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.
Life in Swaziland is complicated, yet in the same breath I
can say that life in Swaziland is simple.
There doesn’t seem to be any small talk or conversations about the
weather or who won the game last night.
Everything discussed is important, and it is usually directly linked to
life or death.
This week I learned that my mother, who has been a follower
of Jesus her whole life, now believes that Jesus has forsaken her and left her
to die alone. She has cut off all
prayer and communication with Him because he has abandoned her. She wants a gun so she can end her
life, but refuses to acknowledge that she has suicidal thoughts. Lord, please help me understand why you
are allowing this to happen.
The same day I heard about my mom I got a call from Helen
who had taken little baby Jeremiah to the Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinic. Sadly, he tested positive for HIV. Jeremiah was found at a bus stop in
Mbabane when he was only one week old and is now a month old and has been
growing and thriving … and now we know he is infected. It’s like getting a kick in the
stomach, but I will still give thanks that El Roi saw Jeremiah and send him to
us for love and care.
Life is complicated, and yet simple. Whether praying for my
mom or for all the babies at the El Roi baby home, I am reminded that my focus
is to be on HIM and Him alone. I
can’t do any more for my mom than I am doing and I can’t do any more for
Jeremiah. I have to do what I can
do and leave the rest in HIS capable hands. His ways are not our ways and His plans are not our plans –
and I try to remind myself of this every single day, or else I will go mad trying to fix things that aren't mine to fix.
Those are some of my thoughts for this week in Swaziland, but keep reading because I want to share some interesting (and terrifying) statistics from a poll take by a Swazi newspaper. I
saw originally in a blog post by Benjamin Verhulst, who is also living in Swaziland. These will give you a little different
perspective of how Swazi’s think and what we are dealing with around us.
It has been a great week with our 2012 summer interns. They are smart, hard working, funny and
willing to do anything. They
visited a dozen families in the Project Canaan community to find out what the
real needs are in the community homesteads. They collected garbage and
recycling from all the buildings on the farm (THANK YOU REECE!!!). They worked
at the Baby Home and Farm Managers Building. They gave away new TOMS Shoes up
at El Shaddai and best of all, they brought us all joy and made us laugh.
The community visits to our new “neighbors” were tough. Every homestead that we visited seemed
empty. Death has wiped out the
very life and vibrancy that once filled those homes and the hearts of the
people who have been left behind.
Visit after visit we found one person, often an old grandmother, left
caring for the children as the only income earner had gone off to work at
Project Canaan. That income earner
was trying to provide for six to twelve dependents, which was clearly an
impossible task. Traditionally,
Swazi families farm the land around them and provide much/most of the family
food from their own farm and garden.
The family used to be subsidized by income earned outside the home,
which was used for school fees and other family needs. With the drought of recent years very
few families are able to grow any food and their cupboards (or plastic buckets
on the mud floor where they would store their harvest) are literally bare. There is no food. Several women told us
(with embarrassment and a sense of shame) that the only food their children ate
was at school from Monday to Friday.
There is nothing in the morning to give them for breakfast before they
leave and nothing when they get home at night. Weekends are a difficult time for the family as they sit
around a fire with nothing to cook. The people around us at Project Canaan are
starving AND yet they are some of the “lucky ones” because they are employed. A single income from farm work is far
from what these families need to survive.
The unemployment rate in the Kingdom of Swaziland is
estimated to be upwards of 70%.
ONE of the many challenges we saw with our neighbors is that there are
so few adults left and so many children that it is really impossible to provide
for all the hungry mouths, even if every available adult was able to find
employment. One family we visited
only had four people living there, but in housing that once accommodated 30+
people. The woman’s husband had
died. One of the sons told us that
his mother had lost a lot of weight (a typical sign of HIV/AIDS), but we were
assured it was because she had a common cold. The homestead was void of people, void of food and we saw
very little hope for the future.
But they were very happy that we had visited.
Next week we will visit these twelve homes again, this time
with our volunteer teams bringing warm clothes (it is very cold here as it is
winter in the southern hemisphere), new TOMS Shoes for the children and warm
beanie hats for all to wear. But
we can’t go without food. The
would be like Marie Antoinette saying, “let them eat cake” when she was told
that there was no bread for the people to eat. We will take life-giving, high protein “Manna Packs” from
the wonderful people at Feed My Starving Children so that the children can get
a healthy meal, a full belly and the knowledge that someone really does care
I won’t lie to you though. The problem is overwhelming and can’t be solved quickly. This
is an investment over time, and one that we need to stick with. But we can never underestimate the
value of a visit.
Matthew 25 says that we are to visit those who are in prison
because when we do it for “the least of these” we do it for Him. I believe that “prison” doesn’t always
have bars on the windows and locks on the doors. The women we visited this past week are in prison because
they have no choices and no options for a better today or tomorrow. When we visit them, we bring hope, love
On a happier note, the eight little babies who are living at
the El Roi baby home all went to the clinic today for their inoculations. Each is at a different stage so each
one had a different combination, but with eight women to happily hold them they
got through the ordeal in less than 2. 5 hours and they slept all the way home
in the van.
Another week has finished at Project Canaan and tomorrow
Lori Marschall leaves us for California, Ian and Jimmy will drive to
Johannesburg to pick up the June team of volunteers coming to serve, and my #1
son heads back to the US to have some time off before he starts at Florida
State University in August. I
think Sunday might be a very hard day for me so please keep me in your
prayers. I know Spencer will be
just fine, but I will miss him desperately when he is away. I am not sure where the last 18 years
has gone – they flew by and now Spencer gets to stretches his wings, a long long
way from home (and his mama). Gulp. I am sending my love and prayers with
him as he goes.
It’s Saturday morning in Swaziland and I am pensive.
On Thursday we got a call from the Social Welfare department
saying that there was an 8-month-old baby boy who was in desperate need of
help.On Friday morning Helen and
I dropped Chloe off at her school bus at 6:45AM and then headed to Sitekito see what we could do.
We met with the Social Welfare officer who introduced us to
the baby, and his mother.
The baby’s mother is 16-years-old, HIV positive, and
pregnant with her third child.The
first child is being raised by the father’s family.The father of the second child (the one in her arms in front
of us) ran off and abandoned them both.The father of the baby in her belly is dead.She had so much pain, so much sorrow and a face that was totally
She was living with her step-sister because all of her
family is gone she had no where else to go, but the step-sister’s boyfriend
didn’t want to have to provide for the little baby and the new one on way so he
kicked out of the house.She had
no where to live, and no way to care for her child(ren).She went to the Social Welfare office
to see if someone could care for her baby, while hoping to be able to abort her
We agreed to take the baby to El Roi and she seemed
satisfied.We also agreed to
receive the newborn in August if she promised not to harm the baby.She agreed.
As the official paper work was completed we discovered that
the baby we were taking with us turns one-year-old on Sunday, June 17th.He is the size of a 4-month-old and is
severely malnourished.His hair is
sparse and a light orangy color. He has a distended belly and his “poop” is
the color of sand since there are no nutrients in his body.Despite his condition he has
seven teeth (our first baby with teeth!!) and he smiled at us in the office.
Papers were signed and as we headed to the car.I asked the Social Welfare officer how
this young mother would be feeling at this moment?Scared?Desperate?Mourning?She told me that the girl was happy
that her baby would be cared for and sure enough, the girl smiled and laughed
as she handed her baby to Helen.I
am not sure how to interpret this.Happy that the baby will be well cared for or happy that she no longer
carries that burden … or both?
We drove straight to the Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinic and
had him tested and weighed.He is
HIV negative (THANK YOU JESUS!) and he weighs 12 pounds, 12 ounces (and
remember, he is one year old).We
have a long way to go with this little one to get him healthy and happy, but
that time begins today and we are thankful for the opportunity to serve him.
We asked what his siSwati name meant in English and we were
told that it means “God with us”, so this little one will be called Emmanuel,
God with us.
It has been another challenging week, but I am thankful for
all that we have been given.Our
summer interns arrived yesterday and today they started sorting thousands of
pairs of TOMS Shoes, preparing them for distribution to the children who live
in our rural church communities.Tomorrow we hang curtains, harvest our Moringa crop and build a dog pen
for our newest addition to the Maxwell family (her name is Nala).It’s Saturday morning in Swaziland and
we are all alive and well.
We have just finished our first full week living in
Swaziland. It was a lot harder
than “planned”. I am a great
planner, and you would think that since I have spent 150+ weeks in Africa over
the past nine years that I would know that things never work out here the way I
plan them, but alas, I had higher expectations, and my own expectations created
a bumping landing here in Swaziland.
First, the good news; if you read my May 23rd
blog you will remember the story of the young girl who gave birth to a baby and
dropped it in the ditch only to be caught by police and put in jail for
abandoning her child. Well, it
didn’t quite happen like that, in fact after the young mother abandoned the baby
she ran away so that the police wouldn’t catch her and put her in jail. The family promised the hospital to
come for the baby, but they never did.
I dropped in to the hospital on my first day here to check on a different
baby (a newborn who had been found in a bag up in a tree) and instead I found
the little one whom we thought had been taken home by the family, as promised. After a good conversation with a very
helpful doctor and a wonderful Social Work Department we were able to bring the
4-month-old baby back to El Roi while the police continue to search for the
mother and/or settle whether the family does want to keep the child or not.
Spencer was with me when we drove in to pick up the baby boy
(who we will call “David” for now since he is not in our permanent care
yet). The Social Worker took us to
her office and we passed by two tiny little bundles sitting on the chair
outside her office. It was a set
of twins, maybe a day old. I asked
the Social Worker what their story was and she told us that the babies’ mother
had been raped by her own father.
The twins were a result of the rape. The man had been charged and was given 27 years in prison,
which is excellent and very uncommon here in Swaziland. Incest is considered private and rarely
goes to public court and is almost never settled in public court, so this is
good news. The Grandmother of the
babies (who could be the mother of the girl or could be another wife of the
man) has offered to raise the babies.
I am not convinced that this will work out, but we will keep tabs on it. Sorry that was all so confusing.
As Ian, Spencer, David and I headed back to El Roi I
received a call from Helen Mulli who said we had just received ANOTHER baby
from a different hospital. The
hospital Social Worker and people from the Social Welfare Department stopped in
unannounced with a little 3-week-old child. His name is Jeremiah and he was found abandoned at a bus
stop in Mbabane at the age of one week.
He had been in hospital for two weeks and now El Roi is his home. We now have seven babies under the age of one year, and they are all doing very well. By all accounts this was a great
start to my first week living in Swaziland.
So why is it then that I let the rest of the week fall
apart? The container we shipped
two months ago had landed here weeks ago with our furniture, clothing, food,
beds, towels, sheets and every other earthly thing we could have shipped, but
was stuck in red tape at customs.
Our house, which we are building on Project Canaan and which was to be
completed in April, is not finished.
After talking, pleading, crying (and some gnashing of teeth) we finally
moved in on Thursday, only to find toilets overflowing (or not working), no hot
water in some rooms, doors with no keys, workers all over the place looking in
windows with no curtains, and worst of all, there is not a single electrical
plug (or mirror for that matter) in ANY of our bathrooms. We have since learned that it is
against fire code to put them in bathrooms in Swaziland. Sigh. I thought I was going to have a stroke. We couldn’t get people to understand the
urgency of getting settled so that we could get on to the work we were here to
do OR to get Chloe in her new school (having showered and with clean clothes!).
Side note: For
those of you in the mission field I know you are cracking up at this, but for
those of you in your comfy homes, a little empathy is much appreciated. J
It was at some point on Thursday, when Lori Marschall and
Jana Franz arrived to help get The Lodge ready for our Summer Interns, that I
realized I was really tired of hearing myself complain. I was also disappointed in myself that
I couldn’t be more “go with the flow” now that I live in Africa and even more
disturbed that all these comforts were so very important to me. It seemed that I am happy to serve
Jesus, but not until all my boxes are unpacked, the toilet works and the shower
has hot water. Oh, I also would
like my fridge to work, the electric fencing to be installed to keep us safe,
maybe a washing machine to wash our clothes, and really, would an electrical
socket and a mirror be too much to ask for in my bathroom? If I had all those things sorted I
could really really serve the Lord and the people of Swaziland better. Sigh.
The scripture tells us that we are to give thanks in all
things. I wasn’t giving thanks for
the beautiful home that we were building.
I wasn’t giving thanks for the people who were trying to help, and I had
quickly forgotten the blessing of having two new little babies. Yes, I am human. Yes, I like nice things and
comfort. And yes, I am
learning. I seem to be a
slow learner, but He is a patient teacher and for that I am thankful.
It is Saturday morning in Swaziland and I am alive. Today is
a new day and I look forward to enjoying the view of the mountains, spending time
with my family and listening for His small voice in the wind.