Once again I need to apologize for not writing a blog in over a month. Five weeks from today to be exact. A lot has been going on with my life and work in Swaziland in the last 5 weeks. Unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily mean I have been busing doing things and advancing God’s kingdom in Swaziland. The last 5 weeks have been a spiritual, emotional and physical roll-coaster for me.
My last blog talked about the joy of seeing little Nonjabulo learning to walk and praising God for healing this little girl who 11 months ago we thought she wasn’t going to make it through the night. That high actually came right after some shocking news for me. But when I saw Nonjabulo’s face, it took away the hurt and anger of the news I had received. Five weeks have gone by and it is time I put some of what has been going on into words. Please bear with me because this will probably be long. I’ll try to be concise.
On September 17th, I gave you an update on Lomngeletjane. At that time Sipho was almost done with the ringbeam. That afternoon Sipho and I sat down and mapped out the length of time it would take to get the remaining work finished, what he could finish before I left for the States for the Holidays on December 3rd and what might have to be carried over and finished by the start of school in January. We agreed on a plan as well as the payment schedule for his work. Things were looking good and very hopeful that financially and physically we would be able to complete the school as scheduled.
Sunday afternoon, September 19th, I got a call that the new head teacher (Henry) of Lomngeletjane had something he wanted to discuss with me. I met with him and another person at St. Pauls. Henry told me that he had been notified on Tuesday (the 14th) by Micro Project that they were giving a grant to Lomngeletjane to finish the second classroom block and to build a third teacher’s house. Micro Project is a program that is financed by the European Union that gives money to schools or other community projects to finish buildings once the community or parents have built the building up to the gables. In lay terms, that is up to the point when they are ready to put the roof on. Henry heard about the grant on Tuesday and was going to sign for it on Monday, September 20th, but hadn’t shared one word of this with me. In addition to the cultural norms of not communicating directly or telling people things they don’t want to hear, Henry hadn’t shared it with me because one, he knew what had happened was not right, two, he knew I would be upset, and three, the school committee chairman (John, our ex-builder) was supposed to have withdrawn the application in June. In June, the former head teacher found out that John had applied for the grant and did not tell them that I was paying to have the building built. At that time I told them they could continue the process of applying for the grant and I would withdraw from building the building, or they could withdraw the application and I would finish the building by January. They chose to withdraw the application. So I continued with the building working in good faith towards having it finished by the middle of January or at least having one classroom finished for grade 5. John decided not to withdraw the application and also chose not to tell anyone. You see, if I had stopped building they would have had to build the walls up to the gable level themselves and they didn’t have the resources to do that, especially before January.
Needless to say I was very shocked, hurt, angry, and sad. I felt betrayed and I felt absolutely horrible for Sipho because I had just laid out a payment plan for him to finish the school. He was now suddenly out of a job. Henry and I talked of how we were going to handle the next few days – discussions with various stake holders and Sipho. Unfortunately, Henry went back on his word every step of the way and he didn’t inform me of what was happening until after the fact. By Tuesday morning, I was just plan angry and hurt. I have never felt so manipulated and used in my entire life. On Tuesday Thoko, Thini and I were scheduled to go to the high school where Mthokozisi and his sister, Nozipho and another boy that One Child, One Heart pays schools fees for. I hadn’t shared any of this with either of them. When I arrived in town to pick them up, Thembi, who is from Lomngeletjane was with them. Why she was coming with us I have no idea because she never comes with us unless we are visiting a child in Lomngeletjane. I was having a hard time stopping my tears from streaming down my face as the result of a few frustrating conversations with Henry that morning where I learned he had done the opposite of what we decided. As a result I was very quiet and kept trying to inconspicuously wipe the tears from my eyes that were hidden by my sun glasses. I guess I didn’t pull it off too well, because when we got to the High School Thini asked me if I was angry because she said I wasn’t acting like me. I told her no I wasn’t angry, just hurt, but I didn’t want to talk about it. I really did want to talk to my sisters Thoko and Thini but didn’t feel I could say anything in front of Thembi because of all the political posturing and fighting going on in that community.
After talking to the children at the high school we changed our plans just a bit and stopped by a homestead in that area. A teacher from St. Paul’s Primary school who lives in that area had passed away the day before. So we went to the homestead to pray. It was a blessing to see the ladies from the Lutfotja society welcome me so warmly to the homestead. It helped put things into perspective, especially as I watched one of the woman’s young children wander in and out. I was able to allow my tears to flow during the prayers because it was appropriate, but I was still very quiet. When we finally got back to Manzini and I was dropping them off at the bus rank, Thoko said something about hoping I could have taken her to Cash Build to buy something for her home. I said no problem I would take her to Cash Build and then take her and Thini home. I quietly shared with her that I had wanted to talk to the two of them all day but couldn’t in front of Thembie.
After Cash Build, as I was driving Thoko home, I shared all that had happened with Thoko and Thini. Once we got to Thoko’s home we walked around her garden while she picked some vegetables for me and Thini and we continued talking about the situation. They were very shocked and upset at what had happened as well. I found I had to calm them down and not let them get to angry but remind all of us that we had to turn it over to God. We prayed together before Thini and I left. I got home about 8:00 and felt completely drained. I grabbed a quick dinner and went to bed.
I woke up about 12:30 in the morning shaking all over and freezing. I took my temperature and it was over 102. Then the runny tummy (diarrhea) started. I was very, very sick for a couple of days and was barely able to get out of bed to make it to the toilet. After a few days the fever came down but the diarrhea and severe stomach cramps wouldn’t go away. To make a long story short, I was sick with whatever I had for 10 days. I lost 15 pounds in less than a week. Many people were praying for me and Thoko and Thini were calling me twice a day to check on me. I went to a Doctor in Manzini twice and then my friend Julie (a fellow missionary with Adventures in Mission) took me to Nelsprit, South Africa to see a Doctor. The Swaziland Doctor gave me de-worming pills and an antibiotic to kill parasites. The South Africa Doctor gave me a broad spectrum antibiotic for bacterial infections. I don’t know if it was the prayers (I actually believe it was the prayers), if the thing had run it’s course or if it was the antibiotics the South African Doctor gave me, but I started to improve the day I went to South Africa. It took me a good week to get my strength back. The only time I have been that sick for that long was when I had the chicken pox in 8th grade!
Now for the good side of all of this. When you are so sick that you can hardly stand, it isn’t so hard to turn everything over to God! Every time I would start to think of Lomngeletjane, John, Henry, Sipho and what had happened, I turned it over to God because I just didn’t have the strength to think about it and get upset. Every time the slightest thought or memory entered my consciousness, I said to God: “Take it, it’s yours, I can’t deal with this.” And you know what? He took it. He took it all. In addition, while I was down and finally still, I could hear his voice and I felt the arms of Christ cradling me. The illness was good in a way because it gave me time to be still in God’s presence and to have faith that he would handle everything, but it also gave my heart time to heal. The Lord took the anger away and helped me see that I could do nothing but forgive them for being dishonest and taking advantage of me. The Lord will deal with them in HIS own way. But the Lord also gave me permission to hurt and to be still in him until the hurt started healing. For the week that I was physically healing and then the week after that, I felt like I was sitting directly under his eagle’s wings and that the eagle’s wing was sheltering me from the rain, the sun, the hurt and the tears. And then as I started feeling better emotionally and spiritually, he gently took his wing down a little at a time.
I’m still not emotionally and spiritually healed, but I am strong enough for now. I am drained. The fruits of my spirit had all but shriveled up and died. But slowly, with prayer and through the Holy Spirit I can feel some of those fruits coming back to life, even if it is only for an instant. My focus right now is to allow myself to heal and to just be. I am looking forward to coming back to the States for the holidays on December 3rd. Everything else I am taking one step at a time. I’m trying not to make a lot of decisions right now but am trying to stay in close communication with my heavenly father and to be good to me.
The fallout of this – the gossip within the community of Lomngeletjane and within Central Circuit – is horrible and as it is with most gossip, much of it isn’t true. I’m trying to use this incident and my reaction to it as a testimony to God, to promote healing in this hurting community, church and country, to talk about forgiveness and to encourage people to leave the judging to God as he is the only one that can judge any of us. This is harder than it sounds, because I can’t just talk about these things or have faith that the Lord will handle this. My actions have to match my words even if I don’t feel like acting out my faith or being gracious. I tell those who have come to me to tell me how wrong what happened is or who wants to tell me about the wild stories going around the truth about what happened and I plead with them to turn this situation over to God to handle and to stop the fighting and the gossiping.
Thank you for enduring this long blog. I’m so sorry that I had to write this. It’s taken me 5 weeks to work up to communicating this situation to you. I’d like to say that the school is on it’s way to being completed faster and better than it would have been if we had continued to build it. However, as of Friday not one thing has been done to even start to finish the building. The head teacher and I have documented all of the building materials that I had bought and am now unable to use at the school. I returned the little that I could. The rest I am diverting to other projects. So the other upside of this is that other projects are going to benefit from the situation.
Please continue to pray for my healing and for wisdom. In addition, please pray that the Holy Spirit fills me with the fruits of his spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) so that others will come to know the Lord by the look on my face and by my actions.