This is my first time to Africa, and my first mission trip. Ever since arriving here, I have felt as if I have been here before. There was never really an awe moment for me. So many moments in my life have just lead me here. I am so relaxed, like sitting on a friend’s porch after being invited for dinner and just being in the moment, taking everything in. I think this is what surprised me most about coming here.
However, upon meeting the first few children, who were very shy, began to wonder if I would ever connect with these kids. Then suddenly, in a blink of an eye, I found myself in the midst of a sea of children, many grinning ear to ear, asking for hugs and attention, and I so wished I could be in more than one place at a time. One six-year-old girl inspected each of my fingernails for quite some time, touching each of my fingers and nails with her tiny hands, and turning my hand this way and that, then staring up at me with a huge grin.
I shared with several children and young teenage girls that I knew their “special friend” (AKA, church sponsor), and they gave me huge smiles and warm hugs. I bent down to take a picture of a little one, who stood patiently for me to take his picture, then he quickly wrapped his arms around my neck and latched his legs around my waist, and he was my little cuddle bug for what seemed like hours. I prayed and worked in a massive garden. I painted a wall. I washed feet. I scrubbed little toes. I took a photo with the mages (“mah-gays”; mothers), and one of them made me sit on her lap. I blew bubbles with a circle of kids, some who waited patiently, some who shouted over and over, “now me, now me”, and some who shyly pointed to themselves and smiled. I counted them out, and they would wait for their turn – one, two, three – until it was their turn. Bubbles flowed from the bubble wand and the children would try to catch them and pop them, or bubbles would pop in their faces, and they would smirk or giggle. For some children who didn’t understand how to blow bubbles (or didn’t understand me), I would lightly blow on their arms so they would know how to blow into the wand. They got it! And they would laugh with glee.
I visited a family of eight – a father, a mother, six boys and their four-year-old sister. I found myself overwhelmed and speechless, but so happy to be there, to see the mother laugh and blush, to hear the parent’s concerns and their children’s dreams.
I also visited an extended family, where a young teen lived with his cousins and aunts, and his elderly grandmother, who sat on a mat on the ground, with her wrinkles and very firm and purposeful words that were interpreted to me and my small team. I was so blessed to hear from his great aunt, who had such a passion for God, and who thanked us for coming to visit and telling us how we fulfilled her life-long dream of bringing America to her.
I watched and listened to over a hundred children sing and laugh. I watched many dance, and laugh some more.
Near the early evening, I would stop for a moment. I watched the African sunset, and I breathed in God. There is great beauty in Africa, and such warm hearts, and now my heart is here as well.
We started the garden by spreading 100 pound bags of lyme to help with the PH of the soil. We had some of the older boys helping us but they were shortly disinterested in helping like many teenagers can be. I started giving them a hard time that a 43 year-old had already done twice the work as they had. They could not believe that I was 43, but the gray hairs in my now 5 day-old beard seemed to convince them. As I left them to go spread some more lyme, on another part of the garden, I looked back and the newly re-motivated teens had a spontaneous push-up contest between them to see who was the strongest.
… All it takes to live in the bush is the ability to climb a tree. On the last day, I was standing around talking to three teenage boys from earlier in the week. From the first day, I was known as Mr. Johnsen, or “Old Man”. The boys invited me to stay at their house the next time I visit. I told them that would be very nice and that I could bring a tent to sleep in. They said that would be fine, and that there were no wild animals in the bush here, but over the mountain, there were baboons and wild boars. My response to them was to just give me a spear or a bow and some arrows and I would be okay. They laughed and said, “No, that would not work.” I told them that the four of us with spears could take down the boar if we all attacked at once. They still were not convinced. They said that to live in the bush, you had to be able to climb a tree to get out of danger. I told them that I could climb a tree. They looked at me and said, “But you are an old man and can’t climb a tree.” So, we went over to the big shade tree and I jumped up, grabbing the lowest limb. After making my way half way up, one of the boys joined me. We climbed down and once on the ground, they told me that I could live in the bush.
~ Old Man (AKA., Eric)
The evening before our final day at the Care Point, the skies grew ominous and cracked open. Oh how it rained down in Africa. The quick jump from the bus to the hotel left us soaked through and sloshing in our shoes.
Through the night, great booms of thunder startled you awake. The rain was fascinating and incredibly loud, like white noise gone wild. The African thunder seemed louder and huskier and much more exciting than our good old American storms that are over-hyped before they even happen.
It was hard to fall back asleep. We lay in our beds with a roof over our heads and thought about Mage (Mother) Shoba.
Sbongile Shoba is one of the five women who serves and cooks at Mkhombokati each day. She also teaches the little ones each morning. The preschoolers sit in small, plastic red chairs and one by one she has them say “My name is Kosaphayo. I am a girl. I am four years old.”She has them recite the days of the week and shapes and colors and numbers.
Seven children live in her one-room house. The house is made of mud and stone and is held up by a stick. It is broken apart in places. Everyone sleeps on the dirt. When it rains, Mage Shoba stays up all night, holding a blanket over the open areas the best she can. She doesn’t have the resources to fix her house, never mind build a new one.
It is this image that kept us awake.
That morning as I walked down to breakfast, I saw this in the hallway.
Team members had begun selling their shoes to one another in an effort to raise money to build Mage Shoba a new home. I felt a fresh wave of love for this humble, generous team.
When we arrived at the Care Point, Mage Shoba was in her usual spot, smiling and nodding, helping to prepare the sour porridge for breakfast and showing no signs of the long, cold and wet night she had. It was a relief to see her and to squeeze her extra tight.
Each time it rains I think we will all remember her and picture her holding up that blanket. We’ll ask God to bless her with the beauty of a rainbow and the miracle of a pot of gold at the end of it https://www.locksmithspros.com/car.
– Tara R.
Serving as Sponsorship Coordinator since 2007, I am often asked: what does sponsorship mean? Ah .. it could mean many things depending on the circumstances. In the case of our Swaziland partnership, sponsorship has a financial aspect (monthly contributions) as well as a very personal aspect which includes letter writing (at least once every few months), praying “regularly” and the most personal of all – the opportunity to visit the Care Point and actually meet your sponsored child (aka, special friend).
Collectively, this means RELATIONSHIP and this is the focus of the sponsorship program.
One of the most cherished moments and, in my humble opinion, the best part of being Sponsorship Coordinator, is when I have the privilege of witnessing the meeting between special friends. It is as if the gates to heaven have opened and the angels are rejoicing. God is smiling on us!
Imagine a child you have been supporting in a far away land that you write to occasionally and pray for consistently. You see the monthly reminder on your bank statement. But do you ever really think you might be able to throw your arms around them and tell them that you love them? I’ve seen it happen and have done it myself. It is unspeakable joy!
I get the true honor of just saying hello from one special friend to another, of relaying messages of passing out hugs and of delivering such special cards. The mere fact that we have now visited this community six years in a row has allowed us to truly watch these beautiful children grow.
And it all contributes to our goal of establishing and facilitating relationship. And as another saying here goes, in Africa the currency is relationship.
After a hectic week of activities filled with fun, joy and laughter, a day of calm finally arrived. It was church day.
As the team gathered in the lobby to leave for church, the four guys in the team sneaked up to the balcony and sang a sweet Happy Mother’s day song….the ladies absolutely loved this act by the boys. And off we went to church!!
The road to church had been damaged in the rains from the night before, so we had to trek up and down a grassy slope. It was a wonderful sight to see our team in a single file line, one behind the other, winding their way to the simple yellow building where we would worship.
This was the same church that the 2012 mission team had been to and the team was ready for some Swazi-style church, especially the singing. It was wonderful seeing young Swazi teenagers lead worship with the simple instrument of voice.
The team was warmly welcomed by the Pastor and the members of the church. Seeing us enter the church with a guitar in hand, the Pastor invited our team to introduce ourselves and sing a song. We walked to the front of the church, introduced ourselves and Suzanne led us in singing the song HE REIGNS … “It’s the song of the redeemed rising from the African plains … Glory, glory, halleluiah he reigns … ”
I had the pleasure of speaking a few words on behalf of the mission team. Being Mother’s Day Sunday, I began by honoring all the mothers by acknowledging how they are a special and beautiful reflection of God’s very nature in their sacrifice and that they are the face of the Father in Proverbs 31:28-29. Turning to the rest of the people, I conveyed our love to the church, the kids and the families of Mkhombokhati village and to the people of Swaziland on behalf of Capital Church and all its members. I personalized the scripture from Isaiah 65:21-24 for the Swazi people and ended with the blessing from Psalm 115:14 -15.
The service continued with multiple offerings received, and testimonies shared. The Pastor then preached the word from Joel 2:28-32. The message was a reminder to all to wait on the Lord who has promised to pour out the Holy Spirit on all who call upon him. Although the service lasted much longer than our traditional Western world service, the team totally enjoyed the experience of joining our Swazi brothers and sisters in worshipping the Lord on a wonderful Mother’s Day Sunday!!
Earlier on in the week I informed a couple of the team members (Mark and Allison) who live here in Swaziland that I had no intention of bringing my guitar back with me to the U.S., and asked if there was a need for this guitar here or if they knew someone that could use it. They immediately looked at each other and simultaneously exclaimed, “Thokozani!” As it was instantly apparent by their reaction that this was a no-brainer, I inquired further about the man who they passionately agreed upon.
Thokozani is a member of the Development Team here in Swaziland looking over many of the carepoints in this area. Over the past 18 months, several different teams have taught him to play guitar (and have done a pretty darn good job if I say so myself). Ever since his first lesson, he has told Mark and Allison that one day, he will buy a guitar. He had started saving up his money, but with family expenses coupled with the huge costs of getting a purchase-worthy guitar, it seemed like it was a distant dream of his to one day have one of his own.
On Thursday afternoon, Thokozani showed up to the carepoint under the ruse that he was only there to help with distribution of backpacks to the kids (as he normally doesn’t serve at the Mkhombokati Carepoint). Completely unsuspecting, he walked into the new building where I had just finished up leading the kids in VBS songs. Mark and Allison called Thokozani over to us and introduced me to him. I can honestly say that I rarely meet anyone who likes to smile as much as I do, but this man had teeth from ear to ear the moment he walked in the room. After only a few minutes of talking to him, you were instilled with his passion and joy. It was obvious that Thokozani loves developing relationships and it was no mystery why everyone was such a fan of his.
Now it was time for me to have a little fun with him. I told him that I had heard through the grapevine that he actually knows how to play the guitar. Half abashed and half ecstatic, he told me this was true and that he loves playing. When I asked if ‘I were to hand him the guitar right now, would he be able to play us something?’, he immediately took up the challenge…..
And he did not disappoint!
After a minute or two of his song, I was ready to get to the fun part. I asked him where he had learned to play, which he corroborated everything I had heard before. Then I asked him:
“Do you practice often?”
“No, I don’t get to that much.”
“I see, do you have a guitar of your own?”
“No, no I don’t”, he replied.
“Well, that guitar is yours.”
With the guitar still strung over his shoulder, he stopped. I think every ounce of blood and energy instantly went to his brain, as he tried to think of every other possibility of what I could have said, assuming maybe he misunderstood me. Finally, he replied “Really?”
After several assurances that the guitar was really his, he went began spinning in circles (guitar still on) and screaming.
The most remarkable part of it all, though, was what he said next. He told me he was so excited to be able to help out at the carepoints now. To be able to come lead worship for them, as well as doing the same at his church. It was powerful to see someone who has been given a long wanted gift immediately turn around to exclaim how he is going to give it right back to God.
I later showed him everything that was included in the case: the tuner, the extra strings, the chord charts, extra picks, and the capo. And with each item, that never ending smile grew bigger and bigger. I’m incredibly excited to see what the future holds in store for this young man.
Where do I even begin? There has been too many favorite moments of this trip to have just one favorite. So I will cover a few highlights that probably have not yet been mentioned by my fellow team members.
The first one… soccer! Or as everyone else in the world calls it futbol! J One of the major projects that the 2012 Swaziland team helped accomplish was clearing a field at the care point, turning it into a soccer field and putting in two goalposts. And yes, the goalposts are still standing! However, over the past year a lot of rocks and bumps were made on the field so the kids were not using it when we first arrived. But after the tractor came to help with the garden, it was used to flatten out the soccer field as well. The next couple days as soon as I pulled out the penneys, the boys came over and we got a game going. (“We” being me amongst the older and younger Swazi boys.) Oh what fun did we have! I may have happened to score a goal and assist a few, but the best part was being viewed as a valuable teammate. One of the older boys even came up to me and said, “You have perfect soccer skills.” I just laughed along and enjoyed the moment of playing soccer with very talented children at our Care point.
A second highlight was having the opportunity to go to the private hospital and visit Thanduxolo. The hospital was very nice and clean. The staff had been taking great care of Thanduxolo, we could tell. Thanduxolo was in his own private room where his grandmother had a bed to stay with him. When we entered his room, Thanduxolo was sitting up in a stool at the bedside, and his grandmother, grandfather, and another family member were visiting him. He was feeling his strength returning, told us he had been up walking around the unit earlier that afternoon, and had been tolerating clear liquids and yogurt without any difficulties. His abdominal incision was healing well but his face and hands were still a little puffy from all the fluids they gave him prior to surgery. With time, this would decrease and has already begun to do so reported the grandmother. We told Thanduxolo how much you (Capital Chuch) loves him and has been praying for him, and he thanks you so much! While we were there we were able to give him a backpack, school supplies, new clothes, hygiene kit, (things we gave to the kids at the care point) and prayed with Thanduxolo and his family. Thanduxolo loves the Lord and thanks you all for helping to save his life! Before we left, Thanduxolo got back into bed to get some rest, so he will continue to need some prayers, but is definitely getting stronger every day. What a blessing it was to see him!
Praises during the week: 2,200 seedlings were planted on an overcast day and a downpour came that the evening to water the ground. The older kids were on break so we were able to do different developmental skills with them. I was able to teach the older girls and the mages basic hygiene and basic first aid. These included things like, if you catch on fire, you need to stop, drop and roll, and teaching about how to use aloe vera (which grows wildly everywhere here) to help with healing burns (which is common since a lot of Swazi’s cook over an open fire) and how hand washing is the number one thing we can do to prevent the spread of infections! (This is emphasized in hospitals and is important for us to put into practice as well!)
A few other special moments were seeing the kids continue to wear different crafts (like the crown, stick on jewels, stickers, glitter) throughout the week. Having little boys and girls run up to you to hold your hand, have you hold them, or play netball, soccer, frisbee, keep away, or dancing games with them. And hearing them sing! Mbuso led the kids in a song that went like this “Making melodies in my heart, making melodies in my heart, making melodies in my heart, to the King of Kings.” Then this would repeat. But with each round you would have to sing it with your thumbs up, then shoulders up, next elbows in, after that knees bent, bum out, turn around, and lastly tongue out! One little girl sang it throughout the whole day on our last day here at the care point, which was today. It was the most precious thing! I could have cried, (Oh wait, I did!). Oh how God loves all the little children in the world!
One of the things I love about the God we serve is that is not limited by our own expectations. No matter what expectations we may have, he meets them, exceeds them, and completely blows us away with what he’s doing and how he’s always working to build up and encourage his Church, even in ways that we don’t expect. This has been evident in so many ways this week, but for me it has been particularly so in VBS.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the term, “VBS” stands for “Vacation Bible School.” In the United States, many churches organize some kind of summer day camp program for kids which usually includes lots of songs, games, crafts, and, of course, learning about the Bible. One of the fun things about a trip like this is that we have the opportunity to bring an experience similar to the ones that American kids are used to having to the kids here in Swaziland. All week we’ve been conducting a VBS program at the Care Point. We’ve been acting out stories about David to show how God loves us no matter what, even when we’re weak, scared, successful, and make mistakes.
All of us who helped put the VBS program together are Sunday school and VBS veterans. However, in any church program or mission trip, you encounter circumstances that you can’t anticipate. Something I’ve discovered this week that I didn’t expect is how big of a blessing VBS has been, not only to the kids, but also to me.
What I often forget is how much I depend on language to connect with people, including kids. While the common language in Swaziland is SiSwati, the kids learn English in school, and by the time they’re teenagers, many of them speak very good English. The younger kids, on the other hand, don’t know how to say (or understand) very much beyond their own names and ages. Though you can communicate your love for the kids simply by playing with them and serving them, in the presence of a language barrier I can’t help but feel a little disconnected, and it’s easy to get discouraged.
It’s just in that moment when God shows up through VBS. When we perform skits, one of the members of the Swazi staff at the care point, Mbuso, translates for us, making it possible for us to encourage them with God’s love in a context that they understand. When we sing, the songs are in English, but by singing the same ones every day eventually the kids are able to learn them. Sometimes I see the kids walking around the care point humming the songs and doing the hand motions as they go. One girl even approached me individually and asked me to teach her the songs, as she genuinely wanted to learn them. VBS, then, becomes a vehicle by which we can connect with the kids and feel like we have something in common with them, despite language differences.
Something else that I didn’t expect is that the adolescent kids have also come and participated in VBS. When we prepared it, we expected the older kids to be occupied doing other projects around the Care Point while we were doing VBS. For this reason, many of the songs that we brought are ones that, in the States, are intended for small children. Do the adolescents still appreciate these songs? Again, it’s often hard to tell. But God shows up yet again, this time through the words of one of the adolescents at the Care Point who wrote these words referring to one of the songs in a letter to her sponsor: “I know that my God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.”
Surely God is a God who knows exactly what we need and blesses us with even more than we can even imagine. In all of those moments when I have not known what to say or do, God has used his truth to bridge the gap and show me how much I can learn from these kids’ enthusiasm to seek God and hold on to every part of who he is. Every day God continues to show in so many ways how he truly does love us—love me—no matter what.
Wow- where do I begin? Swaziland has been absolutely amazing and I cannot believe that we only have two more days at this wonderful care point with these kids who have captured my heart, so I’m not going to write about it. What I am going to write about though are a few of the amazing kiddos who I’ve met in this experience so far.
I think back to the very first day when we arrived at the guest house and had our cultural orientation- we were told about how the kids want loving touch more than anything, craving even the brush of a finger when applying a band-aid. Pouring out love into these children’s lives is our main purpose for being here, as they may only receive this love and loving touch once a year in May. What is even more amazing than the love that we are able to pour into their lives is the love that they are pouring into ours. My heart is so full for these wonderful, joyful children who God has called us to serve.
About the kiddos that we’ve met here- they are absolutely beautiful, smiling children of God!!! I’ve had the pleasure of holding, sitting, playing, and laughing with many of them. They are so loving, walking up to you and holding your hand, raising their arms to let your know they want to be held, or pretzeling your hands around their front into a warm embrace.
I found one girl crying in the corner this morning, her name Vusikelo, and went over to hold her. She continued crying, however, and after asking some of the older girls what was wrong we could not figure it out. One boy brought her pink, plastic bowl over filled with water for her to drink which she took and drank (today was VERY hot). She perked up immediately! She smiled, played with orange play dough, and responded with a vocal “cheeese” when I told her to smile for Dawn’s camera. After that she did not want to leave my side for much of the day, even waiting outside for me when I went in for lunch. Gosh she’s so sweet and I wish you could see her beautiful face/smile. Another two beautiful girlies I want to mention are Zama and Nkosephayo, who stayed at the care point a little later today and made their mark in my heart, making silly faces for my camera. They are so silly and giggly, and my kind of girls (as many friends back home would tell you I have some pretty goofy camera faces)!!! I absolutely love being with these children, and am so thankful to God for calling me here.
Oh, and just a little side story that everyone on the team has gotten some giggles out of…
So there I was helping some kids decorate their “King David” crowns after a long day of playing,work, and VBS (vacation bible school), and I was starting to feel a little faint realizing that I hadn’t really been drinking water regularly. I went inside to find a water bottle, but instead found that we’d run out. I rushed to one of our team leaders, Tara, seeing if she had anything. Looking around she found a half-full water bottle that had the cover of one of our nurses. Giving it to me, she said that she wouldn’t mind me drinking it so I chugged it…. Basically I ended up getting really sick, and we realized later why this happened- I had drank half of a water bottle of HYDROGEN PEROXIDE! Let’s just say that it was not the yummiest beverage that I have consumed in my life, but it did make for a good story.
Tara has now been fired (just kidding!), but she does continue to remind me not to drink the water.
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