Thursday, November 29, 2007

Yesterday (Wednesday) was a “meeting” with the Bishop in Ermelo, South Africa, about two hours from Manzini. All I knew it that there were six of us going and therefore I was going to have to drive. Rev. Ngema said we should leave at 7:30 am. I wasn’t real thrilled to be going. One reason is I had made plans to have someone help me apply for my work visa before I come home for the holidays. Wednesday afternoon was the only time she could assist me. Also, Wednesday morning is my bible study and I would have to miss it which was the last one before leaving for the States. And, I must say, I have been getting increasingly more irritated with “things” in Swaziland. I miss home more than ever, probably because I can allow myself to miss it since I am coming home. This week has been full of ups and downs, but Wednesday morning I was particularly down.

Rev. Ngema called about 7:00 am and said someone wanted to meet with him at 7:30 so we would leave at 8:00. That was great. It gave me more time to relax and try to get more up beat. I had cut my prayer time short to be ready, so I had a few more minutes given back to me. I went to the church to pick up my car at 8:00 and there wasn’t any sign of anyone. Irritation set in. About 8:15 Rev. Ngema came out of his house and said he was still waiting on two of the people to come so I should get Siphiwe and Kabella and go on ahead. That was fine because I know the way to Ermelo.

The morning was cold and drizzly. On the way up the mountains to the border and then for a long way once we were in South Africa the fog and clouds were very thick. There were periods of outright rain. It was beautiful though. It reminded me of Northern California with the trees, mountains, green grass and thick, thick fog. It made me more homesick. It brought back so many memories of my childhood through adult years. We drove most of the way in silence. Siphiwe and I talk when we are alone, but Siphiwe and Kabella don’t talk much when they are around each other even though they are roommates. In a way I was glad, but in another way it just made me feel more alone and out of place. I was alone with my thoughts which I was struggling to keep somewhat positive, or at least not negative.

We arrived in Ermelo about an hour early. Come to find out none of us knew where we were going or what time we were really supposed to be wherever we were supposed to go to. (This is Africa.) Luckily we were able to get a hold of Rev. Ngema and find out the restaurant we were supposed to meet at. (This was no minor miracle since Swaziland phone cards don’t work in South Africa.) The occasion was not a meeting, but a thank you lunch for the clergy and their wives in Swaziland and a few of the neighboring communities. The restaurant was very nice. South Africa is such a different world than Swaziland. It never ceases to amaze me how different the two countries are. The Bishop thanked the clergy and the wives that were present for their service. He also introduced me – the missionary to Swaziland – and said some very kind words and thanked me leaving my home and family to come serve. I don’t think of myself as a missionary and I certainly wasn’t feeling very “missionaryish” at that moment, but I appreciated the kind acknowledgement. The luncheon was very nice, but I felt very isolated, alone and mixed up. It was very interesting to watch the two worlds trying to come together, but still staying very separate. The white clergy and wives pretty much all gathered together and were obviously all good friends. The black clergy, who were probably all from Swaziland, all stuck together on the other side of the room. Juliet, one of the local pastors from St. Paul’s and I sat together, but both of us were pretty much ignored by the other pastors and the two wives. I’m sure the Bishop could tell I wasn’t really part of either side and could probably sense my mixed emotions. He came over to me and asked me how I was doing. At first I fought back tears trying to say “I’m doing okay,” but then I had to admit that I had been struggling the last couple of days. He asked if I had water in my cottage, and I told him yes, I had it again. He then suggested that part of what I am experiencing is culture shock. It usually hits 2 – 4 months after someone has arrived in a country and is a general irritation of the way things are done or not done. He reminded me that Rev. Ngema is getting ready to leave his post on December 1st so things are a bit more out of sync than usual. His words helped, but it was just one of those bad days.

When the luncheon was over, the three of us drove home in more silence. At one point I put on my sun glasses even though it wasn’t real bright out, but I wanted to hide the tears that just kept coming. By the time we arrived home I was tired, drained and had a headache. After sitting for awhile, I amazed myself by getting up and doing a few things in preparation to start packing. I went to bed but I didn’t sleep very well. I woke up tense and grumpy again.

I had things on my schedule for today that I wanted to accomplish before I leave to come home. Especially since Rev. Ngema is leaving and they are trying to get things organized and cleaned up for the new Superintendent. I needed to make it an early, fast, productive start of the day. However, once I started writing in my journal and praying, I just kept at it until I was ready to stop. All of a sudden, I didn’t really care what time I started to do other things. I needed my time with my journal and my God. I then went for my 20 minute walk around the soccer field next to my cottage. I could feel my shoulders relaxing as I walked. I had a great shower (Thank you Lord!), took the time to check my e-mail and was blessed to have notes from a few of my friends anxious for my visit home. My day started later than I wanted it to, but when it is all said and done I still managed to accomplish what I wanted to. As I drove first to Lomngeletjane (the new temporary school) to take them some food and then out to Khalakahle Primary (my favourite school) to take them some donations of books, I was in awe of the beautiful country side. The crops are beginning to grow and they finally got some rain out in the low veld near Khalakahle so the countryside was green. Once again I realized how much I have come to love certain things about this country. The children’s faces are so beautiful and they smile so easily. The head teacher was so happy to see me and of course was grateful for the books I brought. She wished me a very safe journey and happy holidays with my family and friends back home and said she is looking forward to seeing me when I return in January. That meant a lot to me.

When I got back to St. Paul’s I called a friend who is with Children’s cup to ask about someone she said they use to help get people’s work visas. The person called me back immediately. He has already come by to pick up all of my paper work. He is going to walk it through the process while I am gone. Hallelujah! This is another very big and important to-do off my list. St. Paul’s is a buzz of activity as everyone is preparing for the farewell service, meeting and celebration for Rev. Ngema on Saturday. Many of the people I have come to know were at St. Paul’s busily working so I was able to say “hi” and chat for a bit with many of my new friends. What a difference 24 hours makes. What a difference prayer makes. What a difference it makes to open up and let the tears out so that the beauty and joy could come in. I hear the little voice saying “you are not alone” and realize how blessed I am to have people in the United States who love me and are praying for me and people in Swaziland who are doing the same.

Please pray for me as I prepare to leave Swaziland and pray for travelling mercies as I fly from Manzini to Johannesburg and then after a 5 hour layover fly to Washington/Dulles with just two hours to clear customs and catch my flight to Austin.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Mawelawela Women’s Correctional Institution

I had the most amazing morning this morning. I was one of about 10 women from different denominations who visited Mawelawela Women’s prison to bring the inmates gifts, cakes, and worship with them. Unfortunately, this is one of those occasions when even if I could have taken pictures, it wouldn’t have been appropriate. This was the time to experience the moment up close and personal, not behind the lens of a camera.

I have never been to a prison before. I so admire people who do prison ministry, but the thought of it scares me to death. I think mainly because I wouldn’t know what to say or do and I am afraid I would say or do the wrong thing. So the way the Lord gets me to reach out to those who are imprisoned is to bring me to Africa, put me in a prayer/fellowship group of women who go at least once a year. The words “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Mt 25:45) kept going through my head. So I graciously accepted the invitation to go. I was nervous at the first thought of it, but I went with a deep sense of peace.

The prison is nestled in the hills out in the countryside of Swaziland. It is in the middle of very fertile farmland. We have had so much rain that everything was green and beautiful. We pulled into the prison and on top of the green gardens and hillsides there were beautiful multi-colored flowers and plants lining the road and path ways to the various buildings. Everything was kept very trim and clean. The guards and wardens were very pleasant and welcoming to us. They all had on a green skirt suite uniform with a black hat. They were very official looking and very impressive. Their welcoming smiles and greetings were very incongruent with their formal appearance. There were the obvious signs that we were in a prison - the tall fence with lots of razor wire looped around the top and the two sets of locked doors we had to walk through to get into the prison courtyard, which was also beautifully maintained.

There were about 60 women. All were dressed in a burnt orangeish-brown dress uniform. (Pants are generally not acceptable dress for women in Swaziland.) The funniest part was that those who were wearing sweaters under their uniform had a black and white striped sweater on under their uniform. If a prisoner has a child under the age of two when she is sent to prison or if she gives birth while in prison, the child stays with the mother until she is two when she must leave to stay with relatives. There were close to a dozen children under the age of 2 present.

We had our worship and fellowship in the dining hall. When we entered it, everyone was sitting patiently at the tables. There were guards sitting around the perimeter. The room was simple, with a high pitched ceiling and furniture that was anchored to the floor. The room had windows on three sides. The room was spotless. You could have eaten off of the floor. We brought in boxes and bags full of cakes, cookies, individual size bags of chips as well as individual bags each containing a washcloth, soap, Vaseline (for their skin) and a little booklet with a testimony about turning one’s life over to Christ. We also had stuffed animals and baby clothes for the children.

After we got everything situated, we started singing praise songs. The prisoners led the singing. As I watched the prisoners and guards joining in praise and worship, singing and dancing I could hardly contain my tears. The joy on many of the women’s hearts was overwhelming. The dancing of some of the guards and the warden is something you would just have to see to believe. We sang a couple of American praise songs and a couple of Christmas carols. There were a couple of testimonies and a short scripture reading with a sermon of sorts. When we were finished, the ladies came in a line to receive their gifts and so we could give each one of them a hug. Then they got plates and piled them high with cakes and cookies. And then it was quiet.

The women were so genuinely happy to have the time to worship. I think they were probably also so eager for that personal touch – the hug with the few simple words of “God Bless you.” It was so hard not to cry. I enjoyed receiving each and every hug as much as I enjoyed giving them. We were there for probably 2 ½ hours. In black Africa, you just can’t worship God in anything under that! On our way out, the Warden proudly showed us the building where the ladies sleep and the crèche for the children. I think the time there was as much of a lift for the guards and wardens as it was for the women. It was a prison and while I saw many sad eyes I saw so much love and gratefulness on the faces of each woman – inmate or guard. In a way I would have loved to hear each of their stories, because you know they all have them. But on the other hand, that wasn’t what I was there fore. Their story is really irrelevant. They are a child of God away from their family. That is all that matters.

I thought we would have some one on one time with the women, which not only frightened me because I wasn’t sure what I would say, but I was looking forward to it. We didn’t really have that one on one time, but the time we shared in song, dancing and worship was so precious. I wish you could see the video that is stored in my brain and in my heart. This was just one more day that I felt so honoured to be in Swaziland receiving God’s gift of love and fellowship.

Praise be to God!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The events of the last few days have been overshadowed by rain and car problems. My car overheated again on Thursday. We (Siphiwe and I) were stranded out in the middle of no where trying to figure out what to do. We finally decided we had no choice but to drive it a little further to see if we could find a house with water tanks or something. We found a small store that had a water tank truck in front of it. Luckily they sold us some water from the truck. Those that were in the store were right there with their buckets catching everything everything that came out that we couldn’t catch or use. I had to stop one more time before eventually making it back to St. Paul’s. By the time we got back I was hot, tired and not very thrilled about my car. I SMS’d Teresa to tell her I couldn’t attend the Thanksgiving dinner, went home to shower, but there wasn’t any water. I was a real happy camper. Luckily my best friend Laura called from California to wish me a Happy Thanksgiving. It was 7:00 am her time, so she got to wake up to my tale of woe. Bless Teresa’s husband because he dove down Mbabane to pick me up so I could join them all for Thanksgiving dinner. It was wonderful even if I was hot and sweaty. Another couple brought me home. Coming down the mountain from Mbabane to Manzini it was very foggy. Then just as they reached my place it started raining. It thundered and rained all night long.

Friday morning was clear, hot and muggy and I had a car to deal with. It was clear that the person who looked at my car didn’t really know what was going on or how to fix it and it was also clear that I needed a radiator shop. However, I had been given the name of a good auto repair store in Matsapha (which is where the radiator shop is also). Matsapha is an industrial town not too far from Manzini. The guys wouldn’t take me to the auto repair place I wanted them to take me to (I don’t think they knew were it was but wouldn’t say.) but they did lead me to the radiator store. A big guy came out to look at it and said “take off the radiator cap and there won’t be the pressure on the radiator. It will be fine.” Well you can imagine I almost lost it. I didn’t, but they knew I was not happy about what they were doing and the fact that they hadn’t taken me where I asked to go. Friday was not my day of patience especially for auto repair Swazi style. Either the owner heard my response to their “solution” or happened to see a white woman at a car with three Swazi’s and decided he better come and see what was going on. Luckily he seemed to be knowledgeable, explained things that were along the lines of what I thought I knew, and he was very professional. The bad and good news is the radiator has to be replaced. I hope he doesn’t find anything else wrong.

I called one of my friends from bible study to come bring me home. I was so blessed that she could drop what she was doing and drive all the way to get me. She took me to the ATM in Manzini so I could start getting the money together for the repair bill. We forgot, the 23rd, a Friday, is a payday in Swaziland. The lines at the ATM were very long. When I finally got up to the ATM, I pulled out the daily limit from the Swazi account I am using and then tried to pull the rest out of my US account. I forgot the pin. Great. (I think I have since remembered it, but now I don’t have transportation back to the bank to try it.) My friend took me home and I just sat down and decided to read a novel that one of my friends in the States sent me. It was wonderful to bury all my thoughts into the characters lives in a book. It was almost as good as going to a movie, except that this took longer, which was even better.

It rained again Friday night. I got up Saturday morning and didn’t have even a drop of water in my place. Go figure. It had been raining and it was still misting, but I didn’t have water. The mist continued most of Saturday until the middle of the afternoon when it started raining hard again and continued raining hard into the middle of the night.

The rain provided me a good excuse to curl up on my sofa chair and read until my book was finished. It was a treat.

The bad thing about the rain is that there was a church dedication of Nsuka Methodist Church which is in the hills about 12 or 15 km from here. And of course about half of the road is dirt. Because of the rain they weren’t able to completely finish the church, but the dedication and celebration went on anyway. This church is a very unusual design. It goes with the slope of the mountain. Therefore, the inside has natural stadium seating (benches) sloping down to the front of the church. The congregation has about 200 members. The church also had more children than I have seen at any of the church functions. They were so excited. It was a great service. The food, of course, was amazing. The ladies had to cook it in the old sanctuary because of the rain. Then they quickly cleaned it out and set up tables for the honoured quests to eat. Right as we pulled out of the church grounds to head back, it started raining pretty hard. I watched the torrents of rain washing down around my cottage for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. It was amazing. I hope the lowveld received some of this rain.

So far today there hasn’t been rain and I have had water. Luckily I have enough food in my refrigerator since I don’t have transport. Please pray that my car is fixed in the morning, that the overheating didn’t cause other issues and that I can find someone to take me to the bank and then to pick up the car.

This has not been the most encouraging or heart warming last couple of days. This is Swaziland. Nothing makes sense sometimes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Top ten things I'm thankful for in Swaziland:
10. For the days that I have water and hot water.

9. For my fan and mosquito net because it is so hot here and more humid than I expected. Obviously I misunderstood the answer to my question about the weather in Swaziland. “Compared to Houston, heat is relative.” I was so silly thinking that sentence meant it wasn’t too hot or humid here.

8. For the most beautiful trees with red blooms. The common name is Flamboyant tree. How appropriate.

7. For the encouragement of my new friends as I try to learn a few words and phrases in Siswati. They are so supportive, especially the young night guard for the church grounds. I am thankful that he got over a long illness and is back at his post!

6. For e-mail and the internet so I can communicate with my dear friends and family.

5. For the many people I have come to know and love in Swaziland.

4. For the opportunity to be serving in Swaziland.

3. For the Petrol station attendant and the two kombie drivers who were polite, concerned and honest when I drove my steaming car into the first Petrol station outside of Mbabane before Manzini last night after dark. I thank the Lord for my safety, their help and honesty and that the long drive on a very overheated car didn’t seem to do any damage.

2. For all of you who support me through financial donations and prayer. Your support has gotten me through many tough, frustrating ti
1. And what am I most thankful for? For being loved by a God who hears each and everyone of my prayers and thoughts and who answers my prayers, sometimes before the prayer even leaves my lips or is written down in my journal. I realize his timing is perfect and I thank him so for that. I also thank him the gift of his son, Jesus Christ. God is so great!

How will I be celebrating Thanksgiving in Swaziland? I will awake sometime before 5:00 am and probably get out of bed a little after 5:00. I will do my daily devotion, pray and write in my journal while I drink a cup of instant coffee with hot chocolate mixed in. I will eat some breakfast and then around 7:30 am, Siphiwe and I will travel to two schools and a care point to deliver completion certificates I made for all the seventh graders who are leaving primary school this year. I will also take some miscellaneous text book donations to the schools. I will deliver a few stuffed animals and balls for the carepoint. One of these schools is the furthest away from St. Paul’s. I am hoping to be home by around 2:00 and I’m praying I will have water to take a shower because the day will be very hot and dusty. Than I will drive to Mbabane for a thanksgiving dinner, complete with Turkey and stuffing, with American friends and their families who are doing mission work in Swaziland. I will come home after dark, check e-mail and go to bed because Friday morning will come bright and early. Please pray for travelling mercies, especially in the dark.

I hope you all have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving and that you take this opportunity to think about all that you are thankful for.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
Come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his
people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Psalms 100

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Today was a special event at St. Paul’s. There was a special communion service and lunch for the Gogo’s (grandmothers or old person) and shut-ins. My dear friend Thoko and I went to St. Joseph’s school for the handicapped and brought two of the residents that St Paul’s congregation sponsors. They were both so excited to come to church. They are both in wheelchairs and don’t get the opportunity to get out much. This was the first time either of them had been to St. Paul’s. I had met the boy, Silumbi on two other occasions. Once at his homestead and once when Thoko and I had dropped of clothes for them at St. Joseph’s. He didn’t speak either time. Today, however, he and Fikile (the girl) were very talkative in the car to and from St. Paul’s. Fikile was so excited she could hardly contain herself!

This was another one of those situations where I didn’t know what to expect. And once again I was amazed at how well everything worked out. We drove into St. Joseph’s not knowing where to pick up Silumbi and Fikile but saw them sitting in their wheelchairs ready to go (of course, we were 30 minutes late.) Then I wasn’t sure how we would get them into the car. However, I didn’t have to worry long about that. Thoko went off to look for the matron and Fikile, even though she didn’t speak any English, proceeded to instruct me on how she would get into the car. She did it like a pro. Then Silumbi followed suit. I was trying to put the wheelchairs in the back of the car by the time Thoko returned. She couldn’t have been gone 5 minutes!

When we got to St. Paul’s, Thoko had a young woman’s Manyano uniform for Fikile. She changed into it and was oh so proud. We helped them into the sanctuary and sat up front in the area where all of the honoured guests were to sit. I was amazed that Fikile knew most if not all of the words to the songs and sang beautifully. She knew exactly what was going on and when it came time for communion, she didn’t hesitate at all to push herself to the alter rail. When we entered the sanctuary we placed Silumbi on the right side with the men as is customary in the black Methodist churches in Africa. Silumbi wasn’t as familiar with what was going on as Fikile was and of course the men, being men, didn’t tell him what was going on. I went over and pushed him to the alter rail for communion. It must have been his first communion because I had to show him what to do, but he watched me and followed my lead very well. You could tell he was very happy.

Another precious moment was when Rev. Ngema asked for a young person to come up and say a few words of thanks or tribute for Gogos. (I am assuming this is what he asked for based on what happened, the laughter and the little bit I did understand.) The person who stood up first and came right up front was Gogo Simelane. This is not unusual for Gogo Simelane to come up and praise the Lord for many things, but everyone laughed when she got up first to speak on this occasion. Rev. Ngema said she was indeed a young one. She was only 12 years old – 12 years minus 100 years! This woman has so much energy. At 88 years old she runs circles around everyone. She is definitely one of my heroines. At the end of the service, he commanded them all that they must live to be 100 years old as one of the scriptures readings said (Isaiah 65:20).

Another sweet moment came at the very end. The last thing that was done at the service was for all of the children to come up front and kneel at the alter rail. Rev. Ngema then went and gave each child a piece of candy, just as he gave out the elements of communion. Each child held the piece of candy in their hands until everyone received one. Then Rev. Ngema blessed them all and the children then stood to return to their seats, some putting the candy into their mouth on the way but others taking it back and showing their mothers before eating it. Thoko said it was “children’s” communion. It was very sweet.

As we took Silumbi and Fikile back to St. Joseph’s they talked about how good it was to come to a Methodist service instead of the Catholic service they attend at the school because they don’t really understand the Catholic rituals or know what is going on. (this was translated for me, of course.) I could relate to their feelings. I can’t wait to come home and worship in familiar surroundings. Crossroads AM, here I come! They said they hoped they could come back soon. That of course is my que. I’m sure before too long the McLain Kombi will go pick them up for another visit. It was well worth the drive time out and back to see their faces during the service.

Glory be to God!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This is Swaziland

Today I had the privilege of “transporting” Gertrude, Thoko and Juliet to the homestead of one of the church members that was far out a dirt road in the country. I’d love to tell you which direction it was from Manzini, but I don’t have any idea. I do know that it took us 50 minutes to get there and was 25 km from Manzini. Gertrude and Thoko are two wonderful Manyano (Methodist Women’s organization) ladies. Juliet is also a Manyano lady, but is now one of the Central Circuit’s Evangelists. In the Methodist Church in Swaziland, evangelizing isn’t about standing on a street corner trying to bring groups of people to Christ and start a new church. It is about bringing people to Christ, or helping them remain in Christ by acts of love, kindness and service. Evangelists go visit people in their homes, pray for them and bring the word of God to them on a personal scale. We were on a mission of love, delivering some clothes, a little food and visiting with them. Juliet conducted a small worship service. This is one of those occasions that it didn’t really matter what the scripture, song or mini-sermon was about. I knew it was about the love of God and I could feel the Holy Spirit upon us. It was such a blessing to be sitting under the trees, on a straw mat worshiping our Lord and Savior in the middle of nowhere in Swaziland. I found myself wishing that I could have a picture to remember this occasion by. If only there was a way to play back the video of such occasions that are stored in my mind. I briefly thought of getting up and taking a picture, but that would have been too much of an intrusion. I would have felt like a paparazzi.

This homestead had 3 or 4 huts. There is no water, electricity or other “essentials” in life. One of the members of the homestead is a beautiful handicapped young woman (21 years old). When we arrived at the homestead she was so excited to see us, but you could tell she was embarrassed because she wasn’t dressed up and in her wheelchair. Thoko, Gertrude and the women helped her change into a dress and put her into her wheelchair before Juliet and I could meet her. Juliet and I were shown to a mat under a tree. While we waited Juliet told me about different aspects of Swaziland culture. She explained how all of the sons of a family remain on the same homestead. They build separate huts to sleep in with their wife and individual families, but they all cook and eat together. It was interesting to hear that she didn’t necessarily think that was they way it should be because brothers can end up getting mad at each other and end up hating each other. Yet they continue to live on the same homestead and just won’t speak to each other. In addition, if a family has only girls or if the grandparents and parents die leaving only young children, sometimes the homestead “just goes away.” Generally single women and children cannot maintain a homestead by themselves for a variety of social, economic and safety reasons. Juliet thought we had a better idea in the United States where families move a little bit away from each other and then when they see each other there is still love. I thought to myself, if only that were true. Unfortunately all too many times families, mine included, move hundreds and thousands of miles away and rarely see each other. I also thought that even when brothers move away from the homestead, they can still get mad at each other and never speak to each other. If only we could all learn from each others cultures to create a more perfect family unit.

As the chickens, roosters and baby chicks wandered around us Juliet and I talked about many other little things in life. She pointed out the clay pots that are still used for cooking over the open fire because the cast iron pots are too expensive. She also told me why you will see old automobile tires up in trees and on roofs. She said some believe that will keep lightening from striking the homestead or house like how you are protected in an automobile during a lightening storm because of the tires.

This day was not a day I did my “work”, whatever that is, but it was a day truly orchestrated by God. The only way to get to this homestead is by automobile or to take a bus that occasionally goes down the road and then walk a couple of kilometres from the main road to their homestead. The ladies have done this before, but it is very difficult especially when they want to bring items for the family and the weather is as hot as it is now. I told my dear friends that I hope they will allow me to provide the transport for them to go visit more families while I am here in Swaziland. I am so honoured to be able to be in His Holy presence and to literally be a vehicle to bringing the love of Christ and his word to those who otherwise are unable to receive it. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Fourth Month

I am realizing that the first trimester is over, and I’m starting to feel better about things. On Tuesday, we went to another teacher’s retirement celebration. This time it was to Mpofu Methodist Primary School. Mpofu is the furthest away (96 km) from St. Paul’s. This was the third time I had visited Mpofu. The head teacher greeted me and said that since it was my third time, I am now part of the Mpofu family. It was then that I realized that I am starting to get familiar with the schools and head teachers in the Central Circuit. I now know where all 11 schools are and I know the head teachers’ name and recognize them when I see them outside of their own school environment. I really didn’t think this would ever happen.

Today we went to Ebohli Methodist Primary School. It is the school that is the second furthest away (87 km) from St. Paul's. We were there for a ribbon cutting event for a new home economics building that was built by the European Union’s Micro Project. This was the third 4-hour event in a little over a week. I wasn’t especially thrilled to have to go. However, the reception, joking and conversation with the head teacher and the deputy teacher was a blessing. And of course watching the children and saying hi to them is always wonderful. I left feeling very glad that I went.

I have also realized this week how much the people I have worked with and come to know mean to me: Eleanor the church secretary who is an absolute delight; Juliet the retired grade one teacher who is now becoming a local pastor. She delights in helping me learn to speak Siswati and shares my concern for the preschools and carepoints. Then there is Thoko, the most kind hearted Manyano woman I think I have ever met. She and I enjoy talking and sharing things about our families and working together to serve others. These women are my sisters-in-Christ and they have kept me going.

I am realizing that what I have known and what everyone has told me is true: it takes time to build relationships and in time, everything won’t be so overwhelming. As frustrating as it is in the beginning, with patience, prayer, love, kindness and laughter precious friendships are formed and things start making some sense. I see now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and no, it isn’t a train. I praise God for putting people such as these three ladies in my life. His steadfast love endures forever.

Now, to start tackling SiSwati! I started taking lessons with a tutor yesterday. She is also a wonderful lady who is patient, loving, kind and thank God, she has a great sense of humor! We both laughed our way through the lesson. But this experience also helped me realize that my tongue has started relaxing a bit it trys to make those required clicking noises, and that I am actually recognizing a few words. Things are starting to fall into place. It does take time.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Johannesburg, South Africa

I just got back from a few days in the Johannesburg area in South Africa. I left Wednesday, October 31st around noon and arrived back in Swaziland about 3:00 Sunday afternoon. Johannesburg is about 4 ½ hours from Manzini. About half of the trip is on a hilly two lane highway through the countryside and a few very small towns. The rest of the trip is on a divided toll way through rolling farmland until shortly before reaching the greater Johannesburg area where everything is as different as night and day. It is much like driving through the Austin area, minus the flyovers – the traffic is heavy and there are houses, apartment complexes shopping centers and industry everywhere.

I had a fantastic visit with Richard from SAMVIM and then Gill from Khanysilie. They spoiled me tremendously and I enjoyed every minute of it! What joy to sit down (on a couch!) with good friends and talk for hours. On Thursday I spent the day at Northfeld Methodist church where the Bishop has his office. I had great meetings with the Bishop and the director of Missions for the District as well as a few other people. Northfeld was having their Christmas craft sale which was fun. In addition, they have a wonderful little bookshop and coffee shop at the church. Therefore, most of the day was spent in the coffee shop talking with one person or another. I was amazed at the people who remembered me from when I was there about a week after coming to Swaziland. Richard and I had stopped by there just after I took my best friend Laura to the airport to return home to the United States the week after we arrived here. I wasn’t doing so well. Those that remembered me were very glad to see that I was doing so much better than I was after that first week.

I went with Richard on Friday to Dalmis, the site of future UMVIM teams. This community is one of many that were greatly affected by apartheid. The black people who lived there were forced to relocate during apartheid. They have now been able to come back and there are is a lot of development going on and being planned for the future. They are preparing to build a church to accommodate the growth. It was an exciting couple of hours in the gorgeous sunshine and perfect weather visiting with the minister, the circuit steward and the current circuit superintendent who will actually be moving to the Central circuit in Swaziland the first of January. This excursion gave me an opportunity to not only learn some history of South Africa and be a part of an exciting meeting, but I was able to do some planning with the future superintendent as well. It was fantastic.

Gill and I went shopping on Saturday so I could buy a few things I needed for my cottage and a project with the schools. She took me to a store called Makro which is kind of a cross between Wal-Mart and Cosco, without the clothing. I kept getting whiplash looking back and forth at all the things on the shelves. I felt like a kid in a candy store, or someone who had never seen a big store.

This morning I worshipped at Primrose Methodist Church with Gill. It was a wonderful service and an absolutely beautiful, crisp morning after a good ole thunderstorm rolled through about 6:00 AM. It was a great couple of days. Now I have a lot to do before I leave to come home to the States for the holidays.

For those of you who may not know, I will be leaving Swaziland on December 3rd for Austin, arriving on December 4th. I will return on January 15th just before the new school year begins.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Piet Retief, South Africa

On Sunday I drove to a small town named Piet Retief in South Africa to attend church. The Minister, Rev. Douglas Lees had called and invited me to come worship with them and attend luncheon they were going to have afterwards. This was my first trip driving to an unknown location so far from Manzini or Mbabane by myself. It was also the first time I crossed the border by myself. Piet Retief is about 95 to 100 km from Manzini. It is about a 80 minute, not counting the time to cross the border. I was told it was easy to get there, just follow the signs on the road first to Malkerns (easy enough) and then to Mankayane or another town. Not so easy when I couldn’t remember the name of the towns and they weren’t always marked. But I just stayed on the road I was on and did not deviate. I made it to the boarder about 20 minutes before it opened. But guess what?! The border was very small and not set up like the border I have crossed 3 or 4 times since being here. I spent the 20 minutes sitting in my car trying to watch what the people were doing and where they seemed to be lining up so I would know where to go. It turned out to be easy.

A few hundred yards from the South Africa border post I came to a 4-way stop sign. Which way to go? The sign pointing to Piet Retief was half down on the ground and the arrows weren’t pointing in the direction of the choices of the road to drive on. I said a prayer and drove straight ahead. Less than 1km down the road, the road turned from tarred (paved) to dirt. Okay. I can do this. It actually was a good, mostly smooth absolutely straight road through Eucalyptus and pine trees. I was sailing and not encountering another human being or automobile.

I made it to Piet Retief, but either Rev. Lees gave me the wrong directions, or I wrote down to turn right instead of to turn left at the Pick n’ Pay grocery store. At any rate, I turned right and got that feeling about 5 km down the road that was headed in the wrong direction. I tried to call Rev. Lees and realized that I left my South Africa phone card in Manzini. You see, when travelling from one country to another, you have to either have an expensive phone or switch phone cards (and numbers) to have phone service in the various countries. I told myself “Okay, Chris, don’t panic. Ask the Lord for more guidance and go.” I turned around. Finally after a few more guesses and turning the wrong direction, I found a couple walking up to the Anglican Church. I asked them for directions and thankfully they were able to direct me.

The Piet Retief Methodist church was a pretty little church surrounded by a beautiful green lawn and yard. It has 30 members half of which are related to each other by birth or marriage. I would guess that if you put 60 people in the sanctuary it would be at a maximum capacity. We sang a couple of songs that were displayed on a screen using an overhead projector to get us started and then during the service we sang a couple of songs from the Methodist hymnal. Four scripture passages were read by someone who was requested to read on the spot and the sermon was preached directly from the scriptures. It was a very nice little service.

Lunch was a fundraiser. They served “bunny chow” which was really a beef curry stew served in a half a loaf of bread that had been hollowed out. You were supposed to eat it with your hands, although I noticed we all resorted to using a fork after the first couple of bites. No one knew why it was called bunny chow, but they said it was a “poor mans” lunch because it was so filling. Whatever it was called, it was very delicious.

After lunch I visited with Rev. Lees and his wife Esther. He told me about the HIV/AIDs projects that they had going in their little town and about the politics in South Africa and his concern that if the churches don’t integrate more with the blacks and work together with the other denominations, the old mainstream churches will slowly die. It was a wonderful day and I felt like I had an instant family in Piet Retief. Rev. Lees led me to the tarred road that I should have taken from the border. It went around the groves of Eucalyptus trees on a beautiful, windy, hilly road that went by several small homesteads.

There were parts of the drive that as I rounded the curve at a top of a hill the most breath-taking view was right before me. I guessed correctly where to turn to cross the border and made it back to Manzini before dark. (Whew!)

After I got home I realized that the day had been another confirmation of what it means to trust in the Lord, stay on the straight and narrow path when following him, and listening to his quiet voice that will guide us through life. I realized how much I have come to love the beautiful countryside that I am fortunate enough to drive through even with the chickens, goats and cows on the road. I also realized how far I had come since arriving in Swaziland. I had taken the trip with a level of confidence that a month ago I never would have guessed possible.

What a difference the tar road made!
Sorry, I couldn't drive and take a picture of the great views and there wasn't any place to pull over.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Retirement celebration

On Thursday I went to a retirement celebration for a teacher at Lutfotja (La-toe-cha) Primary School. The ceremony and handout of her credentials were in Siswati, but I can tell you that her name was Madam Khumalo, she was born in 1946 and that she taught first grade at Lutfotja Primary from 1977 through 2005. All together she taught for 34 years. I have no idea why it took them 2 years to have a retirement party for her.

Unfortunately, it was a cold, rainy day. As many people as possible sat under a tent and under the awnings of the school buildings, but many children sat in chairs or on the ground without any covering. I was cold so I know they had to be freezing. The celebration consisted of the usual speeches and performances from the school choir, the preschool children (who of course were the cutest!), and various other grade levels and groups in the school. The older girls did a traditional Swazi dance and the boys did one as well. A few of the older boys did a couple of dances to the beat of two cow hide drums. The drummers used branches to beat the drum. It was pretty amazing to watch.

At one point during the celebration it was time for the various groups to say thank you to Madam Khumalo. In Swaziland, people say thank you with gifts of presents and money. The individuals giving the gifts come up and put them on the table in front of the honouree, many times making a short speech and singing and dancing while they are presenting the gift of thanksgiving. The money is laid on the table in a pile. If a person wants to give a certain amount of money, say 10 rand, but all they have is a 20 rand bill, then they put down the twenty and take 10 rand in change!

The ceremony was supposed to start at 10:00, but didn’t start until after 11:00, because Rev. Ngema and I didn’t arrive there until after 11:00 and they said it was pouring down rain at 10:00. The celebration didn’t finish until after 1:30. Afterwards, lunch was served for all. They served a pretty typical menu consisting of fried chicken, beef, salad, rice, a “soup” which is really a gravy for the rice, green cabbage, cooked greens or spinach, beet root and potato salad. There are over 550 children at this school, about 15 teachers, several teachers from other schools and many parents and community members. The lunch was all cooked over open fire in big cast iron pots. Can you imagine how many mothers were needed to cook the meal and how long it must have taken them? And don’t forget, it was raining off and on all morning. Where is Pok-e-jo’s when you need them?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Khalakahle Primary School

Meet Khalakahle Methodist Primary School. Khalakahle is on the Eastern side of Swaziland, very near the Mozambique boarder. Khalakahle is a smaller school. It only has 402 students. It is on the top of a plateau which means it is generally windy at the school and it has a beautiful view of the rolling hills and country sides all around it.

If Swaziland had a “Bluebonnet School” award, I would give it to Khalakahle without hesitation. The school is old just like the rest of the Methodist schools in Swaziland. However, it is clear that this school has been given some tender loving care. Everything was neat, clean and tidy. The teaching charts on the wall of the home economics room and the few other rooms I visited were very well done, They had been carefully wrapped in plastic before being hung on the wall to preserve them. The Swazi version of laminating! I only went into a few rooms, but each of the desks were in good repair, and they had been working and saving money to buy new plastic chairs for the students, one grade level at a time. This school obviously had great church and community support and the head teacher was a very good steward of her resources.

Rev. Ngema and I went for a parent/teacher meeting to discuss the community resources and needs regarding children and families infected or affected by HIV /AIDS. This is a very, very sensitive subject in Swaziland, just as it is in the United States. There is such a stigma attached to HIV/AIDs that people are very reluctant to talk about it. There are also privacy laws and respect for the individual and family. But the need for education, about the disease and the need for testing as well as pre and post testing counselling was voiced as a common concern. Another concern was the nutrition of the students. Most students, and not just single or double orphans, don’t eat anything before coming to school. The teachers said they notice the children are sleepy, lethargic and aren’t interested in doing school work. (Sound familiar?) Then at the break usually somewhere between 10:00 and 11:00 when the children are given maize meal or rice and beans the children have more energy and can concentrate better. Most schools have some sort of what they call a feeding scheme for 10:00 – 11:00 time period which is generally at least partially supported through various non profit organizations such as World Vision, USAID or World Food Program. Very few if any schools provide any type of breakfast to the children because there isn’t a program to supplement that type of a feeding scheme.

At Khalakahle, approximately 22% of the children are double or single orphans. I want to make it clear that this does not necessarily mean 22% of the children have one or both parents who died from AIDS. That statistic is confidential and is not available. But whatever the causes of death, 89 of these children have been orphaned once or twice which puts a financial burden on the community and the school. In addition, this number does not represent the children who come from destitute families nor does it reflect the number of children who come from families who may not destitute but still can not make ends meet.

Most of the Methodist schools such as Khalakahle are in very rural areas. As I have mentioned in many of my blogs, Swaziland is in a drought and there is very little water available through rivers or bore holes. Therefore, there isn’t enough water to irrigate crops. Khalakahle actually does have a bore hole, but for some unknown reason, some men posing as government officials came and took out all of the piping inside the bore hole so it is not functional. They now have to buy their water which is brought in and stored in a 5,000 Liter container. The water is for the entire community even though it is on the school grounds. The water is only to drink and cook with. There is not enough to water a garden.

Khalakahle Methodist Primary School is a Bluebonnet Award winning school in my book. The fact that it is faced with so many challenges makes this charming little school all the more precious and impressive. One little tidbit about Khalakahle. The Superintendent of the Mahamba District of the Southern Africa Methodist Church in Swaziland was the head teacher at Khalakahle before going into full time ministry! She will be retiring next year and will return to her homestead on one of the hills that surrounds the school. Her name is Rev. Margaret Dlamini. The current Head Teacher's name is also Margaret Dlamini! What a coincidence.

Home Economics Room Bulletin Board

Sunday, October 21, 2007

This is the day the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

I woke up this morning to bright, beautiful sunshine and the birds singing ever so sweetly. I must confess, I don’t always think the birds sing so sweetly when I start hearing them sing about 5:00 in the morning. Sleeping “in” to 6:30 is a rare occasion between the roosters, birds, Kombi’s (vans that are taxi’s) beeping their horns in a language all their own and the sound of whatever it is that scampers across my corrugated iron roof every morning. (No, I don’t know what it is, and I’m not real sure I want to know.) But this morning, the beautiful sunshine and the birds were oh so sweet.

As I sipped my instant coffee while reading my morning devotional I was filled with the joy and peace of knowing that the Holy Spirit is always with us and that even though life or my moods aren’t always joyous, energetic and optimistic or even though I get so frustrated at not being able to connect with people because of the language barrier, that God is always in control, even in the most confusing or depressing times of my life. He brings a new beginning each day and some times from one moment to the next. He reminds me of that in so many ways. Today, he took pity on me and put it right in front of me so I would be sure not to miss it!

When I walked over to the early “English” church service, the lay speaker of the day actually did about 50% of it in English! For the first time I was able to understand when the Lord’s Prayer was being sung and understand when the Apostle’s Creed was recited. She said a corporate prayer in English praying for the people and government of Swaziland and the entire world. The scripture was Luke 18: 1-8, the parable of the persistent widow. Her message was to remind us to take all of our concerns, desires and needs to God in prayer. For once I could sing “AMEN” and mean it because I understood the jest of what was being said and because I have had so many first hand experiences of this in my life, let alone just the amount of time I have been in Swaziland.

So as Paul said to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: REJOICE!” (Philippians 4:4)

Make it a Christ filled day!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Panic, frustration and God

This week started in pure frustration and panic over the thought of going to Cashbuild, Swaziland’s version of Home Depot, to order building materials for the repair work at Lomngeletjane and then to hire the driver of a green truck to “transport” them to the school site. Oh yes. I was really outside my comfort zone on this one and a bit testy at the thought of it. How in the world was I going to find a guy with a green pickup that I knew wouldn’t be able to speak English and get this done? To make matters worse, when Siphiwe, my trusty pastor’s assistant who often accompanies me, and I pull up to Cashbuild there is a blue-green truck of a fair size and a pure green truck that is an old, small Hi-Lux Toyota pick-up. As usual, God took pity on me and the person who asked me to do this task happened to be there to tell the driver to keep an eye out for me. It took an hour for them to pull the materials together – 18 corrugated iron sheets 4.2 meters long, 18 “beams” some 6 meters long, some 4.2 meters long, 8 bags of cement, plastic and wire for the inside walls and nails. Not a lot. But remember, this is Africa. I know the guy couldn’t have moved any slower. I wanted to grab a cart and go get the stuff myself, but of course that isn’t acceptable – especially for a woman to do that. And yes, you guessed it. All of this stuff went onto the small, old green Toyota pickup. It was another one of those times that I wished I had my camera.

One little side note on Cashbuild (some one make sure David Atkins hears about this). When I first walked in it, I saw the bath tubs, and toilets lined up and rows of timber. I thought I was going to cry. Siphiwe thought I was crazy. He could care less about the contents of that store, but it reminded me of Home Depot. HOME DEPOT! But I must say it was about a tenth the size of our Home Depots and doesn’t have near the items. Toilets, bath tubs, sinks, faucets, lumber, wire, nails, doors, a few electrical items and tools, wheelbarrows and out houses made out of corrugated iron. That’s about the extent of their inventory. Did I go up and down the isles? Yep.

Typical of all of the weeks so far, it was filled with ups and downs. There were frustrating moments that put me way outside of my comfort zone and times when western way of wanting to do things just didn’t fit with the pace or thinking of Swaziland. There were times when I was probably a bit more direct than I should have been such as when I laughed when Rev. Ngema told me that in Swaziland “no” doesn’t necessarily mean “no.” At least I kept my mouth shut and didn’t say out loud “great, and ‘yes’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘yes.’ It usually means “I don’t have a clue what you are saying” or ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’” There were times I wondered why I am here especially since the language is such a barrier. (They can’t understand my English any better than I can understand theirs!)

But, God always steps in and pulls me out. He gives me my sense of humor. He puts that person who lights up with a beautiful smile when I say “hi” to them in my path. He makes the lavender on the Jacaranda trees that are blooming so brilliant it takes my breath away. He brings the sweet music of the children’s voices saying “Hi Chris” as I walk through the school yard. He sends an encouraging e-mail or phone call my way. Or He blesses me with caring women in bible study. He has put that love of Swaziland in my heart. I could go on and on about all the ways He truly blesses me and reminds me that I am not here by chance nor am I alone, but that I do have to be patient, faithful and seek him in all that I do.

“From one man, he made every nation of men that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." Acts 17:26-27

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Saturday in Swaziland

Today I went to a HIV & AIDs training workshop in Ermelo, South Africa on how to set up a good project. It was delivered by a Deacon, Dr. Vernon van Wyk who was one of the original people who started Amcare, A Center of Faith, Hope & Love in Alberton, South Africa. Amcare stands for Alberton Methodist Care and Relief Enterprise. I have driven by Amcare on my previous mission trips to South Africa, but this is the first I was able to hear about it. What an impressive, God-filled story. This organization provides care on so many levels from testing, counselling to feeding schemes and training so people can earn a living to crisis disaster help for neighbouring communities. The workshop was very good and also very motivating. I attended with one of the Pastors from the Central Circuit and the woman that I am working with to implement a grant from the National Children’s Home in the UK to assist and improve the quality of life for HIV+ and orphaned and vulnerable children. The cart was put before the horse on this grant, meaning the funding was obtained before the project was clearly defined and planned so the timing of this workshop was fantastic.

Ermelo is about a 2 hour drive if you don’t get behind too many slow trucks and if the border crossing isn’t crowded. Once again, we drove into Ermelo and it was like driving into another world. The workshop was held at the charming little Methodist Church. I realize I stick out in a crowd, but when the Pastor of the church and the presenter come up to great me and tell me they have heard of me, I get a little worried! I never know whether to be grateful or worried at the offers hospitality if I need to get away!

The ladies of the church served us a wonderful morning tea (complete with sandwiches), then two hours later it was a fantastic lunch complete with an apple cobbler with ice cream, followed by tea with cake two hours later before we left for home. These ladies were awesome cooks. I couldn’t believe the amount of food that was consumed in such a short period of time. Methodists really do love to eat!

On the trip back, the young Pastor, France, and I had an opportunity to chat about various things. France was a teacher “by profession” before becoming a Pastor. He is a Swazi and attended one of the Methodist schools in the Central circuit and taught at another one. We talked about several things including some of the needs of the schools and how we have to be so careful not to create a counter culture of children and communities who will just sit back and expect to have things handed to them. This is becoming a real problem in Swaziland as so many organizations and people are coming in and putting up carepoints, and providing food and other items without requiring anything or teaching the person how to do something differently. This is something I have been really struggling with since coming to Swaziland. I walk into a school and the first thing I am asked is “what can you give me?” or “Our school needs ____, can you get this for us?” While the needs are so great here, I am also very concerned about how to provide assistance without providing a hand out that in the long run either doesn’t really make a difference or isn’t some sort of a partnership with the receiver. I don’t want to hand them a fish, I want to teach them how to fish so they can fish for a life time. There is also the issue of what they think they might need versus what they can really use without having other more basic needs met. For example, the head teacher at one school told me they really need stoves and equipment for their home economics classroom. Home Economics is a required course for 6th and 7th graders. When she showed me the home economics classroom, it was being used to teach a class of 50 or 60 students because there wasn’t anywhere else to put these students. This school doesn’t need stoves and pots and pans right now, it needs another classroom or a new home economics classroom to put the equipment in!

France and I also talked about the challenges of the Methodist Church in Swaziland. The Central circuit has 54 societies (churches). Each pastor has many churches he has to attend to. France has 18 societies he is responsible for. He says he is really becoming a “communion” pastor. He has so many societies that he can’t give Pastoral care. The Methodist Church in Swaziland is loosing members to the new, larger “charismatic” churches that are springing up. We talked about how hard it is to combat that when a Pastor is responsible for so many societies. Society Stewards are left to do the services and preaching on Sundays. This also impedes the ability of the church to preach from the pulpit on topics the Methodist Church wants known such as its scriptural stand on HIV & AIDS, the care, love and acceptance of people who have HIV and AIDS, the need to live a Christian lifestyle, and the importance of HIV testing. We also talked about how in Swaziland, as in many of the congregations in the United States, the Methodist Church seems to have forgotten John Wesley’s passion for Christ, evangelism, the scriptures, singing, worshiping, and especially serving others.

Here is another little tidbit about the day. At 6:00 AM (yes, 6:00 in the morning) my phone rings. It is the secretary of the church asking me to come and move my car because they needed to use the space. I was almost ready to leave for Ermelo so I said I’d be over in a few minutes. Imagine my surprise when I walked across the primary school yard and onto the church property and saw that it was filled with cars. I then heard singing and then the Pastor’s voice coming from the sanctuary! A funeral was underway. At 6:00 in the morning! Funerals start early in the morning in Swaziland.

This person had died in a traffic accident. I really wonder what the rate of automobile related deaths are in this country but the way people drive and with all the obstacles on the road including everything from cows to people to stalled or extremely slow vehicles, I am sure it is very high.

So another day in Swaziland comes to an end. My mind is boggled again. Please pray for the people, the Pastors and the Methodist Church in Swaziland.