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Saturday, January 31, 2015

This blog was written for me. Fear? Yep.

Banner outside the front door of the Morrison Academy in Taichung.

What are you afraid of?

It seems that in the past few weeks I have had more conversations than usual about fear, and I am not a fearful person, so I typically find them quite interesting conversations.

I had dear friends come to Swaziland recently who were afraid (no, terrified) of snakes and didn’t want to open the windows of their room in the 101 F weather for fear that the snakes would come in.   I have spoken with High School Seniors who are afraid of not getting in to their #1 choice of College or University – how could their 2nd choice possibly be okay?  Tonight I had a conversation with a friend about the fear of loss … losing everything we have worked so hard to gain – “what if I lose my house, my influence, my 401K?”  Of course there is the usual fear of failure, fear of disappointing others and fear of the unknown that has crept up and snared many friends and family members in the past few weeks.

“Do not fear, for I am with you… 

Today I had a meeting with a dear friend who travels to Swaziland every year with a group of students.  Today he told me that he would not be traveling in 2015 because the people who sponsor the trip financially are afraid of the students getting the EBOLA virus.  The driving distance between Swaziland and Sierra Leone is more than 6,000 miles and you would have to travel through 13 different African countries to get there, any yet there is fear.

“Do not fear, for I am with you…”

I am writing this blog for myself today.  I am in Taiwan right now as a guest at the Morrison Academy School in Taichung.  I am a Speaker at Spiritual Life Week from Monday to Friday next week and it just so happens to be Chloe’s last Spiritual Life Week of her High School career.  Now, THAT is something to fear!  I am to stand up in front of hundreds of kids at Christian school whose parents are “real missionaries” and share the word of God.  These kids have parents who have been beaten up by the Chinese Mafia for fighting against Human Trafficking, they translate the bible into new languages, they plant churches in China with hopes that the church will not be discovered by the authorities, AND have had to learn a foreign language in which to do all of these things!  And I am to pass on a message that will be meaningful, memorable and from God.  Ugh! 

Isaiah 41:10 says,  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. “

Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I will claim both of those scriptures today as I prepare for God to use my voice and my life experiences for His work and His purposes.

What are you afraid of today?  Will you join me in claiming the two scriptures above and trust that “God’s got it”?  (That one was for you Sandy and Donald Wise).

Live from Taiwan … I am not afraid.


PS I am also thankful that I was here for Chloe's "Banquet" and got to take photos before she headed out.  


Saturday, January 24, 2015

One year ago today I was accused of being "too soft".

Happy 1st Birthday Jerry!  We love you!

Last year on this day I was asked to step out of the delivery room when this little boy was being born. I am so thankful that I refused. Today is his 1st birthday so I celebrate him by re-posting this blog. If you haven't read it before, please do. I really am "too soft" :)

“Madam, you need to step out of the delivery room – you are too soft.” 

January 25, 2014 Blog post

I am not sure that I have ever been called “soft” if my life (except for maybe my waistline).  But I was judged harshly and labeled severely by two nurses last night in a labor and delivery room at a local hospital in Swaziland.
It all started at 7:30AM when I dropped off one of the young woman who lives at the Kibbutz at the bus stop to go and have her last prenatal appointment before her expected due date of February 3rd.  For the sake of privacy I will call her the Girl. I was heading north to deal with a very serious family situation with one of our new children and the Girl was heading south to her appointment.  Almost five hours later I was finished my run around and was heading home when I got the call.  My Girl was in labor!  I was traveling with my longstanding partner in adventure, Susan Page, and so we dropped off the first baby at home and headed south to see how the Girl was doing.  The rest of the blog is a likely poor attempt to explain what childbirth in a local hospital in Swaziland looks like. 

I promise you that I would rather not relive it in order to write it, but to honor the Girl and all the other women who have given birth here and will in the future I will put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and share my experience with you.  They are heroes.
First let me say that this was a nice hospital. It is government run, but is clean, tidy and reasonably new.  Women in labor either walk to or are dropped at the front gate and picked up a day after the baby has arrived.  No one is encouraged (or allowed) to stay with them, walk with them or wipe their brow.  They are on the long and painful path of the unknown, alone.
The women are told to go find their post-delivery bed and put their bag of clothes on the bed.  They then take off their street clothes and wrap a cloth around their naked body, usually a piece of Swazi cloth or a flag-like material.  Then they wait. As labor comes on they move from the hallway to the floor.  From the bathroom (with no toilet paper, soap or doors that lock for privacy) to the outside entrance area where there are bushes with freshly washed underwear hanging to dry.  Vomiting ensues and the pain continues.  There is nothing for the pain and no chance of avoiding the inevitable – the natural delivery of a baby with no epidural or other reprieve.
When the mother feels like she is in full labor she walks down to the “Labour Ward” and lies on one of four beds, her “private area” facing towards the entrance of the main hallway (with no door on it) and waits for the nurse to come and do a pelvic exam to see how far she has dilated.  Until the baby is ready to “crown” she must stay out of the labor ward except to be checked.  When she enters for her examination she is given a disposable sheet to so that she does not dirty the heavy plastic cover on the bed and is reminded to keep that with her at all times as she will only get one of them.  Several times yesterday I found my head spinning when I walked down that hall and glanced in that room, only to see women spread-eagled with nurses determining their fate (or expected time of their baby’s arrival).  Not something I need to see again.
With hours of pain and agony behind us, we thought for sure that the baby was ready to come only to find that the mother had only dilated 3 cm. We were back to the hallway to watch these young women writhe in pain while we white people measure the length of contraction on our iPhones.  Surreal.  I digress.
When it looks like the woman (or Girl) is about to pass out from the pain or asks you to have a C-Section because she can’t stand the pain any more, it is time to go in to the Delivery room.
The Girl asked me if I would go with her in to the Delivery Room.  Why? Because the other women who live at Project Canaan told her that if you scream or cry out at all, the nurses will beat you. She thought that if I were there maybe they would not do that to her.   Against my better judgment I agreed. 
PG Rating on the rest of today’s blog.
I followed her in to a stark white room with three delivery beds, all facing directly down the hallway for the world to view all that was going on (!). She went to the far bed, which provided the most privacy.  She removed her cloth and crawled up on the table, butt naked.  There was another naked women on the bed next to her who looked dead (she was not).  I am not sure what stage of labor she was in, but I suspected from the gurney waiting outside the room that she was waiting for a doctor to arrive to head to the operating room for a C-Section. Doctors don’t deliver babies here, nurses do all that work.  Well, the pregnant women do all the work, really.
The Girl handed the nurses the cloth she had been carrying around with drops on it from prior examinations. She lay on the hard plastic bed, again, totally naked and the nurses showed her how she was to pull up on her own legs when she felt a contraction coming.  There were no stirrups.  She looked at me and was terrified. She said, “Auntie, I can’t do this!”
I assured her that she could do it and that it was almost over.  The baby would be here in minutes and she would be ok. I rubbed her arm, held her hand and squeezed tight as she took her first attempt at pushing the baby out.  It was then that I was asked to leave the delivery room.
“Madam, you need to leave the delivery room,” the nurses said.
“Why?” I asked with surprise.  I was doing a great job of keeping the Girl calm and hopeful.
“Because you are too soft,” both nurses said at once.
What?  ME too soft?  I quickly backed up against the wall and held my ground explaining that I had promised her that I would be there for her.  And then I said,
“And if I leave her, you will beat her.”
They laughed out loud, totally agreeing that my accusation was correct. Then pointed to the hallway where I was to wait. Timing was good and another contraction came along so we all focused back on the pregnant one. They told the Girl to pull up and hold her legs and could see that the head was there.  Without giving me a chance to look away they took the end of a scalpel (i.e. a razor blade with no holder), did the episiotomy and then told her to push again. 
Up until that point I was so overwhelmed by everything going on that I failed to question why one of the nurses was standing up on a stool beside the table.  I looked at her and saw that she was there to push down on the Girl’s belly and help push the baby out. She pushed with both hands, and all her might, but the baby wasn’t coming.  They paused.  I stayed quiet and the Girl and I looked at each other. The next contraction came, and the same thing was repeated over and over again.  After some time the baby come slipping out (with a long skinny head from the birth canal) and we saw that he was a perfect baby boy. That was a surprise because the ultrasound told us to expect a girl.
The worst was over, the placenta was delivered and I stepped out of the room with the baby just in time to miss the stitching up of the Girl.  All of this was done with no pain medication or anesthesia.  She didn’t scream, or cry out even once.  And as I write this I am still amazed at the fortitude and courage of this terrified 17-year old girl.  
The plan was and is for this baby to live at the El Roi Baby Home. The child was conceived by rape and the Girl wants nothing to do with the baby.  She moved to the Kibbutz to avoid gossip and hopes to leave us once she has healed so that she can go back to school.  We named the baby “Jerry” in honor of Captain Jerry Coffee who is visiting us this week (his wife is Susan Page, who was with me through this life-changing event).  Jerry is a loving, caring, kind man and a hero to us all.

Yesterday was another tough day in Swaziland, but much easier for me than all of the women around the country having babies.  I have never liked being called names, but being “too soft” to a young girl in active labor is a name that I can and will live with. 
My prayer today is that a spirit of compassion will wash over this nation so that we can all look at each other softly and help one other rather than just “doing our job” and getting it done.  I hope that I can be the first to make that change in other parts of my own life. 
Live from Swaziland … Baby #50 has arrived!
PS - the total cost for labor and delivery of little Jerry was $3 USD.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The little boy from last week's blog...(warning - graphic photos included).

Last week I mentioned a little boy and showed a photo of him lying in the hospital.  He is now 13-months old and he weighs 6.1 KG (13.5 lbs).   Just after I posted that blog I asked the Doctor how the baby was doing and he responded that the child was not doing well, but he was hopeful that he would live.  He also said that he had just spent two hours with the young girl who was sent by the family to look after the child and he learned that the story that had been told to the hospital was all a lie, but the young girl was afraid and ashamed. 

Here is what we believe to be the truth.

Originally it was reported that the mother of the baby had died, the father had run away (a very common story here in Swaziland), and that the baby was being cared for by a very old Grandmother, who was also very sick. When the baby got sick the family/neighbors (unclear who) sent him to hospital with a young 17-year old girl to care for him.  The cost was almost $10 for public transportation as they live so far out in the rural community. 

As it turns out, there is no Grandmother (she is dead) and the 17-year old is the mother to the sick baby.  We don’t know who the man is who impregnated her at the age of 15, but we know that she had no milk for the baby and only fed him what she herself was eating … mostly ground maize once day if she was lucky (similar to grits, but without the butter or salt).  As the baby neared his first birthday he was getting quite fat and so the young mother thought he was okay. Then his skin started to crack and split and he got very sick and unresponsive.  It likely took weeks for her to find/beg/work for the $10 to take him to the hospital and by the time they arrived he was almost dead … from starvation.  

It’s called Kwashiorkor, and his body appeared to be fat due to extreme edema (swelling), which caused the skin to literally split open.

According to,  “Kwashiorkor is one of the more severe forms of protein malnutrition and is caused by inadequate protein intake. It is, therefore, a macronutrient deficiency. Children are most at risk due to their increased dietary needs. Inadequate caloric and protein intake manifests itself with certain physical characteristics. Symptoms may include any of the following: failure to gain weight, stunted linear growth, generalized edema, protuberant (swollen) abdomen, diarrhea, skin desquamation (peeling) and vitiligo (white spots on the skin), reddish pigmentation of hair, and decreased muscle mass. Mental changes include lethargy, apathy, and irritability. Physiologic changes include a fatty liver, renal failure, and anemia. During the final stages of kwashiorkor, patients can experience, shock, coma, and, finally, death.  Treatment of kwashiorkor begins with rehydration. Subsequent increase in food intake must proceed slowly, beginning with carbohydrates followed by protein supplementation. If treatment is initiated early, there can be a regression of symptoms, though full height and weight potential will likely never be reached.”

Clearly this child was not treated early, but the Doctor is hopeful that he will live.  His development is significantly delayed and much of the developmental damage cannot be reversed.  He will likely be in the hospital for several more weeks until the edema is completely gone and his overall stat are stable.  

The story of the young girl broke the Doctor’s heart and he is seeking help with the Social Workers on her behalf. She has only gone to Grade 6, and even then she does not speak any English so we question whether she has ever been to school at all.  There is no one at her homestead who can help provide for her or her child if she goes back and so we have been asked if we can take the child when he is ready for discharge.

It’s complicated.  Nothing is easy. Oh how I wish we could help the young 17-year old, who doesn't speak English and help her baby. Oh how I wish we could help ALL the babies and young girls who are suffering here and around the world, but we can’t.  We are waiting to hear whether the child will be placed with us or not, but in the meantime we pray for this child, and for the small child that she is caring for in the hospital.

Live from Swaziland … I am on my knees today, please join me.


Update Monday morning:  I got a call from the Charge Nurse in the Children's Ward at the hospital. She called the Heart for Africa office and the message was passed on to me. When I reached her 30 minutes later she said that the reason she had called was to ask if I could bring more diapers in for the baby, but unfortunately, the baby just passed away a few minutes before I called.  I am in shock.  One of his organs failed, I assume it was his heart.  He is with Jesus now, but he will not be forgotten by anyone who has read this blog, and for that I am thankful that I had the opportunity to share about his short life. His name was Sinethemba, it means "faith".  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Finding hope through heartbreak.

This morning I asked Ian what I should write today’s blog about and without missing a beat he said, “HOPE. Write about the hope that we saw as we walked around the farm this morning. It’s all so exciting, you need to help people see what we see even though they are reading it on a computer.”

Like many of you, in 2015 we are trying to eat better and exercise more.  Exercise to us means walking around the farm. The “loop” as we call it takes about two hours and it is up and down rolling hills on gravel. (I HATE exercise), but we are trying to do it regularly and the bonus of the walk is seeing Project Canaan slowly and up close. It is truly the best two hours we spend together.  Today I will share a bit of what we saw on today’s walk.

I will start with a story about a baby whom we HOPE will make Project Canaan his home in the weeks ahead.  

This little guy was born on December 13, 2013.  His mother died, his father ran away and then he was being cared for by his very old Grandmother, who is also very sick. The baby was found starving to death and was admitted to the hospital for severe malnutrition.  We guess that his weight (at 1-year old) is around 6KG (13.2 lbs).  As you can see from this photo, his skin is bursting and peeling off from the malnutrition (not to mention his diaper was a plastic grocery bag).  He is severely developmentally delayed and can’t even sit yet.  What does hope look like?  It looks like this little one getting the treatment he needs to reverse his malnutrition at the hospital, then for him to come to the El Roi Baby Home and start his new life.  El Roi sees him. Please pray for this baby and all involved.

On the lighter side of “hope”, I present you with a photo of the vegetables that were harvested this morning on Project Canaan.  The fields are producing again and we are harvesting zucchini, patty-pans, baby eggplant (aren’t they cute!) and soon we will have green beans.  Another wonderful thing about our “loop” walk is that we get to stop in to the ISO building, which is REFRIDGERATED!!!! :)

This next photo is one of my favorites.  It is a view from the inside of The Oasis, which will be the new kitchen/dining/meeting hall for the “big kids” – with capacity to feed 200 children at time. The view is from the pass through window of the kitchen, looking in to the dining room, with the large window/door walk-out to an outside patio.  We will have a stage inside for children’s performances and it will be home for movies, homework, crafts and family meetings.  I CAN NOT wait to see this finished!! But even at this stage of construction it brings me joy and hope for their future. 

The next photo is a view from the Kindergarten looking back to the toddler home on the left and Emseni East and The Oasis up to the right.  It’s a beautiful sight and we plan to move 20 children to their permanent home at the beginning of March.

Last but not least, I give you the real Face of Hope – baby Seth.  This little guy is HIV positive and has been very sickly since we received him after his mother dropped him in a pit latrine and left him for dead.  He spent most of this past week in hospital trying to get several blood transfusions because he was severely anemic (due to a change in his Anti-retroviral medication).  Yesterday he was discharged and he is home, sweet home.  

Last Sunday our Pastor, Andy Stanley, preached a message called “Re:Solution” ( , which asked the question “What breaks your heart?”.    Suffering children break my heart and I am driven to action when I see them. But I have learned is that it is through their suffering and through my own heartbreak, that I find HOPE… I find Jesus, and He is my only hope. Without Him we could not do what we do. Without Him, there would be no Saturday blog because there would be nothing to blog about.  I can’t imagine a world without hope.

2015 is a year of HOPE and I am looking forward to being overwhelmed by His plan.

Live from Swaziland … hopeful in a land filled with hopelessness.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

My mind is wandering ...

The Indian Ocean from our bedroom balcony.
I am writing this blog while looking out over the Indian Ocean, and my mind is wandering as I stare at the waves and am lulled by the sound of the water crashing on the rocks below me.  It’s funny how the mind wanders, isn’t it?

Ian, Spencer and Chloe are all with me and I am so thankful for this family holiday time together.  Then my mind wanders to my mom, Bernice, who is in a Nursing Home in Canada, and whom I miss a great deal.  She would love going deep-sea fishing with Spencer and Ian tomorrow, but alas, that is not possible and it makes me sad. 
Then my mind wanders from my mom to Ian’s mom, and I am reminded that it is her birthday today. What a gift it was to us that both of Ian’s parents are alive and healthy and celebrating birthdays still.   
The thought of her birthday leads me to our Baby Seth, who also is celebrating a birthday today – his FIRST.  Seth is HIV positive and has been on life-giving, life-saving treatment since the day he came to us.  His Mother had eight other children and allegedly killed the last one two years ago. She couldn’t care for another baby so dumped Seth in a pit latrine and walked away. The neighbors found the baby, called police and baby was taken to hospital.  Mother was found and was arrested and put in prison.  We have no idea how long Seth will live, but without a significant improvement in the Anti-retroviral treatment that he is being given, it is unlikely that he will live the life that my mom or Ian’s mom have enjoyed.

That leads my mind to the baby who we received just 3-days ago on New Year’s Eve – he wasn’t dumped, but would have been if a Social Welfare Officer hadn’t decided to work overtime to save that baby’s life.  This baby was born on December 27th to a young girl who was raped when she was 12-years old by a family friend.  At the tender age of 13 years she had a C-Section and delivered an 8.2 LB baby boy (the largest I have seen in Swaziland).  The mother was discharged from the hospital on December 31st and took public transportation to Manzini to beg the Social Welfare Office for help.  Neither she, nor anyone in the family wanted anything to do with the baby. They were ashamed, afraid, but didn’t want to harm the baby. Spencer and I drove to town to meet the young mother and the baby’s Grandmother and as they handed the baby to me, they wept and thanked us for saving his little life.
Spencer holding 3-day old Baby Russell.

Spencer holding Chloe when she was 3 days old.

That thought lead me back to my own parents, who accepted me from a 15-year old girl who got pregnant when she was only 14-years old.  That family too was ashamed, afraid and did want anything to do with me, the baby in 1963.  My adopted parents, Russell and Bernice Willis, came to my rescue and welcomed me with open arms.  The little baby boy who Spencer and I picked up on New Year’s Eve was named Russell, after my own Dad who loved me and cared for me as his own. 

Matheson, Ontario 1963.
I shared the story of my 15-year old biological mother with the Baby Russell’s 13-year old mother and his young Grandmother.  I could speak with great authority to the fact that God’s plans are not our plans, but I sure am glad that God allowed my mother to get pregnant at that young age so that I could be there on New Year’s Eve, 51 years later, to receive Baby Russell.  He doesn't waste anything.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Jeremiah 29:11-13

Isn’t that a great scripture? Don’t be afraid of His plans friends.  Seek him with all your heart and you will find Him.

Live from Durban, South Africa … I am thankful.