, I always manage to spill juice on the table.
Since the teens were busy with the sandwiches, I personally handed out juice cups, from my table station. There was one little girl I had not seen before, so I greeted her personally. I didn’t know her name, so I said, “I’ve not seen you here before, sweetie. Welcome, you are so welcome here!” I gave her a great big grin. It was like the Holy Spirit filled me so completely with searing joy and compassion that this spilled onto her. She lit up and gave me a huge smile in return. Normally these Cape coloured township kids don’t smile that much. But she did. The next encounter was shortly after. The kids began returning their juice cups. One little boy saw that I was doing this on my own, and he wanted to help. So I let him pile different cups together and we packed them so it would fit in the big juice pail. We had this silent understanding that we were family and it was a joy to work together. When we were done, I gave him a grin, which was returned. I offered him my right palm for a ‘high five,’ which was returned with enthusiasm. The surge I felt with him was different; it was more like a sense of belonging for both of us – but like the moment with the little girl, it was intense and memorable.
Other times I’ve been hugged, thanked, called ‘Tunnie’ and had great connections during leading worship. Some of the girls absolutely love playing my apple and egg shakers. Some are interested in my Irish bodhran that we brought from Canada. But nearly always there is a connection with these little ones.
And then came the teen girls who act as helpers at My Father's House. When we started with this club in January 2018, there were teen boys, who later became unruly. They didn’t seem to like Soraya’s discipline, and after the first few weeks, they didn’t really connect with us Copples either. Later on, we began searching for teens to become leaders of future Mailbox Clubs. Eventually we would have eight such girls. Training will take three months, and since the Avian Park library is not available on Saturdays, we have the training in our home. Tony picks them up at the library and brings them to our home in two trips, and also picks up Soraya, who is leading their training in Afrikaans (Tony does the English portion).
I fell into the role of making sandwiches, as well as serving cookies and juice. They are always hungry, and often asking for more. They giggle, go into the bathroom together, and are always asking me questions. One picks up my dinner bell and rings it, so I tell her that I ring it to let Tony know that supper is ready. Another notices the fridge magnets, and that one is of me with my mother in New York City. They were fascinated. Then they wanted to see Facebook pictures of my niece and step-granddaughter. Still another girl loves to play with my hair – especially in playing with the ringlets. These are real curls, different than the fake hair extensions that she is probably used to seeing. This girl loves to lightly punch my arm to say hello.
Meanwhile, not all the girls wanted to stay indoors – they wanted to explore the streets of the retirement village, which I hoped wouldn’t alarm the neighbours. Thankfully it didn’t. Others still just wanted our Wi-Fi code. But what was wonderful, is that at one of the girls asked Tony if she could go home in the second batch the following week. She thought I was cool and she wants to spend time with me! I’m not naturally attracted to teens, despite a word of knowledge that I had been given that I would be a loving support to some broken teenage girls. You just never know. While they were asking me questions, it was like I was in unknown territory and just relying on the Holy Spirit to keep us connected. He did not disappoint. I could be myself with them – and if I was not, they would see right through that. Then the girls began calling me my Grandma name that's actually reserved for little Sagan Copple. I'm Grandman LaLa. These girls didn't know that and began calling me LaLa on their own. I didn't mind, I answered to it.
Each time I meet with the kids or teens (whether My Father's House or the other clubs), I am stretched and stretched. But this is good, since it keeps me leaning on God for the ever ‘more.’ Jesus is using my skills and talents in various areas, and creating something new. This newness shows up in prophetic colouring books, different talks, singing and percussion; teaching art formally in school and loving on the kids as tante (aunt) and ouma (grandma). There is more in store … and it’s good that I like cooking, because that’s of use too. Nothing is wasted in the kingdom. It’s all in preparation for those God moments. May we have many more of them.
The latest stretching was the discovery that some had sipped away on Tony’s bottle of Cool-mint Listerine in our bathroom. It does contain alcohol, so after the initial surprise, we need view this in the context of alcoholism in the coloured townships, and that teens usually ‘push the envelope’ in trying things out. We’re thinking of an amusing response to this discovery. We can still remember what it was like to be a teen!
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