Easter, 2011

As I write this blog, I’m reflecting on a great “Easters” celebration.  Yes, the Swazis call it Easter with an “s” making it plural.  I’ve never quite figured out why that’s what they say, but I am guessing it is related to the multiple services that take place between Maundy Thursday afternoon and Easter Sunday morning.  And then the Monday following Easter is always a government & school holiday.  In the Methodist Church in Swaziland, the people from the various congregations in the circuit travel to a central location in the circuit on Thursday afternoon/evening.  They camp out at the location and attend services that go almost continuously ending early Sunday morning.   I attended several of these services my first Easter in Swaziland.  Since then I’ve done a variety of different things during the Easters weekend.  Here is a look into this year’s Easter celebration for me.

On Thursday evening I attended a service at the English speaking International Church in Ezulwini which is about 20 minutes from Manzini.  Rev. Michael Goodling delivered the message and served communion.  Rev. Goodling and his wife are Missionaries from the US.  His wife and teenage daughter are in the bible study I attend on Wednesday mornings.  His message focused on the preparations for Jesus’ crucifixion as told in Matthew, Luke & John starting with his Triumphant entry into Jerusalem as King of Kings, through teaching his disciples what it means to be a humble servant, predicting his death and the Last Supper.  The primary question he asked us to consider was “What would you do if you knew in 24 hours you would die?”  Very interesting question.  I realized how different my answer to that question is today compared to what it would have been in other seasons of my life.

The crown of thorns that Jesus wore was made from the Acacia tree which is very common in the African bush. I looked at this crown of thorns with a very different set of eyes than I did before I became so familiar with the pain and destruction these thorns can do.

Rev. Goodling

Washing the feet of a young man who is always available and willing to help others in any way he can.

On Friday morning, I went up to Mbabane to attend a Good Friday service at a small church where my friend Robin’s husband, Michael,  pastors.   The worship music and the sermon both fed my soul.  Michael started his message by asking us what motivated Christ to die on the cross willingly and what motivates us, personally, to be a Christian.  I thought of how this question tied in so perfectly with the question asked of a different audience the night before.  I had been pondering last night’s question on my drive to Mbabane.  Once again, I know that my answer today is much different than what it would have been during other seasons of my life.

After the service we took the kids from the Sandra Lee Center to Swaziland YWAM (Youth With A Mission) property for an Easter Egg hunt.  It was a cold, drizzly day but the kids were so excited to be going.  The makes (mothers) of the houses came as well.  We had kids crammed like little sardines in our cars.  I lost count of how many kids were in the back of my Bakkie!   We were greeted by a team of young adults from South Africa.  They put on a little skit about the Crucifixion and Resurrection for the kids and then took them outside for an Easter egg hunt.  A fun time was had by all.

The YWAM volunteers and the SLC kids.

Kids from Sandra Lee Center

The kids looked for colored hard boiled eggs and then were given a little bag with sweets. This is little Wandile with his goodies.

On Saturday, I helped Robin bake some goodies to take to the Sandra Lee Center for a braai (Afrikaans for BBQ) and Easter egg hunt with the kids.  It was still a cool day, but we were very thankful that the drizzle and fog was gone.

Michael braaing the chicken and boreworst with the beef still to come. When Swazi's braai, they cook lots of different kinds of meat because it is usually some sort of celebration. For some, a braai is the only time they have meat other than chicken.

Some of the kids and I waiting patiently. They entertained themselves by running their fingers through my hair.

Preparing to eat. The makes (mah-gays) bringing out the side dishes to go with that wonderful smelling (and tasting) meat.

Now, the kids are waiting patiently for their food. It amazes me how quietly they sat waiting especially since they were all very hungry and knew they could hunt the eggs with sweets in them after we ate.

We divided the kids into three different ages groups for the hunt: 1 & 2 year olds, 3 & 4 year olds and then 5 years and up.  A couple of the older kids helped us hide the eggs for the younger children.

After dinner we had the Easter Egg Hunt. Sweet little one year old Bheki wasn't quite sure what to make of the eggs, but loved the candy inside! All of the kids are so sweet with him. It is a joy to watch.

Sibongile was in the 3-4 year old group. She certainly knew what to do! I love this little one's smile.

The older kids off and running! They went so fast I had to do the hot - cold thing with them to find some of the eggs they missed. It's a good thing I did because they found many more eggs than the few I knew they missed! The kids were so sweet to their "siblings." The kids who found more eggs willingly gave to the kids who didn't find many. Nothing like a little bit of Christ's "Easters" teaching in action on Easter weekend!

Zinhle (2 yrs) and Owenkosi (1 yr) swinging like little monkeys on the jungle gym. How many mothers in the States would allow this? We'd be worried stiff. But they were fine and having a great time. Maybe we worry and shelter kids from the wrong things in the US. Just a thought.

Nomile wasn't so brave. She wanted to climb but was hesitant and didn't realize that the bars on the side were closer together. I showed her where to climb and she bravely climbed up. I must admit I wanted to hold her and protect her, but she made it and had a big grin on her face when she reached the top.

Nomile trying to negotiate the corner to go where the boys were. Nozi (the child to her right) kept trying to hurry her and she would tell her to stop. Notice Nomile was climbing without shoes. Nomile doesn't really like to go without shoes, but she couldn't keep her clogs on her feet so she had to leave them on the ground. So, Nomile tackled two things out of her comfort zone at once! Yebo!

Success!

And finally, the day was done.  It was a fun day, and I was exhausted.  Thankfully, Robin and Michael invited me to stay another night at their house because I’m not sure I could have made the drive back to Manzini.  The thought that kept running through my mind was “and there was morning and evening of another day.  And the Lord saw that it was good.”

I woke up Sunday morning to a bright sunny day!  Easter morning was here.  The Lord has risen!  I said good-bye to Robin and Michael and headed back to Manzini to attend a brunch and time of worship with my friend Julie, her daughter Ellie, Megan and the staff from Adventures in Mission.  It was another wonderful day full of family, friends (both new and old), children laughing, good food and most of all precious time deep in worship and praise for our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.  The kids went to one room to watch a Veggie Tales Easter DVD and the adults went to the living room to sing, worship and listen to a very good DVD about the resurrection.

It may be fall here, but God's beauty still abounds in this little country. It's almost as if God wants the beauty of his creation to stay vibrant and colorful to celebrate all His son did for us!

The Resurrection eggs. This was a great reminder of what "Easters" is all about.

Thank you Lord for putting such dear friends in my life and for an absolutely wonderful, meaningful 4 days in your word and sharing the same love for you and your son Jesus Christ with other believers in Christ.  It was all for your glory dear Lord.  All honor and praise are yours.

 

The Reason For 2011’s Building Project

Meet  Gudzagudza, Andiswa and Karabo.  These sweet little ones is why we are doing this year’s building project.

They are three of the most adorable children I’ve ever seen.  They live in the rural area of Swaziland about 67 km from St. Paul’s in Manzini.  They live in the community where we (One Child, One Heart) are helping a small Methodist congregation of mainly women, gogo’s and children finish their church.  The circuit’s Trust Properties Committee approached me in December, 2008 and asked if I would consider this building project.  The congregation had worked very hard over the years to lay the foundation and build the walls, but then they ran out of money.  Since this is a very rural and poor community without a lot of options to earn money, it was going to take many years to get to the point of finishing this church.  The ladies want to finish the church so they can have a little pre-school for the OVC’s that live in the surrounding area and use the church as kind of a community center where they can start some sort of an income generating project so they can help take care of the OVC’s.  So, two years later, in December, 2010, we started working on the project.  This project will be a little different from what we did at Lomngeletjane because the congregation will be responsible for paying for or contributing the labor.  We are only paying for the building materials.

Mahlatsini Methodist Church in October, 2010.

During December and January the inside of the church was cleared out and a few unnecessary windows that posed a security threat were closed up.

A ramp was also built so that the elderly could enter the church easier. In addition there is one young woman who is in a wheelchair. Now she will be able to attend the services. Her name is Fikhle. She is so happy that the church will have a ramp.

It has taken awhile to get things going again this year, but finally about two weeks ago construction finally got underway again.  My goal is to have the church finished by May.  I’m hoping if I put that as a finish date, perhaps it will be finished before July.  We’ll see!

The roofing tresses. Each is made by the carpenter using very rudimentary tools. The tresses have all been built and put up on the walls. Each joint will be wrapped in what they call hoop iron to prevent the roof from coming apart. We are using "gum poles" for this roof because it is much cheaper than regular timber and the Swazi's say it is very strong. Gum Poles are used in most traditional and even some newer Swazi buildings.

The carpenter and builder are fitting the purlins onto the tresses. Once all of the purlins are in place, they will attach corrugated iron sheets.

The last two pictures were taken yesterday (April 5th) when we went to Mahlatsini to check on the progress.  It was while we were out there that I saw the three precious children.  I went to take a picture of them and without thinking, while I was taking the picture I said “How are you?”  I was so surprised when one of them said loud and clear “I am fine!”  My heart soared and I had to blink back the tears of joy.  This church is being finished for these children and others in the area just like them.  Jesus said “Let the little children come unto me.”  I pray these children and many, many more will come to personally know Jesus in this church.  Today as I’ve been thinking of these children and their possible future, I’ve held a vision that these three little munchkins just might grow up to be the next Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo with a faith so strong that even the fires of a blazing furnace can’t tear them away from their belief and trust in God.  At least that is my prayer for these little ones.

I just happened to bring a loaf of bread and peanut butter with me yesterday. Of course, I had to share with them. Thoko had them close their eyes and say a prayer. At first they weren't sure what to do, but then one of them quickly said about three words, so I'm going to guess it was thank you for this food. And everyone said Amen! They were so adorable. Since I will never remember their real names, I've decided to call them Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!

Khalakahle Methodist Primary School

A week or so ago  we (Thoko, Gladys, Thembi, and I) drove down to Kalakahle Methodist Primary School.   It’s about 75 – 80 km from St. Paul’s on the Eastern border of Swaziland.  It is a very rural area with not a lot of opportunities for people to find employment.   It’s also an area that is hotter and gets less rain than other parts of the country so it is more difficult to grow crops in this area.  We went there to talk with the head teacher, the chairman of the parent committee and one of the teachers about expanding the Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu Project to Kalakahle.  We had hoped to expand the project to Kalakahle last year, but it just didn’t work out.   We want to expand to Kalakahle for two reasons:  1)  It is a well organized school with a good head teacher, deputy head teacher as well as some very caring teachers.  Actually, it’s always been my favorite school even though I don’t get there often because of the distance from St. Paul’s.  2)  It has the highest OVC (Orphaned & Vulnerable Children) rate of the 10 Methodist schools in Central Swaziland Circuit, and quite possibly the highest rate of any of the Methodist schools in Swaziland.  This year’s statistics show that there are 424 students enrolled at the school with 32.55% of those students registered with the government as being single or double orphans; 53.3% are registered as being orphaned or “vulnerable”; and 85.85% of the students fall within the orphaned and vulnerable category but they may or may not be registered with the government.

There are many reasons why kids aren’t registered with the government as being vulnerable.  One reason is that a child’s status may have changed after the yearly deadline for the head teacher to turn in the list of kids that should be registered with the government.  As an example, today we were told of 5 children whose father had passed away the week before.  These kids are now orphans, but can’t be registered with the government until next year.  Until they are registered as orphans, the community considers them as being very vulnerable.  Another reason some of the vulnerable kids aren’t registered with the government is because the classification of being “vulnerable” is very subjective.  How do you choose who is the most needy in a community where most of the people are living below the poverty line?  In addition, I’ve heard some teachers complain that the government doesn’t like the numbers of vulnerable kids to go up each year.  Another reason why kids may not be registered with the government as being vulnerable is that the government can’t make up it’s mind (and then follow through) as to whether they are going to continue to subsidize the school fees for the vulnerable children or not.  They will pay for the orphaned kids, but the vulnerable children represent a huge number of children and the government says it can’t afford to pay for all of those children.  It seems that some of the head teachers have just given up.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, the issue of OVC’s, especially those considered to be vulnerable, is a hot one.  Personally, I see this as probably being the biggest issue and area of need that will no longer be addressed by the government.  Much of the government’s funding for schools and school fees for OVC’s comes from donors outside of Swaziland such as the South African government and the European Union.  The world economic crises that has affected so many countries has prompted the European Union to cut some of the funding to Swaziland schools.  I don’t want to dwell on the financial and political decisions of the Swaziland government or of the international government agencies that assist Swaziland.  Let me just say the issue of OVC’s is a sensitive one, it is critical and the situation is just going to get worse as the parents of these children die or leave the home to try and get employment only to not return for many months or even years all the while not contributing anything towards the support of their children.  This situation gets compounded as the gogo’s who are left to take care of these children start dying due to old age.

So, back to our meeting.  Of course most of the conversation was in SiSwati, but I could figure out most of what was being said and if I wasn’t sure what they were talking about I asked Thoko.  I was very glad that the chairman of the parent committee was there to hear first hand what the purpose of Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu is.  The discussion was very passionate.  It was obvious that they care for the children.  The more we sat there talking, the more my mind started racing with all kinds of possibilities to help this school and children from a Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu project perspective and from a One Child, One Heart perspective.  When we drove into the school we saw many children that desperately needed uniforms.  One girl’s dress had a big patch in the back but the material was so thin we could see her panties through the uniform.  As Thoko pointed out, the children don’t have jersey’s or track suits because if they did, the girls would have them tied around their waist to hide the condition of their uniforms.

One of the reasons this school is so close to my heart is that they not only appear to be giving the children the best education and the best learning environment possible considering the challenges, but they also are doing what they can to help their kids in other ways.  For instance, they applied for and were selected to be one of the schools to receive grant money to start a poultry project.  These funds enabled the school to build a chicken house, buy the chicks, chicken feed and other necessary items.  The students care for the chickens and the eggs are sold.  The profits are used to buy school uniforms for some of the OVCs.  Another NGO (non-government organization) came and taught them how to grow vegetables using very little water and land.  These vegetables are added to the mealie meal and beans that is traditionally given to the children at school for what we would call lunch.

Another reason I like this school is that I know some of the former teachers, students and even a former head teacher.  They all are very intelligent, well spoken people who I feel have a lot of integrity.  I’ve learned a lot from those that have come from this school either as an employee or a student.  The current head teacher, her deputy and the teacher that was at our meeting are all very involved with the Methodist Church.  This school just has a different feel from the other schools.

The day ended up being long.  The drive was very hot because the day before the air conditioning in my truck just stopped working.  But despite the distance and the heat it was a very good day and we are excited about finding ways to partner with this school to help them help their OVCs.  It’s not going to be easy between the distance from St. Paul’s and the overwhelming need.  But I feel this is where God has been leading us to and with God on our side, who can be against us?  With the Lord’s help we will be able to help some of these children stay in school, feel better about themselves and most important to know that people love them and care for them.

The next step in the process of getting the project started is for the deputy and the teachers to get together to identify the neediest or sickest children.  We will start with 12 children.  When the children have been identified by the school, they will call Thoko and we will go back to Kalakahle to meet with the head teacher, the school “counselor”,  the CCS (Christian Community Service) from the local Methodist society, and the Rural Health Motivator from the community.  After getting as much information as possible from the school we will then visit the homesteads of these children to do a more in-depth needs assessment.  Then as a committee the ladies will decide what we can do to assist with these children.  The intent of the project is to help HIV+ children get their monthly medication and stay healthy, but we’ve experience has taught us that we need to be open to what is the true need of the child and it’s family.

I’m anxious to get started at Khalakahle because the need is so great.  It’s going to take a lot of patience to wait until we can take the next step.  But that is the name of the game here in so many areas.  Stay tuned for updates on Khalakahle.

Khalakahle Methodist Primary School

This is the classroom that is being used for Home Economics. Home Ec is a required course for all 7th grade students. However, often a school doesn't really have the facilities to adequately teach the children how to cook and sew. I was impressed at how neat and organized this classroom is and also at the great charts the teacher had made for the classroom walls.

It was so hot that the teacher held class outside under a big shade tree.

In 2008, these children received new shoes from a non-profit organization in the States. Later that same year One Child at a Time, One Heart at a time gave uniforms to these same children. I'm sure that both the shoes and the uniforms have long since worn out.