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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Tattoos and tears

Let me start this blog by telling you that I have made many epic parenting “fails” in the 25 years that I have been a mom.  I won’t shame myself or bore you with those details today. I would also say that we have been pretty strict parents, and Spencer and Chloe might chime in here, but it’s my blog, so they can’t, but we said “no” to lots and lots of things they wanted, especially tattoos.

Spencer was the first to want a tattoo.  I don’t like tattoos. Well, it’s not that I don’t like them, I have seen lots of tattoos that are really cool, it’s just that I didn’t want them on my child and I would give all the reasons why I didn’t want him to get one “it’s permanent, you can’t erase it, you’ll never get a job with a tattoo (even though he wanted it on his rib cage), etc”.  In the end, we left it at “when you are 18-years-old you can do what you want with your body”.  And he did.

Next, it was Chloe.  My daughter wants a tattoo??  Same arguments were made, same conversations, and at the age of 18 she got her first tattoo.  In fact, Ian and I took her to a tattoo parlor in Cape Town and watched it happen. She chose to get the word “Agape” written in Greek on her foot.  Not so bad, if you have to have a tattoo.

In the past seven years there have been a few others, on both Spencer and Chloe, each time they would tell me they were getting another tattoo and send me a photo asking if I liked it.  Trying to be a loving and supportive mom, I would tell them yes. In fact, they both got really cool tattoos with a world map, which helps them tell their personal stories, in short, when someone asks them “where are you from” or “where does your family live”.  A map on your body that includes eSwatini/Canada/Taiwan and the US is very helpful. 😂

And then this happened.

A few weeks ago Chloe asked me to send her photos of cool African trees.  I didn’t ask why and took photos as I walked around the farm. Then she told me that she was thinking about getting another tattoo. I smiled and asked what kind of a tattoo? 

A tree in our front yard

Here is what she said, “I want to have a cool African tree that represents Swaziland, my experiences and how they’ve shaped me and helped me to grow to be who I am now. I want to include a heart because my heart is in Swaziland and our home there will always be a constant for me, and I also want something that represents Heart for Africa and how incredible Project Canaan has grown to be over the past 10 years. The roots on the tree represent my uprooted lifestyle, but that a big part of me is still in Swaziland.  Overall, I want a tattoo that shows how Swaziland and Heart for Africa have shaped my life and helped me grow, and that I want to continue to support you guys till the end 😀.”

That is where the “tears” part of this blog title comes in.  While I know that both Chloe and Spencer FULLY support the work we are doing here, I also thought that deep down there might be some resentment or regret of the life that they used to have.  The “normal” life of middle class teenager living in Canada or the US that was taken away from them when we decided to pack up and move to Africa (and get them 233 brothers and sisters).   But here she was custom designing a tattoo that represented her love for us, for the mission and for the complicated journey that she has been on.

Chloe sent me a photo of the design, then a photo of her tattoo. I showed Ian (who has more of a visceral response to tattoos) and he said, “Wow, that’s a really cool tattoo.  Who’s arm is that?” 

I paused, didn’t answer, and he looked closer and said, “Is that Chloe?  Well, it IS a really cool tattoo”. 

Yesterday I asked Chloe if I could write a blog about her tattoo and the journey, and it was her turn for tears.

Tattoos and tears – just a couple of things that I love about my darling girl who I will be seeing next week as we join Spencer in Barcelona for his 25th birthday.  I am so very proud of both of our children and that adults that they have become, tattoos and all.

Live from eSwatini … I remain rooted in love.


PS - Chloe's tattoo story happened before she saw our 10th anniversary theme of "Rooted in Love". HOW COOL is THAT?!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

What’s going on at Project Canaan?

 This video is of some of our underweight children eating fresh avocado. 
I hope you enjoy their smiles and laughter.
The days are getting shorter and colder as winter is on her way to us here in eSwatini.  The sun comes up at 6:30 AM and is down by 5:15 PM and the temperatures dip to the frigid 55F (12 C) and "only" hit 83F (28 C) during the day leaving most of our Swazi friends bundled in winter coats, wool hats and even scarves (and this Canadian in a short sleeve shirt!).

The weeks leading up to our 10th Anniversary celebration in July seem to be getting busier than ever before and Ian and I find ourselves sitting at the end of the day with our heads spinning with all that is going on.  Emseni #5 is well underway with hopes to be fully built by October so the big girls can move in.  The foundation for our new preschool will start on Monday (it will be double in size of the current one, and the current school will become an infirmary/children’s clinic at the children’s campus). 

Emseni #5 Girls home

We are building an amphitheater near the Living Water Dam which will be where we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Project Canaan, but it will also be where we have Sunday church services and special performances. 

Our field farming and greenhouse farming are in full swing with lettuce being grown in our aquaponics program, cucumbers/tomatoes/beets/cabbage/beans/peas being grown in our hydroponics program and sweet potatoes and onions grown in the fields. 

We are finishing up building an abattoir so that we can slaughter all of our own meat (chickens, beef cattle and goat), and just yesterday we welcomed six sheep to the family (Ian has always wanted sheep!) so they will also be a part of our meat consumption in the future.

Then there are the other projects like our welding team building bike racks for the Emseni homes, making chairs at the Kufundza Center for the Nkonyeni Golf Resort, renovating the floors at the Oasis dining hall/kitchen (WHAT A MESS), and installing two new kilns at Khutsala so that we can make more SwaziMUD beads.  

We also welcomed home three new children this week – one newborn who was found at a bus stop late one night with no blanket and no diaper.  The other two are siblings who come from a sad story of illness and abuse.  Project Canaan is now home to 232 children.

Our toddlers welcoming "the new kid". Heart warming to say the least.
Things are hopping here, and we are loving all that we are seeing get done. We are thankful for an incredible staff (300+ strong now), wonderful Supervisors who oversee every department and a great team of long-term volunteers who work alongside our Swazi family. 

Thank you for reading my blog, week after week, and praying for us all.  This week had some difficulties that I am not able to share, and which had me in bed by 8:30PM several nights, but the Lord is our strength and our shield, and as our children sing “If God is for us, who can be against us?”.

Live from eSwatini … taking a quiet day today.


Saturday, May 11, 2019

What does fish have to do with Mother’s Day?

This photo makes this mama's heart happy.
Tomorrow I have the overwhelming and mind-blowing blessing of celebrating Mother’s Day with 229 little ones and then seeing Spencer and Chloe by video later in the day.  But in a couple of weeks I will see my “big kids” face-to-face.

At the end of this month Ian and I will be going to Barcelona to celebrate Spencer’s 25th birthday (he is finishing up his Double Master Degree there so it was a good excuse for a party).   Chloe will join us from Canada and we will be together as a family for the first time in 2019. For the past SEVEN years we have only had one time each year that we were together, and that was at Christmas, but this year we get a special visit, in a very special place.  We were “gifted” this family reunion by a dear family who wanted to show their support for our family, not just support for the organization. WHO DOES THAT?  Jesus does, and He is our provider.

This Mother’s Day is also going to be extra special for a very unique reason – FISH!  On Sunday, May 12th we are going to harvest our very first tilapia fish that we have been growing in the Aquaponics tanks since June 2017.  They arrived as 2.2 cm (1 inch) fingerlings and will be harvested weighing approximately 600-800gram (1.3-1.7 pounds), which is the ideal harvest weight for this particular system. We expect to get around 45KG (100 pounds) of fish on Sunday… if all goes as planned J

Early tomorrow morning Ian and I will go down to help (mostly observe and try to stay out of the way) while the Aquaponics team sorts out the fish that will be eaten in a very special Mother’s Day meal.  We will take them up to the Oasis and show them to all the kids at church, then take them to the commercial kitchen, where they will be cleaned, filleted, breaded and prepared for the first fish that any of our children have ever had.  My mom was a fisherman and taught me to catch/clean/fillet fish as a young girl. She would be SO HAPPY to hear this news.

It is impossible to buy fresh fish in eSwatini, so each time we make a trip to South Africa we are sure to bring our cooler to bring home fresh salmon or trout and put in our freezer.  But tomorrow is a new day and our hope is to be able to harvest 45 KG (100 lbs) of fresh tilapia every two months for our kids to eat. 

And as a special gift to me, this mama also gets to cook down all the heads and bones and make my own fish broth for special seafood soups!  YUM!

As exciting as that all is, the highlight of my day will still be seeing Spencer and Chloe by video call and later being able to see Ian’s Mom (and Dad) and give thanks for the Mother (Bernice Willis) who raised me to be the woman I am today.  Her strength, tenacity, endurance and faith in Jesus continue to live on today here in eSwatini and I only wish she had lived long enough to see ALL of her beautiful Grandchildren.

Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you who have given birth, adopted, fostered, be-friended, loved or cared for a child.  May the Lord bless you for sharing HIS heart with them.

Live from eSwatini …time to make some tartar sauce!


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Aborted baby is alive

Not much surprises me anymore, but this week I heard a story this week that took my breath away, and I want to share it with you so that you can see the heart of this ministry and why we are here.

There was a young teenage girl who was living in a typical Swazi homestead with her mother, her Grandmother and her Step Grandfather.  Recently the mother of the girl noticed that the teenager was pregnant and the mother was very angry and ashamed. She immediately took the girl to have an abortion (which is illegal here) and the girl was given pills to abort the fetus.  Hours later the baby arrived, and was alive.  The woman who gave them the pills told them to not worry about it, just leave the baby alone and she will die.  So they did.

We don’t know where in the homestead that they lay the 6-pound baby (obviously close to full term) for five days, but we do know that she lay there, waiting to die, until neighbors started asking questions.  The questions led the family to take the newborn to a nearby clinic to be checked out, and they began providing minimal care.  The story is a bit cloudy from here, but two weeks after the baby was born the police raided the homestead after the case was reported to them, finding the baby, the mother and the alleged father … the Step-Grandfather! 

El Roi, the God who sees, saw this little baby and He has a plan for her life.

I was looking at some statistics that we are preparing at the request of the Deputy Prime Minister.  With the VERY limited information that we have on the 228 children who have been placed with us through the Social Welfare Department, we know that 17 of them are a direct product of rape. We know that 32 of them came from young teenagers and we know that 32 babies came from women who were severely mentally and/or physically disabled.  It is not a stretch to assume that most of the young teenage pregnancies were due to a payment of food/clothing/school fees (which means they did it because they were in need,  which constitutes rape) and it’s not a stretch to assume that the 32 mentally disabled women did not knowingly consent to having sex.  We have NO idea of the history of the babies who came to us from pit latrines, found on the side of the road or found hanging in a plastic bag in a tree, so they are not included in these numbers.

The government passed our first ever Sexual Offence and Domestic Violence Act in August 2018 (SODV) and I am told that many men in the nation our outraged and believe that the country will be destroyed by this new law that makes rape a crime. 

The front of yesterday’s newspaper is not shocking to anyone living in eSwatini because it is so common.  It is called Tibi Tendlu and it is “sweeping under the mat” the knowledge that incest is happening in the homestead.  We hear about it every, single, day.  This father was raping his own two daughters, but this time it was reported and he was tried and found guilty and given 32 years in prison.  

While men will continue to abuse girls/women, and most won’t get caught or prosecuted, I am thankful that we do have a law that brings us closer to protecting the women of this country, and imprisoning those who are found guilty. And I am also thankful for the knowledge that El Roi, the God who sees, is the final Judge and He also sees those men, and they will stand before the throne of God one day and answer for their actions.

For now, our role is to provide a safe haven for babies who are in need and to raise them with a hope for their future. Will you please sponsor one of our children today so that we can continue to say “yes” when we are called and asked to help a baby in need?  Thank you for joining our growing family.

In the US? Click here.

In Canada?  Click here.

Live from eSwatini … trusting in the God who sees.