Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Update on Nashville team and Tiphelele

The team is doing amazing work! They are always cheerful and are extremely hard workers. They are awesome representatives of Christ, the Church, the US and just what teenagers can do, given the chance. Below you will find a few pictures of the team at work. They have divided into different teams to accomplish so much of the work that needs to be done:
1. A tree planting team - they are planting approximately 70 wind-break trees. Lomngeletjane can get a lot of high wind, so these will help protect the future orchard, the teacher's houses, and the other buildings.
2. A team to work with the children - they are doing crafts with the children and teaching them songs and games. The children are so happy and are having a great time. When the kids go home around 1:00, this team then helps out on the other teams.
3. Dirt moving team - unfortunately, I don't have a good picture of this team at work. They are moving the dirt that came out of the pits for the toilets away from the structures to an area that will need dirt when the next classroom block is built. (I'm hoping this can happen later this year or early next year.)
4. A weed-eating team. We rented two "brush cutters" yesterday (Tuesday) to try and get rid of some of the weeds and reduce the fire danger. This was hard, dirty work and unfortunately probably didn't accomplish much. We're re-thinking how to reduce the fire danger at the school. I've been trying to convince the community to tie up some goats to eat the grass, but they don't think such a crazy idea would work. I haven't given up yet.
5. The foundation team. The team is doing an amazing job on the foundation. They have poured the layer of concrete that will support the blocks for the foundation. They are even ahead of schedule! John, the builder, anticipated that IF they were hard workers, they would be ready to start laying blocks on top of this cement on Thursday. They are going to start today (Wednesday)!

And finally, an update on Tiphelele. She is doing much better. She is still on oxygen and is receiving antibiotics. Rev. Nyameka, Jeri and I went to visit her in the hospital yesterday (Tuesday). On Monday the Dr. recommended she be put on formula instead of breast milk because he is concerned that the mother doesn't have enough breast milk to feed both babies. He also recommended a stronger anti-biotic that he said was expensive and not in stock at the hospital. The antibiotic was hard to find in the pharmacies in Manzini, but I finally found it and it only cost about $20 USD. I also bought formula and nappies (diapers) for them. On Tuesday, Rev. Nyameka reminded me that there was a baby at home that wasn't being fed milk so I bought more formula and more nappies and took the mother home to visit with her baby and other children at home. Please continue to pray for Tiphelele and this family. I pray that Thipelele and her family will all grow in their strength, health and faith in Jesus Christ.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Praise for Belmont UM team arrival and prayers for sick baby

The team from Belmont UMC in Nashville, Tennessee arrived Saturday morning. They had quite a journey. Their flight out of the US was delayed due to a severe storm in their flight path, when they finally arrived in Jo'burg they had missed their connecting flight to Cape Town and found that none of their checked luggage had made it onto the plane. So they had to spend the night, a few hours actually, in a motel and after more mix ups they finally got on a flight to Cape Town mid Thursday morning. Luckily the airline put them up in a hotel on Wednesday night and gave them a voucher to buy some clothes since they didn't have their luggage.

On Friday, I drove to Jo'burg and about 5:00 PM Richard and I decided we would go to the airport to try and find out about their luggage. That was a very frustrating experience, but perseverance and faith paid off. It was nothing short of a miracle that their luggage arrived on Friday night's flight and that the airport officials finally allowed us in to see if it was all there. The even bigger miracle was that they let Richard and I take it with us. It saved us time and also allowed us to have the luggage packed before we went back to the airport on Saturday morning, and because we had the luggage we realized that we didn't have to bring the travel which is another huge blessing.

On Saturday, we met the team and then took over the Whimpys in the airport to get them a "quick" lunch before driving to Swaziland. Two of the women went to fill out the required forms to get reimbursed from the airlines. Over two hours later we finally left the airport. We were supposed to be at St. Paul's at 6:00 for a welcoming dinner with youth leaders from the Methodist Church of South Africa who had come to St. Paul's for a meeting over the weekend. We didn't arrive at St. Paul's until after 7:30. But the team ate, and I think they really enjoyed meeting the few people who were still at St. Paul's. We left St. Paul's around 8:30 for the drive back up the hill towards Mbabane to the Emafeni Christian Conference Center where they are staying. Thank God they gave me keys for the rooms on Friday because there wasn't anyone there except the security guards when we finally arrived. It was after 11:00 that night when I finally made it back home to Manzini.

Sunday was worship up at Lomngletjane. We filled the classroom. After worship they shared a meal with the community. The meal was cooked once again by Zitsile and her mom Maggie. They got up at 2:00 am to start cooking the meal. After the meal the group split into four groups and visited 5 different homesteads. We had bought food parcels for them to deliver to each family. Jeri and I went back to Maggies house to help her wash the dishes while the teams were visiting the homesteads, but the little bit I heard tells me it was a once of a life time experience. Praise God!

While visiting one of the homesteads, they found a baby very sick. The mom of the baby helped us when the team from Louisiana was here. She has twins. One is developing normally and seems quite rambunctious. The second one is quite a bit smaller and didn't seem to be doing real well two weeks ago. The woman came to church with only one of the babies. When the team took food parcels to the home they discovered the baby, Thepelele, was very sick. So I went to the homestead to have a look. The baby had been sick since Thursday and had turned worse. I took the mom (Bongiwe) and the baby to the hospital in Manzini. Since it was Sunday late afternoon, we had to go through the Emergency. Although I pray I never have to be a patient there, the wait wasn't much longer than we would have had to endure in the US. It brought back many memories of taking Christopher (my oldest) to emergency for high fevers, ear infections, etc. Scott's claim to fame was stitches. There were a few moments I thought I was going to break down and cry, but God gave me strength. The mom didn't know what was going on and was very concerned about her daughter. I was a little help in carrying things for her and just being there. The Doctors immediately put her on oxygen and they did their intake process. I kept trying to read over his shoulders to see what he was writing, but all that got me was being kicked out to wait with everyone else outside. After a while I was able to sneak into the treatment room and could talk to Thepelele, and helped hold her into a sitting position so the mom could put a little water into her mouth. She actually drank about 4 ounces of water over the hour or so which is a good sign. They admitted the baby. I still don't know what the diagnosis is. She is 9 months old but especially last night she seemed more like a child that was just a couple months old. She could barely squeak out a cry. I left the mom around 7:30 last night and am headed back this morning to check on them and see if they need funds to pay for anything.

Please pray for Thepelele (pictured below) and her mom.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

To Gogo's (grandmother's) House We Go

This week the weather suddenly turned cold, cloudy and rainy. The cold weather is not unusual for this time of the year, but the rain is very unusual. When the cold set in my thoughts turned to the gogo I met in April that has to be 90+ years old. She tells us she is 2000 years old! I wanted to take her a warm blanket and a little bit of food. So this morning, Jeri, Gary and I met Thoko in town and then we drove to the rural community of Ekukhanye which is about 30 minutes outside of Manzini via a dirt road of course. We met the CCS from Ekukhanye Methodist church and then went to the homestead.

The woman lives in the mud house on the left of the picture below. Her granddaughter who lives on the homestead with her said that she wasn't feeling well, but that we could go into her house to visit with her. We walked into the house and it was so smokey we could barely see or breathe. There was a little fire going inside a wheel rim off of an old automobile that was sitting by her bed. The house is made out of rocks and sticks and then covered with mud. The floor is mud and the roof is thatched. There are no windows or any ventilation to the house.

She was glad to see us again. She is such a kick. She would say anything that was on her mind. She told us she had a son and a daughter but both have passed away. She has her granddaughter and great grand daughter who is about 18 months and a grandson that is 12. When we first arrived she said to us in English "many thanks." She also told us she was hungry and hoped we had brought her food, which we did. We gave her an orange to eat and she was so happy and gummed that orange pretty fast. (I don't think she has any teeth left.) Then I put a warm, soft blanket around her. She kept saying it was so soft and then she started praying. She was thanking God for our visit, the items we brought and asking God to keep us safe as we traveled home. Then she said "When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink, when I needed clothes you gave me clothes and when I was cold you gave me a blanket to keep me warm." That humbled me so much and went straight to my heart. I've read that verse in Matthew many times and have wondered how many times I didn't do those things. This is the first time that I actually tied in what we were doing with that verse. We bring food and clothes to people and we help them get to the Doctor for medication, but somehow I never really thought of myself doing what the scripture commands us to do. I just knew it was what was in my heart and that it needed to be done. We left shortly after and she kept saying in English to us "many thanks." Bless her heart.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A long day and a new name!

Yesterday was one of those 12-hour days in the mission field. It was full of highs and lows, but what’s new? And of course winter decided to hit yesterday so it was very cold, cloudy and drizzling part of the day.

The day started with a visit to Mthokozise’s school to get a report on how he is doing. Imagine three Swazi women and I going into the office to have a meeting with our “son’s” teacher? He had no idea that Mthokozise was being supported by the Methodist Church, of his home life and situation or that he was loved so much by so many mothers. He thanked up profusely for being so involved in his life. He said most people just send a check at the beginning of the school year and never follow up. He said he was so blessed to see our love and concern for this child. After meeting with him, we saw Mthokozise on his break. We all had to give him a hug and each of us had some question or word of motherly advice for him. As I hugged him in the middle of the school yard, I thought of how I wouldn’t have dared to do that to my own sons. They would have disowned me. Ah, the little ironies of life.

From there we went to check up on a few of our kids that are part of the Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu project that are ill and leave money at the school for them to see a Doctor. The CCS (Christian Community Service) Manyano (Methodist) woman from that society (congregation) has been actively working with these children and their families on behalf of this project. She said she went around begging with people to give her blankets for one family that had none. She also talked about Mthokozise’ and his sisters needs at church on Sunday. As a result the members of that small society took up a collection of 75 rand to help feed the children. That isn’t a lot by our standards, but for people who are mainly unemployed with little cash, it is a tremendous amount. Our hearts were bursting with joy at how much our sister in Christ has learned and is growing in her role as the society’s CCS.

Then we drove over the river and through the hills to Salukazi Primary school. We added 11 families from that school to our Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu Project. We have visited all but two of the families. These last two families live so far out in the rural area that no one really knows where their homesteads are. So we picked up the children to show us where they live. The first child’s homestead was way, way out in the middle of no where. His grandfather said it takes them 2 hours to walk to school. I’m not sure that is exactly true, but I’m sure it takes at least an hour and we’ve been told by the head teacher at the school that some of the girls from this area have been raped as they walk to school. The grandfather lives in this homestead with one daughter who is a widow and a son living there with his wife. The grandfather has two grown children who have died. In addition, there are 12 children living on the homestead; six where under 4 or 5 years of age. As the ladies talked with the adults, I sat on my mat watching the children, observing the adults as they talked and praying. The mother of the youngest child had one of the children run and get her a bottle to feed to the baby when it woke up and cried a little. I found myself thinking that the mother was probably HIV+ or she wouldn’t be giving the baby a bottle. These people weren’t near a store or clean water. They wouldn’t be using a bottle unless it was necessary. Then I found myself thinking about how calmly I was processing my observations and wondered if my heart is hardening or if God has given me the strength to see what I need to see without my heart breaking open every time I visit a homestead. I prefer to think it is the later which is an answer to my prayers for strength and wisdom. When the conversation was beginning to wind down, it started raining a cold, steady rain. We hurried to the warmth and safety of my car, but the family remained under the tiny thatched roof.

As I drove away, I heard something on my tire. When I looked to see what it was I saw that I had run over a branch from a big thorn bush that is so common in Africa. I pulled it out and immediately heard the air escaping from the tire. Oops. By now it was about 2:30 or so. I had only had an apple for lunch with almost no water to drink all day. I was cold and one of the women was seriously getting on my nerves because of the tone of her voice and how much she always talks. She also has a way of making things sound worse than they are. I found myself so irritated at her that she made such a big deal about the children walking for 2 hours to get to school, but didn’t seem to notice the pathetic homestead and lowly conditions in which they were living. I had to tell the second child that she would have to walk home which irritated me even more because it meant we couldn’t finish our homestead visits as planned and I felt bad making her walk home in the rain when we had said we were taking her home. I wanted to get back to Manzini before my tire was completely flat. So I drove as fast as I thought I could or should go to the place in Manzini that fixes flat tires. I was real quiet as I drove, watching out for everything and any little sign that my tire has gone completely flat. But I knew that I was really being so quiet because I was angry and irritable. So we get to the tire place, I tell everyone to get out of my car and the guy fixes the flat in about 10 minutes for 15 rand. That’s less than $2.00. What a deal!

Just as we are leaving the tire place, Thoko says the others are wondering if we can go get something to eat because we have a meeting of this committee at 5:00 and they only had bread and boloney for lunch. I knew I needed to get something for these ladies to eat, but I was feeling tired and overloaded at that moment. But, of course I begrudgedly said yes, we could drive to the grocery store around the corner. As we start to go to the store, Thini says “We haven’t decided on a name for Christine yet and we must do it today.” For a foreigner to receive a Swazi name is an honor. It’s not something that is done readily. When I heard this from other missionaries when I first came to Swaziland I thought I would probably never be given a Swazi name. Thini offered up two names, but said she thought my name should be Nothando. The one lady who was getting on my nerves said to me “I bet you don’t know what it means.” I responded with a big lump in my throat that yes, I did know what it means. It means love. The woman was pleased that I knew what it meant, and I was so humbled. Why at my lowest moment when I was feeling the farthest from a Christian as possible, did Thini decide to name me Love??? It certainly was a reality check and I felt so unworthy of that name. I asked God for forgiveness and also thanked him for his gift of these sisters in my life. They also told me my last name has to be Dlamini which is the King’s last name. It is also their last name. So we all agreed that we are now truly sisters. Have I mentioned lately how blessed I am?

We had our meeting in the evening with the executive committee of Lutsandvo Lwa Krestu. The first part of our meeting was with Mthokozise’s father. The team is trying to understand his side of the stories we’ve heard and push him to care for his children. What we would really like is for him to let the children go live with the mother on his parent’s homestead. When our meeting ended, I drove Thoko and Thini home. That took about an hour and a half or so. So by the time I got home, it was 9:00 PM. It was the end of a long day. I had a bowl of cereal and went to bed tired, stressed and yet very thankful and aware of God’s presence in my life.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fire at Lomngeletjane

Friday was quite a day. We went up to Lomngeletjane for our weekly Friday morning meeting with Bethuel and John. While there, Lucky Mabasa who is helping us plan and plant an orchard at Lomngeletjane came to meet with me. I have been trying to find out what was planned, and identify where the trees that another volunteer, Dennis, bought because I can't find even half of the trees he paid for. I finally finished with them and Jeri, Gary and I walked up to the preschool room to bring up some of the teaching aids that were bought for them. I bought them a storage cabinet a few weeks ago which Gary and Jeri put together for me while I was meeting with the various people. We were up at the preschool for about 20 or 30 minutes tops.

Before we walked up, I went to use the newly painted latrine. I noticed the kids were picking up trash. I also noticed that the older, retired teacher who has been teaching the third graders was burning the trash. I thought of saying something, and then thought I would be rude so I kept quiet. BIG MISTAKE. When Jeri, Gary and I turned the corner of the preschool heading back down to the primary school I could see over the roof of the primary school that the fire had spread. Indeed it was out of control. The other teachers and most of the kids were gone. The old man and two small boys where trying to beat out the fire with branches. One of the young men who are helping to build the teacher's house saw the fire and was running to pull the water line they had just laid going to the teacher's house down to the fire. He ran right into the middle of the fire with the water hose. There were several other guys down in the pit they were digging for the septic tank for the house. I went to them and told them there was a fire. They just looked at me and kind of laughed. I then kind of hollered at them in a panic "Come help put out the fire. I don't want our school to burn." That got their attention. They poked their head up to see, saw the smoke and started running to help put it out.

There was only one container that would hold water and one empty 2 liter pop bottle. With all of us helping, the fire was put out. If the young man, Wandile, hadn't rushed into the fire with the hose, we would not have been able to contain it. I burned about a 1/3 of the field. After the fire was over, Wandile was having a hard time breathing and was having a lot of pain when he breathed so we took him to the clinic in Manzini where he received some medication.

Thank God Gary, Jeri and I were still there or the fire would have burned out of control possibly burning our buildings and the surrounding homesteads. I have had the pit in my stomach for the last three weeks about the fire danger at that school. It is approaching winter so the fields are very dry and more and more fires are starting all over Swaziland. They will just get worse. The first thing Rev. Nyameka and Bethuel said when I told them about the fire was: "You have been worried about that." I HATE it when I am right!!!

Praise God that no one was hurt, that the buildings didn't burn and that Gary, Jeri and I were still there to mobilize the workers to help put the fire out.

Pictures of the Louisiana team on 5-28 at Mahlatsini

On May 28th, on our way out of Swaziland we drove by Mahlatsini Methodist Church. This is a small society made up mainly of gogo's and children. They are asking for help to finish their church so they can start some income generating projects and perhaps a preschool so they can help feed and care for the orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) in the area. I wanted Richard to see the site while he was in Swaziland. We will be posting this project on the General Board of Global Ministries for potential work teams next year. Though I normally wouldn't get involved in building a church because I feel I am called to work with women and children, this project would definitely help the women and children in this area. This project just feels right for us to undertake. So please pray that we will be able to raise the funds and bring teams to help with the construction.

The pictures below are of:
1. The food they provided for us. It is the custom in Swaziland to always offer food and drink to visitors so they will feel good and want to come back. It is also to thank them for travelling so far to see them.
2. Bethuel on left explaining to the group about the church and it's dream. Some of the women and men of the society (congregation) are also in the picture.
3. Elter (Bethuel's wife) explaining to our group the meaning of the Manyano uniform. Manyano means unity. Manyano is also the name of the women's organization of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
4. A final picture of the society with a few of our team members.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Our prayers are answered!!! Yeabo!!!

The last week was busy. We left for Kruger National Park on Thursday morning. We stopped on our way out of Swaziland to visit Mahlatsini Society which is a small congregation of gogo's and other adults and 34 children. (See previous post for details on this church.) They started building a new church several years ago and have completed the foundation and the walls, but do not have the funds to complete it. They would like to finish the church so they can start some community income generating projects so that they can feed the orphaned and vulnerable children in the area. We are hoping we can get funding and teams to help them out next year. After visiting the church, we spent 2 1/2 days in Kruger National Park. As always, it is amazing to see the animals. We had some excellent cape buffalo, elephant and baboons sightings. On Sunday the team visited the Apartheid museum, then took a tour of a gold mine ending the day in worship at Primrose Methodist Church before going to the airport to catch their plane. The worship service was a perfect ending to the trip and the day.

I returned to Swaziland on Monday afternoon after having a mechanic look at my car because it is overheating again. Tuesday morning I saw Rev. Kanana Nyameka in the office of St. Paul's. He told me that he got word while I was gone that Lomngeletjane has finally received a registration number from the government! Yeabo! This registration number allows us to get funding from the government to hire a head teacher, teachers for grade one through grade four, desks, chairs and the curriculum. Rev. Nyameka is anticipating that by July first we should have the teachers in place. He has already started interviewing people for the head teacher's position. It has been a long, long process requiring a lot of patience, perseverance and prayer. But our prayers have finally been answered.