Meet Mona Lisa By: Janine Maxwell

(Mona Lisa is the woman standing in the middle with the red shirt and head scarf).

When I arrived in Swaziland last week I immediately asked Kaleli Mulli (our Farm Director) if I could meet with Stula’s mother and her children to tell them how terribly sorry we all were to hear about Stula’s death. He immediately made arrangements for that meeting and this is the story from that meeting.

The young woman who died in childbirth two weeks ago was named Stula. She was the second born of a woman named Mona Lisa (no, I am not making this up). Mona Lisa is 61 years old, four-foot nothing (as we say), weights 80 lbs dripping wet and is feisty, loving, determined and very very sad. Her husband died 26 years ago and she was left to care for and raise 5 children, living in rural Swaziland surrounded by abject poverty.

When Project Canaan began in 2009 both Mona Lisa and Stula sought employment from Kaleli and have worked there for the past 18 months.

Every day Mona Lisa leaves her house at 5AM and walks for two hours to arrive for work at Project Canaan at 7AM sharp. She is a good and faithful worker. At 5PM she leaves work and arrives back home at 7PM to begin preparing a meal for her grandchildren. It is very cold and dark during an hour of both walks as it is winter here in Swaziland and the sun rises late and set early. Now that Stula has passed away Mona Lisa makes the long journey alone.

Mona Lisa says that Stula was her “rock”. Stula was a hard worker and provided for her own four children as well as helped her mother provide for three of her sisters children who have been left with them. With Stula dead, now Mona Lisa must provide for seven grandchildren – an almost impossible task. They range from four to thirteen years of age.

The whole family lives in single room mud hut with a grass roof that has a very big hole in the top of the roof where termites have built large nests and will gradually consume the entire roof. When it rains the water pours on to the mud floor where the children sleep and share only two blankets. The children get themselves up in the morning and leave for school at 6AM. They have a 90 minute walk EACH way, to and from school, and arrive home to wait for Mona Lisa to return from her long day of farm labor.

They must fetch the water from the local crocodile inhabited river (a short 10 minute walk away) and then fetch wood to start the fire on which they boil the river water to cook the maize flour, which will be their meal. While the story is heartbreaking and tragic, it is the same story for MOST Swazi’s in rural Swaziland today.

The point of this blog is not the hardship that they are enduring or the lifestyle in which they are imprisoned, but rather a simple statement made by Mona Lisa that was awe-inspiring and life-changing.

I sat with Mona Lisa on an old tree stump and passed on our condolences for her loss, offered to help provide clothing for her grandchildren and promised to visit and bring food the following day. But I had a burning question that needed asking. I had to ask why and how the family could name Stula’s dead baby “Thank you God”, when both mother and child had died during child birth? Mona Lisa looked at me, and without a moment for pause she said, and I quote, “we must give thanks to the Lord God Almighty. He gives us everything we have and we must thank Him for all things. If God wanted Stula and the baby to live, they would be alive today. He chose to take them away two weeks ago, and His plans are best, so we give thanks.”

I have so much to learn from my soon-to-be neighbor. I may have more food and clothing than her, a nicer home with a whole roof, a kitchen and convenient water supply, but I can only hope and pray that one day I will have the faith of a Swazi grandmother, like my new friend and sister Mona Lisa. May we all give thanks to the Lord God Almighty for He is good and His plans are perfect.

Janine

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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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