Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pray for Zimbabwe

I don’t know how much news there is in the States about Zimbabwe, or how much you pay attention to it even if the situation is on the news, but it has on my heart to write about it.

Zimbabwe is a fairly small country north of South Africa on the eastern side of the continent. It is north of Swaziland, but as you recall, Swaziland is surrounded on three sides by South Africa so Zimbabwe doesn’t border Swaziland. Zimbabwe has been a country in crises for at least a couple of years, but it has gotten much worse. Thousands have fled the country. The Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg (Central Methodist) has been housing thousand of refugees each night since at least 2006. I don’t know all of the political issues. I know that there is virtually no food on the shelves in Zimbabwe and that their currency is essentially worth nothing. They say the government is corrupt and the President is crazy. The current President, Robert Mugabe, is in his 80’s and as is very common, lives a very rich life style. The country had elections about a month ago. I believe they have elections every 10 years. Mugabe has been president for many years, and thought he would automatically get re-elected as he did during the last election. The country has gotten so bad that there were actually two candidates opposing the current President. The day of the election the President made a speech saying he would accept the results of the vote regardless of what they were. As informal results started coming forth, the President and his cabinet became quiet. Then there were complaints about voter tampering by the opposing party (MDC-Movement for Democratic Change) and the need for a possible run off. The results from that election have still not been announced. Now a recount of the vote is underway. The MDC says they won’t abide by the recount because there has been tampering with the original ballots since the vote. There have been many stories of violence towards those that voted for the MDC. It’s been reported that at lest 10 people have been killed and over 3,000 displaced from their homes because the government has destroyed them. This is all reported as being done in an effort to intimidate and punish those who didn’t vote for the current President. The unofficial word on the street is that the current government officials (police, court system, etc.) won’t allow the opposition to win the election because they are afraid of loosing their high paying jobs and being tried on various charges of misconduct and corruption.

Now, a ship from China is trying to bring a shipment of arms to the Zimbabwe government. So far, the ship has been denied to dock in South Africa and Mozambique. It is now trying to get permission to unload the cargo in Angola. The concern from the countries in Southern Africa is that if those weapons get unloaded and shipped to Zimbabwe that there will be wide spread violence and genocide. Everyone seems to be holding their breath. No one is expecting a peaceful and suitable outcome but the weapons will make things much worse. The UN has been approached to help monitor the re-count and elections. The debate in the UN to go to Zimbabwe to oversee the recount and maintain a peaceful outcome is still on-going. Honestly, I doubt the UN will do anything to help especially at this point. As usual, too little is being done too late.

My request is to ask you to pray that you pray that the violence stops and that a peaceful outcome for the good of Zimbabwe is achieved and that the countries in Africa band together to keep the weapons out of Zimbabwe. My second request is that you look closer at your thoughts of the political situation and elections in the US. Take part in the elections. Don’t waste your right to vote. The voter turnout in the United States is pathetic. Too many people take that right for granted, me included. We complain, and rightfully so, about the political back stabbing, messy campaigns and campaign promises that are not kept. However, we have the most democratic and peaceful elections and change of elected officials in the world. We should be proud of that, protect that right and utilize it to its fullest. Voters came out in droves to vote in the Zimbabwean elections. They waited for hours in long lines to vote. The majority of the people voted. I don’t remember the percentage, but it was staggering especially compared to the voter turn out in the US. And yet, their votes aren’t being heard and many voters have already reaped the repercussions of exercising their “right” to vote. IF Zimbabwe accepts a change in government it won’t come peacefully.

A daily one minute prayer vigil has been organized by Christians in Zimbabwe. The request is that all Christians stop what they are doing at 8:00 AM, 1:00 PM or 8:00 PM and spend one minute praying for God to intervene in the affairs of Zimbabwe. These times of course are Zimbabwean time (GMT plus two hours), but your time zone will be just fine. The main point is to pray for the people of Zimbabwe and while you are at it, pray for the US including a word of thanks for the country we are privileged to live in and the rights we all take for granted. Just a short prayer. One minute. Nothing fancy or long. Just pray for these people who are living in such a desperate and hopeless situation.

Prayer is the only answer for Zimbabwe. We, as Christians, forget or don’t really understand the full extent of the power we have available through prayer. Our prayers are the most powerful asset we have. Together we can make a difference.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Deacons' Convocation

I had a wonderful week at the Deacon’s Convocation near Durban, South Africa. My week started with a relaxing Sunday morning and then the flight to Johannesburg, transferring to Durban. I flew with one small suitcase which I checked and a book to read. It was the first time in a long time that I was able to fly somewhere without a whole bunch of suitcases, my laptop and a bunch of other stuff to deal with. It was so relaxing. I actually felt like I was free! The little airport in Matsapha (near Manzini) is so African. They don’t start checking in passengers until one hour before the flight. Then they do it in a very slow fashion. People stand in line and don’t get upset. You have no idea what is taking so long, but it doesn’t really matter. Then they open the security x-ray machine and border control about 30 minutes before the flight. Everyone walks through, waits another 15 minutes or so until the little propeller plan lands from Jo’burg, the passengers get off and the new ones get on. No hurry, no rush and we left right on time. Now the international airport in Johannesburg was another story. There I had to walk for what seemed for ever, I waited in two lines to check in before I finally found the third line which was correct. But once again, no one seemed to rush and no one seemed concerned. It was very busy but very orderly. I made a mental note at one point walking through the airport at all the things that seemed so foreign the first time I came to South Africa that now seem so normal. It made me wonder what will seem abnormal when I return to the States, but I had to smile to myself and say a word of thanks to God for the adjustment to this country.

The convocation was held in a retreat center run by an order of nuns. It was in a beautiful neighborhood with a view overlooking an area called Valley of a 1000 Hills. I didn’t get a picture of the view because a picture wouldn’t have done it justice. The view was stunning. You could see for miles and miles and it seemed like you could see the 1000 hills. On the tops of the hills were a mixture of modern, large expensive looking homes and then on the hill sides and in the valley were hundreds of little mud or block homes some of which where round and some rectangle. The facility itself was an older, but very well kept up small hostel. It had about 20 small, but adequate rooms very simply furnished but very clean. It also had a couple of meeting rooms which were more like living rooms, a chapel and a dining room. There were 34 of us at the convocation. The shower was hot, the food very good. Unfortunately, the bed and pillow were extremely hard and I had a crick in my neck and a headache each morning.

The Deacons were some of the most loving, and welcoming group of people I think I have ever been with. They ranged in age from probably late 20’s to 70’s, possibly 80’s. They were from all over South Africa, Botswana and Malawi. There was a person who is applying to the Order of Deacons from Swaziland. One of the Deacons, from Botswana, had been the head of the VIP Police Security for Botswana for over 30 years before retiring and becoming a Deacon. He had worked with the Secret Service from the US and in the US when he travelled to the US with Botswana VIPs. He was a most interesting and endearing person. It was hard to believe he had once been the head of a division of the Police for the country and a man so well trained in every aspect of keeping security. There was one woman who is I think the most expressive person I have ever met – both verbally and with her facial expressions and body language. She was a pure delight. A lovely person as they would say here. I have no idea how old she was, but she wasn’t young. She lives in a retirement center and ministers to the other residents there. She wore me out just watching and listening to her! And then there was a young man who had the greatest sense of humor. He was always entertaining us with his gestures or comments, but he had a great and serious heart. I would love to hear his sermons. He reminded me a little of my youngest son Scott the way his humor and polite gestures always brought a smile to those around him.

The week’s schedule had time for the Deacons to take care of business regarding their calling and training. There was time to deal with issues and for the Deacons to know what was changing in the Book of Rules and Disciplines of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa regarding their Order. But most of the week was a spiritual, renewal time. On Tuesday we had sessions about having a heart for ministry – thinking and acting from the heart. The day started with the words from the song “You’ve Gotta Have Heart” and went on from there using scripture and relating to John Wesley’s conversion and teachings. Pardon the pun, but it went straight to my heart!

Wednesday was a most unusual, unsettling and depressing day. We took a “Cradel to Grave Toxic Tour of South Durban.” We were taken by bus to the various serious toxic sites in South Durban. The tour was conducted by a person from the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance ( I learned that the dirtiest of the Crude Oil is shipped to South Africa to be refined because the US, Canada and Europe won’t allow the emissions and toxic waste that comes from refining that grade of crude oil in their countries. Shell Oil/BP and Engen are the two refineries. They are right next to the Durban airport on an area of land that is prone to flooding. Living right next to the refineries, and I mean right next to them, is a community of people who where displaced and moved there during Apartheid. They have no where else to go. Some of these people are living right on top of toxic waste dump sites. There is a school that is built on top of a dump site. They have studies that show that 52% of the children at the school have Asthma and that the rate of Leukaemia and Cancer is significantly higher than the norm. One of the oil refineries built a basketball court for the school and put in a playground as compensation. Of course they are on top of the toxic dump site. They then took us to another area that is right next to the second largest township in Southern Africa. (A township is a poor black community.) This area was a dumping ground, often illegal, for hazardous chemical, medical and household waste for 10 years from 1986 to 1996. The waste was not covered or buried. Children were playing in the dump site. When it rains, the run-off runs right down through the people’s houses. The site is still not cleaned up or “contained.” Once again, these people have no where else to go. If you think Global warming and the death of our environment is just a political ruse between the major parties and the independents, think again. It IS an issue of money. The rich get richer (He said the oil refineries make a profit of R44million per day.) while the poorer go hungrier and get sicker and the planet suffers more and more. I have seen and read more about the death of God’s creation since being in Africa than I ever realized when I was in the US. Oh, yes, I was concerned about the environment and have always been irritated that people don’t have a clue how to conserve our energy and precious resources. But the reality of it is raised to an entire different level being on this continent where people are starving, yet food producing farms are being turned to fuel producing farms, the pollution is high, and the environment has changed so much that drought has become a reality in some areas and flooding has now become an issue in areas where it never used to flood. We are horrible stewards of God’s creation. This world is dying and we, especially as Christians, are doing basically nothing to protect God’s creation and its people world wide. OK, I’ll get off my soap box. I think you can tell that this was a very thought provoking day.

On Thursday, the day’s program was on burnout and stress. A Sister from a different Order than those who ran the retreat center who is also a Psychologist presented the material that day. She was such a delightful, caring person with a wonderful sense of humor. She admitted readily that she herself needed to be reminded of most everything she was talking about. Her major theme was that God instructed us to not only to love God and our neighbor, but to love ourselves. We so often forget that we are to love ourselves and take care of ourselves. If we don’t take care of us, we don’t have anything to give our ministry and others. She talked more about listening to our heart (and God) – taking the time to truly be silent and listen. She said if we can’t be quiet and listen to our heart, why do we think we can hear God speak to us? Good point. It is so hard to “be still” let alone “and know that I am God.” (Psalms 46:10)

I rode back to Swaziland with a Deacon from Nelsprit, South Africa which is about 2 ½ hours from Swaziland. It was a long drive, but the countryside was so beautiful and I enjoyed talking with her. As always, I learned a lot about the culture and the country. It was a wonderful week, and I was so blessed to be invited and to be welcomed as one of their family. I hope the lessons I learned, the reminders I heard and the friendships will stay with me for a long time to come.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Busy Week

This past week has been a busy one. It has left my mind completely full. On Monday and Tuesday Rev. Margaret Dlamini, the superintendent of the Mahamba Circuit guided us to 11 of her 14 schools. These schools are all in a very rural and poor part of Swaziland. But it is also in some of the prettiest areas of the country. The circuit is very hilly. Most schools are 3,000’ plus in elevation. We drove over 575 km in the two days. About half of that was on dirt roads. The needs of course are overwhelming. Every school lacked clean and/or adequate water. Because of the lack of water they can’t grow vegetables to feed the children and because of the poverty in the area, they run out of money to buy food to feed the children every day. The Mahamba Circuit serves over 5600 students. Over 41% of these children are what they call “Registered” OVC’s which means they have officially gone through the government’s process to be confirmed as single or double orphans or destitute meaning they live in extreme poverty with neither parent bringing in an income. If I were to add the non-registered OVC’s, the percentage would go up to around 70%. By comparison, the Central Circuit serves about 5200 students. Approximately 30% of these children are registered OVC’s.

In spite of the extreme poverty, the people and the land has an inner, raw beauty. I think of myself. When I don’t have water, can’t shower and don’t have enough to drink or eat, it clearly shows on my face, in my body language and certainly in my attitude. Even here in Swaziland I get extremely testy if I don’t have enough water to at least bathe. When I don’t drink enough water or eat right I get bad headaches. All I have to do is look at myself in the mirror and I know what the deal is. But as I look into the faces of the teachers, the mothers, the children I am so awe struck at how beautiful they are. The children are quick to smile and the adults are very welcoming. It boggles my mind almost more than the bouncing around on very rough dirt roads.

On Wednesday Rev. Kanana Nyameka and I went to visit two of the central circuit schools near the town of Big Bend in the low veld. One of these schools is on the grounds of a sugar cane plant and receives water and some support from the plant. The other, just about 5 km away received non drinkable water from the plant, but mainly serves children of migrant or unemployed sugar cane plant workers and area rural people. I was very encouraged to hear that both schools were going to receive food from UNICEF via the World Food Program for the children because they had gardens ready to plant to grow food for the children. Now the challenge for us is to see how we can help to get the other schools in that position to at least try to help themselves so that they can also receive a grant of food. I know it sounds backwards. You would think that the food should be just given to those schools that can’t or won’t help themselves. In the past it has been that way. But they have learned that it was promoting an attitude of waiting for a handout. They are moving to a program to help those entities, mainly schools, who will at least try to help themselves. They are calling this new program a work for food program. If they show they will work (i.e. grow a garden) in some way to improve their situation, they will give them food as payment for the work. It can’t be any worse than how they did it before, because the food distribution was never enough or reliable under the old system. The new plan should at least encourage and reward those who are willing to do something for themselves.

On Thursday we had a big meeting with Administrative Board members of the Swaziland Ministry of Education Regional Education Office at Lomngeletjane. We are trying to get the school registered by the government so that we can receive the teachers, curriculum and materials, initial desks and chairs. Unfortunately, the construction of the school started before the REO was notified. They are not happy. We have a lot to do by the end of May if the school can be registered in time for us to receive the teachers and materials for the start of the new school term in January, 2009. My prayer is that if this school is God’s will, that he will show us the way to get the leadership, labor, materials and funding to complete the items that need to be completed for the REO administrative board to give us the registration. This is Swaziland. This is Africa. Things don’t happen very fast here. There are always obstacles. This is truly in God’s hands.

Today I am leaving to go to Durban to attend a Deacon’s Convocation next week. I am extremely blessed to have been invited and am looking forward to getting away from all of the need for a few days and having some relaxed time for spiritual renewal and fellowship. I don’t know a soul, but was invited via e-mail by others who know I am alone here in Swaziland. All I know is that we will be at the Jacobs Well Retreat Center in the Valley of 1000 hills. Dress is casual and I must bring my own bible and stationary. It sounds wonderful. I am hoping this means there will be a semi-comfortable bed and a warm shower. Please pray for travelling mercies as well as physical and spiritual renewal.

Sunday, April 6, 2008


Friday I took the Principal from Salukazi Methodist Primary School to Lomngeletjane to see how the school is coming along and so she could observe the teacher and students. Officially, the teacher who is currently at Lomngeletjane is a member of the Salukazi teaching staff under the supervision of the Principal from Salukazi. Construction was started on the school without following the proper procedures to have a school registered with the Swaziland government. If the school isn’t approved and registered by the government, it becomes a fully private school which means the school will not receive any government funding. If the proper channels are followed and the school is formally recognized, the government will supply the school with desks, the curriculum, pay the teachers salaries and pay a standard amount for each registered and recognized OVC (Orphaned or Vulnerable Children). Lomngeletjane is in a very rural area and most of the children who will be attending are OVC’s. I am working with Rev. Nyameka to understand what needs to be done and work with the Regional Education Office under the Ministry of Education to get the school registered. The REO is not happy with us for not coming to them before construction on the school was started. It is taking a lot of apologies and grovelling to try and win their approval. We have a meeting scheduled for Thursday, 4/10 to take Administrative members of the REO to the Lomngeletjane site and hopefully get their approval. The visit on Friday gave Ellen, the Principal from Salukazi a chance to see the site, progress being made and to offer guidance on how we should handle the visit on Thursday. Her suggestions and encouragement were most helpful.

While visiting the classroom we found two boys struggling to learn to write their numbers. One was trying to write the number two, but kept writing it backwards and didn’t really know where to start to form the digit. The teacher has several children from different levels in the class but was not using any of the techniques we would use to help the child get started. I sat by the child for a few minutes, prompting him where to put the chalk to start and which way he was to move the chalk. He didn’t understand English, but he was slowly catching on. There was another child that Ellen pointed out to me just before we left that couldn’t even write the number one very well. It was hard to tell from just a few minutes of observation if the child, who was older, had just never tried it before, was having a hard time seeing it, had such low confidence in what he was doing that he didn’t want anyone to see him or perhaps was mentally slow. He could have been so hungry he didn’t have the energy to write and concentrate. Both boys broke my heart. At least the little boy who was struggling to make the number two gave me a big smile when I took his picture. The other boy never looked up.

Please pray we can convince the Administrative board members of the REO to approve the site on Thursday or there will be no point to finish the school because the Methodist Church is not in a position to financially support the school without government assistance. These children need a school because the closest school from this point is 5 km away through a very hilly area.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Christmas in April!

I was driving to Lomngeletjane yesterday and I saw a whole bunch of children walking with these boxes under their arms or on their heads laughing and talking. As I looked closer I saw that the boxes were wrapped in Christmas paper and had stuffed animals and clothing bulging out of the boxes. Then it hit me – these children had just received the Christmas Shoeboxes that are packed by kids and families all around the States. How cool is that?! I remember filling boxes with my son Scott and with my confirmand and with Sunday school classes over the years. But you always wonder what happens to them. Well here is some proof that they actually make it to children in rural schools. Rumor has it that 4,000 boxes were shipped to Swaziland. Not near enough for every child in the rural communities to receive one, but 4,000 children were very happy with their gifts. I stopped a group of children walking home and asked if I could take their picture. Of course they were thrilled to have me take their picture so they could look at it in my camera. They don’t seem to care that they will never see their picture again; they just like having their picture taken. One more example of how kids are kids everywhere.

So, if you have done the Christmas shoebox campaign before I hope this encourages you to do it again. If you haven’t participated in it before, I hope you will consider doing it next Christmas.

By the way, notice how muddy their feet and lower legs are. It had rained a lot early in the morning. These kids are walking on all dirt roads to get to school. The picture below is the puddle I have to drive around every time I drive to Lomngeletjane. It's getting to be more and more of a challenge because the road is getting worse and worse. All cars drive around the little dirt mound on the right on this picture.

Have a blessed day!

April Fool's Day Revisited

I went to bed late last night and dead tired, however I found that after a couple of hours I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was April Fools Day and how wonderful God is. I spent the rest of the night praising God. I know it sounds kind of strange but there’s a personal story that I felt I should have told along with yesterday’s wonderful adventure.

When I was a Senior in High School on April Fools Day Night my brother and sister-in-law left my parents house and hit a drunk driver who was passed out in his car with his lights off in the middle of the lane as it curved around on very dark highway. The drunk driver was barely scratched. He was a repeat offender. My brother and sister-in-law were seriously hurt and my beautiful 10-month old nephew was killed. I took the call from the police that night and thought at first it was someone playing an April Fools joke. I hated April Fools day from then on because it brought up all the events of that day and the days that followed. I also felt guilty for thinking it was a joke. It was a soul shaping event for me and while it is one of the first times I remember knowing that Jesus Christ was truly with me, at 18, I sadly can’t say it changed my future behaviour for quite a few years. But I never forgot His presence and I never forgot the fear and pain of loosing one so precious in such a senseless way. I must admit the event shaped some of my over-protected and worried behaviour towards my sons and it certainly took my humor away on each 1st of April from then on.

Last year, on April Fools Day, some of my dearest friends at FUMC-RR, led my Karah Ricketts who has more energy in her little finger than I do in my whole body organized the first “Dinner With Chris” fundraising event to raise funds for me to come serve in Swaziland. Liz, Mary, Madison, Ingelore, Dan and many others helped. When the date was first picked I felt my whole body tighten and I reluctantly said OK to the date. I was so blessed that day. As I was sharing my passion with those who came I realized that God was showing me it was time to let go of the past and look to a true future with Him. He was telling me He was with me through the events that took place 39 years prior and he would be with me always especially on the other side of the world serving Him. I knew from that day on, April 1st would have a different meaning for me.

Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of that horrible accident. I still thought of the events. I still mourn the loss of that precious loved one though I know he is in heaven and that his Grandmother is now with him. I know I will see him one day. But I didn’t dwell on the events. Indeed, I even forgot about it most of the day. They were certainly far from my thoughts as I was marvelling at God’s beautiful creation and thinking “I am driving in the middle of no where, in AFRICA, in the most beautiful countryside on a perfect day with a dear friend from another continent and culture.” I wanted to shout it out as loud as I could but knew I would scare everyone to death. I could see the headlines: “White woman gone crazy in the middle of Swaziland.” It was like driving through a Hollywood set in one of those big African movies. But no, I was experiencing God’s gift. God was reminding me of his steadfast, perfect love and that beauty can be found in the middle of no where in the simplest of pleasures. The children’s smiles when we got out of the car to go look at their little informal school was one of the most precious things on earth. There is poverty, hunger, disease, corruption, absurd political bureaucracy all around. But there is hope and there is love and there is beauty. You just have to open your heart and mind to it.

Thank you for all of your support and enabling me to be here in this beautiful country learning and listening to fulfil God’s purpose for me in this beautiful country. Have a Blessed Day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This must be heaven!

Today was the most beautiful day. It is the kind of day that if I was in Round Rock I would be saying “THIS is why I moved to Texas!” But I can’t say I moved to Swaziland because of the weather. This beautiful country and weather on days like today is just a major perk. This is truly God’s country. The coming of autumn brings out the beauty even more. So far, this is my favourite time of the year. It is even more beautiful than spring and summer were.

This has been a very interesting day. It started with a meeting that didn’t start of well with the woman who is the Regional Education Office’s Secretary in charge of registering new schools. Rev. Nyameka and I were going to see what needed to be done, and our worst fears were realized. Nothing had been done. The first block of classrooms is about 50% completed and the site hasn’t been approved by the REO. They were not happy with us. But with a lot of prayer, apologies and grovelling they have agreed to come and view the site and see if they will accept it. If they don’t, the church will have a new building. We need the government’s support to pay the teacher’s salary, provide education materials for the children, desks and chairs when the school opens and stipends for the OVC’s. One of the pieces of information they look at before approving a site is the distance to other schools in the area. There is an existing primary government school and they have approved a site to build a new school. I needed to have the distance preferably before a meeting with Chief Lomngeletjane tomorrow so Mrs. Thembi Dlamini, the person who really pushed to have the is school started and I drove to each of the sites to get the mileage. (Would that be kilometerage?!?) We drove to one of the most remote places I have been to. There is a little temporary shelter at the site of the school which will be built. There were a half a dozen kids there when we finally arrived at the site who, of course, were absolutely precious. They thought it was so great that I was taking their pictures.

Now, this road, if you could call it that, was right out of a movie about Africa. I wasn’t real sure my car, now faithfully named Betsy (I know, not real imaginative, but it is American!), was going to make it down the hill to wherever they were leading me to. I must say I wondered if they really had any idea where we were going. Luckily Thembie stopped a young high school student on the way and he politely took us to the school site. As I said, getting there was a bit stressful especially when my need fuel light came on. I thought I prayed a lot on the way down, once that light came on and we started up hill I prayed even more! But Thembie and I just kept laughing about our adventure and the places she takes me! I know the boy thought we were nuts. I’m writing this so obviously I made it back okay. It was quite an adventure into God’s beautiful creation. Once again, it was a day you just can’t believe unless you where there. I didn't get all the pictures I wanted to. I must not have pressed the button hard enough, but enjoy the pictures. I know they won’t do it justice. Just imagine. Thembie, my partner in adventure is pictured with the children that were at the school.

God bless this beautiful country with its beautiful children. Pray for God to use me to enhance its beauty and the health and welfare of the children according to his will, not mine.