I go to a women’s bible study on Wednesday mornings. The majority of the women are missionaries from the US. This group of women has been my life-line, my family, my church ever since I joined the group about 3 weeks after I arrived in Swaziland in August, 2007. Currently we are studying the book of James. This past week we were studying and meditating on Chapter 2. Chapter two has two main themes. The first one focuses on not discriminating against others based on how they look, how much money they do or don’t have, how they smell, dress, etc. To quote the message: “(v1) Don’t let public opinion influence how you live out our glorious Christ-originated faith. (v8) You do well when you complete the Royal Rule of the Scriptures “Love others as you love yourself. But if you play up to these so-called important people, you go against the Rule and stand convicted by it. You can’t pick and choose in these things.”
At first glance I, a person who is serving in Swaziland, could be real tempted to say, I’m good on this aspect. I’m around people who dress in anything and everything they own, often don’t smell good, usually have very little or no money, and many times are in need of medical attention for anything from a cold to HIV/AIDS. It would also be very easy to judge the Swazi’s, or anyone in any country for that matter, that drive fancy new cars, live in huge houses, have new clothes on all the time, etc. but don’t seem to care about or have enough time to get involved in helping those in their country that are more unfortunate that they are. Meditating on this during the week I realized that there are people in this country that I’m less eager to reach out to – the beggar who accosts me on the street, the woman sitting in the same spot every day begging for a few coins, the rich woman who appears to have everything, the seemingly cold uncaring nurse on the pediatric ward of the hospital. Busted. Ouch. How many times do I stay in my protected little bubble and pretend not to see, or am too unsure to reach out, or too focused on my own little boo-hoo, woe is me moments? Unfortunately, the answer is not pretty. I stay in my own little protective bubble on the edge of judging others way too much.
Ok, so I’m convicted on the first part of Chapter 2. How about the second part? Faith and Deeds aka Faith in Action. Ok, I’ll make this a bit shorter by just saying, once again I’m convicted. Busted, Ouch. Yes, it takes a lot of faith to retire from my corporate job (the politically correct way of saying “I quit!”) and leaving my family, friends, home and comfy life to move half way around the world to work in a culture I don’t quite understand with people that most of the time I can’t really communicate with and that often have needs that are completely overwhelming. I live by faith everyday that my family back in the States is ok, that the Lord will guide and protect me and that the funds will come to complete projects or help children and women who have nothing. I rely on faith that I am doing the right thing according to God’s plan. One could think I am living my faith in action; this part of James doesn’t apply to me. Let me tell you about my day yesterday (Monday) and then you will know what faith in action really is.
My day started at 4:19am when I got a buzz on my cell phone. It was from my dear sisi Thini to wake me and let me know that it is time to start praying. Thini has a prayer group that she buzzes every morning at this time so that the group can all pray together where ever they are. I had sent her a test message on Sunday evening asking for prayers for my God daughter, Stacy, who was admitted to the hospital Sunday evening. They were going to induce her so she could deliver her first baby. It was a situation of concern, but not necessarily life threatening with an outcome that would most likely be bad as would be the case in this country. Thini immediately responded to my message saying she would pray right then and she would buzz me to be a part of her prayer group to surround Stacy and baby in prayer. When she buzzed me, I managed to wake up long enough to say a rather short, sleepy prayer (I hope God understood me) before falling back to sleep. Thini and the others prayed and then got started on their day. Now Thini and the others on her daily prayer chain have faith in Action. They not only talk the talk, but they get up early to make sure they walk the walk as well! Don’t get me wrong, I pray a lot for others, but I’m not one to set an alarm and get up earlier just to make sure I have time to pray for others before I start my day.
Around 10:00 am Thoko, Thini and I went to talk with the head teacher at Lutfotja Methodist Primary School. The project we work with Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu, had paid school fees last year for several children and we hadn’t received the results of how they are doing in school. We also had to give transport money to a child who needed to go back to the ear specialist again. I’m trying to do simple math to figure out how much we needed to give with the child to cover transport and the Doctor’s visit fee but just couldn’t add two simple numbers. I know it is because I am so tired from being woken up so early. Thoko is laughing at me because for once she can add the numbers quicker in her head than I can. Matter of fact, I can’t seem to think straight about anything. This child, a boy named Lebanti, is the grandson of the Rural Health Motivator who helped us visit so many homes to learn the families’ true needs. A few months after all of her help, we learned from the school head teacher that the RHM’s grandson, Lebanti, couldn’t hear. We gave the gogo (grandmother) the money for transport and the consultation fee to go to the hospital and found that Libanti had an ear infection so bad he couldn’t hear. We also discovered in this process that his school uniform was in threads and about 3 sizes too small for him. So with One Child, One Heart at a Time funds from my generous and faithful donors, I bought him a new uniform, belt, shoes, socks, etc. The child is now a different person. He stands taller and does well in school. His gogo is, of course, eternally grateful. Unfortunately, his ear infection came back so he had to go back to the Doctor and I was left struggling to do simple math so we could give him the money!
We left Lutfotja to go to La-Mawlandla High School in the same community. Our goal was to see how two of the children we are supporting were doing. One is supported through the women’s Manyano and one through One Child, One Heart at a Time funds. Thoko had brought along a small parcel of donated clothing for another child, Mnledisi, that went to Lutfotja last year, but is now in form 1 (8th grade). We asked Mthokozisi to go find Mnledisi so she could give him the clothes. Come to find out the clothes weren’t for him, but was for another child, a girl who also now goes to La-Mawlandla. Thoko told Mnledisi that she would bring him the clothing parcel the next time we came and that he could go back to class. But he kind of lingered for a minute. So eagle-eye make (pronounced ma-geh, means mom) asked him what was bothering him. He finally opened up and said he didn’t have a jersey and was cold. It’s winter here. The boy had on a thin white shirt that was obviously too small for him and a pair of paints that were also so small he couldn’t close them at the waist or zip them all the way up. The pants were held together with what looked like a belt that goes with a girl’s skirt. It was pink, blue, yellow and white. Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu paid for this child’s school fees last year because he was number one in his class and a very responsible young man. He was the leader of the boys cultural dance team. He is a double orphan living with a woman who isn’t related and who obviously doesn’t have the money or care about seeing he finishes school. There is a big difference in the amount of school fees primary students pay verses what high school students pay. Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu doesn’t have the funds to pay high school student fees. Most likely, this child would be asked to not come back to school once the third and last term started in September. Make Nothando (me), couldn’t stand seeing this nice young man dressed like he was or the thought of him having to drop out of school. I went into the school office to ask for a slip to pay his school fees and buy him the uniform he needs including a school jersey (sweater) and track suit….NOW. So he can be warm. Were both of these examples of faith in action? Not really because I know that because of wonderful donors, I have the money to buy this today and somehow will have the money to support him in the years to come. Yes it requires faith, but compared to what most people here are dealing with, the level of faith required is pretty low, and what I did to help these kids was pretty easy for me to do.
From La-Mawlandla, we went back to Manzini. Earlier, in the morning, I had called Sipho to see how his daughter was doing. For some reason he wouldn’t answer my question but asked if I had time if I would please come by the hospital to talk to him. Thoko reminded me of Sipho’s request when we were done with all of our errands. It was almost 4:00 – the start of visiting hours. I was tired, had to go to the bathroom and hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast (but at least I had breakfast which is more than Thoko and Thini had.) So I begrudgedly agreed that we should stop by the hospital to see him. We got there and found that no-no had been moved from her bed on the pediatric ward to “the dark room” which is a very small room with only one very small window. It is used for kids with meningitis whose eyes are sensitive to the light. I discovered it is also used as an isolation room. We opened the door to go in. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Little no-no’s eyes were swollen shut. She had the most horrible dry cough that I’ve ever heard. Every time she coughed she would then cry because her stomach hurt so bad. Sipho told us she had gone down over the weekend. He said that earlier in the day blood was just running out of her nose. At this point, it was still bleeding, but just little bits at a time. Thoko, Thini and I stood there, crowded into the little room that was freezing I couldn’t figure out what to do or say other than to plead with God to heal this sweet little girl. So I let Thoko and Thini carry the conversation with Sipho. Sipho could hardly speak. Thoko, Thini and I and a few others were having a meeting at St. Paul’s at 5:30, so after we talked for a bit we said prayers and then we left. I told Sipho that I would bring back a couple of blankets for him after our meeting because that room was freezing. This is Africa. There wasn’t any heat in the room and no sun to warm the room up during the day. It made me silently cringe. After the meeting I took him the blankets. I thought I would run in and drop off the blankets quickly and run back out to the truck so I could take Thoko and Thini home. But when I got there, Sipho was in tears and No-no was coughing non-stop while gasping for air. If she did stop coughing for a few seconds she would cry in pain. When we were leaving a few hours earlier, they were getting ready to give her a pint of blood platelets. Now, there was blood dripping from her arm because her IV had backed up. Sipho didn’t know what to do or say. He asked if I would advise him and perhaps speak to the Nurse. As I’ve mentioned many times before in my blogs, questioning someone in authority is not done in this culture. There’s a definite pecking order. I pulled my “white card” and went to the nurses office and very gently and respectfully (yes, I can do that!) asked a few questions and expressed my concern with No-no’s coughing and the IV. I was surprised when she came to check on No-no within 5 minutes. She was obviously concerned as well. Since visiting hours had been over long before, I thought it best that I leave. And I still had to drive Thoko and Thini home and it was almost 9:00 at night. I left a discouraged, tearful, scared father that was pretty much out of hope. All I could do was pray: ”Please God, heal her according to your plan and give Sipho strength.” There was a large part of me that expected a call in the middle of the night saying she had passed away. Was this faith in action? I don’t know. It certainly didn’t feel like it because I did it reluctantly, and honestly, I didn’t have a lot of faith that No-no would live through the night, though I had no doubt that God would heal her according to His will and that he would be by Sipho and No-no’s side every step of the way.
Today my day started again with a buzz from Thini at 4:19 am. I was in a dead, hard sleep but this morning I didn’t go back to sleep. I said a very long prayer and then got ready to go to the hospital to talk to the Doctor with Sipho. Praise God, she was a little bit better. Her coughing had slowed down, but she was as weak as a kitten and couldn’t open her eyes or talk. All she wanted was her daddy to hold her while standing. His back was breaking, but he wouldn’t do anything that caused her discomfort. He had some hope back. The Doctor came by, and I discovered that they couldn’t start a humidifier for her because they didn’t have a two plug adapter. TIA. So I quickly drove back to St. Paul’s and brought him one. Then in the afternoon I got a call from Sipho saying they didn’t have a pot to boil the water in for her! So I finished what I was doing, went home and got one of my pots and took it to the hospital. TIA. Sipho thanked me profusely for all I had done. I told him that I give the glory to God that I was here to help but that I really didn’t do much. He said I was there when he had lost all hope, and that my presence, and the presence of Thoko, Thini and Rev. Nyameka because of me, and our prayers were what he needed the most. Maybe this is what faith in action, or faith and deeds means. It doesn’t have to be something extraordinary. Maybe it’s just taking the time to say a prayer, say a kind word, give a loving touch to someone who has lost all hope or give someone who doesn’t have much a helping hand when they aren’t asking or expecting it.
Thank you Lord for giving me the opportunity to be even a small conduit of your love and faithfulness to those you put in my path. Please Lord; wrap your loving arms around No-no and Sipho. Heal No-no and protect them both from further pain and heartache. Amen
Please pray for all of the people I have written about today because they are all special children of God. And please say a special prayer for No-no. I wish I had pictures to show you of Libanti, No-no and the hospital. But I don’t. It’s too personal and intrusive. I’m sorry, but I just can’t cross that line and invade their privacy that way. They are too close to my heart.