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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Update on Nokuphiwa and thoughts from her host - Guest blogger Eileen Habelow

Many of you have been following the journey of a little girl named Nokuphiwa (or affectionately known as Phiwa, pronounced Pee-wah).  You can read more about her story at 

When I was first approached about her terrible burns, I felt helpless as we don't take in 8-year-old children. Our age cut off is 24 months, but someone had to do something, and we took action in faith that the Lord would show us the way.   The journey lead us all to Boston, where our friends Eileen and Joe Habelow said "yes" to hosting Phiwa and her legal guardian (our staff member Nokwanda) for an unknown amount of time with unknown emotional and physical repercussions.  

As the girls prepare to come back home to Eswatini and rest before the next HUGE surgical procedure (crainioplasty) in early 2020, we are working on the best possible plan for Phiwa's recovery and future. Please join us in praying for His direction and wisdom.

I thought that many of you would like to hear from Eileen and her family as to how the five month visit with Phiwa and Nokwanda has affected their lives.  Eileen agreed to write from her heart, and I know you will be blessed by her words below.

From Eileen Habelow:

"Phiwa.  She has melted hearts and changed minds.  Just being Phiwa, she has changed the perspective of all who used to have pity in their eyes; but that pity has now shifted to pure admiration.  She has won the ‘favorite’ label from doctors, nurses, and therapists.  Phiwa came here to have round one of many surgeries at the amazing Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Boston.  So, she has begun a physical transformation on the outside - but even when the physical changes are successful beyond measure, nothing will ever be beautiful enough to match her inside self!  Her spirit is so bright.

“That girl” is something we said often with love and awe.  Phiwa does not see herself in a mirror.  Phiwa sees herself just as God has made her – her bubbly energy is uplifting, and her giggles are infectious.  In many ways she is a typical 9-year old little girl who wants to ride her bike, go to the park, tease the dogs, wrestle with her ‘brother’, snuggle with her ‘sisters’, play with Barbies, challenge authority and use the iPad.  Oh… and watch Frozen, Coco, and Lion King until the entire household can recite words, sing the songs, and mimic the dance moves.

But Phiwa is far from being a typical 9-year old little girl!  As a newborn she endured pain we cannot imagine.  She has scars and disfigurements that make her look different and cause others to stare.  While those two things definitely make her not typical, in my eyes there is so much more that makes Phiwa unique and amazing. 

Through the 4 ½ months Phiwa has spent in our home, our church family, friends, and extended friends in Atlanta have blessed Phiwa with gifts.  Everywhere she went, people wanted to help by providing clothing, toys, and even a new hair-do!  Before Phiwa came to America you can imagine she had little to her name, not much to call ‘her own’.  You might think that coming here she would be spoiled by the showers of gifts.  But each and every time she received something, she shared.  She immediately offered a toy to others to have.  She has already gifted me with two of her favorite stuffed animals that I will treasure.  Phiwa is a little girl who comes from little, but is a naturally unselfish giver.

Phiwa is very energetic, but also has a quiet confidence.  When Phiwa went to church the very first Sunday, she went straight to children’s group.  She quickly acclimated and a few children were immediately comfortable with her – friendly and playful.  When Phiwa came home from church she told us she had a few friends already and that there were a few other children who didn’t really play with her this week.  However, she exclaimed, ‘they will play with me next week, though!’  And they did.  Phiwa realized that some children need time.  And she gave them that time.  By the time she had been here a month, we had a birthday party for Phiwa with 10-12 other children and every one of them wanted to be by Phiwa’s side.  When we visited our sister church for the first time, our nieces and nephews took Phiwa into their circle and loved her just by being with her.  We even overheard one little girl exclaim ‘Phiwa is here!  She is finally here!’.  That’s God’s love.

Mark my words – Phiwa is going to do something BIG in our world and it is going to be something incredible.  I can’t wait to watch this little beauty grow and take her place in the world.  God has big plans for Phiwa!


And the saying goes that behind every great leader there is a great team.  Well, in this case behind every amazing child there is an equally amazing caregiver.  Nokwanda said yes… even at the last minute.  Nokwanda traveled with a child she had known for 2-months… on a plane ride she had never experienced before… to a continent and country she had only seen in movies.  Nokwanda arrived with a confidence that comes from saying yes to a big God.  Her facial expressions are an open book.  She is full of a love she didn’t even know until now.

Early in their visit, we printed lots of pictures to start our scrapbooks.  One touching moment was when Nokwanda said to me “I now clearly see my role in Phiwa’s life through these pictures”.  Wow.  Nokwanda was naturally nurturing, loving, caring for, disciplining and shepherding a beautiful young Swazi girl who desperately needed her.  But, she needed the pictures to clearly see the impact of her caregiving role on Phiwa.  The connection they have built is with cords that can never be broken.

Our family is forever changed because of this experience with Phiwa and Nokwanda.  All three of our adult children refer to them as their sisters.  Phiwa’s first words after surgery were “where is my brother Eric?”.  Her second request – “where is Max?”  Max is our family dog!  The greeting Phiwa and Eric give each other every single day when Eric got home from work is priceless.  And the relationships forged with our daughters via regular FaceTime, sleepovers in Atlanta with Melissa and a week at home with AnnMarie will forever be a part of our family fabric.

I am not ready to imagine the void that is coming to our home when these two beauties leave Boston.  The girls may leave our city, but the memories and the relationships are forever.  We have become family.  And for that, we are eternally grateful.

1Samuel 16:7 is a favorite verse of mine – “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him.  the Lord does not look at the things people look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all do the same?  In this, Phiwa is the teacher!"
Live from Eswatini ... we look forward to seeing what is next for this young girl.


Saturday, June 22, 2019

Baby #237 and #238 (what were we thinking?)

Yesterday marked the 10th Anniversary of when we officially dedicated the land which we now call “Project Canaan” and “home”.  I just can’t believe that it has been 10 years!  So much has been accomplished in such a short time, which is a testament to God, and Him alone.  Without Him, none of this would be possible. 

We are busy preparing for the official 10th Anniversary celebration in only three short weeks, which means children are in daily rehearsals, the amphitheater is under construction (fingers crossed for completion!) and new people are joining the guest list every day.  I feel an excitement that is unexplainable and just yesterday I was saying that I feel like I am on a sugar rush because my body is overly stimulated with all that is going on. 

Never in our wildest imaginations did we think that 10 years after dedicating the land that we would be raising 238 children (under the age of 9) and responsible for 300+ employees.  What we did know was that this was a “Promised land”, and while it looked like bush to everyone else around us (many who did not support or believe in the vision), it looked like a place of hope to us.  And that is what it is today.

Yesterday we received two more children, both in desperate need.  One just turned 2-years-old last week and her baby sister is 8-months-old. They were living in a tent in a very rural area (it was 8C/46F last night) with no heater and no food.  There had been many reports of neglect, and then Social Welfare stepped in to rescue the children.  It’s always a bitter sweet day when we receive a child. It’s sad knowing the situation/conditions that the child is coming from, but great knowing that they are coming to a place of safety, love and hope.  It’s sad that they are not with their biological family, but wonderful that they are in the family that God has placed them in “for such a time as this”.  I too was fortunate to be placed in a loving home where the trajectory of my life changed, all because my biological mother put me up for adoption.  I am here in Africa because of her decision, and I am thankful for that.

Our friend Cissy Watson holding new arrival "Cissy".

Auntie Gcebile holding new arrival "Candy".

These two girls are babies #237 and #238, and at times I stop and find myself asking the question "What were we thinking? This is crazy!"  But I know the answer is that we weren't thinking, we were just listening and being obedient, and that is always the best plan. 

As we look at the big picture of the past 10 years, we also must keep our eyes on the small details of day-to-day living, and that includes diapers!  Today we are kicking off our annual Diaper & Wipe Drive on Amazon.  This simple initiative allows people from all over the world to join in and be a part of our ever-growing family by just clicking on this link to help us provide care for our babies.  We change 400+ diapers each and every day and use 1,300 wipes. That means we go through 146,000 diapers every year and almost 500,000 wipes!  We are not able to use re-washable diapers because of disease and cross contamination between children.   This campaign helps us reduce our fundraising needs for our babies and also invites people who might not already be involved with Heart for Africa to join the family!

Will you take a moment and buy some diapers or wipes today?  We really need your help!

Thank you for your love and support. 

Live from Eswatini … it’s another busy day in the Kingdom!


Saturday, June 15, 2019

3-month-old twin girls

Twins Lily and Lucky - both severely malnourished.
I know this will sound completely crazy, but many (if not MOST) of the times we get a call about a baby in need, we will be given very incorrect information initially.  I could be picking up a newborn baby at the hospital and told by the nurses that it is a boy and then when I go to change the diaper and dress the baby, it is definitely a girl. I am not sure why this happens so often, if the sex of the child isn’t as relevant to my Swazi friends as it is to us or what, but it happened again this week.

We were called about two 3-month-old girls (twins) who were starving to death. The mother was leaving them alone with preschool age children and none of them had anything to eat.  When we went to pick up the babies we found 8-month-old twins - a girl and a boy.  The “starving” part was accurate, particularly for the little boy (whom we are calling “Lucky”).  When we took both babies to see the doctor, the doctor was very familiar with them and had admitted them in the hospital for malnutrition on multiple occasions, only to have them come back after being discharged. The mother simply had no food and no ability to care for them. Lucky was admitted to the hospital again (he only weighs 9 pounds/4.5 KG)  the very next morning and will stay there until his little body is stabilized. 

The photo at the top of this blog is Lily (left) and Lucky (right).   The photo below is of our little boy named Josiah (left) and Lucky (right). Lucky is one day OLDER than Josiah, and you can see the significant size difference. That is the difference between a baby coming to us as a newborn (which 60% of our babies come to us under 30-days-old) and getting a child after he/she has suffered for a long time.  Sometimes the results are irreversible and sometimes they can make a full recovery, but we won’t know the long-term cognitive effects for many years.

These two boys are the same age - Lucky (right) is stunted from malnutrition.
Lily and Lucky are our 12th set of twins.  We also have 10 sets of biological siblings (not twins), but we learned yesterday that Lily and Lucky’s older brother also lives at Project Canaan.  He is our toddler named “Innocent”.  The mother of these children has had TEN babies – three are with us, three have died of starvation and we don’t know where the other four are. 

On Thursday the Project Canaan Academy had their annual talent show, and as always, it was OUTSTANDING.  The winning act of the show was the Comic Duo of Jerimiah and Grace.  For those of you who don’t know these two children, Jerimiah is very serious, reserved and unexpressive and Grace is the child whom we were told would never sit, walk or talk.  Jeremiah delivered the joke “Why are fish so smart?” and Grace would respond “Why Jeremiah?” and they brought the house down with laughter! 

The video below shows Jeremiah start by saying, in his mono-tone voice, “We are going to tell you some really funny jokes, I hope you are ready to laugh.”

The reason I share this with you is two-fold. First, I LOVE how our staff know the children so well and work hard to use their gifts (in this case Jeremiah is very smart and could memorize two full minutes worth of jokes!) and second because these children were left alone to die but God had and has a plan for each of them and we are here to help them live their best lives.  In fact, Jeremiah was given his name from Jeremiah 29:11  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  

Can I get an “amen”?

Both Lily and Lucky now have a chance to live their best lives and we need your help to do that.  Will you please consider signing up to sponsor one of them today?

Live from eSwatini … it’s good to be home.


Saturday, June 8, 2019

Oh, how times have changed.

Yesterday my firstborn child turned 25-years-old. It’s hard to get my head around the fact that I am the mother of someone who has been alive for 25 years, but it’s true.  Our family is together in Barcelona this week to celebrate with Spencer, celebrate our family and have a nice holiday together. (If you don’t know how or why we came here please read last week’s blog at

Last night we celebrated his birthday on a rooftop patio that had the famous La Sagrada Familla Temple in the background (which made for epic photos and an evening that no one will ever forget).  Spencer had friends from his first Master degree program at Queen’s University in Canada fly in from all over the world (where they are living now), a friend from his high school days in Georgia arrived and another 70+ friends from his Master degree program here in Barcelona.  There was great food, great music and great conversations with young people from all over Europe, getting ready to start out in the world as adults.  I was fascinated, stimulated and thoroughly enjoyed my time with them all.  Suffice it to say Ian and left the party at midnight as “the kids” went on to other venues. 

Ian reminded me that when Spencer was small, he didn’t like the house parties that we had back in Ontario. The music was too loud, there were too many people and he would either go upstairs and put himself to bed or head over to the neighbors house where it was quieter.  Oh, how times have changed.  

While looking for photos of the birthday boy I came across this photo of Spencer’s 11thbirthday, taken in Swaziland during our first family visit in 2005. Never in a million years did I think that photo would kick off a lifetime of service in the tiny Kingdom of eSwatini, that has now become our home.  Oh, how times have changed.

Spencer's birthday in 2005 - our first visit to Swaziland as a family.
Last night we had SO MANY people come up and express their interest and thanks for what our family is doing in eSwatini. They had heard many of the stories from Spencer about big dogs and snakes, to firearms and break-ins, to burnt babies and wild monkeys – all from a proud son talking about his family with pride.  Near the end of the evening one of Spencer’s friends told me about a conversation they had, during a holiday in Mallorca, Spain, when Spencer was talking about his little brothers and sisters in eSwatini. The friend said that he was moved when Spencer spoke of the little ones because his eyes lit up and he got emotional when talking about them. He could see how special those children really are to Spencer.  Yes, I cried when he told shared that story with me. 

NDCA Primary school in Newmarket, Canada
Spencer, we are so very proud of you and all that you have accomplished, but more importantly for the person you have become. I can’t wait to see where the journey of life takes you, but always know that God has a plan for your life and you will always have us cheering you on from the sidelines!

My favorite Spencer photo - Murphy, our dog, liked to keep his face clean at all time
Live from Barcelona … celebrating family.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Who would do that?

Some of you may remember my Christmas blog titled “The truth about the perfect Christmas” (you can click here to read it).  I was kind of feeling sorry for myself because I had so little time with Spencer and Chloe at Christmas, but at the same time was trying to remind myself to be grateful for the time that I had and to “give thanks in all things”.

A few days after I posted that blog I got an email in response to my blog that shocked me. This is what it said:


Thanks for sharing your heart in your blog! I needed that reality check and attitude adjustment. I was so feeling the same way (really bummed I got very little quality time with my adult kids that I get precious little time with) Obviously not focused on what really matters most. And I totally felt ridiculous after I read your blog! But yes, we all want perfection.  So, I got busy and planned another time to be with them. 

Please let me do that for you! You NEED that! You give so much and do so much for so many!  Let us help you all plan/fund a family vacation! Let’s get everyone to Spain or let’s find a good meeting spot - where you can turn off your brain for a bit and relax together as a family.

I know school schedules are at play - can you work on a couple of weeks that you all can be together?  Nothing would bring us more joy than bringing you joy!

We love you Janine and we will continue to support your life’s work! You did and are doing the right thing! I know it must be so very hard! You are admired and adored!
Looking forward to blessing you in this way!

We serve an amazing God who is on the throne - He wants time with us like we want time with our kids - He loves to bless us in special and extravagant ways!”

What??  Who would do that?  Who would buy a vacation for another family and offer to send them to Barcelona to be together?

Well, I won’t tell you who did it, but I will tell you that I am writing this blog in a beautiful hotel in downtown Barcelona, Spain.  We arrived yesterday and had a wonderful afternoon with Spencer, followed by tapas in the coolest restaurant that couldn’t have been more than 8 feet wide and 60 feet long.  It was like a restaurant that Ian and I would have hung out in “back in the day”, but this time we got to sit and talk and laugh with Spencer and one of his roommates.

 Chloe got on a plane at 8:30PM last night, Toronto time, and will be landing in Barcelona in a couple of hours.  We will spend a whole week together as a family seeing Barcelona, eating, laughing, doing a Cava tour tomorrow, taking a cooking class to learn how to make Paella and then celebrating Spencer’s 25th birthday on Friday, June 7th at one of the coolest rooftop patios I have ever seen. Below is a photo that I snapped when we were there checking out the venue.  

But most importantly, we are together as a family, just enjoying each other’s company, which is what we do best, all because someone read my blog and was prompted to give and love us generously, no matter what the cost.

Ian and I are so incredibly proud of our two children.  Spencer is finishing his double Master degrees here in Spain and will defend his thesis on June 12th and then head to eSwatini the next day for our 10th anniversary celebration.  Chloe just finished her 3rd year at Brock University and will fly to Denmark next Sunday for a summer internship at the sporting goods company called Hummel.  She too will be able to fly down to eSwatini for our 10th anniversary celebration (meeting Spencer at the airport in Dubai J and traveling the rest of the way with him).

Our lives were flipped upside down when we heard the call of God on our family, but never did he drop us, leave us, abandon us or forget us as we tumbled through the turbulent waters of obedience.  What many people thought was crazy and irresponsible, turned out to be a magical journey in a world that was “exceedingly and abundantly more than we could ask for or imagine”.

I hope this blog will encourage each and every one of you who calls yourself a “follower of Jesus” to stop being afraid.  God’s got you in the palm of His hands and HE cares about your family and loves your family even more than you do!  

Stop and imagine that for a moment, then take that step of faith.  It will not be easy, but it will be a blessed journey that you will never regret it.

Thank you so much to the generous friends who gave us this beautiful gift of “time”. 

Live from Barcelona … it is the best Saturday morning.