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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