Where the soccer fields aren`t green . . .

South Africa kicked-off the FIFA 2010 World Cup in a night of musical splendor.

The spectacle was viewed by 30,000 fans that traveled from all corners of the world to witness the launch of the African continent’s first World Cup. The event headlined live performances by Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas, John Legend, Shakira and Juanes alongside and other popular African artists.

For three consecutive hours, the roaring sound of thousands of bubuzelas and the screams of aficionados resonated throughout the city of Johannesburg. Waving the flags of their countries in what seemed as a token of pride, fanatics danced along to Shakira’s hip-bending World Cup anthem, “Waka Waka.”

But not too far away from the “Waka, waka!” chants lies a different side of South Africa. In the city of Magaliesburg, about 50 miles west of Pretoria, another game is played every day on fields which cannot compare to those of the majestic World Cup stadiums.

While the pro’s get suited up to play the big games, Neville Fannin and Charmaine Hendrick load up their 4x4 pick-up truck and head out to the townships around the city with one mission: to bring hope to the lives of disadvantaged children of the country.

Fannin and Hendrick frequently travel dozens of miles to reach remote areas of the province. They form part of Jackson’s Ridge Children’s Ministry Training Centre. Established in 1993 by missionaries Ed and Sonja Corbin, Jackson’s Ridge is “the home of children’s ministry.”

“We train and mobilize churches to reach the children in their communities,” said Hendrick.

Jackson’s Ridge instructs adult leaders who desire to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged children in their communities through various “how to” seminars. Sunday school teachers, church volunteers, children`s pastors, evangelists and parents come from different parts of South Africa to learn new methods of ministering to children.

As the sun began its ascent during the early hours of that particular morning, we packed into our cars and followed Fannin and Hendrick on their journey to the city of Rustenburg. We were 15 students from Louisiana State University and McNeese State University, who arrived in South Africa for two weeks to participate in foreign missions. Despite the differences of our areas of study, which included biology, engineering and music, we were united in a cause.

Through a series of ragged dirt roads and busy highways our group arrived at a primary school an hour later. We proceeded to unload the contents of the truck: a speaker system, pulpit, tables and visual aids. Despite the relatively cold morning, the children stood neatly filed in line with a look of excited expectation in their eyes as we set up the equipment.

The next thing I remember were their screams of astonishment when Hendrick began pulling a band of colors from her mouth as she explained the concept of the love of God. The trick was done so well that even I was left wondering how she did it. As I looked on the young crowd bundled up in their red uniform jackets, I saw dozens of smiles that instantly warmed up the day.

With puppet shows, songs and magic tricks like these Fannin and Hendrick capture the imagination of young children in their efforts to expose them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is how they accomplish their mission.

“Jackson`s Ridge advocates for children, and encourages all children`s workers to keep with their task. We know that the children are the hope of our nation,” said Hendrick.

The population of South Africa is composed of 50 percent children, and many of them have lost their parents due to HIV and AIDS. Jackson’s Ridge believes it is important for churches to identify ways of intervening in children’s lives.

The training centre is the national office for the Royal Family Kids` Camps, the largest network of camps for abused and neglected children in the world.

With nine operating camps in South Africa, including one in Jackson’s Ridge, they host church groups or children for weekends filled with activities including obstacle courses, drama presentations, horse riding and rafting. Children receive complete meals, clothing, gifts, and learn about the word of God.

“I have never experienced people who are as passionate about children as Royal Family people,” said Hendrick.

Hendrick began working with children in the country of Namibia since she got saved in her church more than 10 years ago.

“I was not used to children, and would not have thought this a natural ‘fit’, but God was behind this,” said Hendrick.

After serving as an intern for Jackson’s Ridge in 2002, Hendrick returned to the training centre to become director of the Royal Family Kids’ Camp. She holds a bachelor’s degree in theology and is completing a master’s in ministerial studies.

As our activities came to a close that day at the primary school, the children swarmed us in a wave of hugs and handshakes. “Thank you very much,” some of the teachers told us. However, I felt like the gratitude was more deserving for Fennin and Hendrick. They were the true artisans, while we were just a group of hopeful facilitators in the cause.

Behind the scenes televised and transmitted across the world of the 32 international teams competing to score points for the World Cup in South Africa, is another story. The effort to make a difference the lives of needy children is taken every day through laborers like those in Jackson’s Ridge. Together, they strive to bring change to a young world that sees little hope.

Rigoberto Herrera-Zelaya

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