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Saturday, June 30, 2012

68% of Swazi's polled believe it is justified to kill your lover if they have cheated on you with someone else ... and a few other thoughts from me.

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.  

Living in Swaziland is complicated ... and not.


Friday, June 22, 2012

People starving, babies getting needles and summer interns serving

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 about them.

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 and encouragement.

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.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

16-years-old, HIV positive, and pregnant with her third child

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 Siteki  to 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 without hope.

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 unborn child. 

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.

Thanks for following, reading and praying. 


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ditched baby update and some "first world problems".

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.

Thanks for reading.