O Happy Day!

Today has been quite a long day full of hard work, a few glitches and lots and lots of smiles from happy children.  Today Thoko, Thini and I took uniforms, Jerseys, track suits, shoes, underwear, socks and shoe polish out to 58 children at Khalakahle Methodist Primary School.  If you have been reading my blogs you know that a lot of work has gone into making this happen not to mention the resources the Lord has given us through our donors.

After staying up until at least midnight the last three nights in a row trying to get all of this organized and packed up, today was finally the day to see the smiles on so many children’s faces.  Thoko, Thini and I met at St. Paul’s so they could help me pack up my bakkie.  The boot of my bakkie and the back seat next to Thini was loaded down with the items.  We took a few extras of most sizes of things just to make sure we had the correct sizes.

I sorted the track suits, jerseys, shirts and trousers into the needed sizes and then put them into the big plastic bags. One bag was for the jerseys, one for the track suits, etc. The 3 colorful shopping bags on the lower left are small plastic bags containing underpants, socks and shoe polish for each child. Why shoe polish? It costs money and is relatively expensive. I decided to buy each child that was receiving a pair of shoes a container of shoe polish in an attempt to keep the shoes polished hopefully protecting the leather just a bit so they might last a little longer.

Not pictured was the bags of shoes we also took and the girls uniforms which we didn’t have at this point.  After loading up my bakkie we went to the seamstress (Phumaphile) to collect the 20 girls uniforms.  Bad news.  She wasn’t quite done and what was even more frustrating was that she hadn’t called us.  After much discussion, we took her around the corner to buy the material she needed to finish.  We decided that we would wait for her to finish hemming the uniforms and sewing on the buttons and then take them to Khalakhale.  They were missing belts, but we told her she could finish them and we would take them out next week when we have plans to go in that direction again.

Let me back up just a bit and confess that when I woke up this morning the last thing I felt like doing was getting out of bed.  I was dog tired and had no energy.  I made myself a cup of coffee (decaf) and sat down in my one comfortable chair in my very small living room which is literaly covered with plastic bags and piles of uniforms, jerseys and tracksuits.  I took a few deep breaths, layed my head back on the chair and prayed to God that He would give me the strength and energy I needed to get through the day.  I also prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill me with patience, calm, peace and joy so that this day could be a wonderful reflection of Jesus Christ to all that we came in contact with today.  I then finished my coffee, took a shower, ate breakfast and then realized that I was feeling better.

When we learned of the delay with the uniforms Thoko and I decided we weren’t going to let it ruin our day.  I told her what my prayer had been this morning and said that I think the Lord was making sure that we took some time to relax and enjoy each other’s company.  So what does one do in Manzini when you have an hour or so to kill?  Well, actually there was a lot I could have been doing, but it seemed like the perfect opportunity to go to Baker’s Corner to have some tea and relax with each other.

OK, so maybe we went a bit overboard with the "tea" but Thoko wanted chocolate cake so how could I not keep her company? And Thini almost always orders what Thoko does because I think she doesn't really know what to do. This put a nice spin on our morning and forced us to sit and relax with each other for a bit. How can one do anything else but sit and enjoy the moment when you are sharing chocolate cake with sisters??? And by the way, when you see me next..don't even mention that I have been "eating well" meaning I've gotten fat which is a complement in Africa. I've decided that when the Lord directs you to share a meal with dear sisters He also takes out the calories and the expanding dress size is just a fluke of nature!

When we finished our tea we still had about 15 -20 minutes before Phumaphile told us to come back for the uniforms so I went to CashBuild to order more blocks for the pump house at Salukazi Methodist Primary School.  While I was in CashBuild Thoko took the opportunity to run across the street to Pick ‘n Pay and buy a few groceries for her family.  Then we went to collect the uniforms.  Guess what?  The uniforms still weren’t quite finished.  We calmly decided to take what she had to see how they fit and then bring them back to be finished.   So we were off for the hour long drive to Khalakahle.  It was a nice drive:  the traffic was light,we didn’t get caught behind any very slow moving trucks,  there weren’t any cows on the road and there were no roadblocks.   Our day was definitely getting better.  It had also gotten warmer which was a good thing.

We arrived at Kalakahle about 12:45.  We were going to be there by 10:00.  The grade one and grade two students get out of school at 1:00.   We had called ahead to let them know we were going to be late and asked them not to let the children who we had been measured for uniforms a few weeks back to leave for home.  When we finally arrived it was a whirlwind of activity to gather the children and set out the clothes so that hopefully we could hand out the items in an orderly fashion.  Thank God that we had 3 or 4 teachers and a few of the rural health motivators ready to help us.  Many hands do make the work light.

The clothing was set up on tables around the room. The children were called in and gathered around the edge of the classroom.

When we first arrived at Kalakhale and the teachers saw what we had brought, one of the teachers asked Thoko is we had called Rev. Margaret Dlamini to come preside over the handing out of the clothes.  She said no, we hadn’t thought of it.  Rev. Margaret was the head teacher at Kalakhale when it first opened and only had two classrooms.  After she retired from teaching she went into the ministry and is now a retired Circuit Superintendent of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.  She happens to live quite near the school.  One of the teachers called her and she immediately came up to greet us.  Rev. Margaret looks like a typical old fashioned school teacher.  She has a stern face most of the time and doesn’t put up with nonsense but her heart is pure gold and when she smiles it comes straight from the heart.  As soon as I saw her we both smiled at each other and said “Awe!” and embraced each other.  It was such a sweet moment.  I just love this woman.  She’s taught me so much about the schools in Swaziland, I’ve been to her home many times, I went with Richard Bosart to visit with her dying husband just days before he passed away.  I took my son, Christopher, and his wife Jen to meet her when they came to Swaziland in February, 2010.  We have a bond that will never be broken.  I was so touched that she came, though I knew she would because that is who she is.

Thoko said one of the teachers also asked her why the media wasn’t called to publicize what we where handing out today.  She told the teacher that it wasn’t about publicity.  The day was about touching children’s hearts and the hearts of their parents and gogos.  It was about the love of Jesus not a story to be in the newspapers or on TV.  I was so proud of her!  I suppose we could have publicized it, but if we had it would not have been a special moment just with the children.  The focus would have been on the media and what they wanted.  It’s not the environment that Thoko and I wanted.  I feel strongly that the Lord hasn’t called me to say “look at what I can do or have done” but has called me to give what I can in a personal, one-on-one way while praising Him for the opportunity and giving all the glory back to Him.

Margaret blessed the uniforms, prayed for the kids, Thoko, Thini and I as well as thanking God for all of the “people in America” who have so graciously donated to my ministry.  I took a video of it, but don’t have the program needed to compress it to a size that I can post in my blog.  One day I will figure that out and post it.  Don’t hold your breath though unless you look real good in blue!

After the blessing Thoko explained how we wanted to proceed to make sure everyone got what was ordered.  It was a bit hectic in the beginning, but soon we all (including the kids) got the hang of it and things went quite smooth.  I was amazed at how few sizes needed to be changed.  I think we only have to get about 4 – 6 bigger size jersey’s for the biggest kids we had.  It was absolutely amazing.  I couldn’t believe it.

One of the teachers marking the child's name off the list for the item of clothing he was handing out. I had lists of everything and which children should receive what and in what size. I asked the adults to check the sizes on the child and to mark on the list what size the child took and what needed to be ordered. A good working knowledge of spreadsheets really helps!

The girls in their new jerseys holding a bag that contained their shoes, underpants, socks and shoe polish. They will get their uniforms (dresses) next Tuesday. It was interesting that although we had each child try on their new pair of shoes, none of the children would wear them home. Some of the smaller children had never had a pair of shoes. They held the shoes as if they were very fragile and worth a fortune which I guess they are in the eyes of a small child who lives in extreme poverty. We take so many things for granted.

The boys in their new jerseys, trousers and shirts. I'm not sure why the two boys in the front don't have their new uniforms on. They may not have wanted them to get dirty on the walk home. The adults in the picture are: Thini, front left; Rev. Margaret Dlamini back left (with read scarf on head); Me back right; Khanyasile Mastebula, teacher, to my right; Thoko front right.

Thini and I worked on handing out the boys jerseys.  Most of the boys tried on their jerseys before they went to get their trousers and shirts.  I would look as some of the torn, worn shirts and pants and want to just cry.  I had to remind myself that they would walk to the tables next to me and Thoko would give them their trousers and shirts.  I kept fighting the urge to walk them to Thoko and tell her to make sure this child got new clothes!

We actually finished around 3:30.  It is amazing that it only took us 2 1/2 hours to hand out all of those uniforms.  We had prepared ourselves to being there all day long.  God knew we didn’t have to be in such a rush this morning because all would work out perfectly.  I’m so glad He made sure we listened to him!

When all of the kids left, Rev. Margaret brought in a big pot of sour porridge she had made for everyone.  She didn’t know we were coming today, but when she saw the work we had before us (“God’s work”)  she went back to her homestead and brought us all nourishment.  Sour Porridge is made from milk fresh from the cow and then left out to sour.  It is then mixed with some mealie meal.  It is served at room temperature.  It looks like the large curd cottage cheese.  It is a favorite food amongst Swazis but for this American woman who doesn’t care for milk to begin with, I just can’t do this one.  I tasted some about 3 years ago.  It took all I could muster up to swallow it without gagging.  I did take a small taste on my finger of today’s sour porridge and I will admit it was much, much better than what I tasted 3 years ago.  Luckily I don’t usually take milk products anymore so Rev. Margaret remembered that I can’t drink milk.  I was more than happy to watch them eat!

I have to back up once again.  Because it was so cold this morning I thought this would be a good day to hand out some Methodist in Mission hats that I had been saving to give out during winter.  I gave Thoko and Thini their hats on the way to Kalakahle.  We also discussed who should get the rest of the hats.  We were having a problem deciding because we didn’t have hats for everyone we work with so it was difficult to decide who we wanted to give a hat to verses who we should give a hat to so they wouldn’t complain they were left out.  As everyone was they were eating their sour porridge I decided that I was going to hand out the hats to all that helped today.  If we didn’t have enough left over to give to other people, oh well.  Would you believe that we had exactly enough for everyone that helped today to get a hat!  It kind of reminds me of the loaves and fishes.  God always provides what is needed; no more, no less.

The women wearing their United Methodist in Mission hats. They really earned them today! What a blessing it was to once again be at this school! The small woman seated between Thoko and Rev. Margaret is also named Margaret Dlamini. She is the current head teacher. She has been so sick since last (northern hemisphere) fall. She is looking a bit stronger and better each time I see her.

I had the chance to talk just briefly with Margaret, the head teacher while they were eating.  I told her that One Child at a Time, One Heart at a Time wants to find a way to partner with them to enable them to better help their OVCs.  We will talk more about this in the days to come.  The smile on her face was priceless when I told her we wanted to assist them.  It was so precious.  I’m hoping this will give her more strength to get better.

I took Thoko and Thini home.  It gave us time to talk about our day and how blessed so many children were and how many homesteads we touched today.  We are so grateful that we got to be the hands and feet that made this happen.  We couldn’t have done it without each other and without God’s help.  We savored the precious time on our ride through the countryside talking about our day.  We all agreed that we had a very good day and the Lord blessed us so very much.  We serve an awesome, BIG God.  Nothing is too tough for HIM to handle – even over-tired missionaries.

God willing we will take uniforms and things up to Lomngeletjane Methodist Primary School on this Thursday and then take things to Salukazi Methodist Primary School next Tuesday.  And then this big but awesome task will be finished for this year.  We are walking in faith that we can do this again for many more children early next year.

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