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Saturday, January 21, 2017

If you call yourself a “Christian”, what are you afraid of?

Welcome to our newest long-term volunteer - Bryan Throgmorton!

This is NOT a politically driven blog.  I promise.  I am a Canadian, living on a mountaintop in a tiny African Kingdom (with the last absolute Monarch in Africa), just thinking about a world filled with fear.

Today I am speaking to people who would call yourself a “Christian” or a “follower of Jesus”.  What are you afraid of today and why are you afraid?

Did you know that there are 365 references in the bible that we are to “fear not” or “not be afraid”?  I find it an interesting ‘coincidence’ that it’s the same number as days in the year.  We are reminded each and every day that we are not to be afraid. Why? Because God has a plan and His plans are better than our plans.  We may not understand His plans, we may not agree with His plans, but He is God, and we are not.

I can’t tell you how many people have confessed to me that their biggest fear when they became a Christian was that God would send them to Africa.  And while many of them were saying it tongue-in-cheek, there was a hint of truth in their confession.

But here I am, writing this blog in Africa.  And I am not afraid.  I do not fear snakes, or spiders, or fundraising (or lack of fundraising), or government official visits, or surprise police visits, or receiving three babies in a day, or HIV/AIDS, or multiple drug-resistant TB.  No, I am not Superwoman, and believe me, I have my own “stuff”, but I don’t struggle with fear, so I find myself talking with others about it frequently. 

On January 11th I read a shocking, yet wonderful devotion by Oswald Chambers. He explains, “If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything— it is a delight. But to those who do not love Him, our obedience does cost a great deal. If we obey God, it will mean that other people’s plans are upset. They will ridicule us as if to say, “You call this Christianity?” We could prevent the suffering, but not if we are obedient to God. We must let the cost be paid.”

I believe that the reason I have no reason to be afraid is because I am being obedient in my actions, and so my obedience is rewarded with delight. I AM FAR FROM PERFECT (ask my husband or children – or don’t!), but I am intentional in my desire to do what HE wants me to do.  If you are being obedient to the Lord in your daily walk with Him, then you should not be afraid of anything.   

This week we welcomed two new long-term volunteers named Leanna McKnight and Bryan Throgmorton.  Leanna is here for a year as our Kindergarten teacher and Bryan has moved in to the Emseni boys dorm as our Program Director.  While they have not shared this with me, I have no doubt that they have family and friends who did not want them to move because they were afraid, for them, and/or for themselves.  But they put their own fears aside (if they even had any) and said YES.

I have no doubt that Leana and Bryan will be filled with delight in the days and months ahead because of their obedience. I know that our children and our staff will benefit in such a mighty way because of their obedience.  Please join us in praying for peace, strength and for His delight (joy) for these volunteers and all of our other long-term volunteers.   

As you deal with your own fears this week and maybe the fear of the unknown (and while you give thanks that you weren’t called to live in Africa!), please rest in the truth of the scripture from Isaiah 41:10 (Amplified) that says,

 Do not fear anything, for I am with you;
Do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, be assured I will help you;
I will certainly take hold of you with
my righteous right hand,
a hand of justice,
of power,
of victory,
of salvation.

Live from Swaziland … delighting in rain this week!


For those of you who heard about Deborah's surgery, she is home and doing very well.  Apparently learning how to drive today before her 4th birthday.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Who knew? God knew.


In 2008 we were leading a team of volunteers in Swaziland from the US and welcomed a family from Charlevoix, Michigan.  I remember them will for a variety of reasons. First, the father was a dentist and was going to work with Dr. Mark McGee doing dental work for the whole week. The second reason was that her brother (a strong, fit young man) fainted out in a homestead visit while we all stood and held hands to pray. He was dehydrated and anyone who has traveled with us since then has heard us tell how important it is to drink a lot of water because he this young man could get dehydrated, anyone could.  (As an aside, he chipped his tooth when he fell and his dentist father had to glue the tooth back together back at the hotel. Great to have a dentist as your father).

The third reason that I remembered them was that almost all of their luggage was lost, and the 14-year-old girl (Jane) had none of her own clothes to wear.  Most girls that age would be very upset, but Jane just went with it and even had to borrow clothes from her older brother all week without a single complaint.  Her luggage never did arrive and since that trip the whole family only travels with carry-on luggage!

Today I saw that young girl, Jane, again. She is now 23-years-old.  In fact, Jane has been with us for the past month here in Swaziland.  She and Spencer have been dating for the past few years and have now graduated from University.  Both plan to go on to graduate school and decided to take the next two months to go on a trip of a lifetime (as if Africa wasn’t enough!). 

Today we put them on a shuttle to Johannesburg where they will take an 8-hour flight to Abu Dhabi.  Then they will take another 8-hour flight to Vietnam.  They will backpack through Vietnam for 23 days and the move on to Thailand for 20 days, finishing up their adventure in Indonesia for 17 days. 

We are so incredibly proud of both of them and their desire to stretch themselves, learn about the world, and learn about each other as they look towards and unknown future in a world where nothing is certain. 

What they both do know for sure is that God brought them together when they were 13/14-years old and God has a plan for their lives. As we said goodbye to them, Ian prayed over them for protection, peace and joy.  We look forward to following their adventures over the next months, and there is a part of us that envies the carefree time that they have to explore the world.

So, what is the moral of this story? You just never know who you are going to meet on an 11-day service trip with Heart for Africa!

Live from Swaziland … our nest is empty again (except for the other 148).


Saturday, January 7, 2017

Was your Christmas absolutely perfect?

The "perfect" Christmas brunch. 

This blog is likely a bit more for moms than dads, but I encourage for dads to read it anyway so that you have a glimpse in to what may go through your wife’s mind during the Christmas season.  I am certainly not claiming to be the voice for all women or moms, but I think I might be speaking for a few of you.

We want every day of the holiday season with our family and friends to be perfect. Absolutely perfect.   Every cookie, every wrapped gift, every cup of coffee, every meal, every light on the tree, every piece of music chosen, every interaction between family members and especially every conversation.  We think about what we can do to stretch the hours in the day so no moment is wasted? How early can we get up so that the kitchen smells good and how late can we go to bed so that the house looks perfect? 

Making the "perfect" brunch for 98 children and 60+ staff.
How do we prepare meals in advance so that we maximize our time with our family and not waste it doing things like dishes, laundry, taking out the garbage etc.

It’s exhausting, and that exhaustion, combined with unrealistic expectations, almost always leads to chaos and tears. 

Our family is not immune to the above picture, and mom is at the center of the dilemma (I am referring to me as mom, not my mom). 

Our family is complicated, as is yours.  Our complication is just different than your complication.  We hadn’t been together as a family since last Christmas and I wanted Christmas to be even more perfect than last year. But here’s the rub.  We have ALL changed in a year. We have all grown older, more mature (I hope), have had more hurts during the year, more joys, more experiences and we all arrive at Christmas, changed. 

What I learned this year at Christmas, despite my inability to deliver the perfect Christmas is that grace has to be at the center of our Christmas activities, and my family exhibited that in a wonderful way.  Grace starts with each of us and as the focus of Christmas is Jesus, we are reminded that Jesus was the ultimate grace-giver.

Chloe, Ian and Jane making home made vanilla ice cream (with farm fresh eggs of course).
Despite my own fears and failures, I had the very best Christmas with my amazing family.  I am unspeakably proud of the young man that Spencer has become as he graduated from Georgia State University and as I watched him working on his applications for his Masters in International Business schools.  I am unspeakably proud of Chloe who spent 35 hours traveling to Africa and 35 hours traveling back to Canada while talking through the decision to change her University focus from sociology to business. 

Both of these young people have navigated their University/College years with our 100% support, but it was from 8,600+ miles away.  We haven’t been there in person to help with buying a used car, getting new passports, navigating an apartment lease, dealing with banking, or more importantly, heart break, tears, fears, anger, joy or excitement that they face each and every day.  That has all been done by phone or Skype, which just isn’t the same as a real hug, a real tissue a real shoulder to cry on.  

Enjoying the first smoked pork butt made in Ian's new Green Egg!
All that being said is that I find myself beating myself up (as I know many of you do) and doing the “coulda, woulda, shoulda”, that moms do.  But then I remember what someone told me years ago, that every parent tries to do the best they can with what they have and what they know.  I know that I am doing that, and I am sure that you are too.

I would never have written my parenting life the way it has turned out.  Afterall, who in their right mind would pack up and move to Africa (period), especially when their children are still in school!  It’s crazy. But God’s plans are perfect (and can appear crazy). Now we have 146 children who are brothers and sisters to Spencer and Chloe.  I can’t imagine my life without them all.

The photo that makes it all worth while.
I am thankful for a heavenly Father who extends grace to me each and every day and shows me that He can use me even through my own fears, anger, frustration and doubt.  I pray that as you enter in to 2017, that you will also feel his love and grace in your life and that you will allow Him to use you, even through your fears, your anger, your frustration and your doubt.

Live from Swaziland … here’s to a new year.


We got a few days in Durban with the kids before Chloe flew home. The "perfect" spot for us.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

What do we do now?


I have mentioned before that 2016 was a very difficult year for us, but I know that it was a hard year for people all over the world, and maybe even for you.

It's New Years Eve and may I suggest that the time of reflection (lamenting, mourning, whining, complaining) of 2016 is over.  It is time to look forward to future – 2017.

The world seems to be falling apart around us; politics have the global community on edge, parenting is harder than ever and the crisis of starvation, orphans, poverty and disease don’t seem to be getting any better.

So what do we do now? I don’t really have an answer for people who are not followers of Jesus, but for those of you who are, the only answer is to be intentional about asking the Lord for direction in your life, every day.  Now more than ever we need to be seeking His will and be obedient. If you are supposed to move, then move.  If you are supposed to give, then give. If you are supposed to pray, then pray.  If you are supposed to volunteer, then volunteer.  Stop waffling and start doing. Today is the day.

Proverbs 3:5-7 says, “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all.”

I hope you will spend more time watching the 20-second video that is attached than you will spend reading this short blog, and that you will be encouraged as you watch.  These children are alive and well because many people like you either moved or volunteered or gave or prayed for them.  Thank you to each and every one of you for all have you have done to make a difference in the world.

Gabriel and Rose celebrated their 6th birthday this week!
Live from Swaziland … Happy New Year!


Year end giving in Canada – please click here.

Year end giving in the US – please click here.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The end of a really hard year (and 146 babies)

Spencer (22) and Chloe (20) home for the holiday.  Photo credits: Jane Balasz
2016 has been a very challenging year on many levels.  Devastating drought has made extreme poverty even worse.  Death by HIV/AIDS, TB, house fires and fluke accidents have caused us to attend too many funerals.  Pain and suffering have become the parents of hopelessness - a hopelessness that I have never seen before.  Death seems to be hiding in every bush and standing on every street corner, waiting without mercy to strike.

But there is hope.  Yesterday we received two babies, a 1-month-old and a 4-month-old and last Friday we also received two babies, a 7-month old and a 2-month old. Each baby with a sadder story than the other.  One arrived on HIV medication, three are severely malnourished, one has epileptic seizures that started on the ride home, and one has STI’s on her face, but all have been chosen by God to live with us.  We now have 146 children (under the age of 6-years) who call Project Canaan home.

61 children from Emseni Campus and 37 toddlers = a difficult photo with 98 children!
As I wrote that last paragraph my chest tightened a bit.  This is hard.  We have 13 babies under the age of 6-months living at Kuthula Place, all struggling to “catch up” in weight and health.  Some literally fighting for their lives.  There are 35 children at the El Roi baby home, 37 children at the toddler home and 61 children up at the Emseni Campus.  It is overwhelming, at the least.

35 children who are 6-18 months old live at the El Roi Baby home.
But God is good, all the time, and we give thanks for the opportunity to serve HIM through these small children.

Today there are 13 babies at Kuthula place ages 1-6 months.
As the year comes to an end I am writing to ask you to consider making a Year End gift to Heart for Africa.  We have donors who will match up to $120,000 and we are really going to need these funds to care for 146+ babies in 2017.  Also, we would like to give you an audio copy of my first book "It's Not Okay With Me" for any year end donation, large or small.  The book shares our family's journey to Africa.  

Will you help us with your most generous gift today?  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing Him to work through you.

Live from Swaziland… Merry Christmas from our family to yours.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

How important are traditions, really?

Christmas lunch 2015
Spencer and Chloe often tease us that our Christmas tradition is to do something different ever Christmas.  Of course I am quick to defend our age old traditions of  having Chinese food on Christmas eve, apple turnovers on Christmas morning, turkey with Diane Maxwell’s potatoes Romanoff for dinner and of course the same homemade Christmas cookies ever year. 

I will admit that when we moved to the US we were no longer able to buy Pillsbury turnovers, so that tradition was forced to change into Ian’s (now famous) Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and whip cream.  There is no way that the kids could complain about that upgrade in tradition, right?

Having Chinese food on Christmas Eve was a tradition dating back to my childhood.  It all started because there was only one restaurant where I grew up in Northern Ontario and it was a Chinese food restaurant called “The Shamrock”.  My mom wanted a quick easy meal at after the pharmacy closed on Christmas Eve before we made the 400-mile drive to my cousins’ house in Southern Ontario. The Chinese food in Swaziland is really not great, so last year our kids suggested that we change the tradition to include their favorite steak dinner, complete with baked potato and Greek salad, rather than Chinese food.  That was an easy sell for Ian and me.

While the traditions of turkey, potatoes and Christmas cookies have not changed, we have jointly agreed to include making pancakes, bacon and fruit salad for all our big kids and all of the Children’s Campus staff (180+ this year).   I believe that this new tradition has become the highlight of Christmas day for everyone in our family. And this year we welcome Spencer’s girlfriend, Jane, to join us in the kitchen, so again, even that new tradition has changed (and gotten better!).

Sometimes it is very easy for us to get caught up in having “the perfect Christmas” or holiday for our family. Sticking rigidly to traditions can not only cause unnecessary stress, but also prevent you from new blessings, new freedom and a joy that cannot be explained, but only experienced. 

While you prepare for your family Christmas celebration, or Hanukah, or whatever ever other festivity that you may be getting ready for, please consider being flexible this year, consider changing it up a bit and don’t forget that it’s the people who are in your “traditional plans” that really matter, not the decorations, or ingredients.

Live from Cape Town, South Africa … maybe enjoying a new tradition?


PS – In baby news – this past week baby Surprise was reunited with her mother after being with us for several months.  Shortly thereafter, a 6-month-old baby boy (Gideon) and yesterday an 8-week-old baby girl (Margaret) joined our family, brining us to 144 children.  Please pray for both of these babies as they arrived severely malnourished.  Margaret’s mother bled to death during childbirth and she has only been fed thin maize porridge, by her Grandmother, since birth. She currently weighs 2.6 KG (5.7 pounds).  

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A real attitude

I love this amazing team of women and men who care for our babies.

This week I experienced something that was so pure and so special, I almost found myself wanting to keep it to myself, tucked deeply in to my heart. But that would be selfish, and so today I share it with you.

We have all heard about the attitude of gratitude, but do you really know what it looks like? I do.

On Thursday we had the annual Christmas party for our staff at the Children’s Campuses. That’s not as easy as you might think.  How do you have a party for the 65 people who care for 143 children (including night shift, cooks, cleaners and drivers) all at the same time? Who looks after the children??

This year we planned the party during the time that 98 of them are supposed to be napping (the toddlers and big kids).  We asked long-term volunteers Kenny and Amber VanWinkle and the Harp family to come and sit in the houses where the children slept. Then we recruited our front office women and a few from Khutsala to come and look after the babies while we celebrated Christmas at the back of the baby home (so we were available for emergencies).

The event was well planned by our Supervisors and all I had to do was show up (with bags of prizes for our quiz game of course).  Homemade/decorated Christmas cookies were handed out and Amber’s peppermint/white chocolate bark was a hit.  At the end of the party I told each of them that they would be getting a food gift basket from us including 2L fresh milk, 30 eggs, maize flour, oil, sugar beans, sugar, cabbage, a pair of flip flops and of course, a live chicken. With each item that I pulled out they cheered with glee, as they are all favorites, and very important to their families.

And then I made and announcement that brought the house down, and absolutely shocked me.  I thought I had seen it all here, but just when I think I have seen it all, I find that I haven’t.

I told them that everyone working on Christmas day would earn double pay for that day. 

Watch these two short videos, and then read on.

Don't miss Helen and the live chicken!
Double pay means an additional $2.60 to $7.00 - for the whole day.  And they were so very grateful, not only for the money, but that we acknowledged their hard work and commitment.  It was a moment of true, pure joy, and I am so thankful that I got to experience it.

Do you have an attitude of gratitude?  I can tell you that after my experience with my wonderful Swazi family, I am looking deeply in to my own heart and doing a bit of clean up in the “thankful attitude” area.  The bible says that we are to give thanks in all things.  That has been my goal this year, and I will continue to work on it in 2017.

Live from Swaziland … six more sleeps until we see Spencer and 13 until we see Chloe!!  


PS - It’s been a year since Ian has seen our kids and 11 months since I have.  Serving the Lord comes with sacrifices that some days are hard to bear.  I am so thankful that they will be home soon!