I grew up in the greater Los Angeles Area, so spotting a celebrity was a pretty common occurrence. The highlight of my celebrity sightings was when Snoop Dogg came into the store where I worked. As he strolled by in his Snoop Dogg way, I blurted out, “What’s up, Snoop?” You see, I get a little starstruck when I see a celebrity, but I know I have to do some sort of interaction to document this encounter. My starstruckness didn’t add to my intelligence. “What’s up, Snoop?’’ probably wasn’t the coolest thing I could have said to this famous rapper.
I don’t think I have ever seen any of my favorite athletes or celebrities in public though. Can you imagine if you saw your favorite celebrity in public? Now imagine if they asked you to do something for them. I don’t know what I’d do if I saw my favorite basketball player, Kobe Bryant, in public. I would pretty much do anything he wanted, that was legal of course. I would wash his car, do his laundry, pick up his kids from school, whatever he wanted.
One day, this thought made me ask myself, “Why am I not like that with God?” For Kobe Bryant, I would clean his bathroom with my toothbrush and use it again, but doing things for God can sometimes be far more difficult. I finally said, “Whatever you want God—anything!’’ His answer was calling me to go work with orphans in South Africa.
I’ve known I was supposed to spread awareness and help “the least of these” my whole life. The problem was that I really didn’t know anyone in need. How could I tell others about those in need if I didn’t know any? There are more than 1 million AIDS orphans in South Africa alone, half the world’s children lives in poverty and the number of children in need grows daily. These numbers have faces. This became my rallying cry. I gladly took it from a nonprofit with the same name. I heard Erwin McManus once say, “Love breeds creativity.” If your mother is battling with an alcohol addiction, you will do whatever it takes to help her. Your love for your mother would cause you to come up with creative ways to stop her from drinking. In order for me to come up with creative ways to help children in need, I would need to come to love them.
I raised my money, got my visa and a few months later was arriving at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Right after I arrived in Joburg, I was told I would be teaching first grade in a local township four days later. I don’t have a teaching degree and had never taught school before. I guess my college education and love for children would be good enough for them. Those first few days I was emailing my mom (a second grade teacher) quite a few times. Most of these emails contained lots of cries for help, pleading and mostly whining.
A few weeks into teaching, I began hearing things that broke my heart. Two of the kids in my class (7 and 9 years old) were left alone the whole week to take care of themselves. If that wasn’t hard enough, they had to take care of their 9-year-old Autistic sister. Their dad was out of the picture and their mom was a domestic worker who lived in the house where she worked. The family she worked for wouldn’t let her bring her kids, and she needed to work at this job to support her kids. Solutions aren’t always easy.
I also had the chance to volunteer at the children’s home run by Botshabelo. This was a life-changing experience, where I even changed my first poopy diaper. The owner of this diaper was a little girl who was just a few months old. She was brought to Botshabelo Babies’ Home about a month or so before I arrived after being found in a storm drain. Hearing that rocked my world. As I was holding this little girl, I could just feel God’s love for her and for me.
There was another little boy whose mother in a trash bag and threw out the window after he was born. She is currently in prison for this. This little boy is so special to those who work in the Babies Home. Kids say some funny things, but this one takes the cake. He often said he was scared of certain things. “I’m scared for the thunder. I’m scared for the green pool.’’ During one stretch in my time in South Africa, I hadn’t shaved for two months. As I was putting him to bed he said, “I’m scared for the beard.’’ This kid warms your heart and causes you to bust your gut laughing.
God changed my life in South Africa. I don’t really understand all of it yet. I know people in need now. The statistics had faces that I came to love. I told God I would do anything and He took me up on my offer. He showed me things I would never have been exposed to. He gave me His heart for the world. As Brooke Fraser sings, Now that I have seen I am responsible / Faith without deeds is dead.