On May 31st, 2012 the Maxwell family boarded a plane and moved to eSwatini (formerly known as Swaziland) to live at Project Canaan. I hope to update my blog on Saturday mornings and share, as honestly as I can, the highs and lows of our life in Africa. We are living on a farm in a remote part of this tiny Kingdom and are serving the community as well as the orphans and vulnerable children of the nation. Thanks for joining us.
One of the primary objectives of Project Canaan is to provide training and employment for people in the community surrounding the farm, and beyond. Ideally we would be hiring men who would then take their incomes and provide food, water, shelter and education for their children However statistics clearly show that in Africa if you pay a woman, she will feed and provide for her family. If you pay a man he is much more likely to spend it on beer, cigarettes and things other than his family. Let me tell you about one of the women who has worked at Project Canaan since the fall of 2009.
Her name was Stula (which is a nickname meaning "hefty" in siSwati). She was a bright, friendly, robust Swazi woman who spoke excellent english and worked hard to provide for her four children. She was pregnant with her fifth child and until last week still showed up on the farm every day to work. Last Thursday that baby was very overdue and Stula made her way to the local clinic where she was told that she must go immediately to the Nazarene hospital in Manzini (one of the best hospitals in the country). She and her sister took public transportation (a small crowded bus) and when they got there Stula was induced with pills. When the pills did not work they gave her an injection which brought labor on hard and fast. As she cried out for help and moved into a state of distress, the nurse who had been attending her left to find a doctor. By the time the doctor arrived, Stula was dead. And so was her unborn baby girl.
Stula was 29 years old.
The four orphans (ages 4 to 10) who have been left behind will live with Stula's mother, and the orphan statistics bump up another notch. Grandma, or "Gogo" as she would be called there, also works at Project Canaan, but may have to quit her job completely to care for her grandchildren. She is in her 50's and has long outlived the average life expectancy in Swaziland of 29 years. To an outsider she looks to be more like a 70 year old woman.
The all night funeral vigil was on Saturday and I was moved to know that our Project Canaan farm team was able to take Stula's children to the funeral and be with them as they mourned.
Stula had her own open coffin and the baby girl (whom the family named Sibongile Khoza or "Thank you God") had her own little coffin next to her mom. The teams says the baby showed visible signs of distress prior to her death. This did not have to happen.
Stula and Sibongile Khoza are dancing with Jesus, and for that I am thankful, but I pray that their deaths are not in vain. I believe with my whole heart that if the Medical Center at Project Canaan had been built then Stula would have had easy access to prenatal care and someone to oversee her pregnancy. I therefore believe there is a VERY good chance that Stula and her baby would be alive today. She would have six mouths to feed, we would have a great farm worker and Swaziland would have four fewer orphans needing care.
According to the United Nations the infant mortality rate in the United States is 7.07 deaths for every 1,000 births (infants under the age of one year). The infant mortality rate in Swaziland is almost TEN TIMES that at 68.63 deaths for every 1,000 births. The infant mortality rate globally is 49.4 deaths for every 1,000 births. This is not okay with me. It does not need to be this way. I believe Stula is one woman we could have saved and I am more determined than ever to get our Medical Center built so that we can save the next "Stula" and her baby.
I won't ask you for money often, but I am today. If you can help us financially to build a medical/dental clinic on Project Canaan, please give today by clicking here. We still need almost $200,000 to make this dream and we believe that El Shaddai, God the Provider, will provide, maybe even through you. Thank you on behalf of all the "Stula's" in the Kingdom of Swaziland.
There are so many things that need to be in place before we can pack up and make our move to Swaziland. Not just our children's education, selling our house, building a house, driving our cars back to Canada because legally we can't sell Canadian cars here in the US, but also the situation with my mom.
As some of you know, I was adopted as a baby by Bernice and Russ Willis. As the story goes, they were hoping to adopt a boy, but when they saw my charming smile and strawberry blonde curls they couldn't leave me in the store window. Well, some of that is true. They were both wonderful parents, and like all of us, did the best they could with what they knew. I believe in my heart that most if not all parents do the best with that they know and what they have. Maybe I am alone in that. I am thankful for their encouragement, love, support and for the countless hours/days/weeks my mom spent on her knees in prayer for me. I have no doubt that it carried me through many dark days, and phases in life.
My father passed away in 2005 after a grueling 18 month stint in multiple hospitals across southern Ontario. His passing was sad, but I was thankful that at last he was out of his pain. My mom has been struggling with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) for almost 20 years and in 2009 had a heart attack and stroke that further limited her mobility. She spent months in a local hospital and then we had to make the decision to move her in to long term care facility in Guelph where she would receive excellent 24 hour care. She was not pleased (a GIANT understatement).
My mom is one of those brilliant, no, genius level people, being one of the first women to earn a degree in Pharmacy. She has been a trail blazer and was always ahead of her time in health, wellness and natural cures. She also had determination like no one else I know and she fought to change things that needed changing. Although I am adopted, I do believe that much of my tenacity and determination was "learned" from my adopted mom. In the past year mom has been diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia, which among other things, removed the "filter" that we use to filter our thoughts, actions and language. The woman who never used the word "darn" because it was a replacement for "d-m" is now using "alternative" language with her health care providers (I will admit - THAT makes me laugh and I will also admit that I am thankful she doesn't have access to the internet). It is just a part of her aging process.
This is getting too long, so let me get to the point. Now mom only has the very limited use of one arm and is in terrible pain due to the degeneration of her entire body (basically stated). She is in and out of hospital and fiery mad because in her dementia she believes she can still walk, and plans to move home, buy a new van and get on with life at the age of 80. Yesterday she was rushed to the emergency room and was refusing care as they tried to get her to sign a waiver to do a CT Scan. My cousin Kim, who has been a true gift in caring for my mom as she also lives in Gueph, called me from the emergency room. I could hear my mom screaming at everyone in the background like a caged animal. She was NOT going down without a fight and taking as many people with her as she could.
I was standing in the kitchen with my friend Annemarie who said, "Why don't they sedate her?" I thought, what a GREAT idea, so immediately texted Kim to ask her to have them sedate her so they could do the tests without her fighting. I was SO thankful for Annemarie's suggestion and wished I had been so thoughtful and clever. Kim texted me back and said, "No need, I prayed for her out loud and she settled right down."
Wow. So I ask myself, will I ever learn? Will I ever get to the place that I automatically think of Jesus instead of an alternative "human" solution? This is not about false guilt or beating myself up, but rather about realizing that if I am going in to the mission field in Africa, I need to spend more time in spiritual preparation so that I am in a place of total dependence on Him. That is where I want my heart to be, and it is not there yet.
Today I encourage us all to lean in to the truth and knowledge that He is our all in all. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and we need nothing other than Him.
Thanks for reading a most personal, and maybe unusual posting.
The next year may be the longest of my life. I would like to pack up and move today, but alas, that is not the plan. Spencer needs to finish his last year of high school. Chloe needs to finish grade 9 and we have to build a house to live in on Project Canaan. Plans are well underway and we will start construction when I get there in July.
But for now, let me give you a glimpse in to a day in the life of Janine's mind (a scary place to be at times). Yesterday our local Member of Parliament (in Swaziland) came by the farm with a list of children in our community in desperate need of help. Some were living alone, some with a grandmother, all had buried one or both parents due to HIV/AIDS. There is very little that the farm team can do for those children because they have the HUGE task of developing the farm, but I realized again that if I were THERE I could go and visit these children, get to know them and see how we could assist them directly. And then I could come back home and blog about it so that you too know what is happening and maybe could help. Soon, that will happen - 355 days from now.
The next thing that happened in the sequence of my day was seeing the photo that I have posted on this blog. It was on Peter Mulli's facebook page (Peter is the youngest brother of Charles Mulli and Peter is living at Project Canaan handling building construction). YUK! That snake photo reminded me of the harsh reality of where we are going to live. THAT, my friends, is (or was) a python, and not a very big one either. I am guessing that it had slid up that green water tank that is situated beside the Farm Managers Building.
Pythons, Cobras AND Spitting Cobras, Puff Adders, Black Mambas and Green Mambas are only a few of the creatures that we will be sharing land with. We recently had a crocodile make its way to the farm and is now residing in the water by the fire pit. The leopard had a baby last year (or cub or whatever you call it) and now there are two leopards living on the land. So, what to do? Well, we use common sense and don't walk through the thick brush (stay on the path). We are having a "Crocodile Whisperer" come and remove our new friend (we would hate to lose a child at Litsemba as they walk past the pond to get to the event), and we cling to the knowledge that the leopards don't want to see us anymore than we want to see them. Staying out of the thick brush should also eliminate bumping in to the wild pigs and warthogs that have lived there long before we bought the land. It's about living in peace and harmony, with our human neighbors and the critters who live there. This could be a great area of prayer for you, if you are a "pray-er". Pray for protection of our family and the people we are serving with.
For those of you traveling with us this summer DON'T freak out. The good news is that you are there during the dry season and the snakes are hibernating during that time. Honest. And our neighbor and friend, Prince Guduza, has never in his whole life seen someone get bit by a snake. Of course I believe him ... don't you?
Today I am pondering life in Africa while sitting in the safety of my home in Georgia. I think about the children who live with snakes and spiders every day, with no parents to teach them or console them if they are afraid. Lord, go before us and make the way clear so that we may see your glory at every step.
It is heartwarming to know that EVERYONE who we have told about the move first want to know what will happen to Spencer and Chloe?
Let me reassure you, we are NOT abandoning our children in order to go care for other children in Swaziland! That would be dumb, albeit not an unheard of situation. People in ministry (or business for that matter) have a long history of caring for others better than they care for their own families. I hope and pray that is not the case with the Maxwell's move to Africa.
Spencer will move with the family to Swaziland on June 1, 2012 and then we will bring him back to start college (or University for our Canadian followers) in the fall. Not sure where he will go yet, but he is considering SCAD in Savannah, GA and Florida State University, both to study film.
Chloe will be applying to the Waterford Kamhlaba International school in Mbabane, Swaziland. All reports show that this is a really cool school. It was created during aparteid in South Africa to "deliver a challenging and transformative educational experience to a diverse cross section of students, inspiring them to create a more peaceful and sustainable future". Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both sent their children to this school so we are thinking it might just be okay for Chloe. You can read about it yourself at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterford_Kamhlaba.
The school is a boarding school and a day school so we don't know whether Chloe will live there during the week or live on Project Canaan. I am hoping for PC! The school year runs January - December, so Chloe will be testing this July to see if she would be able to parachute in to the middle of her sophomore year in 2012. With nine years of private school behind her both in Canada and the US we are hopeful that she will be able to make that leap.
I wonder if they have a "Cirque" program at the school in Swaziland?
At long last the time has come that I can write the words "THE MAXWELL'S ARE MOVING TO AFRICA!" Since I first stepped on African soil in Zambia April 2003, I have longed to go and live with the people who I came to love so quickly. Meeting young children who live and die on the streets or those who have been orphaned by AIDS, has changed my life. Meeting the women who try to care for their own children and those who have been left behind by friends and family has brought me to my knees over and over again. As a family we have worked tirelessly to serve the Lord while helping those in need, but it is hard to do that from North America. We have now been released to move to Swaziland and begin a new chapter in the life of the Maxwell family.
Our plan is for Spencer to finish his senior year and Chloe to finish her freshman year at Milton High School. On June 1, 2012 we will say goodbye to our friends and family in Alpharetta/Milton, Georgia, where our home has been for the past five years.
This blog will allow you to come along on the journey that we are about to begin, only if you would like to. The words and opinions will largely be mine (Janine), but from time to time you will hear from the rest of the family.
Spencer will be sharing his thoughts with you every month on a video blog. You can watch the first episode of "My family is moving where?" here.
Chloe will be sharing her thoughts along the way through facebook so please feel free to "Like" the Maxwell's Moving to Africa on facebook. You will hear from the rest of us on that page too and we would like to hear from you too.
Once we move to Africa, 365 short days from today, we hope you will continue to follow our adventure as we begin to bring in abandoned babies, work with orphan headed-households in the community around Project Canaan, grow and export tons of food and so much more. Of course, that will all be dependent on us having electricity, internet access and a few other basics like fresh water. You see ... the journey REALLY does begin today.
People have asked me when I am going to write my next book. My answer is that this blog is the next book, and you get to read it as it happens.
We hope that you will join us and invite a friend, if you think they care. I promise to write from my heart and will try not to offend along the way, but, can't make any promises :)