Children's faith inspires students on mission trip

A group of 15 GCU students traveled to Cape Town South Africa for a mission trip this spring.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

The love of God is found through faith rather than worldly things. That seems to be a common takeaway from the all-women mission trip 15 Grand Canyon University students took to Cape Town, South Africa, over spring break.

The trip, organized by the Orchard Africa organization, served Khayelitsha, an extremely poverty-stricken township within Cape Town. Orchard Africa schedules mission trips to give churches there the tools they need to care for the vulnerable.

Throughout the week, students participated in Vacation Bible School (VBS) with children and helped pastors by participating in home visits and prayer walks.

“We learned a lot from them,” said Chyann Schiewek, one of the two GCU leaders of the trip. “Every conversation you had with someone there, the Lord was mentioned.

“Whether it was, ‘Hey, how’s your day?’, they would never answer, ‘Oh, it’s good.’ They’d be like, ‘It is good because the Lord provided this day’ ... ‘It is good because He is good.’”

There was no shortage of faith in the Khayelitsha community despite a shortage of material possessions and, in some cases, food.

There is a feeding program in Khayelitsha that provides meals for children after school, but the week students missionaries went there was no school in session. The church, with the help of Orchard Africa, was able to provide the children with meals before or after their VBS activities to help ensure children would have food for the day.

“It was just really powerful to get to see that," said Sydney Wastradowski, the other leader on the trip. "Although we were there for a week, what is happening in that village is going to continue because Orchard Africa has really built up the church and the pastors that are in the villages.”

GCU students and Khayelitsha locals bonded through activities such as soccer.

Katie Harris, who had been on a similar mission trip last year, said one of the most rewarding experiences of this one was being able to point people back to the church through their work.

“When we leave, the church is still going to be there, and so it's really just empowering them to always bring it back to God and not ‘Americans are coming to help us,’” she said. “I think that’s what sets this trip apart.”

South Africa's apartheid policy, which ended in 1994, drove a wedge between the wealthy and the poor, leaving townships such as Khayelitsha in extreme poverty. Students were nervous about whether the after-effects of apartheid would affect whether the people of Khayelitsha would accept them.

“You would think that they would not accept us, but literally every single person that we met was so loving and accepting and you instantly felt at home and comforted and safe just with each person you interacted with,” Wastradowski said.

The students played soccer, bonded with the locals and grew close to the children attending their VBS program. They also helped the children memorize Bible verses, and they shared their love for the Lord with them through storytelling and arts and crafts.

“Every day we went over a new Bible story,” said Kenedy Paproski. “Every day they were learning a new way that they were special to God.”

The students and the VBS children were able to grow together and form meaningful relationships through the word of God.

GCU students grew close to their Vacation Bible School students during their trip.

“They were super accepting and just eager to love on us equally as much as we were eager to love on them,” Wastradowski said.

The trip not only brought together Lopes and locals but worked as a bonding experience for the students who went. Schiewek and Wastradowski opened their doors to the group every Tuesday for six months to allow everyone to meet each other and establish relationships before leaving for Africa.

Now that the group has returned to campus, Schiewek said, the group has gotten “super close.” 

After seeing the amount of faith the people of Khayelitsha had, several of the students returned home with a changed perspective of what should be prioritized throughout their life.

When asked what she had taken away from the trip, Wastradowski’s answer was simple: “Keep our faith in God simple. It’s easy to allow our schedules or just worldly things to cloud our faith, but all week that we were there we encountered people who literally had nothing and had some of the strongest faith in God that I’ve ever seen in my life.”

She was not alone.

“Coming back here, I feel like I don’t make that (talking about God) a priority as much as I should,” Shiewek said. “I’m being intentional about that now and making that time not because I feel like it’s the right thing to do, but because I seriously want to live my life the way that they live theirs.”

That wasn’t the only thing they brought back with them. One of the pastors in Khayelitsha, Pastor Patrick, left a very powerful message in Schiewek’s notebook for the girls to carry with them.

“God can use every human being to teach you something,” he wrote. “He sometimes brings people of different races, ethnic groups, religions, literate and illiterate, physically disabled, etc., just to add value into your life, so love and learn from anyone God brings into your life.”

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


Related content:

GCU Today: Mission trips turn into ‘aha moment’ for students

GCU Today: Missions give students, staff God’s view of world


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