Thursday, August 14, 2014

Balance

It's been just about 2 weeks since I stepped off of the plane and back to real life. It seems like yesterday, it seems like a lifetime ago.

I miss these people:



And these people:



I even miss this guy:


And man, oh man, I miss this sweet girl:



I miss the laughter and the singing and the baby snuggles. I miss seeing the kids come walking down the dusty road to the Carepoint, some who have come miles from school, with their knitting projects in hand, ready to show off their newest creation. Heck, I even miss getting peed on by the sleeping Swazi babes.

Maybe this time is harder because it was my third trip. The connections with the kids and the bomake and the people on our team are stronger. The time spent with the American missionaries in Swaziland was more like being home than visiting.

The hardest part in all of this is trying to find a balance. After being immersed in Swazi life for two weeks, it's hard to jump back into American culture. When I read Kenzie's blog post today I started to cry. She said so many things that have been on my mind and heart the past couple of weeks but I wasn't able to put into words. 

The balance. It seems like it shouldn't be so hard.

My van's air conditioning is pretty weak right now and I was complaining about it. Until I was completely convicted. Think of the heat in Swaziland in the summer. They live with no air conditioning. I was at the grocery store walking through the toilet paper aisle. They use crumpled up notebook paper in the outhouse at Bheveni if they use anything at all. There was complaining at the dinner table about what was for supper. Two weeks ago I saw a woman drop to her knees in tears because she was so thankful for a bag of dry beans. 

And last week, when I was school shopping for my kids, I was angry. The 5th grade supply list alone would be enough for 10 school kids from Bheveni. And don't get me started on the $100 graphing calculator Miles needs for high school math. $100! How many months of school tuition would that cover? The $80 activity fee for Linus to join Cross Country. How many meals for hungry bellies would that be? 

But it doesn't work like that. Two different countries, two different cultures, two different worlds. Slimming down the supply list here doesn't magically put pencils in the hands of Swazi kids. Making my kids eat every last bite of their food doesn't fill the stomachs of starving people in Africa. And making my kids miss out on life here doesn't end the poverty over there.

Two different worlds, but I want to be a part of both. I am a part of both. God has instilled in me a genuine love for the people of Swaziland. He has also instilled in me a love for my family and friends here. I'm trying my best to figure out how these two things mesh together and what it means for my life. So please bear with me as I try to find balance. As I stumble, as I ramble on, as I obsessively post photos of those I love from both America and from Swaziland.

Kenzie said it best: "I didn't go to Africa because I have an answer to the world's problems or because I have the resources to fix those problems. I went to love. That's it. Because God first loved us and it is the most valuable thing you and I have to offer everyone and anyone we come in contact with."

So I'll start there. Both here, in daily life, and every minute that I'm lucky enough to spend over there.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Be the Change

Have you seen the commercials with Sally Struthers and that old guy who want you to sponsor starving kids across the world? You know the one...




Well, when I was a kid and saw one of those ads I wanted to blast my piggy bank apart and give every last cent to those kids. I couldn't believe that there were people in the world that needed food. Why couldn't everyone just share? Maybe not the good stuff like Pizza Rolls - but what about green beans or water chestnuts? If we had extra cans of that stuff in our pantry then surely others did too. Why not pass it along to the people who needed it?

As I grew older (and maybe a little wiser) I understood the economy and logistics and other things that made me realize that it might be a little harder than express mailing a can of corn overseas. I also (unfortunately) became more cynical. I mean, did the starving kids actually get the money and food? Was it some awful way to tug on my heartstrings while the kids stayed hungry and "the man" lined his pockets?

Even just a few years ago I was skeptical. Dustin and I sponsored a couple kids through Compassion International but I wasn't really sure how much help that was doing. I have a love for kids that has been with me ever since I can remember. I volunteered at my kids' school. I read stories to the Elementary kids wearing goofy costumes. I taught Sunday School to preschoolers. I contemplated going on mission trips through church but it just didn't feel like that was right for me. I wanted to do more... wanted to reach out and help but had no idea where to start. That's when I saw the pictures from Mike and Danielle's first trip to Bheveni Carepoint in Swaziland and I knew, I mean I KNEW that I was going to go there and be a part of something amazing.

Mike and Danielle work along side Children's HopeChest where Danielle volunteers her time as the coordinator for Bheveni Carepoint. She is an advocate for the orphaned and vulnerable children there - she works to get sponsors for each of the children, is the point person between the kids there and the sponsors here, and sets up fundraisers when needed for things such as the water well they now have. I know she does MUCH more than that, but that's just a brief overview. I remember contacting her about going on the next trip... I had no idea what I had to do or if there were criteria I had to meet - and she met with me and gave me a big, fat "YES!!! Come with us and meet these awesome kids!!"

I looked into HopeChest. I wanted to make sure they were legit. I trusted Danielle and Mike but my cynical brain just had to make sure. Everything I read about them, all of the testimonies, all of the stuff about Tom Davis, the founder (who wrote Red Letters), it was ALL good. "All right," I thought, "I'm going to give it a whirl." 

I decided that since I was going to take the plunge and go visit Bheveni that I should be "all in" so we decided to sponsor a child there too. I looked through all of the photos and opted for a sweet little boy named Khaya.

Khaya

When I first met Khaya once I was in Africa, he was pretty shy. Since we had just started sponsoring him, he only knew a few things about me and my family. Also, he was just 4 years old, so I'm not sure how much he really understood about our relationship. 

While on that first trip, Khaya and I spent time together and forged a real bond. I also met an adorable 3 year old who didn't want to leave my side. She loved to hold my hand and she would sing songs in her soft voice. I fell in love. So once I was back home, I searched for her on the HopeChest website and lo and behold, she was unsponsored. Sphelele became our second sponsored child.

Sphelele

This past year, Khaya moved away from the area so we no longer sponsor him. This does happen time to time. Kids don't get placed in orphanages in Swaziland, they move in with family - even if the family members are in a different region. Children also move with family to find work or to get into a school that has room for them. Vukani came to us when Khaya moved. And after this past trip, I had sweet Tiphelele and her beautiful smile on my heart so we added her to our "sponsor family."

Vukani


Tiphelele


During my second trip to Swaziland, I got an amazing glimpse into sponsorship through two of the teenage girls from Bheveni and their sponsors, a family from our team. Britt had been along on my first trip but on this trip his wife, Pam, and their two daughters, Missy and Brittany, came along. Missy and Brittany had been writing to their sponsor girls at Bheveni but even they didn't realize the impact that they had on these girls. When they first met, there were hugs all around. It seemed that every time I turned around, Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe were laughing and chatting with Missy and Brittany. We all came to find out that the short letters that Missy and Brittany had sent were practically memorized by their "special friends" (that is the term HopeChest uses for the sponsor connection.) The girls knew all about what Missy and Brittany wrote - what they were studying in school, their hobbies, their family. They really were friends before they ever met in person. Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe even wrote letters to Missy and Brittany while we were there - letters that were so sweet and so kind that I started to cry when I read them. I hadn't really understood how much the kids over in Swaziland were affected by the connection of a sponsor until that moment

 The Bush family with Nonsetselelo and Bongiwe.

The "fab four."


In the past two years, there were a handful of times on each trip when a child would randomly ask me, "Do you know so-and-so? He/she is my special friend! She has a cat" or "He rides a motorcycle!" I was amazed at how much the kids retained from the letters they had received. Then again, I shouldn't have been surprised. In grade school I had a pen pal from Greenfield (which is, like, 20 miles from here) and I thought she was exotic! Just imagine how awesome it is for a child to know someone from a different country! I once sent a photo of my kids playing in the snow with one of my letters and 6 months later when I visited in person, I spent about 20 minutes explaining the ice on the ground and that yes, we can survive in that kind of weather!

And this year.... this year I got to share in some of that sponsorship love. The kids that we have sponsored have been relatively young. They seem to be more shy at first and I don't know that they fully grasp the idea that I am the same person that has been writing them. Plus, many of the littles haven't learned English yet so there is a language barrier there. But this year, when my plane came in a day late and I missed the first day at Bheveni with the rest of the team, our sweet Sphelele asked for me. Many of the younger kids grab hold of the first hand they can when people visit... anyone will do. But Sphelele looked for me. And that next day when she came in through the gates after school, she gazed all around. I could see her from where I was standing inside of the building. I walked out into the sun and when we made eye contact, she ran for me! She wrapped her arms around my waist and gave me a bear hug and I squeezed right back. She pulled me to the side, away from most of the others and we sat down. She speaks very little English still, but she tapped me and said "Margo." Then she did what she does so well, she started singing a song and my heart melted. She was singing in SiSwati and I have no idea what the words meant but it didn't matter.

So all of this to say that sponsorship really does matter. Of course the financial aspect is important. But even more important is the relationship. Some of these kids are lucky enough to have someone at home who loves them unconditionally. But for each child that does, there is one that has lost both parents, one that is suffering from abuse, one that is literally struggling to survive. And sometimes the only hope that they have is that there is a person out there that cares about them. 

Sponsorship through Hope Chest is so much more than what you see on paper. I've learned so much about it through my visits to Swaziland than I ever could have just reading about it. It is a very real relationship between people - people that are across the world from each other and in most circumstances, people that will never meet. I honestly wouldn't believe in the connection if I hadn't seen it for myself.

If you have ever considered sponsoring, please give it a try. To do so through Children's HopeChest:  click here (Hopechest.org) This is Bheveni Carepoint's page. Look through the photos and find a child that isn't already sponsored. Follow the instructions on the site and start the awesome journey!

What to expect:

1. The cost is $38 per month. Notice that I didn't write JUST $38 - because I know that while some could spend that amount without much hassle, for some that is a lot. For our family, we have had to make some adjustments in our finances. We've had to sacrifice in some areas (which, to be honest, isn't a real sacrifice, if you know what I mean.) It means not going out to eat once a month or skipping the waterpark. Maybe passing on Caribou coffee a few times a month.

2. Writing letters about once a month. HopeChest has made it super easy to contact your child. On their website there is a "write" tab on the screen and you can email your child! It doesn't have to be a long, philosophical letter. I just write a few paragraphs to our kids - they love hearing about what our kids are doing, about the weather and how it's different than theirs, about our pets. The emails are printed and given to staff who bring them to the kids. If your child doesn't speak or read English it is translated for them. You can even attach a photo of you, your family, your pets, whatever and the kids get those too!

3. Pray for your child. We do this as a family and our kids have learned so much about kindness and different cultures. We keep photos of our sponsor kids up on the fridge (and, well, pretty much everywhere else because I have taken so many) :)  It reminds us to pray for their safety and for them to remember that we love them, but more importantly that God has not forgotten them.

Sphelele, Vukani, and our newest addition, Tiphelele


Obviously I'm passionate about Bheveni Carepoint. But there are many other carepoints in Swaziland that have kids that need sponsorship too. The Nsoko area has several carepoints that are in dire need of help. Even if HopeChest isn't the right organization for you, please look into other organizations. Do some research, find a reputable place, and sponsor a child. 

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." - Gandhi



Thursday, August 07, 2014

Worth the Wait



I'm not even sure where to start.

This was my third trip to Swaziland. You'd think I'd have the hang of the whole reentry to "normal" life down by now. While this year has been much easier than last, I'm still struggling with processing the experience. If you've asked me how the trip went you most likely heard me say "Well, ummm, it was awesome!" It's unbelievably hard to come up with a few sentences to fully describe a life changing event. 

And it really is life changing. 

It doesn't matter that I've been there before. Each time brings new experiences but also rekindles relationships and friendships. It's crazy that people from across the globe who speak a different language - people who I see for a handful of days in a year - have become so important to me. 

I wish that I could accurately describe how cool it is to step out of our van onto Bheveni soil and see the kids running at us. Kids that I've seen grow and change over the past few years. Or how it feels to greet the Bomake with a hug because we're already acquainted and we're picking up where we've left off, just like old friends. I can't really explain what it's like but I can give you a glimpse into the awesomeness.

It starts with our flight from Minnesota being cancelled, four hours of failed attempts to reroute, and Danielle and I spending the night that we were supposed to be crossing the Atlantic in a seedy hotel by the Atlanta airport. 

I'm not going to lie. I was borderline panic attack mode when we found out that our flights were screwed up. I am a planner - I make a list of the lists I need to make to be fully prepared for these trips. I don't want to leave anything to chance. As the lady at the ticket counter was working to try to keep us close to our original itinerary I was breaking out in a sweat. I even started to do the whole bargaining thing in my head. It went a little something like this:

"Lord, please let this be a mistake. Please let her look on the screen and see that it is a different flight that is cancelled. We'll laugh together at her silly blunder and I'll be polite and be on my way.

No? O.k. How about you clear this up and get us on a different connecting flight. I won't even complain if we have to run through the airport in Washington DC to make the flight to South Africa.

No? O.k. How about we get rerouted through a different flight that will get us to Africa on time to meet up with the rest of the group. I'll even be friendly to the people seated next to me on the plane and won't pretend to be using my headphones when they aren't even plugged in to anything. Plus, I'll give up my first choice of meals and eat the crappy airplane food AND be grateful because there really are starving kids in Africa."

It went on like that in my head for quite some time. We were back and forth between ticket counters and travel plans and my smile and patience were starting to wane. Then Danielle said something to me that struck a chord. She was feeling the pressure too, but she looked up and said "You know what? This is frustrating for sure, but I need to look for God in these interruptions."

At first I was like, "WHAT?!" Because lets face it... this was not part of MY plan and I REALLY like it when my plan works. But then I let her thought sink in and it hit me like a ton of bricks. There are so many times in life that things don't work out like we planned. We have two options: throw a hissy fit or accept it and work from there. How much time do I waste going over the what ifs? How much energy do I spend on filling out the "it's not fair" column? And how sad is it that I could be looking for the bright spot in the interruptions and seeing how God is using them for good? If you really think about it, life actually happens during the interruptions. So I decided right there that I was going to try to curb my natural reaction to things not working out as I planned and I was going to do my best to focus on making the best out of the situation. The positive me might not be as entertaining as the snarky me, but we'll see how it pans out.

Anyway, Danielle and I eventually made it to Africa. We had spent the night in what I dubbed the "No-tell Motel" in Atlanta but we laughed at the crazy misfortunes of that experience. We both survived the 15 hour flight to South Africa sitting apart from each other, both sandwiched between strangers. I even had pleasant conversations with the people on either side of me. We missed the 5 hour van ride  to Swaziland with the rest of our team but we got to spend quality time with Steve (one of the missionaries from Alabama who now lives in Swaziland) laughing and talking as he drove us to our destination.

We arrived at the guest house (where we stay during our time in Swaziland) on Tuesday in the late afternoon. I had left my house to start the journey on Saturday morning. I was doing my best to keep the positive train of thought but I was tired and stiff and I'm embarrassed to say a little jealous of our team that got to spend that day at Bheveni Carepoint while Danielle and I were travelling and making up for lost time. But all of the negatives were washed away as the team came filing in through the front door. Smiling faces and hugs from friends I hadn't seen in a year, a few new faces I had yet to meet, and the sweetest words for my ears: "Margo, the little girl you sponsor asked for you today. We told her you'd be there tomorrow!"

And you know what? On Wednesday, when Sphelele came walking through the gate of Bheveni after she was finished with school, her eyes searched around. As soon as our eyes met her face lit up and she came running toward me and she wrapped her arms around my waist.

Definitely worth the wait.


Sphelele and I, 2011


2013


2014