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Lessons learned in South Africa: Speaker shares his mission trip with Worthington Christian School

WORTHINGTON -- A special speaker shared his mission trip experience to Africa on Monday morning with the Worthington Christian School students. Mark Eekhoff, of Manhattan, Mont., hopped on an airplane on Oct. 17, 2014 to Lesotho, South Africa. Hi...

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Mark Eekhoff holds his hand-made guitar at the Maluti Mountains in Africa while on his mission trip.

WORTHINGTON - A special speaker shared his mission trip experience to Africa on Monday morning with the Worthington Christian School students.

  Mark Eekhoff, of Manhattan, Mont., hopped on an airplane on Oct. 17, 2014 to Lesotho, South Africa. His goal was to bring the gospel to a marginalized group of young shepherds in the highlands of Lesotho.

  “At first I was resistant,” Eekhoff said. “I didn't want to go that badly - I like living in Montana - but eventually I heard God calling me, so I knew that I had to go.”

  He didn't know that his life was going to change drastically over two years.

  In Lesotho, boys as young as 8 years old are sent to the highlands to become shepherds, as they raise and take care of goats and sheep. They live in small huts made of sandstone, have limited food and are exposed to extreme weather conditions. They have a nomadic lifestyle since they are always looking for better crops for their animals along the Maluti Mountains.

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  Eekhoff lived like one of those boys in the Maluti Mountains for two years.

  “I lived in a dozen different huts because you moved with the animals,” he said. “You have to move the sheep to a new area where there are better crops.”

  Eekhoff would go to a bigger town a couple of times per month where his team leader would have a house where he could take a shower and enjoy modern life. Most of his time, though, was spent raising animals in the African highlands. Eekhoff said he lost around 14 pounds in two weeks, since he would only eat two times per day and live on a diet based on corn and very limited protein.

  Eekhoff took along his camera and phone on the trip, but rarely used them.

  “I was a graphic designer and photographer, and I was spending all my time on computers and  always had the latest cell phone,” Eekhoff said. “I was always technologically plugged in. After two years, I essentially unplugged myself of all that.”

  Now that he is back in the United States, he is determined to live more free of technology.

  “My family keeps telling me that I need a smartphone so I can be more connected, but I don't know if I really need it.” Eekhoff  said. “I don’t know if I want to have internet in my pocket everywhere I go.”

  Another challenging aspect of living in South Africa was teaching natives about God. Eekhoff and his team had audio bibles in their native language, communicate with the young South Africans was difficult. Eekhoff said all his teammates were placed in different locations, so he was the only English speaker within his group.

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  Eekhoff said it took him almost a year and a half to be able to communicate with them.

  “In any culture that you are not speaking your mother tongue, it’s difficult because that is the language you use to communicate your emotions … and things that are important to you, and when you take that away it’s very difficult,” Eekhoff said. “I found myself getting air time at least once a week so that I could call to the United States to speak to someone in English.”

  Eekhoff was able to bridge the cultural gap with something he and the Lesotho boys had in common - music. He said the first time he played music with the boys was the first time he felt he belonged in their culture.

  “There are no language barriers with music,” he said. “There are different styles and culture differences, but music is a language that everybody can understand. I really enjoyed being with the boys and learning the way they play their music.”

  Eekhoff’s mission trip was a life-changing event for him, as he was able to open his eyes to a new culture and have a different perspective about the way he used to live.

  “I look very differently at third-world cultures now because they don't have much as far as money, but I think they are the happiest people I have ever met,” Eekhoff said. “Part of me wants to sell all my things and give it to them, but then I see what money does here and it doesn’t make anybody happier. They are the poorest people I have ever known, but they are also the happiest people I have ever known.”

  Eekhoff said he wishes people would realize that there are more similarities than differences that unite the world’s people.

  “If I could have all these kids see one thing in Lesotho ... I would have them just go there and play with some of the young kids so they can see how fun they are and how similar they are to them,” Eekhoff said. “I think we often like to draw attention to the differences between people and different cultures, but we don't often see the similarities and there are way more similarities than differences. Similarities are way more important.”

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