When we first began the hike, I looked down at Bongi’s open-toed and slick-soled shoes. Recognizing how difficult they would be to hike in, I asked, “Bongi, are you going to be alright in those shoes? Don’t you have a pair of tekkies (running/walking shoes)?”
“No, I don’t have.”
“Ok, but be careful where you step, hey?” I was sceptical as to whether she would make it very far, but I didn’t want to quench her eagerness. When would another opportunity like this come? We were at the Oasis Haven annual staff retreat, thanks to a donation of a two day stay at a lodge in the beautiful Magaliesburg mountains. This retreat is a special time were our whole team comes together to be refreshed and reinvigorated in order to better serve the children entrusted to us.
I am so thankful I had the opportunity to spend a few days with these amazing women before my move. Each has touched my heart and blessed me in some special way, and I am consistently amazed by our house moms and our assistants. They have an incredibly tough job—accepting and learning to love children as their own who are not their own, managing a home of 10 children with mealtimes, bedtimes, appointments, homework and the like, and then lovingly sending children to their adoptive families and facing the empty place left behind. It is a very difficult job; a job I know I could not handle.
Our hike reminded me of a day several years ago, not long after I moved to Colorado, when a friend took me for a hike on the Manitou Incline. It was one of the toughest hikes that I had ever been on, and I remember thinking, If I can just make it to the top then I’ll leave it. I’ll leave the baggage behind. I wanted release from the hurt and the pain and the heartache that I had been carrying around with me for so long. But I needed something monumental, something significant, I needed a mountain to climb. I needed to get to the top, drop my baggage and walk back down freer and lighter. It was a good moment for me, and I saw this same determination in many of the ladies that day in Magalies.
Some of them had baggage to leave on the top of the mountain. Some needed to prove to themselves they were stronger than they thought they were. Some needed to find something they had lost. Some simply needed to commune with God’s creation and to fellowship with their sisters in Christ.
When Cathy reached the top, she proclaimed aloud the words in all our hearts, “Today, I have climbed my mountain.”
The next day as we prepared to leave we were asked to share one thing we would take away. I said when I got back to America I will share the story of our time on the mountain. I will share the story of these South African women who climbed a mountain—not knowing if they could but determined to try. I will share the story of these women who every day give selflessly so children who once had no one would have someone. I will share the story of these women who are on the frontlines of the worldwide orphan crisis. I will share the story of these women who are the backbone of Oasis Haven.
I will share the story of Mary, Mapula, Ruth, Bongi, Caro, Kamotso, Joanna, Boipelo, Cathy, Bev, Claire and Beth. It is a story of women rising above their circumstances, above what is expected of them, and choosing to be extraordinary. It is a story of women who not only are extraordinary but are rising to new levels of extraordinary every day.
I am very sad to leave this amazing team. Oasis Haven has been good for me in so many ways, and I can honestly say I am a better person for having been here. Ladies and gents (I am being replaced by a wonderful and talented man, and I also want to include our fulltime driver and volunteer house dad who understandably chose not to be the only man on the retreat), I am more than grateful for each one of you and the impact that you have made on my life. I will keep you in my prayers and you will be consistently in my thoughts. You are each stronger than you know, and I see the daily evidence of how God is using you to redeem what has been broken.
I love you all and will miss you dearly.
Please note that some names have been changed in order to protect the confidentiality of the children in the Oasis Haven Family Homes.