Southern Beauty On Mission

My Trip to Africa
(Arizona really, but it felt like Africa!)
by Dianah Ellis

An unexpected request came to me and to our publisher, Shannon, in May: “Volunteers are needed to teach at a camp for refugee children from Africa. Will you go?” After momentary deliberation, both of our hearts were saying yes, despite all the busyness of life that urged a different response. And I must tell you, dear Southern Beauty readers, we are the most unlikely pair of campers you have ever seen. But God is good, and He saw us through and blessed us immensely for trusting Him and going on this trip.

The International Rescue Committee brought the Burundi people to Phoenix, Arizona, from a refugee camp in Africa where the water had become contaminated. The committee, a humanitarian organization, has provided housing and social services. However, with only a small number of workers and a large number of refugees, there is only so much that the organization can do alone. That is where First Southern Baptist Church of Arizona (FSBC) has come in to assist. FSBC has taken in the Burundi refugees as part of its family.

Our first day in Phoenix was spent at the church. After attending the Sunday morning service, Shannon and I, along with our other friend Leah and other church members, manned the “clothes closet”–a spare room in the church, where donated clothes, shoes, and camping supplies were placed into garbage bags held eagerly by the Burundi children, much like trick-or-treat bags held by American children at Halloween. How can I describe the feeling of seeing the gratitude and happiness on the beautiful faces of those children other than to say that it was heartbreaking in the best sort of way.

Gordon and Joanna Christopher, members of the church, have been tireless in helping this group integrate into their new homes. It was their idea to take the Burundi children to camp, and they set about raising the money to make it happen. Well, it happened, and we set out that Monday morning to pick up our campers. We traveled into the mountains of Prescott, Arizona, and soon arrived at Camp Mingus Springs, our home for the next week.

The children participated in a variety of activities at the camp, including archery, teambuilding, orienteering, swimming, and fishing. Shannon, Leah, and I taught about personal hygiene, simple table manners, and the possibilities that living in America opened up to them as far as education and career opportunities. We also had some girly, Southern Beauty fun while doing makeovers and manicures and pedicures with the girls. The language barrier was difficult, but we quickly learned that it is true–a smile is the same in any language.

As I reflect on my experience with these children, I can hardly get my mind around what they have been through–living amongst war, in dire circumstances, sometimes without parents. But you would have never known it by looking at them. I can still picture their faces lit with joy as they sang with all their hearts the most beautiful songs from their country. And although I was there to help make a little difference in their lives, I can’t help but realize the impact they have made on mine. This impact is one I pray to keep amidst the everyday routine of my life. But if I should forget, at least I know the antidote–step outside my reality and live someone else’s, if only for a little while…