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....