“This is the day that the Lord has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” – Psalm 118:24
Several years ago when Scott Hall visited Swaziland, he offered to pay the children to pick-up trash off of the ground around the care point. Their payment, he told them, would be one Jolly Rancher. While the boys and girls eagerly raced to find trash, Scott knew that most American kids would laugh in his face if he offered them the same opportunity. While we have become spoiled and often ungrateful, the Swazi children see each tiny treat as something very special.
Visiting Swaziland can be difficult. While spending time with the sweet little children who instantly cling to our legs and hug our necks, we smile with joy; we play; and we giggle. But afterwards, on the bus ride home or at group devotions in the evenings, we break.
The stories, the people, the hurt just gets to us.
The tears fall like rain.
The Lord is wrecking us, and we will never be the same.
While most days here for the children are heavy; today was a fun, light-hearted day.
Each year when Warren visits, we provide a big treat for the children – Fun Day! The kids from our two care points, Ntabas and Timbutini come together for this day of celebration. Today, about 500 children from both care points all gathered at Timbutini for Fun Day, where they bounced on inflatables, made bracelets, had their sweet little faces painted, their nails polished and tiny hands rubbed with lotion. They danced the Cha Cha Slide, skipped roped and hula-hooped. The teens participated in a soccer and handball clinic led by Xolani, a disciple who heads up the sports ministry. The children from Ntabas were driven over to Timbutini, about 50 at a time, in the back of a truck. They were full of pure joy and squeezed in so tight they couldn’t move. The older boys were pressed tight against the glass of the truck window. When they arrived, swarms of children immediately flocked to the modern playground that Warren built several years ago, so excited to play on one much nicer than the one at their home care point, Ntabas (or “Ruby’s” as we like to call it).
Lord, thank You for the pure joy on these children’s faces. Thank You for a generous church body who has donated so much in finances, time, and love.
For a mid-morning snack, each child received a treat of five small cookies (called biscuits) and one piece of fruit. Then for lunch, everyone lined up to receive their bowl of food, dished out of a big pot by a Go-Go. The smell of grilled sausages wafted through the air, smelling more like a fall carnival than a party at a dusty plot of land with block buildings and outhouses off a dirt road in Africa. The children each received a sausage and pop (a type of rice dish) with a delicious tomato sauce on top. Every child, no matter how small, was expected to carry his or her own plate to a spot on the ground where he or she could sit, which even the toddlers did with ease. Today was most likely the only day this year that these little ones will eat meat, a special treat beyond their daily rations of porridge, rice and beans.
Lord, please bless this food to the nourishment of their bodies.
Before it was time to go home, a truck filled with whole cabbages pulled through the fence. “Cabbages, cabbages!” the children yelled with glee in their beautiful SiSwati language. At the end of the day, each child received a giant cabbage to take home to their family. In the process of bagging these cabbages for our children to carry home, a good number of leaves came off. None of the broken leaves will be discarded, because nothing goes to waste here; the Go-Gos will make sure it is all cooked.
In the quiet privacy of the church sanctuary, we prayed for and presented these beautiful Go-Gos with small tokens of our appreciation: a reusable shopping bag, a water bottle with “Seniors 2014” written on it, backpack, flip-flops, sunglasses, toothpaste, t-shirt and sweatshirt. In all honesty, what they received with great gratitude, you or I might donate, throw away or discard. All the ladies slid their plastic sunglasses onto their faces, looked at each other and grinned widely. Then, our precious 85 year old Go-Go, Ruby, full of gratitude that could not be contained, stood up and broke into song praising Jesus.
Day after day, these Go-Gos, or Grandmothers, cook in large iron pots over hot fires, stirring with wooden spoons as long as a child’s baseball bat. Many of them have multiple children whom they have taken into their own impoverished homes. They do not get paid for the work they do. They volunteer simply because they love these children and their communities. They do so much for others, and when we present them with even the smallest token of our appreciation, they are completely and unbelievably overwhelmed with thankfulness to us and to the Lord.
Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with these women and teaching us by their example of gratitude for small things. Please let them know it is You who provides for them. We are merely Your hands and feet.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. Psalm 115:1
At some point during the day, I sat atop a inflatable obstacle course, comically attempting to allow the children to go up only one at a time. As soon as they made it to the top, they did flips and flops off the top to the bottom. I’m pretty sure back home most of the moms would have had a panic attack with worry that a child would break his or her neck. As the kids continued their stampede toward me, I was handed a switch by a young local leader so that I could at least seem a little “threatening” to them. Yup, this definitely isn’t America!
Despite the mayhem, I thank God so much for this day. The Swazi leader apologized to me and said she didn’t know why they were so wound up. “They were just so excited,” I replied. She said, “They shouldn’t be that crazy. They have seen this before.” Yes, they have seen this before. A whole year ago! I thought. Can I tell you how many bounce houses my children have jumped on this year? How many playgrounds? The zoo, the aquarium, the play area at Chick-fil-a? We even have a trampoline in our backyard for crying out loud. Of course these children are excited.
Father God, thank You so much for their excitement, and thank You for allowing us to witness it. Thank You for giving them a fun day free from the big burdens these little bodies carry most days.
The burdens these boys and girls carry are so heavy. What must it be like to live in a home where you are never sure there will be food tomorrow? What must it be like for a small child to have the responsibility of parenting their own siblings because their mother has died and their father is in jail? What must it be like to not be able to go to school because you can’t afford school shoes? What must it be like for a mother to worry her own child could die simply because he cut his foot and can’t seek proper medical treatment? This heavy life is one that many Swazis live, and it is reality for the children at the care points. In the years our church family has been in Swaziland, we have seen all of those things. But today was not that day.
Today was not a day of tears; today was a day for celebration.
Their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration … days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor. – Esther 9:22