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Sunday, July 31, 2011

I love being a pastor...

For some reason, I felt like a pastor today. Most of the time I feel more like a regular ole' person that a pastor, but today was different. I felt like a shepherd.

A shepherd doesn't feed his sheep...at least not the biblical kind. He does not bring food to them, rather he brings them to food. He does not cut, rake and bail the green pastures hauling blocks of hay to the barn broadcasting it to the huddled flock. No he leads them to green pastures and lets them roam about the hillside nibbling the vegetation themselves. No pastor ever feeds his flock, really. He simply leads them to the meadow.

He doesn't scoop up water in a bucket and bring it to them, the Scriptures are clear that a shepherd leads them beside still waters. He does the hard work to find these pastures and waters that are green and still, but the feeding and drinking aren't his responsibility. The sheep must take it from there.

In Psalm 23 is goes on to say that a shepherd "restores souls". His purpose for leading to the feeding is to bring nourishment to the core places, not just superficial quick fixes and artificial placebos of peace. No, his ambition is to bring restoration to the "sheepish" soul.

He journeys with them through the shadows of death, guiding them with his staff, chiding them with his rod. When a rod of pain is felt, the sheep knows the shepherd only inflicts hurt to prevent hurt. When the staff of guidance is felt, the sheep knows the shepherd with never nudge them to a place he hasn't traversed himself...they can trust that his staff of direction has gone to the point to which it's pointing.

I love being a shepherd. I don't always feel like a good one, nor am I saying that today I perfectly incarnated Psalm 23 in its fullness. But, by golly, I felt pretty darn close in certain moments.

I heard someone say last week that a "good shepherd" smells like his sheep. I hope that can be said of me. I hope I stay so close with them in their valleys and vistas that when I stand before God he doesn't just say, "Well done!", but that he also smiles with a crooked smirk and says, "You stink!"

I love the sheep under my care. They are not my sheep, I'm taking care of them for the Good Shepherd. I feel privileged to do so and for some reason I'm feeling very shepherdly today.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

little women and a good "piece of living"...

I have little girls, three of them to be exact. They are precious to me beyond words. I've been praying for them individually and specifically in recent days asking God to grant them protection, warm their hearts to his nudges, open their ears to his whispers, and soften their hearts to his Lordship.

I absolutely love being a father, but what is more, I relish the opportunity of being a father of "little women"! I love their kisses and hugs and the way they make eyes at me as the sole man in their lives (right now anyway!).

The other night, I was reading the classic book little women to them and in the beginning of the book the author took a moment to describe the "little women" that would fill almost plot line of this timeless narrative. As we read through these paragraphs, my girls lit up with joy and we talked about the descriptions of settings and the definitions of words together for almost 20 minutes together. There is hardly a more beautiful thing than laying in your bed with three little girls, reading them a book as they stare back and forth from the pages to the ceiling, and commenting on the nuances of how an author takes a simple thought and makes it come alive with fresh words.

This was the piece of writing we got hung up on from the book "Little Women". I couldn't help but feeling like I was living what I was reading in the very moment the words were moving across my lips...

"As young readers like to know 'how people look', we will take this moment to give them a little sketch of the four sisters, who sat knitting away in the twilight, while the December snow fell quietly without, and the fire crackled cheerfully within. It was a comfortable room, though the carpet was faded and the furniture very plain, for a good picture or two hung on the walls, books filled the recesses, chrysanthemums and Christmas roses bloomed in the windows, and a pleasant atmosphere of home peace pervaded it.

Margaret, the eldest of the four, was sixteen, and very pretty, being plump and fair, with large eyes, plenty of soft brown hair, a sweet mouth, and white hands, of which she was rather vain. Fifteen- year-old Jo was very tall, thin, and brown, and reminded one of a colt, for she never seemed to know what to do with her long limbs, which were very much in her way. She had a decided mouth, a comical nose, and sharp, gray eyes, which appeared to see everything, and were by turns fierce, funny, or thoughtful. Her long, thick hair was her one beauty, but it was usually bundled into a net, to be out of her way.

Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it.

Elizabeth, or Beth, as everyone called her, was a rosy, smooth- haired, bright-eyed girl of thirteen, with a shy manner, a timid voice, and a peaceful expression which was seldom disturbed. Her father called her 'Little Miss Tranquility', and the name suited her excellently, for she seemed to live in a happy world of her own, only venturing out to meet the few whom she trusted and loved. Amy, though the youngest, was a most important person, in her own opinion at least. A regular snow maiden, with blue eyes, and yellow hair curling on her shoulders, pale and slender, and always carrying herself like a young lady mindful of her manners. What the characters of the four sisters were we will leave to be found out."

What a beautiful piece of writing...but even how much more beautiful is the opportunity to live this. A piece of living is always better than a piece of writing. The phrase we talked about and laughed about the longest was...

"Round shoulders had Jo, big hands and feet, a flyaway look to her clothes, and the uncomfortable appearance of a girl who was rapidly shooting up into a woman and didn't like it."

I am watching my daughters "rapidly shoot up into women" and I don't like it one bit. And yet, as I get caught up in this piece of writing, I can't help but thank God for the "piece of living" I am caught up into even as I pen this blog. My wife, the girls she gave me, and the life I get to live is better than any book in the library.

And though I hate that they are shooting up into "little women", I am trying to savor the flavor of each "piece of living" as it's happening. This is surely one of life's finest feelings.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The little things you miss about your childhood...

I’m in New York for a few days visiting my folks and the little house where I grew up. I’ve noticed one thing that for some reason never stood out to me before. There are value phrases and bible verses all over the place…hanging on the walls in picture frames and plaques, covering the refrigerator with magnets and two-sided tape, embroidered into pillows and blankets, and etched into throw rugs and bath towels. They are all over the place speaking messages of hope, faith and love into your soul almost without you knowing it.

Here are a few of the phrases I’ve noticed:


- All things are possible with God.

- Ultima Cena De Jesus.

- Welcome Friends.

- Laughter in your Home. Love in your Heart. Joy in your Heart. Celebrate Each day.

- Jesus never fails.

- God bless our Home.

- A wise teacher makes learning a joy.

- God said it, I believe it, that settles it!

- The kiss of the sun for pardon; the song of the birds for mirth; you’re nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.

- The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. – Psalm 28:7

- Home: Where your heart begins.

- Home sweet Home.

- Fruit of the Spirit…Live by the Spirit…Love, Joy, Peace, Patience Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.

- May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us.

- Live Well. Love Much. Laugh Often.

- Our family is a circle of strength and love. With every birth and every union, the circle grows. Every joy shared adds more love. Every crisis faced together makes the circle stronger.

- Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in face you are doing. – I Thess. 5:11

- Some people come into our lives and go quickly…some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts and we are never the same.

- Each of you should look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others. – Phil. 2:4

- We think God’s love rises and falls with our performance. I doesn’t…He loves you for whose you are…You are God’s child. – Max Lucado

- The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord…though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down. –Psalm 37: 23, 24

- Amazing Grace how sweet the sound…

- Grant me patience…but HURRY!

- Nana’s Kitchen…where memories are made and Grandkids are spoiled. Open 24 hours.

- God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

- My grace is sufficient for thee; my strength is made perfect in weakness. - 2 Cor. 12:9

- I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:6

- Life is like a blanket of snow. Be careful how you walk on it for every step will show.

- Give your kid and inch and he’ll think he’s the ruler.

- It takes a long time to grow old friends.

- God’s love cannot be measured.

- I can be calm and free from care on any shore, since I know God is there.

- Jesus loves you and so do I.

- As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. – Joshua 24:15

- Be still and know that He is Lord.

- I know the plans I have for you…plans to give you hope and a future. – Jer. 29:11

- You are part of God’s plan and purpose.

- Count your blessings.

- Give thanks.

- Trust in the Lord with all thine heart.

- And now abideth faith, hope and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

- Praise the Lord!

- Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10

- This is the day the Lord hath made…rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24

- May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love and may you be able to understand how long..how wide..how deep…how high…his love really is and to experience this love for yourselves…and so at last you will be filled up with God Himself.

- Faithful friends.

- In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.

- His compassions fail not. Great is Thy faithfulness. – Lam. 2:22, 23

- We can always count on each other’s friendship.


I think I’ll stop right there. As I made my way around my little childhood home, these phrases and verses and quotes packed the place. As Toby Mac says in his song, “Love is in the house and the house is packed, so much so I leave the back door cracked.” Paintings, afghans, doilies, crafts, pictures, puzzles, plaques, place mats, welcome mats, door hangers, cards, jewelry, antiques, handwritten notes on corkboard, country-style kitchen memorabilia, Christian bookstore paraphernalia, work carvings, stained-glass ornaments, pillow covers, home-made quilts, bedroom decorations, fancy frames with verses in calligraphy, crafts made by children in Sunday School, old church bulletin covers, “quote of the day” bathroom calendars, hats, table clothes and books, cut out magazine articles, notes written in the margins of bibles, encouragement written in the front of gifted books, pick-me-up sticky notes, entryway invitations plastered in the porch to set people’s hearts at ease, crosses nailed to the barn outside illuminated with Christmas lights year round exalting the cross, dashboard note-cards, Christian radio playing in the background with soothing music and the smell of fresh boiling corn on the cob wafting into the dining room, Bible Trivia games stacked among family night board game, commentaries and parenting books and Christian inspiration books line their bookshelves, family picture albums filled with mom’s commentary are stacked in corners and crevices to be picked up and perused by curious hearts. I could go on and on.


The message is clear in this house, this is God’s house, this is where His heart is celebrated and commemorated. This is where his mind and dreams are the high calling and craving. This is a place where Jesus’ thoughts on life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness prevail.


Back in the day, I barely recognized these things consciously, but unconsciously (or subconsciously) I was drinking in these surrounding like a little sponge setting my dials and wiring my “mother board”. Foundation was being laid all around me.


I noticed on thing. There is not one crucifix in this house. At first, this seems so unchristian, un-American really. But I think it’s because our home focused on the resurrection of Christ more than the crucifixion of Christ. He was still alive and we lived like it. My parents didn’t follow a dead God with a dead heart. They followed the living God and focused on living their faith as a result.


It might seem old fashioned, over-the-top, or just plain goofy, but these visitations to the old stomping grounds opened my eyes to the little things that I feel are being lost bit by bit with every year in Christianity. One of those things being homes saturated with little messages or hope and life and faith and encouragement everywhere you look. A house that becomes a living museum of the gospel…Good News filling every room you’re in, everywhere you turn.


I want to begin to fill my home with this kind of truth. May our walls drip with words of truth serving to nourish th

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Swaziland Chronicles #9 :: Flying home and Final thoughts.



Thursday:

- We visited the beach on the Indian Ocean briefly on our way to the airport. The disparity of the beautiful beaches of tourism and opulent pleasure for the South African privileged was, again, difficult to reconcile. How could they be so close to each other? It is such a beautiful country that has been ravished by the majority of people being “kept in the dark” and “keeping themselves in the dark”. Make no mistake; it is very clearly both realities that are crippling them.

- As I sit in the airport and the airplanes finishing this entry, I suppose there aren’t enough words to write about my experience. My life will just have to flesh out what was has been indelibly engraved within. I mustn’t try to explain everything with zealotry to every person I meet, for I know how hard it is for others to explain to me what can only be understood when it is experienced by me.

- I will end with these two thoughts, for they have filled my mind on this trip. The first came to me on the flight over: “Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins.” – I Peter 4:8. The second thought hit me a couple days ago during the orphan’s sining and it’s been echoing my mind right up to this moment. “Long Live the King.”

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Swaziland Chronicles #8 :: Praying for woman with AIDs


Wednesday (continued)....

- As we finished our lunch and freshened up, we got back in our cars to visit the last Carepoint of the day and the trip. It was led by a young woman (you’re probably picking up that trend of feminine leadership) who was educated, indigenous, and visionary. We entered the building, and just like many of the other Carepoints the children were sitting there awaiting our arrival with bated breath. They were restless, but quiet, smiling as we walked in the room and whispering to each other only God knows what. At this Carepoint, there were 12 older women sitting at the back table. I wasn’t sure if they were cooks at the site, but I made my way to the back and greeted them. I found out later that they are 12 of 40 on a Care Team that walks around to visit the homes of the sick and dying, bringing medicine to them, or “bringing them to medicine”. I say bringing them to medicine because it is not uncommon for them to get a wheelbarrow and haul them to a medical center or hospital for assistance. If they don’t have a wheelbarrow, they will often strap kids, youth, and even adults on their backs to get them to a med center. As we sat down and I looked at them across the room I thought to myself: “These are the heroines of the world.”

- They led us to a table in front of probably 60 children and the young woman who leads the Carepoint (called Ward #19), Amanda, began sharing the origin, philosophy and needs of what appeared to be an old government garage that had been abandoned. As we talked around the table as adults, the kids just sat there quiet and respectful even though they couldn’t hear our conversation. They simply waited and watched. She shared how they didn’t have running water or bathrooms on this facility, so the kids would run to nearby neighborhood homes of strangers to go the bathroom. They provided meals after school only on Wednesdays and Fridays because of the lack of resources. They would teach them Bible lessons in that same time frame and she shared that they were also getting ready for a community Zulu traditional celebration where they were going to perform a dance as a group. She asked if we could introduce ourselves and if the kids could then perform the dance for us as well as sing us a couple songs. We obliged without much arm-twisting.

- I stood up to introduce myself and decided to do something I hadn’t done at any of the other sites. I noticed that some of the kids along the way had sandwich bags with frozen cool-aide inside them akin to an iceypop in the States. I had written a song for Kami about iceypops back in the day and decided to sing it to them for fun. They got a kick out of it and by the end of the song, were even singing along.

- When we finished our introductions, the students stood and sang a song called “You are faithful, O Lord.” Though I only heard it once, I have in memorized and could sing it to you on command. One twelve-year-old girl led it out and the others chimed in: “You are faithful, O Lord; You are faithful, O Lord; everyday and every hour, You are faithful, O Lord.” They sang it over and over again, louder and louder as they went. My eyes filled with tear as I closed them to let the sound soak into my soul. They then performed the Zulu dance that they were preparing for the festive occasion in September. Their rhythm is incomparable.

- When they finished singing, I prayed over them. Every time I was given an opportunity to pray over a dwelling or a Carepoint, I became bolder to call upon the name of the Lord with importunity. For some reason I felt the urge to pray the Lord’s Prayer as I finished my prayer. I could hear some people, young and old, praying it with me. His Kingdom needed to come on earth as it was in heaven, or else.

- Some of the members of the Care Team were poised to take us on some home visits. My heart was not prepared for what we were about to see and touch and smell. The first shack we walked into had the smell of death and rotting flesh. A women, no older that 40 laid in bed, shriveled, skinny and panting like a person struggling to get oxygen. We learned that she had AIDs and tuberculosis and that one of her lungs had collapsed. We were literally there watching her die. As many as could from the team filled the house, listened to her story, and prayed over her. I touched her boney legs and prayed for God’s favor to fill her, whether by giving her miraculous life or giving her an honorable death. Her face was diseased and yet her eyes were soft. As I left, I grabbed her hand and said to her, “Shalom.” Without teeth, she smiled. Oh, by the way, in this little 12x12 room lived her husband and 5 kids. I don’t know where they fit on the floor, but I had given up on reason by this point in the trip. Reason and justice have little say in the conditions here.

- The next home we went to there was a Grandmother raising her two grandchildren whose parents had just died. Their older brother from another marriage had stolen all of their belongings and sold them for drug money. They had nothing. Their clothes, their toys, their bowls and pots and pans….gone. We prayed over their house asking God to restore what was taken.

- The last home we went to a mother was lying in bed with her 12 yr. old boy. He was bright-eyed and educated, very confident and communicative. She had tuberculosis (maybe aids as well) and he was her caretaker. He would get her food, care for her in her sickness, and generally speaking fulfill the duty of the man of the house. Interestingly, he seemed up to the task. We shared our pride in his stout heart and how much he loved and cared for his mother. As I said before, what children will do at the Carepoint is get their meal, eat a little portion of it and take the rest home to feed those in their household. The Carepoint will try to be generous for this reason. So when a Carepoint says they are feeding 150, they are potentially feeding over 5 times that when all is said and done. This kind of sacrifice in the children demonstrates a maturity that humbles me. I can’t help but wonder what my children would do in the same situation.

- We walked back to the Carepoint quickly because it was getting dark. The Care team mentioned that safety can become an issue after dark, so they wanted us move along to avoid any breach of security. For the most part it is very safe wherever you are in the daytime hours.

- We said our goodbyes and left the Carepoint. I was quiet knowing it was the last day of the trip and the last visit we would be making. The quietness was part shock, part soberness. I was trying to process all that I had digested with my senses in the past 6 days. On the one had I felt very thankful for America and Africa all at the same time. But I also nursed an anger at America and Africa for the gross inequality of distribution of wealth and health, justice and Jesus. These wires were crossing inside me as I sat in the back seat heading back to our guesthouse before dinner.

- We were taken to a beautiful restaurant by a sweet couple named John and Sue. They were South Africans with British-like accents and yet a dialect all its own. It was a delightful evening as they asked us questions and we asked them questions and sat in each other’s company on the patio in the open air. I had lamb shank and ox tail for the first time, and a couple glasses of ginger ale. The ginger ale gave me the age-old soothing feeling I remember when I was sick as a youngster. I was sick, but this was a different sickness that filled my insides. It was an ache of the heart. I even shared with John and Sue how this experience had redirected my emotions and aligned my vision, particularly in the areas of gratitude and grace. I think witnessing such hospitality from the people on the ground doing ministry there as well as sensing such joy in the hearts of those who had nothing dumbfounded me so deeply that it peeled away some scales of fleshliness. I just had such an overwhelming desire to be “love to the world” in that moment that I could feel my face relax and a peace hover over me that was otherworldly. We left the restaurant ironically laughing at some spur-of-the-moment jokes and some rather funny stories that had occurred along the way in our trip. It was therapeutic. The catharsis of laughter was just what the Doctor ordered. I went back to the guesthouse and began to pack for our flight out the next morning. I talked to my lovely wife over Skype and began to share some of the gritty details of the trip that burrowed down to the marrow of my experience. Our connection was sketchy, so we said goodbye to each other looking forward to reuniting after the 24 hour flight. (this is with three connecting flights) My spirit, body and mind long for her at this point. Absence does make the heart grow fonder. I slept deeply.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Swaziland Chronicles #7 :: Another Orphanage & a Raped 14 yr. old

Wednesday:

- We woke and visited another Carepoint in the remote outskirts of Durban. We were met by a 19yr. old young man. This was the only Carepoint thus far with a male presence. He was intelligent, fluent in English, smiling like he just won the lottery and offering us a greeting like we were the Royal Family paying them a visit. He grew up in this very community and was planning to go to college to pursue videography and graphic design. We learned later that he was doing an internship for 6 months as an administrator for the point person, Cindy, better known as Cindylisious.

- She started the Carepoint by herself when she saw the need around her. Focus somehow found out about her initiative and began to connect with what she was already doing. Hopechest is providing the food currently, but they are in need of sponsorship by a church in the states to carry on. There was a little boy there I connected with right away. The minute I saw him, he lifted his arms for me to pick him up. I played hide and seek with him and laughed with a shot-gun giggle that just melted your heart. (I couldn’t stop thinking about our adoption and the Ethiopian little boy that will become my son.) The children in this little room were all infants between the ages of 2 to 4 year old and were taken care of by about 5 women in all. They sang us a little song and we spent some time talking to them and holding them before their naptime. When we left this 10x25 cinder block structure they put the kids down for a nap lined up on the dirt floor in three rows. There must have been about 20-25 kids crammed in this makeshift nursery. It was cute and crushing to see all at the same time.

- In the backyard were 7 or 8 mounds of dirt that represented the graves of relatives that had died in the recent years leaving Cindy and—I think—her uncle to fend for themselves.

- We made our way to visit some the homes where the children live. It is mostly women in the villages now; many with HIV and many who are grandmothers trying their best to tend to the needs of the neighborhood children. We stopped and prayed for a few of the women in a cluster of homes asking God to Father and Husband their families. I simply didn’t know how else to pray.

- We walked down the street to make another home visit entering a destitute neighborhood full of little children running around and women standing next to their homes smiling at our entrance. One of the women was a 22 yr. old woman holding her baby. She was exquisitely beautiful and had contracted Aids recently enough that you couldn’t tell on the outside there was anything the matter. Her smile showcased straight, white teeth that sparkled in the sunlight. She had two children and was trying to eke out a living to support them. As I was talking with her and playing with her little one, one of our team members came up behind me and whispered that their was a girl over by the fence row who had been raped within the past week. I turned and saw this 14 yr. old girl crouched over, sitting on a rock, hitting a plastic bucket over and over again with a stick. She was propping her head up with her arm, fist to face, elbow to thigh. She had an expressionless look about her and she appeared as if she was staring through everything in front of her. I felt a tug to go and talk with her but something in me balked. With the knowledge of this trauma, I felt tongue-tied not even knowing where to begin to engage a conversation. But in spite of my instinct to keep my distance, I willed myself to go over to her. I stood before her and she wouldn’t look up at me. I knew that she knew I was standing there, but she wouldn’t lift her head. I kept thinking, “Just leave her alone…you are a man…she hates your kind…you are the opposite sex that just stole away her innocence. Walk away.” But again, my spirit moved me to stoop down toward her. I knelt next to her and put my hand on her shoulder introducing myself. She wouldn’t look at me. I dropped lower still willing to go as low as I had to in order to make eye contact. I wanted her to see my eyes. As I bent low, she finally tilted her head and rolled her eyes upward finally catching mine. I smiled with my mouth and eyes as I grabbed her hand and held it with both of mine. I spoke to her, “God bless you.” She smiled a bit and looked back down. I released her hand, put my hand on her shoulder again, said a simple prayer, and went on my away. My heart was pounding in my chest.

- Our team walked back to the Carepoint, said our goodbyes, and went to eat some lunch at Focus. It seemed so unfair that we could just get in and get out so easily while they had to stay there, some to a life sentence, some to a death sentence, either way imprisoned.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Swaziland Chronicles #6 :: Durban Care Points


Tuesday:

- We woke the next morning to a “bed and breakfast” setting with a communal feel. European in nature, this little slice of heaven woke my spirit for the new day. I slept deeply and recovered vigor for the day ahead. We were picked up by Reward and made our way to a coastal town to meet up with African pastors for a morning leadership conference. I wasn’t expecting much, but the speaker, Rob Parsons, was talking to me as if I were the only one in the room. He spoke of leadership and the pangs and pleasures associated with the calling. He was from the U.K. and was the founder of a ministry called “Caring for Families”. I was caught of guard with his storytelling and truth-telling.

- In the afternoon, we ate a quick lunch and made our way to the biggest of the 3 Durban Carepoints led by a woman of great vision and vigor, Zuna. She started a ministry for abandoned and vulnerable children all on her own and had only recently been introduced to Focus on the Family and Children’s HopeChest. Her dauntless hope for her community was inspiring. She had, over time, assembled community officials and a small army of women foot soldiers serving the abandoned children with abandon. When we arrived on the premises, we all gathered in a backroom/kitchen on little wooden chairs as she shared her vision and introduced us to her humble staff of volunteers. It is always humbling to stand in the presence of obscure greatness.

- We made our way to a small room filled with preschool children eager to sing us songs and smile for our cameras. Their innocence shone from their little eyes. I picked a few of them up and kissed their oily ebony foreheads. They danced a traditional Zulu dance and dazzled us through and through.

- The dusk wasn’t far from settling so we had to rush to the nearby gardens planted under the vision of this Matriarch. Rows of vegetation green and lush cascaded down the hillside. It is interesting that though many are starving and desperate all around, not one thief will dare touch this plot of land knowing that all the food is for the children. Amidst a cesspool of distorted values, this value of children is esteemed by even the most famished of criminals. I walked the garden thanking God for the kind of night-vision displayed by the leaders of this Carepoint.

- We were running out of daylight and still had to visit a third section of this Carepoint where the older students waited patiently to put on a production of sorts. Nearly 150 of the most well mannered kids were abuzz as we entered the gate to the old warehouse where they were waiting for our arrival. As we walked in through the door kids faces lit up like lightning bugs on a cool summer’s eve. We stood in front of them and individually introduced ourselves. Paul, the other pastor introduced himself before me and the kids listened intently to his voice. When they heard he was from America they looked upon him and at each other like they were meeting a celebrity. I followed him and said good afternoon in their language. I then said my name was Jason to which they responded with laughter and pointing and clapping as if I told a brilliant joke or made a Freudian slip. They wouldn’t stop gasping with delight and I was somewhat dumbstruck as I made my way back to the wall letting Reward calm them down as he spoke in their native tongue jesting with them about what I said that caused such a festive stir. I later found out that Paul and Jason were characters in a popular sitcom in South Africa and Jason was the gay character. Sometimes God has such a great sense of humor.

- The children then put on a program that stirred my heart like few things ever have. They sang worship songs with melodies and harmonies that blended with the sounds and symphonies of angels.

- Tears streamed down on my face as we closed in prayer with the children. We called upon the Father of Lights to shine down on these children with hope and healing and life and love. I was undone. I literally could not stop shedding tears. It is amazing when you are shedding tears and smiling at the same time, it leads to a rainbow of beauty much like the paradox of rain and sunshine. The prevailing thought in this moment out of nowhere was: “Long live the King”. I haven’t no idea why this phrase kept echoing in my heart. We took pictures and kids flocked to me saying “Jazun, Jazun, Jazun.” In their minds I was a celebrity, albeit gay. They wanted to hug me and shake my hand. Their faces beamed with a glow of glory that I rarely see in the States. I’m still trying to figure out why.

- We had little time and headed back to Focus on the Family headquarters to meet with the whole staff. We had a wonderful dinner and gathered in a conference room to talk about HopeChest and the merger with Focus on the Family in Africa. Again, I was humbled to be in the presence of such humble greatness. They were so gracious, so grateful. It is sobering, really. Laura, the HopeChest representative we traveled with presented the ministry explaining the philosophy of the ministry and the heartbeat of HopeChest. It was great to hear it put in powerpoint, succinct form. I believe in it now more than ever.

Then, the Focus board asked us as pastors to share our hearts. I began to piece together words while my voice box was breaking with emotion. It has been hard to share without crying up to this point, but I’m sure I’ll gain my composure at some point so that I can convey the facts as strong as the feelings. I did regain some measure of stability and shared some of my joys and fears as I prepared to return to my ministry back home. I think the thing that hit me is that I would be received much like I’ve received others who have experienced great things on a trip like this. A handshake, a smile, a brief listening ear and a return to my previous existence. This thought rocked me in that moment. It unleashed much conversation among the team there that was beautiful. They encouraged me, and after we prayed to close, many of them stayed after and shared how my words and brokenness was a rebuke to how callused they’d become living right next to it with a numbness day in and day out. I feel that we each gave each other something that was valuable as we went our separate ways. I hope it is a catalyst for revolution on both ends of the spectrum. We returned to our guest house, I Skyped my wife again, felt the stab of distance from her and my girls yet another night, a fought to retire with all of these conflicting thoughts of distress and delight flooding my heart.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Swaziland Chronicles #5 :: Last of the Swaziland Carepoints and on to Durban


Monday:

- We rose early and visited another Carepoint in the rural countryside. When we arrived, I was surprised to see the development of this particular piece of land. A church had partnered for several years investing in the children and the facility making it a refuge of nutrition, recreation, and education. I must mention that “playing” is such an important part of the Carepoint provision. Many of these children have to grow up so quickly, assuming the responsibility of an adult, that they completely miss the healthy developmental component of “playing”. This is a place where they can laugh and run and sing and dance and “monkey around” like the children that they are. On this particular care point, there was a preschool, which is quite common for the Carepoints we visited, but on this location, they also had schooling up to the 6th grade. You could hear different classrooms singing and chanting phrases which created a very beautiful atmosphere of hope. There were also Swazi builders laying cement blocks for another structure of some kind.

- One of my favorite elements of this trip was to see something that Suzanne Deeren has spoken about and represented at Impact, Timbali. Timbali is an organization started by Julie Anderson for the women (grandmothers and mothers) who cook the food and care for the children at the Carepoints. This particular Carepoint provided a building where nearly 12 Timbali woman were gathered busily laboring over their sowing machines making backpacks, kitchen aprons, and bags of all kinds. I had heard so much about this ministry, but to see it with my own eyes was a blessing. You can’t understand how unusual it is in this country for women to make, sell and earn a living for themselves. The confidence and dignity in this little cement room was evident. This is one of the most exciting things going on within HopeChest in my opinion, the opportunity for gainful employment for indigenous Swazi’s who are discipled at the Carepoints. If you feed, love and educate without creating industry and economy, you raise them only to release them to “nothingness”. This is why there is a great need for “venture capitalist-missionaries” in the mission field. Long-term success depends on the creation of marketable goods.

- We left that Carepoint and moved to our last Carepoint visit in Swaziland. It was another rural location, but again, it had been adopted by a church and had the most amazing playground in the whole Kingdom of Swaziland! Colorful and magical for these children. There was no pre-school at this location and when we arrived, two older women were beginning to build a fire to cook some soup and beans. No children had come as of yet, but you could see some of them coming from afar. A good many walk many kilometers to reach the Carepoint to eat and play. When they receive their dinner, many of them will save the better portion of the meal to take home and share with their siblings or relatives (if they have any). Many children are just staying with whoever will take them in when they are orphaned. It was a blessing to see the playful refuge created by Hopechest for these children in need of a harbor of relaxation and safety. As we pulled away from the property and made our way to the airport, I treasured in my heart the opportunity to witness the tremendous work of God happening through willing hearts in nearly thankless obscurity.

- We flew out from Manzini and landed in Jo-burg with a short layover. Our next destination was Durban to meet up with the Focus on the Family partners and the 3 new Carepoints that were developing there. We were greeted by a beautiful man named Reward Ngcobo who is on staff with Focus. His exuberance and intelligence was weighty immediately. As we made our way to our luggage and then his car, he couldn’t stop verbally pouring out hospitable welcome upon us. It made me wonder how I could be so satisfied with the marginal hospitality I’m used to displaying. His kindness made me feel kind”less”.

- We ate a seafood dinner along the Indian Ocean with Cindy, the new leader over the Orphan Care for Focus, Shunu, a longstanding administrator for Focus on the Family South Africa with a beautiful heart, and Reward whom I mentioned earlier. After our wonderful dinner we were ushered to our Guesthouse, which was about 30 minutes outside the city. This city sprawls so far that everywhere you look are foothills of sparkling lights as if the starry sky were being reflected off the land. I had my own room for this leg of the journey that for some reason, coupled with my fatigue, caused such a sting of loneliness that I had to continually talk out loud to Jesus just to keep myself strengthened. I don’t know how else to describe it. I quoted Scripture aloud particularly the verse, “Love covers over a multitude of sins.” This verse had been on my heart since the beginning of the trip and was a prayer of power in that moment of aloneness. It was like salve to my sullen soul.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Swaziland Chronicles #4 :: Go to Church/Carepoint & make more home visits

Sunday:

- We woke up the next morning and drove to a remote Carepoint that had a Wesleyan church on site. It was a sponsored Carepoint and you could tell the difference between the development of the property and the shape of the facilities. A church building had been built in the last year and a half, a playground, and a new kitchen with two classrooms that were half-built.

- We picked up the pastor and his wife, Peter and Precious Langa, and did something really out of the ordinary. Church was officially starting in less than 20 minutes and the pastor and his wife came with us for two home visits before showing up at the church building and preaching.

- We took off and visited the first homestead. I forgot to mention that when you get there, the men sit down on chairs or stools first and then the women sit on the ground around them. This care site was just a woman (a gogo – grandma) who takes care of many children and works for Timbali. She just received her sewing machine and some material to start making crafts to sell and make a wage for her family. I prayed over her and asked for God’s face to shine on her heart and life.

- As we were at her home, you could hear a nearby church singing the most beautiful African music echoing through the valley. The saddest thing to hear was that it was a church that mixed Jesus was the religious tribal beliefs of their forefathers. This is very common for many of the churches in that area.

- We made our way to the second home visit and when we got there a beautiful grandmother was there with a little one year only baby boy wearing an unbuttoned onesy with a naked bottom. On the ground over next to the broken down hut was an old drunk man asleep on top of a cow hide on the ground in the shade of a tree. His wife went and woke him up and he groggily limped over and sat among us. He bowed his head when we met him and humbly acknowledge our presence whispering, “Hallelujah, Amen.” He told us that they have to walk over two miles to find water. They have to dig in the sand to get to the water level and then let the water settle before they scoop it out. Better than nothing, but not much better. The painful thing is that there is a well nearby, but the pump doesn’t work and no one has been taught how to fix and maintain it. This is common all around. People build things, but don’t train the people or build the infrastruction to care for what it built. (This is why so much money goes to Africa and there is little to show for it.) Starting things is easy; sustaining things take discipleship. Things start strong and finish weak.

- After we made the home visits we drove back to the church and when we pulled into the driveway we encountered the sound of people singing their guts out to the Lord. Several people greeted us as we entered the back of the church. The pastor led us down the middle aisle to the front row. The music lasted several more minutes and then the pastor stood up, took the offering (most of the money was given by our team of white people who were visiting), had us come up front and introduce ourselves, and then began to preach from Romans 5:1-7. It wasn’t very long, but very passionate. When he finished his message, he asked me to come up and close in prayer. I prayed through a translator to close the service.

- At the end of the service, a young mother came forward with a terrible sickness and asked for our prayer. She was deathly sick, and we prayed over her. As we laid hands on her we prayed for healing, miraculous and swift healing. She tilted her head and coughed like she was drowning in phlegm. Her condition represented so many her age dying of common diseases that have treatment of which they have no access. You can’t help but feel sadness envelope you like teargas.

- We toured the property around the church, which happens to be another one of Hopechest’s Carepoints. Because of the connection of a sponsoring church from Canada, this sit was developed beautifully and had the added benefit of a local church on site to deepen the discipleship. It was good to see the preferred picture and hopeful outcome of a long-term relationship formed with a caring church.

- After this visit, we made out way home, got some rest, and headed to a market with desperate vendors in a “bartering” setting begging for us to purchase their wares like their lives depended on us buying their little trinkets…this might not be far from the truth. I bought a few different things for my daughters, but felt horrible as many begged me to come to their storefronts for a “special Sunday deal” (that’s what they all were taught to say). It is hard not to just empty your wallet and give away all your money to everyone you see. But it is like trying to put out a forest fire with a thimble of water. It would vaporize before it hit the parched soil.

- We had some dinner at a place with killer chicken and fries and returned to our “guest house” to retire for the evening. Each evening I have Skyped my family and it has been so refreshing to see their pixilated faces and hear their digitally disrupted voices. I miss them horribly and with every day I see the brokenness of this place, I’m struck with the blessedness of my life and wife and children. When I log off, I feel my heart cry. Though my tears are used up throughout the day with the horrific conditions of what I’m seeing here, my heart is crying to hug and hold my family. Tomorrow we visit another Carepoint and then fly out to Durban, South Africa to visit some more potential Carepoints there.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Swaziland Chronicles #3 :: More Carepoints and Home vistis

Saturday

- We woke up and visited a remote Carepoint connected to an Assemblies of God church. It was a large facility, but it wasn’t running because these Carepoints only run from Monday to Friday and we happened to be there on a Saturday morning.

- Even still, children started pouring in to play and hang out. Out of nowhere, they circled them up and played games and sang songs. (duck, duck goose)

- The Pastor’s wife teaches them songs and they sing them with her. I bought one of her cd’s which features her songs and the children’s choir accompanying her.

- On the way home we pulled off the side of the road and Jumbo brought us some awesome chicken and cooked cabbage. It was delicious! We took it to his house and met a couple that works in the most remote and destitute Carepoints in the desert lands. This is where Suzanne has done a good bit of her work. We will not be able to visit these check points due to the tenuous nature of some of the things happening in that region. They didn’t go into great detail about what was taking place, but they are trying to iron out some wrinkles occurring here at the moment. The Carepoints are functioning still, they just find themselves in a transitional stage. My conversation with those particular leaders was disturbing and heart stopping. Meeting these leaders who are laying down their lives to keep people alive is humbling and unsettling concurrently. I don’t know how to live with myself after leaving their presence.

- We then made two home visits where we drove into the remote country to meet these people where they live. Before we visited two homes we picked up a girl by the name of Claira who served as our translator. She is being discipled as a young lady who is trying to keep herself pure until marriage and make something of herself and her future for the Lord and her future family.

- The first home we visited was made of sticks, mud and straw. I believe there were 6 children and a mom (rarely and amazingly their father was there as well...this is unusual due to the Aids pandemic). His head was down in shame and disgrace almost the whole time. It was the first home visit, so the up close and personal vision of poverty hit me very deeply. I prayed publicly after we talked with them for a bit and cried as I asked God to shine down His face on their homestead. We left them two bags of food as a blessing.

- The second home we visited was as single mother of 6. Her first husband died of Aids and left her with 4 children. She met another man, had twins with him, and he is nowhere to be found. When we got to her house, the kids had food and flies all over their faces, the one little boy was naked and shy, and her 10 year old daughter just stood by the door and watched us talk to their mother. The mother was delightful and beautiful. She was deeply grateful for our prayers and the bit of food we left her. It was surreal because the view from her house was beautiful, her house was the size of a standard bedroom, and the yard was covered with trash and garbage. Everyday these people have to walk miles just for water say nothing of education and food. That was what floored me.

- We came home and got ready to go to dinner with Jumbo. He took us to a restaurant for some good food. I had a steak that was delicious. We were able to talk more personally there and were able to ask questions about his leadership and his longevity of vision for Swaziland. He seemed very optimistic about his stamina for the picture God had planted in his head for Children’s Hopechest.

- What I love about Jumbo is that he doesn’t just have a heart for missions (what I mean by that is the spreading of the gospel), but he wants to begin a holistic ministry that creates sustainable health through the indigenous population. He is a venture capitalist, entrepreneur, visionary and a confident leader. He is straightforward, no holds barred, honest as Jesus, and as serious as a heart attack about his mission in Swaziland. His vision to create a micro-economy of employment for those who are coming up through the Carepoints is critical to long-term systemic change in their Swazi value system and cultural norms that are filled with denial and ignorance.

- Just brief notes about the economy and psyche of the Swazi culture:

o 95,000 are employed and roughly 950,000 are unemployed (90% unemployment)

o 70% of those employed are government jobs which means there are only about 25,000 actual jobs outside of the governmental system propelling the economy. Herein lies the hopelessness the hovers over the land like smog.

o The government is on the brink of folding because of lack of funds, which will result in even more unemployment and chaos in the culture.

o To make matters worse, of the business and employers, nearly al the people employing the Swazi’s are Chinese and Indian businesses. They run pseudo-sweatshops and pay next to nothing (sometimes failing to pay them at all by lying to them about lack of revenue). The Swazi’s have no choice but to keep working in hopes that money will come eventually.

o The average wage per day is less than 2 dollars in the nation.

o This country has the lowest life expectancy and the highest HIV/AIDS rates of any country in the world.

o Sex trafficking is epidemic due to the lack of basic essentials and the extremes young woman will go to in order to secure food for their families and the children.

o Women do most of the labor and heavy lifting to hold families together and fight for survival and the men are by and large lazy and unmotivated.

- We came home, settled in our rooms and recovered from the visual and emotional trauma of the day. I can’t think of anything to call it but something similar to “Post Traumatic War Syndrome”. I’m not comparing war to watch we say, but when you experience darkness and death and despair on the level in which it exists in the Swaziland, it is traumatizing on some level, this I know.