Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The final day at Lomngelejtane for the LAVIM team

The preschoolers with their pictures on their way home. The kids love seeing themselves in a photo.

The children were introduced to Mardi Gra beads. Before the kids went home for the day the team gave each child mardi-gra beads, their photograph and a bag of candyand treats. The beads were a hit with volunteers and kids alike.

The foundation digging team. None of us thought at the end of the first day that the trenches for the foundation would be finished by the end of the 4th day. This is truly amazing. It was no little task and one of the biggest challenges was for Martha to overcome the initial resistance to a woman doing man's work.

Aren't these BEAUTIFUL? I have no doubt that they are not only the most well built latrines, but the most beautiful ones in all of Swaziland. The painting team was awesome!

Some of the parents cooked lunch for us. There were thank you's, pictures, fellowship and food. What more could one need? One could not only see, but feel the bond of friendship that was formed over these past few days. Friendships that I hope will last a life time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pics of the third day of work for the Louisiana Team

The team hit their stride today. The friendships they are forming is awesome. I think a wonderful day was had by all.

Mr. Absalom Mamba (the man in the center dressed in brown), Chief Lomngeletjane's closest adviser, came to say "hi" to the team and talk to the team about some of the Swazi culture. He is very impressed with all the team has done.

The team working with the children introduced them to finger paint and drawing today. In the pictures below they are making a banner of hand prints to hang on their classroom walls. The team is really having a blast with the kids.

I don't think the team working on the foundation thought that they would ever actually break through the hard clay like dirt enough to actually dig the trench. But the trench is about knee deep! The greatest part is for the male Swazi's adjusting to having a female doing "man's work" especially when she is the strongest worker! Yeabo for girl power!

Marking where the cream paint will end and the terra cota paint for the bottom of the wall will begin. Followed by the painting of the door frames for the toilets. They have done an excellent job...and Johnny is still hoping they did it good enough! Swaziland has never seen such well constructed and beautifully painted latrines!

The final cleaning of the windows. I walked by the windows and they were so clean I wondered why there wasn't glass in the window panes!

Shelling the corn isn't as easy as it looks for tender fingered Americans, but it is a lot of fun sitting with the ladies and listening to them talk.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Sunday and Monday's Activities

We've been so busy, it has been hard to update the blog. I'm sorry. The team worshiped with the congregation at Lomngeletjane on Sunday. It was a wonderful service. The team really enjoyed the spirit that moved so beautifully amongst the people. Below is a picture of some of the congregation dancing with joy of the blessings they have received. Following the service they served us a delicious meal of semp and sugar beans, white and red skinned native sweet potatoes, maize, maize bread, salad, beef in gravy. It was all wonderful.

After lunch, we visited the Swaziland Cultural village. Below are a few pictures of some of the team learning to dance the traditional Swazi dances! After the dancing we took a short tour of a traditional homestead and then went to Mantenga Falls which are very near to traditional homestead.

Today, the team was back hard at work at Lomngeletjane. We had several work groups going on. One team gave the grade one children play dough to play with. They had never seen play dough and at first they weren't sure what to do with it. But they caught on real quick! Another team took individual pictures of all of the children and teachers in the preschool and primary school. That was a lot of fun working with the children to try and get them to smile and look at the camera at the same time! Barbara and Ann had the patience of a saint. The pictures will be given to the children on the last day. These children have never had a picture of themselves so this should be quite a treat.
A third team worked on painting the latrines. Just the coat of primer on the outside walls makes a huge difference! They are racing against the clock to get them finished before they leave. Then a fourth team worked at scraping the paint off the windows. When the windows were originally painted by John the builder, he did a rather quick and messy job. The team repainted the windows on Saturday and then today started scraping off all of the paint that was on the window panes. They look fantastic. A fourth team worked with a few of the local men digging the trenches for the foundation of the teacher's house.
We also had a few ladies from St. Paul's that planted about a 8 or 10 trees that had been donated to the school. And last, but certainly not least, several of us ladies helped 4 Swazi ladies take the maize off of the cob so it can eventually be ground into mealie meal which is then cooked for the children to eat at their break (lunch) time.
Tomorrow will be another busy day. We are going to start earlier than we have been starting because everyone is getting anxious to finish some of the projects before we leave on Thursday morning for Kruger National Park.
I will try to get some updated pictures on the website on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Our first work day on Saturday May 23

Group picture of the team from Munholland United Methodist Church from New Orleans, Louisiana with some of the community people that came to help us. A great day was had by all! Praise God!

The great lunch crew making sandwiches for the team and the community members who joined us followed by a glimpse into digging for the teacher's house foundation.

Some of the most excellent painters. We painted all of the windows and door frames in the four classrooms. The school now looks even more beautiful!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Eagle has landed!

Saubouna! The team from Munholland United Methodist Church of New Orleans arrived safe and sound Thursday night at 9:15. This team is organized! They were through customs in record time. We stayed that first night in Johannesburg at the new eMseni Christian Conference and Retreat Center. It took several years of careful planning, but it is absolutely beautiful. You can feel the Lords prescence everywhere. They use this conference center for Walks to Emmaus.

We had a good night's sleep, although it was a bit short, then up for breakfast, gathering our belongs, I was able to spend some sweet, sweet time with the Lord walking around the small man made lake and the beautiful gardens before the others were up and moving. It was a special treat for me because I don't have anywhere in Swaziland I could do such a thing. Just before leaving we had our morning devotional in the chapel.

The drive to Swaziland went smoothly. It took a bit longer with two Kombies, one of which was pulling a trailer plus my car all loaded with luggage and people. The team has 18 people plus Richard and I for a total of 20.

After crossing the border, we stopped at the Ngwanya glass factory so they could see the men actually blowing glass. We had a bit of late lunch (personally, I just had a piece of carrot cake!) and then it was on to the Madonsa Guest house which they will call their home until Thursday morning, the 28th.

From the Madonsa last night we went up to St. Paul's and were greated for several people from St. Paul's. The provided a wonderful dinner for us all and they had a chance to start getting to know some of the team members. This morning, as soon as I sign off this computer we will be heading up to Lomngeletjane Memorial Methodist Primary School to start working. Will update tonight with more pictures. The picture below is part of the group in our evening devotionals in the living room of the Madonsa Inn.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An Awesome Day

Today has been an awesome day. It started with a buzz on my cell at 5:50 AM. A buzz is when someone calls and only lets it ring once as a signal of something which has hopefully been pre-defined. It’s the equivalent of the old American call collect and when the person answers and hears the operator they know you are home safe or to call you or whatever you managed to quickly say with the operator still on the line. Ah yes, those “good old days!” My dear, sweet Thini had messaged me last night to say that we needed to wrap a chain of prayer around my dear friend Laura in California who had just had surgery to remove infection from the wound from a surgery a few weeks ago. Thini said we had to pray at 6:00 AM for 5 days and that she would buzz me so we could all pray together. (I know that at least Thoko is also part of this chain.) It was such a sweet time with the Lord knowing I was praying with friends even though we were all in our separate houses. The fact that they are my Swazi sisters-in Christ made it even sweeter. It was awesome and left me lifting my voice in songs of praise and worship.

Then I went up to Lomngeletjane to work with the preschool children. They are the most precious little children. I love them all to death. The teacher helped me learn how to pronounce all of their names and gave me their birthdates. I am going to make little name tags for them to wear when I am there to help me learn their names and help them begin to recognize their own name in writing. I read them a very simple book on counting from one crawly caterpillar to ten tired tigers and another one on the ABC’s. They didn’t know much of what I was saying, but they do count in English and the ABC’s are the same although the combination of letters in Siswati words form completely different sounds from English. They picked up the concept of counting the objects in the picture on each page with me but the ABC’s was completely over their heads because they didn’t know what most of the items pictured were. I’m sure this was the first time the children had ever had a book read to them. We then sang some songs and then they worked on their daily assignment: to write their numbers from 1 to 10 whether or not they know how to write a zero and a 1. (They do this every day which drives me crazy.) The kids wrote on the individual chalk boards we got for them last year as part of a grant for teaching aids from USAID. I talked to the teacher about maybe arranging the kids at the tables so that those who are further ahead could sit together and those who need more help can sit together so we could give them different things to work on. She seemed to think that is a good idea.

When I was preparing to come to Swaziland, I thought I would be working with individual children. As it turned out, that was not God’s plan. However, I now feel that the Lord has given me permission to take some time away from the other projects to work a little with this group of children and that it is okay to work with these kids over kids at other schools. I don’t have a clue what I’ll do. I’ll make it up as I go along. Anything will be better than nothing. I hope to spend time with these children once or maybe twice a week when I don’t have teams here. I don’t have any grandiose plans or ideas about what fruit our time together will bear. I just pray that I can bring a little joy and excitement into their lives and let them know that they are all loved and cherished as precious children of God.

In the afternoon, I took Jeri and Gary Carson-Hull to Manzini with me as I ran a few errands including getting some of the tools that the team needs and construction materials that John needs to get ready to start digging the foundation for the teacher’s house at Lomngeletjane. I also took them to the grocery store. That’s always an interesting outing. They did well. Jeri and Gary are a couple from California who came to Swaziland last Friday to help me with teams and projects for the next couple of months. They leave the first week or so of September. As always things haven’t gone quite as planned in regards to their housing. However, we have a place for them now with a real good lead for them to housesit for an American missionary couple who will be in the States for the months of July and August. As always, through prayer, petition and with a bit of patience, all will be well.

Monday, May 18, 2009

One down, One to go!

One of the toilets is pretty much finished! Yeabo!

The second one is getting close. It should be done by Wednesday or Thursday at the latest.

I do believe we are almost ready for the team. Things are coming together and everyone is excited. We pray for safe travel for the team, for me as I drive to Johannesburg to help pick them up and for Richard and the other drivers as we bring them to Swaziland and for the remainder of their trip.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Praise God! Yeabo!

Yeabo! The first of the two pit latrines is almost finished and the second isn't far behind. They will be ready to paint when our team from Louisiana arrives on May 22nd. But the best part was the two plus hour meeting John, Bethuel and I had with the Schools inspector. He approved of the toilets, made a few suggestions and thought John is doing a great job. We then staked out where the next four classroom block will go, praying the funding will come to make this happen next year. We wanted to stake this building out so we can start planting some trees, including fruit trees and we didn't want them to be in the way of future buildings. (Imagine, we're actually planning things! What a concept!) And then we walked down to where the teacher's house is going to be built. In faith, after prayer and discussions with John and Bethuel and using what I know and have learned since being in Swaziland, I told them we will build the foundation to accommodate two teacher's houses, however, I will only build one house. (The plans are for what we would call a duplex and it is typical here to build only one house at a time depending on funds.) Building the foundation for both houses will make it easier for them to build the second house sometime down the road and the house will be better because of the solid foundation. I didn't realize that we will need a septic tank for the house, but the inspector told us the measurements and requirements for piping and we talked about the best plan for longevity. The exchange of ideas is so exciting - almost as exciting as seeing the stake go into the ground of where the corner of the first teacher's house will be. Part of the team coming on May 22nd is going to help dig the foundation.

I ask for prayers of thanksgiving that such good progress is being made and even in our timeline! Second I ask for prayers for safe travels of the team when they leave the States next week to travel to Swaziland and while they are here. They return to the States on May 31st. And third, I ask for prayers that the funding will come to complete this teacher's house this year and then more funds will come to build the four-classroom building next year so that this very poor but beautiful community will have the minimum requirements for a complete primary school for grades one through seven.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lomngeletjane Update

Thoko and I went to Lomngeletjane to check on the progress of the toilets and to look at the windbreak trees and the garden area. We were pleased to see the progress John is making on the toilets. Barring a crisis, they will be finished on schedule. While looking at the windbreak trees we found about a dozen wild mango trees and a few indigenous berry bushes. We will want to clear the weeds and grass around them so that we make sure to keep them visible and not accidentally trample or cut them down. We also shook our heads at the irony of having such a great fence now (thanks to the Round Rock team last year) so now the cows and goats don't come into the school property but now the grass is so tall everywhere that we have to figure out how to cut it or bring a few cows or goats back into the school grounds to help get rid of the grass! We also discovered that only half of the maize was harvested. School starts on Tuesday, the 19th so John will have the kids finish harvesting the maize that day so we can then hire a tractor to come in plow the stalks under in preparation to plant a vegetable garden.

Thoko and I had a productive day, but more important, we had a
nice day talking about all kinds of things as friends do. I finally had to hurry home because it was starting to get dark and I certainly didn't want to cross the river in the dark. (When I picked her up this morning, she walked across the river to meet me because I was hesitant to cross it again. When we came back I crossed the river to take her home and could tell that the river was not as high as it was last week and then we watched a car cross it so I could see the best path to take across it.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Last week's adventures

Last week went by rather quickly. It was a fairly busy week. On Tuesday my friend Mary Beth and I went to Nelsprit, SA for the day. We both looked at our calendars and decided if we didn't go then we probably wouldn't be able to go until mid-July or August after the teams left and things settle down. We left Mbabane around 6:45 AM to go through the border shortly after it opened. It was a beautiful day with almost no traffic on the roads or at the border. As always, our first stop was to get a good cup of coffee or in my case a good decaf latte. Then we had a few things to get in the mall and then went for lunch at Mugg & Bean. This is right next to a grocery store that carries the largest assortment of US foods anyone has encountered in all of South Africa. Mugg & Bean and the grocery store were the center of our trip to Nelsprit. We were like kids looking at everything on the shelf and discovering a few prize items. For me the highlight was a can of Bush's BBQ baked beans, two cans of black beans (they don't have black beans anywhere here) and a small package of frozen blueberries! For Mary Beth it was a spray bottle of Fabreeze. We were so excited with how we scored big time, even though we spent an arm and a half for the items. Our trip back was wonderful and we made it back to Mbabane well before dark which now comes about 5:45.

On Wednesday I took the ladies who volunteer for Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu (For the love of Christ) project out to lunch to celebrate being funded for another 6 months. The ladies donate their time to travel with me to the homesteads of the children we are trying to help with the project. I should say that I drive with them. I'm the transport. They do all the actual work. I took them to my favorite restaurant in Swaziland: Mantenga Lodge. In typical Swazi fashion, things didn't go as planned, however, the ladies all said they had a great time and enjoyed the opportunity to talk. I was disappointed during much of the afternoon because the restaurant had changed their menu so my favorite dish wasn't available anymore (spareribs with sauce as close to Texas as any I've found so far.) But also it drove home to me how very different our cultures and expectations are. I love the view as much as the food, but for them, even though they had never been there before, the view didn't mean as much to them and they were disappointed in the menu because they didn't serve what Swazi's consider a celebration meal, meaning much meat. The waitress graciously worked with the cook to provide them the meal they wanted. Then the ladies talked mostly in Siswati so I ended up sitting there reminding myself to take in the beauty of the scenery all around me. I gathered from what little I did understand that they were venting a lot of emotions regarding Swazi life in general and some things that have been going on at the church which haven't been real Christian like. One of the ladies on the executive committee also joined us and I was doubly glad because she could offer them wonderful words of wisdom, encouragement, hope and thanks for all their efforts.

After lunch I had to take three of the ladies home because it was late and it had started raining. My dear friend
Thoko who lives the farthest out in the rural area would not be able to get transport at that time of the day/evening and it was raining so she would have had to walk in the rain. I couldn't take one home without taking them all home. When we dropped her off at her house in the pouring rain she directed us to go back via a way I have only been once before. She said it was shorter and that the river isn't as high in that spot so it is easy to cross. The other ladies had the directions so they directed me quickly without any trouble to the river. At first glance at the river I gasped "Oh my God! We have to pray." Praying started with me saying 'Lord, I trust you will get us across this river.." I started slowly across with that pit in my stomach warning me I was doing something I really should know better than to do it. The river isn't very wide, maybe 20 feet across. About 1/3 to 1/2 way across I swear I felt my wheels leave the soft, sandy river bottom. I prayed harder and held my breath and fought the urge to close my eyes. As my car kept going forward across the river and my car started reaching the more solid dirt of the river bank, I started saying " Lord, 'Even though I walk through the valley of death' has new meaning for me. Thank you for being with us." It was a few minutes after getting onto solid ground that I started breathing normally again.

On Thursday I took
Thoko and Thini to a Manyano meeting at the Lutfotja society where we first started the Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu project. We wanted to explain to the women about the project and formally hand it over to their local CCS (missions person). She will keep in touch with the families and report back to us progress or needs while we start working with the second school. When we arrived we saw one of the children we help and her Aunt. Mthokoisize was also in attendance. The Rural Health Motivator was also there. It was so good to see these people that I have come to love. It was like coming home. The little girl, Samekelisiwe, actually let me give her a hug! I didn't understand a word they were saying during the meeting, but I could see on every one's faces that they were listening intently to what Thoko and Thini were saying and that they were all praising God for our visit and what our project has done for the children in their community. The grandfather of one of our children brought a big pot of backed sweet potatoes for us to eat and then gave a big bag of them to Thoko and Thini to take home. It was a very blessed day and I think it gave Thoko and Thini a lot of encouragement for the work they do. They don't often get much encouragement, just complaints from most of the women at St. Paul's. My personal highlight was when Samekelisiwe came and sat next to me when I motioned her to and let me hug her and sit there with my arm around her rubbing her back. She was so afraid of me when she first met me and she was so obviously sick. Now she is much, much better. She looks healthy and has the most beautiful smile. Unfortunately she doesn't hear well. We're sending her to a ear specialist at another hospital this week to see if they can do anything for her. As we left, we were loaded down with 4 additional ladies plus the big bag of sweet potatoes. What a site! By the way, their "sweet potatoes" aren't like ours in the US. These are white with a texture somewhere between an overcooked red sweet potato and an old white potato. They are very dry and kind of stick in your throat no matter how you cook them. The taste is okay though.

On Friday,
Bethuel and I went up to Lomngeletjane to check on the progress of the toilets. We were very disappointed and actually a bit angry that John and his crew had not been working very much since our last visit. We also had to wait for almost an hour before he actually got on-site. Bethuel and I had a pretty stern, plain discussion with him and I told him both toilets needed to be completely done by May 19th when school starts up again. Our first team, from Louisiana, arrive on May 22nd. I received a message this morning that John is on-site, the materials we ordered were delivered on Saturday and he is working hard so I shouldn't worry. Actually, I do have faith he will get in gear and get the buildings finished, but this IS Swaziland. Anything could happen to delay him.

On Sunday, I went up to Mbabane to attend a English speaking church with several
people there who are here with Children's Cup. It was bittersweet but such a blessing. The day was absolutely beautiful with just a touch of cool crisp fall weather and the beautiful white clouds suspended in the most beautiful blue sky that only seems to happen in the fall. The pastor, an American, called all mothers up on stage and gave us a chocolate candy bar and prayed for us and all of the mothers and gogo's (grandmothers) around the world. The tears couldn't be held back as I thought of how much I miss my mother and my sons. But I felt the love of Christ wrapped around me and knew it was okay. Okay to miss them, okay to cry and okay to cling to Christ in my humanity because he was clinging to me right back.

Ben, the Pastor, said one thing that stuck in my mind and heart that is so very, very true. He said makes (mothers, pronounced
magay) and gogos in Swaziland work harder, sacrifice more and love unconditionally more than any of the mothers or grandmothers he has seen anywhere else in the world where he has been. They certainly have it much harder than anyone in the US could even imagine, even the poorest of our poor in the US. I find this so true and what strikes me the most is the love and sacrifice of the gogos above all else. They are the hope for the future and yet their own future is so limited. I shudder to think where these children would be without the gogos. No matter how poor the gogo is, her homestead is always much better off than one that has no gogo. You can't always see the difference, but you can feel it. It's all because of the grandmothers love, eternal sacrificing and dedication to her children and especially her grandchildren. God bless the gogos.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A blessed morning

This morning, as I was walking across the grounds of St. Paul’s to get my car to go to an English speaking church in Mbabane, and feeling just slightly guilty for doing so, I saw a young man probably in his mid to late 20’s by the name of Sibusiso Ntshingila. I met Sibusiso for the first time the last weekend in February when the Manyano where having their Outreach event at St. Paul’s. Sibusiso was “in charge” of the 80 kids (that grew to about 200) from the St. Paul’s care point that were supposed to get food parcels and clothes. He had such a gentle manner and the children all listened to him and obeyed him without his ever having to raise his voice. I was very impressed. He was a natural with the kids. When I talked to him he told me he was the caterer for the event and that he had volunteered to help out with the kids. I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t a teacher and told him so. I’ve seen him a few times since so it was quite natural this morning for me to say “hi” and reach out to shake his hand in greeting. I told him that I had heard he was doing some good things with the children from the care point. He gave me a terrific smile (which comes so natural to him) and basically gave me his testimony. He told me that God has called him to children’s ministry. He said he didn’t know what that looked like or how he was going to get there, but he knew God would guide him. Since that weekend in February he heard God’s call to work with the children from the St. Paul’s carepoint using a holistic approach…feeding their body and their souls with good food. He also said that for about 3 weeks he wrestled with God’s call and responded with his list of excuses and fears. God’s response was to show him how all of the lessons he has learned in life, from using drugs and then selling drugs them and then stopping “cold turkey” to how to start and run a catering business has prepared him for what he is now called to do.

I had chills going up and down my back and arms. I kept saying “Praise God” as he talked because what he was saying was just so awesome and the true look of joy on his face was purely the face of the Holy Spirit. I have struggled with what to do about the St. Paul’s carepoint since I came here. I decided that the answer to my prayers was to just wait which has been very hard to do. But then Sibusiso showed up out of nowhere. He is taking information do about each child so they can then do home visits determining what the child’s home life is really like and what the needs are so that plans can be made to help as they can. He talked of doing some things as simple as giving each child a small piece of cake on their birthday so they will know they are special. God is good!

I praised God the whole way to church. I almost went up to the church early this morning to retrieve my car so no one would see me, but one thing after another came up. And then as I walked through the grounds of St. Paul’s on my way to get the car I ran into a few people I hadn’t seen for awhile and chatted with them. If all of those things hadn’t happened, Sibusiso and I wouldn’t have met this morning and I wouldn’t have heard his story or told him how thrilled I was and that I would be praying for him. God’s timing is nothing short of a small miracle.

Please pray for Sibusiso thanking God for his life and his responding to God’s call and for continued guidance as he embarks on the journey God has laid out for him.

Friday, May 1, 2009

We're getting closer!

Aren't these beautiful? I wish they were a little further along, but I think John is doing a good job.