I’m on my way!

As I write this, I am on the plane somewhere over northern Canada in route to my first stop in London Heathrow Airport.  From their I will fly to Johannesburg, South Africa and then take a shuttle (15 passenger van) from the airport to Mbabane, Swaziland. My heart is full of so many emotions and my mind is racing thinking of what lies ahead and what my American culture/brain wants to accomplish. I’m going to try very hard to stay in the realm of where my heart is leading.

This trip is going to be a bit unique. There will be the usual business things to take care of: make sure all of the receipts are in order from the previous year, paying school fees, getting whatever school supplies and uniforms our kids need, checking in with the schools, and of course spending time with my Swazi sisters who are the heart of One Child and our precious One Child kids and families. However, this trip brings a few unique situations.

One, there is a horrible drought and unusually hot weather that has been plaguing Swaziland for months.  Thank you global warming and El Nino. I will be staying with dear missionary friends in Mbabane, the capitol city, which has been under severe water rationing as the reservoir that they get their water from is for all intense and purposes dry. There hasn’t been enough rain and with the hotter than normal temperatures, the cattle have been dying and people can’t plant their crops because there is no rain.  It is so extreme that the Government of Swaziland is actually sending some of the elephants from protected game reserves to zoos in the US rather than put them down because there isn’t enough water and food to sustain them. They are trying desperately to save the endangered species of black rhino. I’m going to be very interested to see what the government is doing to save the rural people who live solely on the maize they can grow.

Two, I am so interested in learning more about University of Swaziland life, where our first One Child student is attending.  Bongiswa completed his first semester in December.  This young man comes from the rural area where he grew up without electricity, clean water, enough food to eat. His mother left the family and is working in a factory about 30 miles away, but doesn’t make enough money to send any home to the kids or to even pay her bus fare home to see them. His father has health issues but works when he can. Bongiswa is the oldest of 5 children. Imagine the adjustments this young man has had to make coming to live in the dormitory at the University and learning how to use the internet, study and live in a completely foreign environment. Considering all of this, he did well in his first semester. I am so excited to meet with him and learn more about University life in Swaziland.

Three, another one of our original One Child kids, Mthokozisi, who is now supported by the Methodist Women’s organization, has just completed his first semester at a two year technical college majoring in business. He sent me a message the other day telling me that he scored in the 80’s in all of his courses! Mthokozisi told me early in the first semester that he was the only one in the school that came from a “peri-urban” (I call it very rural) area. His teachers and fellow students were amazed that he was there.  We call Mthokozisi our “first son” because we met him when he was 14 years old and out of school. One Child has supported Mthokozisi and his family since 2008 and amazing things has happened for this family, including getting the children back together with their mother and supporting all 4 children in school. I can’t wait to see my eldest Swazi son and see what God has been doing in his life.

Four, there is Thoko.  She is an amazing woman. Next to my BFF Deb and Laura (who just happen to also be my fellow board members of One Child) she is my dearest soul sister. We have worked side by side since I met her in 2007. She has and continues to teach me more about Swazi life and culture as well as what it really means to be a Christian woman than anyone I know. She works endlessly for those who need help and support. She has never been to college and neither has any of her children, yet she has taken on the challenge of making sure Bongiswa has what he needs to succeed in college. I make suggestions and support her the best I can, but my experience is with US colleges, which I am sure are nothing live Swaziland colleges/university. Thoko and I not only share everything about our One Child kids, but we share everything about our families.  She prays constantly for my prayer requests in the US and she passes on her prayer requests and I pass them on in the US. Whether you are a Christian or not, I hope you can understand what the power of people interceding for your health and wellbeing can do for you. In addition, there is precious Thini who is another very amazing, hard-working, compassionate, Christian Swazi woman.

And finally, I am excited to catch up with my dear missionary friends.  We share a bond that is so precious.

So please stay posted. Depending on internet availability and my energy level (I am getting older every year, darn it.) I will try to send more blogs while I am in Swaziland so you can learn more about our kids and life in Swaziland. Please don’t forget to keep us all in your prayers and remember that it is your donations that change the lives of the One Child at a Time, One Heart at a Time children, family and volunteers.

Tears of Sadness Become Tears of Joy

November, 2009:  I was living in Swaziland preparing to return to the States to spend the Christmas holidays with family and friends as well raise funds for the following year’s support and projects. For several weeks Thoko had been asking me to look at a toddler* from a homestead near hers.  She was concerned because the child didn’t appear well, didn’t talk and her head was big. As my departure date grew nearer and our days were busier and busier, we finally set a date to meet at the hospital and clinic in Manzini. The morning we were to meet, the child’s Aunt (a child of about 8 or 10) carried the toddler to Thoko’s house for help.  The child was barely moving.  Thoko gave her something to eat, cleaned her up and found some clothes for her to wear.  She then brought her to the hospital to see the Doctor.  I arrived at the time we had to agreed to meet which was a couple of hours after she got there because we knew the wait would be long.

Normally, I didn’t approach a child to touch or hug them until they had warmed up to having this different looking (white) woman make faces and talk to them.  But when I saw this toddler, something in me couldn’t resist picking her up immediately.  Holding her was like holding a 2×6.  She was as stiff and still as a board.  She didn’t move a muscle during the 3-4 hours we waited for the Doctor.

The Doctor said she was severely malnourished but said there was nothing he could do because she didn’t have family that could stay with her in the hospital to take care of her.  The Doctor and I had a few words that were probably more appropriate in tone when I worked at IBM than they were as a female missionary speaking to a male African Doctor.  But he got the message and admitted her to the malnourished ward and ordered a hospital aid to take care of her.  He ran a bunch of tests and it was a miracle that they all came out ok.  Her big head? It was because her body was so emaciated.

I bought her some clothes and disposable nappies (diapers) and went every day for a couple of hours to see her.  I would change her, feed her but mainly I just held her, rocked and sang  “Jesus loves you” to her. (It was the only song I could remember the words to at that time!)  As she started getting stronger, she started humming with me and eventually started playing and even running. The other mothers that were staying with their babies on the ward would laugh as I did all of this.  They didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak enough SiSwati to know what they were saying.  One day they said something to me with stern faces.  The nurse’s aid told me they were saying I shouldn’t come and visit Nomile or play with her because she always cried when I left.  But after their stern message was delivered they all broke out in laughter.  A mother’s love is a mother’s love in any country, or language.

The question still remained: What was going to happen to this child?  She couldn’t stay in the hospital.  She couldn’t go back home because it was determined that she had been neglected and abused; left on her own to fend for herself and not be seen or heard.  The Doctor begged me to take her because he was convinced if she went back she would be dead within 6 months. I told him I couldn’t.  I was leaving for the States in a few days.  Social Welfare was trying to get involved but didn’t have transport to her homestead.  The day before I left for the States, I drove the Social Worker to Thoko’s house.  I stayed there while Thoko walked with the Social Worker and a representative of the Chief to the child’s “home.”   When all was done, and I was driving the Chief’s representative home and Thoko and I were taking the Social Worker back to the hospital, I understood enough of the conversation to know that the child’s grandparents and the Chief’s representative wanted the child to be returned to the area and that they wanted me to fund her care. I said no that wasn’t going to happen. After dropping the two off, Thoko and I sat in the car and just cried.   We didn’t know what was going to happen but we both knew that me paying for someone to take in the child was the wrong answer. I got on a plane to the US the next day not knowing what was going to happen.  Many tears of sadness were shed.

 

After the child’s grandfather realized I had left and meant what I said, he eventually signed away the rights to the child.  The Social Worker had just sent a orphaned child that was on the malnutrition unit to a children’s home in Mbabane so she called and asked if the home would take one more child.  I had met the woman who ran the home a few times but didn’t really know her.  In 2010 and 2011 I got to know her and the children’s home very well.  It was such a blessing to watch this child who was so dear to me start coming out of her shell.

Fast forward to the tears of joy:  Today I got an email from my friend who runs the home where this child lives.  Our little girl just finished second grade.  She got all A’s on her report card!  Over the years I’ve watched her go from a very cautious, quiet little girl to a loving, well behaved yet a little mischievous quite normal girl.  She is healthy, happy, has a great laugh and smile.  She loves to do extra chores to earn a sweetie (candy) or bag of chips.  When I saw her last May she even sang a song for us as we recorded it. Today’s report card is over the top!

Thoko and I have a strong faith which we share regularly.  Our faith has kept us going through many sad situations most of which have turned out for the better.  Not all have though.  We feel so blessed to have been a part of giving this child life and a bright future.  I want to shout it from the mountain tops, but alas, I will share it with all of you who have continued to give support through prayers and financial assistance.  This is one example of what your dedication has helped achieve for this one child.  God bless you and Merry Christmas.  Thank you Lord for hearing our prayers.

*The name of the child and the home she now resides in have intentionally been left off to protect her identity.

 

Things I am Thankful for

Today is Thanksgiving day in the US and I can’t help but think of all the things in my life I am thankful for. There are the usual things most of us are grateful for: Great parents, terrific kids that are genuinely good people, my precious granddaughter, the love and support of so many dear friends near and far, my home, enough food to eat and enough money to buy things I want instead of just need. I’m thankful I live in a country that has so opportunities for us all and that lets me have my beliefs, especially in God. But really, at the top of this list is the blessing to serve the Lord and his children in Swaziland as well as in South Africa and Malawi.

11-02-5 Thoko face -cI spent a good portion of my morning on the phone talking to my Swazi sister, Thoko. (And as my mother once wrote in her prayers: I’m thankful for the telephone!) We share things that sisters share such as how our family is doing, the weather, what is happening in our different parts of the world. Then our conversation always turns to our One Child kids. Here is just a snippet of what we talked about.

We talked about Bongiswa, the young man who just started University of Swaziland. He is studying hard and is determined to do well. He knows the sacrifice we are making so he can attending university and he is well aware of the hardship this opportunity creates for his special needs brother and two younger sisters who are back at home in the rural area without him to take care of them. He reminds us often that he w2014-02-03 Bongiswa lightened face -cill not forget and will not fail. Thoko and I talk about how the name “One Child at a Time, One Heart at a Time” came to be and how we have been able to help so many of our kids. We hold onto the vision that even if funding doesn’t allow us to continue with all of our kids, we have made a difference in so many children’s lives and hearts. Maybe, the last 5 years have all been about preparing for Bongiswa to be our “one child.” Once again, Thoko and I share how thankful we are and praise God for his wisdom and all He has given us. Both of our families have also benefitted from our relationship with each other and our different cultures.

We also talked about the horrible drought that is severely impacting Swaziland. It is too hot and dry to grow crops in most of the country because of lack of available water. Cattle are dying where they stand. I’m sure there are other deaths caused by the extreme heat and drought this year but those aren’t talked about. This leads us to talk about Christmas food parcels for our One Child families. We usually provide a small one each year and spend about the equivalent of $25 each. This year because of the rising food costs and the grave situation of our families we are going to look at individualizing our Christmas parcels more so that it better fits the needs of each family. A $25 food parcel for a family of two or three goes alot further than it does for a family of 5 or six kids. I told Thoko to price things out and give me her recommendations and we will adjust accordingly. We can’t just look away and ignore this need. We can’t feed them everyday, but we can give them a Christmas meal with enough for a few days of additional food. So if you are reading this, and are thinking what to buy for someone who doesn’t need or want anything, how about making a donation to One Child at a Time, One Heart at a Time in their name? The food goes a long way, but the knowledge that people care enough about them to make this time of the year special lasts forever.

Yes, I am truly blessed to have been able to serve the Lord and his children internationally and at home over the years. Living in another culture where the needs are so great and the resources so small is truly a life changing event. It has changed my heart and thinking in so many ways. I sometimes struggle being back in the US where we do pretty much everything in excess (except maybe taking care of others especially if they are different from us.) I never dreamed I would go to Africa and I never dreamed that 11 years after my first trip to South Africa I would still be so passionate about my life and work there. The Lord certainly did change one child and one heart big time.

Changing lives one smile, one child, one heart at a time

In August, 2014 I started volunteering with a small organization on Bainbridge Island, Island Time Activities. Their mission is to promote independence and empowerment for people with intellectual disabilities through social networking, community involvement, and personal skill development. We work to promote a sense of community, independence, friendship, and mutual respect, through a variety of programs based in our local community of Bainbridge Island and surrounding areas. Services are provided based on individual goals and interests, and are incorporated throughout program activities. Their motto is “changing lives one smile at a time.” I love it! No wonder we are such a good fit.

“My “work” if you can call it that, is to go hiking and then swimming with some of their members every Tuesday. Staff members lead the hike so I am really just hanging out with some really cool and special people. My Tuesdays with my ITA friends is a real close second to my days with my granddaughter! On our hikes we’ve talked about my work and life in Swaziland, as well as One Child at a Time, One Heart at a Time. The staff and many of the members have been so interested, wanting to learn more and even wanting to do something to help.

My Tuesday ITA friends and Lizzy on a hike last week.

My Tuesday ITA friends and Lizzy on a hike last week.

Once a month, ITA host a “Saturday Supper.” It is an evening where the members and their friends in other similar organizations can come and have a fun evening and dinner. Their program director and co-founder asked if I would come and teach them about Swaziland. We met several times and planned a Swazi meal, including mealy meal, for dinner. I put together a slide show of many aspects of Swazi life including videos of cultural dancing and African music. The energy and enthusiasm of this group was awesome. They were so interested in the pictures and stories and they asked really great questions. Even more impressive is they seemed to like the mealie meal. Hats off to Deb and the rest of the staff for putting together such a good representative of a Swazi meal for our dinner.

It was not only a fun night with my new dear friends, but such an inspiration. This small group of individuals want so badly to do something to help so they are going to do a couple of fundraisers to support our organization. This group may be small, and they might be a little bit different from most of us, but they have heart, soul and a strong desire to help others. Their energy and perseverance are infectious and inspiring. I am so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful organization and I cant wait to share their story with our Swazi volunteers and kids when I go to Swaziland the end of April.

For more information about Island Time Activities please check out their website: http://www.islandtimeactivities.org/

Lizzy helping me with the slide presentation.  She loves to help her Gogo!

Lizzy helping me with the slide presentation. She loves to help her Gogo!


Our attentive audience.

Our attentive audience.

IMG_0875 -c
Scotty admiring Swazi baskets

Scotty admiring Swazi baskets


Allie trying on one of my Swazi skirts.

Allie wearing one of my Swazi skirts.


Lizzy hanging out with her friend Jennifer.

Lizzy hanging out with her friend Jennifer.


Watch for further information about ITA’s fundraisers to help support our One Child, One Heart kids.

This is what keeps us going

I am embarrassed and feel so bad that I haven’t updated the website or written a blog in over two years. It is certainly NOT because nothing has been happening with our “One Child” kids in Swaziland. It is because it has been a hard adjustment being back in the States and not having the daily contact with Thoko Khumalo When I lived there we would talk almost everyday to plan, discuss issues, keep each other’s spirits up and to remind each other why we have been called to help “One Child at a Time (and/or) One Heart at a Time. I also felt that writing a blog wouldn’t be as meaningful since I didn’t live in Swaziland anymore. However, I go back each year to keep up the relationship with each of our kids, families, Thoko and our other volunteers (Thini and Sibongile). In addition, Thoko and I talk on the phone at least once a month. We talk about each one of our kids, their successes and challenges, and we discuss exactly how the funds have been spent for the previous month and what to expect for the next month. Thoko and I also send text messages back and forth in between our calls. We always have words of love, faith and hope for each other and our kids. Over the next couple of months I am going to work on updating our website and writing more blogs to share more of the incredible stories of our kids.

Through this ministry we have seen lives change in ways that is nothing short of a miracle. Other changes may not be so dramatic but have still been life changing for the kids, their family members, Thoko, Thini, Sibongile, the One Child board and I. Sharing these joys with others makes me happy and reminds me that I do have a purpose in life. I’ve also come to realize that not sharing these stories is like keeping the light under my bed, and that is not what Christ has called us to do. I was given the incredible opportunity to share the life and love of some pretty incredible people both young and old. I can’t let all that I learned through my experiences and all that One Child at a Time, One Heart at a Time is doing stay locked up in my heart and mind. So the following update on one of our precious kids is hopefully, the first of many more to come.

Nonjabulo is a young girl that a fellow board member, Deb, and I first met in September, 2009. She was 7 months old at the time and very, very sick. One night, I was leading a board meeting of one of the projects in Swaziland that I helped the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in Swaziland get started. It focuses on OVC elementary school age children assisting them with medical care, school fees and school uniforms. As the meeting was coming to an end, Thini asked if we would pray for her 7 month old granddaughter who was very sick with TB and reactions to the ARVs they had started her on. Normally, they don’t put a person, especially a young child, on both TB medication and ARVs together at the same time because they can make the person very sick. But this baby was so sick they had no choice. We were all so incredibly amazed and shocked that this dedicated, Christian woman who was working tirelessly for sick kids in other families and communities had not shared her granddaughter’s health issues. You can be sure that Deb and I made it a point to go over and meet this baby girl the next day.

Nonjabulo and I when we first met in 2009.  A few weeks after this I rushed her and her mom to the emergency room.  She was admitted, but the hospital was out of the antibiotic that would help her, so I walked to a pharmacy about 2 blocks away and for about $2.00 I was able to buy it and take it back to the hospital.  A few weeks later the hospital ran out of oxygen and we didn't think she would live through the night.  Several of us gathered around her, laying hands on her while we prayed and the next day she when we returned she had already started to improve.

Nonjabulo and I when we first met in 2009. A few weeks after this I rushed her and her mom to the emergency room. She was admitted, but the hospital was out of the antibiotic that would help her, so I walked to a pharmacy about 2 blocks away and for about $2.00 I was able to buy it and take it back to the hospital. A few weeks later the hospital ran out of oxygen and we didn’t think she would live through the night. Several of us gathered around her, laying hands on her while we prayed and the next day she when we returned she had already started to improve.

Since 2009 we have continued to pay for her medical expenses including transportation to come to the hospital to her ARVs. We also supplied her with powdered milk and a fortified porridge to eat every day so she could build up her immune system and take her ARVs. It hasn’t always been a smooth road. There were a few set backs. However, I am so happy to share with you that in January, 2015, Nonjabulo started the 1st grade!

Nonjabulo in her school uniform on her way to school!  If this little girl isn't a miracle, I'm not sure what would be!  Isn't she just adorable?

Nonjabulo in her school uniform on her way to school! If this little girl isn’t a miracle, I’m not sure what would be! Isn’t she just adorable?

Looking Back..

It is the week before Christmas as I write this.  The songs are declaring the love of God and the joy in our hearts as we anticipate the celebration of our Savior’s birth. We long to more fully experience Christ, not only at this special time, but throughout the year.  I am flooded with gratitude as I reflect on all that the Lord has blessed me with financially, physically and spiritually. I am sincerely grateful to be a member of First Church and all that it affords me and countless others.  We are a church family that is provided a wealth of opportunities to learn and grow as we journey with Christ and one another. We offer a beautiful sanctuary that serves as a beacon to those who are looking for hope or a church home.  Our place of worship is large enough to hold many events in our community.  We recently hosted the Annual Faith in Action Senior Access Concert. Choirs from ten churches in Round Rock performed songs of the season and then came together for a stunning finale of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.

One of the offerings of First Church that has brought me much joy and gratitude is UMW (United Methodist Women).  UMW is an organization here at our church, and is also found in many Methodist churches around the world.  It is a driving, moving force that functions within the Church, as well as globally.  UMW offers the opportunity to be in fellowship, study and serve with other Christian women.  One of our primary focuses is on women and children throughout the world who are oppressed, abandoned, or struggling to exist and take care of children.  It offers the opportunity for women of faith to be in supportive, creative fellowship with others.  Another primary purpose is to share the knowledge of God and the freedom experienced through Jesus Christ.  We work to expand the concept of service locally and worldwide.  I have memories of growing up in the church attending UMW meetings and functions with my mom.  I’ve had the pleasure of becoming a UMW member at First Church.  It was through my active involvement that I learned more about what it means to “be in mission” with women around the world.  It was at a UMW District Meeting that I heard a retired missionary speak about her work in Nepal. As I listened and pondered, I felt the spark ignite my inner-being and began to respond to the thoughts of “that’s what I want to do.”

As we fast-forward through a few years of years of my continued walk with Christ, I was privileged to receive many opportunities to serve God’s people through mission.  I found myself taking an early retirement from my job and going to Swaziland, Africa.  Through the generous financial and prayer support from UMW, individuals and other small groups I was able to serve as an “Individual United Methodist Volunteer in Mission”.  It is here that I developed relationships with Swazi Methodist Women through the local church. They desperately wanted to provide outreach and support but didn’t have the necessary resources.  I worked side-by-side with these women going out into rural areas where we visited and assisted some of the women and children with overwhelming needs.  There were those who were sick, poor, abandoned and orphaned. We traveled to the people and helped to provide some of the much needed food and clothing. We were able to help families bury their loved ones.  We prayed over and with multiple families, individuals, situations, and even houses.  We were able to assist children with the some of their countless needs so that they could receive an education.  This included school including shoes, tuition, transportation and more.  We also helped build a school and provide housing for its teachers.  An additional, highly spiritual outreach was the finishing of Mahlatsini Methodist Church.  I wish each of you could have been present with me the day the church was consecrated.  It was a very humbling worshipful experience to say the least.

Some of you were quite present with me as you sent your donations to assist in these outpourings of Christ’s love.  In addition, I was able to host several mission teams from Methodist Churches in the US.  These teams helped dig ditches, lay foundations, put up fencing, painted and taught VBS for children who had never experienced anything close to a VBS.  Seeing the delight of precious children hearing about Jesus and finger-painting for the first time was truly inspirational.  These groups provided all of their own costs and brought money to assist with the projects.  Much was accomplished through these dedicated groups.  It was not only life-changing for the Swazi’s but for the teams as well.

I lived in Swaziland for 4 years.  The church in Swaziland provided me with a small cottage and it truly became my home.  My goal now that I am back in Round Rock is to provide continued support for this ministry.  I am in frequent communication with the woman facilitating this mission while I am in the US.  She is my dear Sister-In-Christ, Thoko Khumalo.  She is extremely devoted to this cause and is a true servant of the Lord.  In addition to her many roles to keep the ministry  going, she leads a prayer group that includes prayers lifted for the lives of those here in the US that are requested through me.  What a gift it is to receive the power and love Christ Jesus!

I can’t begin to describe what it means to once again worship and be a part of my church home.  I’ll be returning to Swaziland for three weeks beginning the middle of January.   Word can’t describe how excited and blessed I feel to be able to go “home” to my Swazi sisters and kids.  Stay tuned to this website for future updates on our kids and to be introduced to new ones.

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.