So this past week, I did a thing…….on Wednesday morning, I drove my 16 year old son to RDU Airport and sent him off with 2 other youth and 6 adults to Zimbabwe, South Africa.
He’s flown plenty of times – and he’s travelled without his parents before – but he’s NEVER……EVER travelled 8,000+ miles from home!
In the good ole’ days, you could go with your family member to their gate and say your goodbyes and watch them walk onto the plane and then take off to their destination. Not so much anymore. For starters, the airport was PACKED at 5:00 am on a random Wednesday. Who knew?! And by the time the group checked in, got boarding passes and headed to the line for security – the line was incredibly long. Three of us parents stood in line with the group as long as we could…….and then we stood and watched them go through the security checks…….and then they were gone……out of sight…..and on their way. I couldn’t leave the airport just yet though. My biggest fear of this entire trip was knowing I wasn’t going to be along to keep up with his passport, boarding passes, money, etc. I texted Hunter quickly and said “send me a picture showing me your passport, etc in your hands” – and he immediately responded with this pic!
And just like that, the group was on their way to JFK in NYC and then they headed to South Africa……a mere 15 hour plane ride. With the travel time, connecting flights, and time difference – it was 1:30 pm on Thursday before I heard from him again. Talk about a long day and a half! We knew they had landed safely because we tracked the flight online – but I sure was glad to hear from him via text and to also get to talk with him – even if the connection was spotty, at best.
So what’s my kid doing in South Africa? He is traveling with our pastor and his wife, and 4 other adults from our church along with his youth friends, Jackson and Melissa. Our church has partnered with Zoe Empowers several years ago – and we’ve been supporting “working groups” of orphans in Zimbabwe and this trip was to go and meet with the groups, learn about the different ways they learning to be self-sufficient. “Zoe Empowers equips orphans and vulnerable children to overcome extreme poverty by addressing multiple barriers simultaneously.” So what’s my kid doing in South Africa? He is traveling with our pastor and his wife, and 4 other adults from our church along with his youth friends, Jackson and Melissa. Our church has partnered with Zoe Empowers several years ago – and we’ve been supporting “working groups” of orphans in Zimbabwe and this trip was to go and meet with the groups, see the different ways they are learning to be self-sufficient. They will be able to see first hand, how the Zoe Empowers model is changing lives not only socially, but also economically and spiritually too!
“Groups that are visited perform much better. Your encouragement lifts the heads of orphans and their businesses thrive.”
— Reegan Kaberia, Chief Program Officer
Zoe Empowers was initially started in 2004 as a Christian response to the humanitarian crisis left in the wake of HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. Zoe Empowers website states that over 380 million children are trapped in the cycle of poverty. Zoe gives these orphans a “hand up” rather than a “hand out” – and empowers and equips them to overcome the cycle of poverty. I strongly urge you to check out their website to learn more about this awesome organization https://zoeempowers.org
So, since our group arrived in Zimbabwe last week, they have been spending time visiting the 1st, 2nd and 3rd year working groups over there and spending time encouraging them, loving on them and learning how they are supporting themselves. Hunter says some of the areas they are visiting take an hour or more to travel to (by bus).
Hunter says the power goes off at their hotel each night around 10:00 pm. You may have heard about the rolling blackouts that Zimbabwe is experiencing this year. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-zimbabwe-economy-power/power-crisis-turns-night-into-day-for-zimbabwes-firms-and-families-idUSKCN1UR4SA
One day, while Hunter was explaining to me about the different “households” – some are all orphan children, some may have a grandparent living with them – but to hear your teenager say “mom, it’s like they’re missing a whole generation – the parents”. That’s hard to wrap your head around……..an entire generation of the population there is gone!
The group has been sending pictures – and the one thing that quickly caught my attention was the fact that ALL of these kids were smiling…..not fake “posed” smiles – but real, authentic, genuine smiles. These kids have very little by way of “possessions”, they are orphaned and living in very sparse conditions – but these kids are genuinely happy.
Our group was told that many of these kids have probably never seen white people before! Living in the USA – we are accustomed to seeing people of all nationalities on a regular basis!
One of the adults said to me via text today that every one they had encountered in Zimbabwe had been so dang sweet. Not just a few – but everyone!
There’s part of me that sad that I’m not with our group and experiencing this first-hand…….but then it’s also pretty cool to be able to allow Hunter to experience this on his own without mom or dad around. I am confident we won’t pick up the same kids at the airport on Saturday. There’s no way a trip like this doesn’t change you! I’m so thankful they were given the opportunity to be a part of this life-changing trip.