South African students find hope for future comment (0)
January 3, 2013
It’s hard not to be happy around 12-year-old Olwetu. She greets visitors with an infectious smile and sparkling eyes. Usually surrounded by friends, the outgoing South African seventh grader is always smiling, laughing and talking.
But this is not typical behavior among Olwetu’s peers — hopeless is the best word to describe Xhosa youth in the slums of Cape Town.
Most young people here must deal with myriad issues — abuse, violence, drugs, gangs, rape, loss of one or both parents, poor education, HIV/AIDS, poverty. These problems have far-reaching tentacles affecting every family in the township.
“We began to see students that were asking … ‘What do I do when I’ve been raped by my uncle?’ ‘What do I do when my father and mother are abusing me?’ ‘I don’t have any food at home.’ ‘My mom and dad don’t have work.’ ‘My mom and dad are dead and I live with my aunt,’” said Bruce Erickson, a Southern Baptist representative in Cape Town.
“There are so many kids that live in such difficult situations without hope. They don’t see a future for themselves here in South Africa. They don’t see a future for themselves in their homes.”
Originally from California, Bruce and his wife, Sheri, have served in South Africa for nearly four years. They have three children, one of whom is in the U.S. attending college. Focused on reaching the Xhosa youth in Cape Town with the love of Christ, the Ericksons use their educational skills to interact with the students at their “collection points” — schools.
Thirty percent of South Africa’s population is age 15 and under, compared to only 13 percent in the U.S., according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on health care issues in the U.S. and abroad.
“What an incredible opportunity for us to reach a huge part of this population and really have a chance to impact a nation for Christ,” Sheri Erickson said.
The Ericksons lead a project for OneLife, an International Mission Board (IMB) initiative that connects students in the U.S. with missions projects around the world. The Cape Town project’s goal is to minister to South African learners — primary and secondary school students.
“We teach life orientation classes, which [include] sex education, character building, being a good citizen and also learning how to deal with bullies and gangs and abuse — different things that the kids would face in their life,” said Sarah Cowan, a journeyman with the IMB from South Carolina. She and Michal Mitchell, a journeyman from Illinois, have been assisting the Ericksons in the youth ministry.
“After school, we have leadership clubs ... girls [and boys] clubs, worship services — different ways that we are able to interact with a few of the learners from our classes,” Cowan said, “and we’re able to go deeper with them and to share the gospel.”
Olwetu met Cowan and Mitchell in the after-school girls club at Mzamomhle Primary School, one of seven schools where the short-term missionaries and the Ericksons teach. It was there that Olwetu received Christ. “They give me so many courages to just carry on with life and love Jesus, as He forgave me of my sins — so that’s how I live,” Olwetu said.
Bruce’s vision is to see more lives transformed like Olwetu’s — not to temporarily engage youth while they are school-age but to build a lasting Christian foundation. Learn more about OneLife at onelifematters.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.