A Plentiful Harvest: How my Cape Town Summer Mission changed my life and brought me closer to Christ

Heather on top of Table Mountain with view of Lion's Head

Heather on top of Table Mountain with view of Lion’s Head

This summer I participated in a Summer Mission with Campus Crusade for Christ (Cru) in Cape Town, South Africa. For six weeks of my life I lived with strangers who became family, worked to serve a community other than my own, and learned a little bit more how to love like Jesus. After taking some time to process my summer in Cape Town, I can’t help but look back at a life-changing summer and marvel at the ways I saw God work in and through me, which leads me to turn to Him in thanksgiving, constantly remembering how faithful and how sweet He has been to me this year.

Last fall I was in the process of applying to study abroad at the University of Cape Town for my spring semester. It was a place I had been wanting to visit, and I had always planned on studying abroad at some point in college, but then the job opportunity of a lifetime came up for me: the chance at an internship with NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers. A door was clearly opening for me professionally, so I pulled my application from UCT and applied to Late Night, hoping and praying I hadn’t just given up living in a country I was longing to see for only a chance at working in television. But God was faithful. A month or so after I applied, I found out I got the job at NBC. I was a step closer to my dream job because I chose to put all of my faith in Him and His plan for my semester. Proverbs 16:3 became a verse I both rested and trusted in, “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” God had proven that if I trusted Him first, above all else, He would reveal a great plan for me—one that would put me exactly where I needed to be: NBC and, ultimately, Cape Town.

Even with all of the joy I found in my internship, I knew I still wanted to find a way to go to Cape Town. I can’t explain it, but I somehow felt like it wasn’t just a place I wanted to go, but a place I needed to be. I decided to look up extended summer mission trips as a way to not just study, but to really be there, to be invested in the city and the people by sharing the Good News of Christ with them. A video for Cru’s Summer Mission was the first to come up, and while watching it in my apartment I was moved to tears, and thought, “I have to do this. I have to be part of that trip.” I applied to Cru’s Summer Mission in December, and a few months after, I was asked to join the team for Cape Town. Ephesians 3:20 perfectly reflects what the Lord was doing in my life during this time of seeking Him in my journey to Cape Town: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Everything I had been praying for was falling into place, not in my timing, but in His. Not only was I going to Cape Town, I was going for Him.

I spent the entirety of spring semester in awe of how the Lord had so perfectly planned out my path. I began preparing, both financially and spiritually, for a summer of serving the Lord in Cape Town. To be completely honest, even watching the video and speaking with my trip directors, I still didn’t know what to expect from an extended mission trip. I had never been on one, and I certainly hadn’t been responsible for raising mission support before. The cost of this trip was no small amount and raising support was a giant step of faith in and of itself. I was responsible for reaching out to friends, family, old teachers, as many people as possible, and asking them to join me in ministry this summer by praying for me and/or supporting me financially. This was a bit unnerving for me, asking people I hadn’t spoken to in years to donate money to my trip. I had to rely heavily on encouragement from scripture to get through the process of raising support. Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” When I would feel myself starting to worry if I would reach my support goal in time, I turned to prayer instead, knowing and trusting in the words of Philippians 4:19: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” And provide He did. I went on mission having borrowed money from family to finance the trip, but during my time in Cape Town donations poured in and by the end of the six weeks my goal was met in full. Hallelujah.

As the trip approached, my nerves began to get the best of me and I even had moments where I questioned my decision to go at all. Should I be spending the summer before my senior year traveling like this? Shouldn’t I be interning somewhere instead, maybe in Los Angeles trying to get an “in” with another show or network? I was afraid and my worries were clouding my judgment of what God was preparing to do in my heart, but Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” God was making my paths straight and Cape Town Summer Mission was part of that, I just needed to trust Him and give Him time to work in and through both me, and my trip. As soon as I landed in Cape Town, I was able to see and experience the beauty of God’s creation in a surreal way. I was not just a tourist in South Africa, but I was able to immerse myself in the culture by working with and serving the people there. Our team spent one week working in the townships of Cape Town, helping however we could. I spent my week in the township of Khayelitsha, where my group installed drywall to reinforce a local church, and loved on the kids of the community. We were not experienced carpenters, and we did not speak the local language of Xhosa, but we were able to share the love of Christ with everyone we came into contact with. I have never seen more joy and love than in the eyes and hearts of the people of Khayelitsha.

We spent our next week serving at a Holiday Club (South Africa’s version of Vacation Bible School) where over 1200 children in three different communities heard the Gospel. I was based in an entirely Afrikaans-speaking community in the neighborhood of Scottsdene, where I had to wholeheartedly trust God because I was not able to communicate with the kids as easily as I could in the United States, or in some cases, even at all. I was serving in an incredibly high-risk, dangerous community–one riddled with gang violence and brokenness. I had days where I would come back to our apartments and think, “I am not qualified to do this.” I was discouraged because I love kids, so not being able to connect with them was hard for me to wrestle with. I felt like I wasn’t having an impact, like I was somehow not serving God as well as I could elsewhere because I was not seeing any fruit. However, God used that week to show me the beauty of the community around me. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” Each day I would come before the Lord and ask Him to be with me in those moments, “Lord, please, just give me something to keep me going, something to encourage me as I continue Your work.” And He provided. I would come home every evening and my Cru family was there to comfort and encourage me, to remind me that I was glorifying God by being faithful in His call to serve. God’s faithfulness was so real to me that week in the way He used my family there to love me well.

Cru team in Khayelitsha with Pastor Peter and the children of his church's Educare center

Cru team in Khayelitsha with Pastor Peter and the children of his church’s Educare center

We ended our time by sharing our faith on college campuses across the city of Cape Town. In talking with students I had to depend on the Lord completely, knowing I might not see the fruit of the Gospel conversations I was having. I had to learn to pray for boldness and courage in approaching students and having outright conversations about faith and Christ. Sharing the Gospel so boldly and openly was way outside of my comfort zone, but every time I walked through it with someone, I was re-reading the Good News. My understanding of the Gospel, the beauty of God’s love for us, and my own faith were being strengthened. In Luke 10:2 Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” I was given the opportunity to be a laborer in the Lord’s harvest in Cape Town, and that was a gift. I was blessed enough to see a young girl at False Bay College in Khayelitsha accept Christ as she broke down in front of us and openly wept tears of utter joy finally hearing that it was possible to have a real, personal relationship with the God who created us. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life to be present for that kind of life-altering, spirit-changing revelation–to see someone truly understand the Good News. I was humbled before the Lord, and he lifted me up (James 4:10) by using imperfect people like us to deliver the perfect message of Christ.

This summer in Cape Town showed me a love that is far greater than any I have experienced before, and that was the love that came from serving in a community of believers. My team this summer encompassed students and staff from across the United States, but we came together as a family in Christ to love and serve the people of Cape Town. The relationships I have with my team are those I know will last a lifetime, and I am so grateful God gave me such a faithful, encouraging community to do life with for our season in Cape Town. He provided me with life-giving, Gospel-centered relationships, and that was the greatest blessing of all. It was a glimpse of what true community will look like one day in Heaven–the kind of community God intended for us. Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 became our verse this summer, “For we loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” I know our time in Cape Town will never be recreated, that it was a gift from God for a moment in time, but oh how sweet a gift it was. I would follow my team anywhere, but I am forever grateful that God gave us this summer in Cape Town.

I can honestly and wholeheartedly say that this summer was the best I have ever had, and being in Cape Town with Cru was one of the biggest blessings of my life so far. And that is because of Christ. I thank God that I didn’t just go to Cape Town, but I was sent. The Lord’s kindness and faithfulness in bringing me to Cape Town left me with an incredible love for the city and the people, and an undeniable joy in knowing that the same Gospel I shared there is just as real here. My director said something to us during our trip that resonated with me then, and remains true for me now: “Maybe God sent you all the way to Cape Town not just to serve the people or the city, but to work on you.” This was my story. I dedicated six weeks to sharing Jesus Christ with the beautiful people of Cape Town, and I learned a lot, but above all else, I was walking with Jesus this summer. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” I was called to Cape Town. He made all things work together for my good, and I know as long as I’m living for Him, He will be faithful. And through it all, His name is being glorified. Part of my heart will always be in Cape Town, but all of my heart will always belong to Jesus. Praise God for that.