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Saturday, May 30, 2020

The world needs heroes now, more than ever.


What do you think of when you think of a hero? Superman? Spiderman?  A fire fighter? Your dad?

It’s a question that comes up each year as we approach the month of June, which is the month that we celebrate Father’s Day. I never really thought of my dad as a hero, but he really was one. He was a caring pharmacist who would stop everything he was doing to listen to a person with a problem, whether it be a physical ailment or a financial problem.  I saw him reach in to his wallet many times to help someone out in need, and he became a hero to them.


When I think of my dad, I think of him being a good provider for us. Not everyone has had their dad provide for them, in fact, too many people have been let down by their dad in this area, and therefore struggle with God being a good “father” and a provider.


One of our 8-year-old boys, Emmanuel, is a very pensive boy who asks a lot of very deep questions.  Last week he came up to me and asked me where Babe Ian (pronounced Bah-bay, meaning “dad”) was. It was the middle of the day and so I told him that Ian was working.  He rolled his shoulders, and his eyes, and then let out a big sigh and said, “he’s always working”.  And looked at me with a pout.


I laughed, and told him that as a father he needed to work to provide for his children.  Working allows a father to put food on the table, buy clothes and provide an education for his children.  I mentioned it to Ian who made a point of going down and spending some time with Emmanuel.  It may have seemed like a little thing, but it was a big thing to Emmanuel. 


Both heroes and fathers often do things behind the scenes that no one ever knows about or sees.  It’s often those little things that make all the difference to the outcome. For example, Ian was on the phone for hours trying to find a way to purchase and transport 4,000 seedling trays to plant 800,000 vegetable seedlings from South Africa, WHILE the borders were closed due to Coronavirus. Eswatini is in desperate need of food right now and there are farmers who are desperate to buy seedlings, so getting the seedling trays would mean that we could grow more food, sell more food, sell seedlings to others so that they can grow food, and generate income to provide for our children. 


I have seen Ian get in his car and make the 12-hour round trip drive to Johannesburg, through two international borders, to buy fish food for the aquaponics project, all because the person responsible forgot to tell him in advance that they were out of food. The fish would have died had Ian not done what needed to be done, and he did it with joy.


Ian is a good father, a good example to his many children and is providing discipleship to other men on how to provide for his family.  But Ian now has 266 children that he is responsible for, and he while he works his butt off to lead a team of smart people who are working on solutions to provide sustainable solutions for these children and those who will follow, he needs help and support.  Heroes and fathers need help and support, but rarely ask for it.


Today I am asking for your help.  Did you know that we spend $30/month on cleaning supplies at the El Rofi medical clinic to create a safe and healthy clinic environment?  Did you know that it costs $80/month to transport one of our 340+ employees to and from work every day to save them a FOUR HOUR WALK?  Did you know that it cost $150/month to provide electricity to our staff housing, which is home to 60+ people?  Did you know that it costs $500/month just to buy seeds for planting in our greenhouse and in our fields?  It also costs $500/month to provide electricity for the dairy operation.


All of this adds up, and these are things that Ian thinks about all the time.  Each of those things may seem like a “little thing”, but they are BIG things to us.  This morning before I wrote this blog, Ian and I went for our regular walk around the farm, and there it was again... Ian stopped to help this baby goat.


For the month of June we are focusing on getting more people to become a Heart for Africa HERO, which means making a monthly financial commitment to help us run the operations of Project Canaan.  God is our father, and He is our provider, and so we are asking Him to bless us this month with 25 new Heroes.  Perhaps you would like to honor your hero by giving a monthly gift of $30?  $80?  $150? $500? If you can, please do so by clicking on one of these links. Join Ian and become a HERO today and help us help people in great need.

In the US:


In Canada:


Live from Eswatini … Ian really is my Super Hero!



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Finding joy during lock down

Our borders have been closed since March, which means we can’t leave Eswatini.  We hear that they won’t open up again until South Africa reaches Level 1 of lock down.  South Africa is at level 4 now, and we also hear that South Africa won’t hit the peak of Coronavirus cases until September.  We can’t leave, we are stuck for a long, long time.

BUT, we are “stuck” with 263 really cute and funny children, and so I spend a lot more time with the kids than I usually do.  They just crack me up, and I am quickly able to find joy during lock down when I am with them.

Take Treasure for example.  She just turned 2-years-old and has more personality than perhaps any of our children.  Her face tells the whole story of what is happening in her mind, and she can go from a very grouchy scowl (usually when Ian is around as she doesn’t like him) to a face with total joy, in a split second.  She sheds crocodile tears to get her own way, and feels that she is the only baby who should be held.  I picked her up the other day and took her to the clinic as I had a few things to discuss with the nurse. She sat on my lap and started counting to five.  None of her words were right, but the tone, intonation and self-congratulations were perfect.  Rebekah caught it on video for you to see below.

Then there is a conversation I had with Ruth when I was painting the big girls finger nails, that went like this: 

Ruth:  “Make (mom) Janine, are you going to paint the fingers of the little girls from
Emseni 1?”
Me: “ No, I am only painting the big girls nails.”
Ruth (big sigh): “Well, they probably don’t know if they are a boy or a girl anyway.”

Then there was the conversation with Titus about Spencer and Jane being engaged.  I was telling him that they might come to Project Canaan for a wedding ceremony. Here is how that went:

Titus: “ Why would they come here for a wedding?”
Me:  “Because they would like to have their younger brothers and sisters to be a part of special wedding.”
Titus: “Make (mom), will they kiss?”
Me: “Well, yes, I think they will.”
Titus (closing his eyes): “Oh Make, I can’t watch that. I will have to close my eyes.”

This week at the Project Canaan Academy teacher Amber introduced the concept of sharing hope with people in need, to our primary age children.  When they got their morning snack, they had the opportunity to take that snack and put it in a basket that had a “Share Hope” sign on it.  They were told that the fruit would be given to children who really needed food. Most of our children quickly took their snack and put it in the basket.  Amber did this every day last week, and each day there were only one or two children who ate their snack – everyone else gave it for a hungry child.  Below is a short video of Joshua explaining what they are doing, photos of the basket, and photos of Anthony distributing the fruit to children in need.  

I also want to let you know that we have started delivering food again to our 30 church partners.  We were forced to stop delivery due to travel restrictions, but now the government is encouraging food delivery to help the hundreds of thousands of Swazi’s in need.  Schools have been closed for two months and there is no sign of them reopening in the months to come, so that means that school-going children are not getting the meal that they have come to depend on at school. We MUST feed the children, and we have started doing so again, while encouraging social distancing etc.  We will have more news to share on this in the next week or two. Stay tuned on how you can help feed starving children.   

With many of our workers not able to come to work, with children around the country starving, with the future of our ability to leave the country looking bleak, and with coronavirus news on every channel, it would be easy for me to be depressed and fearful. But I choose joy, and I choose to look at the things that bring me joy and bring me hope.  I hope that you will do the same.  Look for joy.  Look for hope. Watch Treasure’s video over and over again if you need to.

Live from Eswatini … sharing hope with the world.


Saturday, May 16, 2020

Beautiful things out of the dust (or garbage)

Life has been very hard for our Khutsala Artisans as they are considered “non-essential” and have all been staying at home during the current lock down in Eswatini, which was extended to June 19th last night. 

Not only are they not working, but the product that they produce  helps generate significant income that helps support our 262 children, so without production and sales we are in trouble.  Last week we found a way to get a couple of dozen Khutsala Artisans back to work, while social distancing on the bus and at work, and they are now busy making beautiful tulips, daisies and now lilies in two colors!  

During our lock down, I had a couple ladies go in and start to do a big clean-up of the Khutsala building.  One of the things we found were two huge buckets of old beads that had been swept up off the floor at the end of each day.  There was probably 600 pounds of assorted colored beads that were dirty, dull, useless and really should have gone in the garbage, but no one had the courage to throw away all those beads.  Surely, they could be used for something?  They were once beautiful, shiny and ready to be wrapped on to a Christmas tree ornament or to make a beautiful daisy or an elephant, but now they sat in the corner.

I asked the ladies to have the beads washed with soapy water and dried them in the sun, and then we started to work on some new product. What could we make with these recycled beads that would otherwise be garbage?  It was as if they needed redemption, and through that redemption more product could be made and sold and more children could be cared for. Could beads that were meant for the garbage can help feed children who were found in a garbage can?  There was something there that really excited me and so we got to work. 

By the end of the day we had five new products made, albeit they are variations on things that we have made in the past.  But take a look at the photo below. We have an 8” wall cross with a SwaziMUD heart in the middle and a smaller version of that in a keychain.  I absolutely LOVE the new garden stake, and will be buying those myself.  It was the following week that we were able to hire a bus to bring a few more people back to work at Project Canaan and the Khutsala Artisans started to make these beautiful pieces from our newly cleaned beads. We are calling this our “Redemption Collection” and we were able to ship this product on Tuesday to our warehouse in the US.  The product should be on line by the  end of next week.

The tulips are already in the US and more are on the way. They are not garden stakes (although you could put them in your garden), but they have a green beaded stem and are perfect for display in your home, or even a wedding bouquet that will last for a lifetime.  Please shop  at today and give a gift of HOPE to someone you love.  You will help employ people who really need  a job and also help us care for the 262 children who call Project Canaan home.

Live from Eswatini … I am thankful.


Saturday, May 9, 2020

Witch doctors vs. Lysol spray

My favorite epidemiologist has been tracking “Day One” of the Coronavirus in a country when that country has 150 confirmed viruses.  Thursday became “Day One” for Eswatini, with our second death reported.  (The newspaper also reported that both COVID-19 deaths are due to diabetes).

The country has not seen His Majesty King Mswati III in several months, and there has been lots of suspicion as to where he has been, but on Thursday night “The Lion Roared” in a special news briefing where he greeted the country.  His whole speech is easily read on line, but the part that confused me, until sitting down with several of my staff for an explanation, was his call for everyone to go and fumigate their homes “the Swazi way”, and then get back to work so that the economy can resume.

Here is what that means in Swazi culture, as it has been explained to me.

There are two ways to fumigate your home, both using ancestral worship. The first is called “Kuchela”, and it is a way to rid the COVID-19 (or other) spirits away from your home.  You take a grass broom in one hand, and a bucket of water in the other hand.  Then you put the grass in the bucket and go around the house throwing water on and around the house, from the bucket, shouting at the COVID-19 spirits to leave the house. People loved the King's speech and immediately started fumigating, posting videos on social media to encourage others to do the same. Below is one of those videos.


The second way to fumigate is with something called “Imphepho”, which are bunches of dried herbs easily found in the Manzini market.  You light the bunch on fire and walk around your house, inside and out, shouting at the COVID-19 spirits to leave and the smoke from the herbs literally smokes them out, with the help of your dead ancestors, of course.  

His Majesty the King also encouraged the traditional healers (witch doctors) to work quickly to make a muti (medicinal concoction) to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to cure it (I guess this is for the people who didn’t fumigate properly?).

Now, this may all seem strange to my readers, but I will say that Swazi’s know exactly how to use Lysol cleaning products and they all know what those warning symbols on the side of the bottles means “DO NOT DRINK!”  I have read in the US that there are Pastors who are still having church services and are praying away the virus – and while I believe in the power of prayers, it would seem a bit to me like “American Kuchela”, without the brooms.

As I live on a mountainside on a tiny Kingdom in Africa, I am amazed at how much I see similarities from here to North America. We all want to find a cure, we all want to find a vaccine, we all want to find hope.  Africans are no different, they just do it differently, based on how they were raised, how much education they have and who they can trust to give them accurate information.  Isn’t that what each of us is doing to?

The information source that I know is always accurate is scripture and so I will continue to fumigate my house with words from the Lord in Isaiah 41:10 that say, So do not be afraid. I am with you. Do not be terrified. I am your God. I will make you strong and help you. I will hold you safe in my hands. I always do what is right.”

In other news, it’s Mother’s Day weekend and tomorrow we will be hosting LIVE church with our children on the Heart for Africa Facebook page at 9AM EST. We will start the service by dedicating our newest family member, newborn baby girl “Litsemba” (which means “Hope” in siSwati), who arrived on Thursday, after not receiving a baby in 7+ weeks. The children will perform a special Mother’s Day song, Ian will give a short message and then we will celebrate FIVE birthdays: Jeremiah, Samuel & Samson, Pheobe and Isaac.  Please invite your mom to watch on line with you and join our ever-growing family as we celebrate all the women who care for our 262 children and all the women around the world who are caregivers and moms. 

Live from Eswatini … how will you fumigate your house this weekend?


Saturday, May 2, 2020

Spencer and Jane got engaged!!

Jane and Spencer in Swaziland in 2008
How’s that for a headline?? 

Last Saturday we had the privilege of congratulating Spencer and Jane on their engagement, and we got to do with 200+ of their little brothers and sisters here in Eswatini.

It all started on a Heart for Africa service trip in 2008 when Jane and her family decided to come on a 11-day volunteer trip to Swaziland.  I remember their family well because they lost ALL of their luggage, except for the dental supplies that Dr. Jay Balasz (Jane’s dad) needed to practice dentistry up at the El Shaddai children’s home.  Their luggage didn’t arrive until the day they left, so their whole family borrowed clothes from other people and there was not a single complaint heard from any of them, not even teenagers Jane and her brother Sam.  I have recently learned that since that trip the family only travel with carry-on luggage!

No one could have imagined that 12 years later we would be living in Africa, and that a "chance" meeting through a volunteer trip to Swaziland would end in marriage. God's plans are SO much better than ours!

Painting a roof together in 2008
Spencer and Jane remained friends, and with the invent of social media they were able to stay in touch over the years.  Spencer’s education/life journey took him from Canada to the US, back up to Canada and then on to Spain to complete double Master Degrees (International Business and Marketing Management). 

Team photo - were you on that team??
Through his travels and long distances their relationship grew and it became clear to everyone that they were in love. Jane came to Swaziland for Christmas a couple of years ago and we got to know, and enjoy this beautiful young woman.

At Christmas 2019 Spencer told us that Jane was the one for him and he wanted to propose to her in June. We had a family trip planned to Cape Town to celebrate Chloe’s graduation and Spencer invited Jane to join us, with plans to propose at the Spier vineyard the day after we arrived. He even spoke to Jane’s parents secretly and invited them to fly in to Cape Town and surprise Jane after the proposal was complete.  We were all very excited about the plan and looked forward to a grand celebration!

Then COVID-19 hit, and plans had to change. Last Saturday Spencer invited Jane to his apartment in downtown Chicago and popped the question.  He had arranged to have the Balasz’s, Chloe and us on a ZOOM call to share their big news (even though we were all aware of the plan), but it was a wonderful surprise for Jane.  

Ian and I had a surprise of our own!  We joined the zoom call from the children’s campus and after we congratulated the happy couple, we asked if they would like to tell the kids?  They said yes, and so we turned the computer screen around for them to see 200+ children gathered to hear the big news!  Following Spencer’s announcement, the children performed a dance to the song “HAPPY” from the “Despicable Me” movie and then Rose and Gabriel presented them with a congratulatory banner and Christine and Shalom presented Jane with flowers from Khutsala, virtually, but they are being shipped to her in Chicago!  Below is a very short post (due to Blogger restrictions), but you can see the whole seven minute performance on my Facebook page from this past Monday.

Jane is finishing her Master degree in Clinical Psychology and starts her year-long practicum in June.  What an interesting time this is for that particular area of specialty, with children traumatized from the effects of COVID-19, social distancing and school closures.  The Lord certainly chose the right person for that role and we know Jane will thrive in this field.  Spencer is working in a consulting position in Chicago and will start his “real” consulting job with EY Advisory in Chicago in July.

We are so very happy for this young couple and thrilled to join the Balasz and Maxwell families together.   May the Lord bless their time of engagement and preparation and give them a life time of love and happiness.

Next Sunday is Mother’s day and our church service will be LIVE on the Heart for Africa Facebook page at 9:00 AM  EST.  Please invite your mother to join you for church on line, and join us in celebrating all the women who serve as Mothers/Aunties/Gogo’s to our 261 children. Don't forget to shop at for a beautiful Mother's Day gift that also supports our children.  We have MANY new bright and colorful new products!

Live from Eswatini … this mother’s heart is full!