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Saturday, August 4, 2012

The face of hope in Swaziland … a dying man, an HIV positive baby and a new set of twin boys.

This week was all about hope, but I am learning that “hope” rarely has the face that we expect it to have.

Caleb (age one) is HIV positive and has been on ARV’s (anti-retro-virals) since he was born. His mother died of complications due to AIDS shortly after Caleb was born and his father took him to the Pediatric AIDS clinic for testing and treatment.  Because the child was positive, the clinic’s policy is that they will care for any other immediate family member who is also positive (mother, father, grandmother, etc), but the child is the primary patient.  While Caleb’s father was HIV positive, he still refused to start treatment, and was getting sicker each day.

This week I learned that more than 50% of the adult/parent patients at the Pediatric AIDS clinic refuse to start treatment (life-giving, life-changing, life-saving treatment) because of the stigma around it and the knowledge that they will have to remain on treatment for the rest of their lives.  The number is staggering and I am still processing this new information.  Not only will the adult get sicker faster, but they also are more infectious to others when they are not on their ARV’s (of course they are encouraged not to participate in sexual activity).

Caleb’s father landed in prison not long after Caleb came to the El Roi baby home. Caleb was very sick and there were several weeks when Helen feared that Caleb wouldn’t make it, but he did make it.  Two weeks ago at his check up we learned that Caleb’s father was out of prison and was considering starting on his AIDS medication. We also learned that he would be back at the clinic on Wednesday, August 1st to get his medication.  Helen asked if we could go to the clinic that day and take Caleb to see his father.  Why?  Because Caleb is the face of hope.

We arrived at the clinic at 7:15 and waited.  There are no appointments set and patients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis.  Within 90 minutes a man was pushed in to the clinic in a wheelchair.  It was Caleb’s father.  He was bone thin, was clearly wearing an adult diaper and required assistance to stand up and get weighed (which is the first thing you do when enter as a patient).  Helen gasped when she saw him.  The last time they were together was in March and he was walking and “healthier” then. Now he was in bad shape. 

Helen held up a smiling Caleb and the father looked as if he had seen a ghost.  He believed his son was dead, but there was Caleb, right in front of him, laughing reaching, chatting and almost standing by himself.  The father said, “this is a miracle, he is alive”.  Sadly (but not unexpectedly) Caleb did not recognize the man who was reaching for him and Caleb took refuge in Helen’s arms.   But over time, he looked at his father and his father stared in awe of the miracle in front of him.  Helen was amazing and told the father that the child is alive because God saved him and he is taking his medication.  She encouraged the father to take his medication so that he can see his son grow and be strong.  We gave him (his sister) our phone number and asked her stay in touch and if he wanted to see Caleb at any time, we would bring him.  I believe that Caleb’s father saw hope in his little boy’s face on Wednesday and I pray that the next time we see him he will be on a better path to health.

Minutes after we left the clinic we met a Social Worker from the hospital who asked if we could help with transport to do a home visit on the twins that I had seen back on June 5th when I was at the hospital picking up four-month-old David (see June 9th blog).  Their story was complicated and involved a parental father raping the girl, the girl abandoning the babies and an Auntie agreeing to take them.   I was very concerned about the twins and have prayed for them daily since I saw them there, always having a feeling that I should follow up.  Wednesday the Social Worker asked if we could drive her to follow up on those very twins and so at 7AM the very next morning Helen and I picked her up and we headed out to the homestead where the babies had been dropped of. 

Helen brought some small clothes to leave with the Auntie (or whoever was caring for the babies) and our fingers were all crossed that we would find them well.  After driving for hours and covering much of the country of Swaziland by car we finally found the babies and they were in bad condition.  The Auntie couldn’t care for them and gave them back to the mother.  She was young, not stable, had run away to live in a slum (I didn’t know there were slums in Swaziland until I found myself in one that day) and she couldn’t buy any milk for them.  One of her nipples was infected and the other was providing minimal milk for both babies.  The mother is HIV positive so the milk she was providing could also be passing along HIV.  The babies were severely malnourished, weighing approximately five pounds each (they are eight weeks old).  The mother didn’t want to care for them and talked of taking them back to the hospital and dropping them off, but hospitals here (much like at home) have a “no return policy” on babies.  They were cold, naked and very despondent.  Helen immediately went and bought the smallest diapers she could find, cleaned the babies and put them in the clothes we brought for the mother.

The Social Worker was very concerned/upset about the babies and worked very caringly and diligently to speak with the mother about caring for them.  Although the mother acknowledged that the babies were in bad shape, she also knew that she had no way to provide for them and knew that if something didn’t change that they would die.  The Social Worker spoke for with the mother for a long time to try to find another/better solution for the babies.  We even got back in the car with her and drove to a distant homestead to seek assistance for the mother and children, but the answer was “no”.  The Social Worker then asked us if we would be able to make room for these two?  Bringing home two new babies was not our intent when we started the journey on Thursday morning, but by 2:30PM we had two new baby boys on their way to the El Roi home.  The firstborn is named Paul.  The second one, who appears quite sickly, is named Ishmael. 

The El Roi Baby Home was named “El Roi” because that is the Hebrew name for “the God who Sees Me” found in Genesis 16:13 when Hagar was still pregnant with Ishmael.   Our God, El Roi, saw the pain that the mother was in and the pain that these twins were in and called in his servant, the Social Worker from the hospital, to go and find them. 

Strangely (or not) that very Social Worker was reading Genesis 16 in her office when we picked her up on Thursday morning.  I didn’t find this out until much later in the day (!).  When we reminded her of where the El Roi name came from, we all gave thanks to God for His ways are not our ways, but they are perfect.

I saw hope in the face of Caleb this week.  I saw new hope in the face of Caleb’s father.  I saw hope in the face of a young mother, who was watching her babies die and could do nothing about it.  And I saw hope in the face of a Social Worker who is doing impossible work with no budget.  But I know that it really wasn’t those three who showed me hope it was my Lord and Savior who gave me hope by using those people in my life. 

Psalm 25:5 says, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”.

As we continue on through these turbulent waters I am determined to keep my eyes on Him.  That is not always easy and sometimes requires hourly reminders, but that is my hearts desire.  My hope is in Him and only Him.

Live from Swaziland, I am determined.



  1. You are certainly right where God wants you to be. Stay open God's leading and willing to be God's servant. You are so impacting lives, one at a time.

  2. Dear Janine, thank you so much for all you have shared this week in your blog. I'm so encouraged and filled with a renewed faith! It amazes me how diverse all our paths are in life, and the thousands of miles that separate us as believers, but one thing is constant and remains the same; Jesus! His love, His Word, His hope! No matter where we are on this earth, He remains the same. " He is the same yesterday, today and forever."
    That word hope means: to wait for in expectation, to tarry, to stay with security, confidence, without care.
    We serve a Savior that gives us hope in the midst of our darkest situations. We faced one of those situations yesterday. My hope and expectations were much different from the way it ended up. My heart was heavy with sadness..... I comforted myself by saying, "you alone know his heart. You have orchestrated the decision of the judge. I rest in what You will do in the months ahead." Thank God for the hope He plants in our hearts with His Word and His faithful servants. God bless you and your faithful work at El Roi!

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