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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tuberculosis at the baby home

Someone mentioned to me that my blogs are getting very heavy.  Each time they read them they feel my pain and sometimes they are just too much to read.  They wondered if many people might stop reading my weekly blog because of I am just making them too sad.   I hope that isn’t the case.  The Swazi people can’t just stop being hungry or sick because it makes them too sad, so I pray that you will continue to read, learn, pray and engage.  We are in a crisis that is only getting worse every day.

It’s winter here, which means its around 45F at night and 70F+ during the day, but we are all cold.  There is a darkness over the country right now that is not allowing light or warmth in to our bones or our lives.    We see fear in the eyes of our people, and it is heartbreaking.  Tears flow freely and there is not a day that I don’t shed more than my share.

As if the worst drought in recorded history wasn’t enough and starvation in every community around the country, we are starting to see the impact that hunger has on sickness.  When people are on anti-retrovirals for HIV/AIDS they must eat properly (including protein) for the medication to work.  They have no food.  As treatment starts to fail, there is an increase in opportunistic infections and diseases … like Tuberculosis.

This past week we learned that several of our Aunties, who live in the baby home and toddler home, tested positive for Tuberculosis.  We do not know yet whether it is drug-resistant or even multiple-drug resistant, but we pray that it is not.  They have been removed from the home for now, but not before they had the chance of infecting other caregivers and children.

Here is the thing.  Anyone and everyone who has been living in Swaziland has been exposed to TB.  They don’t even do the skin test in Swaziland that would show if a person had been exposed because we have all been exposed.  Having a health immune system helps the monster from getting in to our lungs or other organs.

This week I saw fear in the eyes of my own Supervisors as they wondered if they too had contracted this deadly disease.  Some people have active TB (obvious with coughing, weight loss and night sweats), but some have inactive TB.  A sputum test and/or chest X-Ray is how diagnosis is done here, but to make things worse, if a person is HIV positive, it is quite possible for them to have a negative sputum test (even when they have active TB) because their immune system is masking the TB.  A nightmare situation.

On Monday we will start testing the women and children who were most exposed to the infected Aunties.  Because it is impossible to get sputum from an infant, we will do an expensive blood test on everyone (including me) to see what our infection level is.  We pray that we have caught this beast before it has unleashed hell on our Children’s Campus, but even if we have, the battle is not over. 

Meanwhile we are taking further action in the three Chiefdoms surrounding us o see how we can help those in desperate need.  We have assigned a full time Community Support person to go out in the community and assess the situation, starting with the elderly and the orphan headed households.  We will start delivering food and helping where we can, as we can, next week, and this will be in partnership with the local Chiefs and the Community Health Motivators (see last week’s blog).

We have set up an account for Community Support.  If you would like to help us help those in need, please give generously today at this link.  If you would like to help us with the cost of the TB GOLD tests (approximately $36 US each) please click here. 

Links for Canadian donors are:  Community Support  and Emergency Medical Fund.

Thanks for your prayers for all concerned. I will provide an update on the test results in next week’s blog.

Live from Swaziland … praying for health and strength and His provision.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

The most difficult ten years of my life.

Photo credit - Chris Cheek
These have been the most difficult ten years of my life. 

Total surrender to God comes at a very high price and it not without pain, suffering, judgement and loss.  Our family has felt all of those things over the past decade, but we try to remember to give thanks in all things, we are human and suffer like anyone else.

Since Heart for Africa was founded in 2006, our family has moved to two different countries and lived on two different continents (three if you include Chloe’s High School years in Taiwan).  We have said goodbye to old friends, and worked hard to meet new ones.  We have made life-long friends, and have some broken relationships that need forgiveness and repair.

We have served in four countries (South Africa, Malawi, Kenya and Swaziland) and Spencer and Chloe have lived in hotel rooms for more than a year of their lives, while helping lead people on 11-day service trips.

The work does not get easier as the days pass, and it seems like the learning curve is still vertical, with no sign of a curve (even after ten years). 

We have learned about things we never even had interest in and have become well versed in many critical areas reaching from Swazi culture to HIV/AIDS, from dairy farming to multiple drug-resistant Tuberculosis, from currency exchange to construction with concrete, from malnutrition to aquaponics, from bore holes and dams to the impact of drought.

Yesterday we called a meeting of the Community Health Motivators from the four Chiefdoms that surround us.  These women are paid E350 ($24.00US) each month to work full time to closely monitor the people in their community who are on treatment for HIV, Tuberculosis, asthma, diabetes, or who are pregnant, orphaned or vulnerable children and the elderly.  They are paid to “motivate” people to maintain proper hygiene (to reduce disease), eat proper meals when taking HIV or TB medication (especially eat meat protein) and they personally provide hospice service to the elderly including bathing them, feeding them and praying with them.  

We called the meeting because Chris Cheek (one of our long term volunteers who spends a lot of time out in the local homesteads) came to me and said that she was feeling a shift in the community. The people are starting to panic.  There is no food.  What can Project Canaan do to help (in a country of less than a million people, most in the same situation). 

And so we sat for two hours and listened to the women share from the depth of their beings, what they are seeing in the community and how they are affected.  Here are the highlights (or low lights) of the meeting.

One lady said, “People are starving everywhere.  Swaziland has always been a poor country, but we could always go to our fields and turn the land to plant maize.  Now that there is no water, we couldn't even turn the ground.  We didn’t plant in November and now there is no food.  There is nothing at all to eat.  Some people are even grinding up left over corncobs (left after the maize kernels are removed) and trying to cook them in to porridge.  And we can’t plant again until the next rainy season comes, which we hope is in November”. 

IF the rains come again in November, those who have lived a year with little or no food, will turn the land, but without assistance, they will have no seed to plant. 

Another lady said, “There is no water to drink, to cook the little food we scavenge for or to wash ourselves with.  The elderly people we are supposed to care for smell very bad because they are so dirty and we have no water to clean them with.  We also don’t have masks to wear when we visit patients who have Tuberculosis.  That makes us very worried that we will also get the disease.”

Several women chatted in unison explaining that the acts of violent crime are escalating as teenagers are breaking in to homes, attacking the elderly, just to steal something that they can sell – an old shirt, a broken dish, an empty water tank. The community is becoming increasingly dangerous as people become more desperate.
They told the story of an old Gogo who was beaten, robbed and raped by some teenagers and left to die.  She found the woman and now cares for her.

Many of them underscored to us that this year is different. Even in dry years in the past, they have never suffered the way that they are suffering now. When I asked them what they are most afraid of now, each and every one of them said, “Hunger. I have nothing to feed my own family and nothing to give those who I am supposed to “motivate” to eat well and take their medication”.

At the end of the meeting we prayed together and the ladies were fed a home cooked meal and driven back to their community with a TB mask and four trays of eggs each (120 fresh eggs) – one tray for their family and three to be distributed to people in need, as they saw fit.

One of the Community Health Motivators went with Chris, Ned Lehman and Kathy Ott (two of our US board members) to visit the mother of our babies Princess and Anthony.  She has been sick with HIV and TB for a long time, which is why both of the children have been placed with us.  Chris called me to say that the young woman is near the end of life (in fact, thought she had passed while they were there), but then she breathed again.  They called a private ambulance and she was taken to the hospital, to die. 

Yesterday was a typical day, but then again, there is no such thing as “typical” here. They are all hard days and we learn so much each and every day from our Swazi brothers and sisters. 

Some (many) days the pain and suffering we see is just too much and I find myself unable to hold back the tears on a daily basis.  But we do what we can with what we have and we pray for continued strength for the days and months ahead. This is going to get much worse before it gets better. 

Please join me in praying for Swaziland, for the funds to bring water from the top of our mountain to fill our dams and boreholes, for guidance on how we are to address the needs of the people in need in our surrounding communities and for unity, peace and restored joy for all of us.

Thank you for your support over the past ten years.  We simple can NOT do this without you, nor do we want to. As I reflect back over the decade it is abundantly clear that the Lord has guided and directed us, as well as provided and protected us.  Despite our own inadequacies and failures, He is sovereign and faithful always.

Live from Swaziland … giving thanks for 10 years of HIS provision and love.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

16 toes and 14 fingers

Left hand

Right hand

We have a little boy named Moses who came to us from a tragic family situation. He was born on September 15, 2013 and was a twin, but the sibling twin died in childbirth, along with his mother.  His 15-year-old sister had been caring for him, and the other four children as best she could (after the father ran away), but she couldn’t provide food or milk for them so she sought help from Social Welfare.  We were asked to take Moses and we agreed.

When a new child comes to us the first thing we do is pray over them, bathe them then do a full physical assessment (weight, length, signs of scaring, signs of witchcraft etc).  Upon this boy’s assessment we discovered that his little teeth were black/brown from severe malnutrition and he had eight toes on EACH foot and seven fingers on EACH hand. This is most likely the result of a case of incest and while seeing extra digits isn’t that uncommon here, seeing so many extras is quite unique.

Moses has learned to adapt with his hands, but they are not functioning well and his feet will always be a problem.  After getting medical advice from Doctors in the US, South Korea and Swaziland it was recommended that he receive surgery.

Two weeks ago he was taken to a top Orthopaedic surgeon in South Africa and assessed again.  The recommendation was that he have 2-3 sets of surgery, which will result in the removal of ten (yes TEN) fingers and toes. They will do some reconstruction and repositioning with careful attention to the positioning of the big toes (needed for balance and mobility) and his thumbs (needed for the “pinching” movement to do up a zipper or button a shirt).  

The Doctor also recommend that these surgeries happen sooner than later so that he can recover quickly and have his new hands and feet develop as he continues to grow.  The cost for these multiple surgeries, including transportation/hotels/food in South Africa, is approximately $20,000 USD.  They will do both feet and one hand in the first surgery and leave one hand for him to use.  The second surgery will be the second hand and any other adjustments from the first surgery. They are hopeful that a third surgery will not be needed.

In addition, last week baby Timothy needed surgery to have a hernia fixed.  That was done here in Swaziland at a private hospital by the surgeon whom we know and trust. It is the same Doctor who did Ben’s skin grafting and colostomy reversal and all of Baby River’s clean up surgeries and several colostomies and reversals). Timothy’s total surgery cost was $2,000 USD and it was successful.

So today I am asking for your financial help.  We had to move ahead with Timothy’s hernia surgery for health/medical reasons and now that hospital bill is due.

We would like to book Moses’ surgery for the end of August (the soonest they can do it), but cannot do that until we have the funds to do so.   I am writing today with the hopes that someone feels for these children and can help us do the best we can to help provide a bright future.

To donate in the US click here.

To donate in Canada click here.

Please remember that every dollar helps.  Thank you for considering my request today.

Many, many thanks.

Live from Swaziland … praying for continued provision for His children, by His children.


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Strength and courage in these dark days

Our hearts are broken for all that is happening in the US and around the world.  The enemy is here to kill and destroy and he is hard at work in believers and unbelievers alike. 

I have no words that could possibly comfort those who are mourning, those who are angry or those who are afraid, so today I will simply share words from the Lord himself. 

"After the death of Moses the servant of God, God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant: 'Moses my servant is dead. Get going. Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people. Cross to the country I’m giving to the People of Israel. I’m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on—just as I promised Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon east to the Great River, the Euphrates River—all the Hittite country—and then west to the Great Sea. It’s all yours. All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you. In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you; I won’t leave you. Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out The Revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going. And don’t for a minute let this Book of The Revelation be out of mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get where you’re going; then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.'" - Joshua 1:9

Live from Swaziland … praying for peace.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

A heavy heart

This week I have a heavy heart and will not be writing a blog.  

Ian and I are in South Africa taking a two day break.  Today took a scenic drive to a vista called "God's Window" (we haven't been there since 2005).  I will post a few photos for you to see the magnificence of God's creation while I take this weekend to rest.

On a clear day you can see the Indian Ocean from here.

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." Psalm 51:12

Live from South Africa.