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Saturday, April 29, 2017

How much is too much?

Caleb eating Ian's home made ice cream at our house.
Today I am in a bit of a funk.  I feel stuck between two worlds, and I am not sure how to live in both of them.  How much is too much when it comes to the children whom we are responsible for, especially when there are so many children in the country (continent/world) who have nothing?

Let me tell you a story.

During my first trip to Kenya, I remember having the BRILLIANT idea of hiring a refrigerated truck, driving to Nairobi and buying huge buckets of ice cream and then serving it to all the children at the Mully Children’s Family home in Ndalani. None of them would have had ice cream before and I wanted to give them a real treat, just as I would treat Spencer and Chloe.  When I shared my big idea with Mr. Mully, he very graciously suggested that maybe the children would enjoy some meat instead.   Duh. Yes, meat.  That was a much better idea, and something that they did not get often. Their father knew what was best for them, and I learned a valuable lesson that day.

We are now raising 155 Swazi children and everyone who comes to visit has an opinion on how we should be raising them.  Not a single person is raising 155 children themselves, but none-the-less share their thoughts with as many of our staff and volunteers as they can.

We have been accused of raising spoiled rich kids because our children have a plethora of push toys and Little Tykes play sets to play with.  We have been accused of turning the home in to a “Disney Land” because we have hand carved stone statues around the buildings.  We have been told that we are feeding our children too much, and that they would never get that much food if they were living back in their homestead. I would like to say that we have heard it all, but I am sure we have not.
"Aslan" the lion is our school mascot. This stone was carved on Project Canaan with stone found on the farm.
This week Ian, Spencer and I were running errands in town and we stopped in to a store that sells commercial kitchen supplies.  My eyes immediately went to a large soft ice cream machine. That would be wonderful for our children!  I think it could even make frozen yoghurt (that we make ourselves from the milk from the dairy).  

We have 155 children now, with 65 full time staff members, and many many volunteers/guests throughout the year. I am sure visitors would be happy to pay for ice cream (and maybe even buy it as a treat for our children from time to time). But the cost of the machine was $1,600 USD.  I would never ask a donor to buy an ice cream machine, but I would certainly consider buying it myself?  Why? Because I often bought Spencer and Chloe ice cream as a treat, and these little ones are our children too.  But it’s much harder to take 155 children to town for ice cream than it was to put two kids in the back of my car. 

Levi, Hope, Caleb and Joshua enjoying Ian's ice cream.
But here’s the rub.  There are children all over Swaziland who have no food.  They have no meat.  They have no one to care for them or provide safety. So why should our children get soft ice cream?  Isn’t that exactly what the nay-sayers are saying to us when they point out our “extravagances”?

When I told Ian that I was struggling with this today, he reminded me that God has told us that He is doing a “new work” on Project Canaan. He has entrusted us with these young lives, and we do believe that we are raising the future leaders of this nation. But does that mean that they should get soft ice cream when others don’t get meat?  I don’t know.

So today I am in a bit of a funk.  I have one foot in a country that I love, where poverty and orphan-headed-households surround us, and the other foot is with 155 children, who I want to give all that I can to give them a wonderful childhood and set them up for success as adults.

Live from Swaziland … wondering, how much is too much?


Saturday, April 22, 2017


The past few weeks Ian and I have noticed that we have been able to breathe much better. It’s not the air quality, it’s not the humidity levels, it’s called “margin”. 

We have been living in Swaziland for almost five years and for most of those five years we have been in full on building mode.  We started with farming and worked tirelessly to install drip irrigation, build dams, clear farmland, train workers and find channels of distribution.

Then the first baby, Joshua, arrived.  And babies started arriving more and more frequently, with a current five-year average of a child arriving every 12 days.  This not only required us to continue building homes for the children and staff housing, but also schools, a medical clinic and focus on training in the areas of health (among the many things HIV/TB and severe malnutrition), nutrition, childcare and child development.

For many who have been here they will agree that we are building a “city on a hill”.  For those of you who may remember the game “Sim City”, it’s kind of like a real life version of that.  It’s not just putting up a building or two (on a mountain side in Africa), but it’s planning for roads, electricity, water access, septic tanks, transporting people, sourcing and storage of materials (building, food, diesel, supplies etc).

Building a city on a hill (technically a mountain).
This is ALL new to Ian and me. We are not land developers, we have no experience in city planning and we did not grow up in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland and therefore know all the ins and outs of working here.  Did I mention that this is ALL new to us.  But we have the Master builder, the Master planner who is directing our path.

Last year was a very hard year for us personally, with people working tirelessly to tear us down. It was fraught with a lot of criticism, judgement, discouraging words and downright evil intentions.  There were days that I felt like giving up, but we had a couple of key people (you know who you are) who stood with us and carried us when needed, to get us through. Satan is alive and well and he is here to kill and destroy.  THAT I know for sure.

This year, I feel that we are now breathing fresh air AND we both have margin in our days.  We are not running frantically anymore because the “building” phase of Project Canaan is complete, and now we are in the “development” phase.   Yes, we still have buildings to build (ie the 2nd grade classroom is being built this month), but we now have more time to think, plan, train and develop our people.

I’ll give you three quick examples of what I am talking about:

1.     Our Lusito Mechanics shop was always in “quick fix” mode with many vehicles needing things fixed due to the bad roads or conditions here.  This week is our third year having Rick Cogbill and our friends from Mercy Tech in Canada doing intense training for TWO MONTHS to teach our guys preventive care, proper repair as well as organization, planning and controls.  The students were ready and the teacher appeared. 

Photo credit: Rick Cogbill

Photo credit: Rick Cogbill
2.     The Emseni Campus is where our big kids live. Our Aunties and Uncles have done an amazing job in caring for, disciplining and loving our children. But we now have 74 children between the ages of 3-6 living at Emseni and it is a monster job.  Today starts a one month school break, which now requires significant planning to keep those 74 (who would have been in school each day) active, engaged and loved.  Then comes Bryan Throgmorton, who has taken on the position of Program Director.  He works intentionally to create a plan with our senior staff to engage our children in all areas of spirituality, physical fitness, arts, music, drama, chores, reading and more so that their time is well spent and the children continue to thrive.  In addition to Bryan, the Lord sent Margie Brewer to us from the US. She is not only an experienced Social Worker with her Masters degree, but she has lived in Swaziland for ten years and is helping us bridge the divide in child rearing between the western way and the Swazi way.  Truly gifts from heaven.

3.     Our Khutsala Artisans shop has expanded and the building has doubled.  This has allowed us to not only hire more local people, but also has given us room to properly run a business of it’s size.  We now have a room to store all of our beads and wire in an orderly fashion, allowing us to manage supply chain better.  We have a meeting room that allows Supervisor meetings, private conversations for HR, people who need counseling, discipline, discipleship or a word of encouragement.  Another room provides the right space for daily counts, production tracking, packing, shipping and invoicing.  Spencer has been here working daily on computer training, designing easy-to-use packing slips and invoice systems that support the existing software program.  I cannot explain the joy that I see on the faces of our leadership team with all this happening. 

Why am I telling you all this? It’s to say that Ian and I have room to breathe now. We have many of the right people in the right place and so we don’t have to be directly involved in (or worry about) every single part of this city on the hill.  Frankly, there is no way that we could.

Heart for Africa and Project Canaan are SO MUCH bigger than Ian and Janine Maxwell.  I am just thankful that we have been given the opportunity to play a small role in this big plan and that so many of you have also stepped up to play your part.  The African proverb says that it takes a village to raise a child. I am thankful that you are a part of our village. 

Live from Swaziland … I love margin.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

These children are an oasis to my soul.

On Thursday night there was a gathering of our staff and volunteers up at the dining hall that we call “The Oasis”.  It was named The Oasis because it is where we go to be fed and watered and where life is given to everyone who visits. Thursday night we gathered for Holy Communion, and again, received the gift of life. 

The room was dimly lit and at the front of the stage was a wooden cross, handmade by our maintenance team.  In front of it was a wooden Nigerian bed (random information), which held the elements that we would consume. From the back of the room a beautiful Swazi voice started singing, the others rose up to join in harmony to make sounds seem like they must be coming from heaven itself.  

The warmth of the evening, the darkness of the room and the sounds of African voices immediately took me back to a time where I was at the Mully Children’s home in Eldoret, Kenya.  It was bedtime and the young children gathered for a time of song and prayer.  When they started to sing, I was swept up by the power of the small voices that joined together to make a sound that sent shivers up my spine and tears down my cheeks.

So often people thank me for “saving” the children of Swaziland, and I am quick to point out that it is not me who is saving anyone, but it is God who has brought us in to this role, and so many others who provide support for the children.

But it was in the sounds of African voices on Thursday night, with tears pouring down my cheeks once again, that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this work is NOT my work or Ian’s work, it is only God’s work.   This work, or calling, is impossible.  The number of children is growing (we have 155 children as of today), the scope of the farm is expanding, the responsibility that we have for the children, our staff of 280+ people and our 16+ volunteers is immense, and it is overwhelming and impossible without God.

Tomorrow is Easter and our children have been preparing for this for weeks.  Even at their young age, they will perform a play with the entire Easter story (including the death on the cross and the resurrection).  
Last week's play showing Jesus arriving in Jerusalem on a donkey.
Easter in at Project Canaan is not about Easter bunnies, Easter eggs or a large display of chocolate. Swazi’s teach their children, at a very young age, about the bloody death and glorious resurrection of Jesus.   Our children will eat special eggs for breakfast, will have a braai (lots of grilled meat) for dinner and baked goodies during the day.   They will sing “Hosanna Hosanna”, jump up and down being silly and will undoubtedly bring joy to any and all who are with them.  

The children are themselves an oasis to my soul. 

Tomorrow is the most exciting day of the whole year, and I am eternally grateful that I have been chosen to be a small part in a very big story of salvation, transformation and life.

Happy Easter from our family to yours.

Live from Swaziland… He has risen indeed.


PS - If you believe in what we are doing and want to help, we really are in need of financial assistance at this time for our children.  If you can give on a monthly basis or even make a one time donation today, we would very much appreciate it.  Thank you.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Our smallest baby yet – Baby Peace.

Baby Peace (left) is 5-weeks old and weighs 2.7 pounds.  Baby Amanda (right) is 2-days old and weighs 5.3 pounds.

During the first three months of 2017 we welcomed five babies to Project Canaan.  In the last three days we welcomed FOUR more (with another arriving on Monday).   It seems that children arrive in ebbs and flows, but we are in a time of flow right now.

Yesterday afternoon I was called to pick up a baby whose mother had been leaving him at home alone for 9-10 hours at a time.  Social Welfare officers had taken him to the hospital and after he had been discharged we were to go pick him there.  When we arrived we found a teeny tiny baby boy, who was five weeks old, weighing 1.7 kg (3.7 lbs).  He was SO tiny!

We brought him home and immediately took a photo of him lying beside baby Amanda who had arrived the day before.  Baby Amanda is almost 2-days old (weighing 2.4 kg or 5.3 lbs) in the photo and Baby Peace is 5-weeks old. 

My friend (and premmie baby expert), Annie Duguid, heard about the little baby who had arrived and immediately sent me a message suggesting that we try to find a nursing mother (who is not HIV or Hepatitis positive) to give little Peace some much needed mothers milk.  She explained that because his mother was HIV positive, he would not have gotten natural immunity from her. In addition, prematurity gives low immunity and he would need extra help until his own immunity kicks in around 9-months of age.

Well, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with that information/suggestion/request, but I stopped and prayed about it. Immediately, Maria Koopmans came to mind. Maria and her husband Arlyn have been volunteers with us for the past 4+ years and Maria just gave birth to their second child.  I sent her an early morning text message (yes, I felt very awkward), and she responded immediately that she would be happy to provide some of her breast milk for our new little one!  I couldn’t believe it!  Not only that, two hours later she was at the baby home giving him a bottle of her own milk.

I really had “a moment”.  I can’t think of a more beautiful gift for a woman to give a child in need.  It truly is the gift of life.  Thank you Maria for your love, your sacrifice and for sharing your breast milk.  (Never thought I would be writing that sentence).

It takes a village to raise a child, and I LOVE the village I am a part of.

Live from Swaziland  … today is a great day.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

What a week!

It’s always busy at Project Canaan and there is always a lot going on, but this past week was particularly busy. Here are a few highlights:

      We received two massive trucks that brought us the slab (58 tons) for the second floor of Emseni 3 (children's home).  It comes as a giant puzzle that is assembled on the second floor of the building and then concrete is poured on top. We have raised approximately $230,000 of the $300,000 needed to complete this home for 40 children so we are praying for the Lords (quick and timely) provision so we can finish the building and move the kids.

      Pam and Keri from CeramiCraft in South Africa arrived for a week of in depth training with our entire SwaziMUD pottery team. Their week resulted in significant increase in production, quality and new techniques and tricks. Our new handmade ceramic beads are stunning, consistent and make our jewelry so much more beautiful.  New product will be on in the weeks ahead.

      Kim Evinsky and Sharla Miller were here working with the Khutsala Artisans all week.  Kim is our Sales Director for Khutsala in the US and Sharla is a wonderful jewelry designer.  They were here training our staff on new designs and filling new orders from new customers!  We are working on a slightly higher end line that uses beautiful hand cut pewter and our own SwaziMUD beads. They are training 15 women with new skills (10 more than we had before). 

      Spencer was doing computer training at Khutsala and it has been fun to see him teaching others, and to work side-by-side in one of my favorite places.

      Three men from EMERGE in Denver, CO arrived to dive in to the Aquaponics project, which is getting very close to being ready to start.  They were here all week and worked with a diverse team of experts in water and agriculture to move the project forward. We are hoping to have water in the system next week and hope to be planting in a month or so.


      Ian took a group up to the mountain to check on the progress of the water project. They are very close to connecting the steel pipe from the two springs together. Once they are together it will be capped and filled with water for pressure testing. The water will remain in the pipe and the project will be on hold until the funding for the next phase of the piping is raised.  We have raised $300,000 of the $800,000 needed to become “water secure”.
Photo credit:  Sharla Miller
      We welcomed a team of 8 members from the "World Race" this week and they will be staying with us for 3 weeks, helping out in various areas around the farm.  This is our third team and they are always a huge blessing as they come with servant’s hearts, ready to do anything we need.

      This week we welcomed our new Special Needs teacher at the Project Canaan Academy, which is wonderful for our growing number of special needs children. 

In other really good baby news, our little boy Miles does not have TB (as we suspected he might) and little Gina has successfully passed a couple of large kidney stones, so further invasive surgery is not required.

It’s really hot and humid this week (with no air conditioning in our buildings) so we are thankful for water games, frozen treats and ceiling fans. 

All in all, a great week!

Live from Swaziland … happy Saturday.