How I ended up volunteering overseas

Oli Bowser tells of how God took his plans and led him overseas to volunteer in South Africa with Tearfund.

In November 2015, I was praying at 2am and I heard the letters ‘VSO’ and the word ‘Wellspring’.

To cut a long story short, at the time I was asking God about ‘what’s next?’ I was weighing up whether to go to Bethel Church, Redding or to Iris Global, both of which I felt called to.  

Instead I found myself googling VSO and discovering that they send volunteers abroad for international development work.

This led me to Tearfund and in June 2016 I was sent to South Africa on the Tearfund ICS programme to lead a team of volunteers.

When I arrived in South Africa, my team and I were told that we were being sent to a brand new placement – going where no teams had gone before.

I was super excited.

Little did I know that I’d meet an amazing couple, Jenni & Michael Clark who work with children from Zulu and Afrikaans backgrounds.

Then amazingly I found out that their ministry is called ‘Wellspring’. I was in shock.  I later found out that they also have connections to both Bethel & Iris Global. I was overwhelmed.

Over six months I led two teams in South Africa. Each team had eight U.K & South African volunteers, aged between 18 – 25.

It was so challenging and the experience opened my eyes to the difficulties of leadership, especially when you’re responsible for amazing, talented, young people, each with their own perception of God, the Bible and the Holy Spirit.

But I learnt a lot and realised that God was pulling out the planks in my own eye in order to best serve and love my teams.

The main focus of our teams was to support Wellspring Ministries & Little Apples Creche through teaching English in three local schools.

School class

Our aim was to help the young Zulu children learn English as their schooling is all taught in Zulu until aged six, then everything changes into English. This makes it really difficult for students to complete their education – it’s not uncommon to have students in their twenties still at high school.

I thought I was going to pass on knowledge, but in reality our students taught us far more; to appreciate the small things in life and not to forget that in the UK we are very fortunate to enjoy the privilege of free schooling where meals and resources are easily accessible.

Spending time with the children was the best part of my time in South Africa.

During one assembly, we spoke about the love and power of God, giving a testimony of one of my volunteers being healed. In response we had the chance to pray for over 50 children & teachers.

We saw broken bones healed, various painful ailments disappear, along with many other reports of healing. Many came forward, just asking to be filled with the Holy Spirit. It was incredible.

Another area I loved, was seeing how God moved in my team members. Taking time out to volunteer and live in a new environment, gave each of my volunteers a chance to reconnect with God and rediscover who they are in him. By the end of one placement, five of my volunteers got baptised.

It was a really exciting time and such a privilege.

Lastly, I’ve got a new family. I spent six months living in a Zulu family whose love, kindness and support to me at times left me speechless. I am still in touch with them, we regularly talk to and I am hoping to visit them soon.

I can’t recommend volunteering overseas enough. I took a chance because I wanted a change and it was wonderful to see God use me to be a part of what he’s doing globally.

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If you give volunteering a chance, you will gain so many transferable skills through working in a multicultural team, facing problems and overcoming them in ever-changing environments.

Overseas volunteering opens your eye to life outside your comfort zone and what people in a different context live through. You’ll gain a well-rounded view on your own life and others. So get involved and enjoy the journey.

Find out more about volunteering overseas with Tearfund.

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