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Saturday, September 8, 2018

5-day-old baby girl burned in house fire

This is a traditional stick & mud house. The dried grass roof is highly flammable.
Recently I received a call from a social welfare officer who was in tears.  She had just met an 8-year-old girl who was burned in a house fire when she was only 5-days-old, and has not received treatment since then. She called me to warn me that she was sending me some very graphic photos of the young girl. She asked me to look at the photos and then call her back so we could see if there was any way to get the child help.  (I will not post the photos in this blog).

Next, I heard the “bing, bing, bing” of photos coming in to WhatsApp on my phone, and with trepidation, I opened them. I have received MANY horrific photos from police, hospitals, social welfare officers and even our own staff, but nothing prepared me for these photos. 

The girl was allegedly burned in what is commonly known here as “Lubane”.

“According to the Traditional Healers Association in Swaziland, Lubane is when fire erupts out of nowhere and is associated with the use of black magic.  The intention of Lubane is to hurt the person experiencing it and often leading to death if untreated. A person goes and raises a dead person with fire and uses them as an invincible arsonist who, after touching anything, will leave it on fire.” (source: Swazi Observer June 2018).

Those of us who don’t believe in such things might suggest that the grass roof was struck by lightening and spontaneously combusted in to flames, collapsing on the people inside, often leaving no time to get out of the collapsed roof/house.

Photo of a stick and mud house after a fire. Photo credit: Chris Cheek
I opened my WhatsApp and saw something out of a horror film. A girl whose head had been so badly burned that one eye was completely heat-sealed by skin, but I could see the eyeball underneath the skin shielding the eye.  One of her ears had burned off, her nose was gone and her top lip had also burned away, leaving her teeth and mouth exposed and unable to close.  Half of her scalp had also burned, leaving a swath of exposed skin pulled tightly over the top of her skull.

I was sick to my stomach, and called the social worker back to get more details of the story. She told me that the father is in prison (which is where she first heard about the case), the mother works in town and sends food to the homestead when she can.  The young girl stays with a very old Gogo (Grandmother) in a very rural part of the country. She was in 2nd grade in school, but the teasing and taunting of the children became too much and so now she stays at home and sits outside all day.

Ian and I are met with challenges on a daily basis that we just can’t do anything about.  There are so many people in need, so much disease, so many hungry children, so much pain and suffering, and we simply can’t help everyone. But seeing a child in such pain is not something that I can live with, if there is a way to get her help. 

We have friends in the US who have helped us with a burned child in the past, and so I quickly typed and email, said and prayer and hit “send”.  Over the next few days I emailed back and forth with our friends, and true to their nature, they want to help this little girl if they can.

Many details still have to be worked out, but one of the major challenges is finding a home in the Boston or Philadelphia area for the child and a guardian/social worker to live for several months at a time.  Her surgeries will take several years to be complete, and she will come back to a safe place in eSwatini between procedures.

Please pray with us for wisdom, clarity and favor for us as we navigate a path of healing and wholeness for this child of God. 

Thank Jesus for hearing this girl's cries and the prayers of the old Gogo. Thank you for hearing all of our cries and for sending the Comforter in our darkest hours.

Live from Swaziland … Lord hear our prayers.



  1. We will be praying for her and for all those involved in her care and recovery.

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