Sunday, December 21, 2008
-Philippians 4:4-7 (NRSV)
The above was the scripture for my daily devotional on the day I left Swaziland for the US. I have always loved this verse, but it seemed to be speaking to me again as I prepared to come home for the holidays.
First, I must apologize. I have been so busy the last couple of months and at times overwhelmed by all that I saw and that the ladies and I accomplished each day that I didn’t have the energy to write in my blog. I would write an entry in my head, but when I got home I was too tired to actually write it on paper. I also want to thank those who e-mailed me and said they were concerned because I hadn’t made an entry since Oct 28th. I thank you for that concern and for letting me know that you care.
October and November were busy times trying to get the sewing project finished. Early in the year we received money from a donor through the Missions Unit of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. We have been working on the project since May but before we knew it the end of the school year was upon us and we had to get all of the uniforms finished and delivered before the beginning of December. The ladies, Thoko, Thini and Thembie sewed over 40 uniforms for some of the neediest kids in our schools in Central circuit. In addition, we hired out an additional 53 uniforms to a local seamstress.
In October and early November I was also trying to deliver teaching aids to the Methodist primary and preschools in Swaziland. I was trying to hurry with both of these projects finished because 1) the school uniforms were being dedicated on Nov 15th and 2) Gregg Bouchard and Dan Rybaski from my home church were coming to visit the beginning of November. And then I would fly home two weeks later.
In addition to these two things we were solidifying our work through another grant from Action for Children sponsored by the Methodist Church of England which involves identifying the needs of children selected by the counselor and head teacher of Luftoja Methodist Primary school. We make home visits, pay for transport for the children and their guardians to receive medical care and/or their monthly ARV’s, and try to enable them to help themselves by growing vegetables or possibly chickens. It is turning out to be a very successful project, but it does involve a lot of driving time, planning, and it is so emotional. Sometimes the needs are so great, and we just sit there looking at each other wondering what in the world we can do. There are some tough times. But the smiles on the children’s faces when they see my car and run up to greet us are absolutely priceless. This project is a reminder that my work in Swaziland is all about showing the love of Jesus (Lutsandvo LwaKrestu) to one child, one heart at a time!
I am now at home in Round Rock, Texas until the first week or so in February. I arrived home on December 7th. As always it takes a while to get over the jet lag and adjust to the time difference. But I must say it doesn’t take too long to adjust to hot showers with great water pressure and my wonderful, comfortable bed! It also takes a while to do all that needs to be done after being gone from my home for 10 months. I am now eagerly waiting for my son Christopher and his wife Jen to arrive from Seattle for Christmas. My brother and his wife are here in Round Rock staying with their daughter and his son and family will be arriving tomorrow.
Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Today started out with me reminding myself that THIS IS AFRICA! Thoko and I had the day planned and were organized and ready to go. About 5:50 this morning there was a knock at my door which wasn’t a big surprise. (TIA) I was just lying in bed procrastinating about getting up and starting on the day. Sphiwe was returning something to me before he left for a Minister’s retreat. He also asked me to deliver something to the church’s secretary at 8:00. No big deal. I sat down at my computer to check my e-mail while I drank a cup of coffee. It was probably my first mistake, because I always end up being on the computer more than I plan and I put checking e-mail above doing my bible study which in the end meant I didn’t have time to do it this morning. Then about 6:50 there’s another know at my door. Dennis wanted the keys to a building up at the church which meant I had to go with him to show him what he was looking for. Ah, but I hadn’t showered yet. So I quickly showered and went up to help him. Then I spoke with Rev. Nyameka, came back to my place, quickly ate a little breakfast and left to make it to the bus rank in Manzini at 8:30. I made it right on time. Thoko was just arriving. Perfect. Then she got a phone call from Thini that she was delayed. First it was one thing and then another. Thoko and I went to get some estimates on fencing rather than just sit. About an hour and 45 minutes later, Thini calls again and says she can’t get transport so we have no choice but to drive about 10 minutes in each direction to get her. So we finally take off for the homesteads we planned on visiting in the Luve area. I get a few kilometers down the dirt road and realize that I forgot to put petrol in my car. We are going way out in the rural area. I couldn’t go without more petrol because there aren’t petrol stations were we were going. But it would probably cause another 20 or 30 minutes delay. I was very discouraged and so was Thoko. Our day’s plans were totally ruined.
On the way to the Petrol station, still angry at how the day was going and frustrated with it being an African day, I started singing to myself the song from youth “This is the day that the Lord hath made…” We got Petrol and I realized I didn’t have small bills to give to the people we had planned on giving money for transport to. The Petrol station also didn’t have change, but we were able to work that out.
So, we finally arrive at our first homestead. We were going to measure the garden area they had to determine what kind and how much fencing would be needed for an adequate fence the cheapest way possible. When we arrived we found out that the daughter, who is HIV+ was sick with “tummy” problems. She needed to go see the Dr. in
There is also a 13 year old boy in this family, Sicelo, who should be in the 5th grade, but there isn’t money for his school fees so he stays home. He has the cutest smile. He eagerly helped me measure the garden and then when I took pictures of he and his mother, and showed him the pictures on my camera he just kept saying “how beautiful.” Our frustration of the morning was already starting to dissipate though we were aware of how late it was.
We traveled to the second homestead on our list where we wanted to talk to the gogo about the possibility of her raising chickens to provide them with eggs and meat and also as a way of earning a little bit of money. The gogo could hardly walk when we were there last week because of arthritis, osteoporosis and other ailments. No one was home. We were a bit concerned, but it looked like people where walking to a homestead down the road for some sort of service – possibly a death in the community. So we left.
Then we went to the homestead of the four children who have been abandoned by their parents. We wanted to see if the oldest child, a 14 year old boy named Mthokozisi, had actually planted the seedlings we brought to him a few weeks ago and we also wanted to take him to the High School to see about enrolling him in school next year. He is such a delightful boy; bright, hard working and his teachers said he was a good student. He had cleaned up the homestead since the last time we were there and his little garden was doing well, especially the tomato plants. He showed us the letter he had written to the head teacher at the high school asking to be considered for admittance to form 1 (8th grade) next year. He had done a great job, but the paper was torn and discolored as if something had spilled on it. My first thought is he wrote a great letter, but it was so messy and dirty it wasn’t going to make a very good impression. Thoko then told me that the reason it was torn and discolored is because he was writing the letter last Saturday when it was raining and the roof leaks. (Oh yes, just one example of life in
On the way to the high school we decided to stop by the primary school, Luftoja, to give a child a pair of shoes and leave transport money for two other children that will be going to get their monthly medication next week. We talked to the head teacher and counselor about our plan to talk to the head teacher of the high school and found out that they were there when we first arrived! The head teacher and counselor didn’t seem too excited about our plan, especially the part when we asked them to waive the outstanding fees from last year so he could his results to apply for high school. But they finally consented to our plan to go talk to the head teacher and said the counselor would go with us to the high school. At the last minute the counselor asked the deputy to go with us.
On the way to the car 4 of the children whose homesteads we have visited ran up to great us with huge smiles on their faces. One was the little boy, Mxolsi, who was on crutches and looking very sickly when we first met him. He now is running and looks very healthy! What a blessing.
So finally we made it to the high school. The five of us were granted a short meeting with the head teacher. By God’s perfect plan, the head of the school committee was also present and we found out he was the head of the school committee for the high school and the primary school! He was our stumbling block to get the unpaid fees waived from the primary school so he could be admitted to the high school. They wouldn’t let Mthokozisi go in with us and I felt so bad for him. But the counselor introduced us and told the story to the head teacher. The head teacher agreed to admit Mthokozisi if we could come up with the difference of what the government pays for vulnerable children to attend school and what the actual school fees are. He said he is in the business of children. They would find a way to admit him! I wanted to jump for joy, but I behaved. However, I couldn’t help but put my arm around Mthokozisi as we exited the office and tell him that he was going to school next year!
We returned to Manzini around 3:30, tired, hot, and thirsty. We had bought a couple of rounds of bananas so we weren’t really hungry. But we were so happy and grateful that God had planned for all the right people to be available to say they would admit Mthokozisi in form 1 next year that we were energized. It was so important to Thoko, Thini and I because he is such a bright, nice, responsible young man and we just couldn’t bear the thought of him sitting around the homestead doing nothing, with no food to eat, turning bitter, lazy, maybe even abusive or leave home. Now this child will have hope. He knows people love him and believe in him. Of course, we still have to come up with the money to pay for his fees, a school uniform and student stationary for the next 5 years, but we have faith this will happen. Thoko is going to try to get a 5 year grant from the district Manyano executive officers. If we don’t get the grant, the Lord will provide another way. I just know He will. He didn’t arrange this perfect day for this child to then leave him behind and have all his hopes and dreams taken away.
It’s all about one heart/child at a time.
Sicelo and his mother
Mthokozisi helping Thini through the barbed wire fence at his homestead.
Mthokozisi’s letter to head teacher
Mxolsi and Thephilile (Mthokozisi’s youngest sister)
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Today was a beautiful day. It started as usual before 6:00 am. It was overcast and cold. I grabbed a cup of corre and did my day’s lesson for bible study and then prayed the Lord would give me just a little more sleep, which HE did and I’m eternally grateful for that. My plans were to go to a little society called Maliyduma to give the children some of the Jesus Loves Me bears that the children in vacation Bible school in Round Rock,
When the service at Salukazi was over, we hurried to Maliyduma. We arrived at 12:00; only an hour late. Thank goodness they had started the service so they were ready for the reading of the scripture and sermon. They then baptized a baby and girl about 3 years old followed then had Holy communion.
At Salukazi they used grape soda for the wine during communion. At Maliyduma they had a small tin coffee cup with water in it which Rev. Madi blessed and then used for the baptism. You make due with what you have. Things don’t have to be fancy to celebrate the Lord’s supper or the sacrament of baptism. The people came up to the benches which were moved to represent an altar. They kneeled on the hard concrete floor. It’s very humbling.
After communion I took the children outside to give them the bears which they loved. They sang a song for me. They were so beautiful. I gave a 25kg bag of maize and 10 kgs of beans to the ladies that cook for the children. After that they fed the kids.
Maliyduma would like to build a carepoint so they could feed the children every day. Prayers are for the discernment of whether or not this is what God wants to be done and then for the funding to come and build it which I would guess would be around $10-12 K.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Today Thoko, Thini and I drove to visit Thembelihle Methodist Primary School which is part of the Mahamba circuit and is 86 km from St. Paul’s; the last 16 km or so were on a long dirt road – of course. I actually visited this school in August, 2007, but my camera battery died that day so I couldn’t take any pictures. I had promised to come back soon. This is Africa, it’s taken me 14 months and 1 day to make it back, but I made it. I delivered some teaching aides from the USAID grant and I delivered some used textbooks that came from Rotary International. And I wanted to also find out more about the school. It is nestled in the hills on a part of a farm that was donated to the Methodist Church in the 30’s (If I understood correctly). When I was there last year they had just been burglarized and vandalized. They were also struggling to get fencing to keep the goats and cows out of the school yard so that eventually they could have the 6th grade agriculture garden. I was very pleased to hear that they hadn’t been burglarized or vandalized again since they replaced the security guard. I was also very, very impressed to see that they had fenced the school yard and had a huge garden area fenced off to grow maize and vegetables to help feed the children in addition to the 6th grade agriculture garden. I’ve come to learn a lot about fencing since coming to Swaziland and I would guess that the fencing cost probably 70,000 rand. They had also done some work to start repairing one of the teacher’s cottages that had been very badly vandalized.
Thembelihle has approximately 425 students 55% of which are OVC’s. You can tell that number is probably about right by observing the condition of their uniforms and the looks on many of the faces. Many children don’t have shoes. I noticed this school has a lot of small ants crawling all around. Usually I see large black ants and not as many. The head teacher said that when the children stand for assembly, the kids without shoes can’t stand still because these tiny little ants bite. (They reminded me of fire ants.)
This school gets its water from a community borehole with a hand pump. The water pressure is not good at all. They have to carry the water needed to cook with or drink to the school. This includes any water for the teacher’s use in their cottages. They are going to start planting a very small garden but because of the water situation they can’t grow much. Because there is such a high OVC rate, and many OVCs can’t pay the required school fees, the school doesn’t have the amount of funding needed which includes the money needed to make sure there is food everyday to cook for the children. This is a familiar story at all the schools.
1. Children waiting in line for “lunch”…a bowl of beans.
2. Kitchen and the cooks wrapping reeds in used chip or candy bar wrappers. These will be put together to become mats to sit on or sleep on.
3. Water pump. It wasn’t hard to pump the water, but it would have been tiring if I wanted to fill up a bucket. Oh, and then I would have had to carry it back to the school. That doesn’t sound like fun. Imagine a small child having to carry a bucket of water back to their classroom, garden or home.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Today I went to the last two Methodist schools in
The second school,
On the way home, at one point I was behind a pickup truck with probably 10 workers riding in the back. They got a kick out of me driving behind them. I waved at them and they smiled even more. When I passed them I waved goodbye and they all waved and said “bye.” Ah, what fun. For a minute I thought maybe I was driving my red convertible down the road, but then I remembered I don’t have it any longer and I was driving a 10 year old Honda CR3 with signs on it for the Methodist church. Hummm…what a difference 14 months makes.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Yesterday, Central Circuit held their Quarterly meeting where stewards and members from most of the 56 societies come to hear a status of the church, reports from committees and what the focus of the next quarter or year will be. I have avoided going to these meetings like the plaque up until now. Even if they were held at St. Paul’s the thought of sitting in 4 hour meeting that is spoken in Siswati and probably didn’t pertain to me sounded about as inviting as having all my teeth pulled at one time without drugs.
But, Thursday afternoon I took Thoko home because she lives very far away in a rural area and she wouldn’t make the last bus to her area because she had attended a meeting at
It was a beautiful ride. It had rained a bit on Friday night so the air was clean and so was the landscape. As we drove we talked about Rev. Margaret Dlamini. I’m not sure I have mentioned this on my blog because it has been such a heavy weight on my heart. Margaret is the Superintendent of the Mahamba Circuit. She was a teacher and then head teacher when she retired from teaching to become a minister. After training she was stationed at Mahamba and I believe she has been there for 12 years. She must be in her late 60’s or early 70’s. Her husband is 10 years older. I have enjoyed Margaret since I met her not long after arriving her last year. She’s stern as one would expect a school principle to be, at least here in
The quarterly meeting was good. I could follow along with most of it and several accommodated me by speaking some parts in English. But it was so good to see some of the people I don’t see very often. Lots of hugs were given and received. At the last minute Kanana asked me if I would give an update on the projects (which I knew he would in exactly that manner.) I joked with him as I came up and briefly said some of the major projects I am helping with and took the opportunity to thank those people who helped me so much. And I thanked them for welcoming me into their world so graciously. When it was over, we ate, of course. Methodist women everywhere are fantastic cooks! It must be in the Holy water used during baptism! It was almost 4:00 when we left. But Thini and Thoko still wanted to stop to see Margaret, which we did and I am so thankful that we did. Our visit meant a lot to Margaret and her husband. Both talked and shared their heavy hearts and the pain. Margaret spoke in English but her husband Nehemiah spoke in Siswati. Tears softly flowed. When Thini started the prayer, she and Thoko got on their knees and started a song I hear often but don’t know the words. I could feel the passion and love. As Thini started praying in Siswati I once again couldn’t help but feel what she was saying and the tears came. This was truly a God thing. We shared our love and compassion with a dear friend and sister in Christ and in return we were able share her pain and grief a little and hopefully give her a bit of peace and hope. God blessed us all. We left sad, yet very upbeat because we had answered our hearts and gone to visit her.
We got back to Manzini as it was getting dark so I drove both ladies most of the way home which was such a surprise and blessing for them. I got back to
Please pray for Rev. Margaret and Nehemiah Dlamini. Pray for their spiritual and physical healing. Pray that they faith doesn’t waiver. Pray for the aching hole in their hearts. Margaret gave birth to 7 children. She raised them all in the church, they went to Christian schools. This son was the 5th child to die. At least two died from the “sickness” (AIDS), one died of heart failure caring for her sick brother who passed away the next day. But Margaret said this death is by far the hardest because of all that is surrounding this. So please pray for these hurting parents. And pray for all parents everywhere whose children have chosen to go down the wrong path in spite of how they were raised.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I started a blog entry a couple of times last week, but was so busy and then tired at the end of the day I never got it uploaded and now we are into a new week. I keep saying one day I will catch up on my entries, but I’m not sure that will actually happen.
Today three volunteers, the community rural health motivator and I visited seven, yes, seven homesteads to do initial assessment of needs for the National Children’s Home grant we are working on. We left downtown Manzini at 8:00 am this morning which means some of the ladies left their house by 6:30 am. I dropped them off at the bus stop a few minutes after 5:00 this evening which means at least one of the ladies won’t make it home until probably 7:00 this evening. I drove over 100 km, at least half of it on dirt roads and paths in the community of Luve. I drank little, had one green orange to eat and didn’t go to the toilet from 7:30 am until 5:15 pm which is shear torture. But I’m not Swazi enough to take a squat wherever I am yet. As always, it was quite an experience. I had to ford two creeks. The water wasn’t bad, but the road leading into and out of them was horrific. The ladies are so impressed with my driving. I told them I’d like to say it is girl power, but in reality it is God power because I always stop, shift into first gear and say “OK God. Get me through this!” They just laugh at me. Oh, we also had two chickens in the car with us that were given to two of the volunteers. Both were confined to a plastic bag, but I was so worried they would suffocate.
The first homestead was of a gogo (grandmother) and her orphaned 11 year old granddaughter who is HIV +. There are also two other granddaughters and a grandson living with the gogo. The gogo struggles but does a good job of helping her grandchildren.
The second homestead is a 15 year old girl in the fourth grade and her sister who is in high school that are living with the gogo and the uncle. The girls have lost both parents. The uncle is doing a good job taking care of the girls and the gogo, but has a difficult time buying uniforms and paying for their school fees, etc. Look at the precious face on this gogo. She was very hard of hearing and had an extremely hard time walking. I would love to know how old she is but it is too rude to ask. But what a beautiful, almost ageless face she has.
The third homestead was a 11 year old girl living with her gogo and auntie. Her father deserted the mother and child years ago and the mother lives away trying to get casual employment. The child has trouble hearing, seeing, has severe open sores on her legs and looks about 6 or 7 years old. Her little arms were probably less than 2 inches in diameter. She hasn’t been tested for HIV, but just by the look of her, I’ve come to know it’s a pretty good bet that she is positive. We left money for the aunt to take her to Baylor Children’s clinic in
The fourth homestead was a 10 year old HIV + child, her 5 year old sister and older brother living with her mother and gogo. The father deserted them. The mother doesn’t work. The gogo makes curtains out of the reeds in the field to earn a little money to buy what she can.
The fifth homestead was of 15 year old boy in fourth grade living with his aunt and her children. Both parents are deceased. The boy is HIV + but on medication and seems to be doing well. The aunt is also “sickly.” The auntie has two small children and two older children. The youngest is probably 18 months old and the second youngest is maybe 3 years old. Both of the young ones have no diapers (nappies) or panties on which is pretty typical in the rural areas. The young one was sitting in the dirt playing with a stick and urinated and then stirred the stick in it. Then a little later he was walking around, squatted and had a bowel movement. The mother got up, swept some dirt over it and moved the child around behind one of the houses. Pretty soon the child wandered back over and sat on his mother's leg. His bottom never was cleaned so now it was on the mother's leg. When I see things like this all I can do is say a quiet prayer and not freak out or cry over what I am watching.
The sixth homestead was of a girl age 10 and her brother age 7, who had been taken in by church members after their parents died last year. The family that took them in was much better off than any of the families we have seen, but it is still difficult to pay for school fees and buy shoes and school uniforms for two extra children in the family. The “adopted” father has a transport business, but with the rising costs, it isn’t doing very well.
The last homestead was of a boy aged 13 who is staying with a “auntie” who is not related to him other than they have the same last name. This child was abandoned by his parents when he was very young because the first two teeth the child got were the top two front teeth instead of the bottom two front teeth. According to culture, this is bad luck and many years ago the child would have been killed. Culture still says the family does not have to raise the child but that it must go to an unrelated family with the same last name. Bizarre. The auntie makes money to support the child by making home brew and selling it to her neighbors. Before we left there were four neighbors watching us and waiting for beer. Two had obviously had way too much to drink already - so had the auntie. The auntie said she couldn’t grow a garden for the child because the river was very, very far away. Yet it wasn’t so far that she couldn’t haul water to her homestead to make moonshine! The next picture is of the boy sitting next to his aunties and then two of his auntie’s customers! And then there’s one of the volunteers, the rural health motivator (who was in all of the pictures) and me for change!
We had a little adventure getting to this last homestead. We turned off the tarred road onto a small dirt path that went right through a field that was on fire. Some of the field had already burnt itself out, but in other spots the flames were between 1 and 3 feet high. Children were walking home from school down this path and cows were looking for some place to graze. The ladies told me to be careful because there was petrol in my car. I thanked them for that news bulletin. However, they didn’t want me not to go down the path. So I said my prayer for guidance took a big swallow and drove very carefully trying to stay in the middle of the path. Oh, at one point, there was a small fire in the middle of the path and I no choice but to keep moving right over it. We got to the homestead and while we were sitting and talking a fairly strong wind came up. I quietly said “God, I hope this wind is putting out the flame and not stirring it up more.” When we left, the wind had indeed blown out the fires next to the path! Now, that is an answered prayer!
Hopefully this lengthy blog has given you a bit of a look into the HIV/AIDS pandemic in this country and a little look at the living conditions and culture. But in the mist of the poverty and sickness, there are such rays of hope – the gogo’s, the family that took in two unrelated children, the beautiful faces and smiles and of course God’s presence every step of the way.
Please keep your prayers coming, because I know they are what is helping me get through some challenging moments. Have a blessed day. I did.