Twelve (mostly) unconnected people meet at Heathrow for the first time to spend two-weeks together in Eswatini. Will they all get on? Will they be flexible and accepting of such a different culture? These and a few other questions are those that always go through my mind when I lead a Mission Impact trip and meet the team for the first time. Having done this eleven times now, you would think I would have learnt not to concern myself, as the people who come on the trips always amaze me and our September 2017 team were no exception! After a tiring (not for me as I always sleep for around 5-6 hours on a plane) 11-hour flight to Johannesburg and a 5-hour minibus transfer to Hawane in Eswatini, the team always are early to bed on the first night. However, if there was any people still tired the next day, they were soon awake with the amazing acapella singing from the ladies at the women’s rehad centre, one of the many programmes run by the ministry. That first day was packed with seeing and learning about Swazi culture and visiting some of the programmes. Day two in country and we were off to the South (Lavumisa) to visit one of the In-Community By-Community projects, where a Pastor and local medical staff minister to the local very poor community. The greeting from Pastor Sabelo is always a special moment for any team, as was spending time with the local people. One group ended up volunteering to learn from a local family how to get clean water from a dry river bed and even helped them do some washing! That night most the team elected to sleep a under the stars in Lavumisa, well under the clouds mostly, interrupted by lion and monkey noises! However, not from the animals (there are none wild in Swaziland), but played out on Simon’s phone in attempt to scare us! There was also some snoring… apparently. The rest of that week was busy working on projects and included a morning doing an 11-zipwire course across a deep canyon, which was such fun (maybe not for Doreen who got stuck on one of the wires!).
Week two and we found ourselves in Bulembu, an old mining town that is now completely owned and operated by the ministry to support nearly 400 orphan and vulnerable children that the ministry look after on this large site (they have others). As soon as we arrived, we took advantage of the wonderful weather (it was great for the whole 2-weeks) and the whole team climbed Mt Elembe, the highest mountain in Swaziland that towers over the town. Nearly all teams complete it and this team was no exception. But this was not to be any normal hike, as once at the top, Ben took Brooke off to a quiet spot and proposed to her….fortunately she said yes and the whole team were able to celebrate with the happy couple. Sunday started with the wonderful African Sunday service and later some of the team took a plunge in the refreshing (aka freezing!) waterfall. After visiting the enterprises the ministry run in Bulembu (hospitality, honey production, water bottling, diary and bakery) and the schools and baby home (always a major highlight) on the Monday, the rest of the week was spent working on various projects and, in the afternoons , helping at after-school clubs or playing school sports. The work projects this time ranged from digging and planting in the fields that help supplement the food for the children, to building new beehive boxes for honey production, to constructing a team-building course for the Royal Rangers (Christian Scouts). As always, it was a tiring but a very satisfying week, where everybody felt they had contributed much to this amazing project.
On the Friday we waved goodbye to Swaziland and travelled 2.5 hours to Kruger National Park in South Africa. The size of Wales, it is an incredible wildlife park, where animals room free and, fortunately, visitors stay in vehicles! On the the minibus journey across the park to Skukuza (small village inside the park…..that has a big fence around it!) we were blessed with seeing animals, including our first lion. On the subsequent sunset and sunrise games drives (open Jeeps with a guide) we saw lots more and managed to see the ‘Big 5’ (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and water buffalo), although we did cheat slightly as we only saw the water buffalo at the motorway service station outside the park and on the way to Johannesburg! Our leopard sighting was a rare thing, yet we managed two sightings, one of which was a mother and cub. After getting up at 0430 for the sunrise game drive, it was no surprise that it was very quiet on the minibus journey from Kruger back to Johannesburg airport.
For me, as the leader, my personal mission is always to ensure that the team have the best experience and with our September team I believe I achieved that aim. Many of them were deeply impacted and, I suspect, changed by all they experienced. They were a great team and I loved spending time with all of them. However, I am now looking forward to leading my next team in January….fancy joining me?