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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Ten 40 oz empty bottles of alcohol in the kitchen sink in Florida, seven children living alone in Swaziland.

  It’s Saturday morning and I am not writing this from patio in Swaziland, but rather from the floor of a hotel room in Tallahassee, Florida.  Yesterday we drove from Georgia to Florida to move Spencer into his apartment at Florida State University.  He is sharing it with three unknown roommates and we were all arrived with great expectations of meeting these people whom he will spend the next year with.  These three guys would be his “family” while Ian, Chloe and I are living in Swaziland and this apartment would be his “home”.

Spencer and Chloe had driven down to Tallahassee last week to drop off a load of things for his apartment.  He told us that he was quite surprised at the mess that his apartment was in when he arrived, but hoped that it would be cleaned up before he arrived again on Friday.  Alas, that was not to be.  We walked in the front door and the kitchen sink had no less than ten empty 40 oz bottles of alcohol in it.  The fridge was full of rotten and rotting food.  The pantry, cupboards and counter tops held half empty boxes of cereal, crackers a few unknown food items and there was a smell that wasn’t quite recognizable. Of course it didn’t help that the air conditioner was broken and we are in the peak of Florida heat and humidity. 

All I could think was “Welcome to your new home Spencer.  I hope you have a great year. We will miss you.”  How on earth could I really leave my baby in this situation?  But had God put him here for a purpose?  How do we know if this is where he is to be and not just take control and say “over our dead body are you living in this place!”?  Letting go is such a hard thing to do.   And knowing when to do it is may be even harder.  We are “fixers”.  We want to fix things and make them right.  This situation created confusion, anxiety and uncertainty for everyone in the family.

Spencer is likely the bravest kid that I know.  He looked around, took a deep breath and then started to quickly unpack in his room.  The room was small so he removed the doors to his closet to tuck the top of his bed in the closet to make more space in the room. As that was happening, two of his roommates (the ones who had been living in the apartment for the summer) made an appearance.  We politely shook hands and eyed each other up to quickly evaluate if this was going to be a good year or a bad year.  First impressions are what they are and my heart sank even further.

It was clear that Spencer needed to be left on his own to unpack and process so the rest of the family headed to the hotel to get showered and ready for dinner.  We left the compound and started to drive.  After a quarter of a mile and a short conversation, Ian turned the car around and went back to the rental offices and asked for a manager.  She was very kind, professional and understanding. She assured us that the apartment should NOT look like that and was very sorry. Within minutes she had another alternative. We asked Spencer if he wanted to move, because we believed this had to be his choice, and with some hesitation (not wanting to be “that guy who is judging others”) agreed to move.  We packed up all he had unpacked, loaded two cars and moved to another building. 

Spencer is now officially attending Florida State University.  He has three great roommates who are Sophomores and Juniors and seem to be serious students and have a good sense of humor.  We are thankful.

Yesterday was a traumatic day for us all. When do you let go and let your adult child make decisions and when do you still use a gentle word to help out in a situation?  These are new waters for us and we, like the thousands of other parents who are navigating through this as well, are praying for peace, joy and protection for the gifts that God has given us ... our children.

What a contrast this week has been from last week when we raced our youngest, Ishmael, to the hospital to save his life. He is only three months old and was suffering terribly from malnutrition.  We feared for his life as he was down to five pound and Thabile stayed with him night and day to feed him special formula and nurse him back to life.  He is now back home and doing well.  That was too close.

Only six days ago I was in a house where seven children (under the age of eleven years) were living alone.  The 30-year-old mother was going to jail for three years for stealing formula and diapers for her four-month-old.  She was worried about her other children and asked us to go and check on them.  We went out with the Child Protection department of the police, only to find the all the children sound asleep living in squalor with no food to be found. 

I know I will never get used to the contrasts in my new life, but I don’t ever want to miss the opportunity to give thanks for all that the Lord has given me.  Those children didn’t choose to be born to a young poor mother in Swaziland.  Ishmael didn’t choose to be born to a mother who couldn’t feed him. I didn’t choose to be born in Canada and neither did Spencer.  God made those choices and decisions and we must all deal with the hand that we are dealt.   We are to give thanks to the Lord in ALL things … sometimes that is hard to get my head around.

Today we will go and buy food for Spencer’s pantry and fridge and not worry about paying for it.  We will eat at a restaurant of our choice and enjoy the weekend together a family whom I am so very thankful for.  I give thanks today for ALL that we have been given including choice, wisdom, favor, finances, love and the very scripture which guides our choices and our lives.  May we never lose sight of each of these precious gifts from above.

Live from Florida, I am ready for a new day.


PS - I can't believe how much quicker it is to upload photos and this blog with HIGH SPEED INTERNET access which is FREE at our hotel!  Oh yes, I do miss this very much ... and am thankful this fine morning :)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Rain, a very sick twin and Ian saves a chicken's life.

This week's blog is written in bullet point format because I am late for a meeting with one of our local Chiefs and need to hop in the car, so here it goes:

·      Yesterday IT RAINED ALL DAY!!!  First rain we have seen since we moved here and it is not the rainy season, but we did get 1 ¼ hectare of vegetable seedlings planted yesterday and the rain fell from the sky … all day.  Thank you Jesus.

·      One of our new twins took a bad turn yesterday and we ended up rushing him to the hospital on Friday afternoon.  He is three months old and weighs only five pounds.  By the time we arrived at the hospital he was unresponsive.  He was admitted with severe dehydration and malnutrition and an acute intestinal infection.  We are keeping a watchful eye on his twin brother as he struggles to grow and thrive.  We are so thankful for the ladies at El Roi who are fighting and praying to keep these little ones alive.  Praying for complete healing and life for our littlest one.
·      We can’t express how thankful we are to have friends from the International Egg Commission and the American Egg Board with us this week to see how they can partner with us to help address the issues of hunger and malnutrition with the orphans and vulnerable children of this Kingdom.  I am especially thankful for Joanne Ivy and Pam Pierce who went to the hospital with us today with Ishmael and helped provide for the care that he will receive. Again, praying for the miracle of life.

·      On a lighter note, yesterday was the first day that our chickens were allowed out of their cage to walk around the yard.  Yesterday was also the first time that our puppies ever saw chickens. Let’s just say it wasn’t successful for either species.  The chicken lost most of their tail feathers and the Jack Russell (named “Jack”) felt completely ripped off when Ian dove for the chickens and grabbed them by the legs to save their lives.  Let’s just say the entire sight may have been the highlight of my seven years in Swaziland, albeit a little embarrassing with the Chairman of the International Egg Commission and the Chairman of the American Egg Board standing on our patio watching. 

·      Friday night we tried out our BBQ (or “grill” as it is called in the “South” or “Braai” as it is called in Swaziland) and our patio furniture with our dear friends and awesome long term volunteers Jere & Janet Scott, Frank & Jane Taaunau and Mark & Lisa Hackett.  So thankful for each and every one of them.

·      Only FIVE more days until we get to see Spencer and Chloe in Georgia!!  I miss my kids so much.  I also looking forward to (but not on the same level as my children of course) a good hair cut with Missy, Hep A shot with Dr. Paul, Target shopping, dinner with Beth & Elaine, and a pedicure if I can possibly swing it.  Ian also has a dentist and optometrist appointment (this is all in the ONE day we are in Georgia before driving to FSU in Florida).   Thankful that we can do it “all” before driving to Canada to see my mom, Kim and her kids and Ian’s family.

Okay, that’s it for today. I am heading out to meet the Chief, the Indvuna and the Forerunner (there are three Chiefdoms that Project Canaan borders on so this is a Chief we have not met yet) then off to meet with a family of children living with their Grandmother and struggling to survive and of course taking hard boiled eggs with our “egg friends” who are here to serve those in need.  We are thankful.

I hope you all had a good week and that you find these updates hopeful, not hopeless. 

Live from Swaziland, I am determined.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Name that rooster (so Chloe doesn't kill him)!!

Photo credit:  Britta Jarvie
First and foremost our babies are all doing well. Caleb and Emmanuel are racing Miriam to be the first to walk, but we believe that Miriam had a better head start and will likely leave the boys in the dust.  Of course Caleb and Emmanuel had a long road to climb back from severe malnutrition, but they sure want to keep up with Miriam and it is such fun to watch them work hard.  They are now starting to interact with each other and it is such fun to see them all laugh.  All the babies are a joy and our twins are eating well and starting to "fill out" a bit.
This week has been a much calmer week then the past 8 weeks.  Our summer interns have gone back to school and some long term volunteers and great friends have arrived to help out on the farm and at the baby home.  We welcomed Frank and Jane Tauanuu, who are here for a month to work alongside Jere and Janet Scott.  There is a flurry of cleaning and organizing going on when Janet is around that brings me great joy.  Even greater joy is the double decker bunk beds that Jere and Frank are building for our babies.  God is good.

Yesterday Jon and Carrie Bratz arrived from Wisconsin to spend a week with us working out the details for their move to Project Canaan in December with their two young children.  We are so thankful for those who have heard the call and said, “here I am Lord, send me”, even when the road is hard and full of personal sacrifice.

Chloe got on a plane yesterday and is heading back to Georgia to spend a couple of weeks with friends.   Her list of “fast food” visits is possibly longer than this blog.  She did lots of healthy eating in Swaziland in preparation for her two weeks of favorite food.  While I miss her already, I am thankful that she will have a fun-filled two weeks before we arrive to take Spencer to FSU at the end of August.

Speaking of Chloe,  my chickens and guinea fowl arrived this week.  No Swazi home is complete until you have your own chicken coop and fresh eggs every day.  We placed the coop on Chloe’s side of the house so she could enjoy them out her window J.  I forgot that we were also getting a rooster, who happens to wake up at 4:30 AM each day.  She was not amused and while she is opposed to animal cruelty, I fear for the life of the poor rooster.  I think I will have to give him a name so that it becomes “personal”.  Maybe we will call him Forhorn Leghorn after the famous character from the Bugs Bunny Show?  If you have any name suggestions, please feel free to put them on my Facebook wall.

The balance of the week involved trips to the police station to get final paperwork for our twins, trips to the hospital to visit a tiny sick baby who sadly passed away on Thursday, and a very encouraging phone call form the Deputy Prime Minister, Themba Masuku.  He was at the airport in Johannesburg on route to Ghana to attend the funeral of the late President of Ghana at the request of His Majesty King Mswati III.  We are meeting this next week at his office for a brainstorming session on helping OVC’s in Swaziland. More on that when I am able to share openly, but it is very encouraging news.

Well, those are some of the highlights from the week.  We look forward to a weekend of work, some down time and worship on Sunday with our Kenyan family.

Live from Swaziland, I HAVE MY OWN CHICKENS!


Saturday, August 4, 2012

The face of hope in Swaziland … a dying man, an HIV positive baby and a new set of twin boys.

This week was all about hope, but I am learning that “hope” rarely has the face that we expect it to have.

Caleb (age one) is HIV positive and has been on ARV’s (anti-retro-virals) since he was born. His mother died of complications due to AIDS shortly after Caleb was born and his father took him to the Pediatric AIDS clinic for testing and treatment.  Because the child was positive, the clinic’s policy is that they will care for any other immediate family member who is also positive (mother, father, grandmother, etc), but the child is the primary patient.  While Caleb’s father was HIV positive, he still refused to start treatment, and was getting sicker each day.

This week I learned that more than 50% of the adult/parent patients at the Pediatric AIDS clinic refuse to start treatment (life-giving, life-changing, life-saving treatment) because of the stigma around it and the knowledge that they will have to remain on treatment for the rest of their lives.  The number is staggering and I am still processing this new information.  Not only will the adult get sicker faster, but they also are more infectious to others when they are not on their ARV’s (of course they are encouraged not to participate in sexual activity).

Caleb’s father landed in prison not long after Caleb came to the El Roi baby home. Caleb was very sick and there were several weeks when Helen feared that Caleb wouldn’t make it, but he did make it.  Two weeks ago at his check up we learned that Caleb’s father was out of prison and was considering starting on his AIDS medication. We also learned that he would be back at the clinic on Wednesday, August 1st to get his medication.  Helen asked if we could go to the clinic that day and take Caleb to see his father.  Why?  Because Caleb is the face of hope.

We arrived at the clinic at 7:15 and waited.  There are no appointments set and patients are seen on a first-come, first-served basis.  Within 90 minutes a man was pushed in to the clinic in a wheelchair.  It was Caleb’s father.  He was bone thin, was clearly wearing an adult diaper and required assistance to stand up and get weighed (which is the first thing you do when enter as a patient).  Helen gasped when she saw him.  The last time they were together was in March and he was walking and “healthier” then. Now he was in bad shape. 

Helen held up a smiling Caleb and the father looked as if he had seen a ghost.  He believed his son was dead, but there was Caleb, right in front of him, laughing reaching, chatting and almost standing by himself.  The father said, “this is a miracle, he is alive”.  Sadly (but not unexpectedly) Caleb did not recognize the man who was reaching for him and Caleb took refuge in Helen’s arms.   But over time, he looked at his father and his father stared in awe of the miracle in front of him.  Helen was amazing and told the father that the child is alive because God saved him and he is taking his medication.  She encouraged the father to take his medication so that he can see his son grow and be strong.  We gave him (his sister) our phone number and asked her stay in touch and if he wanted to see Caleb at any time, we would bring him.  I believe that Caleb’s father saw hope in his little boy’s face on Wednesday and I pray that the next time we see him he will be on a better path to health.

Minutes after we left the clinic we met a Social Worker from the hospital who asked if we could help with transport to do a home visit on the twins that I had seen back on June 5th when I was at the hospital picking up four-month-old David (see June 9th blog).  Their story was complicated and involved a parental father raping the girl, the girl abandoning the babies and an Auntie agreeing to take them.   I was very concerned about the twins and have prayed for them daily since I saw them there, always having a feeling that I should follow up.  Wednesday the Social Worker asked if we could drive her to follow up on those very twins and so at 7AM the very next morning Helen and I picked her up and we headed out to the homestead where the babies had been dropped of. 

Helen brought some small clothes to leave with the Auntie (or whoever was caring for the babies) and our fingers were all crossed that we would find them well.  After driving for hours and covering much of the country of Swaziland by car we finally found the babies and they were in bad condition.  The Auntie couldn’t care for them and gave them back to the mother.  She was young, not stable, had run away to live in a slum (I didn’t know there were slums in Swaziland until I found myself in one that day) and she couldn’t buy any milk for them.  One of her nipples was infected and the other was providing minimal milk for both babies.  The mother is HIV positive so the milk she was providing could also be passing along HIV.  The babies were severely malnourished, weighing approximately five pounds each (they are eight weeks old).  The mother didn’t want to care for them and talked of taking them back to the hospital and dropping them off, but hospitals here (much like at home) have a “no return policy” on babies.  They were cold, naked and very despondent.  Helen immediately went and bought the smallest diapers she could find, cleaned the babies and put them in the clothes we brought for the mother.

The Social Worker was very concerned/upset about the babies and worked very caringly and diligently to speak with the mother about caring for them.  Although the mother acknowledged that the babies were in bad shape, she also knew that she had no way to provide for them and knew that if something didn’t change that they would die.  The Social Worker spoke for with the mother for a long time to try to find another/better solution for the babies.  We even got back in the car with her and drove to a distant homestead to seek assistance for the mother and children, but the answer was “no”.  The Social Worker then asked us if we would be able to make room for these two?  Bringing home two new babies was not our intent when we started the journey on Thursday morning, but by 2:30PM we had two new baby boys on their way to the El Roi home.  The firstborn is named Paul.  The second one, who appears quite sickly, is named Ishmael. 

The El Roi Baby Home was named “El Roi” because that is the Hebrew name for “the God who Sees Me” found in Genesis 16:13 when Hagar was still pregnant with Ishmael.   Our God, El Roi, saw the pain that the mother was in and the pain that these twins were in and called in his servant, the Social Worker from the hospital, to go and find them. 

Strangely (or not) that very Social Worker was reading Genesis 16 in her office when we picked her up on Thursday morning.  I didn’t find this out until much later in the day (!).  When we reminded her of where the El Roi name came from, we all gave thanks to God for His ways are not our ways, but they are perfect.

I saw hope in the face of Caleb this week.  I saw new hope in the face of Caleb’s father.  I saw hope in the face of a young mother, who was watching her babies die and could do nothing about it.  And I saw hope in the face of a Social Worker who is doing impossible work with no budget.  But I know that it really wasn’t those three who showed me hope it was my Lord and Savior who gave me hope by using those people in my life. 

Psalm 25:5 says, “Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long”.

As we continue on through these turbulent waters I am determined to keep my eyes on Him.  That is not always easy and sometimes requires hourly reminders, but that is my hearts desire.  My hope is in Him and only Him.

Live from Swaziland, I am determined.