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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Anthony and Celestine are getting married today!

 

It was April 2003 when I met Anthony on my first trip to Kenya.  He was 18 years old and had recently moved to the Mully Children’s Family (MCF) home in Ndalani to attend school. That trip to Kenya changed my life forever, and it is also when I knew that I was being called into full time ministry IN AFRICA.

 

A couple of years later we started the Heart for Africa ministry, and a couple of years after that we bought the 2,500-acre piece of African bush in Eswatini, that we now call “Project Canaan”. Anthony was one of five MCF beneficiaries who was invited down from Kenya to start the project. The work was all manual back then and all very heavy lifting, but Anthony and his best buddy, Denis, worked tirelessly to clear the land, pick rocks from the field, plant the first maize, pray for rain, and then harvest the first crop. Without their hard work and tenacity in the early years, Project Canaan would not look like it does today.

 

After our family moved to Eswatini Anthony approached us and shared two life dreams that were in his heart. His first desire was to marry the love of his life, Celestine Mutinda, who was also a student at MCF, but his second desire had to come first.  Anthony wanted to become a Registered nurse so that he could help suffering people, but also be able to provide for Celestine. He had his eye on this beautiful, strong and determined young woman for many years as he watched her from afar and took note of her focus on succeeding in life. We fully supported his plans, and cheered him on through the highs and lows of the next five years.

 


While Anthony was in University in Eswatini, Celestine was at school in Nairobi, getting her Bachelor Degree in Education, then she was teaching high school in Nairobi.  In 2017 Anthony was ready to bring Celestine to Eswatini so that they could finally spend time together, and really get to know each other. Celestine first volunteered in the greenhouse and learned about our Aquaponics projects. Later she was hired as a teacher at the Project Canaan Academy and is loved by her students and fellow staff. 

 

As the young couple’s friendship grew, and their relationship developed, conversations between families started to happen and plans for their union were initiated. Then Covid-19 hit the world. Suddenly all travel plans abruptly stopped and all wedding plans were crushed. Something had to be done. While Covid-19 restrictions would not allow them to travel back to Kenya for a “proper family wedding”, they decided to have a different kind of “family wedding” here on Project Canaan, and their new plans moved in to action.

 

 

The wedding party was chosen, complete with the cutest flower girls, junior bridesmaids and groomsmen in the country (yes I am biased). Dresses, and shoes were sought out around the country, dance and wedding rehearsals began. Yesterday the girls all had their fingernails polished, cakes were decorated, dresses prepared and last night the rehearsal party took place at the lodge.  The groomsmen slept at The Lodge and the Bridesmaids slept at the Moringa Guest house.  The excitement around Project Canaan is palpable as we prepare to see this young couple join together in marriage today.
 


Today at 9:30AM EST, our big family, with a few VIP guests, will participate in the wedding nuptials of Anthony Mutua Musyoka and Celestine Minoo Mutinda. The Best man is lifelong friend, Denis, Denis’ wife, Annah (also from MCF), and both of Denis’ daughters are also in the wedding party! It is the fulfillment of Anthony’s dreams, and the very first wedding at the Imphilo (which means “Life”) Amphitheatre on Project Canaan. While Covid-19 restricts us from hosting a celebratory meal with outside guests, we will have our own celebration with the children and staff at our dining hall called The Oasis. It will be the perfect end to a perfect day.

 

 

We WILL NOT let this global pandemic steal our joy, and we hope you are not allowing it to steal yours either.

 

You are welcome to join the wedding live by going to the Heart for Africa Facebook page, and watching the live feed starting at 9:30 AM EST. The wedding march will take up the first 30 minutes of the occasion, and will just be too much fun with many of our children participating.  There will be performances in siSwati, Kamba (native language to Anthony and Celestine) and short speeches by only a few people.  Please join us if you can, but more importantly, please join us in praying for this young couple who have chosen to spend their lives serving “the least of these” as missionaries in a foreign land. 

 

Live from Eswatini …"Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:9

 

Janine

Saturday, September 12, 2020

My third book is (finally) written

Swaziland 2005
Swaziland 2005

Yesterday was the 19th anniversary of 9-11, and the day on which the trajectory of my life – and that of my family – was forever changed.

 

In my first book, It’s Not Okay With Me, I chronicled how the events of 9-11 sent me on a journey to Africa, seeking God’s purpose for my life. In my second book, Is It Okay With You, I shared the origins of Project Canaan and our work in what was then called Swaziland.

 


It has been many years since I wrote my second book, and honestly, I felt that this weekly blog was “Book #3,” with each week another chapter in the story of HOPE. But last year during the 10th Anniversary celebrations of Project Canaan, I realized that I should write a proper account of all that has happened in the first 10+ years of Project Canaan. It needed to include the history, the development, the trials and tribulations along with the miracles and wonders.

 


While this season of Covid-19 has been complicated and filled with uncertainty, it has also been a time of blessing here at Project Canaan (read this blog for  a real glimpse). It has also given me time to reflect and write the book that tells the story of Project Canaan. While it is not written as a manual, I have attempted to give detail, helpful information and key learnings for anyone being called to serve in a ministry like Heart for Africa in Eswatini. I hope there are a few of you who are interested in reading it J

.

The manuscript is complete and in the hands of my editor. Fingers crossed. God willing, we hope to publish it before Christmas.

 

Now we are working on a title and a front cover image.  This is where YOU come in. I am looking for book cover photo suggestions.  I want a photo that was taken specifically ON Project Canaan that says HOPE. Do you have a great photo of a child or children, or farm workers that shows what hope looks like? If we choose your photo (and you give us permission to use it) you will get the very first copy of the book, hot off the press, and a gift pack from Khutsala Artisans.

 

This photo of Phiwa and her peeps says HOPE to me.

 

There are two ways to submit your photos. You can simply email your photos to info@heartforafrica.org or if you have a Shutterfly account, you can upload them directly to our account at https://projectcanaan2020.shutterfly.com.  Please keep your submissions to five photos or less.

 

Now, for a little teaser as to how Chapter One of the new book begins…

 

“It was a very dark night, and she was afraid. Labor started earlier than she had expected, but she knew she was in labor, because her first child arrived when she was only 15 years old, and she had not yet been able to push away the fear and pain. She made her way to the pit latrine (outdoor toilet) that the family had used for many years and sat down on the old platform. The baby started to come, and she pushed. This second child wasn’t any easier than the first, but at least she knew what to expect. She pushed again, until finally the baby’s head erupted from her tender teenage private area as the baby slipped on through into the pile of human waste below.

 

She was not quite sure how it happened, but the placenta followed and there was silence. She tried to see her newborn, but there was no end to the darkness that she peered into, as if the baby had been swallowed by the blackness itself. She cleaned herself up as best she could and made her way back to her stick and mud house.

 

She lay on her bed and forced herself to go back to sleep, but sleep would not come. Five hours later, the sun was starting to peek up above the mountain range in the distance and she crept back to the pit latrine to make sure the baby was dead, but to her shock, she heard a cry. Oh no, she thought, ‘This can’t be happening? The baby can’t possibly still be alive after being there for five hours! Surely the newborn would have suffocated by now.’

 

Other family members were starting to stir, so she quickly ran and got a shovel and scooped up some hot coals from the fire that would soon heat up the leftover mealie meal (cooked maize) from the night before to make soft porridge for her 2-year-old daughter and herself if there was enough to scrape from the side of the pot. She stumbled back to the pit latrine and threw the hot coals down onto the tiny newborn whose cries were getting louder. Suddenly she heard footsteps coming toward her and she panicked. Who could it be? Would they hear the baby’s cries? Would the baby be dead before the person opened the door? Would she be able to lie her way out of this scene?

 

Suddenly the door swung open and her uncle was looking directly into her soul. What had she done? What was that noise coming from the depth of human waste? He held his breath and looked down into the toilet as she fell to the ground and sobbed. What HAD she done?”

 

I know, it’s tough to read, but it’s real, and it’s what we deal with on a regular basis here in Eswatini. But fear not, the story ends with great joy, healing and redemption, and HOPE for both mother and baby.

 

This photo of Gift and Shirley says HOPE to me.

If you have never read the first two books, you can buy them at www.khutsala.com or on amazon.com.  If you would like to listen to the audio version of It’s Not Okay With Me to hear how this all began 19 years ago on September 11th, 2001, you can download a free copy of it here.  Feel free to share the free audio book with friends and family to prepare them for the next book in the trilogy. 

 

Please send your photos ASAP as we will start working on the cover soon.

 

Live from Eswatini … it’s Ian’s birthday weekend!

 

Janine

 

 

Saturday, September 5, 2020

It's not all fun and games


Earlier this year when the world was spinning properly, planes were flying and events were happening, Ian and I were invited to Texas to speak at a gathering of 15,000+ Keller Williams agents.  It was one of the craziest experiences of my life as I had never been in one room with so many people in my life, and to have the honor to share our story with them was simply mind-blowing. It seems like YEARS ago that we were on those planes, and so much has changed in those few months.


When Ian and I travel we are always looking for fun, new and fresh ideas to bring back to Project Canaan. In a recent blog I shared with you a patio roof that we loved and will use a similar idea on our new dining hall. While in Texas we stumbled upon a giant Scrabble game board, that was attached to the wall and had magnetic letter pieces. What a brilliant idea!  I quickly googled it and found the very same unit available at Restoration Hardware for only $1,800 US. YIKES! There had to be another way.

 

Our friends, Carol and Barry Hickman, were planning to come to Project Canaan for a month this summer. Carol is the Vice-Chairperson of the Heart for Africa Canadian Board of Directors and Barry is her jack-of-all-trades, and partner in crime . Barry is always looking for a project that he can take on while here and he loves working with the guys in the Kufundza Carpentry center, so I thought this might be the perfect challenge!  And he agreed.

 


Fast forward a few months, planes are grounded, borders are closed, and Carol, Barry and team are stuck in Canada, sad, but still wanting to help us in Eswatini. Then, out of nowhere an opportunity arose. Hannah Gaddis, our Hunger Initiative 2020 Manager in the US, has been searching for partners in Canada and US to provide dried food so that we can continue to feed our children in the communities who really need more help than ever. Canadian Board member, Cheri Peters, suggested that we reach out to the Okanagan Gleaners in Oliver, British Columbia, Canada, and within weeks we were accepted a food partner.  Better yet, they said they could ship us a 40ft container of food in August/September.  

That put a series of events in motion that ended up with Barry and the Kerr family MAKING the 5-foot square Scrabble board (complete with blackboard score area) from scratch! I’m not kidding.  This could easily be added to the top of the dried food on the container. Score! The team painstakingly painted each board square and letter piece by hand, then added the magnetic connections so that the game can be played on the wall.  They had to work through endless unexpected problems/challenges that goes with any DIY project. I laughed when I heard that and said that it made it a very authentic Swazi experience .They even added Heart for Africa logos in each corner for an extra special touch, which were made by a couple in Kamloops, BC. 


While Barry was busy doing that, Carol, Cheri and their friends were collecting gently used clothes from all over Canada (and Carol was doing her own famous bargain-hunter shopping game).  The Hickman house and garage became a drop off center for literally 2,000+ pounds of clothing for our children, soccer gear (thanks to my cousin Carelle McKellan and her family!!), and bras from as far away as Prince Edward Island, Ottawa and Manitoba. Truth be told, it was actually Barry who did the driving all over the province picking up donations, and even WASHING some of the children’s clothes.  A special thank you to Once Upon a Child, a children's clothing store that donated 20 large bags of children's clothes!


Then, the piece-de-resistance was an unexpected gift of a $50,000 (if it were new) computerized feeding system for our dairy cows, which will reduce the cost we spend on dairy meal, while maximizing the milk production.  This was a timely donation as it could be shipped for “free” in this container and it was exactly what we need as a part of our dairy expansion. Thank you Koopman family for the part you played in this gem!

 


If you don’t believe in a God who cares about the details, please go back and re-read this blog.  I simply can’t make this up. We started by needing food to feed starving children, and He provided.  The bonus gift (in my eyes) was a giant Scrabble board that will be fun in our new O2 building. Then 2,000 POUNDS of clothes are added, and then the Lord tops it all off with dairy equipment.  HOW DOES HE DO ALL THIS?  



Thank you Carol, Barry and your team of friends and family for giving 1,000+ hours of your time. You are such a great example of people using the extra (or unusual) time you have due to Covid-19 to do something great!  Thank you Cheri for being instrumental in getting this food, and for helping pack it. We are so very thankful for our Canadian friends who worked tirelessly over the past few months to make this container be filled with life-saving food, along with some fun and games!



Live from Eswatini … enjoying a long weekend (Independence Day).

Janine

 

PS - don't forget to check out www.khutsala.com this weekend and do some shopping!


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Two girls and a tractor

 

This was another busy, but very fruitful week at Heart for Africa.  Let me start by sharing the new launch of the www.khutsala.com website.  Our son Spencer was offered a job at EY consulting in Chicago, but with Covid-19 hitting the world, his start date was pushed back to January 2021, so we took the opportunity to hire him as an interim Marketing Manager at Heart for Africa. The first thing he tackled was creating a new website for Khutsala Artisans. He worked closely on the design with Maggie Taylor (who did all the stunning photography) and Lisa Borders on content. We have a limited number of stunning new charcuterie boards, that just landed in the US this past week and lots of beautiful SwaziMUD product and UNITY collection pieces.  Please take a moment to check it out today. If you are interested in getting more involved with Khutsala, please check out our Ambassador and Affiliate programs on the site (and shop too!).  If you are interested in the Marketing Manager position later in the fall, please email info@heartforafrica.org.  

 


Nokwanda and Nokuphiwa FINALLY arrived at Project Canaan after taking a repatriation flight home from the US, through Nairobi, Kenya. When they landed they were immediately whisked away to a hotel in the most northern part of Eswatini and literally locked in a hotel for 11 days. That was NOT what we were told was going to happen, and we expected to pick them up and quarantine them at The Lodge on Project Canaan. But alas, on Thursday we were told that their SECOND Covid-19 test was negative (third one in two weeks) and we could pick them up. Ian and I were happy to make the five-hour drive to finally see the girls, and bring them home. The children were so thrilled to have Phiwa back and the “pied piper” lead “her people” around campus.  Thank you to everyone who made their journey a good one.

 

 


For our farmer friends, you will join in our excitement that a new tractor arrived from China this week! It’s a John Deere 6110B and we passed it on the bridge as we left the farm to go and pick up the girls at the hotel.  Ian was so excited about it, but not nearly as excited as Arlyn and his 3-year-old son, Owen, who thinks we bought it so that he can ride with his papa to feed the cows without being in the dust all day (it has doors).

We’ve celebrated birthdays, enjoyed net ball games and this weekend each house will visit the Swazi homestead for some fun food, cultural dancing and stories of the days of old. All in all, it’s been a great week. I hope you have had a good one too.

 

Please be sure to go to www.khutsala.com today and share the link on your Facebook page so your friends and family can see it too!  Thank you.

 

Live from Eswatini … it’s time for a cup of coffee with the puppies.

 


 

Janine

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Death, life and indescribable peace

This week our dear friend, Mathokoza Mtetfwa, lost his beloved father to Covid-19. This is the first death to this virus that has been personal to us, and we mourn with he and his family. We have another dear friend, Rev. Dr. JV Mazubuko, in hospital fighting for his life having buried his wife only three weeks ago.  There was “fake news” announcing his death earlier in the week, but he is still fighting the fight as I write this blog.  He believes that one of the people who came to visit his wife in her last days brought the deadly virus to the house. The virus is real, and it is here.

 

Each week Ian and I take a cautious journey to town together to pick up groceries and supplies.  We laugh at ourselves and say that the country mice are going to the big city, with masks and hand sanitizer in our pockets. Every store we enter (which we limit as much as possible) takes our temperature and insists that we also use their hand sanitizer for our hands, and sanitizing wipes for our cart. We shop and check out as quickly as we can, although the stores are very quiet and the parking lot is usually almost empty. 

 

Liquor stores have been closed since June 1st and will not reopen until mid to late September, which also reduces the traffic in the shopping center where we buy our groceries.  We are told that emergency rooms in South Africa and Eswatini have been much quieter because of this ban on liquor sales because drunk driving accidents are down and bar fights, gang fights and general “stupid” fights have been greatly reduced. Sadly, domestic violence has escalated, but in Eswatini the police don’t have any gas for their police cars so they can’t go and rescue a woman being abused, or transport her to the hospital for care. Instead, she has to stay at home with the abuser (who is now drinking home brew… which can make you go blind, paralyze you for life, and most certainly make you go crazy). We see this frequently at Project Canaan when women don’t show up to work. When we dig down to why they were absent, it is almost always a result of being badly beaten up, and they are either to hurt to come to work or too ashamed. It’s heart breaking.

 

In other news we have lots of activities happening on Project Canaan. This past week we started harvesting almost two acres of onions.  Did you know that onions need to have their necks broken (ouch), and then they are left in the ground to “heal the wound” before being harvested? Then they are hung in the greenhouse to cure for 2-3 weeks until the necks are completely dry and the outer skin is slightly crisp. The farm team is growing enough onions to last the children’s campus a full year, and we will sell the rest. Believe me, we use a lot of onions!

 

This week we poured the concrete floor on the main floor of the second Oasis building called “O2” (a play on Oasis #2 and a place to get oxygen for the mind, body and soul). It will eventually be the large dining hall for our older kids on the upper campus (as opposed to the middle and lower campuses). This building will be used as a recreation center for the next two years and will have a second-floor outdoor patio space for games, homework and just hanging out. When we were in Georgia in January with our friends the Jean and Jerry Eickhoff and Jan and Ernest Taylor, we saw the most beautiful outdoor patio roof on an early morning walk. We are always looking for interesting ideas that we can use on Project Canaan when we travel around the world. We immediately knew that this roof would be a stunning addition to the new O2 building, and our carpentry team is working on the design now. Thank you friends for the kind invitation and for showing us such beauty.

 


We also had a big soccer tournament this week with the older children followed by a braai (grilled meat) and gigantic bon fire.  It was too cold on the day of the tournament to end with the bonfire (55F), so we spread the fun over two nights. There was something magical about the evening that is hard to put in to words. I am attaching a few photos, but you will have to breathe deeply to smell the meat on the grill and listen closely to hear the children singing along with the music and cheering on the players. The fire was warm, the sunset was stunning and everyone was happy. Covid-19 did not exist for a few hours, and we had indescribable peace.

 


I hope that you will be able to take a moment this week, if only for a few hours, to breathe in deeply, listen closely and enjoy a moment of indescribable peace and joy.

 

Live from Eswatini … going for a Saturday morning walk around the farm.

 

Janine

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Are 3 pictures worth 3,000 words? (Bonus: Phiwa is on a plane coming home!)

I had a photo pop up on my Facebook news feed this week and it showed a group of our first nine children sitting on change tables that had been pushed together to fit all their tiny bodies. Below that picture was a photo taken five years later of the same children, placed in the order, on the top bunk of their beds. That prompted me to go and get an updated photo to add, three years later. This time they wanted to pose themselves to look like they looked five years ago, and the photo that you see above is the result.

As I look back at their baby photos I am immediately transported back to the day that our first baby, Joshua arrived.  Ian was on Project Canaan with Pete Wilkerson, and they were at the top of the mountain when I received the phone call in Alpharetta, Georgia, telling me that our first baby had arrived.  I called Ian and told him to rush down the mountain, there was a baby!!!  The second person I called was Teresa Birk, as the baby home was built in honor of her deceased son, Jared, and then I called Raelenna Ferguson, who was largely responsible for raising those funds.  What a day of joy and thanksgiving that was!

 

Today we have 271 children who call Project Canaan “home”.  Each child’s story reminds me of one of those first nine, from being found in an outdoor pit latrine, to arriving at our door severely malnourished (and crying whenever the spoon showed the bottom of the bowl).  Another one delivered to us in a cardboard box, covered in lesions with skin too raw to touch, and another found at a bus stop, in only a diaper, in the middle of winter, and in the dead of night. Each story worse than the next, but each story the beginning of salvation and redemption.

 

While we first focus on the physical health of each and every child who is placed with us through Social Welfare, we very quickly start to pray for healing for their emotional scars, pray for the restoration of their emotional health, and start them on a journey to their spiritual health. Each of these three are important to us, and we are intentional and wholistic in our approach to each. And it’s working.

 

Now, when I look at the photo taken this week of these same nine children who arrived hungry, hurting and helpless, I see children filled with confidence and joy.  I see the strong silent one, I see the class clown, I see the ring leader, and I see the academic.  But more importantly to me, is that I know that eight of these nine children have made a personal decision to join the family of God over the past year. That is the most important part of what we do, and I am thankful for all of our volunteers and staff who are aligned in working on this vision together.

 


You may recall that the now famous Swazi girl named “Phiwa” went back to the US for surgery last November with her guardian, Project Canaan staff member and super-hero, Nokwanda.  They found themselves locked down in Boston when Covid-19 hit, and eventually made it to Florida to be reunited with the Habelow family.  After a time, we decided to move the girls to Georgia so that Phiwa could get some educational testing, counseling and special education assistance. They would also be tucked in with our Heart for Africa staff in Georgia. Their time there was highly successful and Phiwa made lots of progress in many ways, but then we heard about a repatriation flight that might be able to get them back home, and we jumped on the opportunity.  The process was long, complicated and expensive, but our own, Hannah Gaddis, navigated the giant maze with grace, love and determination, with the help of many people including Teri McClure and Lynn Floum. 

 

I just now received a call from Nokwanda in Amsterdam, where they are awaiting their next flight to Nairobi. They will fly direct to Eswatini tomorrow (Sunday, August 16th) and then be taken to a hotel for two days while they receive medical assessments, after which they will live at The Lodge on Project Canaan, self-isolated for 14-days, but at least they will be home!

There are so many people to thank for helping Nokwanda and Phiwa during their unexpected 8+ month stay in the US, but I would specifically give a shout out to the Habelow family, Bishop family, McClure family and Floum family for hosting the ladies and making them feel welcome and a part of your families. Thank you to Robin Daughtery and her team of educators who helped with assessments and tutoring to help Phiwa move forward with her unique educational challenges. Thank you again, Hannah, for being friend, sister, Mother, Aunt, driver, nurse, Covid-19 test(s) finder, travel agent, US Visa tracker etc. etc. The Lord brought you to us “for such a time as this” and we are so grateful for you.  And thank you David Bryant for your leadership, your wisdom, guidance and love for every one of our Heart for Africa team members, and the extra love and care you are providing everyone you touch during these difficult times.

 

Our goal is to do the best we can with what we have to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to every child who is placed with us through Social Welfare, but it takes a very big village to do that for 271 children. Thank you to every person who sponsors a child through Heart for Africa, and if you don’t, I ask you to consider sponsoring a child today. I promise you that you will be blessed, and you will help save a life like Phiwa’s.

 

Child Sponsorship in the US:  https://www.heartforafrica.org/HOPESTARTS/
Child sponsorship in Canada:  http://bit.ly/hfahopestartsca
 

Live from Eswatini … I am living in a state of awe.

 

Janine