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Friday, May 23, 2014

You Could Use a Hug...

“What’s the story?” 

This question has been running through my mind non-stop since we returned home. I have so many stories from our time in Swaziland. So many amazing things to share. I have already written two blog posts that will never see the light of day, because God has impressed on my heart to ask the question, “What's the story?”

Not all stories must be told and others, well, they cannot be held back. They overflow like a fire hose filling a Dixie cup. Keeping them contained is just not possible. They must be told, because they must be heard, because God is in them and he is revealed in them and he is glorified in them. 

For my wife and I, our few short days in Swaziland were, at the very least, an emotional roller coaster. They were filled with highs, beautiful top-of-the-world highs, and very gut-wretnching lows. After what seemed like days of travel, just arriving in Swaziland was a dream come true. The first day at the carepoint was… unbelievable. Even Mark and Alison (the missionaries who tend to Mkhombokati) were quick to let us know, “That never happens.” and “You just don’t have days like that.” I met a little friend who profoundly impacted my life, and later, we met our special friend and his amazing family. God was everywhere. 

On Wednesday, I lay by my wife’s side in a hospital as she fought through pain and suffering. Convinced we were on our way home in a drastic and painful change of plans I packed our bags, and then I lay in our hotel sobbing in tears for the heart-breaking reality of what was about to happen. I said painful goodbyes. It seemed God was nowhere. I was broken. And then… as it was explained to me, my wife sat up in a hospital bed looked across the room at our sweet friend Tara, and calmly announced “I feel great.” To which, I understand, Tara replied, “No you don’t.” It was that unreal. While this experience leaves me with more questions than answers, I will choose, wholly and consciously to dwell on God’s mercy, love and grace in that moment, because despite the pain of that day… it ended in good news. It was our personal and painful black sabbath, but it led to a beautiful resurrection day. And, as he had always been, God was everywhere.     

On Thursday, miraculously we were back at the carepoint. Playing with, loving, and enjoying these little faces. We spent the next few days able to enjoy every moment… because we almost didn’t have them. Everything was sweeter and more savory. Friday was amazing and Saturday, well, that was a lot like Tuesday. It was another big day. 

There are so many stories, my friends. Things I haven’t mentioned and more depth to what I have. This is just a glimpse of what amazing things God did in just a week at Mkhombokati and what he has begun and continues to do there since we first set out on this journey some 6 years ago.

For now though, this is a story about how God brought me half way around the world for a hug. 

That little friend I mentioned earlier that I met on our first day at the carepoint? Most of you will know him. I knew him before I met him. His name, is Thanduxolo. Thanduxolo is an extraordinary boy. 

I met Thanduxolo on a Tuesday just after lunch. Alison had asked if one of us guys on the team could help her out, I eagerly accepted the opportunity not knowing that it was about to be one of the most important experiences in my life. 

Thanduxolo has been very sick over the past year and has spent a significant amount of time in the hospital for surgeries and recovery. Less than a week prior he had been discharged from the hospital after being admitted for dehydration. This day he had somehow made his way to the carepoint. It was a surprise, not only because we weren’t expecting it, but because after seeing Thanduxolo you knew immediately just how difficult that journey to the carepoint had been. He is just slightly more than skin and bones and though he lives close to the carepoint I could barely understand how he had enough muscle on his body to make it there. He did somehow, but it had taken every bit of strength to get there, and now he could’t keep food down, could barely stand and certainly couldn’t walk home. That’s where I come in. I get to be the chariot ride home. 

Carrying Thaduxolo home I had to do everything in my power not to think of what I was doing, or my little 5 year old boy at home or I was going to lose it. I picked up Thanduxolo, as I did I could feel my fingers slide in to the recesses between each of his ribs, I was acutely aware of trying not to break him. I lay him on my shoulder and he nestled, just like my son when he’s sick, into the sweet spot on my shoulder. He gently lay his head down and, just like any sick child, comfortably went limp and relaxed. 

I was almost taken aback at his comfort with me, until I realized that it didn’t matter who I was. Whether he knew it or not, I became aware of it in that moment. It didn’t matter who I was, because who God had paved the way. Thanduxolo has been loved by the individuals of that carepoint through this whole process. The missionaries have followed him and loved him and cared for him. I was not a stranger because God has been showing love non-stop through these people. It was my turn to, in some capacity, be the arms of God to carry this little boy home. 

In the song, “Hosanna” we often sing from time to time at Capital there is a line that goes like this, “Break my heart for what breaks yours… teach me to love as you have loved me.” 

In those precious moments carrying Thanduxolo home my heart broke. It ached for his condition. It raged for the injustice of how much of his suffering was circumstantial and so avoidable. And it melted at the comfort of this child. It burst at the profoundness of this moment of being able to love him. It overflowed. 

We arrived at Thanduxolo’s home. I placed him on the couch. He somehow managed to get all of us laughing involuntarily at his requests for chips and his disappointment at his empty piece of bread. He was funny. He made all of us laugh when it was the last thing we wanted to do. He brought joy through suffering. It was a moment I will cherish for so many reasons. 

Days later on Friday, Thanduxolo was back at the carepoint and seemed so much better. He was walking and eating and it made my soul happy. I sat next to him as he ate an apple and pointed out his family running around the carepoint. We talked, enjoyed the sun and I got my first real glimpse into just how strong he truly is. In those few short moments, I saw another side of Thanduxolo. He began saving food for his brothers. Sharing his apple with his younger brother, Wakile. Placing food in boxes to take home. At the end of the day, as we prepared to take him back to his house, I saw him take control, corral his rambunctious and defiant little brothers together amidst the chaos and keep a watchful eye on each of them. I was blown away at the strength and love in this little boys fading frame. Sick beyond words and still pouring out, sacrificing, and loving. 

I carried him over to be part of our team photo, and carried him back. We loaded up the van and finally, we loaded up Thanduxolo, his brothers and headed to take him home. 

Just outside his homestead we unloaded. Tara, Alison, Cameron, myself, Thanduxolo and his brothers, along with Timothy made the short trek to his front door. As we walked together to his home, Thanduxolo wrapped his arms around me. Not limp like he had been just a few short days before, but strong. Thin and weak, but intentional and strong. I don’t know that he had any idea what he was doing for me in that moment or not. On some level I’d like to think that in that moment God used Thanduxolo to be the same thing in my life I felt God had used me to be in his just days before. As he reached around me, he clasped his hands and he tightened his grasp, and he tightly squoze.

If my heart had broken earlier, if my heart had burst earlier, it erupted in that instant. It shattered. Words cannot capture that instance with justice. I was reminded clearly and concisely, that despite our circumstances the most important thing for Thanduxolo was the most important thing for me. Love. To be loved. To feel love. It is the only thing in this world that makes everything okay. 

Thanduxolo was God’s arms for me. As much as he needed to be loved, so did I. I thank God for that moment, it is not one I will soon forget, and for that little boy who, despite a difference in circumstance is so much like my son back home. Strong, joyful, and loving. 

And now, here is the story: God loves ______. Insert your name. Insert someone else’s. It doesn’t matter, because the most important part are the first two words. 

"We love because he first loved us…”

“For God so loved the world…”

“God is love.”

Peruse the Bible for an instant and you can’t miss it, but live life in this tragic and broken world, get beaten down by it’s realities and take your hands off of God for an instant and it is so easy to miss it. To forget it. 

God brought me halfway around the world to be his arms and his love for a little boy. And he brought me halfway around the world to give me a hug. To remind me everything will be okay. To show me love. 

I have so many stories to tell, but none will ever be more important than that of God’s love. 

- Kelly

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Me and My Shadow

The most important part of our trip is not planting in the garden, painting a home
or digging the foundation for a new home, but the relationships that we make. Last
year I had a shadow that constantly looked to me for a little attention whether it
was playing with a ball or just wanting to be held. I know that the other boys teased
him for wanting my attention as the teasing of children is understandable in any
language, but he persisted in wanting my attention and I was more than pleased to
be with him.

This year my shadow was a few inches taller and a year older. The first day I saw
him I waved not knowing what his response would be. Would he run over and pick
up were we left off a year ago or would he even remember me. He saw me wave,
but being a young boy at that age where playing and being with your friends is the
most important thing in the world, he turned away and continued playing with his
friends. The next day I felt a little tug on my arm and my shadow was there with
a group of friends. He gave me a wave as he and his friends ran off to play and I
smiled and waved back.

Our last day at the Carepoint, we get to sit down and share lunch with the kids. As I
got done with my lunch, my shadow appeared and sat next to me. I smiled and said
“sawubona”, and he replied ngiyaphila. I asked if he had any lunch by pointing at
my plate and saying “eat, eat”. He laughed and said, yes. We shared a few precious
moments until a group of boys came by and my shadow stood up and ran off to play
with his friends. My shadow was growing up to be a boy with friends and not a care
in the world at least not when he is at Mhkombokati.

Later that day I got to have my photo taken with my friend as we said our goodbyes.
I can only hope and pray that our few precious moments meant as much to him as it
did to me and that he knows that there is someone thinking and praying for him half
a world away.

Eric J.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

We Give and Take Away: Day Four

We Give and Take Away: Day Four (May 16, 2014) 

First, we gave. On the hottest day yet, the whole team trotted down the dusty, dirt road to Mage Shongwe’s homestead. Four of her children are Mkhombokati regulars. They live in a round home made of mud and sticks with a thatched roof that is sinking in on itself. Because of the generosity of the Capital community, she is getting a new home and today it was time to sort the precious cinder blocks that will become beautiful, solid walls. Our job was simple -- move them to where they were needed to go. What takes one Swazi to do, takes fourteen Americans so we fell in line, gritted our teeth, set our dial on life to pause and passed those blocks on down.

We gave some muscle. (No major injuries sustained.)

In the early afternoon, I sat perched in the back of a pickup truck heading down a bumpy road to Make Simelane’s homestead. Again, because of your investment, her home is getting some much needed plaster and roof repairs.

You gave your resources.

Our VBS was held outside today – under that blazing African sun. Some songs, smiles and scripture.


We gave the Word.

And then, it was give-away day! Our philosophy is not to bring too much “stuff” to the kids, but we did bring a few things for each child. In a trick-or-treat style, the kids got a bag and filled it with shoes, a lunch box, water bottle, hygiene kit, hat, school kit, flashlight, mirror and “new” outfit. Quite the process for 200 kids, but in an hour it was done. What joy!

We gave things.

We then drove off into yet another impossibly gold, blue, purple, pink sunset setting fire to the sky.

We took away moments and memories.

Like when that shy little guy finally gave up a smile. When the child you were waiting to meet finally walked through that gate. When that little girl reached her arms up pleading to be hugged, loved and carried. When you made that sassy teenager laugh. When you saw an endless line of children excitedly waiting like it was Christmas morning to receive a small bag of basic necessities. When you see a child write that they are thankful for food, for school, for God. We took away the things money can’t buy – and experienced the simple and perfect beauty of building something not only for someone, but for the kingdom of God.

Tara R

Sunsets in Swazi

May 16, 2014

Today was our last "work day" at the care point and the reality that our trip is on the downhill side of things started to set in. I knew it would be life changing, but I had no idea the impact these kids would have on me... and hopefully... me on them.

Every morning, I have looked forward to greeting the bomake, who make fun of my broken Siswati. However, each bomake is filled with so much love, I am slowly learning how to greet someone in Siswati and they fill my heart for the kids every morning. I have enjoyed walking around the care point and standing in awe of the beauty and peace of this place. The views are absolutely amazing and this is truly God's country. Once the kids start arriving, I have looked forward to kicking a soccer ball for hours getting to know these kids, twirling countless numbers of toddlers through the air and even just walking around the care point as a toddler grabs my hand. I have melted daily when I hear the kids singing and laughing and loving the Lord. There have been a couple times I have had to hide behind my camera, just so the kids don't see me start to tear up, because their sound is so beautiful.

The part I have looked forward to the most every day, however, is the sunset. It is when peace returns to the care point and the point I see my light shining brightest. Matthew 5:14 says, "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden." To see the sun sitting atop a hill in the distance lets me rest in this verse and recharges my batteries for what we are doing here - shining our light for these children. Yet, it truly isn't our light, but the light of God, shining through us. We have tried to teach each of them to shine their light.

So, as the sun sets once again and I am seeing dusk start to arrive upon our trip, know that we all see the beauty God has placed here in Swaziland and all our hearts have been filled with His light. I am only hoping that the light we have shared with these children continues to shine bright every day as constant as the setting sun I have admired every day here.

Light and love from Swaziland,

Friday, May 16, 2014

Jesus loves the little children...