Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One year in Swaziland!!

This is the day the Lord hath made. Let us be Glad and Rejoice!

A year ago I arrived in Swaziland. For the last week or so I have been reminiscing about leaving my family and friends in the States and the journey to Swaziland. I look back on many great memories, granted some of them bittersweet. Looking back the time has gone so quickly, but I remember those painful, emotional and lonely times especially during those first months when time seemed to stand still. But I was blessed even during those times to know personally what it is like to have the arms of Christ carry me and to feel the life of the Holy Spirit fill my empty, drained, overwhelmed body and mind. God does tend to strip us down so he can grow us up again all for his glory. I am so blessed to be here. I still ask myself almost everyday and certainly every time I am thanked “for all I do,” why I am here, what I did to deserve such a blessing and what God’s plans are for me. I haven’t done anything overwhelming. I haven’t accomplished great things. I am one person representing Christ and the United Methodist Church from the US in a small, very beautiful yet impoverished country with overwhelming needs and problems. But then I hear God’s whisper that I am where I belong and that His work isn’t about greatness, it’s about sharing His love one heart at a time, one child at a time, one person at time. I can do that with God’s help.

The following is a list of ramblings about this past year. It doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination begin to describe this past year and all the blessings I received and lessons I’ve learned. There is more in my heart than I can possibly put down on paper, but I have such joy and thanksgiving in my heart for the privilege of serving the Lord and for all of you who have supported me financially, spiritually and emotionally that I felt I had to try.

I'm sorry it is long. God Bless you!

· I arrived in Swaziland on the anniversary of my mother’s death the previous year. I missed her terribly but felt her strong presence with me those first few months. Then in May I abruptly flew home before my father passed away in June. I had no idea before I left the US the first hand experience I would have in dealing with death and grief and the impact my parents death would have on me. I also had no idea how much this experience would fill me with even more love for our heavenly Father.

· The Lord blessed me by putting wonderful women from the States serving in Swaziland with various mission organizations in my live. They have offered me Christian fellowship, study and support.

· I’ve been on every main tarred road in Swaziland and on more dirt roads than most Swazi’s. I’ve learned to drive on the opposite side of the road in a car that must perform as a 4-wheel drive even though it isn’t. I’ve forded rivers in the dark and found my way back from places using highly technical techniques such as counting the number of right versus left turns or looking at the configuration of trees, rocks or where the fence might end. Yes, the Lord answers all of our prayers.

· I have been to 25 out of the 36 Methodist schools and carepoints in Swaziland. I have no problem finding my way to 16 of them which is probably more than anyone else in Swaziland except for possibly Rev. Margaret Dlamini. I know the head teacher’s name at all 10 schools in Central circuit and can even recognize them when they are not at their school. This may not sound like much of an accomplishment, but believe me, I never thought I would be able to do this.

· I’ve experienced what it means to be flat on your face before God and also experienced His grace and comfort as he has reminded me that he is always with me.

· I’ve learned that at least 33% of the children attending Methodist schools are Orphaned or Vulnerable (severely destitute). Extended families, communities and schools are stretched thin trying to care for these children. I’ve also learned that most families who are trying to care for the children of relatives that have died do not receive any type of support for their efforts which often adds to the resentment. I’ve also heard, via an interpreter, many stories of children living on their own because parents have either died or abandoned them and of families or community members taking advantage of these children because they feel they are entitled to what is being given to them or because they want the land they are living on. I’m told of many, many children whose only food is what they receive at school or a carepoint. I can’t fathom how they survive during school vacations.

· I’ve become accustomed to seeing children who appear to be no older than 2 or 3 years old walking alone along a road in the middle of what seems like no where. Often these children don’t have any shoes on their feet even when they are walking on the hot pavement of the high ways in temperatures in excess of 90 degrees. Sometimes they may be wheelbarrows with water containers or carrying containers that are almost as big as they are. Sometimes they just seem to be walking.

· I’ve been thoroughly amazed and in awe of how the women quietly carry the burdens of life around with them including children on their backs and bundles on their heads. I look at some of these beautiful faces and wonder how they survive and wonder about their personal life stories.

· God has given me the patience to learn more about building structures and fences than I really cared to know. I’ve grown accustomed to going into the Swaziland version of Home Depot (about 1 10th the size, variety and number of items) and asking for a quotation of building supplies and converse with (male) builders regarding how something should or could be built. I still can’t get the metric thing, but at least I understand the lingo and am beginning to understand how they do things here, i.e. without fancy tools and machines, and what needs to be done first, second and third. I’m even getting pretty good at reading blueprints!

· I’ve learned much about the Swazi culture and continue to learn more each day. I’ve come to love greeting people by shaking hands. It is not in their culture to say hello from a far. They come and personally shake hands of those they are greeting. It is also their culture that when someone comes to visit, you provide them a drink of water before they leave. A big meal is always served at a celebration and their opinion of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is that it is breakfast food not lunch.

· I’ve learned much patience as I wait for my e-mail to load over a very slow phone line, or wait for things to be done in Swazi time. I’ve noticed I can finally stop saying to myself “patience is a virtue.”

· I’ve learned to always have a supply of water on hand to drink and to wash myself or use to flush the toilet. I’ve also learned that you schedule many things based on water availability. For example, if there’s no water, you dirty the least amount of dishes possible when cooking or eating. On the flip side, if there is water, you better do the dishes or wash some clothes (by hand of course, hanging them out on a clothesline to dry) because you may not have water the next day.

· I’ve grown accustomed to not going out after dark and planning ahead on groceries because the grocery store closes at dark. Most stores are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. There are a few restaurants in Manzini, but most of the decent ones require that I drive 20 to 30 minutes which isn’t something that I do alone at night. The amazing thing is that there are four Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Swaziland, two of which are in Manzini. And even more amazing is that you can buy a soft serve ice cream cone for R2.75 (about 30 cents US). I never though KFC would look or taste so good!

· I’ve experienced lightening strikes on my front porch, rain so hard it comes in under my front door, and wind blowing so hard I can see the dust blowing inside the house with all doors and windows shut. I’ve also seen the beauty of the mountains green from rain and the beautiful blooms that come with spring and summer. Swaziland is such a beautiful country.

· I’ve had a few uncomfortable encounters with beggars or people on the streets, but for the most part people have been warm and even protective. Those I’ve come to know greet me with genuine friendship and even love. The children at St. Paul’s Primary call out “Hi Chris” or “how are you?” as I walk through the school yard. When I go up to Lomngeletjane the people on the streets wave and the children in the classrooms get giggly. Some have even started to hug me. It is so amazing. And yet when I go to some of the schools that I don’t visit as often or see small children on the street I’ve also gotten used to being stared at and pray that over time my smile and hello will be responded to with a smile or hello back.

· God has blessed me with the means of transportation to enable the Manyano women to visit homesteads of people who are in need. A few of them also enjoy visiting the schools with me and will talk to children who they see who look in need to see what their needs really are. My heart is always deeply touched and I am amazed at the determination and fortitude of people who have such a hard life compared to virtually anyone in the US.

· We’ve got a small sewing circle started, with the same few ladies sewing school uniforms for the children on Lomngeletjane and then for other children in need. It is a blessing to visit with these very Christian and dedicated ladies.

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