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Saturday, May 18, 2019

What’s going on at Project Canaan?

 This video is of some of our underweight children eating fresh avocado. 
I hope you enjoy their smiles and laughter.
The days are getting shorter and colder as winter is on her way to us here in eSwatini.  The sun comes up at 6:30 AM and is down by 5:15 PM and the temperatures dip to the frigid 55F (12 C) and "only" hit 83F (28 C) during the day leaving most of our Swazi friends bundled in winter coats, wool hats and even scarves (and this Canadian in a short sleeve shirt!).

The weeks leading up to our 10th Anniversary celebration in July seem to be getting busier than ever before and Ian and I find ourselves sitting at the end of the day with our heads spinning with all that is going on.  Emseni #5 is well underway with hopes to be fully built by October so the big girls can move in.  The foundation for our new preschool will start on Monday (it will be double in size of the current one, and the current school will become an infirmary/children’s clinic at the children’s campus). 

Emseni #5 Girls home

We are building an amphitheater near the Living Water Dam which will be where we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Project Canaan, but it will also be where we have Sunday church services and special performances. 

Our field farming and greenhouse farming are in full swing with lettuce being grown in our aquaponics program, cucumbers/tomatoes/beets/cabbage/beans/peas being grown in our hydroponics program and sweet potatoes and onions grown in the fields. 

We are finishing up building an abattoir so that we can slaughter all of our own meat (chickens, beef cattle and goat), and just yesterday we welcomed six sheep to the family (Ian has always wanted sheep!) so they will also be a part of our meat consumption in the future.

Then there are the other projects like our welding team building bike racks for the Emseni homes, making chairs at the Kufundza Center for the Nkonyeni Golf Resort, renovating the floors at the Oasis dining hall/kitchen (WHAT A MESS), and installing two new kilns at Khutsala so that we can make more SwaziMUD beads.  

We also welcomed home three new children this week – one newborn who was found at a bus stop late one night with no blanket and no diaper.  The other two are siblings who come from a sad story of illness and abuse.  Project Canaan is now home to 232 children.

Our toddlers welcoming "the new kid". Heart warming to say the least.
Things are hopping here, and we are loving all that we are seeing get done. We are thankful for an incredible staff (300+ strong now), wonderful Supervisors who oversee every department and a great team of long-term volunteers who work alongside our Swazi family. 

Thank you for reading my blog, week after week, and praying for us all.  This week had some difficulties that I am not able to share, and which had me in bed by 8:30PM several nights, but the Lord is our strength and our shield, and as our children sing “If God is for us, who can be against us?”.

Live from eSwatini … taking a quiet day today.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

What does fish have to do with Mother’s Day?

This photo makes this mama's heart happy.
Tomorrow I have the overwhelming and mind-blowing blessing of celebrating Mother’s Day with 229 little ones and then seeing Spencer and Chloe by video later in the day.  But in a couple of weeks I will see my “big kids” face-to-face.

At the end of this month Ian and I will be going to Barcelona to celebrate Spencer’s 25th birthday (he is finishing up his Double Master Degree there so it was a good excuse for a party).   Chloe will join us from Canada and we will be together as a family for the first time in 2019. For the past SEVEN years we have only had one time each year that we were together, and that was at Christmas, but this year we get a special visit, in a very special place.  We were “gifted” this family reunion by a dear family who wanted to show their support for our family, not just support for the organization. WHO DOES THAT?  Jesus does, and He is our provider.

This Mother’s Day is also going to be extra special for a very unique reason – FISH!  On Sunday, May 12th we are going to harvest our very first tilapia fish that we have been growing in the Aquaponics tanks since June 2017.  They arrived as 2.2 cm (1 inch) fingerlings and will be harvested weighing approximately 600-800gram (1.3-1.7 pounds), which is the ideal harvest weight for this particular system. We expect to get around 45KG (100 pounds) of fish on Sunday… if all goes as planned J

Early tomorrow morning Ian and I will go down to help (mostly observe and try to stay out of the way) while the Aquaponics team sorts out the fish that will be eaten in a very special Mother’s Day meal.  We will take them up to the Oasis and show them to all the kids at church, then take them to the commercial kitchen, where they will be cleaned, filleted, breaded and prepared for the first fish that any of our children have ever had.  My mom was a fisherman and taught me to catch/clean/fillet fish as a young girl. She would be SO HAPPY to hear this news.

It is impossible to buy fresh fish in eSwatini, so each time we make a trip to South Africa we are sure to bring our cooler to bring home fresh salmon or trout and put in our freezer.  But tomorrow is a new day and our hope is to be able to harvest 45 KG (100 lbs) of fresh tilapia every two months for our kids to eat. 

And as a special gift to me, this mama also gets to cook down all the heads and bones and make my own fish broth for special seafood soups!  YUM!

As exciting as that all is, the highlight of my day will still be seeing Spencer and Chloe by video call and later being able to see Ian’s Mom (and Dad) and give thanks for the Mother (Bernice Willis) who raised me to be the woman I am today.  Her strength, tenacity, endurance and faith in Jesus continue to live on today here in eSwatini and I only wish she had lived long enough to see ALL of her beautiful Grandchildren.

Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you who have given birth, adopted, fostered, be-friended, loved or cared for a child.  May the Lord bless you for sharing HIS heart with them.

Live from eSwatini …time to make some tartar sauce!


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Aborted baby is alive

Not much surprises me anymore, but this week I heard a story this week that took my breath away, and I want to share it with you so that you can see the heart of this ministry and why we are here.

There was a young teenage girl who was living in a typical Swazi homestead with her mother, her Grandmother and her Step Grandfather.  Recently the mother of the girl noticed that the teenager was pregnant and the mother was very angry and ashamed. She immediately took the girl to have an abortion (which is illegal here) and the girl was given pills to abort the fetus.  Hours later the baby arrived, and was alive.  The woman who gave them the pills told them to not worry about it, just leave the baby alone and she will die.  So they did.

We don’t know where in the homestead that they lay the 6-pound baby (obviously close to full term) for five days, but we do know that she lay there, waiting to die, until neighbors started asking questions.  The questions led the family to take the newborn to a nearby clinic to be checked out, and they began providing minimal care.  The story is a bit cloudy from here, but two weeks after the baby was born the police raided the homestead after the case was reported to them, finding the baby, the mother and the alleged father … the Step-Grandfather! 

El Roi, the God who sees, saw this little baby and He has a plan for her life.

I was looking at some statistics that we are preparing at the request of the Deputy Prime Minister.  With the VERY limited information that we have on the 228 children who have been placed with us through the Social Welfare Department, we know that 17 of them are a direct product of rape. We know that 32 of them came from young teenagers and we know that 32 babies came from women who were severely mentally and/or physically disabled.  It is not a stretch to assume that most of the young teenage pregnancies were due to a payment of food/clothing/school fees (which means they did it because they were in need,  which constitutes rape) and it’s not a stretch to assume that the 32 mentally disabled women did not knowingly consent to having sex.  We have NO idea of the history of the babies who came to us from pit latrines, found on the side of the road or found hanging in a plastic bag in a tree, so they are not included in these numbers.

The government passed our first ever Sexual Offence and Domestic Violence Act in August 2018 (SODV) and I am told that many men in the nation our outraged and believe that the country will be destroyed by this new law that makes rape a crime. 

The front of yesterday’s newspaper is not shocking to anyone living in eSwatini because it is so common.  It is called Tibi Tendlu and it is “sweeping under the mat” the knowledge that incest is happening in the homestead.  We hear about it every, single, day.  This father was raping his own two daughters, but this time it was reported and he was tried and found guilty and given 32 years in prison.  

While men will continue to abuse girls/women, and most won’t get caught or prosecuted, I am thankful that we do have a law that brings us closer to protecting the women of this country, and imprisoning those who are found guilty. And I am also thankful for the knowledge that El Roi, the God who sees, is the final Judge and He also sees those men, and they will stand before the throne of God one day and answer for their actions.

For now, our role is to provide a safe haven for babies who are in need and to raise them with a hope for their future. Will you please sponsor one of our children today so that we can continue to say “yes” when we are called and asked to help a baby in need?  Thank you for joining our growing family.

In the US? Click here.

In Canada?  Click here.

Live from eSwatini … trusting in the God who sees.


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Our kids crack me up

At the end of each semester we reward the children who have done really well in school by publicly recognizing them on stage at church and then inviting them to our house for a special evening.   This past week we had 25 children from Kindergarten and Primary school up for pizza, Fanta orange ice cream floats and an episode of Planet Earth. (Slurping is allowed at this party).

While they were eating their pizza we asked them to share with us what they liked best about school.  I thought you would enjoy some of their answers.

Emmanuel: I like Science because we learned about Benjamin Franklin.
Me: What did you learn about Benjamin Franklin?
Emmanuel: He invented electricity.
Me: Where do we use electricity at your house?
Emmanuel: For the electric fence.

Yes, indeed we do have an electric fence around the children’s campus. But I might have thought he would say the TV or lights?

Leah: I liked learning about Community helpers.
Me:  What is a Community helper?
Leah:  It’s people who help other people, like Doctors, nurses, Firemen, Police.  Good people who like to help.
Me:  Good answer.

Ben:  Who was the first child to come to Project Canaan?
Me:  It was Joshua.
Ben:  So then when did Spencer and Chloe come?

The kids were looking in our bedroom window to see if they could see Linda-honey (the cat) under the bed.  One of them asked me if that was my bed?  I said yes. Another asked where Ian slept?  I said that he sleeps there too. What??  All the children whip their heads and looked at me with eyes as big as saucers!  I explained that we are married and when a man and a woman get married then they sleep in the same bed.  Emmanuel then said to everyone, “And they have been married a very long time.”  😂

Me:  Deborah, did you lose another front tooth?
Deborah:  Yes.
Me:  Where did it go?
Deborah:  In the trash.

(There is no tooth fairy at Project Canaan).

I often find myself sitting with Margie or Shongwe or Allen and just cracking up about the things the kids say.  They talk A LOT, ask a million questions and are trying to figure out life.  It’s a joy to be a part of their journey and to be able to love their individual personalities.

A few weeks ago I tried a marketing experiment to see if any of you would be interested in buying an avocado keychain from Khutsala Artisans and in return we would plant an avocado tree on Project Canaan. The experiment was a success and we have the funds to plant 500 avocado trees!  So we are doing it again, this time we want to plant 250 bananas and 250 papayas.  We also want to plant shade trees around the children’s campus as the African sun is very hot and we live in the bush with very few trees.  If you buy our brand new “Rooted in LOVE” t-shirt, we will plant a shade tree in your honor.  If you buy a banana or papaya keychain we will plant a fruit tree in your honor.  Mother’s Day is coming up – perhaps this would be a great Mother’s Day gift for all the mothers in your life.  

You can shop today at:

Have a blessed weekend.

Live from Pretoria, South Africa … it’s Starbucks time!


PS - as a special treat for reading to the end, here is a cute video of the kids getting in to position for their "Rooted in LOVE" video. Yes, Bryan does have them practice before a photo!


Saturday, April 20, 2019

What is the point?

Dying eggs as they learn about the Easter story

We now have more than 300 people working on Project Canaan.  We have 226 children who call Project Canaan “home” and 150+ children who attend our Project Canaan Academy.  Our agriculture program is now getting started (again) since we have water security and by the end of 2019 we should be growing all of the vegetables that we cook and eat at the Children’s Campus.  The income generating portions of the project (Khutsala Artisans, Kufundza woodcraft, milk, vegetables, eggs and hospitality) will generate 40% of our total operating costs in 2019, and that number will continue to increase as we continue to focus on other opportunities.  We want to be able to be self-sustainable from an operating cost perspective, and we are working diligently towards that goal.  You can see a short aerial video of the project by clicking here.

We are getting there.

Project Canaan is 10-years-old this year and in 2029 we will have our first high school graduating class. That means we are halfway there, but the really hard work has been done. The infrastructure of water, electricity, roads and fields are complete.  We are a city on a hill.  We need to build one children’s home each year and add a classroom on each year for the next ten years and then the children will be heading off to University, trade school or work. And the circle continues.

Land plan up to 2028

All of this is great, and all of it is miraculous, but if that is all we did, we would be missing the point.  Easter weekend is the highlight (and lowlight)of the Christian faith, and without the death and resurrection of Christ our faith would not exist.  Without teaching our children about Jesus, and without walking alongside our Swazi friends and disciplining them in the ways of Jesus, this would just be another humanitarian project that is doing a “good work”.  But that is not why we are here.

We welcome people of all faiths to come and serve alongside us and we respect people who do not believe what we believe. But it is very important to Ian and me that we know WHY we are doing what we are doing.  It is singularly because of our faith in Jesus Christ, and through that faith we have seen mountains move, we have seen the deaf hear, the blind see and the lame walk. 

Sometimes I am hard to love. Sometimes the people around me are hard to love.  But Jesus calls us to love each other even when it is hard to do, and that is what we are trying to do. This year’s anniversary theme is “Rooted in LOVE”.   As we all celebrate this Easter weekend with friends and family, let all of our words be spoken in love and let us all remember the greatest act of love that was shown 2,000 years ago.

If you would like to make a special gift this Easter to bless the children at Project Canaan, please consider helping us build a home for our big girls. We are only $70,000 short of our $225,000 goal.

Happy Easter from our family to yours. I hope you will be blessed by this short video from our Thursday night communion service.

Live from eSwatini … He is risen indeed!


Meanwhile, in Boston, Nokuphiwa is riding camels and elephants at the circus(!)

Saturday, April 13, 2019

The suffering of Swazi women and children

   Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Life for a typical Swazi is very hard, and life for a Swazi woman or child can be almost unbearable.  The first Child Protection Act was enacted in 2012, making it illegal for children to be abused, raped, used as slaves or given in marriage at a young age (amongst many other things).  In 2018 (not a typo) the Swazi government enacted a Sexual Offenses and Domestic Violence Act, which established a broad new legal framework for curbing gender-based violence.  While both Acts are incredibly important for the future of the Kingdom, we are encouraged to be patient while law enforcement, Social Welfare and the public to know, understand and support the details of both.  Patience is not a virtue that I have much of.

This week I saw suffering up close and personal of three Swazi women whom I work closely with at Project Canaan.

In order to protect each one’s privacy I will not mention names or places, but I have received permission from each of them to share their photos and stories to give you a glimpse of what they are dealing with on a daily basis all while trying to do a good job at work, maintain a good attitude and participate in our community.

On Tuesday, while I was sitting getting my hair cut in South Africa and Ian was having a procedure (tune-up of sorts) on both knees, I got a WhatsApp message with three photos from a young lady whom I work with and have known for many years.  The short message told me that this young lady’s sister had just been shot and killed in South Africa. There were four people in total who were murdered in cold blood.  Then she sent me two photos of the deceased, and then a photo the body bags holding the dead bodies. The moment was shocking, raw and I knew her heart was being ripped out hundreds of miles away.
Body bags with four murder victims
Once the initial wave of her grief subsided, the enormity of the “problem” started to emerge.  How do you bring a dead body across two African borders? This young lady is the eldest in her family, and she and the rest of her siblings were kicked out of their homestead after both their parents died 12-years ago, so they have been “homeless” since that time, with no place to even bury the sister if they can bring her home.  She has made Project Canaan her own home now, but her younger siblings all rely on her for wisdom, guidance and often funds.  While we are still sorting through all the legalities of the situation, the costs are crippling and mountain ahead is daunting.  We are in the middle of this story, but we will continue to walk beside her as she navigates funeral homes, police stations and International laws.

Meanwhile I have been walking alongside another young woman who has been saving money to build a house for herself and her daughter to keep them both safe from intruders and thieves. As she was preparing to work on her house last week she discovered that all the money she had hidden in her current room had been stolen – by her own sisters and mother!  We have discussed opening a savings account at the bank, but in the meantime the betrayal seems unforgivable and the relationships unrepairable, but where else will she go? Women are not allowed to own property here, so her only option is to build her house right beside her mother and sisters house, when she saves enough money again.  While the place where she will build might look like bush today, one day it will be a place of safety and a home.

At the end of the week I was approached about a staff member whose house was burned that morning and it was reported that they lost everything.  House fire is not an uncommon occurrence here, but what made this one different was that the house burned two months ago, with her father in the house, and he suffered terrible burns on the bottom half of his body leaving him in the hospital for two months. On Monday he returned home and on Thursday the house was burned again.  Suspicious? Yes.  Arson? Probably.  Will they catch and prosecute the person? Highly unlikely.  In the meantime, we will do our part and help with clothes, blankets and Manna Pack for the family.

And then there’s our newest little boy who arrived on Thursday. He just turned 2-years-old and spent five months in prison with his 18-year-old mother who has been sentenced to six years in prison for beating another girl with a glass bottle.  The boy’s father is also in prison for an unrelated crime.


Life is hard here. I don’t know what this young girl’s story is or what provoked her rage, but somehow she is in prison as a young teenager and her child has been placed in a Children’s home to be loved and cared for because no one else wants him.

Thank you all for your prayers and love for all of our girls, women and people in eSwatini who are suffering today.

May I leave you with words that I am holding on to as encouragement today:

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!”  Psalms 126:5

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;” Romans 5:3

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

Live from Swaziland … thankful for His words of comfort.


Saturday, April 6, 2019

“Violent or graphic content”??

On Thursday Nokuphiwa turned 9-years-old. On Friday she received the first of many surgeries to repair and reconstruct the damage done to her face when she was burned as a 5-day-old baby in her stick and mud home in rural eSwatini. 

She and her guardian (Nokwanda) have been in Boston for the past month as the original surgery was delayed.  No one really knew what the surgeons would do first. She has a large piece of skull missing, leaving her brain and a major artery protected only by skin.  We thought they would do that first, but that is not possible until her lips are released and rebuilt.  One step at a time.  Yesterday they took the first step and released the skin on her lower lip and giving her a new lip from skin on her leg.  She will be in recovery for four weeks and then they will do the same procedure on her top lip.

The world was praying for this little girl yesterday and well wishes came in from many countries.  I have shared in past blogs that Nokuphiwa is the happiest child I have ever met. She rarely has a bad day, and her joy is infectious to all who are around her.  She was not afraid of the surgery and even entertained everyone in the waiting room with Swazi dancing while she waited her turn.

While she has no lips to smile with, it is clear to everyone who sees her smile, that she is smiling!   At first I was shocked when I saw her, but very quickly I got to see the person behind the burn and no longer saw her scars. Yesterday our US friends posted an update on social media saying that she was out of surgery and all went well, and when I looked at the post I saw that Facebook had blocked the photo, with a message that said “This photo may show violent or graphic content.”

Below is the photo that was posted. A happy little girl who just came out of surgery and wanted to tell everyone that she was doing okay.  A thankful little girl whose life has been changed by the generosity of others. A little girl who enjoyed her Princess birthday party, her Elsa (from Frozen) birthday cake and the bucket of water that was thrown on her (a Swazi birthday tradition).  And an algorithm decided that her photo was violent or graphic. 

I will ponder this more today, but for now I am just thankful.  I am thankful for the Shriners Hospital in Boston who is doing all this surgery for free.  I am thankful for the Global Medical Relief Fund who is overseeing Nokuphiwa’s care and funding the flights to and from eSwatini to the US.  I am thankful for our dear friends, the Habelow family, who are hosting Nokuphiwa and Nokwanda IN THEIR OWN HOME for two months and treating them like their very own family. And I am especially thankful for Nokwanda, a young Swazi woman who just graduated from University who said “yes” to being Nokuphiwa’s guardian, teacher, mother and friend.  Your kindness and selflessness will be rewarded.

These surgeries are not only life-saving, they are also life-giving. They will not only help this child so that she can go back to school without being spat at or attacked, they will also allow her to see better, hear better, eat easier and not run the risk of death if she bumps her head in the wrong spot. 

In other news, back on Project Canaan, we had our first harvest of bananas delivered to the kitchen yesterday – 1,230 of them!  Ian was THRILLED and this week the kids will get banana muffins!  Thank you Lord for your provision.

We still need 161 avocado trees to reach our goal of planting 500 trees that will provide fresh avocados all year long for our children. Will you help us today by buying an avocado keychain from Khutsala Artisans?  Or by making a donation to Heart for Africa in the US or Heart for Africa in Canada with a comment “avocado trees”.  Thank you.

Live from eSwatini … I am thankful to be a part of this journey.


PS - we asked Facebook to review their decision to hide the photo and they have done so now.