October 15, 2018
Written by Lindsay Shifflet
On any given Monday or Wednesday afternoon, you can find the EM Spark cruising along the 310. Enveloped by the sprawling township of Khayelitsha on one side and the rolling Atlantic Ocean on the other, our fellow EM residents hang a right toward Mitchell's Plain, one of the largest coloured townships in the Western Cape. Vibrantly colored houses line the streets. Each sidewalk corner boasts a unique display of wares for sale that include anything from a thirty rand sack of potatoes to a puppy to a left boot.
From the humble schoolyard of Trinity Children's Centre, you can hear the sound of children yelling with joy as they are released for their sports time. Coaches Zach, Zuzu, and Will stand in the yard, bracing themselves for hugs from kids running towards them at breakneck speed with all of the enthusiasm and anticipation of children who have been in classes all day and are ready for some action.
Trinity is now five years old, and each new year of its existence marks the beginning of a new grade added to the school's repertoire. Students who started at Trinity as preschoolers are now in grade four. The school strives to approach the care and education of the children from a holistic perspective, and this includes their physical health. This concern for physical health links right into what Zach, Zuzu, and Will have had the opportunity to engage with this past year with their physical education classes. These classes are not only really fun, but they are also powerful in their formation of the character of the kids.
Sports time starts off with laps, stretches, breathing exercises, and prayer. Then the games begin. Hula-hooping, jump roping, bean-bag-tossing, soccer, can-jam.... You name it, it's been played in the Trinity yard. The teachers, affectionately referred to as coaches, use this time to help the kids develop their physical health, motor skills, and basic sports skills. There are also plenty of opportunities to teach valuable themes such as teamwork, respecting authority, sportsmanship, and healthy competition.
Despite the fun, teaching the P.E. classes isn't always easy. The realities of gunshots, drugs, and gangsterism are ever-present in the backdrop of Mitchell's Plain. Trinity lies on the border between two warring gangs, and the teachers have to be prepared for anything. Another significant challenge is the diversity of backgrounds represented by the kids. For many of the children, the realities of living in Mitchell's Plain are real and tangible within their own homes. The difficult home settings that some of the kids come from creates a context around misbehavior in class that can be hard to fully understand and address. Even within one grade, there is a wide array of emotional ages and maturity levels present. Zuzu, Zach, and Will have all learned this year how to engage more effectively with kids who are acting out in class with compassion and a better understanding of trauma and its effects, especially under the guidance of Autumn who works at Trinity on a daily basis.
As our residents grew to understand the children and their contexts, a vision for more intentional one-on-one time and engagement beyond the P.E. classes was born. Mere weeks later, Wednesday afternoons at Trinity became a space for an after-school program. The program focuses mostly on grades three and four. In the township context, these children are on the cusp of having to grow up very quickly, and this program meets the need to provide encouragement and connection with them in this influential time in their lives.
After a brief time outside to play games, the kids are split into boys and girls groups for homework time. The snacks are busted out, and it's down to business as class projects and tutoring are tackled. Afterwards is an engagement time where the kids talk about what has been going on in their lives and share prayer requests. The themes of teamwork and respecting authority that they learn in P.E. are played out in this time as well. Overall, the program serves to provide a safe place for the kids, and allows Zuzu, Will, and Zach to be more present with smaller groups in order to build stronger relationships with them.
Though different in many ways, the P.E. classes and after-school program hold one common theme: they are comprised of many small efforts, words, and gestures that build up to make an impact--even in the midst of schoolyard chaos. One minute you'll hear a coach telling a kid "No, you cannot take your pants off right now!" And yet, only a moment later, you will see another coach lean down, look a child in the eye as they face a daunting activity, and say "You are capable. You can do this." The latter phrase is one of many small ways that our EM coaches invest in the kids.
And it is in those many small moments that Zach, Zuzu, and Will have been able to join Trinity in its mission to see impact, growth, and hope. This mission is seen in the enthusiasm of a kid showing off a new trick or dance move, the warmth of a bone-crushing hug from three children at once, or the joy of a five year old feeling seen and known because you remembered their name and asked about their week. The kids receive encouragement and positive affirmation that crowns them with dignity and enrobes them with the truth that they are worthy of love, no matter what they experience or hear when they aren't at school.
In the end, the realities of preparation, the need for flexibility, and the importance of managing expectations are all challenges in the children's ministry field. A well-structured vision and picture perfect plan goes awry more often than not when working with kids, and Trinity is no exception. And yet, God works in grand ways amidst plans gone awry. In chaos and uncertainty, He uses small things we would never expect to form the heart of a child. In Zach, Zuzu, and Will's small acts of faithfulness to be present with the kids and love them well, God is faithful to do more than we could ever imagine. The few hours a week the residents spend there play a small yet vital role in raising up the next generation of leaders in Mitchell's Plain. A small role that will send ripples throughout time as these little children grow up to one day become leaders and role models who will affect great change in their communities, and in their country. For they are certainly capable, and the Trinity school yard serves as a small yet vital place of impact to remind them of that.