Third Tour of Duty to Africa By: Mark McGee

I’m returning for my third tour of duty.  And I consider this a duty.  I’ve learned something in the past few years.  I know better, now.  And, more importantly, now that I “know better” I must act upon that.

My first trip to Swaziland began with God getting my attention. There was a family discussion with my three children.  My eldest daughter was 16 and my twins were 13.  I discussed the opportunity to go and serve orphans and vulnerable children with the skill God gave me as a dentist.

Initially, I chose to ignore traveling. I had the usual excuses.  I didn’t have enough time.  I’m a solo practitioner so there wouldn’t be anyone available to see my patients if I left the office for 11 days. Besides, there were over three hundred patient appointments that  had already been scheduled during the time we would travel.  There was no time available to reschedule them.  We were simply too busy.  So, I ignored God.  But my children didn’t.  After months of the topic coming up at family dinners,  I explained to my children that it simply wasn’t logistically possible.  “ I’ll send a check” I told them.  Not good enough.

With just a few days left to sign up for a trip, I was driving my (then 12 year old) daughter to school. She asked “Dad, are we going to Africa?”  I explained again how it just wasn’t possible to move 300 plus patient appointments.  As we pulled into the school, she turned to me and said “Dad, your patients will understand.  Besides, if we don’t go and help those kids in Africa, who will?”  She closed the car door and walked into school. If my 12 year old daughter had learned how to answer God’s call, well, so could I. I had decided not to listen to God.  God knew that I was listening to my child.

MInutes later I walked into my office, announced to my staff that I would need their help in rescheduling our patients because I was going to Africa.

An extensive list of plans, equipment and supplies was put together.  Logistics of doing dentistry in a remote orphanage in the hills of Swaziland were attempted.  Ultimately, I had to trust God in making it all come together to do  “His work”.

I could fill your hearts with some amazing stories of His providence during out first 11 day trip to Swaziland.  There simply isn’t room for it here. Ask me personally though, and I would be happy to do so.

Two years later, my son (then 15) and I travelled back to Swaziland.  This time though with a greater understanding of what it means to not only be called by God to serve, but to dutifully obey Him.

My son filled most of his days working with a local church while I treated long lines of smiling, and sometimes frightened, children.

My body was exhausted at the end of every day, but my heart was filled with emotions so deep and powerful that they can’t be described beyond encouraging anyone reading this to simply go and experience it for yourselves.  It will transform you mind, you heart and your very soul.

So, here I am again. Fulfilling my duty. My duty to serve orphans, widows and vulnerable children as god has instructed.  But now,  I have a much greater understanding of what God wants for my life.  He doesn’t now, nor did He ever “need” me to accomplish His works on this Earth.  He is quite capable on His own.  He surely doesn’t want my money.  What He wants is my heart.

My twins Matt and Missy, now 17, will be traveling with me this summer.

James 1:27

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Love, Hope, and Swaziland by Flipper Kao

I have travelled to Swaziland twice from Taiwan.  As I left Lugogo Sun in July of 2010, my first trip to Africa, I decided to go back as soon as possible, because I had been literally connected with this country. I want to share some of my experiences in Africa, especially the people I met, which is the most precious part in my memories. The following stories are mainly based on my trip in 2011.

Mark Haflinger, a strong man with tenderness from New Mexico, whom I met on 2010’s trip, was the guy sitting next to me on the bus to Lugogo Sun from O.R. Tambo Airport. Though we have known each other for a year, we still started our conversation with talking about our family. We had great time chatting. After a while, I ask a question to Mark, “Why did you decide to come back here?” Mark gave me a straight answer, “’Cause God sent me here. He asked me to come, how did I dare to say no?” The answer shocked me. I decided to go back to Swaziland because I made a promise (sorry Janine I know you don’t like for us to say promises we can’t keep) to the locals that I will come back. I love the land, the church, the pastor, and all of the people in the church “Jesus is the answer”, it seems reasonable for me to go back to serve again. But Mark’s answer reminded me the originality of volunteering: because God sends us to do, and we should praise for every chance HE give us to serve others. That’s also the same thing I learned from Derek Edwards, team leader of my team for both years. My first thought to him is a very devout guy, which was proven to be truth. While farming the crops in the village, he always said “Thank you Jesus” every time he stroke the land with the hoe. He must be the strongest person I have ever met, and also the most humble one. He is humble to everyone as well as to the Lord. He spent all of his energy to serve every day, making him exhausted every evening. He is my best model of serving as the servant of the God. I do learn many lessons from him.

Let’s talk about the locals I met in Swaziland. Senzo Sukati, my best friend in Dondon village, is 12 years elder than me. He is really an amazing guy who taught me a lot about the country. On the first day I knew him, he introduced the school system in Swaziland to me. I asked a naïve question, “How come your children don’t go to the college?” “Some of them haven’t been to high school yet.” he replied, “Most of them have lost one or both of their parents, and the family often have at least 5 children to raise. How can they make enough money for the tuition to the college? Even if they can, no one’s going to pay for the family living since the tuition fee is all they have.” His answer reminded me the fact of this country: 42% HIV positive and an average age of 29. That was the first thing I learned from a real Swazi, desperation. However, he and all the villagers showed me the enthusiasm and hope of the church very soon by their breath-taking singing. The voice penetrated into my heart, almost making me cry. I was completely touched by these people. They have nothing, but they praise Him. They have appreciation. That’s the most valuable thing I was able to take back from Africa: appreciation. In later days, he helped us finish the gate of the garden by collecting some old nails from the abandoned wood. He also taught me many SiSwati words and even phrases. By the last day we were there, realizing we were about to go, Senzo held my hands sincerely and said, ”What you guys do for us is really a good thing, which all of us appreciate a lot. But when you go back to your city, your area or your country, you guys should do the same good things.” This statement astonished me. You can try to imagine these words spoken out through the mouth of a person who has nothing. Oh no, just like Mark and Derek, Senzo is totally full of faith. This is also one of the important lessons I had in Swaziland.

On the preparation day for Litsembe 2011, our team was asked to collect the trash beside the path. My lovely grandma, Karen Ward, asked me a question “I heard you say after coming to Africa your life was totally changed. How has it changed?” At the moment I didn’t give her a good answer, because I haven’t summarized all the ideas in my mind. Now I CAN tell you a clear answer, Miss Karen. My life was totally changed because I know how to trust in God, how to  be humble and how to praise HIM. These are life-time lessons I will never forget.

Last but not least, I want to express my thanks. Thanks to every volunteer in Africa. Thank you Janine for bring all of us there. Thank you Seth for giving me a big hug to let me know you still remember our friendship. Thank you Karen, Sarah, Keely, and James, you bring lots of fun to our team while serving at the church. I am sure you’re fit for a pink beanie Miss Karen. Thank you Greg, the coins you gave to the 7 young lions not only give them hope of new life, but also give me the courage to say goodbye to them with a smile but tears. Thank you Spencer, you always greet me so enthusiastically. Thank you Michael, Matt, Uncle Tom, Randy and Corey, knowing you guys enriched my lives in Swaziland. Thank you James Liao, I wouldn’t have had the chance to go to Swaziland without your efforts. Thank you every Taiwanese people, all of you made me feel at home every night when we held our meeting outside. Also thank you Amber for inviting me to write this article. And most importantly, THANK YOU MY LORD.

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Father and Son in Swaziland By: Scott and Evan Anderson

My name is Evan Anderson and in July 2011 I went with Heart for Africa to Swaziland.  It was an amazing experience.  One of the things that impacted me the most was the children.  When I first arrived I was so happy to see the children until one of them cupped their hands together and asked, “Can I have some food?”, it made me so sad knowing that I had no food to give them.  Another child asked me to read them a story from the bible, so I started reading the story of creation and before I knew it I had 40 kids surrounding me.  I felt like they all looked up to me.  Me, of all people!  I said to myself, “Why do they want to play and do things with me?  I’m just a regular 10 year-old boy, just like some of them.”  On the last day as we drove away the children yelled “bye!”  I was so happy.  I really liked my trip.  I recommend it to anyone.  It changed my life, now let it change yours.

By: Evan Anderson, age 10

What an amazing and proud feeling I have as a father to be able to follow up my son’s blog describing his first mission’s trip and first visit to Africa.  What Evan didn’t mention in his blog was that during this trip he came to the realization that he needed and wanted God in his life as his personal Savior.  WOW!  What a night that was to sit there next to my son and hear him literally cry out for God to save him and come into his life.  Even now tears again fill my eyes remembering that night!  What a true blessing and honor it was to a part of such an amazing 10-day trip and to be able to share it and serve God with my wife, my kids, and my father.

I remember one night sitting down in the restaurant with my dad and my son having a drink and bite to eat and realizing that there were 3 generations of Anderson men sitting there reliving the events of the day. We weren’t talking about the most recent sports stories, the current economy, Evan’s upcoming school year, but rather we were talking about the day we just had serving out in the community, what impacted us the most, what we wish we could do more of, and just how truly blessed we are back here in the United States.  Blessed we are, not just financially and with material possessions but with the fact that the mere possibility of 3 generations of any given family can actually sit down together and have a conversation.

For those of you that have been to Swaziland or any part of Africa really, you know exactly what I mean by saying that we are blessed to be able to have 3 generations sit down to talk.  That opportunity just doesn’t exist in Swaziland.  Kids are raising kids there.  The parents are long gone, and by that I mean passed away, victims of the horrific spread of AIDS/HIV across the entire country.  We knew all of this ahead of time but even while you are there you see all the kids and somehow still in the back of your mind you don’t really process it correctly.  You see all the kids and you somehow think “ oh they are just here during the day, their dad is out at work and their mom is home or also at a job.  When these kids get back home later tonight their parents will be there”.  NO!  That is not how it works in Swaziland.  When those kids go home, if they even have a home to go to, they go home to no parents.  I remember the exact moment distinctively during our trip when this fact became extremely evident to me and I no longer had that false sense in my head that somehow the kids went home to parents.  It was Thursday, the last day out in the community at our church #28, Vovovo Baptist Church.  It was shortly before lunch time and we were all outside in the school/church yard playing when my wife came up to me with a beautiful little baby girl in her arms.  The baby girl wasn’t more than a year old.  Candy then asked me how I thought she got there to the church.  I looked over at all the Go Go’s who were cooking lunch and assumed the girl was brought by one of them.  Candy said no, she came with her brother.  When I asked where her brother was, Candy motioned down next to her leg to a small boy, not more than 5 years old who was holding onto Candy’s leg for dear life.  I guess my puzzled and shocked look advised Candy that I was in disbelief, because Candy went on to tell me that the boy had walked into the yard a few moments ago with his sister strapped to his back with the girls blanket.  I just could not believe what I saw there before me.  Where were the parents and what kind of parents were they to leave their one year old child under the care of their 5 year old son?!   I will tell you what kind of parents – non-existing parents in the most literal sense! They are dead!  These two small children will now go through life with just each other and how long of a life can and will they honestly have like that?  The small boy would not leave his sister’s side. If Candy or I were holding the baby girl he was latched onto our legs.  His one year-old sister was all he had in life and if he lost her or lost sight of her he had nothing else in life. With the Pastor’s help we were finally able to convince him to let us watch his sister for a bit so he could go play and actually be a 5 year-old boy for a while.  To see his face light up when he finally realized it was ok to go play and actually be a boy instead of a father figure, that’s a smile I will never forget.  But I will also never forget the fact that him or his sister will never have the opportunity to sit down and be a part of a 3 generation conversation. They can’t even sit down with 2 generations – their parents – and talk.  And what is worse about that is that they aren’t the only ones!  There are thousands upon thousands of other kids just like them.

The next time you talk to your kids or your parents – even just talking, no special movement or accomplishment, just simply talking – remember how truly blessed you are.  Thank God right then and there for that conversation for there are so many kids in Swaziland that will never know the joy of a simple conversation with their parents.  Conversations that we take for granted all too much.  Shame on us.

In closing let me encourage you, just as my son did, to make plans now to go on one of the many trips next year.  It will truly change your life, open your eyes and heart to a country in need, a country full of children who will never be able to sit at a table with 3 generations of their family and just talk about the day they had.  Stop taking life for granted, stop getting lost in your everyday conversations, decide today to give of yourself by serving on one of the mission trips. If you are a parent, especially a father, lead your family on the right path and go serve together as a family!  Who knows, you too might be able to sit around the table with 3 generations of your family and talk about the amazing day of service you all just had.  Or maybe, your son or daughter will come to you and ask you to kneel beside them as they ask Christ to be the Lord of their life!  Who knows unless you go and find out!

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Africa: Everyone Can Go! By: Debby Sefton

Two years ago, I planned to go on a mission trip to South Africa with Saint Louis Christian College. It would be a five week trip designed for mission interns. My son had previously journeyed on this trip and I was excited this could be available for me to experience as well. I weeded my way through the plans, got permission to be gone from work for an extended period of time, and gave the Professor my “yes” that I could go. By the time I and several others had responded back to him, the airline tickets he had on “hold” were no longer on “hold.” He had to scramble to find the airline tickets he needed, and was able to secure 10 to fly together and I was the 11th person. I could still go, but that would mean me flying in alone, and then taking a smaller plane to another area. We were not comfortable with that journey for a “first time” traveler to another country, so my dream dissolved at that point.

Over the next year, I started seeing my niece (Raelenna Ferguson) post things on Facebook about Africa. How Jeremy and her were excited to go on this missions trip, would be leaving their young children for 10 days, and going to love on little children in orphanages. I didn’t even remember it was Swaziland they were traveling to, just that they were going to AFRICA!!! She started mentioning different things about a fundraiser, a baby home. etc. Still all just random thoughts in my mind as I read her posts. When my husband told me Raelenna had raised $125,000 to build a baby home – THAT got my attention, and I was curious to know what this was all about.

As leader of our community outreach ministry, in the church where I work, I was interested in “filling a spot” with someone to share a global mission. At this point I had asked Raelenna if I might be able to go this trip. I didn’t know if just “anyone” could go and I wondered if I physically could hand it. I have rheumatoid arthritis for 30+ years now, and I could not go on the mission trips, where there was a possibility of sleeping on the floor, walking great distances, doing building projects, etc.

I decided to obtain more information that I personally wanted.   Raelenna was also given the opportunity to share this ministry at our church on a Sunday morning. Raelenna agreed to come and I was excited. I “knew” I was going to Swaziland, and she would give our crowd some food for growth in the area of global missions. In the three minutes, Raelenna shared how God did some powerful things. She had a crowd surrounding her after church buying the HOW jewelry, Janine’s books, and asking how they could find out more about the trip.

Soon we had 9 people committed to traveling to Swaziland from Christ’s Church of Effingham, wondering for the next 9 months what we needed to know, plan, and expect. How FUN!!! We got our Hep A and B shots, exchanged our money, got packed and away we went. Never did I dream the impact that this trip would make on my life!

The highlights were being surrounded by people from all over the world. We fellowshiped, broke bread, and served with people from all over the United States, Canada, and Taiwan. It was a multicultural trip before we ever made it to Swaziland. Once we made it there, our accommodations were very safe and clean to where there was no worry with my low immune system.

But when we got to the community, that is where IT truly started. I saw people who lived a very simple life, had to walk miles for water, got to eat once a day if they were blessed, were conscious of having clean and bright colored clothes in this dry dusty land, and had strong “community” among themselves. They are very aware of who God is!!! Yes, these people knew God and knew it was HE they could depend on!

Janine just spent a weekend with us in Effingham, Illinois speaking about her story and Heart for Africa to various groups. I heard her mention several times, these people need discipleship. It is not about evangelism as much as it is about discipleship. They are ripe for the harvest of learning about how God wants us to live. What a difference we can make if we are willing to go and “do life” with this people and let God’s word and our example of living for Jesus penetrate their lives. Yes I’ve got IT, “the bug” that my Dad was afraid I might have after he read Janine’s book, while I was in Swaziland.

I don’t know where my personal experience and the love of these people might lead from here, but I do know that as of now I cannot imagine a year without traveling to Swaziland to see my new friends in Christ. And I want EVERYONE to know that it is possible for them to GO and have a chance to experience the beautiful faces and lives of God’s creation in the country of Swaziland!

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