When I did a survey of some of the children involved in the 2010 project as part of working on the sponsorship/donation site, I had children aged from 3 to 24 fill in a questionnaire. Of course not all questions were relevant to all ages, but the younger children took some of the questions quite seriously. For example, when asked “what are your goals in life?” these were some of the answers from the younger children:
Mpuse (aged 3): “to be a doctor and stop people from getting sick” (little Mpuse has been infected with HIV from her birth)
These kids are so young, and have experienced the horrors of crime and sickness like some of us never will. And yet they still have that childlike innocence and when asked “where would you like to go for a day outing?” about half of the children replied “McDonalds”. Something as trivial to us as the fast-food chain most of us try to avoid is the place many children in South Africa want to visit, as they have never experienced the pleasures of a Big Mac!
For this reason, one of the things we try to do for the Sunday schools of the newer township ecclesias in South Africa is take the children on outings, often out of the township, where we can treat them to things they have only dreamed about!
A few weeks ago, 18 children from the growing Mariannhill Sunday School were picked up and driven to the Pavilion shopping centre in Westville for a game of mini golf and a McDonalds lunch. As I watched the volunteers hoard the kids down the escalator, I was taken by how big the eyes of the children were as they took in everything around them!
We doubted whether any of the children had ever played mini golf before, and 5 minutes into the first round, we were certain we had been right!!! As it was school holidays, there were many other children playing with parents, and my small group of two children and Sister Sylvester were overtaken numerous times! After a few close calls involving golf clubs and children’s heads, several dips in the water features and many missing golf balls, we all stood exhausted at the end of the first round!
The children really opened up as time went on and they started to enjoy themselves. One of the youngest, quietest little girls was in my care, and went from hiding her face, to holding my hand in the seemingly short time spent around the mini golf course – these children are just so appreciative of our love and care for them!
By the time all groups had finished the second round, we were all definitely ready for some lunch. We had kept the location of lunch quiet to surprise the children, and the looks on their faces was a wonderful reward! Happy meals all round for 18 children sent the McDonalds staff into a bit of a spin, but soon enough all the children were happily munching (as were we!) All the big smiles were soon covered with tomato sauce and soft serve ice-cream. Unlike other fast food lunches experienced with children in the past, not a crumb remained …..except for a few notorious McDonalds pickles (it seems these are universally controversial!)
Many of the kids wanted to keep their happy meal boxes as a treasure, which was very sweet. They were a bit confused by the scary-looking toy (I think it was a Star Wars figure, which would mean very little to them!), but treasured this also just the same.
The trip back out to Mariannhill was a quiet one – the children were exhausted from a big day. When we got back to the ecclesial hall, my family (who were visiting from Australia at the time), Dan and I were hanging around for another hour or so before our regular Mariannhill youth class, so we decided to wait at the ecclesial hall……and so did the kids – they just didn’t want to leave! They made a game out of some rope in the back of our car and played happily until the youth started to arrive, no doubt trying to make this special day for them last as long as possible.
What a time the kingdom will be when all children, no matter their background, will experience love and joy in a way we can’t even comprehend!