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22Jun

Building a Playground

Words fail us when it comes to trying to describe what it was like to be a part of the playground raising at Mkhombokati. As Tara wrote, the entire CarePoint went through quite a face lift last week. All of the buildings got a fresh coat (in some cases, several fresh coats) of bright green paint. The preschool building was transformed on the inside as well. But part of the reason the team of 13 from Capital was able to get so much of that accomplished was because of the support from the community around Mkhomobokati who turned out to help make the playground a reality.

It was almost overwhelming on that first day when we saw the piles of playground parts spread out on the floor of the multi-purpose building – like, what on earth did we get ourselves into? But then we saw all the people who showed up to help. And each day, more and more got done.

Capital’s work over the last ten years at Mkhombokati has been about building a relationship. We don’t want to just be the people who swoop down and donate stuff and are never seen again. We want to help Mkhombokati and its people progress from survival to thriving, and part of that means building long-term relationships with them. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the work that happened at the CarePoint – as parents of children at Mkhombokati and neighbors who live in the area turned out to pick up paint brushes, dig holes, lift poles and beams and otherwise take ownership of this place.

We’ve come a long way in ten years, and so have the people who call Mkhombokati home. We can’t wait to see what God has in store for the next ten years!

16Jun
Lower Family in Swaziland

Family

Sawubona!

This is my second trip to Swaziland. I traveled to this country four years ago with a team. It was an incredibly transformative experience in my life, but I did not have the opportunity to truly share it with my husband and children. As many of you know, when you travel to places like Swaziland, there are no words that can describe the experience. You come home a different person, but in some ways you feel alone when you return because no matter how hard someone who hasn’t been “there” tries, they just can’t fully understand. So, this trip, where I not only have my husband Paul with me, but also our three children (Sasha 20, Anna 18, Eli 16) is special! In addition, we also have the Miller kids on the team who have grown up with mine and are like my own (Savannah 18, Nicolette 14). And let me tell you, it has been breathtaking as a mother to watch them participate in serving the amazing people at Mkombokhati – as they open their arms day after day to waiting children, playing, comforting, hugging child after child whether they are dirty, wet, sick, or covered with

So, this trip, where I not only have my husband Paul with me, but also our three children (Sasha 20, Anna 18, Eli 16) is special! In addition, we also have the Miller kids on the team who have grown up with mine and are like my own (Savannah 18, Nicolette 14). And let me tell you, it has been breathtaking as a mother to watch them participate in serving the amazing people at Mkombokhati – as they open their arms day after day to waiting children, playing, comforting, hugging child after child whether they are dirty, wet, sick, or covered with snot!

They are rock stars here, and the kids run after our van when it arrives, not to see us adults, but to see the youth on our trip. Gone are the kids who complain if we ask them to empty the dishwasher. They have painted, hauled, sang with abandon, cried, loved and gone to bed every night exhausted and excited at the same time for the next day.

And then there is sharing this experience with my husband, Paul. We have been given the task of talking to the young adults here about sex, marriage, consent, and yes, rape. He with the boys, and I with the girls. Yesterday, we both sat at the picnic table at the Carepoint, pouring over our Bible together for passages to help with our respective talks. I looked at him and thought of what we were doing a week ago. If you had told me then that I would be sitting with my husband searching the Bible and talking about ideas on this very heavy and serious topic, I would never have believed you. There was no cutting each other off as we try and bring home our own points while moving on to the next thing we have to get done, no silent or vocal criticism, no pretending to listen when you have moved on, no urgency to finish so we can check another thing off the endless list, no thinly veiled sarcastic remarks. Just sitting, together, praying for wisdom, writing, and talking … about, for a moment, being mother and father to the motherless and fatherless, being parents to children 7,000 miles away, all to honor our own father, God. It took all morning and we spent every minute we needed to – no less and no more. My heart is full for these people, their abundant lives, their perseverance despite lack of so many things, and the family God has blessed me with.

-Danielle

Lower Family in Swaziland

12Jun

Getting Ready!

Our first full day on the African continent has come to an end, just as our friends back at home are barely finishing up with Capital for the weekend services. It seems strange to be writing this at 9 pm on Sunday when it’s only 1 back home!

 

Sasha and Paul relaxing before hitting the road again

We drove today from Johannesburg to the world’s quirkiest and most fun truck stop (Alzu, about at the midway point between the airport and the border with Swaziland), then from there on to the border crossing, then a brief stop at Ngwenya Glass to stretch our legs, and then on to Manzini.

 

It felt good to unload those 35 checked bags from our trailer and put our roots down at Sunset Palms, the guest house where our team is staying.

 

Swazi17 unpacking checked bagsWe were so excited to see Brandon and Melinda Babb and their adorable little man, Zachary, who kept us entertained while we settled in. They did a great job helping the team get used to the cultural differences we’re going to encounter when we get to the carepoint tomorrow. There’s a lot to remember, but it all boils down to being respectful of the people we are here to serve.

 

We’ve been told our playground is now at Mkhombokati, waiting for us to begin the work of putting it together (with a little help from our Swazi friends – OK, a lot of help from our Swazi friends). It’ll be a packed day, but we’re so excited to be Capital’s hands and feet on the ground with these kids.

 

Sala kahle (stay well)!

 

 

8Jun

Ngiyabonga

Well, here we are.  Less than a day away and we will be on an airplane to Swaziland, Africa!  We are so very excited and want to thank you, Capital Church for the great send-off in SLC and PC!!

Capital Church send-off for Swazi Team

 

If you were at one of the four services, you may have already heard that one of the big physical projects we have planned is the building of a playground!  I am so very excited and grateful for this.  It means that our Swazi kiddos will have a fun and very safe place to come and play.

Thank you again, Capital and everyone who helped to achieve this, those who donated supplies, who made love cards, scarves and beanie hats, and those who helped support members of our team and so much more.  We are so grateful for all of you.

Also if you came to one of the send-off services, you learned how to say, “I love you” in Siswati (Ngiyakutsandza).  Now we would really like to say, Ngiyabonga! (Thank You!)

8Oct

Getting Ready Swaziland October Medical Mission

After several months of preparation, fundraising, packing, and meetings the team is ready for take off and we can’t wait to love and care for the children of Swaziland. The Team is comprised of many different backgrounds, but we are all grounded by our common mission, and the knowing we are all meant to share this special journey together. We hope to see you at one of the services this weekend, as we will introduce our team in person, but for now our team’s individual biographies are below, so you can get to know our team members. Read More »

23May

Now what?!?!

I knew the time in Swaziland would fly by. I knew that it would impact me. I knew I would impact the children. I knew so much, yet now I am back, I know so little.

People have been asking me how the trip was and I reply with a simple, “amazing!” This is partly because I know that is what 90% of the people want to hear (the other 10% ask follow-up questions) and partly because I can’t express the heartache, the turmoil and the utter joy I am feeling.

As I continue to reconnect with the other team members, we express how much we wished we were still at Mkhombokati. We’re adjusting to our new normal. We came home to our air-conditioned homes with pillowtop mattresses, walk-in closets, refrigeration and plumbing. But something was missing. We each left a piece of our hearts in Swaziland and are struggling to fill that void.

The simplicity with which the Swazis live is amazing. Many fit upwards of nine people in a one room home that is half the size of my bedroom. They may only have two outfits – a dressy one for church/school and an everyday outfit. They don’t have electricity, so they cook on an open flame what they can eat and nothing more. Most of their food is non-perishable. Yet, with what we consider almost nothing, they are happier than most Americans who seemingly have everything, because they take care of one another. They love each other unlike anything I’ve seen here.

Going to Swaziland was one of the most rewarding, exciting and amazing experiences of my life. Coming home has been one of the most difficult, trying and challenging. Driving to the airport in Johannesburg, I heard Tenth Avenue North’s song, Love Is Here. The lyrics got me choked up:

Come to the waters
You who thirst and you’ll thirst no more
Come to the Father
You who work and you’ll work no more

And all you who labor in vain
And to the broken and shamed

Love is here
Love is now
Love is pouring from His hands, from His brow
Love is near it satisfies
Streams of mercy flowing from His side

Leaving this beautiful land that is in the middle of the worst drought in a century and to be filled with so much love, these lyrics couldn’t have been more alive. Love is what it is all about. Love is where you are. Love is who we are. Love is what can satiate that thirst we have to make a difference. Love is God.

So, what now? The only thing I can think of to fill the piece of my heart I left in the care of my friends in Swaziland, is to replace it with love.

-Cameron Stark

 

4May

A Beautiful Juxtaposition

In his powerful sendoff prayer at our last planning meeting at Capital, Troy lovingly encouraged us to pay attention to our souls, welcome the stirring sensory experience of Swaziland, and prepare ourselves to return forever changed. There was an expectant nature in the room after those poignant words. I am sure, however briefly, each of us took a moment trying to consider what that transformation would look like for us.

As predictable, yet incomprehensible, as that invitation was from Troy, to let our souls be open to what God has for us on this trip, there is always a knowing each moment is new. You will never live this moment again. Or this moment. Or this moment. Such intrigue and excitement! A wonderful yoga teacher once told me in Warrior 2 pose, “You will never be in this pose again.” How true, even for a person that practices this pose daily. No matter how many times I enter into Warrior 2, I will never have the same exact angles of my body, the same amount of breath in my lungs, the same weight distribution in my feet, the same thoughts in my mind, and so on. A beautiful and grounding truth.

It is a message that I took with me off the mat that day, and I love to reflect on that sweet truth and gift of being fully present as often as possible. It is an invitation to approach each situation with a beginner’s mind and welcome what God has for us in every moment. There may be parallels in our experiences, shared feelings and emotions; but within that familiarity, an opportunity to be open and aware of what is different. And within those differences, what we can learn, offer, and feel in each moment.

Every breath in our lungs is a gift from God, and within that, an opportunity to praise Him for this life, to accept His gifts and welcome Him to walk closely with us to guide us in His life-giving way. Although each day offers us this gift, today, the abundance of this present was one of the pinnacles of my lifetime.

Our time at the Care Point today was focused on another life-enriching and fun VBS lesson, the humbling beauty of washing the children’s feet and gifting them new shoes, and for some of us, a visit to the homestead of a child from the Care Point.

I could write a novel or a short story, about the sensory experience and impact of today. For those of you who know me, you know that is not an exaggeration! But my fatigue will force me to resist that delightful temptation and I will try to somewhat succinctly offer a glimpse into today’s events that prompted the above reflection.

Today, my smile was so big, pure, uninhibited and blissful, it reminded me of some of the most joyful moments of my life. It happened as we danced to the kids singing “Making Melodies” – the same kids I had earlier tossed up into the air to lovingly catch. Those moments have sealed themselves in my mind to be recalled as often as I would like.

My ears recognized a familiar prayer as we gathered to lift our voices together in “Our Father.” I have likely heard those words thousands of times, each occasion offering the beautiful promise of “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” But there was something different this time: My eyes had never set sight on hundreds of Swazis from toddler to adult, eyes closed tight in focus and dedication, faces expressed with utmost devotion and reverence, voices booming strong, almost chant-like, with passion and faith. Our Father has never looked or sounded like that to me before, and it never will be quite the same again. Another gift for my memory bank of how amazing and big God is and how sweet His grace is.

Today, we gently held feet covered in thick layers of dirt, some with cuts, thorns, and blisters. Starting with the littlest children at the Care Point, we lovingly played with and tickled their feet, as we washed away layers of dirt, removed thorns, and patched up blisters and cuts. We talked about their interests, and how amazing each of them were. We told them how much they are loved by their “special friends” and the entire Capital community. They were educated or reminded of the significance of the washing of feet, and why Jesus offered this loving act to his disciples. Their feet were dressed with new socks and shoes, and we closed with a prayer for each child.

I saw countless genuine smiles spread across faces, children and team members alike and I felt my heart grow in love for these kids, as well as my teammates, who have some of the sweetest souls I have ever been in the presence of. Team members reflected on the experience as heartwarming, emotional, humbling, energizing, and peaceful. As I washed each foot, I prayed over the many miles that foot has walked, what each foot carried in both burden and joy, and I offered praise that they have Jesus to share their load with, all the days of their life. In doing so, a chaotic room became almost still in time. As a nurse, I have washed hundreds of feet, and found great beauty in caring for the details for my patients, but it was never like this. Never like this. Another deposit for the memory bank.

Toward the end of our day at Mkhombokati, Josh, Nana and I visited Tengetile’s homestead with the Care Point Shepard, Mbuso. Nana hugged Tengetile close as we all squeezed together in the backseat, bumping along the dirt road. We had a small walk from the road to her homestead; the sun gently bathed our faces, casting a soft glow on the countryside and illuminating the beautiful landscape of Swaziland. Landscape that holds many similarities to the mountains and desert of Utah, but as my eyes drew away from that somewhat familiar sight, they fixed on a completely foreign scene.

My eyes first fell on three malnourished dogs wagging their tails excitedly as we made our way to the yard. Then to the chickens and a rooster that roamed the land and home. A cow was mooing in the background. And then my eyes landed upon Tengetile’s grandmother sitting quietly on a straw mat listening to beautiful music and hugging an infant grandson. Tengetile was unlike most children because she held am important position of responsibility as she arrived home- immediately offering hospitality by fetching the guys chairs and Nana and me a mat to sit on, as well as a couple other duties before she joined her grandmother on her mat. Shortly after, Tengetile’s mother returned from her walk to gather water, balancing the bucket on her head with grace and ease.

The conversation was warm and welcoming, facilitated by Mbuso, who is related to this family. In our time together, the topics ranged from the beautiful landscape, how welcoming their home was, my love for the animals (had to throw that in, much to their laughter), the impact of the drought, the family’s prayer requests, God’s love and provision, their gratitude for the Care Point and our mission teams, and even Swazi politics! It was a wide-ranging and heartwarming conversation.

Through it all, I have never felt a greater juxtaposition of experiences: laughter, quickly followed by tear-filled eyes; with a return to joy after a wave of pain; striking beauty beside utter destruction. The home was composed of branches and stones with a roof that will be sure to let in every drop of rain whenever that blessed weather returns. Tengetile’s grandmother spoke of mice running over their feet at night, her poor health, and the life changes from the drought. In the same breath, she spoke of God’s provision, and how she felt so blessed by Him in many ways, and especially today from our visit and our food offerings.

Josh beautifully and eloquently lifted the family up in prayer, in such a way that perfectly captured the emotional rawness of our time together, including the vulnerability, fears, wishes and hopes present in this experience. He brought the dichotomy of our hearts into peaceful harmony as we gave it all to God. We focused on the truth of who God is, how He is always faithful and his provisions are visible in every season of life.

I will never look at the mountains and countryside of Utah the same way again. Each time my eyes fall on a sight that reminds me of the Swaziland countryside, I will be taken back to these moments. Of the seemingly contrasting feelings and experiences existing in harmony and finding God so present in this community.

I am in awe of life and its many intricacies. Life is all at once beautiful, yet challenging; simple, yet expansive; transformative, yet humbling; restorative, yet crumbling. It is only day two and I have watched my teammates and me experience all of the above. Through it all, I find us gravitating toward gratitude, love, compassion and embracing the provision in the midst of challenges. There is such grace and peace in not trying to be this or that, rather, trying to just be and appreciate the lesson, adventure and exploration at hand. There is no measuring love, and there is no need. For whatever you give, comes back to you tenfold.

As I sit here, reflecting and writing about today’s experience, my ears are filled with the sweet instrumentals of Suzanne on the keyboard and Josh on the guitar, Suzanne’s familiar expansive and angelic voice sounding more like an entire host of angels than ever before (if that is possible), and Cameron, Rachael and Derek beautifully harmonizing as they prepare for tomorrow’s Worship Night. How’s that for a rocking band?!

My heart is full; my cup overflows. In the midst of the most pain and suffering I have ever directly witnessed, I am overwhelmed by the provision. At the end of a very long blog post, will you believe me as I say, “there are no words”? I grow more and more in love with God and all of His creation every day. Thank you, Capital Church, for your hearts full of love for the people of Swaziland. Your hearts have found a beautiful place to direct your gifts of love and resources. You could not ask for a lovelier, more thankful and full-of-life community.

Sending you prayers for grace and peace.

Love,

Laura Guilmain

25Apr

The Sendoff

I can’t believe it is almost here. We are within a week of beginning our journey to Swaziland and so many things are going through my mind.
This weekend, our team went to all four services at Capital Church to thank those who have sponsored the kids at Mkhombokati and our team, and to allow ourselves to be covered in prayer by our wonderful community.
For me, each service brought me closer to the reality that we’re going. To think that a few short months ago, most of our team were strangers and now I’d call every single one of them a friend. With this being my second trip to Swaziland, I see the planning through a different lens than most of the team and I think I’m more excited for the first timers to see Mkhombokati than they are. For lack of a better term, the naievity they have going into this trip is exciting and a little bit of me misses that uncertainty.
The rest of me, however, is filled with anticipation of seeing the smiles of the kids I last saw two years ago. I get chills just thinking of walking the care point in the morning to pray over the land and the children who visit Mkhombokati every day. I look forward to seeing the sunset after an exhausting day that more than fills my heart. Mostly, I can’t wait to see God show up and work through me in the lives of these kids.
This year, our team has seen our share of speed bumps we’ve needed to overcome and it has drawn us closer as a result. We’ve let down our guard and allowed others to come in and prop us up when we’ve needed it. Because those setbacks we’ve faced have set us up for comebacks, I think I’m going into this trip with a confidence in the team that I usually experience once we’re on site or a day or two later. This confidence, I think, will allow us to hit the ground running and help us to shower the kids with God’s love.
I’m scared to see the effects of the drought in Swaziland. I’m nervous to have a language barrier again. But… God is so good and I know He is going to help us show that through Him all things are possible. He has a plan for Swaziland and I am blessed to be a part of it. Now, if I can only bottle up the anticipation so i can rest in Him and let Him show me how I can best serve His kingdom here on Earth.
– Cameron Stark
4Jun

Giving Back Through Gardens

One of the additions to the Mkhombokati CarePoint has been a garden to help feed and teach the kids. Nhlanhla, aka “Lucky,” has been the leader of this ministry at our CarePoint as well as many others CarePoints across Swaziland. Gardening presents a unique opportunity to teach the kids through both success and mistakes. During the week, I had a unique experience of riding with Lucky to several CarePoints where gardens have been planted.

I was eager to learn a little bit about how he uses them in his ministry. On our way to the first garden, Lucky asked what it was that I wanted to learn about the gardens and how he could help. I could tell right away that I was going to enjoy this field trip with Lucky, a built and jubilant man whose smile could fill anyone with joy.

One of the ideas that Lucky wants to instill in the kids is to not just reach out their hands to receive a gift, but how to turn over their hands and understand what it means to give back. The kids, and the CarePoint leadership, are the ones who do most of the work in the gardens: planting, weeding, watering and harvesting. Lucky guides these efforts. In a life where very few people have any money and even fewer have any expendable income or goods, Lucky uses the garden to teach kids how to work to produce something they can use and to serve others at the CarePoint. Lucky even uses the seeds as lessons to teach the kids. They must trust that the seeds they have been given are good and will grow. They must have faith that God has given them good soil and see the produce as enough for everyone in the community and that there will be extra. Any extras are sold to purchase more seeds.

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4Jun

No Holding Back

Church in Swaziland leaves you with absolutely no doubt that God is here. Voices are lifted, feet are dancing and hands are clapping. It would be impossible to stand in the midst of this and be unmoved.

I took a rhythm egg – basically, a little shaker with beads inside – with me to the service we attended, at a building one can only describe as ramshackle. It appeared to be put together with leftover circus tent canvas, cardboard, tarps and wooden beams. I meant to use the egg to help our team stay in sync as we sang the song we had prepared to share with the community. But the worship music the Swazis sang was so infectious and moving and delightful, I found the egg in my hand, shaking to the beat. It felt like Palm Sunday – I think the very stones would have cried out in praise if the people had stopped. There is no holding back in a place like this.

At one point, ladies lined up to dance in a circle of praise and worship. One of them noticed me and beckoned me to join them. Who am I to say no to that? It felt like a great honor to be invited into that circle of love and joy for the Lord. We sang about how worthy God is of our praise – so fitting, as the team had chosen to sing a song with that exact same message.

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