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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Our poor, sweet Isabelle

Isabelle on the day that I first met her
 I don’t often write stories about our children in my blog, mostly for privacy reasons.  Each child’s story and privacy are of great concern to us and we are here to protect them.  But today I want to tell you some details about one of our baby girls  because she really needs prayers and she needs a sponsor (or sponsors).  Since this is Labor Day weekend in the US and Canada I thought perhaps you would take the time to share this blog with friends and family as you share your weekend with them.  It's an opportunity to talk about what we are doing and inviting more people to get involved.

Some of you may know of our child named Isabelle.  She is a sweet little girl who came to us in November 2018 after having lived a very hard and pain-filled 15 months of life.

Her first hospital stay under our care.
She was born on July 31, 2017 and 13 months later she was taken to a clinic only weighing 3.6kg (8 pounds).  She was extremely sick, malnourished, in obvious pain and they started her on a 12-month regime of treatment for Tuberculosis and they took blood to see what else was going on. She was admitted in the hospital four times between August and November and it took TWO months to get the blood work back from the lab, which was two months too late to discover that she had cryptococcal meningitis, which could easily have taken her life in that time period.

The Doctor called me directly to ask if we could help. The mother was not giving the child the life-saving medications that she needed and also had a 7-year-old back at home, so when the mother had to stay in the hospital with Isabelle the 7-year-old became very vulnerable.  Isabelle was in desperate need and the mother was begging for help. We agreed with Social Welfare to bring Isabelle home, but first she had to be admitted in the hospital immediately to be treated for the meningitis.

The day I met Isabelle I could see the pain in her eyes and she never stopped crying. She really didn’t have the energy go cry loudly so it was just a never-ending whimper of pain.  She was miserable. Her neck was strained backwards leaving her head to wobble uncontrollably.  Part of this was from being on her mothers’ back with no support and part of it was from having a terrible headache for only God knows how long, with no relief.      

Weeks later Isabelle finally made it to Project Canaan and the long road to recovery began.  We focused mostly on loving her back to life with a custom diet, lots of time being held and a bit of work with our therapist.  It has been a very long slow road, with two hospital admittances since she has come to us.
Another emergency run to the hospital.
When Isabelle turned 2-years-old she could still not sit on her own, or hold up her head well, but she was doing “tummy time” and when put on her knees she did make some attempt to crawl, but was not successful. But she tried, and we all cheered her on.

A few weeks ago she started having seizures and she looked like she might have had a stroke, showing weakness on her left side.  We started antibiotics again and then she was admitted back to the hospital.  It was suggested that we get a CT Scan done, and the results broke our hearts.  Here is a portion of the Doctors report, “Firstly there is hydrocephalus (fluid in the skull, in or around the brain, in this case in the ventricles).  Secondly, there are signs of damage to the brain itself, most likely from suffering oxygen deficiency at some stage. There is no treatment for this. The clinical signs would be delays in development, and possibly seizures and cerebral palsy.”

She came back home to us on Wednesday and while I was so happy to see her home, I was so sad to see the condition in which she returned. Each time she gets sick (and I mean really really sick) we can see her deteriorate.  Her arms were more stiff and her feet starting to turn in.  She has been staying in the isolation room to keep her healthy, but she is also lonely there and gets little stimulation, which she really needs.  So on Friday I brought her out to “general population” with the other babies and tried to get her sitting with her head propped up so that she could see and/or hear all the singing and playing that was going on. Sadly, we really don’t know how much she can see or hear, and she has no verbal communication at all. She just sits and stares.  But hopefully she knows that she is loved.

Below is a video of how Isabelle is all day, when she is not in pain. 

Today I am writing to see if someone reading this blog will sponsor Isabelle?  Maybe it’s something your bible study could do, and pray for her each time you meet? Maybe it’s something you can do as a family and pray for Isabelle together at meal times and at night.  We need help. Isabelle needs help. Will you join us and be a part of Isabelle’s story today?

To sponsor Isabelle in the US please click here.

To sponsor Isabelle in Canada please click here.

Live from Eswatini … we are praying for Isabelle.


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Free to be themselves

Angel and Lolo - They told Margie that they will be best friends forever.
We now have 245 children who live at Project Canaan.  Our youngest was born last Wednesday and our oldest will turn 9-years in December.  We are the legal guardians of these children until they turn 18-years-old and we are committed to them until they are 21-years-old or until they are finished their formal or informal education and are on their way in the world.  We have an incredible team of people who work with us every day to make this ever-growing village work.   

People who come and spend any time with our children are quick to point out how confident they are (even the shy or quiet ones).  They are surprised and impressed by their ability to communicate with each other and with visitors, often referred to as “new friends” and they often find themselves laughing at the questions being asked, the reminders being given or information disbursed by our children.  Our kids make me laugh, each and every day.

People who don’t spend a lot of time with our children (or have never come to Eswatini) are quick to suggest that our children are all going to be messed up when they get older.  That we are going to need to get some serious counselling for them and then there is the ever helpful comment, “Just wait until they are teenagers! THEN you will have lots of problems! Hahaha.”

Before reading further, please take a moment to watch this really cute video that I took this morning at Jr. Kids Club (for our age 3-5-year-olds).  Look at the joy in their eyes, their actions and at the celebration of the accomplishment by each other and by our staff!

The world is filled with messed up people, even in two parent (Christian) homes children can be abused, broken, hurting or ignored.  We believe that the way to raise emotionally healthy children is to raise them in an environment where they know that they are safe, they know they are loved, they know that they belong and have the freedom to be themselves.  And that is what we are doing.  The Auntie’s and Uncle’s “parenting” these children are doing so every day at home. They are being taught about respect, and about boundaries, and being silly and saying sorry, but first and foremost to love one another.  The foundation of their learning is rooted in the faith and knowledge of a loving heavenly Father who will never leave them nor forsake them. We are not perfect and we will make parenting mistakes, but HE never will.

Why would children being raised that way, from under the age of two (we don’t accept children over that age and 50% of our children arrive under 30-days-old), turn in to messed up children in a few years from now? 

If you don’t believe me, let’s take a look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in the chart below. If you don't know who Abraham Maslow is, he was an American psychologist who was best known for creating Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization.

When you look at the bottom two layers of the pyramid you will see the “basic needs”, which are physiological and safety. None of the children who have been placed with us were given those “basic needs” where they came from and so they respond very well and very quickly once they receive those things from us. 

You may have read me saying that we often have to “love a child back to life”.  Some of the children brought to us are so sick and so broken that love is almost a better medicine than the “basic needs” listed above, but of course they must go hand in hand. That intense love helps to heal their bodies and souls and fulfills their psychological needs.  You should hear the Auntie’s cheers and praise at each child’s accomplishments from taking their first step, to putting the round peg in the round hole.  We celebrate life and we celebrate the one who gives us life.

Ian helping Kaela color a tomato during craft time - celebrating all that God grows on the farm.

Do I think the “teenage years” with hundreds of teenagers living here will be easy? My answer to that is “I LOVE TEENAGERS”, and honestly people, they are not going to be the first teenagers on the planet - we were all teenagers!  And look at us now. We survived, and some of us thrived.  

We are working to raise self-actualized children who will be self-actualized teenagers, and eventually become self-actualized adults.  They will make their own mistakes, have their own challenges, throw their own temper tantrums and even have accidents etc. But we will continue to love them, just as we are today.  They will also win their own awards, overcome their own challenges, work through those temper tantrums and clean up the mess from the accident, and we will be with them to cheer them on, celebrate with them and love them, just as we are today.  That's what Jesus would do.

Recently, one of our young staff members who was raised in an orphanage in Eswatini made a comment about our children and how different they are from the children at the home where he was raised. He said, "These children are so different because they are free to be themselves.  And the staff also are free to be themselves."  Wow.  Those words spoke directly to my heart. 

We are not just in this for today, or for the next year – this is a long-term commitment and one that Ian and I are honored to have been called to. We will not be burned out or scared out or made to be discouraged or to fear the future.  We are keeping our eyes on the Him and letting Him direct each of our steps each day.

Today I would like to thank every person who has been on this journey with us whether it be through child sponsorship, praying with us through sickness, wiping our tears of pain or rejoicing with us seeing miracles.  In truth, the journey has just begun, and we are so very excited about the future for each and every child who is a part of this amazing family. 

If you would like to sponsor baby Douglas who was born and arrived last Wednesday, please do so today by clicking here for US Sponsorship or clicking here for Canadian sponsorship.  Thank you in advance for joining our village. It takes a very large village to raise 245 children.

Live from Eswatini … free to be me.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

I saw trauma on this 1-year-old’s face

In the past seven days we have received five babies – it’s been a busy week.  Three of them have been newborns, one left in the bushes shortly after birth and two born to young women who had no way to care for their babies and no father who would claim paternity.  In fact, late yesterday afternoon we were called for an emergency pick up of a baby who was born only four hours earlier!  Then there was the 18-month-old who was starving to death and was admitted to the hospital for care.  When he was ready for discharge, the family asked that he be placed somewhere there is food and love.  He came to us.

Today I want to tell you about a little guy we are calling Roderick. While his social history “common” here, the trauma that I saw in his young face was very new to me.  I am not a child psychologist or specialist, but I saw what I saw, and I am going to try to explain it to you.

This little boy was abandoned by his mother, often left with strangers for days at a time. The police tell us that she is a known drunkard and a problem in the community. Last week she left her baby boy with someone for more than a week before that “someone” took the child to the police. The police took the child to the hospital and the social workers at the hospital called us.  When I went to pick him up he had no health card, no name, no birthdate, nothing. 

Our nurse Hannah did a full physical and developmental assessment and said he was physically the size of a 5 to 7-month-old baby, but we knew that he was severely malnourished, so taking that in to consideration, along with the developmental assessment, we gave him a birthdate of August 19, 2018, meaning that he is almost 1-year-old.

Roderick (left) is estimated to be a month older than Boaz (right)
We gave him the name of Roderick, and the surname of Dlamini (which is the King’s name and we give all abandoned babies that surname). He is the happiest little guy, smiling at everyone, jabbering in baby talk and eating everything that is in front of him. 

A couple of days after his arrival I was called to say that the police had found his mother and she was in jail. We didn’t get his date of birth, but we did get his name. For today’s blog I will call him Thando.  I went down to the baby home to see if he would know his name if I called it, and what happened shocked me. 

I stood on the side of the table where he was getting an extra mid-day snack (we do that for our underweight children). I didn’t want to speak directly to him as he was always quick to respond to a smiling face.  I was a few feet away and said his name out loud, “Thando”, and that little baby boy burst in to tears – the first tears we had seen since he had arrived to his new home.  The Auntie feeding him soothed him and gave him another bite.  I waited a minute and then said his name again, and again he burst in to tears.  The Supervisors all stopped in their tracks and now all eyes were on this little guy.  Again, the Auntie calmed him, he smiled at her, at me and enjoyed another spoonful of food.  I said his name a third time, and he instantly burst in to tears again.

What had to happen in this little baby boy’s life that would make him cry at the sound of his own name? What words had to be spoken over him and at what audio level that would cause such a guttural reaction?  I can’t even begin to imagine.

I looked at Welile (our Sr. Supervisor) and while she stood with her mouth and eyes wide open at what she had just observed, she said, “we will not be calling him Thando, he will only be Roderick”.

“A United Nations (UN) report suggests that about 71% of Eswatini children under the age of 17 are orphaned and vulnerable due to the impact of HIV and AIDS.” That was the headline of an article sent to me earlier this week – you can read the whole article here:

That statistic seems quite shocking at first, yet reasonable to us based on what we see out in the communities.  The children are starving and the young girls are forced to do whatever they need to do to eat and feed their younger siblings.  The result is unwanted pregnancy and too many abandoned babies.

Last night our newest arrival, baby Armour born at noon yesterday, slept on a change table in Kuthula Place because we had no bed for him.  We had been planning a big “move” on Monday where children move up to their next home, but instead we decided to do it today. 

Baby Armour is a tiny little guy.
Elvis and Ella moved from Kuthula to the El Roi Baby home leaving 11 babies under 6-months living at Kuthula.

Laura, Lisa, Wilson, Thomas and Kelvin moved from El Roi to the toddler home leaving 38 6 to 18- month-old babies there.

Cynthia, Martin, Nella, Philip, Prudence, Nokwanda, William and Ariel moved from the toddler home up to Emseni 1 leaving 40 2-year-olds living at the toddler home.

Jonathan, Shadrach, Justin, Amos, Micah and Jackson all moved from E1 to E2, leaving us with 1 space at E1, 2 spaces in E2 and 3 spaces in E4.  We hope to open E5 in November.

All in all this is a busy place with 244 children who call Project Canaan home. Some days it is overwhelming, but most of the time it is just a joy to serve a mighty God who has called so many people to join our village and raise the next generation of Swazi children.

You know what we need today?  We need you to sponsor a child for whatever amount you are comfortable giving.  Will you consider sponsoring one of these new children who arrived this past week?  THEY need you and we need you.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Live from Eswatini … my heart is very full today.


Saturday, August 10, 2019

The chapel built in memory of a father I never knew

Some of you may know that the chapel that burned down in the July 19th fires was built in memory of my father, but what many of you likely don’t know is that it wasn’t the father who raised me (Russell Willis), it was my biological father whom I never met.

Let me explain.

In my blog  I shared the story of my birth in 1963. My mother was a 15-year-old girl who got pregnant by her teenage boyfriend and was sent away to a home for unwed mothers to give birth in secret. To this very day, only her parents (my biological Grandparents) knew that I existed, and the secret died with them.  I am still a secret to the rest of her family.

I am also a secret to my biological father’s family, or at least I was until 10 years ago, when I was 45-years-old.  Through a VERY strange set of “coincidences” I discovered who my biological father was. This was not something I was pursuing or even wanted to know. I was curious, but not curious enough to seek out the information. The information dropped in to my lap, so to speak.  He was murdered, and I went to his funeral, slipping in to the back row so that no one would suspect I was his “love child from another mother” (that was Ian’s line).  Of course they wouldn’t, no one knew, but I was still totally paranoid.  I sat and watched his wife, his children and the rest of his family mourn his loss. It was surreal, and frankly, weird.

Some time later, (I need to be a bit cryptic to maintain his anonymity) I came face to face with my biological father’s sister, and was forced to reveal my identity to her. She and her husband are followers of Jesus, and while my existence was an earth-shattering shock to a family who “had no secrets”, they quickly regrouped and welcomed me in to their immediate family.  This news was not to be shared with others, but we began a relationship that exists to this day.

When I first met my Aunt, Heart for Africa had just purchased the 2,500 acres of land that we now call Project Canaan.  We were building the Farm Manager’s Building (FMB – the first building on the property) and they asked what building was next. We told them that we wanted to build a chapel so that everyone who came to the land would know that we are doing this because we are followers of Jesus, not because we are just “good people” or humanitarians.  Our reason is because HE has asked us to do this, and we are obeying.

My Aunt then told me that she would like to give us the funds to build the chapel, in memory of my biological father, whom I had never met, and who had never acknowledged my existence.  Can you imagine such a gift? And why?

I have said this this many many times … ONLY God can make a baby.  There are many people who have had sex who have not gotten pregnant.  But this teenage couple had sex, got “unlucky” (in their minds) and I was born.  I will not make this a pro-life issue, but I am really thankful that they were not able to abort me in 1963, and I am even more glad for Bernice and Russ Willis who adopted me and raised me in a God-loving home.  It is because of those key turning points in my life that I am here today in the Kingdom of Eswatini, mother to 241 Swazi children. 

So, back to the chapel.  Why would God want my biological father honored in such a way? Why would He then burn down “his house”, ten years later, during a fire that only burned one building out of 63 available buildings?

Why were MANY people emailing me telling me that they were praying for a double blessing, a double portion to be bestowed on us as we work through the time or repairing and rebuilding?

Why would someone from Texas, who has never been to Eswatini or even seen the chapel, make a donation for $40,000 so that we can completely rebuild the chapel and DOUBLE its size?

I don’t have the answers to any of the above questions, but I do see the hand of God in each and every step of this story.  I don’t believe in coincidences, but I do believe in a heavenly Father who loves me even more than my adoptive father or biological father ever could. They are both deceased now and have left me here on earth, but my heavenly Father will never leave me, nor forsake me, and that is the message that I hope each and every one of you hear today.

That is the lesson we are teaching all of the children who are brought in to our ever growing home, including the two little boys who arrived yesterday.

18-month-old baby Bruce

12-day-old baby Oliver

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  Joshua 24:15

We still need funds to complete the repairs around the farm, if you feel led to help out in this way, please click here to make a donation in the US or click here to make a donation in Canada.

Live from Eswatini … I am in awe.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Profound coincidences?

Deputy Prime Minister Themba Masuku speaking at our 10th Anniversary celebration.
We have all heard the expression “a picture is worth 1,000 words” and that is true. I was explaining that to one of my young Kenyan’s recently, that if you look at a picture, it might take 1,000 words or more to put that picture in to words, but when you see the picture, no words are needed to be expressed.  That was a new expression to him, and he liked it.

I have several “epic” photos that I want to share with you today that I think are profound, and worth many more than 1,000 words each.  Your 1,000 words will be different than mine, but I hope you are moved and encouraged by the short story of each.

The first photo (above) is from the 10th Anniversary celebration on July 18th at the Imphilo (Living) Theatre. It is a photo of the Deputy Prime Minister of Eswatini and me laughing as we finished up the program for the day.  He is a good man, a good friend and a cherished partner.  The fires had already been started up on the mountain beside us (visable to all in attendance) and we were about to plant a tree to signify that all we do is to be rooted in love.  None of us had any idea what the next 36 hours had in store for us, but at that moment we shared joy.

The second photo is a handmade drawing that Chloe made for Ian and me as a gift to recognize and remember the 10th Anniversary celebration.  It is pen and ink on canvas and she wrote/drew in all the names of all 239 children living at Project Canaan in the shape/design of our Rooted in Love theme that had a profound coincidence in how much it looked like her new tattoo (see blog  It is stunning and something I will treasure always.  Thank you for thoughtfulness and creativity Chloe.

"239 children in 10 years" by Chloe Maxwell
The third photo is of my dear friend Cheryl Lucas and me. I met Cheryl many years ago (like 25 years ago) at Pizza Pomodoro in Knightsbridge, England. She was the incredible DIVA who entertained us all on Wednesday nights. I had an office in London then (ONYX Europe) and made sure that my monthly visits to the UK office ALWAYS included dinner at this little underground bar/restaurant.  Ian flew Cheryl to Toronto to perform at my 40th birthday party, complete with her full-length red lace dress and feather boa, and my broken leg from my Kenya trip.  Together we danced and sang the night away, only to put her in a limo back to the airport at 6AM the next morning. Oh, those days … 15 years ago.

Cheryl contacted me through Facebook recently and said she would love to come and serve with us at Project Canaan. I was so excited, I almost jumped out of my skin, and I told her about our plans for Music on the Mountain, July 21st.  My favorite DIVA of all time got on plane and joined the celebration. It wasn’t until the end of our trip as we reminisced that we realized that the Ian and I also flew her to Canada in 1998 for Onyx Marketing’s 10th Anniversary too (!), and now she was in Eswatini performing at Project Canaan’s 10th Anniversary.  Honestly, how do we explain that profound coincidence?

NOT TO MISS VIDEO AHEAD:  Ian just spent the past two hours trying to find a photo of Cheryl back in 1998 and he did even better ... you will see an old video that he found in the Maxwell archives of me introducing Cheryl at our party. Ohhhhh, I was so young (and thin!).  ENJOY!

The photo below was sent to me last week by our friend Jessica Condrey.  It is a photo of Spencer and her husband Seth, taken 8-years ago before we moved to Eswatini.  We were in a North Point Community Church small group with the Condrey's and we adopted them all in to our family.  All five of them came for the 10th Anniversary celebrations and Seth lead worship on stage at Music on the Mountain (with Cheryl Lucas in the photo below).  Epic.  Then Jessica sent this photo from 8-years ago – notice Seth’s t-shirt? It says, “Rooted in Love”.  Profound coincidence?

Spencer and Seth 8 years ago - check out Seth's "Rooted in Love" T-shirt!

Seth and Cheryl performing at Music on the Mountain 2019

 This next photo is of a gift that our friend Melissa Trivisonno painted for our 10th Anniversary. It is the “Ten” painting.  If you look closely she has painted ten of each element:  ten tree roots, ten hearts, ten mountains, ten branches, ten flowers, ten waves of water, ten flames, ten rays of sunshine and ten stars.  It would take far more than 1,000 words to describe this gift and what it signifies and means to us all.  This will be proudly hung in our new O2 building.

"Ten" by Melissa Trivisonno
And lastly, I leave you with a series of photos of the chapel burning, taken by Dr. Mark McGee who was evacuated from our Dental Clinic into the back seat of my car . There is an old song that says, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going.”  Of the 63 buildings on Project Canaan, the chapel is the only one that burned down.  The world watched with us on Facebook Live as it happened, and the world wept with us.  

Last night we had a US Heart for Africa Board of Directors meeting and there was lots of discussion of “why God?”, “why the chapel?” etc.   Board member Robert Holmes provided us his thoughts on “why” and it took our breath away. He told us that as he watched the chapel burn, in real time on social media, he felt the Lord saying, “I will burn down my own house so that no other building has to be sacrificed.”  Profound.


Many people have been praying for a double portion to be placed on us and it was also mentioned in the meeting yesterday that perhaps that chapel was too small, and it should be doubled in size when it is rebuilt. We believe that is true.

I have written too many words in this blog, but I hope you will get a glimpse of where I have seen the mighty hand of God in the past few weeks, and how my heart can be at peace in the knowledge that He has been with us at every step, even in the hot and hard ones. I hope you are encouraged by this same knowledge today.

If you would like to make a contribution to the emergency fund to help us rebuild fences, replace drip irrigation or help rebuid the chapel, you can do so at these links:

Live from Eswatini … I have no more words today.