KWAZULU NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA
People often ask how we decide where to move to and serve next. Honestly? We don't - God does. Each time we've moved to a different country to live and serve, he's made it clear to us that it was where it wanted us. Every time has been different though. This time we were on home assignment in America, taking time to 'rebuild our finances, rebuild our community and find a ministry partner' - as he'd asked us to do as our term in Australia came to a close. We'd been stateside for just over a year and were beginning to come to terms with life in the states. Though it wasn't our preference to settle into "American life", we finally gave up control and surrendered to God's plan by digging deeper into friendships and community, we started a missions group at our church, and we even planted a garden. It was shortly after this that God clearly said, "Okay, start taking steps now. Put feelers out, find your next move."
We began praying for clarity, wisdom and for God to direct our steps - this was the first time we'd ever had to seek out ministry partners and we had no idea where to start.
Then during Easter of 2019 with some great friends from Louisiana (that we'd served with in Tanzania), an avenue opened. We were chatting about how we'd had the 'green light' to put feelers out and he mentioned a former colleague and friend that was serving in South Africa. He said he thought it lined up perfectly with our Tribe's vision and mission, and that he'd connect us if we wanted. After hearing about this we remembered when we were visiting and serving in South Africa on a vacation during our time in Tanzania, that God told us we'd live there someday. Maybe this was it?
A couple of emails and FaceTime sessions later, it was as if there was a big, flashing arrow pointing us toward South Africa. This was it. Every single thing that Greg & Kristin do in South Africa line up with our vision and mission. Not only does their ministry line up, but their values as leaders lined up; healthy boundaries, open communication and family before ministry. We committed to move to South Africa in mid-2020, with monthly FaceTime sessions lined up in the mean time to stay in touch, get to know each other more and start building our relationship. Read below for a little glimpse into what we'll be doing with First Love International!
In the past four years, in partnership with Hand of Hope, First Love has built over 80 preschools! It's not just about throwing some walls up, slapping on some paint and installing windows, though. Before building a preschool in any village, Greg and Kristin meet with the leaders and members of the community. They assess the need for a preschool, and ensure the community is ready to take the project on as their own. Every community they've built a school in plays a huge role in supporting and maintaining the school. This is not your typical 'missions trip' building project - it's aim is to help communities with the desire and drive to better the lives of their children by providing a quality and safe education at an early age. The community is involved in every step of the process and really takes ownership, it's such a beautiful thing!
Not only do they build the schools and staff them with members of the community, but First Love also ensures the staff are trained and mentored, so the kids are truly given the best education possible. Our role will likely fall into this realm once we arrive - we plan to help with the mentorship of teachers and mentors to build relationships with the staff and make sure they have all the resources they need to provide the best education for these kids.
Another piece to this puzzle is creating a healthy community - not only through education and entrepreneurship, but with physical health as well.
First Love partners with many local and international donors to supply a healthy meal to children at several preschools and primary schools in the rural areas of KwaZulu Natal. Tons (literal tons) of food is donated to these schools to provide a warm and healthy meal so the children will be able to focus more on school work, and less on rumbly tummies. Many of these children don't receive a meal from home before school, so this program is vital to their success! And aren't they just so adorable with their oatmeal mustaches!?
One of the beautiful things about First Love, is their wholistic approach to ministry. As they work with Hand of Hope and other international and local partners to build schools, they're also supporting the South African economy by using laborers from the community. Not only that, but they often come alongside the bricklayers, carpenters, and others to mentor them, help them run a successful small business and offer them entrepreneurial training if they desire. In one community Greg mentored a young brick layer, and because of his quality work on the preschool, he was able to get more business in other jobs. It's precisely the desire of our hearts (and those of Greg and Kristin) to see locals empowered to support their families and have healthy communities and stories like this make us want to do even more!
This is just one more link that holds the community together as they partner with First Love to build schools and provide an education for the kids.
We're not quite sure what our roles may look like in this area of ministry, but with our past experience in writing curriculum for small business in developing countries, we're hoping we'll be able to step in and lend a hand here as well!
The most recent project within First Love has been a leadership and mentoring program for girls. Though this project is just getting it's feet wet, we're sure it's going to make a huge impact.
Stay tuned for more info as this program evolves!
Through every one of these programs, the deepest desire of our hearts (and Greg and Kristins) is that the love of the Father would be seen, known and felt by each person touched by a project or program of First Love International. From the children, to the staff, to the laborers, the community, the parents, the neighbors - our goal is introduce them to a Father who is always good and desires a relationship with them. We do this by living by example, building relationships, doing devotionals and chapels at schools and community meetings and giving him the glory for all he's done through us!