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Saturday, October 6, 2012

After six years an unbelievable reunion!

I want to let you know that this blog is long and complicated, but it is such a very cool story to show how BIG God is that I promise you it is worth the read.   

I clearly remember the day that I first read (or my heart read) Matthew 25:34-36 which says,  “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

I panicked. I had done a few of those things, but I had NEVER visited someone in prison.  (As I have matured in my faith I realize that even visiting an old woman who is trapped in her mud hut with 10 orphan children to feed is “in prison”, she just doesn’t have any bars around her).  But I don’t want to confuse this important story.

In 2006 I called our Country Director in Swaziland (Shirley Ward) and asked her if she could arrange for me to go to a prison in Swaziland to visit.  Why? Because Matthew 25 says that is what I am to do and I need to do it.  Shirley is an amazing woman and gift to us and quickly made arrangements for us (and Penny Ballew) to visit the Mawelawela Women’s Correctional Institution.  I was more than shocked and impressed by the conditions that these women lived in. There rooms were neat and tidy (and colorful), the care they received appeared to be excellent and I wondered if this facility wasn’t better than the living conditions that many would have outside the institutions walls.

But what really threw me for a loop was that there were babies there!  IN PRISON!  If a mother had a child younger than three years old the child would go to prison with the mother.  I struggled with this and took a photo of a young mother with her baby so that I could show this to my friends and family back in Canada.  I now know that taking photos in a prison is not allowed, but for some reason that day I was permitted to take a few photos.  We handed out blankets made by women back in Ontario, Canada (thank you Malee Edwards and team) and gave each woman a bible.

That was in 2006, six years ago. 

On Tuesday Ian and I were in South Africa taking a day off to celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary.  I decided it was a good time to start organizing some of the 22,000+ photos that I have on my laptop (since 2003) and “stumbled” upon the photos of my visit to the women’s prison in 2006. I have not looked at those photos since that time.

And guess whose photo I saw (the one you are seeing in this blog)?  It is the VERY woman who has the 5-month old baby we are trying to save THIS VERY WEEK, October 2012!!!!!  The child she is holding in the photo is now seven years old and we have since learned that she has been in and out of jail since 2006, for stealing food for her children over and over. (I am intentionally leaving the mother unnamed).

When I saw the photo I couldn’t believe my eyes.  She looked so much younger, her face was fuller and she looked content. Now she is six years older, sick and has eight children.  In August 2012 just before she went to prison she begged us to go and check on her other children.  This photo shows what we found when we arrived.  Six children living alone, including the seven year old who was a baby when I first met them.  Now she is in prison for three years.  What will become of the 5-month old who is in prison with her or the others who are left alone?  Only God knows.

We are working/praying diligently to try to get the little baby out of prison at the repeating request of the mother. She doesn’t want the baby to die of malnutrition in prison and the baby is sick.  On Thursday I made another trip back to the prison, this time to bring baby formula (that needed special permission because no outside food is allowed to be brought in).  When the mother and baby were brought in to the room where we were to meet I had the photo of her from 2006 ready to show her. 

Imagine that.  She was sitting on the floor with her sick baby and looked up and the photo as I held it out for her to see.  She looked from the photo to me and back to the photo again.  Then she looked at me and said, “That is me.” 

I said, “That was you in 2006” and she nodded in agreement.  She then told me that the baby was now seven years old and she got very sad.  After a moment she looked up at me and said, “We have known each other for six years, but we just didn’t know it until now.”


And then guess what happened?  The two senior prison officials looked at her and said, “God is a very BIG God. This just shows you how much He loves you and your children doesn’t it?” 

And guess what else?  The mother is now back on her ARV’s (AIDS medication), which she had been refusing for quite some time.  She had “dropped out” of the program, which guarantees to speed up her death, but she started up on them again this week.  Another miracle

{pause for a moment of  thanksgiving}

We will continue to advocate for this baby, and the mother.  But the good news for today is that they both know that Jesus loves them.  The baby has healthy formula that may save his life and the mother has medication for HIV/AIDS, which can surely save her life.  If the baby comes to us, great. If not, we know that it is in His perfect plan that the baby stays in prison.

What a mighty God we serve.  He cares about the little details and He cares about each and every one of us.  He does not have favorites.

At the end of the story in Matthew we are left with these words, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,  I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’  “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’  “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’  “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:41-46)

Live from Swaziland … we are giving thanks.



  1. Thanks for posting such a moving account of how big our God is.

  2. What a wonderful post from you today! Made me cry and then smile...Thank you, Janine, for the sacrifices you have made in order to do God's job in Africa! You make me realize His plan is a PERFECT plan, and we just need to trust in Him.

  3. Tears in my eyes reading this. What a big God we serve. Amazing.

  4. Is the photo above he picture of the children mentioned in your book? God sent you as an angel to this mother and her children!

  5. Hi Chari - no this photo isn't from the book, I took it a couple of weeks ago when I went and visited her homestead to check on the other 7 children as she was going to prison. We found them all sleeping in one bed, including an 18-month old, with no one caring for them. Now the mother is in prison for 3 years and the father for 10 years. We continue to pray for these children who are suffering because of the sins of their parents. Not the first time in history, but still very sad. Thanks for your prayers.

  6. God is a Strategist! I love that you walk in obedience my new friend. God is with you and for you! I can't wait to hear what move He will make next!

  7. Janine,

    I work with a nurse who works with the Ministry of Health in conjunction with the organisation that I work for in HIV care and treatment in the correctional services of Swaziland, who regularly goes to Mawelawela. She was surprised to read your account of the mother and child's condition in the prison as she is adamant that children are cared for quite well and receive all the treatment and nutrition they need.

    If you would like I can put you in contact with her to intervene if the child's condition is indeed this dire.

    Kind Regards,

    Sean Burke

  8. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness Sean! Your friend is correct, the staff and facilities at Malwelawela are excellent, and I have always been impressed when I visit. The challenge wasn't the care there, but rather the health of the child before going there. Subsequently had to be taken to govt hospital for another weeks. Thankfully the Asst Commandant at Mawelawela and the DPM's office were able to connect and we can take excellent formula to the baby now and also were able to take the 20-month old child there too. Thanks again for your connection. Will let you know if we need her intervention in future.

  9. Great to hear, she said that she is available to help out with any issues with the mothers there.