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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Be still and know that He is God.

Be STILL and know that He is God.

Be still and KNOW that He is God.

Be still and know that HE is God.

Be still and know that He IS God.

Be still and know that He is GOD.

I am not sure which word you put the emphasis on in that scripture, but this week I have used them all to remind myself of the certainty of the promise given in those words.

This week my cousin Kim found out that the love of her life, Paul (father of her three teenagers) had a stage 4 malignant brain tumor that is inoperable.  Only fifty days ago he was “perfectly healthy” and then things changed.  On Thursday, July 26th he went home to be with Jesus.  I have no words to describe this.

Be still and know that He is God.
Yes, Stanly gave me permission to use this photo.

This week Stanly Mduma (one of our farm Supervisors) careened off a cliff when he lost control of the ATV he was driving.  He is father to a new set of twins (Janet and Jackson), a second set of twins and two other children.  Those six were almost orphaned this week.

Be still and know that He is God.

This week I was asked if I ever have fun anymore.  Chloe remembered us having fun when we lived in Canada back in 2006.  Have we become much too serious or has life just changed that much?

Be still and know that He is God.

This week I was asked if I am happy here in Swaziland.  What is happiness?  Am I supposed to be happy?  I am seeking to have the “joy of the Lord”, but I am not sure that “happiness” (as we define it back at home) is something that we will see a lot of here.  Maybe it is semantics, but maybe it is more than that.  Something to ponder in the weeks ahead.

Be still and know that He is God.

This week I learned that more than 50% of all HIV positive adults who are seen at the Pediatric AIDS clinic (because their children are HIV positive and are on treatment), themselves refuse treatment.  Why?  Because they say they “feel fine”.  So they go on to increase the chance of infecting others, shorten their own lifespan and almost insure that their children will become orphans in the not to distant future.

Be still and know that He is God.

Happy 1st Birthday Miriam
This week baby Miriam turned one-year-old and would likely have been just another infant mortality statistic if it weren’t for the discernment of a Social Welfare Officer and the hearts of the women who live and work at the El Roi Baby Home.

Be still and know that He is God.

This week our electric fencing is finally electrified around our house so we will be safe at night, but the water filtration system is still not filtering so we will continue to boil water. 

Be still and know that He is God.

This week Jesus was on the throne, all week, and He didn’t miss anything. He wasn’t surprised by anything nor was he shaken by anything - not Paul’s tumor or Stanly’s accident or the color of the icing on Miriam’s birthday cake.  His plans are not our plans and His timing is not our timing, and sometimes it just plain SUCKS (sorry Mom for the bad language), but I trust Him with my life and the lives of those around me.  I am not saying it is easy or without pain, but it is the truth that I cling to in the darkest days.
Anna and David share Petelyn's boa on Miriam's birthday.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”.  This week I am thankful for these powerful words.  May they bring you peace.

Live from Swaziland ... this isn't getting any easier with time.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why can't strong people always be strong?

This week has had its highs and lows, as every week does.  The highs included great discussions with Helen Mulli about the design and planning of the toddler home, singing happy birthday to little Emmanuel, having Miriam decide that she likes me (even after all that happened to her at the hospital) and hugging my dear Chloe when she needed lovin’.

The lows included finding out that my cousin Paul (who should be here in Swaziland right now with my cousin Kim, Jeremy, Matthew and Joanna) possibly has an inoperable brain tumor that showed up as a brain infection only a few weeks ago causing them to cancel their trip.  We will have confirmation next week so please pray for them all.  My cousin Kim is the person who is also my mom’s primary caregiver in Guelph, Ontario and I weep knowing that she is caring this heavy load while I am here. This week we also found out that my mom is being moved back to her nursing home after a 7 week stay at a mental hospital (she would lose her bed/room at the nursing home after 8 weeks), and she is furious because she prefers the mental hospital to the nursing home. Really.

I find myself in tears a lot these days, overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done here at Project Canaan, overwhelmed that I personally don’t have any of the skill sets needed to do the work, overwhelmed that we don’t have the funds to do what we need to do and often overwhelmed that I am overwhelmed even though I am serving a BIG GOD and I should know better.  Sigh.  Repent again.

Someone asked what my biggest challenge is here and that answer could change daily, but this past week it has been trying to keep a happy face when I am just plain tired or frustrated or hurting.  You see, strong people are always supposed to be strong. That is what everyone expects, and frankly, demands.  We aren’t supposed to snap at people, get frustrated (and show it) or have a bad day/week/month.  We are supposed to just move on as if we were Super-human, even when the day ahead seems impossible.  But I am not Super-human, I am just human and broken like everyone else.  Maybe I just hide it better and longer than others do.   As the children's Sunday school song Jesus Loves Me says, "I am weak, but He is strong" and sometimes I just need to be reminded that He is my strength when I am in a valley.

On a happy note we got a lot of work done at the baby home this week.  The volunteer team who is with us did a terrific job of preparing and planting a large garden, building a laundry facility and painting the roof.  Denis and Anthony were amazing and working with the team and Peter moved mountains of dirt as we prepare to build a shade structure for our little ones to enjoy outside.  But my biggest thank you of the week goes to our long time friend Ralph Glass who came and volunteered at Project Canaan for the past six weeks.  His help, his encouragement, his friendship and his ability to do anything that was needed is appreciated by all. Thank you Ralph for giving of yourself so selflessly. Come back again any time.

As I drove home this morning from my early morning school bus drop off I was listening to the local radio station. There was a pastor giving a message and it was based on Isaiah 40:30-31 which reads, Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

My hope is in the Lord and I know that I will be renewed by Him, and I am thankful.

Live from Swaziland I am still weak, but He will always be strong.


Saturday, July 14, 2012

You thought you had a bad day?

Miriam was having a really bad day.  She was only 11-months old and weighed 14 pounds when her mom gave her away to total strangers on Tuesday.  Suddenly she found herself in a big room with bright lights that smelled funny with many sick children coughing and crying.  People were holding her down, sticking needles in her, poking at her eyes, ears and mouth, and then pulling off her diarrhea filled diaper.  To make it worse there was a very, very white lady there with white hair that made the whole experience more terrifying because she had never seen a white person before. On Tuesday, July 10th, Miriam had a really bad day.

Here is the back-story.

On Tuesday morning Helen and I met this young mother who was mentally ill.  She was holding her 11-month-old baby in her arms while she sat quietly at the Social Welfare Office.  The mother’s uncle brought her there and charged that she often went off and left the baby alone, sometimes for a week at a time.  He was desperate for something to be done because if she left again, the child might not live and he already had too many dependents to care for.  We were asked to make El Roi the home for this beautiful girl, and we said yes.

The mother told us how very happy she was that the baby was going with us and she headed off to the bus stop to go home.  The baby was asleep as we got in our van and headed directly to the Baylor Pediatric AIDS Clinic in Manzini because our standard policy is to have every child tested for HIV as soon as we receive them.  Miriam (also known as Thembalethu) tested negative, even though she was exposed to her mother’s HIV status when she was born.  This was good news, but suddenly she got a fever, started coughing, her heart was racing and we knew we had a sick baby on our hands.  Thankfully we were right next to a hospital and headed directly in to see a doctor friend who specializes in malnourished children.  He examined her right away and admitted her immediately.  She has severe pneumonia and is malnourished.  She is being fed F75 formula (which is miracle food for children in this situation) and is on IV antibiotics.  We believe she will be well and come home soon. 

The rest of this blog will give you a few helpful tips if you ever find yourself on a day or night shift at a Swazi hospital.  I hope to not offend anyone in any way, but alas, I will share what I experienced that day with a few pointers for others.
  • You can’t admit a child (or anyone) to the hospital without being there to be the primary caregiver.  There is only one nurse in the pediatric ward and she can’t be the caregiver, so you must be there to cook, clean, etc.
  • You need to sign a paper committing to pay the bill at the end, as this is a private hospital.The
    cost to stay per day is E6 (six Emalangani or six Rand), the equivalent of .73 US cents per day, plus medication of course. 
  • There were 9 children admitted the evening we were admitted so, unfortunately, the nurse wasn’t able to check Miriam’s admission forms until the next morning.  Therefore, no medication or food was given until the morning. Note to self – bring bottles and formula in case the special food doesn’t arrive when it is scheduled to.
  • Other packing needs: You must bring your own sheets, blankets, towels, soap, diapers, formula, diaper cream, food, cell phone charger and chair to sit on beside the crib.
  • Bath time: The time to clean the baby is around 5:30-6:00 AM, so be sure to have your cleaning bucket, soap and supplies ready (oops, we didn’t have those).
  • You will be pleasantly surprised when a lady in charge gets up and starts singing in siSwati and all the women answer in song around 7:15 AM.  They sing about how big and deep and wide God’s love is for us.  It is inspiring and beautiful. 
  • Immediately following prayer, a photo flip chart will be presented to all who are there to explain how you get HIV/AIDS and how NOT to get HIV/AIDS.  There is a reasonable amount of Q&A before going back to look at the babies in the cribs.  You are free to ask questions…in siSwati.
  • Pay attention when the lady in charge starts to explain the importance of proper hand washing with hot water and soap so as not to spread germs around the pediatric ward.  It would be a terrific idea to have hot water and soap in the ward for all to practice with, but alas, there is only cold water.  If you forget your bar of soap at home the whole concept is lost.
  • Don’t pay attention when the woman who usually mops the floor walks through the pediatric ward with a chain saw…I am sure she has a good reason for it.
  • Don’t be offended when the Swazi women start to talk amongst themselves in siSwati across the entire ward and point at you and laugh.  Surely they are not making fun of you.
  • Don’t take it personally when several of them correct you firmly for leaving the cap off your baby’s bottle, thereby exposing it to germs in the room.
  • Don’t act surprised when the ladies who were worried about your bottle cap share a 2L bottle of orange Fanta around the ward OR when their 5-year-old boy stands up on the bed next to you and pees into a plastic grocery bag beside the Fanta.  Maybe that is why they wanted me to keep the cap on the bottle…that makes sense now.
  • If you choose to make conversation with the other women, some will enjoy it, but most don’t speak English.  Asking questions isn’t for the faint of heart though.  You may find out that one child is there because their babysitter broke the 3-month-old baby’s femur while the mother was at work.  You may discover that the little baby beside you is actually 6-years-old and weighs 22 pounds.  You may also wonder if she will be alive when you arrive at your next shift.
  • Feel free to give any or all of your diapers to the woman next to you because her son has chronic diarrhea.  She has no income and the 8-month-old baby’s father died in a car crash before the baby was born, so how could she possibly pay for diapers?  Thankfully she only has one little one.  Her only other child is 18-years-old now.  How old is the mother, you might ask?  She is 30.  Quick math confirms she was 12-years-old when she had her first child.  That is a good moment to look back to your crib.
  • Caution: The hospital kindly provides food for the caregivers/mothers (which I haven’t seen in an African hospital before), but be prepared to stand in line with a plate for your neighbor, even if you don’t want to stand in line with a plate.  She may encourage you (bully you) into doing so, so that she may have two meals.  Be prepared for the glaring eyes of others who will believe that you are eating/stealing their food.  Just close your eyes, hold our your plate and bear it.  Go immediately back to your happy place and look at the baby.
  • There is no need to take an iPod.  There is an old TV suspended from the ceiling with a snowy image, but Justin Beiber is clearly singing in the background.
  • It is good to know that if you have Manna Packs from Feed My Starving Children you may be able to convince the doctor to release the baby from hospital early if you promise to give the oral antibiotics and the Manna Packs.
  • Checking out of a hospital takes about 4 hours and the cost for our 3 night stay (including special food and x-rays etc.) was approximately $15 USD.  Prescription medicine is free.
  • The most important thing you need to know (if you have skin that is as white as mine) is that many babies, including your own new one, might find you absolutely terrifying and there is nothing you can do about it.

I have been in many hospitals around Africa, the worst clearly being the pediatric burn ward in Lilongwe, Malawi, but I was still unprepared for my “day shift” with little Miriam yesterday.  I am thankful for Thabile from the El Roi Baby Home who came back from holiday to do the “night shift” at the hospital all week long.  I am thankful for our interns who are helping out at the baby home this week so that Gcinile and Helen can take turns doing a job that I was totally unqualified and ill equipped to do. 

Thank you for your prayers and support.  We now have nine beautiful babies and we give thanks for each of them.  Caleb celebrated his first birthday on Wednesday and we are giving thanks for his improved health.  We hope that his legs will be strong enough to start crawling and then walking soon!

We need to get started on our Toddler home because when the babies turn two they will move to the “big kids” home.  If you can help fund this or fundraise for this important project, please go to: or contact me directly at  Thank you in advance for all you can do and give.

It’s Saturday morning and I am emotionally drained.


Saturday, July 7, 2012

A picture is worth a thousand words ...

There is an expression that says, "a picture is worth a thousand words" and since the events of this past week have left me a bit speechless right now, I thought I would just post a few fun photos to give you a glimpse in to the lighter side of our lives here.

This first one is Chloe packing up on her ATV with all her overnight things so that she could drive down to the El Roi home for abandoned babies and do the "night shift" (which is 7PM to 7AM) since the team was short staffed.  We were sending her off in the pitch dark with her homework and snacks.

This photo is of our friend Ralph, lying outside our kitchen window on the "pass through" counter, which is outside the really cool windows that pull all the way back. We are always thankful when he comes and volunteers for 6-8 weeks a year. 

Jimmy Wilferth was moving mountains at the El Roi baby home when he tore up the rock that we thought couldn't be moved!

Jimmy and the boys heading to a staff meeting.  Sometimes the tractor is the only vehicle available on the farm and we are so thankful for Rotary International for their wonderful gift!

Garrett, Chris and Reece were moving a small (but really, really heavy) mountain in front of the El Roi baby home.

I never thought I would see Ian and Ralph hanging official photos of His Majesty King Mswati III, the Queen Mother and the Prime Minister of Swaziland, but alas, we are thrilled to hang them at the El Roi home for abandoned babies.

Ralph hanging the Jared Birk plaque and official opening plaque for the baby home.

My  baby turned 16 years old and we are so very thankful for her life.

Funky leggings from Las Vegas - the perfect gift for a 16 year old living in Africa :)

Chloe sharing her hair with favorite "Uncle Ralph".

There are many things that happened this week that I am unable to blog about, but I thought you might enjoy a few photos in place of the truth of the craziness and unpredictability that we experience daily. Thanks for your understanding and support.

Live from Swaziland, it IS Saturday morning, and I am thankful.