Monday, December 8, 2008

A Shoebox

There are so many organizations who do some very meaningful things throughout the year, especially at Christmas. Operation Christmas Child is a project spearheaded by Samaritan's Purse. When I first saw the advertisements for this program, I kind of shrugged it off as yet another project - there are just so many. A dear friend of mine, Bobby Culpepper, convinced me to ride to Atlanta for the day with him and members of Westwood Baptist Church. Atlanta is a regional distribution center for Operation Christmas Child.

Once there, I must say that I was moved in a way that is difficult to put into words. 700,000 shoe boxes (with gifts inside) will be processed in Atlanta - a small percentage of the 8 million that will be processed throughout the world. 8 million. I want you to know that this project is one that I believe in. We will continue to be involved and look forward to stepping it up a level in 2009.

My job was to inspect the box to make certain that there weren't items in the box that was related to war, any play snakes, liquid, etc. While inspecting the boxes, may times there was a note in the top of the box that was left by the person who put the gifts together. Those notes were very special. But, by far the most moving thing to happen was a corporate prayer. Occasionally, a worker would stop the hundreds of volunteers and say an encouraging word. Part of this time would involve a prayer for each child who would receive a box. She made a great point - she would ask us to hold the box close to us and imagine the child who would receive it. She said that while we didn't know the child's name, God does. He knows the name of each of the 8 million children who will receive a shoe box.

What a big God we serve.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Prayers for a Son

During the Thaksgiving meal on Saturday, we had index cards spread out on the tables to be used for people who wanted us to pray for something specific. I watched as a young girl dropped her prayer request into the box. Then there was the woman who was in a wheelchair. She was adament that her friend get her close enough so that she could drop her prayer request on her own. There were all kinds of requests. People who have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and have no vehicle to get them where they need to go. There were people who were very sick and a man whose child recently died and he was missing him. Our hearts ached as we read these requests and lifted them each up in prayer.

But there were two that got my heart. They got to the center of who I am. These were prayers from a Mom for their Son...

"Pray that my son, James*, finds God. He is a good boy but he needs God."

"Please pray for my Son, Gary*. He needs the Lord and needs to right his ways and his soul. He has chosen the worng path and his wife has left him and taken their little boy. I haven't seen Gary for 5 weeks now."

I know that there are so many people who do not know God. I get that. But these two prayer requests really hit home. I imagined these two women laying in bed at night crying for the soul of their son's. I am sure they think about his first word, his first step. His first day of school. I am sure they wonder where they went wrong.

Please join me in praying for these two son's souls. I promised their mom that we would.

*Names have been changed.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Am I At The Right Place?

We began working a few months ago on a local campaign centered around feeding people a Thanksgiving meal and sharing some love with them. With a partnership that consisted of six churches and another faith-based non-profit, we were able to feed 400 hot meals to some pretty awesome people in and around our community. We want to thank First Baptist, First Methodist, Liberty Missionary Baptist, Emmanuel Temple Holiness, Kingwood Church, Westwood Baptist and Manna Ministries. Four different denominations. Hmmm. I don’t believe denomination or skin color or where we live will matter when we all stand in the shadow of the cross on the day we are all called home. Hallelujah! We also want to thank our volunteers who did everything from food preparation to serving, from cleaning to praying and from delivering meals to homes to making phone calls. Our coordinators that represented all our partners did a fantastic job of inviting people to come and getting the food delivered. Kevin Derryberry Ministries donated hundreds of bibles and CD’s for us to give away. A very special thank you to Tim and Sharon Allen for their hours and hours of service to this campaign.

We were scheduled to send out the first home-bound meals at 11:00 a.m. and begin serving the sit-down meals at noon. At about 10:30 a guy walked into the building and walked over to me. By his physical appearance, it looked as though this guy was having a rough time. His clothes were worn. His shoes were taped-up. He was tired. I introduced myself to him and as he shook my hand he said, “My name.. my name is Paul. Am I at the right place?” Was he at the right place?? Thank you, Jesus! That was confirmation that we were all at the right place this morning! Doing Kingdom work. Being a reflection of God to people who may be hurting. People, our lives have to be a reflection. We have got to be about compassionate action!

Paul left with a full stomach... and a new pair of shoes because one of our volunteers lived out Matthew 25.

We asked people to share their prayer requests with us. There is one request, in particular, that we will share in our next blog. God Bless.

Friday, November 21, 2008

All Things New

We shared some pictures of ‘Love’ with you in our last blog – now I want to tell you why those pictures are so significant. When we first met Love in June, 2008, she was in pretty poor condition. She was malnourished, she had several burns on her little body, she had recently experienced some type of head trauma, her right eye was nearly closed and infected. She was a mess, at least in our eyes.

When we made her circumstances known to our friends, Kriek and Jumbo Gerber, they, along with one of their staff members, Dennis Brock, committed to ending the obvious neglect she had been enduring. I cannot tell you how fulfilling it was to see pictures of Love from this past Sunday. She looks like a different little girl. As my sister reminded me today, “God makes all things new.” That, He does!

This is an excerpt from an email Kriek sent me this week:

“So she was at the party on Saturday, walking around, just looking at everything. BUT she came to ALL of us (white people) and she wanted us to pick her up. She has never ever done this with us before! Jumbo and Julie picked her up once each, but she is so heavy that they had to put her down after a few minutes. They would put her down and then she would stand in front of them with her little arms raised, asking for more. It was so cute. Sorry, but I didn’t even try to pick her up!!! I just played with her every time she came to me! She also played with Jumbo’s car keys for a while; looking really interested in it. She even came to one of us with her sweater wanting us to help her put it on. It was amazing! But through all of this she never said a word or made a sound.

Sorry you were not there to be the one picking her up! I know you would have loved every moment of it.”

I was there, Kriek. My heart was there. God Bless.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Win is a Win

What does living out scripture in Matthew 25 look like to you? It has to be about action, right? It is one thing to want to help the poor or have the intention of helping someone. But to live out scripture has to be one of the most touching acts we can do.

Backpacks. Bibles. Clothes. Shoes. Medical supplies. Food. Prayer. That is what Matthew 25 looks like to me. We have been blessed by so many people who ‘get it.’ Through the generosity of many, we have been able to share some very tangible things with the ‘least of these.’ I am so thankful for people like Kriek and Jumbo Gerber and their Swaziland staff, Erika Bennett and Seth Barnes of AIM, Tom Davis of Children’s HopeChest, and the many supporters of Matthew 25 Ministries.

I believe, that by nature, most people like to ‘win.’ But in ministry, sometimes it is difficult to define what a win really is. Sometimes it is not difficult at all to define a win – a Kingdom win… Winning teams set very specific goals. If the goal is to win a conference championship then the team has to win a majority of the games it plays. When a player crosses home plate, she isn’t concerned about her batting average – she wants to win. When the pitcher allows fewer runs than his team scores, he isn’t worried about his ERA (earned run average). You get the point. To have a successful team, we have to give-up our individual stats when it helps the team win. Many baseball games have been won by a sacrifice fly ball. Many football games have been won ‘in the trenches’ where there is little glory or recognition.

Matthew 25 Ministries works to win. How do we win? We accomplish the goal. We strive to share the love of Jesus through compassionate action. When we can do that, it is a victory! It isn’t about self. It can’t be. This blog is about thanking our Board, our contributors, our supporters, our families and our prayer warriors. All of that being said, we are very grateful to you, God, for giving us this opportunity to share the Love you have given us. Thank you!

I hope you have read previous blogs about a little girl we call ‘Love.’ Here are some pictures of Love that Kriek Gerber emailed me yesterday. Enjoy the photos and I will share more with you tomorrow night. The first two pics are from June '08. THe second two pics are from this past Sunday. Thank you and God Bless -

Monday, November 3, 2008

Nokuhle Dlamini

Please excuse the camera being turned sideways right after this video begins. The main thing I wanted to share with you is the sound of Nokuhle's sweet, sweet voice.

Nokuhle is just one of thousands of Swaziland children who need our help. While we cannot do everything we want to do at once - we can, however, make a huge difference - one child at a time.

I am so thankful God has put us at this place. God Bless you, Nokuhle. And God Bless, protect and deliver the people of Swaziland.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Buckets of Blessings

Mark 6:38. “How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five – and two fish.”

Wednesday of last week I got a phone call telling me that our tournament that we thought was scheduled for the next day was actually a week later. Instead of the 23rd, it was the 30th. Dang-it. We had all these teams coming, sponsors coming, people had taken vacation to come help… You get the picture. It was quite a mess. In the days that followed, most of our teams dropped-out. I mean, I really don’t blame them . Things looked bleak.

Typically, you wouldn’t want to host a golf tournament with less than a dozen teams. But this wasn’t typical. Two days ago, God asked me, “How many loaves do you have?” We had four teams. Four. Not FOURteen or FORty. Just.. four.

Can you guess what happened today? God took the giving hearts of our sponsors and staff of the course, mixed it in with the big hearts of the 16 loyal golfers we had… and He fed us in a way that we did not deserve. We made contacts today that we would have never made if we had cancelled the tournament. It made no sense to host a tournament with four teams. But what seems improbable in human terms is really an opportunity for God to show up. We collectively did all we could do to make this tournament a success. But God blessed all of us and chose to make the unlikely become a reality.

Six total sponsors. A handful of volunteers. Sixteen golfers. And one very compassionate, loving, real God. Tomorrow we will deposit $3,700 into the M25M account! He will have us invest in the Kingdom through feeding 300 people at Thanksgiving, by purchasing and distributing bibles in Swaziland, by assisting a discipleship team share the true and living Word of God. He will have us invest in the ministry of Kriek and Jumbo and in The Luke Commission (medical supplies and treatment). He will have us invest scholarships to help individuals offset mission campaign costs. He will help us build a block house for four little orphaned girls who currently live in a stick and mud hut. Praise God! Praise Him!

So, in a nutshell, we want to thank our golfers. We want to thank our sponsors. We want to thank those who donated to the silent auction. We want to thank Timberline golf course. We want to thank the volunteers. We want to thank those who prepared desserts. More importantly, we are thankful for prayer. I got three emails during the tournament today that told me they were praying for the tournament at that very moment. Powerful.

Today I witnessed a man pay $100 for a $25 gift card to O’Charleys. I saw a left-handed golfer give $100 for a right-handed golf club. My eyes watched as a woman emptied her wallet of gift-cards that she wanted us to sell at the silent auction. We watched as the first and second place teams gave their prize money right back to us. God takes what we give, if we give with a clean-heart, and He gives back.. over and over and over.

Luke 9:13. “You give them something to eat.”

Thank you, Lord. Thank you for feeding us today. Thank you for feeding others through us.

Please help me in giving praise to God Almighty!!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Journal Entry

Basic (excerpt) journal entry on June 7th, 2008.

The Children of Thulwane – it is so difficult to comprehend the life of an orphan. We walked to three different homesteads to visit and take food – I was scared to death during the walk – and it was daylight. I imagine the nights are very lonely. No electricity. No streetlights. Heck, no streets. Other than at the carepoint, there is no place to provide very basic care. Not because they won’t – but because they can’t. A simple runny nose can turn into flu. Flu can turn to death. In Swaziland, it is about survival. The strong make it ~ the weak don’t. Orphans stand very little chance of making it to the age of 15. In America, we stand a better chance of dying in a plane-to-plane collision than to die of starvation or a runny nose. It’s like two different worlds. God help them. And please give us the heart to help them. But for Swaziland to heal, it must heal from the inside-out. Her people must experience revival. We must experience revival.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Introduction to Love

I originally posted this in mid-June of this year. A friend of mie asked me post it again....

I have experienced Jesus in the flesh. No, this isn't the first time. And I pray it won't be the last. We were on a mission campaign in Swaziland, Africa. The morning had started off with the awesome responsibility of being called to compassionate action. We were at Thulwane carepoint. Thulwane is the place we had viewed video's of Tom Davis' blog. This is the place we have read about on the blog of Kriek and Jumbo . I already had this particular morning planned out in my mind. I would spend some time with the children as they ate breakfast. Then I would help other team members administer some meds at our 'clinic,' while at the same time I would be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of my oldest daughter, Alexis, as she continued the path of being a Godly young woman. But something happened that will forever change the way I view missions. The experience I was soon to live would literally shape the way I viewed life and love.

In order to fully feel the scope of this experience, please take a moment to watch this video:

Crystal Baltimore came to me and said, "Hey, remember the girl in the wheelchair in Tom's blog? Well, she is over here and we are about to feed her." Wow! We met Pastor Walter just the day before - now, I get to actually see the little girl on the wheelchair. My family and I had watched that video at least 50 times. There she was. Little Nedia sat there on a mat in all her Royalty. She was dressed like the Queen of Thulwane. A red velvet dress adorned her bruised and battered body. She quietly ate her generous helping of food from her royal plastic bowl and with her spotless right hand. There was the Queen in all her splendor. I was speechless, as was the rest of our team. At that moment, a rush of emotions came over me. I was angry that she could have been violated in such sick, evil ways. Then confusion creeped in. How could someone physically abuse such a precious angel? It was obvious from early on that Nedia not only had been assaulted both physically and mentally - but she had also been neglected since Tom had posted the video of her from late in '07.

Then it happened. The defining moment of where the rubber meets the road. This was it - where the 'Red Letters' of the bible come to life. There was Jesus dressed in the distressing disguise of the Queen of Thulwane. My heart was wrecked. My sense of justice was awakened. As team members began to prepare for the clinic, I was able to spend some time with Nedia. Just me, her and the Lord. At first, I wasn't sure of what to say. Or what to do, for that matter. I had never met a queen before. I had heard of them and seen them on TV. But this was for real. So there we were. Just the three of us. What was the first thing out of my mouth to her? "Love." My big moment in the history of important moments - and all I could say was, "Love." How did she respond? "Love!"

I have experienced love in so many ways in my life. Love for my parents and sisters. Love for Ashley and our four children. Love for my friends. Love for my work and those I serve. Love for God and for my church. Love for missions. But this was the manisfestation of what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 25 when he talked about the poor. This was exactly what he meant. To be continued...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Remembering Swaziland

A new friend of mine, Candace Gladfelter, posted this note on her facebook page. Wow. Our team visited this same hospital in June of this year. We have not been able to speak of the experience. Maybe by Candace sharing this note - maybe we can begin to go back to the day we were there and deal with all we saw, felt, smelled and touched. Candace gave me permission to share her story. I trust it will have the same riveting effect on you as it did me.

Remembering Swaziland

This is a paper I wrote for my English class. Our subject was to write on a place that had changed you as a person. Let me know what you think. :) The moment I walked into the children's ward, death crept over my body, grabbed hold onto every sense, and slowly smothered away any ideals I had thought had applied to the “real world.” I saw helpless individuals wasted away, AIDS making them half of what they once were. Screams of pain assaulted my ears, making me wonder where mercy now lay. The smell of decaying flesh and disease was stifling. My mouth was fed a slow I.V. of salty tears. But touch, oh the touch! If compassion has any place in your heart, you will be forever changed the day you gently rock a sobbing mother back and forth, as you both stare at her dead, precious baby that had been breathing only moments before. As the decomposition of my inner strength continued at this fatal pace, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Welcome to the Manzini Hospital in Swaziland, Africa: home of the highest AIDS rate in the world.

Six months before this life changing experience, I signed up for an adventure to Africa as a means to escape the misery I had created for myself at home. Little did I know that when misery is in your soul, it follows you everywhere. It lives in the cracks and crevices of your heart that you allow the world to make. It feeds off your depression and drinks of your tears.

Time passed quickly, and it was now my eighteenth birthday. My confidence was soaring. I had said goodbye to everyone and everything I had ever known, boarded a plane (without looking back), and had been living in a foreign country for a week . . . in the Dark Continent no less! My head was filled of acclamations of “You are so brave!” and “I could never do what you are doing.” Looking back, the pride I took in my "accomplishments" left only one direction for me to go: down. Quickly and harshly.

Nothing brings you crumbling to your knees faster than when you finally understand the definition of ultimate suffering.

I was unaware of my overzealous, bombastic attitude as I strode towards the front gates of the third world country hospital. Why wouldn’t I be? It had been continually pounded into my psyche from childhood that “The world was at my fingertips.” and I should even grasp beyond my own planet and “Reach for the stars!” Needless to say, I was a tyro optimist. But today was the day that I stopped being a naive idealist and started being a realist with high ideals.

My steps slowed as I walked towards the women’s ward. The unsterile, gruesome environment was a far cry from the advanced, technological medical facilities I was used to. The long, empty hallway whispered eerily of neglect. The sound of a delusional woman, screaming and struggling inhumanly against the cloth straps that held her down, will be forever embedded into my memory. Curious, I asked a woman in a bed nearby to translate her morbid shrieks. The answer sent chills up and down my spine.

“She speaks of black demons flying in to get her. She is pleading for someone to make them go away.”

Death had already begun to rear its ugly head to sneer in my face. I saw a woman lying on cardboard, shivering, dying, and all alone. As I cautiously eased myself down next to her, she raised her head and looked up at me with dark, hollow eyes, begging for something more than the life she had been given. Flies crawled over her disease infested body, and the maggot eggs that had congealed in her ear made me want to gag. She grasped desperately to my skirt, dragging her head into my lap. As my hands slowly went up and down her arms, then legs, then to her stomach, I realized that not only was this woman dying of AIDS, but she was gradually starving to death as well. Her frame couldn’t have possibly been more than sixty pounds, and her height surpassed my own.

With my morale crushed and my eyes now wide open, I warily stepped into the hallway of the children’s ward. Little did I know that I would be emotionally crawling out the front gates. What I saw disgusted me. Four-year-olds with broken legs tied to boards above their heads, forcing them to lay stagnant for weeks. Babies only a few weeks old heaving and choking on their own vomit. Mothers hovering and praying, fasting and weeping, begging and pleading to God for their children’s lives. I watched as a young boy had his fractured arm set into a sling without any pain medication. Screams of torture filled the room, but the nurses didn’t even flinch. They left as quickly as they had come and left him weeping, struggling to control himself. Not knowing how to comfort him, I trudged to a room where a tiny infant lay listlessly in a crib. Chaos soon ensued thereafter. Suddenly the baby struggled for every breath, the fluid in his lungs making it almost impossible to receive even one healing gasp. I started to sob when all I could do was squeeze my hand through the bars of the crib, lay it on his course African hair, and pray for mercy as I watched uncaring nurses roughly shove a tube down the unnamed baby’s throat, into his chest, and violently suck out the vile yellow fluid that was so ruthlessly blocking his airway. The situation calmed and I moved on the next patient that I found I had enough courage to walk up to. The baby died a week later.

So on my eighteenth birthday, I was given so much more than the American tradition of having the right to gamble or buy tobacco products. My eyes were opened to the world and all its suffering and injustice. The only downfall was that I was crushed, wounded, and left almost immobile in spirit. The things I had seen had brought me to wonder, "Is there any hope left? What is mankind doing to itself? Where is God’s mercy?" This is where I changed. It wasn’t the torment of my spirit that molded me, for everyone has their own type of misery. It was during the process of rebuilding my shattered heart and finding God in the pain that my worldviews and faith became what it is today. Instead of a commercialized, Americanized, churchified religion, I received a personal relationship with my Creator. No religion involved.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body” (C.S Lewis). This became a mantra of self preservation. Instead of focusing on the rotting of flesh that went on around me, I poured my energy into making sure that people’s souls were preserved. Instead of seeing death, I began to see the beginnings of new, perfected lives. It would have been cruel for their suffering to have been prolonged. The experiences and memories I made in that hospital with my dying children brought faith and perspective to an otherwise sheltered and egotistical approach on life. The hardness around my heart melted, the cracks filled, and I began to look for ways to show Love. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (I John 4:16).

I have been called ridiculous, charismatic, narrow-minded, religious, hypocritical, self-righteous, and too many other adjectives to matter. How ironic it is that the individuals who make such claims are the ones who are most ardently seeking an answer to their wretchedness. The strength it takes to bring backbone to your faith has affected every aspect of my life. The death I saw in that dirty, hope deprived hospital, not only refined, defined, and overtook my faith; it gave me the ability I needed to stand up for what I had been so placidly following my entire life. It became more than words spoken from a pulpit, or apathetic readings from the Bible; it became a means of survival for my soul. Survival begets necessity, necessity begets respect, and respect begets love. That is where it all started . . . and the adventure has just begun. I love my God. Africa and its creeping death forever changed my life. My heart is now full, focused on the future, and living in the Grace that I know as Abba.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

If you don't play golf, or even if you do, find out more ways you can help through sponsorship!
email or leave a comment.

Monday, September 8, 2008

"Celebration" ...Seriously?

The International Herald Tribune (NY Times) published an interesting article on the 40-40 Celebration recently held in Swaziland. After reading this, I am actually nauseated. I just don't get it. The 'royal family' is living the life of luxury while people are dying every minute. This is one of the most impoverished nations in the world. A 'full life' is one in which a person lives past their 30th birthday. We visited a homestead in which the oldest person was just five years old. Wow. I just don't get it. God, help us.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Isn't She Beautiful?

I was greeted this morning by an email from Kriek Gerber, our dear missionary friend who is based in Swaziland, Africa. She shared the following:


I saw Love yesterday; she was eating (of course!). She looks good, but I couldn’t get her to smile. I also saw her grandmother the day before. She is living with them, but she is weak. We are going to start her on Juice Plus and we hope that it will help. Please pray for them.

Attached is a picture of her!

Hope you are well!” Carike (Kriek) Gerber

Please take a minute or two to post a prayer for Love’s Go-Go. She is HIV positive and not doing well. There are four children under 5 years old at this homestead. We will do our best to get your prayers printed and translated to her. Imagine the healing in us covering this woman with compassionate prayer!

If you ever feel that what you do for the poor, widow, orphan or ‘least of these,’ is insignificant – think again! Look at the picture of Love just three months ago and the photo of her yesterday. Kriek and Jumbo Gerber, Dennis Brock and the entire D-TEAM are Jesus in the flesh. God bless AIM, Children’s HopeChest, Matthew 25 and the people of Swaziland! Thank you, Father!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Friend of a Friend

God is good. A new friend named Erin Wilson from Niagra, Ontario visited our blog and left a comment. While reading over her very insightful blogs, I came across a post that really got my attention: Eight Dollar Hot Dog. Take a look. You will be convicted…and blessed.

What in the world are we thinking? We are so wasteful. God, help us. It has to start with a decision that we are fed up with being so petty and putting such a huge priority on ‘stuff.’ Thank you, Erin.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Still Hurting... Big

The following is an email from a person I met thru Facebook a couple of weeks ago. Her words are not wasted. And I believe those who have been to Africa, no matter how many times, feel the same way. Don't you?

"I dont know when I'm going back.
That's what I think about every single day.
I left my heart in Africa.
I was looking at your blog... it made me tear up.
I miss the children so much.
I want to go back as soon as I can.
If someone told me I have a plane ticket for you tomorrow morning...I'd be on that flight.
It's where I belong.
Oh my gosh, I cant even describe how much I miss it.
I'm interested in hearing what you're doing & where exactly you are in Africa."
-Raelynn Chambers

This is one of my favorites. Me and Love investing in each other. I miss her.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another perspective on Swaziland

This hurts. But we need to know about what is happening in Swaziland. We need to experience what my friend Ericka and her team experienced on their most recent campaign to Nsoko. Ericka is the real deal. Check her out on facebook and follow the link to her blog. I am sure you will be as humbled as I am. God Bless you, Ericka!

Here is a post from Ericka's blog:

I WILL NOT BE SILENT :: (the harsh truth about Swaziland)

Posted in Africa by Ericka Bennett on 7/21/2008
I haven't had much time to slow down since I got home from Africa. No time to really think. No time to journal. No time to let everything I saw sink in...

But in the quiet moments I find here and there, God is starting to bring it all to mind. Today He brought to mind Elizabeth, the widow we found dying in the dirt outside her shack in Nsoko. Pastor Gift asked us to go and pray for her, so we set off on the dirt path. As Rusty, Molli, Faith and I walked up that afternoon, all of me wanted to scream...

There at our feet, lay this emaciated woman. She was too weak from AIDS to speak, to eat, to move. Dirty, sick, and covered in flies, this widow lay dying as her daughter and grandchildren looked on. It was almost more than I could take. "IT'S NOT FAIR!" I wanted to SCREAM. "IT'S NOT FAIR! Why is this precious woman DYING IN THE DIRT?!"

I dropped to my knees by her head, waved the flies away, and began to stroke her hand and her face. She struggled to move, and finally found enough strength so that she could reach and hold my hand. "She just wants to be touched," I thought. "She just wants to know the world hasn't forgotten about her... that God hasn't forgotten about her..."

Molli knelt at her feet, Faith crouched beside me, and Rusty knelt and put his hand on her back and began to pray. He prayed for God to comfort her, and for God to take her home to be with Him - away from her pain and suffering. I couldn't hold back the tears as he prayed for her... the injustice of it all was just too much.

WHY does she have to die like this? Just because she's in Africa? Doesn't she deserve better?! In America we would NEVER stand for this! GOD IT'S NOT FAIR!!!

I composed myself enough to pray over her, and then, in my heartbroken state, did a poor job of singing the only SiSwati song I knew over her. Moments later, still wiping away tears, we walked away...

Elizabeth died the next day.

-------------------- the following is from Seth Barnes' blog -----------------

And so it goes in Swaziland. It's a country of of pain and contradictions, of death endured in the devastating quiet of a dark shack. It's horrific what's going on over there. Shame is a terrorist stalking the nation's girls and young women because of a culture that doesn't talk about what goes on in secret. It's nightmarish and someone needs to stand up and shout or at least talk about it.This week I got this email from Kristen McGraw, a missionary to Swaziland, that says how I feel about that place:
I woke to the singing of angels this morning as the sun came up and peered through the old curtains of the window in our room. They sang of the Lord's provision of his love and his power. "Your light will shine when all else fades..." These songs are what keep me longing to hear more in such a silent place sometimes. The silence is deafening. We don't TALK about how HIV AIDS is killing our families and our neighbors. We don't TALK about how Thandi has been faithful to her husband and he has given her AIDS because he has been sleeping around. And she is fearful to tell him because he will blame her for giving it to him. And now her children will be left to be put to intense work by him. We don't TALK about the status of women here and how they are beaten and abused. We don't TALK about how a swazi women cannot refuse her husband sex, even if she knows he is infected. We don't TALK about the little girl down the road that was sold by her own mother to a neighbor to be a slave girl for her. We don't TALK about the brothels in Swaziland run by 18 year olds and the American business men who come for the little 8 year old girl. We don't TALK about the children abandoned by aids that live with the grandparents, until the step grandfather decided he doesn't want them because they will eat his food. We don't TALK about all the witchcraft surrounding Swaziland and the darkness that is here. We don't TALK about the prostitute and her pimp that came here yesterday to see her two sons just to size them up to see when they can come for holiday to visit. And by visit they mean for them to work sexually. These are two of my Swazi brothers who I have loved the last three years and played with and now lived with. But we don't TALK about it.We don't TALK about how I have shaken the hands of these men and I feel a groaning in my spirit because these are some of the same hands that have beat and raped. But we don't TALK about that. We DON'T TALK ABOUT IT. Why the hell not? My heart is screaming. My wounded soul is desperate for people at home to TALK. And if you won't talk then I will. And you could at least have the decency to listen. God gave you ears to hear. Eyes to see. How can anyone who hears these things and sees these things turn away? Yes when we TALK about it, it hurts. It seems overwhelming. It is too much, too sad and we ask, "What is the point if no one seems to be listening or wanting to see change?" The point is we can change the children. We can change this next generation. What is going to happen to these children if we leave them because we thought it was too hard? We have to start talking.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

June 1, 2008 - Journal Entry "Truth is Love"

Another personal journal entry to share. This entry is from Sunday, June 1. A full day before we would cross paths with a little girl we affectionately call “Love.”

June 1, 2008

Truth is love. I feel that service is the mirror to ones soul. Intent, quite honestly, defines who we really are and where we are in our relationship with our Heavenly Father.

I have been so judgmental of others that I didn’t see my shortcomings. I was too busy trying to find others faults that I didn’t have time to work on my own. I didn’t have to face my own failures and weaknesses as long as I kept the failures and weaknesses of others in my sight. Truth is, there is enough failures in my life that I don’t have enough time to worry about others failures. God, please forgive me for being so judgmental.

I missed my family a lot today. Missed them really bad. I wanted so badly to talk to them. To hold them. To be in the same house with them. Much like our Father longs to be with His children. He wants us to be in church with Him and His other children. He wants us to embrace Him. He wants us to tell and show Him how much we love Him.
Today I was weak. I had an opportunity to share my faith and I didn’t. I wasn’t as crisp as I should have been today. I am angry at myself for not preparing as I should have. That will not happen again.

One soul. It is that important. Did I miss that divine appointment today? Was that the one soul I was supposed to share the love of Jesus with? Praise God that I will get a chance to speak with my friend again tomorrow night. (*My friend is the security guard at the guest house where we stayed. He was a Christian and we enjoyed each others conversations. I think this was a wake-up call for me to always be prepared for the Great Commission).

Meeting Pastor Walter was a big deal for us today. He is a maven. Like the Paul Revere of Swaziland. Good Lord, what a blessing it was to be with so many people today that I love. And for us all to have the worship experience we had was an awesome gift. Thank you, Father!

As much of a failure as I have been in my life – relating to how many times I have failed our Father – I am utterly amazed at how He has given this opportunity to see His saving grace at work. Different language – same message… Truth is love.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Glimpse

I have seen each of my children, at some point, read pages from my journal. While much of what I write is very personal, I know the importance of openly sharing faith and experiences with our children. After encouragement from our oldest two, Alexis and Elizabeth, I would like to share a glimpse of my journal with you. There are no earth-shattering revelations - this is simply a way for me to share my faith with you.

May 30 - Somewhere over Africa

Haven't slept hardly at all. The change in time zones has me messed-up. It is here. The time has come for me to "pay up" as far as this campaign is concerned. I have talked, prayed and thought about this for quite some time and in less than 90 minutes we will be back on African soil. The beauty of this is His promise is the same no matter where we are on earth. God is God. I suppose we are the ones who change.

As we ate breakfast I thought about Jesus and His followers. When they travelled, I wonder what they ate for breakfast? Each of them gave up everything, took up their cross, and had faith that their needs would be met. That reminds me of the parable of the birds in the field. If God takes care of the birds in the field, why wouldn't he take care of us? I worry about some of the craziest things.

I am anxious as we begin our descent into Johannasburg. What will I learn this time? What will I share? Why Swaziland? Why now? Is my soul 'clean' enough to represent Almighty God? Why am I asking myself that question now? I represent Almighty God all the time. I shouldn't ever take that responsibility lightly.

Being selfless isn't as difficult as I make it to be. When we get out of His way then His will is very clear! I want to make God proud of me. Like Caleb told me one time about serving others, "I am doing it because I am supposed to." Thank you, Father. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sudan President Indicted

Numerous press reports today confirmed that the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted on genocide charges. Our local television news affiliates ran this story tonight. You can read the full story here.

Starvation and gang-rape that robs the souls of women and children are the order of the day for this guy. With this loser being in the news, I figured it would be a really good time to intoduce you to a friend of mine.

Her name is Leigh Ann Cates. She works with an awesome organization, Aid Sudan , and is the Director of their Nashville office. Another Hero for the Kingdom. Check her out on facebook. Leigh Ann is leading the way for relief efforts in Sudan and should be commended for being a true Warrior for Christ!

Please join me in praying for the people of Sudan, as there will likely be a backlash of violence. The saddest thing about this story is that it is unlikely that al-Bashir will be arrested and sent for trial. The judgement this guy will eventually face carries much more of a penalty than what any human could do.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Independence Day

We had an activity at Westwood last Sunday evening. Typically, on Sunday evenings, many of the small groups use that time to meet. But last Sunday our church sponsored a church-wide tailgate party and fireworks show. We had a blast! Small groups, families and friends set-up their canopies and tables and brought food and drink – if you want to get Baptists involved in something – call it a competition. And competition, it was! Church staff judged each group in categories like best food, best decoration, best spirit and so on. One of the two most enjoyable things was seeing so many people. Our church has three services and small group is a big focus – so to see so many people turned the light on to how many people are active in our church. That was good to see and experience. The fireworks show was so cool! Just to be able to sit and enjoy that with my family and dear friends meant a lot to me. It allowed a time to reflect on our independence as a nation and as Christians.

While most Americans have been taught what it means to be free, many have a big misconception of what freedom really is. Many people in our society have the belief that freedom means that they can do whatever they want. It means that they are free to do drugs, free to drink, free to have sex with whomever they want. It means that kids can do whatever they want to do in school, adults are free to do whatever it takes to get ahead, and you can add many other things to this list.

One of the tragic things about this misguided perception of freedom is that these thought processes have enslaved so many into a way of life that has no hope. Drugs and alcohol leads to addiction and has destroyed many families. Sex anytime, with anyone, has led to many unwed pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and std’s, broken hearts from being used and the inability to enter into a marriage bond the way God intended. And kids who use their freedom in school in negative ways find themselves uneducated and passing blame to anyone other than themselves.

Truth is, in laws of the world, we are never truly free. In America, we enjoy freedoms that no other place in the world can enjoy. But we still are under the law of man. And some of the laws of man are pitiful. Law of man tells us that we have to do in order to be. Our society tells us that if we are to be somebody then we have to be pretty – or skinny – or popular. Society tells us that we are more valuable if we produce. And, as sad as it is, society tells us that if we score a touchdown or hit a homerun or score a goal then we are more special than someone who doesn’t. We are deemed more important if we hold political office or make a lot of money or live in a big house and drive a nice car. But where does all of this leave average people? I’ll tell you. It leaves the average person feeling like they have to do to be. It is a losing proposition. Not attaining what society tells us is important leaves so many people feeling like a failure.

Here is some really good news: we, as Christians, are absolutely free from these empty laws of man! We are absolutely free from the burden of having to do in order to be! And there is also good news for anyone who does not know Christ: He can set you free! Now THAT is Independence!

We are going to my hometown for July 4th. Being in Milton, Florida brings back so many good memories. One of the fondest memories I have is one of freedom. Milton High had already won the District football championship. We had one regular season game left before the playoffs and it was against one of our fiercest rivals. The outcome of this game had no bearing on us being district champions. I will never forget the feeling we had going into that game. Do you think we were nervous or fearful? No! We played probably one of the best games ever played in black and gold. We were free to execute and deliver as never before because we had already won! If you are in Christ, you have already won! We are free to execute and deliver and perform like never before! Through Christ, victory is ours! God Bless.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Letter to Love

June 27, 2008

Dear Love,

I hope you are doing well! Our entire team that came to visit you really does miss you, the other children and all of the adults who help each of you! We are especially thankful for Ms. Kriek and Mr. Jumbo and Mr. Dennis for checking on you and the girls and taking care of ya’ll! We heard you have gotten your eye checked by a doctor and now have an adult living with you all. That is fantastic! We are so pleased to hear this good news!

I want you to know that you are very important to me. You are also very important to many other people. You have your very own cheerleading squad. We can explain this whole cheerleading thing when we see you again. Anyway, we are so glad we got to meet you and spend some time with you. We have looked at pictures and video from the carepoint and there have been many, many people read about you on our blog. Your will is inspiring to us; your ability to defy the odds is motivating and your loving ways has captured our hearts.

Angel, I want you to know what a positive impact you are having on people. There are people who live their entire life and don’t stir the soul’s of men, women and children the way you have. You have ministered to so many! Your story is inspiring because there is hope. The video Mr. Tom Davis took of you when you were in the wheelchair had an impact. Seeing that video of you may have made some people want to come to Swaziland. Experiencing you in person has made us want to come back. You represent Hope. Hope and faith and truth that God will win the fight.

In my heart I can see some amazing things that will happen through you. I can see you getting your strength and I can see your body healing. I can see you sharing your life experiences with others from Thulwane, Swaziland, Africa and others from around the world. God is going to continue to use you as a mouthpiece for what is right about Him. You have made your country proud. You have made God’s Kingdom proud and you have made many, many people proud. How? Just by being you! God made you very special. We love you and are very, very proud of you!

I also want you to know that there are adults that you can trust. You can trust the D-Team and the people that work with AIM. And you can trust who these people put you in contact with. You can trust God and His promises. We are going to get each of you your very own bibles soon. The D-team and others will help you learn to read and teach you principles from this wonderful book. With continued sponsorship, we will make certain that you have the opportunity to go to school. We are so glad that Children’s HopeChest and Adventures in Missions have partnered in Swaziland. Through wonderful people who support Matthew 25 Ministries, we promise to continue to support you and other children who are in need. We love you. I love you. That is a promise that you can count on.

We just finished looking at the pictures of you in your new clothes and shoes! How sweet! Do you have any idea how much we enjoyed being able to do that? I hope you and your friends enjoyed it as much as we did! There is something that I noticed in every picture of you. You bring out the best in whomever you are around. That is just natural. When we are around you, we feel close to God. We see Him in you. I hope that makes you feel pretty dadgum important. Because you are! God made you in His image – isn’t that wonderful?!

I hope that tonight your tummy feels a little better. I hope that you feel a little safer when you lay down to sleep. I hope that when you wake up in the morning you feel more rested. Love, work through the tough times and enjoy the small victories in your day. Please know that we are praying for you. Please know that we miss you terribly. Please know that we are counting on you to make it. We have faith in you, Sweet Love. We have faith in YOU!

We are counting the days until we see you again – until then, we will keep up with you through Mr. Dennis and Mr. Jumbo and Ms. Kriek. They all love you too!

Sharing in His Love,


PS – Sorry about not picking up on what you were trying to tell me when we were there. I promise to be more polished on siSwati when we come back!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Living a 'Red Letters' life

Got several emails last night from Kriek ! I cannot begin to express the gratitude we have experienced since receiving some of the best news ever! Seems that Dennis Brock is the real deal. Before we left Manzini, Swaziland, Dennis gave me his word that he would look after Love. And that he did!! Kriek informed me that there is a grandmother at the homestead now; that Love's right eye has been looked at by a physician and that they are taking care of gettin them food! Tears are pouring from my eyes as I share this with you. We are overwhelmed with happiness, a sense of fairness and justice and continued hope that we, collectively, can make a difference for the Kingdom! Praise God! Praise God! Praise God! Another thing I would like to share is that Seth Barnes sent me an email while in Africa to let me know they were working on this. Adventures in Missions is for real. FOR REAL.

Kriek and Jumbo Gerber, Seth Barnes, Dennis Brock, Tom Davis, Crystal and Squeaky Baltimore - these are people who are making the red letters of the Bible come alive! God Bless each of you for stepping out in faith and being who, what and where God wants you to be. So tonight the Vann family will rest a little better - simply knowing that those four little angels have rested better and have more protection. Ultimately we give Almighty God all the credit for this!

I have been preparing a letter for Love that I will share in the next post. As i drift off to sleep tonight, I can't wait to hear the laughter from Love that is tucked away in my memories. God is so good! Until then, may God continue to bless and protect you and your family.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Just as you do unto the least of these... Love - Part 6

I feel really overwhelmed to be the one telling the story of the little girl we call "Love." While this is quite an honor for me, I have not been able to give Love the repsect she deserves - at least not in these posts. I feel like I have left my daughter in Swaziland. There. I said it. I have learned to love her even more since we have been apart. I have watched videos of her over and over and over again. I have looked at pictures of her over and over and over. And I have missed her over and over and over.

Love is an intruiging young lady. She is inquisitive. She likes to know what is going on around her. I believe she tries to be strong for the her three 'sisters' but she also longs to be held and protected. The afternoon we cleaned her up and put the new clothes on her is the day she slumbered in my arms. She felt safe enough to sleep. And it was a very deep sleep. She drooled all over my left arm! I was proud to have experienced that. Love is also very smart. She picked up on words and actions. She knew right away if I liked or disliked something. She wants to do well. She wants to please. I know she didn't like me making her walk across the field as she kicked the soccer ball. I know she didn't like me making her walk across a ditch instead of carrying her. I know that she didn't like me holding and loving on anyone else when she was around. My heart wishes I would have held her longer. But my gut and head tells me I did the right thing to make her move around and be independent. In a culture where survival is the first thought of the day, children like Love and the three other girls don't have a very good chance of seeing adulthood. Unless we commit to compassionate action and actively support organizations like AIM and Children's HopeChest - unless we are to take our faith literally - then there is no hope for this generation.

We believe in Kriek and Jumbo and Dennis and the D-team. We believe in Seth Barnes and the AIM staff in Swaziland. We believe in Tom Davis and Children's HopeChest. We know that God's work is happening at the carepoints and in the mud hut that Love calls home.

Now, more about Love. Through discussions with people from the community and through our own observations, here is what we know: Love has been sexually abused.

She has been physically abused. Love has been neglected and she is malnourished. A physician who has seen a video of her feels that she is parasitic. Her baby teeth are severely damaged and/or rotten. She has some type of neurological damage. As you can see from the video, there are challenges with her right eye and with the right side of her face. Although the flesh wounds on the right side of her head are healing, it is obvious she received blunt force trauma to her little head. Her tongue twists upside down most of the time. She has scars all over her little body. She has been burned on two places on her head and on her lower back. She was born prematurely. Her little head, as you can see, is not proportionate with the rest of her body. Big head = big brains is what I told her :-) because that is what my Momma always told me. She has had some type of surgery on her left hip which has left her with a chunk of flesh missing and a limp that pains me to see. We don't know whether she is HIV positive or not. God, help her.

All of this and we still have faith. We still have hope. We still have Love. And we have the sincere word of Kriek, Jumbo and Dennis that they will take care of these four little girls. These challenges are things that can be helped. At least there is hope.

The last video of Love is of her washing her hands as they prepare to eat the last meal of the day. She took longer to wash her little hands than the rest of the children. I think that has to do with me being at the bucket. I offered her an encouraging word, and, although she didn't understand what the word meant, she could tell it was encouraging. She has probably never been called a "Good Girl" by anyone before. I just wonder if she has ever been praised? The investment of going on mission pays eternal dividends! God had us at this place at this specific time to show us something and to have us share his love and compassion with the people of Thulwane. We are forever changed. God invested in us and we have the responsibility to water those planted seeds and to cultivate the garden.

In John 7: 37-38 we are told this: 37. On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink." 38. "He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. " NKJV

Matthew 25: 34-40 came to life through this campaign. This piece of scripture is God's plan for us. It is His foundation for the world. Let's live it together!

Love is an inspiration. Her love has called me and many others to action. We have not forgotten you, my Sweet Love. We have not forgotten.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Love - Part 5

I felt the weight of the male species as we walked through the opening of the stick fence. How can men be this absent from morality? What goes through a man's mind that would allow him to hurt a little baby? How does that work? I was really, really mad.

As we approached the stick and mud hut, we saw two adult women in the general area and four children close by. There she was. There was Love. Naked as a jaybird! Not 20 minutes before, she had on new clothes, shoes, even my favorite visor. The visor has a spear logo on it. We are the Warriors. I thought if the people who were neglecting these babies saw the spear then they would get my message. Anyway - seeing Love standing there naked kind of made me put my guard down a little. We made such a big deal out of the clothes and she took them off as soon as she got 'home!' One of the ladies brought out three chairs from somewhere and we sat in them, as this is the respectful thing to do. One of the women kept her distance, the other woman sat near us, three of the babies surrounded us and then Love did something that I will never forget. As if to show us respect, she went into the hut and put on a skirt and some way over-sized sandals before she came to greet us. I heard her before I saw her. I heard her sandals, the left one to be exact. I heard her left sandal drag across the parched dirt as she walked toward me. Her left leg is the one that drags when she walks. The injuries to her hip must be awful. God help this Angel.

As we began to share testimony of God's love to the woman that was near us, the reality of where we were began to sink in. It is like I had one of those 'out of body' experiences. I was present and in the conversation but my attention began to focus on the surroundings. The trash. The odor of human feces. The stillness of the air. The sound of the wings of the flies that were buzzing all around. The coolness of the evening air. And then my attention was back to the conversation at hand. I asked, through Zwakele, who the primary caregiver was. The lady I saw in Tom's video from last July was older than either of the women at this homestead. The frail woman answered. Then silence and a look from Zwakele to me. Then more conversation in Siswatsi. Then, in a soft whisper, Zwakele told us the answer. There was no primary caregiver. The Go-Go is in the death ward at the hospital. She has been away for over two months. Its just the four girls there and the oldest one is 5. 5 years old. God help them. The four girls have four different mothers and their whereabouts isn't certain. Maybe dead. Maybe worse - maybe alive but have abandoned their little girls. I just don't get it. The ladies there were neighbors that live earby and they check on the girls every once and a while. We were very appreciative to the women for checking on the girls. During this conversation, Alexis got up and went across the yard because she realized one of the girls had diarrhea and it was all over her. So Alexis, as many of her friends were doing things most 17 year olds do during the summer, poured some water from a jug onto an old rag and she cleaned this child up. Selfless.

I asked if I could look around and I was forever changed at what I saw. The doos on the hut wouldnt close. Inside the hut was inhumane. The stench of something rotting made me gag. There was paper everywhere. Trash. It was cold. It was scary. It was dark. I have seen bettter conditions in a pig pen. Seriously. Animals live better than this. Can you imagine what those babies go through each and every night? In Thulwane, when nightfall comes, it is dark. Pitch black dark. Can you hear the sounds of the night? The cries for help? Can you see their little eyes looking around every time they hear a noise during the night? I left words of strength and tears of pity in the doorway of that hut. I asked God to blanket their homestead with the power of the Holy Spirit. Please pray for these babies.

I saw what has become the picture that defines the hope we experienced during this campaign. At the side of the hut, just in front of the wheelbarrow they used to transport Love in was the empty wheelchair that Love was first video'd in. Kriek and Jumbo heard about a little girl who was in a wheelbarrow and they purchased her a wheelchair. But that chair couldnt hold Love down! Praise God that she is trying to be mobile on her own!

In part 6, I will summarize the 'Love' experience and describe her in detail to you. In the meantime, please continue to pray for the girls and also ask for understanding for us as we face these situations head-on. God Bless.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Love - Part 4

One of the memorable experiences of this campaign was clothes, underwear, socks and shoes. Because of the generosity of many, we were able to share much-needed items to the children of Thulwane. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity to go into Manzini with Kriek, Crystal and Squeaky (team-mates) to purchase shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. During quiet times I often thought about our four children. What would I do for my children in these circumstances? What about my girls? What if they were dressed in a dress that hadnt been washed, maybe ever? What if the dress was several sizes too small? What if they didnt have panties or socks or shoes? Well, Lord willing, I would take care of those needs! So we did. With a very careful eye and many suggestions, I picked out Love a new shirt and dress. And shoes and socks. And, for what I am sure was the first time for her, some cute panties! My intention was to give the clothes to Kriek so she could get them to Love at a later time - however, that wasn't how things worked-out. I was completely caught off guard at the carepoint when Crystal asked me to come inside and clean Love up and put her new clothes on her. I was moved beyond words.

After cleaning our little Angel up and dressing her in new clothes, she made her grand appearance to the other children of Thulwane! If I only had a roll of red carpet......

Just a few minutes after Love's 'parade' around the carepoint (her escorts were several team members!), she and the other three children who live together were slowly disappearing up the hill toward their mud and stick hut. And then we got a big fat dose of reality. It was time for the home visit. All of a sudden I was sick to my stomach. And I knew that Natalie and Alexis were feeling the same. Zwakele showed us where the rice, beans and oil were so we gathered our belongings and headed up the hill. The walk isn't that far. The hill isn't that steep. But it was literally like running stadium steps during football workouts. I am not kidding. Mostly because I knew what was waiting for us. I knew that we would encounter the man responsible for the abuse. I knew we would come face-to-face with the source of the neglect. We felt so nauseated. And mad. Really mad.

Part 5 will carry us through the visit and what we saw, smelled and experienced. Please pray for Love and her little buddies. Also pray for the AIM staff that they will create a way to right this wrong. God Bless.

Love - Part 3

This video is from our first encounter. Not 20 minutes into our first-ever conversation about 'love,' this little Angel had a message for me. A message that she attempted to give me on five other occasions throughout the week. Kriek viewed this and had a disturbed look on her face. Love had been trying to tell me all week that her 'Go-go' or caretaker was no longer there to care for her. "Mr. Larry, my grandmother, my protection, my provider - well, she isn't around anymore. You see, she is in the 'death ward' at the hospital and we are all alone. The oldest person at our homestead is 5 years old. We have been alone for over two months now. We are scared. We are lonely. We are hurting. Is life supposed to be this way? You are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus. What are you going to do?"

Silence. When Kriek heard this little angels plea for help on the video, there was silence. What could we say? We had no idea that the homestead visits arranged by the AIM staff would be so BIG. Me, Natalie and my oldest daughter Alexis were asked if we would participate in a homestead visit, accompanied by Zwakele, one of the 7 Discipleship Team members in Swaziland. Initially, I refused the opportunity. Anger wouldn't allow me to go. Besides, I knew if I went to Love's home and met who was abusing and neglecting her then I would never be allowed back on the continent or out of long-term confinement. But after prayer and guidance I knew I was supposed to go to her home. I had to see. I had to know. We had to show Love and the others that we loved them. I wouldn't trade that opportunity for anything. I will share more about the moments leading up to the homestead visit in Part 4. Just know this - there is hope. Through your support of AIM and Children's HopeChest - through faithful parayer and compassionate action - there ceratinly is hope. Please take a moment and pray for Love and the three children that share that mud hut they call home. God Bless.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Love = Nedia Sisana Maseko - Part 2

What do you say to a child who has been so betrayed by man? All I could fathom was to say, "love." So revealing is that action word. Everything we do, everything we don't do - is embraced by God's precious love. Every ounce of us is permeated by His love - because God, who is love, created us in His image (1 John 4:8, 16). We have to believe in God's love when we cannot see it as much as we believe in His love when we do see it. The only way to describe what each of us saw in this baby's eyes is love... the very essence of who and what God really is. So for the next few days, and probably from now on, we affectionately call Nedia, "Love!"

For those who know me, you know that I never take off my sunglasses when outside. Seriously. But I wanted her to see my eyes. No, I needed her to see my eyes. The next couple of hours was full of us playing with a soccer ball, walking and talking. Walking? Wasn't this the little girl that Tom Davis had video of in a wheelchair? It was! The ladies at the carepoint told us that Love did very little walking on her own. She was carried most everywhere she went.

But we couldn't allow Love to be lethargic. Under the conditions of sheer survival, only the strongest make it. In a land where the average age expectancy is 35 and where HIV/AIDS is so prevelant, we know that the odds of Love making it to her teenage years is not very high. This is reality. One of the things she has to do is to walk. Is to be stronger, physically. My God, there are so many things stacked against these children. Thank goodness for organizations like AIM, Children's HopeChest, and, through the blessings of many, Matthew 25 Ministries. With the assistance of these types of organizations, these children and the people of Swaziland are receiving very practical assistance wrapped in the Love of God. Folks, this is where the rubber meets the road. When, in Matthew 25: 35-40, Jesus tells us to take care of the poor, these carepoints is exactly what He was talking about! Thank God for Kriek and Jumbo and the AIM staff in Swaziland! Thank God for Children's HopeChest and their vision to create the carepoint sponsorships! Thank God for Matthew 25 Ministries and those who are making a very real difference through compassionate investment in His Kingdom!

In Part 3, I will share with you another video of Love. She is trying to tell me something - as she tried to tell me at least five other times during the week. But we didn't find out until after we departed for the US the scope of what she was really saying. Please pray for the AIM team in Swaziland and for continued blessings from Children's HopeChest. Please pray for the strength of Love and the three other precious children who live on the homestead. Pray for their protection from evil and that they will continue to see the love of Jesus at the Thulwane Carepoint. God Bless.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We made it home!

After many delays in Detroit, we made it home late last night! Thanks to all who met us at Westwood Baptist parkng lot at 11:45 p.m. last night. Dozens of friends and family greeted us with open hearts - what a feeling! I can imagine the feeling that parents felt as their 'babies' got home after two weeks of virtually no communication. That feeling is trumped only by God's love and longing for us when we stray from him - or when we 'leave home', as we tend to do.

I have personally spoken to many of the team memers today and all seem to be tired, but well. I encourage you to give the team members as much space or time as they need to try to sort through some of this. We saw and experienced alot while on this campaign and we all will deal with it in different ways. Please continue to pray for us as we search for answers to some of the things we witnessed and lived.

I will update photo's on shutterfly as I get my plane legs back under me. I will also have cd's of a cllection of the photos for all team members. God bless you all and thank you for partenring with us on this campaign!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Reflections of God's Heart

We have safely arrived in Nelspruit, South Africa. Leaving the people of Thulwane was difficult but we know that us leaving is not the end of the story! Our hearts have been wrecked - however, thank the Lord, we are very committed to long-term compassionate action.

Last night was a very special night. We were able to be active participants in the Baptism of Cassie and Allison. Jumbo led us thru a very heart-felt communion and then we witnessed what had to be one of the most powerful Baptisms ever! Literally, as the sun set behind a gorgeous mountain-range, the world around us came alive! Absolutely amazing...

We ask for your continued prayers and support as we prepare for the long journey home. We also ask that you, as we have, reflect on the love God has for us. For the people of Thulwane. For the world. Additionally, Steve and Alexis are feeling a little under the weather so we ask that you lift them up, as well. Nothing serious - just a little stomach bug. They are on medication.

We will be checking the blog when we get to Amsterdam - so if you get a chance, please post a comment. I cannot tell you what a joy it has been to all of us to read your replies!

God bless and we will see you soon! We love you!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

We are well!!

This is a suprise post - Jumbo and I came to town to get supplies and he graciously stopped by the office. We did make the hospital visit yesterday. That was difficult but a really awesome opportunity to share the love of Jesus with some hurting souls. The supplies you all gave to us will be distributed tomorrow. We are so excited to give these children socks, shoes, underwear, hats and some clothes! Thank you all so much for your prayers and support! Please pray specifically for Kriek and Jumbo as well as for their staff and associates. They are in the trenches and, trust me, their work is really, really tough. Please pray for our team to keep it together tomorrow - this will be the last day to spend with the children. That will be difficult. But we have Friday to look forward to - Cassie and Allison will be Baptised!!! Praise God and we will speak again soon! We love all of you!

Monday, June 2, 2008

God is so AWESOME!

Kriek brought me to the office tonight. She is such a wonderful reflection of Jesus! No pictures tonight - the internet is much too slow. However, I do have 'love notes' to share from the team. Those that wanted to gave them to me this morning at devotional. We had to keeo everything to a minimum because of the limited access we have.

  • Girls, Family and Friends - We are great! We are amazed! We love you! See you soon, Amy and Steve (Mommy and Daddy)
  • Brian, Boys, Parents, other family and friends - I am well and God is good! These people are beautiful! I will see you Monday night! I love you all and keep praying! Kristi
  • The people are beautiful, the land is beautiful, everything here is beautiful! This trip has been such a blessing. It can't get any better than this. Savannah
  • To my friends and family - It has been an amazing trip so far and I am well! I can't wait to tell ya'll everything. I love ya'll and please keep praying! Love, Caitlin
  • Jason, Skyelar and Melody - You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy... Love you and miss you - Mia
  • Family and Friends - I love you all so much. Africa and it's people are all so beautiful. This has been such an amazing experience. Please continue to pray. Love, Alexis
  • Madeline and Emma - Just wanted to let you know that we are safe and still busy doing God's work. We have met LuLu and she sends her love. We miss you and love you very, very much! PS - give Dolly a hug for us! Love, Mommy and Daddy (Allison and Mark)
  • Ms. Ruby (Momma) - We are doing well. We have been thinking of you alot and we miss you so much! Please know that we are very safe and happy. We cannot wait to see you! Love, Squeaky and Crystal
  • Del, Aaron, Rachel and Rebekah - I love you so much! I think of you often. I cannot begin to express my experience in words other than to say I pray one day you will know the joy and fulfillment of serving our God in such a tangible way. I have found Sami. Thank you for allowing me to be here, for your prayers and most of all your love! Esther 4:14. Love, Julie (Mom)
  • Ashley, Elizabeth, Caleb and Abby (family and friends!) - It is well. My heart aches but I know that is what will fuel the mission. I miss each of you terribly and know that I will continue to do my very best to represent each of you with absolute love and compassion. I love you all so much! Ash - thanks for being my rock. Kisses - Daddy

We have found, held, loved, kissed and looked into the eyes of each child at Thulwane. Yes, including each of the children that have sponsors. So we have pictures of each of these children that you help each month. Your support is doing some very tangible things here. We attended church with Pastor Walter yesterday. WOW! And then today - today, we held the little girl in the wheelchair very close. God is so good. Please visit and visit Tom Davis' blog to see video of both these people I mentioned above. Oh, and Paula D - we have video of Jubilee (sp?). She says she loves you - FOR REAL! She hasnt left Crystal's side (or lap)!!!

We must go for now - please keep the comments coming! The crew will absolutely melt when I get back to Madonsa with these notes from you!!! Please call and email all the people you can with a link to this blog - we never know how God will use us! Blessings and love....

Saturday, May 31, 2008

We are alive - VERY ALIVE!!

I dislike starting this post with an apology but feel I must - internet is Swaziland isnt like internet in the States. With that being said, tonight is absolutely the first time we have had access to any communication to home. Jumbo graciously brought me to his office in Manzini to make this post.
Please know that every single person is good, no, great! Also know that everyone has so much to say just after a couple of days. All the girls on the team are fine. The adults are good, as well. We have seen some unbelievable things after the full day at the Thulwane Carepoint today. We have also met some real-life Hero's. Really. Please continue to pray for all of us and know that your support of us is truly taken to heart.
We love each one of you! God Bless!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Arrival in Amsterdam!

Tired and a little stiff, we have arrived in Amsterdam! Everyone is in really good spirits and the twinkle is very bright in al 36 eyes! Of course, the younger pups are bouncing off the walls and the old goats are dragging up the rear. It is 8:45 am Wednesday morning local time. We will depart in just a little while for Johannasburg. The second leg of our flight will be about 11 or 12 hours, I think.

Just to let you know what a fantastic group we have - there have been countless encounters with complete strangers where we have been able to share our faith, what the mission is and how GOD IS SO GOOD! We have met people from all over the world and actually linked up with some short-term missionaries from Georgia who are headed to East Africa and a gentleman who was born in Iran who is now a US citizen. He is going home for the first time to share the love of Jesus with his family. Please pray for him - he is scared to death.

Seeing all of the 'world' in this airport has given us a great sense of pride in our heritage and our roots. It makes us miss home even more. Thank you all for your support and prayers. And the comments after these posts are a HUGE hit with everyone - you can imagine everyone huddling around the laptop when we can get a faint signal...

Please forward the link to this blg to anyone and everyone. We covet all of the prayers. NOTE - we are keeping a very close watch on everyone with our group. We look like a box of redworms walking thru the airport!

We love ya'll and can't wait to do the business we are here to do. God Bless each of you and we hope you are resting peacefully.

Your Swazi Team