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‘We want to show young people that look like us that you can do it.’

A team of African-American Christians inspires young Africans during college’s 50-year celebration

TUBUNGU, Swaziland — As their parents praised God under the big tent up the hill, children in this southern African kingdom learned Bible lessons and ninja skills.

Members of Dreams Come True, a team of African-American students and recent graduates of Abilene Christian University in Texas, shepherded more than 100 little souls during the 50-year Golden Jubilee celebration and lectureship at African Christian College.

Back in Abilene, the team runs DCT Summer Blaze, a program of “sports and wisdom training” for inner-city youths, as camp director and founder Paris Robertson described it. With guidance from their mentor, ACU Bible professor Jerry Taylor, the young believers developed a curriculum focused on “the five dimensions of wellness: physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual,” Robertson said.

Taylor has taken team members to the West African nation of Ghana to work with children there during events at Heritage Christian College.

Wayne Henderson, a junior kinesiology major at Abilene Christian University, plays tag in between Bible lessons at African Christian College

When he was asked to speak at the college in Swaziland, Taylor invited the Summer Blaze team to come along and run a day camp for the kids. For some team members, including Robertson, it was their first trip outside the U.S.

On both continents, the fun and games are based on the Bible, said Darren Hagood, the camp’s spiritual director. He taught the children life lessons from Scripture, including the story of the Old Testament patriarch Joseph.

Darren Hagood teaches children in Swaziland about the Old Testament patriarch Joseph.

“Joseph’s brothers were jealous because of all the swag his father gave him,” Hagood told the African children during one of the Bible lessons. They nodded in agreement, though one leaned over to his neighbor and asked, “What is swag?”

A few words needed explaining (“swag” means unearned gifts or “freebies,” by the way), but most of the children — even the very young ones — knew enough English to communicate with the Americans.

When asked what he liked about the day camp, 10-year-old Mluleki Mhango from Zambia gave a simple answer. “I like running around there — running like a ninja,” he said, pointing impatiently to the field next to him.

The interview, it seemed, was keeping him from ninja practice.

As for the older kids, “there is a universal language of teenager. They all act the same anywhere you go,” said Robertson’s wife, Lexus, a member of the Summer Blaze team. “At first it was slow getting them to open up.”

After a day or two, many of the teens became more comfortable and grew close to their new American friends.

Lihle Shongwe, 17, and other members of the Matsapha Church of Christ sing hymns before Sunday morning worship begins on the last day of the ACC Jubilee celebration.

“They are so kind. They have love. They don’t look down on people,” said 17-year-old Lihle Shongwe, a member of the Matsapha Church of Christ in Swaziland. She drew encouragement from the Bible lessons — especially the ones about Joseph.

“Even though his brothers mugged him, he held onto God. He trusted,” Shongwe said. “I wish well of this group, and hope to see them again.”

That feeling is mutual, said team member Gloria Hagood, who was impressed by the resourcefulness of the African youths.

“We use a lot of equipment back at home. Here, they’re using their shoes to make a line,” she said. “We were planning what we were going to do for ‘capture the flag’ and they were writing it down on the ground. They’re using whatever they have.”

Jerry Taylor and his wife, Patricia, left, stand with African Christian College’s Justice Nherera and Dreams Come True Summer Blaze team members Alicia Taylor, Paris Robertson, Darren Hagood, Gloria Hagood, Wayne Henderson, Melissa Henderson and Lexus Robertson in Swaziland.

It reminded Paris Robertson of his own childhood.

“We used to use crates and nail them to a pole to play basketball at my grandmother’s house in the country,” he said,

His wife also remembers days when “we didn’t have money to buy balls or jump ropes,” she said. Nonetheless, “we were so happy when we were young.

“Now, kids in Western society don’t know how to have fun without their iPad or mobile device. We stopped being resourceful.”

“There is a universal language of teenager,” said Lexus Robertson. During the Golden Jubilee, youths from the Matsapha Church of Christ demonstrate that point.

Too often, Western society sees Africans as poor and miserable, said team member Alicia Taylor, daughter of Jerry Taylor. That’s “a narrative that’s been forced on them throughout the years of depletion” by foreign powers, she added.

On her third trip to Africa, she feels an ancestral “pull to the people, to the land, to the air,” she said. She’s also impressed by young Africans who want to earn degrees and use them to build their nations’ economies and stabilize the political climate.

“That’s something we can take back, as African-Americans, to use in the States,” she said. “We want to show young people that look like us that you can do it. You don’t have to look to anyone else to make it happen. … The cause is greater than you.”

African Christian College, Manzini, Swaziland

Filed under: Abilene Christian University ACU African Christian College Dreams Come True International Partners Summer Blaze Swaziland

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