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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sometimes you just have to break the rules.

We know that we can’t save every child, that’s a fact. So when we opened the El Roi Baby home we had to put in some “rules” that would guide what babies would be allowed to come to us.  We decided that we would only accept children under the age of 12-months who were placed with us through the Social Welfare department of Swaziland.  We decided that we would not knowingly accept disabled children because we didn’t have any expertise in that area and it would require a lot of specialized and one-on-one care, which we did not have funding for.  We also decided that we are a permanent placement home, and not a “half-way house” or temporary home for children.

We have made a few exceptions to the age rule, and have accepted children like Gabriel and Rose at 18-months as well as Jared and Junior at 2-years because of the extreme situation that they were in (and I am a softy).  We also know that 10% of our children have a long-term disability (discovered as they grew) and two are blind, and they are our children and will stay with us.

In November 2015, I was called by a Magistrate Judge (the ones who sign the court orders to place the children in our care) and he explained that there was an urgent case that he was asking for help with.

I made the 90-minute drive to Court and in front of the Judge sat a Grandmother with her 21-month old Granddaughter.  The child was clearly severely disabled, unable to move, challenged to swallow, and not very responsive.  After a short visit I explained that we have a policy about accepting disabled children, any why we have that policy.  The Grandmother burst in to tears and sobbed in front of us while she rocked the sweet little girl.

The Judge explained the complicated family situation, but the bottom line was that the husband of the Grandmother didn’t want the disabled child and was going to kill her and the child if she went home.  What was she to do?  What were we to do?

Khosie and I stepped out of the Judge’s Chambers and talked about it. Khosie reminded me that we could not properly care for the child, but we agreed that maybe we could help for a short time.  Sometimes you just have to break the rules. We agreed to take the child for 90-days while the family “cooled down” and worked on a plan for her care.  Social Welfare was involved and yesterday we were called to say that the little girl could be returned to her family. 

It was a bittersweet day for those who have loved and cared for her. The good news is that she is stronger, healthier and more stable than she was when she came to us.  We sent her with clothes, diapers and toys that would help the family care for her.  I am thankful for our amazing team of Aunties who love unconditionally, just the way Jesus does.

In other news, baby Shirley’s surgery went very well this week.  Sadly, they did have to amputate her index finger, but that was the best decision.  The reconstruction on her face lead the doctors to putting two VERY heavy casts on her arms so that she can’t touch her face.  Chris Cheek is, as I have said before, an angel and we pray for strength for her and joy and perfect healing for Shirley.

Monday we are launching a new campaign called #hopewins.  Please be sure to follow Heart for Africa on Facebook and/or Twitter as we will be posting a short story of HOPE every day for the month of February. Each story has been written by a Heart for Africa volunteer or staff member about the HOPE that they see in the eyes and stories of our children. 

Our focus for February, the month of love, is to increase our monthly donors who support the baby home.  We have 17 children who are not funded, and there are three other children who MAY come to us next week. We have to increase our monthly support in order to be able to say “yes” to the next children.  Can you help us today?

In the US: Click here
In Canada: Click here

Live from the Wilkerson’s kitchen table in Alpharetta, Georgia … #hopewins.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Did you know a chicken lays an egg every 24-30 hours?

Farming education is a critical part of raising our children at Project Canaan.
Five years ago I met a man named Chad Gregory who is the CEO of the United Egg Producers in the US.  Chad invited me to speak at an International Egg Commission conference in Venice, Italy (I said yes).  While there we met egg farmers from all over the world, including a bunch of fellow Canadians.  Tim Lambert (CEO Egg Farmers of Canada) was one of those men and next thing we knew the Canadian egg farmers were visiting Project Canaan and learning about Swaziland, AIDS, orphans and the crisis that we are facing.

Tim Lambert (CEO Egg Farmers of Canada, Steve Manton (Chairman International Egg Foundation), Chad Gregory (CEO United Egg Producers),  Gene Gregory (Former CEO UEP), Peter Clark (Chairman Egg Farmers of Canada),                  Ian Maxwell (CEO Heart for Africa).   
With each visit they became more and more immersed in learning about the culture, the challenges and hopelessness of so many Swazi people. They were even with me when I got the call about picking up a baby at the Woman’s Prison, and went with me to receive that child.  That child was Baby Shirley, and the Egg Farmers of Canada were the ones holding her in the back seat of my car as we drove her home to Project Canaan, burns and all.   That was the day they truly saw the Project Canaan was a place of hope, and there was hope for the baby girl whose mother tried to kill her by burning her.

They made a commitment to do something, and they are men of their word.

On January 4th, 2016, a flock of 2,500 chickens arrived in to a barn that the Egg Farmers of Canada, in partnership with the International Egg Foundation, built.  They have ordered a second flock of 2,500 chickens, which will arrive in July to the second barn they also built.  That means we will have just under 5,000 eggs, every single day, “with no off switch” as we are told.  Did you know that a chicken lays an egg every 24-30 hours? Now you do.

Did you know that brown chickens lay brown eggs?  And that hens "sing"?
As you likely know, Ian and I know nothing about chickens or eggs, and the egg farmers knew that, so help arrived a few days before the chickens did.  Kurt Siemens, a Canadian egg farmer from Manitoba and Aaron Law, a Canadian egg farmer from New Brunswick, came in January and got the flock in place, feed supply rolling and continued the training that our team had already begun with the largest egg producer in Swaziland and the eggs started to arrive. Kurt was here for 10 days and Aaron stayed on for the whole month!

We currently feed 2,100 children every week through our 30 church partner-feeding programs.  Starting on Monday these children will receive a hard-boiled, PEELED, egg with every meal they get from us.  This will not only help with the issue of malnutrition, but also help providing the perfect protein and assist with the uptake of vaccinations (which is critical to the health of every child).  The egg farmers, thanks to Chad and his friends at UEP, even bought us a new truck so that we can deliver eggs, Manna Pack and maize from Project Canaan to the most remote parts of Swaziland. 

John with Julian Madeley (International Egg Foundation and Worldwide Egg Organization)

Aaron Law, Julian Madeley (CEO World Egg Organization), Dr. Abdul Magdy (Bio-security expert from Lohmann)          Ian and our big kids.
We have also partnered with a local hospital to provide two eggs every day to every child in the pediatric ward.  Many of them suffer from malnutrition and getting a “high protein” diet costs extra money. Now they will not have to pay for that extra protein, it will be free, and they will get well faster.

First delivery of eggs to the hospital CEO and CMO.
God is good. He knows what we need, when we need it and we see His hand of provision over and over again as he sends people, expertise, equipment and funding, in His timing.

In addition to the organizations listed above I would like to also publicly thank the Big Dutchman in South Africa, Sonovo Technolgy Group in Denmark, Lohmann in Uganda and Eagles Nest in Swaziland for donation equipment, expertise, time and money.  This is truly and international project and we are thankful for everyone involved.

I am writing this blog on the roadside just before I cross out of Swaziland in to South Africa.  I am heading back to the US for five days for meetings, a few favorite meals and to see Spencer!  Can’t wait (not excited about the snow storm that I am hearing about).

Live from Swaziland … we live in a constant state of awe (that’s Ian’s favorite quote).


This peacock came and sat beside me while I finished my blog. Too funny.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

It’s official - Baby Shirley is returning to the US today for surgery.

Many of you know Baby Shirley’s story. If not, you can read it in my blog here: .

The short version is that her mother dropped her in a pit latrine (outdoor toilet) at birth and then dumped fire in on top of her to make sure she was dead.  An Uncle came to the rescue and both mother and baby ended up in a hospital in Swaziland for 6 weeks.  After she was discharged the mother was put in prison and the baby was put in to our legal custody.   She struggled to breathe because her nose had collapsed from the fire, and she was in and out of the private hospital with pneumonia.  She needed surgery to save her life and she got it.

In November 2014 Baby Shirley flew to the US with the Ferguson family and was met at the airport by our friends at the Global Medical Relief Fund (GMRF), who then took over.  Shirley spent four months in and out of surgery and then returned to us in Swaziland.

She has been recovering well, she walks (even though one of her big toes had to be amputated), she has lots of teeth and she is a sweet baby.  A few months ago we could see that her nose was starting to collapse and she would need more surgery.  Elissa Montanti, and her team at GMRF stepped right up and made plans for her to be treated at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia, PA. 

This morning all of our 106 children gathered and our caregivers gathered to pray for Baby Shirley and our volunteer extraordinaire, Chris Cheek, before they headed to New York.  Chris is taking Baby Shirley to the US and will stay with her for 3-months as she goes through more surgeries and recoveries.  Chris Cheek is an angel in disguise and we give thanks for her selfless spirit and her servant’s heart.

And so they are off!  They will land in the US tomorrow morning and will be greeted in New York with winter coats, hats and boots.  I don’t think Chris will be missing the 109F temperatures we have had of late, but Baby Shirley might!

As we crossed the border from Swaziland to South Africa three different people came up to us and thanked us for caring for this child. The first was the Immigration officer who stamped our passports. The second was the Doctor who first cared for Baby River and gave him his first colostomy.  The third person was a random woman who recognized Baby Shirley from the National newspaper articles.  They were all so moved to see her and their kindness brought me to tears, again.

Thank you all for your prayers for this beautiful child. So many of our children have had serious, life-threatening challenges, but El Roi, the God who sees, has created Project Canaan, “a place of hope” for them all, and us too.

Live from Swaziland … lots of tears shed today.


PS – we are short monthly funding for 16 of our children.  We don’t want to have to say “no” to bringing in a child, but it takes money to care for them.  The total cost per child is $225 US per month, which includes all formula, diapers, day shift, night shift, clothing and basic medical care.  Please consider signing up to be a monthly donor of any dollar amount.  Every dollar helps us save a life. Thank you.

In the US please click here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

4-year-old Ben’s mother came to visit today

I have covered her face for privacy reasons.
Early this morning I got a message from Helen saying that 4-year-old Ben’s mother was at the front gate to see him.  She had never been here before and I did not know that she had planned to come.  Helen assured me that she had followed the proper procedures and got permission from a Social Welfare Officer.  We take the protection of these children very seriously, so no one can visit without permission from that office.

It is very rare for us to have a family member (let alone a mother) visit because so many of our children were abandoned at birth and there is no record of family.  There are a few whose mothers we know, but they have no interest in seeing their children due to mental illness or other social issues.  But I do know Ben’s mother, because I met her in the hospital when he was 18-months-old.

If you don’t know Ben’s story I encourage you to go back and read the whole thing at and then a follow up blog at

The short version is that his father sat him down on a cooking fire and lit his soiled towel (used as a diaper) on fire, giving him third degree burns on his whole buttock and back of his legs. Then the father hid him for five days, withholding him from any life-saving (and merciful) burn treatment or pain relief.

Ben was living with his father and the mother was living in a different place looking after her other children from another man.  The case was finally reported to the police and the man was put in prison.  The mother was called to care for Ben at the hospital, which she did for two months, until we were given custody.  When we gained legal guardianship we transferred Ben to a private hospital (with funds given to my by an angel in Texas) and we have not seen his mother since then.  That was in June 2013.

Today she came to visit, and I panicked.  I am a ferociously protective Mama Bear and my first response was to not let her in.  But then, she did come with permission.  What did she want? Would she try to take Ben away? He is our child now … but of course he is still her child.  Helen reminded me that the Mother was the one caring for him in the hospital and that one-day he will want to know who she is, so it should start today. Helen is always right, and always much calmer in these situations that I am, so I listen to her a lot :).

 I was not at The Oasis dining room when she arrived, but Helen and the other Supervisors navigated the meeting carefully. We weren’t sure who to tell Ben that the woman was?  It was the first time that we had been faced with this situation. Do you say, “Ben this is your mother”? He is old enough to know what a mother is now, or is he?  Maybe “Mother” is just a word, or maybe a label for a woman who cares for him?

Shongwe pulled Ben aside and asked him if he knew who the woman sitting at the table was.  He said, “She is my Mother” and then went over and put his head on her lap.  She wept.

After a few minutes he raised his head and went back to his brothers and sisters to play.  They were getting ready to go for a walk, and off he went with them, leaving the mother behind watching him go.  Last time she saw him he had a colostomy bag and struggled to walk because of his burns.  Today he ran off like a typical, perfect, energetic, healthy, 4-year old boy.

We assume that if he remembered her so well, then he likely remembers the fire, and his father, but there were no tears or sadness, only joy, in that little boy.

I do believe that the Lord can heal our hearts, our minds and our memories.  That healing is the only way I can explain the peace and joy that each of these traumatized children exude every day.  That may change in the future and different things might manifest, but today we claim the healing and give thanks in all things.

I did ask Helen to find out what the status of the father’s jail term is. He will be released in June.  Ian and I dropped Ben’s mother off in town as we went in to buy groceries and get a hair cut.  

It's always fun to take children to town with us. Today was Gabriel and Rose's turn.

Running errands takes a lot out of a 5-year old.
Live from Swaziland … it’s Saturday.


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Encouragement for you in 2016.

First fireworks for the Emseni Children at Project Canaan.

Since moving to Swaziland our family holiday tradition includes spending a few days on the beach at the Indian Ocean in Durban, South Africa.  The sound of the surf, the never-ending blue water and the private time with family is medicine for my soul.


As I watched Ian, Spencer and Chloe play Cribbage by the pool, I was contemplating what I would write in today’s blog. I wanted to write something that would encourage you in 2016 and I felt the best way to do that was with scripture.  First I was going to include Psalm 19, talking about the heavens declaring the glory of the Lord and include a photo of our big kids watching their first fireworks on New Years Eve.


Then I thought instead to give you the Message bible translation of Matthew 25:31-46, the story of the sheep and the goats, which reminds each of us of the importance of caring for other people in need. 


But in the end, I landed on another favorite promise from God – Isaiah 58:6-9, which reads:


“This is the kind of fast day I’m after:
  to break the chains of injustice,
    get rid of exploitation in the workplace,

    free the oppressed, cancel debts.

What I’m interested in seeing you do is:
    sharing your food with the hungry,
    inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
    putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,

    being available to your own families.

Do this and the lights will turn on,
    and your lives will turn around at once.
Your righteousness will pave your way.

    The God of glory will secure your passage.

Then when you pray, God will answer.
    You’ll call out for help and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’"


Isn't that cool? When we call for help, God will say, "Here I am."  He is always with us.  He will never leave us nor forsake us, even if our parents abandon us or someone else lets us down. He is ALWAYS there and His plans are good.

I hope you are encouraged by this amazing promise, and that you might take the time to look up the other two scriptures over the holiday season.

May the Lord bless you and give you His perfect peace and joy in 2016.

Happy New Year from the Maxwell family and the children of Project Canaan.

Live from South Africa … I am thankful for Ian, Spencer and Chloe, who love the little ones as much as I do and happily spend their Christmas and New Year's holiday with them.


"The heavens declare the glory of the Lord."