105 Days In Africa
Reflections on my time serving Hosea’s Heart in eSwatini…
By Anthony Butz
“You should visit! You should visit!” Echo the excited words of a young Swazi woman, who somehow found herself in Watertown, Wisconsin on a cold November morning.
I was having lunch with two new friends that I had met just a few days ago. They both worked for a small organization in Africa that I had heard of but wasn’t very familiar with. I was intrigued by them and their stories.
“Listen,” I responded to her, “I’m not the kind of person that you need to convince to go to a small country in Southern Africa. All I need is an excuse to go and you two have just given that to me.”
Little did I know that my simple, “yes,” in that cafe in small-town Wisconsin would lead to me living there just one year later.
A few weeks ago I arrived home from eSwatini after staying there for over three months. Although I was there for that long and have seen more of that part of the world than most people ever will, I still feel like it was much too short. Now that I’m back home in the cold Wisconsin winter, I’ve begun reflecting on my time there. I am incredibly grateful for those African summer days at Hosea’s Heart. I learned a lot about Hosea’s Heart, eSwatini, its people, culture, and spirit. By the end, I also found that I learned a lot about myself.
During my time there I served as a high school science teacher. When my mom found out about this, she couldn’t help but laugh. Here was her son who never went to college and has never been a teacher, moving across the ocean to teach science to a bunch of girls in Africa! The real cherry on top was that although I had never been to college or university and experienced the dorm life of students, I was staying in an apartment at African Christian College during my time there. So in the end I did go to college. I guess I just skipped the student part!
Once I arrived in eSwatini, I had a week or so of adjusting and observing before I began my teaching. However, that doesn’t mean that it was slow or uneventful. My main passion and profession is as a photographer, so I spent much of the first few days observing and taking pictures of everyday life. Less than a week into my mission, I ended up photographing a wedding for one of my new co-workers at Hosea’s Heart! One lesson I began to quickly learn, is that missionary work is quite demanding and requires flexibility. God does not work on a 9-5 schedule. I may have gone to Africa to teach science and snap pictures, but my time there was filled with many other miscellaneous adventures and tasks. From wrapping Christmas presents for prostitutes to farming corn, from leading Bible studies to driving a woman to a hospital to give birth, my time in Swaziland was filled with variety!
That’s part of the joy and beauty of traveling and doing this kind of work. You never know what might happen in one day. At a previous job that I had, they drilled a core idea into the staff: “The spirit of expectation is not your friend.” Working at Hosea’s Heart, I often found this statement to be true. You may wake up expecting to have a normal day of class but end up getting interrupted by the girls killing a snake. You may hope and plan for the day to go a certain way, but it often doesn’t. And if you’re not flexible, those expectations that you had can often lead to disappointment. It pays to approach each day with an open hand and see what God has in store, not what you do. This can be challenging at times, which reminds me of something else I learned about myself… I can be a bit of a perfectionist.
Working in eSwatini, it wasn’t long before I became good friends with Pastor Justice, the Spiritual Director at Hosea’s Heart. He also lived at African Christian College, so most days I rode with him to and from the girls’ home and school. These car rides allowed time for us to discuss, get to know each other, and decompress after long days of work. On one of these car rides, I was talking with Pastor about some struggles I had with teaching the girls physics. After I spoke my mind, Pastor asked me, ”Tony, are you a perfectionist?”
Immediately I thought to myself, no, there’s no way. That’s not the way I think. I’m no perfectionist! But Pastor is not the kind of person to ask questions without good reason. He’s also great at reading and understanding character. As the days continued, I noticed little hints of perfectionism in myself coming out, from what I heard, the way I taught, to the way I organized things. Even the way I think. For example, when I started teaching, I set several unrealistic expectations for myself. I wanted to be the best science teacher Hosea’s Heart has ever seen. I wanted to have a perfect schedule and fly through the curriculum faster than ever. I wanted to do 25 hours of work in a 24-hour day. However, nobody was expecting me to do these things other than myself, and it didn’t take long for God to teach me otherwise. Whether it was through quiet time in scripture or getting physically sick throwing up during physics class, I felt God calling my attention to this perfectionism and telling me to chill out and slow down. This especially showed whenever I would teach physics.
I had 3 main subjects that I taught at Hosea’s Heart: high school math, biology, and physics. Math went surprisingly well for me. And I knew I would love teaching biology. It was one of my favorite subjects when I was in high school and part of the reason why I ever said “yes” to this whole teaching thing. But I quickly realized how tough physics is. I simply didn’t understand it. I took chemistry when I was in school, not physics. And it showed. Yet, my perfectionist tendencies wanted me to stick to the perfect schedule and follow the curriculum perfectly. This didn’t work well and unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one who was affected. It impacted my students, too. Imagine having a teacher who wants to push fast and hard, yet doesn’t know the content. Thankfully, after some weeks, I realized this and started seeing what God was trying to teach me. He wanted to take these feelings of pressure, expectations, and perfectionism out of my heart. This didn’t mean losing the passion that I had, but it did mean being realistic. And it meant being present. It meant being flexible and ok with my shortcomings or setbacks. He wanted me to change my old habits and mindset to one that is present in the moment and content. And it took traveling to eSwatini and volunteering as a teacher for me to learn that!
One other thing that I learned about myself in Swaziland is that I really did enjoy teaching these girls. When I first arrived at the land, I expected being their teacher to be a bit challenging. I knew each and every one of them before I arrived in September, but that was part of my fear. I had visited Hosea’s Heart once last spring on a short-term trip, and I had spent the whole month of August with them in the States on their “Scars: Up From Ashes Tour.” I got to know many of them quite well, but I was never an authority figure to them. I was often goofing off, cracking jokes, and just having fun with them all (something I would highly recommend if you have the chance). This was great, but it did make me nervous about becoming their teacher and stepping up as an authority figure. When I began teaching, however, I was very pleasantly surprised. The girls were all much more receptive and respectful than I expected! Transitioning from being their friend to their teacher was a breeze. These girls are great students and even better people. Sure, some days were more challenging than others, but that’s to be expected. And for the most part, it went quite well. Of course that doesn’t mean that the girls and I didn’t have some fun in the classroom along the way!
105 Days in Africa is hard to compress into one blog post. But I hope this has given a little glimpse into my mission and what life was like there. Much like my time spent in eSwatini, this blog post feels too short, and I can’t wait for my next visit to this wonderful country and Hosea’s Heart again. It’s truly incredible to think about how quickly this all came together. How just over a year ago, I never had connections to Africa. And how all of this started from one simple “yes” at a cafe in my hometown. It’s amazing what God can do with one “yes.” I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity, especially to all those to supported me and made this all possible.