This week was full of excitement and hard work. We arrived back at the old Pietermaritzburg Prison – also known as Project Gateway – and settled in after a wonderful weekend in Durban learning about the Indian culture of South Africa. The next morning, our group of 33 was split into two as one half left for a 3 day hiking trip in the Drakensberg. The other half of us (my half – Hannah) would be serving Project Gateway for those three days, and would then switch with the group and leave for our hiking trip on Thursday.
Project Gateway was an extraordinary place to be for two weeks. We learned much about the history of South Africa and about several of its political prisoners who stayed in the prison. These included Nelson Mandela and Gandhi. To have the opportunity to sleep in one of the renovated, former cells in the political prisoners block was a crazy experience, and at times a little freaky! However, this feeling was quickly overcome as we kept learning about the various programs that Project Gateway offers to the community. Some of these include helping men and women on the street with their food sharing program, welcoming many children into their school every day, and providing jobs any way they can to those in need. Part of our time at Project Gateway was also spent listening to speakers talk about a range of topics: testimonies, social work, and how we as Christians may be too comfortable. We all learned a lot from the people there and we enjoyed getting to know them.
A highlight from Project Gateway for me was talking with the kitchen team and hearing their stories and how God has blessed them through the Canadian students. They served us with so much joy and it was always a joy to be around them. One instance in particular stood out to me: I was helping out in the kitchen cutting bread (the one task they felt would have been hard for me to mess up) and there were a few bread pieces left over. As we all passed them around the room, I approached the lead cook and offered her a small piece. She insisted on tearing it in half so that I could have some as well. She then looked at me and said, “taste and see that the Lord is good” and then popped the piece of bread into her mouth. This was a small testament to her faith yet, it reminded me of God’s great faithfulness.
For three days, our group volunteered all across the compound. There were several different groups painting and one that was gardening. The painting was hard work and I will say that my hands were sore (haha) BUT nothing compared to the strength required to work outside in the garden, under the hot sun, pulling up weeds all day. They were truly a persevering group of people and I was greatly impressed by the work that they accomplished. We later found out that the garden would be used to improve the food sharing program at Project Gateway. The project was being run by a Grade 11 student who is part of an internship program in the United States. It was beautiful to be able to hear her story and work alongside of her. All in all, we had a good time and we made several new friends – some of which made us laugh more than anything. We will always remember the lessons we learned at Project Gateway, and their influence on their community in Pietermaritzburg will greatly impact my involvement in helping my community in the future.
I (Sarah) was part of the first hiking group, and I could not wait to get back in the mountains. Living in BC seems to have developed this deep appreciation and awe of what a beautiful creation they are. I was excited to get a little taste of home while in South Africa. In reminiscing of the canoe trip at the beginning of the program, it was decided that it would be best to split into the same groups one final time- for bonding, reliving old memories, and making new ones. However this time it was different. At the beginning of the semester it was all new and exciting getting to know one another, now after six months living in a close community of 33, how much more bonding could we really accomplish? Through our amateur cooking skills, GPs (group poops), swimming in freezing rivers, and getting all sweaty we really got to the raw heart of community.
Our first day was spent trekking into a valley leading towards Pillar Cave, where we would be spending our two nights. We experienced lush green mountains surrounding us, rock hopping across rivers (and some of us falling in), and probably one of the most blue skies we have seen yet in our 3 months here. This first hike gave a little picture into the challenge that tomorrow’s hike would bring. After a rocky sleep and an oatmeal breakfast, most of our group began the adventure to summit Rhino Peak. As a pretty avid hiker back home, I was not expecting to experience the difficulty I faced on the steep sections; willing each foot to move took a lot more effort than normal.
Throughout the whole hike there was an immense amount of encouragement and support being given, and I believe this cheering-on is the only reason I made it up. Ty, one of the members of our team, was a ball of positivity, leading the pack up the mountain both literally and figuratively. When our whole group finally made it to the top we got to reap the benefits of our hard work while we enjoyed cheese and crackers and an absolutely stunning view. All struggles were forgotten as we soaked in this beautiful creation that seemed like it was made for us just in that moment.
I’ve always thought about how hiking is such a great analogy. Despite it being a tough climb at points, I was constantly looking back at the amazing view down the valley and each time I was surprised to see that the next view was better and more encompassing than the last, ending off with a panoramic view of the Drakensberg mountain range. This reminds me of my walk through faith, at times I can be distracted by the difficulty and stuck in the motions of life and I forget where I’m headed; but every so often God graciously gives me a little sneak peak of the place he’s leading me, a little encouragement to keep going, be patient, and to trust him. Once I make it to the top I can look back and see the ways that God has been faithful and I can look back on this beautiful trip he took me on. Come to think of it, Outtatown has been a journey like this, it has been challenging, and breathtaking; I’ve learned so much and will continue to do so as we head home soon. Getting to climb this mountain called Outtatown Discipleship School has been an incredible opportunity, and I can’t wait for the journey my next hike will bring.
By Sarah Martens and Hannah McNeilly