Mission trips foster renewed sense of gratitude for area woman

Trip to South Africa includes presentation of special T-shirts for special children

MISSION MOMENTS — Cindy Kotsch, far right, events coordinator for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times, was part of two mission trips to South Africa — one in August 2016, the other in August 2017. She participated as part of small teams with missionaries Rudi and Sharon Swanepoel through their Atlanta-based ministry called God’s Glory Ministries International. The Seek and Save Project facet of that included visits to an orphanage and schools where clothing, shoes and “The Adventures of Seek and Save” books were distributed. The 2017 trips included children receiving Ogden Newspapers race T-shirts. -- Contributed

STEUBENVILLE — Cindy Kotsch never envisioned herself being part of a mission experience that would involve travel to South Africa and exposure to some of the poorest but most appreciative children she would ever meet.

But as Thanksgiving approaches, the Columbiana County woman has a grateful heart for having been part of an outreach that gave her a renewed sense of appreciation for life as she knows it and memories she won’t soon forget.

The events coordinator for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times, Kotsch said she and her husband, the late Jack Kotsch, met missionaries Rudi and Sharon Swanepoel a decade ago through their Atlanta-based ministry called God’s Glory Ministries International.

The missionaries have local support through Kotsch’s church — Destinty House, Assembly of God Church in Calcutta — and have visited the church in the past.

“They are originally from South Africa, born and raised there, and now are U.S. citizens, and they travel around the country as evangelists/missionaries,” Kotsch said. “They go back to South Africa three or four times a year for their mission work,” she noted, explaining that the mission part of God’s Glory Ministries is the Seek and Save Project. It involves visits to schools and a ministry-supported orphanage.

“I have known the couple probably 10 years or more. They came as evangelists to the church and knew me and my husband, Jack, and after Jack’s death in 2015, Sharon called me and asked if I’d go on one of these mission trips,” Kotsch said.

Her response in the affirmative pleased the couple and somewhat surprised Kotsch.

“My entire life I said, ‘Oh, God would never call me into missions work — it’s not something I would want to do’ — but when Sharon called me, I told her, ‘You don’t need to ask me twice — God has already spoken to my heart,'” she recalled the conversation. Kotsch said she had seen photos of the couple’s mission trips online and felt compelled to step out of her comfort zone and be a part of it.

“I said, ‘I know I am supposed to go with you,’ but I never thought I would be doing something like this,” Kotsch said.

God’s Glory Ministries International was founded in 1997 by the Swanepoels “with the sole purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with all generations everywhere while ushering in God’s glory wherever we may go,” according to their website.

Born and raised in South Africa, Rudi was called into ministry in August 1987. He met Sharon in 1989 while completing his three-year seminary training at the Auckland Park Theological Seminary. He served as senior associate pastor of one of the leading churches in South Africa.

Rudi is a noted author and inspirational/motivational speaker, according to the website, and also is an international lecturer, teaching in seminaries and colleges around the world.

Sharon also is a native South African. She is a seasoned minister of the gospel and has been a keynote speaker at various conferences and leadership training events in the United States and abroad. A musician/composer, Sharon is an accomplished trumpeter and was a crusade singer with Reinhard Bonnke in Kafanchan, Nigeria, where the crowds grew to more than 360,000 per service over five days, according to the website.

Ordained with the NXL apostolic network based in Youngstown, Sharon is the author of the children’s book series “The Adventures of Seek and Save” and founder of the Seek and Save Project that prints and distributes thousands of the books to the children of the world, the website notes.

Kotsch explained her first mission trip experience was in 2016 as part of an overall 13-member team, the only one from her church, on a two-week mission in August to Cape Town. Her second trip, another two-week period in August 2017, was with a nine-member team in the Modimolle, Johannesburg area.

Both gave Kotsch a startling glimpse of “horrible living conditions,” primitive and crime- and disease-ridden. “To see how those people live in government squatter camps, it is miles and miles of cardboard metal shacks and no running water,” Kotsch said.

The trips involved time spent at the mission’s adopted orphanage for an overall birthday celebration where 104 orphans and vulnerable children were presented a new pair of sneakers and a set of clothes in their own Seek and Save backpack.

Their reaction was as overwhelming as it was one of genuine gratitude, according to Kotsch. “They were so excited,” she said of the children’s response.

“One boy opened up his box of shoes and started crying,” Kotsch said, noting for many children it was likely their first ever pair of shoes.

Kotsch said Seek and Save raises money to buy the backpacks, clothing and shoes for distribution.

The 2017 trip had a local newspaper element to it as Kotsch took with her about 150 leftover T-shirts from the Ogden Newspapers Half-Marathon held in May in Wheeling.

“We had T-shirts left over and were trying to find some place to donate them, and I had the perfect place,” she said of the half-marathon and Tiny Tot event shirts. Kotsch, who helps with the race in her job capacity, ran the idea by Perry Nardo, regional publisher, who gave his blessing for the donation, she said.

Kotsch said there were other children who heard about the mission team giving away a backpack and clothing and were on hand hoping for something, too. With the allotted backpacks distributed, there appeared to be nothing left.

“Then we pulled out those (race) T-shirts, and they were so excited to get them,” she said.

“It was like Christmas to them.”

Another facet of the mission is visiting schools to distribute copies of “The Adventures of Seek and Save.” The visits to as many as 12 schools each time involved the distribution of some 20,000 “Seek and Save” books, which were read by Sharon, and mission team members dressed as the book characters to be part of the performance.

“This was the most awesome experience. We were so blessed by those kids, so loved. They just want to hug you. This is so foreign to them to have something given to them,” Kotsch said.

“I was so blessed to go on those trips.”

Asked why she was thankful for having been a part of the mission trips, Kotsch said, “When I went there, I saw the poorest people in this country, the living conditions there worse than the poorest conditions we have here, and that makes you very thankful to live in this country, but also I’m thankful to be a part of this ministry and go over there to share Jesus with these kids who have nothing.”

As is a common sentiment among missionaries who go to help others yet feel they are moreso the beneficiary of the experience, Kotsch agreed. “It is very humbling.”

The Swanepoels were grateful to have had Kotsch participate in the trips.

“It was an absolute joy to have Cindy on our Seek and Save team in South Africa,” the couple communicated via e-mail. “She brought T-shirts, and we watched as little orphan faces lit up and warmed our hearts. Thank you for making a difference in the lives of 104 orphans. Our vision is to turn these kids from vulnerable to invincible,” the message noted.

“In addition our team helped us distribute 10,000 ‘Seek and Save’ books in public schools in some of the poorest areas in South Africa. These are the first and only book most of these children will ever own,” the message continued regarding the 2017 trip.

“We plan to return to South Africa with 50,000 more books in 2018, and we look forward to a fundraising concert featuring the award-winning talents of Sharon Swanepoel and Jefferey Nordin. Their CD ‘It is Well’ won the CCM Song of the Year. We look forward to partnering with your community to make a difference in the lives of many children in Africa.”

Kotsch is working to bring the duo to the area for a fundraiser community concert, possibly in May, with donations to benefit the Seek and Save Project. She will be seeking sponsorships to make that happen and can be contacted by phone at (740) 283-4711, extension 288 or by e-mail to ckotsch@heraldstaronline.com.

“I was so fortunate to have been able to see the beauty of South Africa, but that was in stark contrast to the absolutely deplorable conditions endured by so many vulnerable children living there,” Kotsch said.

“It was a blessing to be able to bring a smile to some of those faces, and it helped me to realize how very thankful I am to be living in this great country of the United States of America,” she added.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)