What exactly am I doing in Swaziland? By: Audrey Wright

The last three blog posts I’ve done have been sort of serious, so I thought I’d do one that simply describes some of what I’m doing here in Africa for my internship.

I am the writing intern. Yes, it is an intentionally vague title. I’ve done a variety of writing since I’ve been here: blogging, profiles, and reflections. My first assignment has been gathering information on each of the 35 little ones at the El Roi Baby Home and constructing uniform biographies. Since each has a unique story of how they got here and the amount of written information on he/she varies, it’s been a bit more challenging than I originally thought, but still a joy to put together. The biographies include their Christian name, the Biblical namesake behind it, who named them, their Swazi name and its meaning, and a short summary of the baby’s journey to Project Canaan. One of my most favorite parts of this whole project has been reading the Bible as I research the babies’ Christian names. For example, one baby was named after Anna the Prophetess from the Gospel of Luke. She only is mentioned in three verses, but she is said to have been a fiercely devoted follower of God and predictor of Christ’s coming. Though I have read Luke many times, I couldn’t recall Anna’s story prior to researching her. And it’s been that way with many of the other babies, too. I have a very neat job!

I’m also involved with TOMS & FMSC. Heart for Africa is a partner of both TOMS shoes and Feed My Starving Children. Once or twice a year, they send in reports detailing their outreach partnership and successes/hardships. I’ve been given the opportunity to put some of these reports together, which has proven to be quite awesome. In writing these reports, I encounter and get to tell some of the most precious stories of how HFA has been able to reach out to the community. Not only have they given away thousands of shoes just this summer, HFA in partnership with TOMS has been able to keep kids in school, furthering their education and benefitting the future of this country, since children must have a pair of shoes to attend school and some pupils would not have any otherwise. Feed My Starving Children, a faith-based organization, helps HFA distribute some 74,000 hot meals per week to the surrounding community. UH, THAT’S AWESOME! The manna packs are filled with nutritious food, which will keep the students wearing TOMS healthy enough to continue thriving at school.

I get to follow Mrs. Janine Maxwell around. Though I do love the writing part of my internship, perhaps the most incredible part of my time here has been being able to tag along with the superwoman who is Janine, the co-founder of Heart for Africa and “leader of the pack”. Talk about a woman after God’s own heart! She has followed Him thousands of miles away from her home country pursue His true purpose for her life. And boy is she motivated to do whatever He may ask. I told her last week when we were venturing into town to visit a pregnant girl (whose baby, Daniel, is now at El Roi) that it’s as if the hand of God just sits on her shoulder as she goes about her business in Swaziland, making a way for her in the darkness and connecting the dots of His will. She has a triple-A personality combined with a fierce love for Christ; Janine is absolutely fantastic at what she does. I am so thankful to be able to learn from her.

I am living with some awesome people. There are ten of us in total. Four interns: JD, Danny, Danielle, and myself. We all live at the Lodge, which is in a top corner of Project Canaan, with some other long-term volunteers. Danny is from Missouri and is the farm intern; he helps out with various things on PC, such as fixing engines, changing oil on farm equipment, burning firebreaks, and helping with harvesting. JD—from Pleasanton, California—and Danielle—from Missouri—are the trip interns. They spend half of their time at the Lodge and the other half at the Lugogo Sun Hotel with the trip participants who fly in every other week, helping out with trip logistics. Mike & Austin are here until December, and have been here since early 2013. Mike—from Wisconsin—operates heavy machinery, and he’s been clearing several spots for construction while I’ve been here. Austin, from my hometown of Alpharetta, Georgia, is here helping with carpentry; anything from baby cribs to kitchen cabinets. Shelby and Riley, recent high school graduates, just arrived and are here for six months working at the baby home. And finally, Jimmy (HFA’s president) and his wife, Chrissy, are also back-and-forth between the hotel & Lodge, supervising the incoming volunteer trips and planning for the next one in-between.It’s been an absolute blast getting to know everyone. We have some of the most entertaining dinner times I’ve ever been a part of (just picture 10 people trying to cook at once) and I’ve learned a million new card games since arriving (no TV means no after-dinner movie!). They are some of the most genuine, selfless, and joyful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, and we all have bonded greatly in the span of two short weeks. We have wonderful fellowship times where we talk about our relationships with God, and we also have times where all we do is laugh at one another for being silly.
It’s a beautiful thing to know that God has purposefully brought us all together from various places and different walks of life for just short period of time to bond and serve together.

Living on a farm in Africa is an adventure. Living at the Lodge, though extremely nice when compared to most living conditions here, has been an adventure in itself. It’s the middle of winter here, yet there are more spiders hanging from our ceilings than I’ve ever seen in the US. Being the nerdy girl I am, I don’t mind them (and think they’re actually pretty cool) but it’s still kind of unsettling when you leave the kitchen to go to your room and almost run into a large orb spider hanging inches from your face. Oh hey there!There isn’t heat or air conditioning, so it can get pretty chilly at night. I sleep with four blankets on my bed and I am dressed in pajama pants & a shirt, my Patagonia fleece + fuzzy socks, and still find myself getting cold sometimes. The wind is a bit unpredictable too. For a few nights during the first week, Danielle and I (the only ones living in the girls dorm at the time) would be woken up at night as our door was blown open by the wind. So, now we have to barricade our door each night with a chair…just to keep out the wind! We’ve had a few cold showers here and there, just to keep things interesting. There are occasional bad smells in the bathroom and surprising water pressure changes. And if you hang up your clothes to dry and forget them overnight, they’ll be wet again in the morning. Always an adventure!

Compared with the rest of the farm, though, the Lodge is a tame place. Last week at the Farm Manager’s Building, they caught a 20ft python that was just chilling in the bushes nearby. Don’t worry; it was escorted off of PC to go live on a reserve so the babies at El Roi need not fear.The walk to and from anywhere else on the farm from the Lodge is quite a hike, considering how we overlook most of the property up here. I definitely think I will come back to the US not only in better shape mentally and spiritually, but physically as well! If you read my “A Walk to Remember” blog, that experience really made me thankful for the phenomenal transportation system we have in the States. Dirt roads, though more scenic, definitely make walking & driving more of a ride than a drive.

I’m having the time of my life. Though I’ve been faced with tough situations and have been dealing with my own life problems, I could not be in a better place right now. Being surrounded by loving, Godly people who make you laugh on a daily basis is just the medicine a soul needs to heal and be renewed. I get to love on 35 of the cutest little ones you’ve ever seen and write about their stories. I get to learn about and be moved by the country of Swaziland. I get to reach out to the surrounding community with the love of Christ. And oh, it’s a marvelous thing to be a part of! I know God has me here for a reason and I take comfort in that when I get sad or homesick. I hope to return so filled up with purpose that I continue to serve Christ daily back at college, at home, and wherever I may go.

Thank you to all who have been keeping up with and praying for me…I am incredibly grateful to have such utterly amazing people in my life. I love you all!

XOXO,Audrey

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Important announcement: Babies have arrived at the El Roi Baby home on Project Canaan

It was Easter morning in 2003 that I first witnessed the rescue of a child who lived on the streets of Lusaka, Zambia. It was an earth-shattering, life-changing event that changed the entire trajectory of my life.  I saw hope in the face of six year old boy named Kantwa, as he said goodbye to the filth, the terror and the hopelessness of life as a “street kid”. It may have been in that moment that I first truly understood the power of the resurrected Jesus, and it was Easter morning.

It is now the week before Easter 2012 and I am overwhelmed as I reflect on all at all that has happened in the past nine years.  I have experienced intense pain at the death of children I love in Africa and I have cried a thousand tears and wondered if they would ever end.  But I have also see miracles with my own eyes, seen buildings built, funding appear from the most unexpected places and felt the hand of God on my life in a palpable way.

But today I am writing to tell you of a new story of hope and it comes with the news that the El Roi Baby Home on Project Canaan, in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland, is now open. El Roi is the Hebrew name for “The God Who Sees” (read Genesis 16:13) and we know that He sees the babies who are being directed to us just as He sees you and me.

In late February 2012 we opened our doors and wondered when, how and even IF any babies would be brought to the El Roi Baby home.  Swaziland has the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in the world and this murderous and relentless pandemic has a left a wake of orphans and vulnerable children.  It has also left women (often young girls) with a feeling of utter hopelessness that results in them “dumping” or abandoning their new born babies because they have to possible way to care for them.

On March 1st, 2012 our first newborn baby arrived. Please allow me to introduce you to the newest members of our family and of the El Roi Baby Home.

Baby #1:  Joshua was a three-day-old baby boy was brought to us because his mother couldn’t care for him and had planned to “dump” him as soon as he was born.  The child’s father had been murdered months prior to the baby’s birth and a caring Social Worker convinced the mother to bring the child to life safely and she would help find him a home.  El Roi is his new home.

Baby #2: – Esther was a 14-day old baby girl who arrived a couple of days after Joshua.  Esther’s mother was young and planned to commit suicide in her eighth month of pregnancy.  Again, a caring (and life-saving) Social Worker convinced her to save her own life and the life of the baby.  The baby was abandoned at the door of a man who delivered the child to a local hospital.  The mother is HIV positive and Esther was treated as soon as she was born.  We will know in a few weeks whether she is HIV positive as well, and what her future care needs will be. El Roi is now the home for this little girl.

Baby #3: Fortune is a baby boy and is 8 months old and only weighs 12.3 pounds.  Fortune was delivered to a local hospital in a cardboard box, by his father who is in the final stages of HIV/AIDS.  His mother had already succumbed to the disease and the father was no longer able to care for him.  Fortune is HIV positive and is being treated with ARV’s.  He has active Tuberculosis and is covered in terrible sores and lesions.  If that wasn’t enough for this little guy, he is severely malnourished and is struggling to survive.  El Roi is now his home.

Baby #4: Sizoluhle (which means “a good helper”) arrived TODAY (March 29, 2012) and is 8 weeks old.  His mother was raped in South Africa and as a result is HIV positive and while she does not want to have anything to do with the child, the Social Worker encouraged the mother to care for the baby for a time to see if she would change her mind.  Today she brought the baby to the hospital and left him there.  El Roi is now his home.

Baby #5: Anna is a baby girl, is a month old and has been living in a government hospital since she was found in a pit latrine (outhouse/toilet) just after she was born.  She has been struggling with a chest infection since then and getting treatment in the hospital.  While she has not arrived at El Roi yet, we are praying that she will be released to our care in the hours/days ahead and El Roi will be her home.

As you can see we have much to be thankful for and much to pray for.  The emotional and physical cost to care for these babies is high.  Please join us in praying for Helen Mulli and the others who have been hired to provide 24 hour care at the El Roi Baby home. As some of you may know, Helen was rescued by Mr. Charles Mulli at the tender age of eight-years old and was raised by Mr. & Mrs. Mulli at the Mulli Children’s Family Home in Kenya.  She has grown to be a wonderful woman of God, married Peter Mulli (Charles’ youngest brother, and Kaleli’s Uncle) and is now living at the El Roi Baby Home to care for “the abandoned and ignored” babies who are brought to us.

As you would expect there is also a high financial cost to care for these babies so that they get proper and immediate health care, the right nutrition for their situation and all the love that can be poured on them.  Currently we only have 6 people helping on a monthly basis and are asking if you would consider becoming a Heart for Africa HERO by committing to a monthly donation to support the El Roi Baby Home.  It is as simple as clicking here and signing up today.

This has been a long read, but I hope that you are inspired by it and will join me in prayer and thanksgiving to the Lord who is the giver of life, and to El Roi, the one who SEES us all. Thank you also to Annie Duguid, from the Watoto Baby Home in Uganda, who came to Swaziland to help prepare the El Roi team to be ready to receive babies (including hiring and training women who will love and care for these children).  We are thankful for the leadership team at Watoto who invested in the El Roi Baby Home by giving Annie six weeks of paid leave to come and serve with us. Thank you to our Staff at Heart for Africa and on Project Canaan and to our Board of Directors in the US and Canada who have stood by us through the highs and lows as we have prepared the way for the little ones to arrive.

Happy Easter everyone!  He has risen indeed!

Janine Maxwell

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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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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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