I had a photo pop up on my Facebook news feed this week and it showed a group of our first nine children sitting on change tables that had been pushed together to fit all their tiny bodies. Below that picture was a photo taken five years later of the same children, placed in the order, on the top bunk of their beds. That prompted me to go and get an updated photo to add, three years later. This time they wanted to pose themselves to look like they looked five years ago, and the photo that you see above is the result.
As I look back at their baby photos I am
immediately transported back to the day that our first baby, Joshua
arrived. Ian was on Project Canaan with
Pete Wilkerson, and they were at the top of the mountain when I received the
phone call in Alpharetta, Georgia, telling me that our first baby had
arrived. I called Ian and told him to
rush down the mountain, there was a baby!!!
The second person I called was Teresa Birk, as the baby home was built
in honor of her deceased son, Jared, and then I called Raelenna Ferguson, who
was largely responsible for raising those funds. What a day of joy and thanksgiving that was!
Today we have 271 children who call Project Canaan “home”. Each child’s story reminds me of one of those first nine, from being found in an outdoor pit latrine, to arriving at our door severely malnourished (and crying whenever the spoon showed the bottom of the bowl). Another one delivered to us in a cardboard box, covered in lesions with skin too raw to touch, and another found at a bus stop, in only a diaper, in the middle of winter, and in the dead of night. Each story worse than the next, but each story the beginning of salvation and redemption.
While we first focus on the physical health of each and every child who is placed with us through Social Welfare, we very quickly start to pray for healing for their emotional scars, pray for the restoration of their emotional health, and start them on a journey to their spiritual health. Each of these three are important to us, and we are intentional and wholistic in our approach to each. And it’s working.
Now, when I look at the photo taken this week of these same nine children who arrived hungry, hurting and helpless, I see children filled with confidence and joy. I see the strong silent one, I see the class clown, I see the ring leader, and I see the academic. But more importantly to me, is that I know that eight of these nine children have made a personal decision to join the family of God over the past year. That is the most important part of what we do, and I am thankful for all of our volunteers and staff who are aligned in working on this vision together.
You may recall that the now famous Swazi girl named “Phiwa” went back to the US for surgery last November with her guardian, Project Canaan staff member and super-hero, Nokwanda. They found themselves locked down in Boston when Covid-19 hit, and eventually made it to Florida to be reunited with the Habelow family. After a time, we decided to move the girls to Georgia so that Phiwa could get some educational testing, counseling and special education assistance. They would also be tucked in with our Heart for Africa staff in Georgia. Their time there was highly successful and Phiwa made lots of progress in many ways, but then we heard about a repatriation flight that might be able to get them back home, and we jumped on the opportunity. The process was long, complicated and expensive, but our own, Hannah Gaddis, navigated the giant maze with grace, love and determination, with the help of many people including Teri McClure and Lynn Floum.
I just now received a call from Nokwanda in Amsterdam, where
they are awaiting their next flight to Nairobi. They will fly direct to Eswatini
tomorrow (Sunday, August 16th) and then be taken to a hotel for two
days while they receive medical assessments, after which they will live at The
Lodge on Project Canaan, self-isolated for 14-days, but at least they will be
There are so many people to thank for helping Nokwanda and Phiwa during their unexpected 8+ month stay in the US, but I would specifically give a shout out to the Habelow family, Bishop family, McClure family and Floum family for hosting the ladies and making them feel welcome and a part of your families. Thank you to Robin Daughtery and her team of educators who helped with assessments and tutoring to help Phiwa move forward with her unique educational challenges. Thank you again, Hannah, for being friend, sister, Mother, Aunt, driver, nurse, Covid-19 test(s) finder, travel agent, US Visa tracker etc. etc. The Lord brought you to us “for such a time as this” and we are so grateful for you. And thank you David Bryant for your leadership, your wisdom, guidance and love for every one of our Heart for Africa team members, and the extra love and care you are providing everyone you touch during these difficult times.
Our goal is to do the best we can with what we have to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support to every child who is placed with us through Social Welfare, but it takes a very big village to do that for 271 children. Thank you to every person who sponsors a child through Heart for Africa, and if you don’t, I ask you to consider sponsoring a child today. I promise you that you will be blessed, and you will help save a life like Phiwa’s.
Live from Eswatini … I am living in a state of awe.