Having a Heart for Africa touches lives of orphans- By Lu Ann Franklin Times Correspondant

October 07, 2013 6:45 pm  •  Lu Ann Franklin Times Correspondent

MUNSTER | In the small southern African kingdom of Swaziland, children struggle to feed and shelter their younger siblings after the deaths of their fathers and mothers from HIV/AIDS.
Some youngsters sell themselves to men to survive. Other orphaned babies and young children are abandoned in fields, along the road or in hovels they once called home, left to die unless someone besides a predator finds them.
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Out of My Comfort Zone by Sharla Miller

I hesitated to tell this story because I was afraid anyone considering a trip to Africa might be ‘scared’ off if you thought you had to do this, but let me just say, you are free to say ‘no’ to anything you just can’t stand the idea of doing…  So I could have said ‘no’…  But…

On the day we were out in the community around Project Canaan (PC), serving the families of the people who work at PC, and others in their community, we headed out to the home of a single mom.

Her home was in a pretty remote location, so we reached a point in our journey when we had to get out of our nice comfortable Quantam, (aka. Van), and all pile into the back of a pick-up truck to go off-roading!  I think a vehicle had passed that way before, but it was the bumpiest ride I’ve ever taken…  and the most fun too!  (There is a country girl just bustin’ to get out of this southern city girl!)

When we arrived at her home, we found we had a lot of prep work to finish before we could plant the garden.  We grabbed our rakes and pick axes and got to work.  At one point I stopped to rest for a minute (big mistake) and Anthony from Project Canaan, one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet said, “You need to go into the manure pen and get some cow dung.”

Now I have a history of misunderstanding what people say to me whose first language is not English (I am NOT good with language), so I smiled, certain that I had misunderstood him, and got back to work…  ASAP!!  I was really hoping he’d mysteriously forget (or find someone else) and I’d be off the hook.

But no…  a little bit later my friend Sallie and I took a break and we were chatting (silly girls)…  Anthony came over to us and said, “Take the seedlings out of the tub and go into the manure pen and fill it with cow dung.”  I said, “Anthony is there a shovel?”  He said, “No, use your arms, scoop it, scoop it!”  Sallie and I looked at each other, our eyes big as wagon wheels, shrugged and said ‘ok’.  I think we were in shock…  surely we had entered another dimension…  two southern city girls were going to scoop cow dung?!  And then we started laughing…  and we couldn’t stop!

Thankfully Anthony must have realized he had asked the wrong girls and he sent another one of the PC guys to help us.  We raked (ok, I raked and Sallie who had gloves, scooped with something we found laying on the ground) and the PC guy scooped it into the tub with his hands!  For those who will know to ask the question, “Was it dried or fresh?”  It was both!

Of course I yelled for my mom to come get a picture…  I needed proof for my husband, and for myself too, for when I emerged through the rabbit hole…  or the wardrobe…  or whatever would take me back to my comforts I’ve become far too accustomed to…

We filled the tub and even managed to spread it in the garden, but I have to admit, I was a little ashamed a few minutes later…  Anthony didn’t send us back to refill the tub, instead a child, probably not more than 10-12, came walking up with a big flour sack that they had filled with cow dung, and emptied it into our tub for us.

I am such a soft woman…  I know it’s ‘city life’…  the culture I live in…  but I can’t stand that doing things their way…  is such a novelty to me…  I hate that bugs scare me…  I hate that the thought of a snake freaks me out…  and I hate that standing in a manure pen (with all of its smells) grosses me out.

A friend of mine wrote last year that his comforts are an idol to him…  I have thought about that all year…  and it was so real to me on this trip.  I did my best to ‘suck it up’ and experience everything, but I really did feel like a visitor from another dimension (and this was my 7th trip!).  And there were things I couldn’t let myself fully enjoy because of the things I was afraid of…

I am thankful for my comforts and I am blessed to have them…  But I need to find a way to stop letting the absence of them limit me (like what to do when you’re in a country that has no Orkin man)…  I have no idea how to make that happen, so I’ll just start with praying about it… (Ugh…  I wonder if that will turn out to be like praying for patience?!)

I guess we’ll just have to see what happens… Who knows, maybe I’ll find that country girl in me yet and learn to be a little more like the women who are quickly becoming my heroes… some of the women of Swaziland who are fearlessly, hard workers.  Women who don’t complain, but just do…  Women whose joy overflows, and their trust in God is unshakeable, no matter what the circumstances are…  Maybe in part because comfort is not an idol to them!

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Why Heart for Africa? By: Kirstin Cassell

Let me be honest. If you want to do some international humanitarian aid, there are LOTS of ways to do it.  Many trips are cheaper and the travel time is considerably less.  To get to Swaziland, I left my house at noon (EST) on Saturday and 44 hours later, I arrived at our hotel in Swaziland – about 8 am on Monday (EST – it was around 2 pm local time). We had time for orientation and then went to bed. The next morning we were finally ready to get up and work.  You spend a considerable amount of time just traveling when you go to serve in Swaziland. Traveling home is faster – only about 33 hours.  Travel to Johannesburg is not cheap, and Swaziland doesn’t really have many safe options for a big group to stay, so we actually stay in a fancier hotel than I stay in when I travel in the US!

So why are we so committed to Heart for Africa? Why Swaziland?  Oh, I’m so glad you asked! :)

We have been involved with Heart for Africa since 2008 when my husband first traveled with them. He also just rotated off of their Board of Directors this past fall. I’m hoping when church-plant stuff slows down a bit, he’ll be able to serve on their board again one day.  Rob has been on five Heart for Africa trips and I just returned from my second. In the years we’ve been involved, we’ve really gotten to see how Heart for Africa operates. We’ve gotten to know Janine and Ian Maxwell, who moved to Swaziland about a year ago to be able to serve there full-time. And I am thrilled that I’ve gotten to know Jimmy and Chrisy Wilferth. Jimmy is now the President of Heart for Africa US since the Maxwells moved to Swaziland. You’ll just have to take my word for it, but these folks are fabulous.

There are two main reasons why we will continue to serve with Heart for Africa:

1. They are doing it right.

This is not an organization full of Westerners who are coming into a third-world country to “fix” things. Heart for Africa partners with local churches who are already working hard to improve conditions in their country. Heart for Africa staff and teams listen to them, partner with them, and assist with the things that they have identified as helpful.  It’s about empowering Swazis and encouraging them.  The Project Canaan Farm exists to provide food and employment to local Swazis, and food to the churches and orphanages with which HFA partners. Let me tell you, as a social worker, all this is REALLY really important to me. It isn’t a bunch of Christians who are trying to bring Western Christianity into a country.  Don’t get me wrong, it is very much a Christian organization. Everything Heart for Africa does is to bring glory to God; to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Swaziland.  I see Jesus in everything they do.  I have to admit, sometimes I hear how some organizations are trying to serve God around the world and it makes me cringe. Heart for Africa works within Swazi culture, not trying to change it but loving the Swazi people as they are, the way Jesus does for us.

And they’re really listening… to God and to the Swazi people. In Swaziland, there are no orphanages that will take children under three. So Heart for Africa has opened a Baby Home. It’s been open less than a year and they already have 37 babies. They’ve built a Toddler Home and many of the babies will transition there in September. Those children need education so now there is a brand-new Preschool and there are plans to have a Primary School and a High School as the kids grow up. The Swazi government knows about Heart for Africa and social workers now call Janine first when they learn of a situation involving a baby.

Sisekelo PreSchool

They’re helping the community. Some mothers who have chosen to place their babies with Heart for Africa have older children still with them. Heart for Africa is building a special home for some of those mothers so they can have a safe place to live with their children when they truly had nowhere else to go. As a mother and as an adoptive mama, this is really dear to my heart. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to empower mothers to be able to keep their children. What an incredible gift that is to a family and to a community!

Housing going up!
HfA is currently paying rent for two women & their children
until they can move in here!

Heart for Africa provides opportunities for job training and employment. They have a carpentry center, Kufundza Learning Center, where men can come and learn the skill. They are getting accredited so that participants can have official Swazi certificates of training when they complete the program.  They have just started a jewelry project, Khutsala Artisans, where women can come and learn to make jewelry that Heart for Africa will sell so that the women can earn an income.  On the farm, there are job opportunities as well!

Khutsala Artisans Jewelry
Kufundza Learning Center – Carpentry Apprenticeship

2. The Swazis are worth it.

If I lived there, I would hope and pray that someone would be willing to come even though it’s hard and even though it’s far. And they do pray that. It is so humbling to hear someone tell you that you are the answer to their prayer.  When I was in Swaziland in 2010, we were visiting homesteads in our community and when we told a man how far we had come, he stood up and hugged us! He said he’d been praying to God that someone would come and that we were the answer to that prayer. We brought him so much joy and all we did was walk up to his homestead and offer to pray with him. This is hard to explain, but relationships are really important to the Swazi people and just going and being there to encourage them does so much.

Swazis are relational. I’ve been told this many times. Until this trip, I thought that meant that although we did have tasks to accomplish each day (planting seedlings, watering gardens, distributing TOMS Shoes, food, and clothing), the most important thing was spending time with the people we came to visit.  And it is true that the time we spent with the children of Ebholi Primary School and with the families on the homesteads was meaningful to them.  But this year, I experienced this in a whole new way. I visited Ebholi for the first time this year, but my husband has been there twice. They knew who I was within five minutes of my arrival there. The kids saw my name tag with my last name and said “You are Rob’s wife! He has told us about you!”  And then they asked me about my kids! I brought a photo album with pictures from the previous year’s trip and they remembered everyone by name.  They recognized Rob’s guitar case.  Just being there means so so much to them. You don’t need to bring them anything; the fact that you have come is the greatest gift. This is incredible.

This is Rob in 2010 at Ebholi School… three years before I ever got to go!
He was also there in 2012, but I don’t know where he saved his pictures from that trip!  I recognize so many of those sweet faces!

This year, I got to serve as Team Leader for my team. Honestly, I was hesitant about it, but I am so glad I did. And one of the best moments for me was getting to complete the Heart for Africa survey with Ms. Similane, the deputy-principal at Ebholi Primary School. When I asked her what Heart for Africa does well, I was overjoyed and humbled by her answer. She said Heart for Africa is really good at helping them provide for the kids’ basic needs. Then she said, “it’s the encouragement. Knowing that they are here for us emotionally, that they are supporting us and that they stand beside us.” What!?!?  That is amazing!  In this country where people are starving, where children and adults are dying of HIV/AIDS, the #2 thing that was so important to Ms. Similane was knowing she’s not alone, knowing that Heart for Africa stands with her as she struggles to help the children in her care. That, my friends, is truly amazing.

I still can’t figure out why I get the honor of serving in Swaziland. I can’t begin to explain the joy it brings, I can’t explain how my heartbreak brings me closer to God. I can only show you and hope you’ll come with me to Swaziland one day. God is working there, and getting to be a part of what he’s doing is an honor. I am so grateful.

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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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