The first day at Lomngeletjane

Today was the first day up at Lomngeletjane.  The team was dragging a bit in the morning because they haven’t got over the jet lag yet.  Some of them are still waking up for hours in the middle of the night and then just about the time they go back to sleep it’s time to get up.  They will adjust to the time difference within the next day or two.  I think every single one of them was so amazed at how beautiful Swaziland is.  Lomngeletjane it on the top of a hill and the view out over the hills and mountains is breathtaking. The team was greeted by a dozen or so parents of the children in the school who had come out to work with us.  It was wonderful so see so many come to work at the school.

The morning got off to a slow start.  At the last minute there was a change of builders, which meant Absalom, a man from the church who is a buildings inspector by trade and who is helping me this year with this building, had to bring the new builder up to speed on what is going on.  And then they had to explain to the parents and team what work needed to be done.  Absalom and Sipho (the new builder) are an answer to my prayers.  They are both wonderful, Christian men who are so good at what they do.  In the beginning, the guys on our team just started in doing whatever work was pointed out needed to get done.  Absalom actually went and told the parents that the team came to help them, not the other way around.  It was that little push needed to get the combining the parents and our team members together to start forming a new team.

Unfortunately I spent most of the day running around and getting some supplies.  I had ordered the blocks from a different vendor than we usually order them from.  I used the different vendor because the transport cost was so much lower.  Unfortunately, their blocks are smaller than the blocks we needed so I had to go in search of the right size block.  Amber (one of the team members) came with me on this errand.  Amber was a little disappointed at first that she would probably miss out on the construction work.  But as the day wore on, she realized that she was getting to see a lot of the countryside and she was also learning some about the Swazi culture.  In addition she got a glimpse of how much harder things are here in Swaziland than it seems they should be.  Most of all, she reminded me that the day wasn’t a day of nothing, but it was a day when we actually accomplished several important tasks that will enable the team to start working right away tomorrow morning.

This evening at the team devotions/meeting, listening to everyone share their favorite part of the day and/or where they saw God throughout the day, my heart was touched by their comments.  This is an amazing group of young adults.  I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know them.  I was so blessed at hearing their comments and realizing how much this school has already touched the lives of so many families and just how much more these children’s lives will be touched by all the activities that will happen in the next two weeks whether it be working as one team with the Swazi’s on the foundation of the new school building or the VBS the team has planned for the children.   The relationships and memories that are being formed will be with everyone for a very long time, and hopefully for a lifetime.

Because I was gone most of the day I didn’t get a lot of pictures, but I am posting the few I did take.  More will come tomorrow.

The start of the day. Digging up a mistake from the previous builder. Soon Swazi's and Americans were working side by side.

Rev. Angela, Busisiwe Mndzeble (Lomngeletjane's Head Teacher) and I. Rev. Angela had givent he head teacher letters from her 5th grade son's class to the 4th grade class at Lomngelettane.

4th grade students at work

4th grade teacher helping student

evening worship

The team has arrived!

First, let me update you on the status of my car registration.  No, it did not get it registered on Monday.  The salesman from the dealership didn’t meet me at the border at 7:30 am.  However, when I asked God to keep me calm, He reminded me that I never got a confirmation from Raymond (the salesman) that he would be there on Monday morning.  That was what I told him I needed to have happen.  And I remember that he said he would have to talk to his manager and then he’d make a plan.  So I had to sheepishly admit that it was really my fault that I drove all the way to the border only to find that he wasn’t there.  But, the good news is that after I wrote my blog on Sunday, I was comparing the list of what I needed in order to complete the registration process with what I had and realized I needed a income tax clearance form which can only be given out at a building in Mbabane.  So on my way back to Manzini I was able to stop and get that form.  And because I had gone to the border so early, I was there when the office opened.  It also gave me enough time to complete some other things in a relaxed manner and leave for Johannesburg in good time so I had time to relax a bit before the team’s plane arrived.  So, once again, God’s plan was better than mine.

The team arrived on time without any problems or issues.  They were a bit tired but what an energetic and great bunch of young adults.  We stayed the night at eMseni which is a Christian Conference complex about 10 minutes from the airport.  eMseni means place of grace.  The complex was built specifically to accommodate the Walk to Emmaus but it is also used for other conferences or meetings and can even be used by individual people.  The really exciting thing about this is that Rev Angela (the team leader) brought a team from McNeese University to South Africa in 2006.  That team prepared a berm around a man-made lake on the complex and planted olive trees and other shrubs.  I happened to be in South Africa with a small team at that time. Our teams stayed at the same place and shared our evening meals.

Today was a long day of driving from eMseni to Swaziland.  It took pretty much all day but we didn’t have any problems or issues.  Everyone was tired.  The picture below was taken this morning; their first morning in Africa!  Tomorrow morning we will go up to start working at Lomngeletjane Memorial Methodist School.

The team from the Wesleyan Center at McNeese University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

More appologies and a HUGE blessing

It seems like this year I am constantly apologizing for not writing a blog.  For a couple of months things were very hard for me here in Swaziland.  I was overwhelmed (again) by the need, somewhat discouraged, there were so many things to do and I was faced with a lot of changes.  For those of you who know me well, you know that when I get overwhelmed or discouraged, I tend to withdraw into myself.  Hence, writing a blog just wasn’t what I could do.  I couldn’t find the words to write about my challenges and frustration without my emotional and spiritual health showing through the words.  So instead of writing a blog, I turned my focus and concerns on God.  I dove deep into the Word, completing two bible studies (Beth Moore’s study on “Esther” and Priscilla Shirer’s study on “Discerning the Voice of God”) and focusing on writing in my prayer journal.  I talk to God a lot; not necessarily long prayers, but a lot of short ones.  But when I really need to pour my heart and soul out to God, for me writing my prayers in a journal is the most intimate way of communicating with God.  Those of you who know me well, you also know that while I can type anything very fast, I do not like to handwrite anything.  But when it comes to my special communication with God, it has to be in my own handwriting and then the words just flow.  So I am sorry that my blog suffered, but I am so thankful for my time with the Lord.  I’m even more thankful for all of the blessings he has poured out on me and those I work with and/or love.  What seemed so overwhelming and discouraging in March and the beginning of April became obvious works of the Lord in the later part of April and so far in May.  It is almost like the Lord is blessing me even more because I didn’t give up or try to do things all on my own, but instead, I turned to Him for comfort, guidance and strength.  These last three months have been quite a journey but it has been worth every minute of it to feel God’s unfailing love, realize his grace and be witness to his power every step of the way.

The blessings are too many to share, but let me share the biggest one…well, one of the biggest ones.  It certainly was a situation that was causing me to be overwhelmed and discouraged and I couldn’t figure out what to do.  And that would be the situation with my car.  If you are a long time reader of my blog, you know that I use and abuse my vehicle.  It is really the heart of my ministry and one of my life lines.  When I left Swaziland last December to go to the States for the holidays, I knew that I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  My car was just not safe to drive and the problem had to do with the same suspension and alignment issues that I have had fixed three times since coming to Swaziland.  I had some work done on it in March to get me through until I could find a new vehicle, but in the last couple of weeks I could tell the repairs weren’t going to be enough to make the vehicle road worthy on the roads I drive on.  I had to admit I needed a newer and more reliable vehicle.  I came back to Swaziland hopeful that the Lord would guide me to the right vehicle.  However, once I got back on African soil, my faith wavered a bit as I started looking for a new vehicle.  There were very few vehicles like I wanted available both in South Africa and Swaziland.  And those that I did find were way, way over the upper edge of what I thought I needed to or could spend.   So I started looking at vehicles that were in the same range as my Honda.  But the problem with them is that they are all direct Japanese imports and had almost as many miles on them as my Honda does.  Three times I started back to one place in Manzini to try and negotiate a lower price with the dealer on a Nissan X-trail that had only 6,000 km less than what my Honda has.  Each time at the last minute I changed my mind.  On the third time, I felt there were no other options so I was just going to go do it.  I was almost to the dealer when I heard that quiet but firm voice say “No. Go to Nelspruit.”  I felt a bit like Peter when he denied Christ three times, but was so glad for God’s grace and intervention.  So I called my friend Mary Beth to see if she could come with me on Monday.  She was able to come with me which was such a blessing.  We went to every dealer we could find.  Finally at the last one, we told the Salesman what I was looking for and he pointed to a 2004 Nisson Hardbody double cab 4×4 Bakkie (pickup truck).  I said sure I’d look at it, but thought for sure it was like all the others, more than I could afford especially because it looked in better condition that what I’d seen so far.  The salesman opened the door for me to sit in it while he explained some of the features.  When I asked the price it was right in the middle of what I thought I could pay and the number of kilometers was low.  Both Mary Beth and I felt a peace come over us as soon as we looked at the truck.  I put a deposit on the truck that day (Monday).

But of course, this is Africa.  Nothing is simple or goes according to what one’s plan is.  Handling financial matters in Africa is one of the most frustrating things there is.  I had asked the salesman if I could put part of the truck price on my American Express card.  He checked and came back and said no, but that I could put it on a MasterCard or Visa card.  (Ok. I have them.)  So I started withdrawing my daily limit on my ATM card from the States trying to collect as much cash as possible.  The rest I would put on my debit card and my MasterCard.  I had a plan.  On Thursday two other missionaries were going to Nelspruit for the day, so I went with them to purchase the truck.  Surprise.  I could only put 10,000 rand on a credit card (about $1300.) and they wouldn’t let me use more than one card.  OK, another reminder that not everyplace in the world operates as we do in the States.  I told the salesman that the US banks wouldn’t care how much you put on a credit card.  It just means more interest for them, which of course isn’t a stellar example of our practices since we’ve been the leader of the financial crisis in the world.  So now off to plan C.

I had money wire transferred over from the States.  We went through a fire drill trying to get the process started while I was still in Nelspruit because it was early in the day for the US.  But all of our hard work didn’t help.  The money didn’t come out of my account until Friday afternoon in the US.  I just kept withdrawing as much cash as I could out of my savings account in the US.  Finally on Thursday of this week, more missionary friends were going to Nelspruit for a Doctor’s appointment.  I went with them.  It has been a week, and although the money had been taken from my account on the previous Friday, it still wasn’t in the bank account of the Car dealership.  It was sitting in the Bank’s head office in Johannesburg.  (grrr) So I talked to the Sales Manager and he went to talk to the bank, and to make a long story a bit shorter, I was able to pay for the car and take it back to Swaziland Thursday evening.

However, (remember, this is Africa; there is always a however.) the salesman had to come meet me at the border Friday morning so he could fill out export papers and get a border police clearance for the vehicle.  Police clearance is nothing more than physically looking at the engine number and chassis number to make sure they match the paper work so they know the car isn’t stolen.  We were going to meet at the border at 7:30 am.  It took the salesman 2 hours to get the paperwork done, printed, approved and the vehicle cleared by the police.  But he handled it all.  I just sat and read a book.  It was such a blessing to have him do it for me.  After the border my plan was to get the car registered in Swaziland in a record breaking one day.  I went to the reveue office to pay for the police clearance in Swaziland.  Then when I got to the Manzini police station for them, they said there was one “yellow piece of paper” that the dealership didn’t give me.  It turns out it is the transfer of ownership document from the dealer, the owner, to me, the buyer.  But the police officer also told me that I needed to pay the import tax on the vehicle before they could do a police clearance anyway.  So I went and paid 14% tax on the vehicle.  But now I will have to meet the salesman again at the border at 7:30 in the morning to get that piece of paper.  Then go back to Manzini (about 50 – 60 minutes from the border) to get the police clearance, go to another town to get a vehicle inspection, then go back to the revenue office to pay the registration fees and turn in all the forms and then finally go to the place where they make the license plates.  And I need to get all of this finished before I have to leave Swaziland by about noon to drive to Johnanesburg to pick up our team from the Wesleyan Center at McNeese University in Lake Charles, LA that arrives tomorrow evening.  Think I can make it??? Of course I can. This entire car thing has been orchestrated by God and if God is for me, who can be against me?

I must also say that the car salesman and the manager of the sales department were both extremely helpful and sympathetic.  I have never received such good service anywhere, even in the US.  I had a lot of time to talk to the salesman and found that he is a Christian.  We had great conversations about the affects of Apratheid, the pitfalls of having a King, etc.  I was so grateful to them both for keeping me informed of what was going on and for trying their best to get the vehicle to me as quick as possible.

My Texas truck (even if it isn't a Ford or Chevy) in Swaziland! Yebo!

So, tomorrow evening the team arrives.  We will spend the night at emseni, a Christian retreat center near the Johannesburg airport.  Then we will drive to Swaziland on Tuesday morning.  On Wednesday we will go up to Lomngeletjane.  The team will be in Swaziland from Tuesday.  May 19th until Friday June 4th.  Stay tuned for stories and pictures of their time in Swaziland.