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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tuberculosis at the baby home

Someone mentioned to me that my blogs are getting very heavy.  Each time they read them they feel my pain and sometimes they are just too much to read.  They wondered if many people might stop reading my weekly blog because of I am just making them too sad.   I hope that isn’t the case.  The Swazi people can’t just stop being hungry or sick because it makes them too sad, so I pray that you will continue to read, learn, pray and engage.  We are in a crisis that is only getting worse every day.

It’s winter here, which means its around 45F at night and 70F+ during the day, but we are all cold.  There is a darkness over the country right now that is not allowing light or warmth in to our bones or our lives.    We see fear in the eyes of our people, and it is heartbreaking.  Tears flow freely and there is not a day that I don’t shed more than my share.

As if the worst drought in recorded history wasn’t enough and starvation in every community around the country, we are starting to see the impact that hunger has on sickness.  When people are on anti-retrovirals for HIV/AIDS they must eat properly (including protein) for the medication to work.  They have no food.  As treatment starts to fail, there is an increase in opportunistic infections and diseases … like Tuberculosis.

This past week we learned that several of our Aunties, who live in the baby home and toddler home, tested positive for Tuberculosis.  We do not know yet whether it is drug-resistant or even multiple-drug resistant, but we pray that it is not.  They have been removed from the home for now, but not before they had the chance of infecting other caregivers and children.

Here is the thing.  Anyone and everyone who has been living in Swaziland has been exposed to TB.  They don’t even do the skin test in Swaziland that would show if a person had been exposed because we have all been exposed.  Having a health immune system helps the monster from getting in to our lungs or other organs.

This week I saw fear in the eyes of my own Supervisors as they wondered if they too had contracted this deadly disease.  Some people have active TB (obvious with coughing, weight loss and night sweats), but some have inactive TB.  A sputum test and/or chest X-Ray is how diagnosis is done here, but to make things worse, if a person is HIV positive, it is quite possible for them to have a negative sputum test (even when they have active TB) because their immune system is masking the TB.  A nightmare situation.

On Monday we will start testing the women and children who were most exposed to the infected Aunties.  Because it is impossible to get sputum from an infant, we will do an expensive blood test on everyone (including me) to see what our infection level is.  We pray that we have caught this beast before it has unleashed hell on our Children’s Campus, but even if we have, the battle is not over. 

Meanwhile we are taking further action in the three Chiefdoms surrounding us o see how we can help those in desperate need.  We have assigned a full time Community Support person to go out in the community and assess the situation, starting with the elderly and the orphan headed households.  We will start delivering food and helping where we can, as we can, next week, and this will be in partnership with the local Chiefs and the Community Health Motivators (see last week’s blog).

We have set up an account for Community Support.  If you would like to help us help those in need, please give generously today at this link.  If you would like to help us with the cost of the TB GOLD tests (approximately $36 US each) please click here. 

Links for Canadian donors are:  Community Support  and Emergency Medical Fund.

Thanks for your prayers for all concerned. I will provide an update on the test results in next week’s blog.

Live from Swaziland … praying for health and strength and His provision.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

The most difficult ten years of my life.

Photo credit - Chris Cheek
These have been the most difficult ten years of my life. 

Total surrender to God comes at a very high price and it not without pain, suffering, judgement and loss.  Our family has felt all of those things over the past decade, but we try to remember to give thanks in all things, we are human and suffer like anyone else.

Since Heart for Africa was founded in 2006, our family has moved to two different countries and lived on two different continents (three if you include Chloe’s High School years in Taiwan).  We have said goodbye to old friends, and worked hard to meet new ones.  We have made life-long friends, and have some broken relationships that need forgiveness and repair.

We have served in four countries (South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and Swaziland) and Spencer and Chloe have lived in hotel rooms for more than a year of their lives, while helping lead people on 11-day service trips.

The work does not get easier as the days pass, and it seems like the learning curve is still vertical, with no sign of a curve (even after ten years). 

We have learned about things we never even had interest in and have become well versed in many critical areas reaching from Swazi culture to HIV/AIDS, from dairy farming to multiple drug-resistant Tuberculosis, from currency exchange to construction with concrete, from malnutrition to aquaponics, from bore holes and dams to the impact of drought.

Yesterday we called a meeting of the Community Health Motivators from the four Chiefdoms that surround us.  These women are paid E350 ($24.00US) each month to work full time to closely monitor the people in their community who are on treatment for HIV, Tuberculosis, asthma, diabetes, or who are pregnant, orphaned or vulnerable children and the elderly.  They are paid to “motivate” people to maintain proper hygiene (to reduce disease), eat proper meals when taking HIV or TB medication (especially eat meat protein) and they personally provide hospice service to the elderly including bathing them, feeding them and praying with them.  

We called the meeting because Chris Cheek (one of our long term volunteers who spends a lot of time out in the local homesteads) came to me and said that she was feeling a shift in the community. The people are starting to panic.  There is no food.  What can Project Canaan do to help (in a country of less than a million people, most in the same situation). 

And so we sat for two hours and listened to the women share from the depth of their beings, what they are seeing in the community and how they are affected.  Here are the highlights (or low lights) of the meeting.

One lady said, “People are starving everywhere.  Swaziland has always been a poor country, but we could always go to our fields and turn the land to plant maize.  Now that there is no water, we couldn't even turn the ground.  We didn’t plant in November and now there is no food.  There is nothing at all to eat.  Some people are even grinding up left over corncobs (left after the maize kernels are removed) and trying to cook them in to porridge.  And we can’t plant again until the next rainy season comes, which we hope is in November”. 

IF the rains come again in November, those who have lived a year with little or no food, will turn the land, but without assistance, they will have no seed to plant. 

Another lady said, “There is no water to drink, to cook the little food we scavenge for or to wash ourselves with.  The elderly people we are supposed to care for smell very bad because they are so dirty and we have no water to clean them with.  We also don’t have masks to wear when we visit patients who have Tuberculosis.  That makes us very worried that we will also get the disease.”

Several women chatted in unison explaining that the acts of violent crime are escalating as teenagers are breaking in to homes, attacking the elderly, just to steal something that they can sell – an old shirt, a broken dish, an empty water tank. The community is becoming increasingly dangerous as people become more desperate.
They told the story of an old Gogo who was beaten, robbed and raped by some teenagers and left to die.  She found the woman and now cares for her.

Many of them underscored to us that this year is different. Even in dry years in the past, they have never suffered the way that they are suffering now. When I asked them what they are most afraid of now, each and every one of them said, “Hunger. I have nothing to feed my own family and nothing to give those who I am supposed to “motivate” to eat well and take their medication”.

At the end of the meeting we prayed together and the ladies were fed a home cooked meal and driven back to their community with a TB mask and four trays of eggs each (120 fresh eggs) – one tray for their family and three to be distributed to people in need, as they saw fit.

One of the Community Health Motivators went with Chris, Ned Lehman and Kathy Ott (two of our US board members) to visit the mother of our babies Princess and Anthony.  She has been sick with HIV and TB for a long time, which is why both of the children have been placed with us.  Chris called me to say that the young woman is near the end of life (in fact, thought she had passed while they were there), but then she breathed again.  They called a private ambulance and she was taken to the hospital, to die. 

Yesterday was a typical day, but then again, there is no such thing as “typical” here. They are all hard days and we learn so much each and every day from our Swazi brothers and sisters. 

Some (many) days the pain and suffering we see is just too much and I find myself unable to hold back the tears on a daily basis.  But we do what we can with what we have and we pray for continued strength for the days and months ahead. This is going to get much worse before it gets better. 

Please join me in praying for Swaziland, for the funds to bring water from the top of our mountain to fill our dams and boreholes, for guidance on how we are to address the needs of the people in need in our surrounding communities and for unity, peace and restored joy for all of us.

Thank you for your support over the past ten years.  We simple can NOT do this without you, nor do we want to. As I reflect back over the decade it is abundantly clear that the Lord has guided and directed us, as well as provided and protected us.  Despite our own inadequacies and failures, He is sovereign and faithful always.

Live from Swaziland … giving thanks for 10 years of HIS provision and love.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

16 toes and 14 fingers

Left hand

Right hand

We have a little boy named Moses who came to us from a tragic family situation. He was born on September 15, 2013 and was a twin, but the sibling twin died in childbirth, along with his mother.  His 15-year-old sister had been caring for him, and the other four children as best she could (after the father ran away), but she couldn’t provide food or milk for them so she sought help from Social Welfare.  We were asked to take Moses and we agreed.

When a new child comes to us the first thing we do is pray over them, bathe them then do a full physical assessment (weight, length, signs of scaring, signs of witchcraft etc).  Upon this boy’s assessment we discovered that his little teeth were black/brown from severe malnutrition and he had eight toes on EACH foot and seven fingers on EACH hand. This is most likely the result of a case of incest and while seeing extra digits isn’t that uncommon here, seeing so many extras is quite unique.

Moses has learned to adapt with his hands, but they are not functioning well and his feet will always be a problem.  After getting medical advice from Doctors in the US, South Korea and Swaziland it was recommended that he receive surgery.

Two weeks ago he was taken to a top Orthopaedic surgeon in South Africa and assessed again.  The recommendation was that he have 2-3 sets of surgery, which will result in the removal of ten (yes TEN) fingers and toes. They will do some reconstruction and repositioning with careful attention to the positioning of the big toes (needed for balance and mobility) and his thumbs (needed for the “pinching” movement to do up a zipper or button a shirt).  

The Doctor also recommend that these surgeries happen sooner than later so that he can recover quickly and have his new hands and feet develop as he continues to grow.  The cost for these multiple surgeries, including transportation/hotels/food in South Africa, is approximately $20,000 USD.  They will do both feet and one hand in the first surgery and leave one hand for him to use.  The second surgery will be the second hand and any other adjustments from the first surgery. They are hopeful that a third surgery will not be needed.

In addition, last week baby Timothy needed surgery to have a hernia fixed.  That was done here in Swaziland at a private hospital by the surgeon whom we know and trust. It is the same Doctor who did Ben’s skin grafting and colostomy reversal and all of Baby River’s clean up surgeries and several colostomies and reversals). Timothy’s total surgery cost was $2,000 USD and it was successful.

So today I am asking for your financial help.  We had to move ahead with Timothy’s hernia surgery for health/medical reasons and now that hospital bill is due.

We would like to book Moses’ surgery for the end of August (the soonest they can do it), but cannot do that until we have the funds to do so.   I am writing today with the hopes that someone feels for these children and can help us do the best we can to help provide a bright future.

To donate in the US click here.

To donate in Canada click here.

Please remember that every dollar helps.  Thank you for considering my request today.

Many, many thanks.

Live from Swaziland … praying for continued provision for His children, by His children.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Strength and courage in these dark days

Our hearts are broken for all that is happening in the US and around the world.  The enemy is here to kill and destroy and he is hard at work in believers and unbelievers alike. 

I have no words that could possibly comfort those who are mourning, those who are angry or those who are afraid, so today I will simply share words from the Lord himself. 

"After the death of Moses the servant of God, God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant: 'Moses my servant is dead. Get going. Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people. Cross to the country I’m giving to the People of Israel. I’m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on—just as I promised Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon east to the Great River, the Euphrates River—all the Hittite country—and then west to the Great Sea. It’s all yours. All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you. In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out The Revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going. And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.'" - Joshua 1:9

Live from Swaziland … praying for peace.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

A heavy heart

This week I have a heavy heart and will not be writing a blog.  

Ian and I are in South Africa taking a two day break.  Today took a scenic drive to a vista called "God's Window" (we haven't been there since 2005).  I will post a few photos for you to see the magnificence of God's creation while I take this weekend to rest.

On a clear day you can see the Indian Ocean from here.

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." Psalm 51:12

Live from South Africa.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

The police brought the baby to our front gate at dusk.

Ian explaining to the Minister of Agriculture how the Sanovo egg boiling machine works with solar power.
Yesterday was a wonderful and long anticipated day at Project Canaan.  It was the official opening of the Egg Barns on Project Canaan. VIP’s flew in from all over the world (Canada, US, Denmark, UK, Holland and Australia) and they were joined by the Minister of Health, the Minister of Agriculture, our church Pastors, long-term volunteers and our oldest children.

The night before the event I had a dream that someone brought an abandoned baby to the event!  I couldn’t see who it was, but we were all equally shocked and excited to receive the child. As we awaiting the Ministers to arrive I got a call from a Social Welfare officer saying that he was bringing a 9-month-old abandoned child directly from the police. I had goose bumps all over my body.

As is common, the event started an hour late and lasted two hours longer than expected, but the speeches were excellent, the tour of the egg barn was impressive and our children’s performances of “I know a chicken” and “the chicken dance” were truly the highlights.

The Ministers got up and did the chicken dance with the children.
Below are a few words that Ian spoke as he presented some interesting statistics from our first six months of egg distribution. 

“Welcome Honourable Minister of Health Sibongile Ndlela-Simelane, Honourable Minister of Agriculture Moses Vilikati, Dr. Bitchong and Dr. Pawelos from RFM Hospital, Chiefs from our surrounding communities, Bishop Masilela, President of the Swaziland conference of churches in Swaziland, Pastors from our partners churches, International visitors, all of our guests and of course, our beautiful children. 

This is an exciting day and one that we have been looking forward to for a very long time.  We are thankful that you can all be here to celebrate this day with us.

Project Canaan is a place of hope.  When we first bought this land in 2009 it was Swazi bush.  There were no roads, no buildings, no fields and no electricity.  Only bush!  And now, just look around and see all the God has done in six short years.  It is incredible, impossible and it has been an honor for us to be a small part of a big plan.

Several years ago our friend Chad Gregory introduced us to Tim Lambert and the Egg Farmers of Canada.  Shortly thereafter Tim came to Swaziland to visit with a team of egg farmers and they were moved by the plight of the orphaned and vulnerable children of the country.  These tough businessmen were literally brought to tears when they visited homesteads and churches and met the children who are being fed by the pastors who are sitting here today.  Many people who come to visit us are moved, but unfortunately few are moved enough to go home and take action.

When Tim and his team went back to Canada they started to work on a plan to get a hard boiled egg in to the hand of every child that we feed through our 31 church partners.  They wanted to provide the perfect protein to feed a hungry world … otherwise known as “the humble egg”. 

Today we have 2,500 laying chickens in the barn to your right behind this building and on July 7th we will receive our second flock of 2,500 to go in to the barn to your left.  I want us all to understand that we are producing 2,200 eggs every day and ALL of those eggs are for distribution to orphaned and vulnerable children in the most rural areas of Swaziland. They are also being distributed in partnership with the Social Welfare department and we are excited to announce our partnership with the work that Dr. Pawelos is doing with malnourished children at RFM.  We will be providing an egg a day to each child in the pediatric ward to help ensure that every child gets that perfect protein every day. 

While we wish we could help every child in the country who is in need, that is not possible. But we do what we can with what we have. So let me give you a few statistics of what we have been able to do to feed children just since January of this year.

We currently feed 3,100 children every week. They eat 11,300 meals per week, (78% of our church partners are serving more then one meal a week).  Our delivery truck has drives 38,500 KM (24,000 miles) every ten days to deliver food to our 31 church partners. We have distributed 250,000 or 21,000 dozen hard boiled eggs, 1 ton of sugar beans, provided almost 300,000 hot meals since the beginning of the year and we look forward to increasing our egg distribution next month.

In closing I would like to thank the Lord for His provision. None of this would be possible without His hand and favor.  Thank you to everyone who is here today who has made this dream a reality.  This dream has brought hearts together from around the world and today’s guest list clearly reflects that.  Thank you Tim and Chad for opening your eyes and your hearts to the people of Swaziland and for standing with us in unity as we do our best to help “the least of them.”

Thank you.”

The event was followed by a lovely lunch for 130 people at the Oasis and tours of the property.  As I was preparing to welcome our 29 visitors to our home for a short visit before dinner I got a call from a police officer who had a 3-month-old baby boy who had been dumped with a note from the mother. She wrote, “I hope someone can care for my baby so I don’t have to kill him.” 

The 9-month-old baby that we heard about in the morning hasn’t arrived yet, but the 3-month-old arrived at our front gate at 5PM, complete with court order. Chad and Amy Gregory were with me for pick up and we have named the child “Gregory” in their honor. 

Amy and Chad Gregory with baby Gregory

Live from Swaziland … looking forward to a day of rest tomorrow.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

Stop having sex!

I have been stewing about how to write this blog today without completely offending my Swazi brothers and sisters, but still speaking the truth in love about “fatherhood” in this beautiful Kingdom, on Father's Day weekend.

When the topics of sex, incest, rape or abuse come up, I seem to snap pretty quickly, and often lash out verbally to anyone in listening distance.  Last week I was told that a young woman whom I care for very much (who has a baby already) was having a sexual relationship with another worker.  I quickly pulled her in to a room and asked her what she was thinking?  I reminded her (not that she needed reminding) that she already is a teenage mother and is living in a country with the highest HIV rate in the world.  I asked if the guy was worth it, then left a long, pregnant (pardon the pun) pause.  She eventually said, “no”.   My final words to her were, “STOP HAVING SEX OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE!" 

But the truth is, these men are telling these young women how much the love them. “Love” here means “sex”.  If someone says, “I love you”, it means “I want to have sex with you.” 

Everyone wants to be loved. This is not a Swazi phenomenon.  God is love.  The bible tells us so and I believe that it is the greatest of all human emotions, so why shouldn’t it be okay?

One of the ways that a Swazi woman shows a man that she loves him is by having children for/with him. They are his property (and so is she if they actually marry), but this “possessive” relationship has provided a sense of security to woman for generations, in a country where women have very few rights of their own.  Sadly, there is no law that prevents a man from forcing his wife to have sex with him, even if she knows he is HIV positive, drunk or covered in STD’s.  But I will say that the domestic violence police are working hard to educate men to not beat or sexually abuse their wives, while lawyers are working to create laws that make beating and marital rape illegal.

When we receive a baby through Social Welfare the child typically comes with a health card.  The health card is their “identity card” until we get a birth certificate made.  MANY (most?) of our babies have no fathers name on the card.  OR, worse than that, the fathers name has been changed several times.  It always hurts my heart when I see the name crossed out and another one, or two, written in. 

But here’s the good news.  These babies (and all of us) have a heavenly father whose name does not get crossed out, ever.  Our earthly fathers may abuse us, abandon us,  be too busy for us, put their jobs before us or whatever their faults as human beings may be. But Jesus is always there.  He will never leave us nor forsake us. Jeremiah 29:11 tells us exactly what our heavenly Father has in mind for us. He says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

As we continue to live and serve in Swaziland, my prayer is that we can help disciple, and model what love between a man and a woman looks like. Both Ian and I were blessed to be raised in families with a loving mother and father and we have done the same for Spencer and Chloe. It doesn't mean that our marriage or our parenting has been perfect, but we have learned to "err on the side of grace" as Ian often says, and that has worked well.  We can't "fix" the problem here, nor are we here to judge, but we are here to encourage, educate and love.
Cooking class in Thailand with the family. 
As we all celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, please pray for hope for all who are suffering around the world.  We will be praying for you too.

Live from Swaziland … happy Father’s Day to Ian Maxwell: father to 2 + 123=125 children!


PS – if you want to give your dad a special gift this Fathers Day we are looking for Smoke Detectors for our children’s homes from our Canadian friends and help to buy a Tire Changer from our friends in the US.