UMVIM Team August, 2011

A team of six United Methodist women from California came to Swaziland to do a vacation bible school for the kids at Lomngeletjane.  They were in Swaziland for about 10 days, leaving about a week before I left for the States.

Their first Sunday in Swaziland they went to church up at Lomngeletjane.  After church we visited the Sandra Lee Centre in Mbabane.  (To learn more about the Sandra Lee Centre visit their website at:  http://www.sandraleecentre.org)  While at Sandra Lee Centre the team played with the children, read books to them, and some of the team members baked chocolate chip cookies with the older kids.  It was a fun afternoon.

The kids at Sandra Lee Center gathered around watching and waiting for their turn to help make the cookie dough.

John and Dolly with Becky showing off the first batch of cookies. They were yummy!

Team members Jane (l) and Aileen (r) reading books and talking with the kids. The kids love to be read to and loved having so many adults around to read to them.

Unfortunately on Monday morning it was raining very hard.  To get to Lomngeletjane you have to go up a hill using a dirt road for about 10 kilometers.  It is pretty much impassable when it rains a lot.  So we delayed the start of VBS until Tuesday.  When we pulled up to the school on Tuesday morning there were only a handful a kids waiting for us, but before the morning was over the number increased to 40.  On Wednesday we had 60 kids, on Thursday there were 75 kids and on Friday we had almost 100 kids.  Considering the fact that the VBS was held during a school break between terms and that there were only 150 kids total in the school, I would say we had very good attendance.

The theme of VBS focused on the principles behind Three Simple Rules of John Wesley's teachings: do no harm, do good and stay in love with God. Each day had a different theme verse which was added to the list on the Chalkboard.

Each day also had a story. To handle the language issues we had volunteers from the church and community to translate for us.

There were games each day. The kids in this picture were learning about relay games.

The kids in the rural areas don't get to play these types of games. Everyone had fun, including the adults!

What would VBS be without arts and crafts? These kids also don't get the opportunity to do arts or crafts. For many, if not all, this was the first time they were encouraged to express themselves.

The Swazi adults and translators wanted an opportunity to do the projects as well! They were as focused as the kids were!

On Thursday the groups were introduced to Play Dough. The kids thought this was really fun.

It was so fun to watch the children laughing and giggling while creating masterpieces.

We also introduced finger painting. It was amazing how many of the kids, especially the older ones, didn't want to put their hands in the paint. They have never experienced this and are never given the opportunity to just role up their sleeve sand get dirty for fun. It was fun watching their reactions and then seeing how creative many were.

After the first day, we started splitting the groups by age. We had four groups that rotated through all of the activities. I was so amazed at how still and quiet all of the kids, regardless of how young or how old they were, sat during the stories.

Each morning the children got in a big circle and we sang the Hokey Pokey. They thought this was hilarious especially since we (the crazy Americans) were doing it with them. After the Hokey Pokey they lined up in their normal before school "assembly" lines and we sang a few songs.

Friday's story (Daniel in the lion's den) was acted out by the team using pictures of the characters in the story pasted onto sticks. Guess what? The kids liked that too!

We had the kids color on Friday because we had to leave as soon as possible after VBS to go on home visits. Kids in the rural schools never get a chance to just color so it was a treat for them.

By Friday, most of the kids knew what was happening next. They had fun playing with the parachute.

The last thing we did each day before our closing assembly was to give the children and helpers lunch. Each child and adult received two sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a glass of fruit juice. We made the sandwiches each night for the next day and we had to estimate how many sandwiches we would need. Praise God we always had enough.

This little girls, Buhle, was about 18 months old when I first met her in August, 2007. Her mom said one of her first words, certainly her first English word, was Chris. She would say it when she would see me driving up to the school. In January, 2012 she started grade 1 at Lomngeletjane!

One last photo, just before dismal on the last day. The team is in the very back of the group. I think everyone had a good time and learned a lot. The head teacher couldn't believe how creative his children are.

After VBS we rushed back to St. Paul’s and gathered up food parcels and items of clothing to take with us on homestead visits.  We divided into two groups, each going to a different homestead.  Each group had at least one translator.  It was an eye opening activity for all.  Seeing the obviously poor kids at school and then seeing how the poorer people in the rural areas live are two very different experiences.  The later is overwhelming and makes one take stock of what we have and how much God has blessed us.

This was the homestead that my group visited. It was a gogo and seven grandchildren. Thini and Sibongile translated for us which gave the team the opportunity to ask questions while they were listening to the family's story.

Gogo with her seven grandchildren, all orphans. The kids are wearing the clothes we brought them.

 

Malawi July 24-Aug 4, 2011

I was going to skip sharing my Malawi experience, but it was too memorable a trip not to mention.  This was another experience of a lifetime that I was so blessed to be a part of.  Malawi is so different from Swaziland.  It’s hotter, drier and not as hilly.  Malawi is even poorer than Swaziland.  But the people are wonderful.  They love to dance, singing and wear beautiful brightly colored cloth.  I found it interesting that after living for four years in Swaziland, I felt like Malawi was more of what I pictured “Africa” to be.

I joined another non-profit, Drops of Grace, made up of friends from my home church in Round Rock, TX.  Drops of Grace partners with Theresa Malila’s Somebody Cares organization.  Somebody Cares is a Christian non-government organization that operates in the urban and peri-urban area near the capital of Malawi.  They have a staff of 13  and 300 community volunteers.  They work in the rural areas mobilizing the community volunteers to bring hope to the dying, sick,suffering, especially the vulnerable and orphaned children and widows.  Somebody cares seeks to restore a society that is broken and a generation that is dying.  They also provide education and create awareness of HIV/AIDS.

Here are just a few pictures from the 10 days I spent in Malawi. Okay, so here’s several pictures, but really, I did try to limit the pictures to just a few for each day.

A gathering of women discussing current issues.

Setting up for the first day of medical clinics.

Women lined up seeking medical care. The men in the community would sit in a separate area but were always taken care of first. Our "clinic" was in the small room to the left of the head of the line. The rest of the building appeared to be abandoned.

Day two. The women are beginning to assemble and get their spot in line.

The faces of the ladies getting anxious because the day is coming to an end. It was so hard everyday to walk away with so many people still waiting in line.

Day 3. This is a picture of the neighboring home.

Women washing clothes at the community bore hole / laundry station.

It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful the children are. It doesn't matter how dirty they are or how raggedy their clothes are. They are still sweet, adorable beautiful children with the most precious smiles.

After a busy, long day of clinic in one village we drove to another village to pick up the rest of the team. We ended up doing an impromptu clinic right out of the van. The elderly woman that Liz is working with was a very, very sick woman. Her grandson was going to have to take her on his bicycle to the hospital. The trip would take him at least 2 or 3 hours. We hoped and prayed that she made it.

Pre-school in this village! The number of children are incredible. The teachers had made charts out of cardboard and hung them on rope between the trees. Women were gathered on the left to learn to sew.

The women dancing at the end of the day. They were so happy with what they had learned in the sewing class.

A informal market along the side of the road.

This building was the village church.

There was lots of singing to welcome us by different groups within the church.

Day 6: Liz checking out a small child. Malawians suffer from the affects of HIV/AIDS and Malaria.

Day 7: The line waiting for the medical clinic in this village.

I loved working with the people. It's the personal connection that I love. It's amazing how much you can communicate when you don't understand the language. The women in the orange shirts are with Somebody Cares.

The lines at the Petrol Station. The economy is so bad that the country can't get loans from anyone. Therefore they are having an extremely difficult time getting Petrol and medicine. We were told several times that even if they get to the hospital, they usually don't have medication.

Our Kombie driver strapped these containers to the vehicle so that when he was finally able to get Petrol he would fill these containers too. People would wait in line for 24 hours. As a result of the Petrol crises, we spent a lot of time waiting for the vehicle to get filled up. You also wouldn't believe the number of people and things we crammed into one kombie just because of the issue of getting Petrol.

Our last day. The nicething about this village was that someone watched the door and only let in a new patient after the first one left. The bad thing was that we where in the hot sun all day long.

We started every morning with songs and a devotional. It was a great way to start the day.

Our great medical team!!!

Mahlatsini Methodist Church Dedication – July 23, 2011

It may seem strange that here it is March, 2012 and I am doing a blog on the dedication of Mahlatsini Methodist Church last July.  The reason is really quite simple.  I was so busy in July and until I left Swaziland on August 31, 2011, that I never got around to writing about it.  The organized and analytical side of me can’t write about the new things that are happening this year in Swaziland until I tell you about some of the main events that I missed sharing with you.

On July 23, 2011 The official dedication was held for Mahlatsini.  It was a race to get it finished before I left and to coordinate it with Bishop Siwa’s schedule.  Bishop Siwa was coming to Swaziland for a conference in July so he came in a day early so he could dedicate Lomngeletjane Methodist Primary School on July 19th and stayed an extra day to dedication Mahlatsini.

First, let me set the scene for you:  These first pictures were taken after the Lomngeletjane dedication late in the day on July 19th.  This left four work days until the dedication would happen at 9:00 in the morning on July 23rd.

This was the view when I first pulled up on the church grounds. I was so excited because the majority of the building was painted. I also marveled at the typical African scene of children or women carrying fire wood on their heads for that evening's meal. Life was good.

Then we walked inside. There was still a lot of work going on. I was a bit more concerned, but the light inside wasn't good and if I didn't look closely I was happy. It was going to take some deep breathing and a good amount of faith, on my part to believe it would be finished on time.

And then I started looking closer. None of the windows had glass panes in them. Indeed, most of the windows weren't plastered into the wall yet. After the plastering was finished and dried the walls and windows needed to be painted. I was not a happy camper. But still, what could I do? Offer up some prayers, turn it all over to God and then calmly with a positive attitude get in my bakkie and drive the hour and 15 minutes back home.

 Oki-doki!  I had lots to do because my time was getting so short in Swaziland.  The 23rd was not only the day of dedication.  It was also the day I was leaving right after the dedication to catch a plane to South Africa to join a team from my home town in the States on a mission trip to Malawi.  When I returned from Malawi I had just a few days before a from California came and then I had just a few days after the team left until I left for the States.  I really had no choice other than to be calm because there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

Early in the morning on July 23rd Thoko, Thini and I headed out to Mahlatsini.

Can you imagine how excited Thoko, Thini and I were to see this beautifully finished building? This was nothing short of a miracle!

Didn't they decorate the inside beautifully? I was so surprised and very, very pleased.

Bishop Siwa starting to unveil the dedication plaques.

Bishop Siwa knocking three times on the door claiming the church in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

This is Fikile. I had visited her several times over the years at a school for the handicapped near Manzini. I didn't know she went to this church until after we started the building. In the planning stages I said I wanted a ramp so the gogo's could get into the building. Fikile was so excited to be able to enter her church on her own!

Rev. Nyameka saying a few words about the church and inviting us all to enter.

I am speaking to the congregation and Nomsa Hlope is translating for me.

The kids are sitting up in front at my request. I also asked that the gogo's sit up front. This is not the way the seating traditionally goes but they did as I asked. When I was speaking to the congregation I told them that it was the gogos, women and the children that touched my heart, and that is why I finished the church for them - so the elderly would have a decent place to worship and the children would have a place to come and learn about Jesus and also learn basic education concepts so they would be better prepared to go to school. I was pleased.

When the service was over, we were all served lunch.  Thoko, Thini and I had to take ours to eat on the go because I had a plane to catch.  We walked out a door on the side to avoid the crowds.  This is what I saw:

The glazier still putting in windows! That is also when I realized that none of the windows had glass in them! They had opened them up so no one would notice. You gotta love Swaziland!!! We laughed about that all the way home. You will be happy to know that when I went back to check on things the second week in August, the work had all been finished.

Back in Swaziland

I returned to Swaziland on February 15th, 2012.  The time has flown by.  In many ways it seems like it was just yesterday when I left Swaziland last year instead of it being 6 months ago.  I also can’t believe that I will be returning to the States one month from today.  All of this is so surreal to me.  It continues to feel like a dream come true.  Oh wait a minute…it is! I continually thank God for the blessings he has showered on me by allowing me to come here to serve His people and for the amazing friends and family he has given me in Swaziland.

Returning to Swaziland was like coming home.  It was so good to see my Swazi and missionary family.  Being here feels so comfortable and I find a peace in knowing I am right where the Lord wants me for now.  Somethings haven’t changed a bit:  The needs are still enormous.  The hills and flowering trees and plants are so colorful that words or pictures could never do justice to the beauty of God’s creation.  The Kombies are still dangerous and over crowded.  The Swazi newspapers still report things that are more along the lines of The National Enquirer than a real “news” paper and the grammar is still so horrible half the time the articles don’t make a bit of sense.  Protocol is still more important that substance or productivity and there are still cows,  slow moving vehicles and people that clog the roadways.  The disregard for stop lights, especially for pedestrians is still the norm and the politics and gossip within the Methodist Church is the same even though the Superintendent for the circuit has changed.

However, many things have changed a lot:  Trucks from an Iron Ore mine that was reopened towards the end of last year have destroyed the highway between Mbabane and Manzini and clog the traffic from Manzini to the eastern border with Mozambique.  The roads have become even more dangerous and impassable than last year.  It seems like there is a lot more building going on in spite of economic issues.  I’ve seen some wonderful improvements and progress at Lomngeletjane Methodist Primary, Salukazi Methodist Primary and Khalakahle Methodist Primary schools.  And the kids from the Sandra Lee Center have grown and learned so much!

My sister, Thoko, has done an absolutely marvelous job of keeping things going and watching after “our” kids while I was in the States.  She is one dedicated Christian woman with a heart that wants to emulate Christ as much as she can.  Three days a week we go about doing our business of catching up with the schools and kids and planning for this year.  Part of the time I am teaching her how to do the record keeping in a way that should be a bit easier for her.  We are both treasuring our precious little time together.

Thini is having some health issues.  I’m trying to do my best to help her get proper medical treatment, but that is a slow, frustrating process in this country.  Medical treatment and medication may be dirt cheap in this country, but getting what you need takes a long, long time and much patience.  Still, it is so good to be with my sister.

I have so many stories to tell.  Eventually, I will get the website updated and write blogs showing our projects and kids.   In the meantime, please continue to pray for my family and friends in Swaziland, our kids, the church, the teachers, those in authority and this country.  I ask for special prayers for the funding to come for the projects and kids we have committed to help this year.   We need about an additional $7,000. to do all we have said we would do.  Thoko asked me what we are going to do.  I told her we are going to continue our work in faith that the funds will come.  God has always touched peoples hearts and the funding has always come through.  I firmly believe it will happen again.  The Lord has continued to let us touch one child, one heart at a time for over 4 years.  I believe we now need to take things one day at a time stepping out in confidence that the Lord will provide.  I will be returning to the States on April 10th.  If you are part of a group and would like me to come share my Swaziland experience with you,  please let me know.  I would also welcome help in fundraising, especially if you are willing to take the project on!

Thank you all again for this opportunity.  God bless you for the prayers and support you continue to provide.  Know that there are many happy, smiling, healthy and appropriately dressed children in Swaziland.  There families, teachers and community members thank you and ask me to pass on blessings to you.