Reflections on Bethulie, love and what we have left behind


The group left Lesotho on October 23rd bound for Bethulie, South Africa, an Afrikaaner town in the Free State.  Some were ready to go, to do something different.  I was not one of those people.  Lesotho for me had been an eye-opening yet amazing experience, and I missed the village and my host family as soon as the bus pulled away. I didn’t know much about Bethulie, but since we would only be there a week, I was sure it would not be nearly as meaningful as Lesotho.  As you can probably guess by where I’m going with this, I was wrong.

We pull up into this small rural town and immediately have to readjust our thinking, because there are white people on the sidewalk, and we’ve all grown accustomed to being the only white people for miles. Once we get over our “culture” shock, we bring our bags into the hotel, which is more of just a big house that is owned by an English historian named Tony Hocking. The books lining the walls, the delicious meals and the time being back together as a group those first few days helped Lesotho start to fade away as a happy memory, but I still wished I could go back and see my family.

Our short home stays (2 ½ days) began on the 25th and again I was skeptical. How could I connect with a family in that short amount of time, and with a culture that I hadn’t learned about yet? God works in funny ways, because the following days were some of the best I’ve had yet!

Laura, Madelyn, Heidi, Jess and I were picked up by our host dad, Peter, in an ancient Ford pick-up.  The first thing we noticed about Peter was his long scraggly gray hair and beard, giving him a wild look. We nicknamed him John the Baptist, if you will.  He drives us away to an old-looking house, which turns out to be a backpacker/guest house that he and his wife own.  He gives us the keys and tells us we have the run of the place. You can imagine our delight at the sound of a washing machine!

Later his wife Annette comes over and they take us over to their other business, a coffee shop they run by themselves. They even offered us coffee and tarts.  We were all in heaven. Peter and Annette are both of German descent, born in Namibia and grew up in South Africa. They met at a bike rally, as they are both avid bikers, and one day left Capetown on their bikes with all they had to see where the road would take them, and ended up in Bethulie.  Annette is a magnificent baker (as evidenced by how many muffins and tarts we ate in those few days) and we learned that despite his looks, Peter is a huge joker who loved to call us “my girls”.  Those few days were full of adventures and fun. We spent one day at a sheep farm with Peter,  hiking, swimming, eating more tarts and experiencing incredible views of both scenery and wild game (wildebeest, hartebeest, springbok and ostrich) from the back of the farmer’s pick-up (called a buckie here).  Thursday, Annette took us to see her artist friend who had the most beautiful house and paintings.  In the evening she cooked us an authentic Boer meal of which we may have had thirds.

Come Friday morning, we didn’t want to leave. In two short days, we had grown very fond of our unique parents. I couldn’t believe that yet again God had shown me family I could connect to and love in addition to my own, and in such a short time! I still miss my Lesotho family, but this stay in Bethulie has shown me that God has much more in store for me and the group here in South Africa, even when we think it couldn’t get any better that what we’ve had. “There are greater things to come than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis

-Eva Stutzman


Love was in South Africa

October 22nd, we spent our last day in Lesotho. That evening, I read a great Rob Bell book entitled Love Wins. I absolutely loved the many ideas regarding God’s love conquering everything, and these challenges are constantly prodding my thinking as I learn about South Africa’s incredible history, both past and present, unfolding before my eyes.

After we left Lesotho, we arrived in Bethulie, which is located in the south-central region of the country, and we went on a fascinating three-hour bus tour. Our guide told us that during the 2nd British-Boer War, which occurred from October 1899 until May 1902, 7,000 Dutch soldiers died in battle.  However, England really won the war by gathering the Dutch women and children in concentration camps and allowing 27,000 victims to die in these camps, 22,000 of which were under the age of 16.  The British drained the Dutch will-power to fight through seizing their families’ freedom. So was Rob Bell right? Does God’s love reign supreme? Did love win at the concentration camps?

I have also pondered about whether love wins throughout the country today.  Our group has learned what a South Africa recession looks like throughout our journey; 26% unemployment, teachers whose only resources are a chalkboard and a few old books, and numerous kids that are thin – too thin.  Does love still win if I can go to college and expect to find a job in two years even though most South Africans can only dream of living my life?

On a lighter note, our group has chosen to laugh, share, pray, and listen to each other.  A few days ago, Harlan even told us how much he appreciated our group and that he’s glad we are his fellow tribe members.  I’m also very glad to have Harlan, Jason and Elizabeth as our leaders and the emphasis they place on love winning in our group, whatever that may mean.  For instance, any time a group member is ill, we sing and pray for them.  One of the guys in our group helped an elderly, handicapped man in Lesotho climb a hill to his house.  This stranger asked and received.  If love means laughing together, singing and praying for the sick and disregarding one’s own wishes in order to slowly help an elderly man climb a hill, then why wouldn’t we choose the transforming power of love? If this is love then Rob Bell is certainly right. Love wins for our group in South Africa.

-Aaron Sloan