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Saturday, March 31, 2018

If we didn’t take the baby, his death would be on our shoulders?

This little 14-month-old boy is a very sick child.

She was 43-years-old and had given birth to nine children.  The health card said that only four were still alive and that the last three died of malnutrition.  A cry for help was sent to the local social welfare office to try to save the 14-month-old boy who was dying from starvation in front of the family.  The neighbors couldn't stand to watch another child die in that family, but had nothing themselves to give.

We left Project Canaan at 7:00AM and drove for 70 minutes to the social welfare office.  From there we started the journey up mountains paths, down valleys, through the bush and stopped at four different homesteads trying to find the child in need.  9.5 hours later we would arrive back home.

At the last homestead we heard a crying baby inside the house and learned that the mother had just left to go find local home brew (marula) to drink away her pain. 

The whole situation was tragic.  We were told by family members that the mentally challenged mother was “feasted on” by her own father and her father’s brother (uncle) and that several of the nine children were fathered by them.  When we finally had all the family members together under a large tree, each of them begged us to take the baby, whom they recently discovered to be HIV positive (but not yet on treatment).    They each shared that if we did not intervene, then the child’s death would be on our shoulders, not theirs (a bit of twisted logic, but that is what they said).  Once the social worker had her report information to get affidavits and a court order, it was time for the Mother and Grandfather to sign the papers that we had allowing us to take the child at that moment.
This was the food that mom and baby shared.

The baby was given black tea to drink.
Neither the mother nor her father could read or write so the document was read to them in siSwati. Then we took an ink pen and scribbled it on their right thumb so that they could make their “mark” with their thumbprint – handing us the baby.  While I have seen that many times, it always jars me back to the reality that we are living in here and what a lack of education can do for the whole family.

Putting ink on mom's thumb so she can "sign" her signature with a mark of ink.
The baby boy is sick, has a bad ear infection and just cries all the time. He is miserable and in pain (possibly going through alcohol withdrawl as he was being breast fed).  But with medication, proper nutrition, proper rest, lots of love and prayer, he will heal, both physically and emotionally.

We arrived back home just before 5:00 PM and 15-minutes later another social worker arrived with a 10-day old baby girl. Her teenage mother had been raped by a neighbor and she didn’t want anything to do with the baby. To make things worse the neighbors were threatening the life of the mother and her baby if she pursued justice against the rapist. The baby was placed with us and they are finding a place of safety for the teenage girl.

Rachelle Ferguson, holding baby Norma (named in memory of Rachelle's mother).
We have 184 tiny souls living at Project Canaan now and at times it is overwhelming to think about our roles in their lives. And why us??  We knew very little about Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS or malnutrition before we moved here.  We had never done land planning or development, had never raised chickens or dairy cattle or worked in the field of aquaponics.  One of the many things that we have learned is that HE equips those whom He calls, He rarely calls the equipped.  Why? Because this way He gets ALL the glory.

As you celebrate Easter with your family this weekend I ask that you take some quiet time and pray for our children, pray for our staff, and pray for our family. I miss being with Spencer and Chloe on the most important weekend of they Christian calendar, but will enjoy watching our small children act out the Easter play at church tomorrow. Be sure to check out the Heart for Africa Facebook page tomorrow for Easter photo cuteness!

Live from Swaziland … He is risen indeed!

This was the tiny door that we squeezed through to eventually get the baby boy.

Saturday, March 24, 2018


Shopping for 182 children is not always easy in Swaziland (or perhaps, anywhere). We don’t have a Wal-Mart, Target, Costco or really any stores that we can purchase a large quantity of anything.  A trip to town to buy children’s socks could take all day requiring going to three different towns and 4 different shops.

Last week I was told by one of my wonderful Sr. Supervisors that our toddlers really need new underwear. We have 40 two-year-olds at the toddler home (stop and think about that one for a minute), and every one of them is being toilet trained.  I asked how many pairs were needed and she humbly just asked for as many as I could get. I asked if seven would be enough (thinking one per day), and she said yes, that would be good because they go through several pairs a day with accidents etc. 

So seven pairs per child would last 2-3 days.  Our laundry team washes 600 articles of clothing every day, in cold  water washing machines, hanging each piece on the clothesline to dry.  Our clothes line is always brings joy to my heart.

This was our laundry line this morning. Photo credit:  Lori Marschall
I hesitated in sharing this with you today because last year I was strongly criticized for asking people to help us collect seven pairs of pajamas for each of our children to go in a shipping container coming from the US. Those seven pairs would last through summer and winter and hopefully get us through one full year for each child through growth, nighttime accidents and general wear-and-tear. My critic suggested that I was being extravagant in asking for so many pajamas and implied poor stewardship of donor funds.  I disagreed then and I disagree now.

Today Ian and I are shopping in South Africa and our list includes: 280 pairs of underwear, 100 bowls for staff, 150 food bowls for our children, three x 33 Lt cooking pots, boys belts for school, girls tights for school, prescriptions for bed wetting that we can’t get in Swaziland and a short list of other odds and ends.  It will be a full day of searching and shopping, rewarded with authentic Dim Sum for lunch.

One of the fun things about shopping in Johannesburg is finding hidden treats that our volunteers might like. Yesterday I found Reece’s peanut butter cups AND Kellogg’s Pop Tarts (never seen before in South Africa/Swaziland). I quickly sent a photo to a few volunteers and within one minute had orders in hand.  (Pop Tarts cost $8 USD per box here! But they sure will be a nice treat).

Live from South Africa … I love shopping for all my kids.


PS.  If you would like to help fund the things that our children need each month, please give today. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

18-month-old baby girl is the size of a 5-month-old


This week we welcomed a baby we are calling Dinah.  She is 18-months-old, weighs 7KG (15 pounds) and that is her weight after spending two full months in the hospital being treated for malnutrition. The dietician at the hospital literally brought her back from the brink of death and now it’s our turn to help her begin to grow and develop.

I have learned a LOT about malnutrition over the years, and it’s a complicated condition with long-term effects including physical stunting, direct structural development of the brain, impairment of infant motor development and often results in death, even after being on “food treatment” for weeks or months.

If you look at the chart below, you will see that her length and weight don’t come close to hitting the low end of the child growth chart.  Her length is that of an average 9-month-old, and her weight is that of an average 5-month-old child.  


Malnutrition also weakens the immune system resulting in complicated skin conditions that often leave permanent scaring (see photo below).

Malnutrition often results in anemia (low iron in the blood), and where this little one should have a Hemoglobin count of 12+, yesterday it was a mere 6.4.  In the western world she would be given a transfusion with an HB level as low as 7-8, but here we give iron daily, along with a high iron diet filled with spinach and liver if we can get it. 

If her malnutrition wasn’t enough, she also has arrived with severe pneumonia, with labored breathing and has a fever of 103F as I type this blog.  She is hungry and sick and scared and miserable.

Two weeks ago we got another little girl whom we call Cynthia. She is also malnourished and is the same age as Dinah (18-months), but in the photo below you can see the significant difference in the length of their legs and size of their feet and heads. Dinah is clearly much smaller and more underdeveloped.

We have amazing, trained staff who are caring for Dinah, Cynthia and all of our other malnourished children, and we are forever thankful for our nurses Hannah and Anthony. But it takes money, medicine, good food, a lot of tender loving care and a lot of prayer to love these children back to life. Thank you to each and every one of you who supports us on a monthly basis – you are truly ANGELS to us.

If you are not currently supporting our children, but feel moved to do so today, please click on the link below and get started. EVERY dollar helps and we need help today.

Live from Swaziland … please pray for Dinah.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

A baby with a HIV viral load of 10 million?

I have to be VERY careful about sharing confidential health and history information about our children so that their privacy and dignity is maintained.  There are so many things that I want to share in my blogs about individual children’s stories, but I can’t. I am including several super cute photos of super cute children so as to not identify this child in this blog.

Today I have such a HUGE good news report that I will share it subversively, without putting a name or face to the story.  For those of you who know our children well, you may be able to put two and two together.

We received a little boy nine months ago who was severely malnourished, had tuberculosis and full-blown AIDS.  He was just 2-years-old and couldn’t crawl or stand and only made grunting animal noises.

A short HIV/AIDS lesson:  there are two important measures to watch carefully when someone is HIV positive - the CD4 count and the viral load count.  The HIGHER the CD4 count is, the better.  The LOWER the viral load count is, the better.  (A viral load is the term used to describe the amount of HIV in your blood. The more HIV there is in your blood (and therefore the higher your viral load), then the faster your CD4 cell count will fall, and the greater your risk of becoming ill because of HIV. – Source

I remember when this little guy was finally discharged from the hospital to come home to us.  I was so happy with his progress (always the optimist) and just knew that he had turned a corner, and would surely live.  Our wonderful Pediatrician (always the realist) quickly reminded me that he was FAR from being out of the woods, and also reminded me that his CD4 count was so low that it hardly registered, and his viral load count was at TEN MILLION.

In eight short months he has been given love, nutritious food, anti-retro-virals, TB medication (which he is now finished!), more love, more medical care, physical/physio therapy, lots of antibiotics for never-ending ear infections and skin conditions and never-ending prayer with the expectation of total healing.

He now walks, plays, sings in the choir, dances to music, prays at meal time with the other children, and even says “mama” :). 

On Thursday I was told that this little guy was at the Baylor Pediatric AIDS clinic for a check up and while we didn’t get a CD4 count, his viral load was 179.   Not 179,000. Not 179 million.  Simply 179 … down from 10 MILLION!!

I love the scripture that says, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”  John 21:25

We are living and seeing those miracles every day at Project Canaan. We have seen the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk and the very nearly dead rise up and jump for joy. 

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog, shares it, prays for us and supports us financially.  HE is our provider and I am thankful to everyone who hears His voice and is called to be a part of His story.

Live from Swaziland … I just can’t contain my excitement today.


Saturday, March 3, 2018

I see you.

One of the things I love the most about Swazi culture and language is the greeting “Sawubona” (sa-woo-bone-ah).  It simply means, “I see you”.  The appropriate response is “Yebo” (yeah-bow), which means, “yes”, as an agreement that you have been seen.

They are three simple words that perfectly acknowledge someone’s very existence - I SEE YOU. In today’s busy world where so little of our time is spent relationally, I think truly being “seen” by someone is profound.

Our home for abandoned babies is called the “El Roi Baby Home” and “El Roi” (El–row-ee) is the Hebrew name for the “God who sees”.  That name is found in the story of Hagar in Genesis 16 (it’s a great story – check it out for yourself).

We chose it as the name for the baby home because it is the GOD WHO SEES the baby in the pit latrine who rescues the baby and it is the GOD WHO SEES who saves a child from being eaten by river crabs.  I often receive angry comments on social media where my readers are angry at the mother for dumping a baby or leaving a child on the side of the road or in a bus stop, but I find myself quick to defend those young mothers because I can only begin to imagine the level of hopelessness a mother must in to do such a thing to an innocent child.  I am quickly reminded that the GOD WHO SEES and saves those babies, also sees and wants to save the young mothers.

Baby Shirley’s mother is still in prison awaiting trial after dumping her newborn baby in a pit latrine and then dumping burning coals in on top of her to make sure she was dead. ( .

Shirley’s mother calls me every few weeks from prison to check in and see how Shirley is doing, see how I am doing and asks about the other babies.  I feel such empathy for this young woman who is living with guilt that is seemingly endless. But El Roi sees her too and I pray that her mind and heart will also be healed one day, just as little Shirley has been healed.
Shirley enjoying KFC ice cream - a "right of passage" when each child moves up to Emseni.

Healed and restored.
This week it was the El Roi who saw a young 18-month-old baby girl locked up alone night after night by her prostitute mother.  The baby would cry so long and so hard that the neighbors finally couldn’t stand it anymore and called the police. The police arrived at the broken down stick and mud hut and found the baby inside, eating her own feces.  We were called and that baby is now at the El Roi Bay home – HE saw her, WE see her, and her future is filled with hope and love.

I often wonder how many people really believe that God sees them?  Would we behave differently if we thought that God was watching us all the time?  Not in a critical way to catch us doing something bad, but in the way that a loving parent might watch their children play out in the back yard through the kitchen window, smiling with joy and pride. That might be something for you to ponder this week.

Live from Swaziland … it’s nice to be seen by The One who sees all.