How do you sum up such an intense experience as a trip to a CarePoint in Swaziland?
There were highlights:
Being “chosen” by two sisters who followed me around for several days, wanting to hold my hand, smiling at me, just wanting to hang around in my presence. I learned that their family consisted of four girls and three boys, and one mother. I didn’t ask about the father. You learn not to. Promise was eleven; her sister (I never did pronounce her name correctly) was seven. I felt very privileged to be their friend.
Seeing the joy on the face of the “go-gos” when we presented the small gifts we had brought them. One item was a solar lantern. We tried to explain that you wind it up or leave it in the sun all day to charge the battery, and it would provide light at night. They looked a bit confused, so we demonstrated. Oh, revelation! “I am in heaven!”
I realized that, since they had no electricity, there wasn’t much they could do when it got dark except go to bed. That’s fine in the summer, when days are long, but what about winter? Imagine being unable to accomplish anything for 14 hours out of every 24, and you can appreciate what a big deal these lanterns are.
Listening to the incredible singing as the entire group of 350 or so worshiped God. I mentioned this in my last post, but you really have to hear it to understand how beautiful their voices were. Heavenly worship will be like this.
Knowing our trip made a difference, bringing prayers, encouragement, and lots of hugs.
There were hard things:
Hunger: As many of you know, I’m on a special, doctor-prescribed diet to limit my intake of sugars and simple carbs. When I signed up for this trip, I asked if this would be a problem—and was assured that they could accommodate me. Well… it wasn’t that simple. Our hosts tried hard, but I ended up spending much of the trip hungry, unable to eat any of the food available.
God had a lesson for me in this. With every hunger pang, I thought about all the Gege kids who only eat one meal a day—of corn “pap” and beans. I prayed for them with new understanding. And while I was happy to lose some weight, I could feel how thin the children were when I hugged them.
The effect of malnutrition was highlighted by one little girl we thought was only two or three years old. She turned out to be six! I knew that the world is full of hungry children, but this trip brought it home.
Sick children: My heart broke for the children sitting on the sidelines, with dull eyes and gut-wrenching coughs. Most of the kids were full of energy, running and playing, but it was obvious these children were seriously ill, possible with tuberculosis or pneumonia. In Swaziland, the reality is these children are probably dying from AIDS.
Gege is in the middle of nowhere, and many families can’t get to the city, with its hospital and antiretroviral drugs. Poverty is watching your loved ones die because you can’t afford bus fare.
(I should note that the missionaries working at the CarePoint do arrange for very ill children to see a doctor, but even the best care has its limits.)
Orphans: Some of the team visited a family of children who had no adults to care for them. The oldest, a 14-year old boy, was attending high school. Thirteen year old twins and an 11-year-old made up the rest of the family. No one knew where the father was, and the mother had abandoned her children and moved to South Africa with another man.
Living in a simple dirt-floored home, these kids had no beds (they slept on a bamboo mat on the ground, covered with a blanket), no food and one small cooking pot. Our team brought them large bags of rice and beans, plus some salt, sugar, and other basic staples.
There is no way to lock their door, and we are concerned that someone will steal the food or, worse, rape the girls. (Many Swazis share the misguided belief that sex with a virgin can cure AIDS.) Pastor Ronald, the CarePoint’s founder, is hoping to acquire an adjacent property in the near future so he can build a small orphanage for these and other children living on their own.
I am so glad that God asked me to accompany Him to Swaziland. I had major doubts about going on a trip that focused on children—I like kids well enough, but I don’t consider myself a “kid person.” In fact, I can be pretty clueless! However, our team leader did a terrific job of releasing us to operate in our respective areas of giftedness. Some of our team spent all their time with the kids, others gave the CarePoint’s building a fresh coat of paint, and our senior team member, a grandmother herself, joined the go-gos as they prepared the daily meal.
What did I do? I got to take pictures! The entire time I was clicking away, I sensed God’s pleasure as I used the skills He had given me to honor him.
Our church just announced the short-term mission trips for 2014. Destinations vary—Wales, Germany, India, Uganda, Swaziland, Guatemala, Honduras, Trinidad… and many more. While nothing has jumped out at me so far, I’ve already told God that I’m willing to go wherever He might choose to send me.