BEYOND BRAVE

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It has been almost exactly one year since my family and I packed our bags and boarded a plane for South Africa.  Our summer plans look very different this year and I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a huge range of mixed emotions about that reality.  I still haven’t been able to coax myself into sitting down to try articulating what unfolded during our last month in Swaziland.  There were a handful of moments that my spirit desperately doesn’t want to forget but my flesh is begging for amnesia from.

I wasn’t anticipating how those three months serving alongside my family would complicate things.  I used to hop on a plane with a team in tow to spend a week or so loving and learning alongside our friends at Ekudzeni Carepoint, but trying to imagine traveling all the way to Swaziland now without my family for only a short while sounds a bit like torture.  If I’m going to go there, I long to BE there – with time to sit alongside my Swazi friends in the still moments, time to harvest maize at a friend’s homestead, time to drive along the dirt roads that seemingly lead to nowhere only to arrive at the most endearing carepoint communities tucked away in the rolling hills, time to watch and appreciate all of the behind-the-scenes passion and Christ-centered commitment that fuels the ministry on a daily basis . . . but getting a family of five over there for an extended period of time is no easy task.  Even if we could logistically figure it out again, our path in Swaziland is not clear so we wait on the Lord.  Admittedly, it’s also hard to swallow the truth that none of this is about me or what I want anyway (understatement of the century, right?) so ultimately I just need to humbly trust God with whatever He wants our involvement to be or not be moving forward.

What I do know is that I have been on a steep learning curve for the last several years and there is no end in sight.  There are equal parts relief and frustration in that admission, but mostly there is hope.  Hope that God is not done with me yet and my journey of learning from and leaning into Him more is far from over.  Even though the future is cloudy in some areas, I can trust that His plans for me continue.  The God-induced opportunities He places before me will keep coming . . . just in His own time.  So for now, I am learning patience and trying to keep my eyes and heart open for whatever might come next.

This past November, on Orphan Sunday, K2 The Church asked if I would give the message. It was an honor to share a snippet of my faith journey with others. Consider this your sneak peek into some of what I have been trying to untangle inside my head and heart ever since our family’s return.  Despite my lack of consistent writing, hopefully this brief video will help fill in a few gaps for those of you who so graciously followed our journey last summer . . .

BEYOND BRAVE message – https://vimeo.com/channels/k2whitebox/191682101

OUR JOURNEY

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It was not my intention to be silent during our last month in Swaziland.  The lack of writing was not because there was nothing to say – quite the opposite, actually.  Our final few weeks during our season of serving were the most impactful, challenging and relationally rich moments that stretched our hearts in ways we are unable to reconcile.   There is so much we are still processing . . . so much we want to share.  Pictures often convey far more than words can and I’m sure it comes as no surprise, we have plenty of those.  So as we wade through the emotions of our experiences and step into the daunting opportunity to memorialize them through words, we hope this slideshow will help paint a fuller picture of the joy it was for us to learn, serve, laugh and love alongside our friends in Swaziland – we miss them very much.  Our family embarked on a journey together and although we are “home,” our journey is far from over.

SLIDESHOW – Our Season in Swaziland

** The first two songs on the slideshow are The African Harmony Choir from Swaziland – a choir comprised of children from the carepoints of Children’s Hopechest/AIM and the CD is available for purchase here – Sinelitsemba Album

 

FULL CIRCLE

Almost four years ago, I carefully put up a picture of a six year old girl on our refrigerator.  Intentionally choosing that location as it is one we pass by frequently, I wanted to give myself and my family the best chance of remembering her daily.  Our church had just partnered with a small rural community on the other side of the world in the tiny nation of Swaziland and with that, we had the opportunity to sponsor a child.  Sponsorship can mean different things to different people and organizations, but within the umbrella of Children’s Hopechest, it basically means you get the opportunity to build relationship with a child through letter writing, prayer and maybe traveling to meet them someday while financially supporting the carepoint your sponsored child or “special friend” attends daily for a hot meal, clean water, basic medical care, school fee support and discipleship.

I remember pouring over pictures of hundreds of children’s faces – all waiting for a special friend.  How was I going to choose?  I kept coming back to the same girl – the one with the timid smile and bright eyes.  She was the same age as my oldest daughter and in the back of my mind I thought – “how incredible would it be if they got to meet someday?”  My family and I began praying for her daily, writing her letters and sending pictures.  My children would ask me questions about her that I couldn’t answer, but then a letter came from her that provided a broader glimpse into her life.  Not that we ever doubted she existed, but receiving something tangible SHE touched and wrote was meaningful to all of us.  Up on the refrigerator it went.

Ten months after I first saw the picture of the little girl with the timid smile and bright eyes, I found myself in Swaziland leading the first team trip from our church – chomping at the bits to find “my” girl in the crowd of beautiful Swazi children.  I didn’t find her the P1030185first day.  I didn’t find her the second day.  Third day was a bust too.  On the fourth day, I was beginning to lose hope, but then I spotted a group of three girls headed my way, pointing.  Two of them were obviously leading a third.  Over one of the girl’s shoulders, I saw a set of familiar bright eyes.  My heart skipped a beat.  I wanted to run over, yell her name and scoop her up.  However, there was no big smile or natural embrace; instead we nodded at each other with clear recognition as I mustered up a morsel of restraint.  I smiled, knelt down and introduced myself.  She needed the older children to interpret, but they confirmed that she indeed recognized me.  I asked if I could hold her hand.

Over the course of that week, I got to color, sing and play alongside her.  To say she wasP1030350 shy would be an understatement, but over the course of the next three years through exchanging letters and two more trips to Swaziland, she and I have shared many sweet moments together.  I was able to visit her home, meet her grandmother who was caring for her along with her aunts and cousins.  Her English improved substantially, my SiSwati was still pathetic, but her smile grew wider every time we saw one another.  The letters, crafts and pictures from my sweet special friend were covering every square inch of the fridge door.  Our family continued praying for her over the years.  My kids kept asking questions, and I actually knew some of the answers.

Just a couple of weeks ago, my three children had the great pleasure of giving our

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special friend big embraces with no restraint.  My husband got to shake hands with her father, whom she is now reunited with.  Through the chattering, giggles and wide smiles I felt something had come full circle – a melting pot of people whom I love, interacting as if they were old friends.  It was deeply meaningful for all of us – tangible proof that we had touched each other’s lives.  No longer is there a need for anyone in our family to try to just remember the girl with the bright eyes, her life story is now engrained in ours and ours in hers.  And as soon as we get home, you better believe that right beside the picture of the young girl with the timid smile; will be hanging a picture of our WHOLE family smiling wide.

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KNOWN

Who doesn’t love witnessing a joyous reunion?  It stirs up something in us . . . maybe a realization that it is good to be known, to be missed, to be welcomed back.  Watching multiple returning team members from K2 the Church reunite with their friends from Ekudzeni Carepoint was such a highlight for me. The giant smiles and enthusiastic embraces signified so much more than people happy to see one another; it was evidence of the power of relationship, investments of the heart made over the last several years. These reunions were the visible reflection of a great story God has been authoring for as long as only He knows. 

This was the first team trip I have been able to participate in without leading.  Being a bystander was such a gift and blessing as it allowed me to soak in and appreciate moments in a different capacity:  Watching special friends (sponsors and the children they are paired with) meet for the first time.  Seeing Kevin experience and engage in a setting he has only heard about second hand from me for many years.  Witnessing new friendships that defy cultural differences being formed.  Endless smiles on hundreds of Swazi kids’ face as they soaked up playtime, attention and snuggles from the team.

Seeing the team pull endless details together and working alongside the on-ground staff to provide a medical clinic for over 300 people in the Ekudzeni community was an event to behold.  This was the third medical clinic we have conducted, and it gives us an opportunity not to just meet people’s physical needs but also to engage with them one-on-one, deepening relationships and building trust.  People from all over the community walked for hours just to receive basic medical treatment and a vision screening.

I just happened to watch a go-go (grandmother) with two crutches begin her journey home after she received her prescribed medications.  She was by herself and shuffled along very slowly.  I was available and had access to our truck so asked if I could drive her home.  Another Swazi who could serve as an interpreter jumped in the car with us and off we went.  For all I knew, this go-go lived very close to the carepoint, which would have been a fair assumption considering how difficult it was for her to walk.  However, as she continued to direct me I quickly realized she lived many miles from the carepoint.  She explained how she started walking in the dark at 4 o’clock that morning, and it took her six hours to get to the carepoint.  Over and over again she insisted she knew God loved her because He cared enough to send me to drive her home that afternoon.   Such a seemingly simple act turned out to be not so small to her.

I’ve been gnawing on that 20 minute drive off and on ever since, turning over that woman’s everyday realities in my head and trying to re-examine them at different angles with my heart.  She knew she was loved by her Creator through something as simple as a ride in a truck.  Why is it often so difficult for me to recognize and be thankful for God’s abundant blessings? I take so much for granted.  I’m desensitized.  There is so much I don’t understand yet I think we were all designed with a deep desire to be known and loved, and sometimes it’s as simple as a welcoming embrace or a short drive down a dusty road.

Salakahle (stay well) from Swaziland . . .

LOCAL LEADERS

We’ve only been on this continent for three weeks, but we are already very excited to welcome 23 of our friends from K2 the Church to Swaziland in just a few short hours!  This team from our home church in Salt Lake City, Utah will be in country for the next 11 days serving Ekudzeni Carepoint while providing vision screenings, a medical clinic and hopefully lots of quality time with the kiddos!  Since we are itching to get over to the team guest house and give our friends some hugs, I’ll give you a quick overview of our past week that provided some inspiring glimpses into the lives of some valuable local leaders.

In a culture where fathers are often absent and male role models are few, it is such an encouragement to see the men who are stepping up and leading their families and serving their communities.  Our friend, Bafanabonkhe is one such man who faithfully volunteers at the carepoint and serves at church each Sunday.  He also happens to be a skilled artisan and makes the most beautiful hand-woven baskets.  On Tuesday, our family had the opportunity to help he and his wife harvest one of his corn fields.   We weren’t sure how the kids would fair, but thankfully the big kids seemed to rather enjoy the task, while our kiddo caboose stayed strong for the first half of harvesting then spent the last half sitting in the middle of the field, adamantly making it known how tired she was.  😉  Afterwards, Bafanabonkhe graciously showed us his workshop and demonstrated how he makes the baskets I have long admired and frequently use.  The time spent with him at his home was particularly special because two of his children are sponsored by two of my dear friends back in Salt Lake City, so his children have always held a special place in my heart, not to mention they are some of the smiliest kids you will ever meet . . . seems they take after their father.  J  I am exceedingly grateful for the time we were able to spend deepening our relationship with this special family and hope we can find other ways to do life alongside our friends here.

What a joy and privilege it is to watch great leaders in action!  There are dozens of young Swazi men and women who are adding incredible depth and richness to an already remarkable ministry.  These young adults are nothing short of an answer to prayer, walking realities of a dream that began long ago.  So far, some of my most savored moments are those spent speaking with these young leaders or, better yet, seeing them in action – pouring into and sheparding the children at the carepoints.  They know the children, because they themselves are from the same communities they are investing in.  They are able to “pour out” because others have poured into them.  The most significant example of this is the Swaziland Leadership Academy which was founded several years ago, that identifies local leaders within the carepoint communities and provides a 9 month intensive training/discipleship course.  The fruit of the SLA program is already ABUNDANT and so much hope and promise lies in its continuation, yet future funding is unsecure and remains a major prayer request for those within the ministry.  Please pray for God’s provision for the SLA and for the amazing leaders it has produced who serve selflessly every day here in Swaziland.  We are seeing first-hand how these local leaders are impacting the future of the children and communities they serve.  I will certainly write more on this as it is such an incredible component of how God is working here, but will have to save that more detailed post for another day!

Please keep the K2 team and the full time missionaries in your prayers during this very full upcoming week!  Excited to share with you again soon.  Thanks for journeying along with us.

Signing off for now from Swaziland . . .

ACCLIMATING

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It’s hard to verbally reconcile all that transpired this week as my head and heart are still having trouble wrapping themselves around the long awaited, much anticipated reality that is unfolding all around us.  Reconnecting with so many people I love on this side of the ocean while Kevin and the kids finally get to exchange handshakes, smiles and hugs to those they have heard about and prayed for all these years.  It’s all surreal in the most heartwarming ways.

After we had a half day to settle into our answer-to-prayer 500 square foot cabin tucked away in the peaceful countryside, we got to kick off our season in Swaziland by attending a staff meeting of the on ground AIM/CHC staff.  It was a joy to see the ministry VIP’s gathered in one place, praising the Lord and collaborating on how they can best serve the children and communities they have been called to love.  So much amazing development has taken place within the ministry since I first traveled to Swaziland in 2010.  What were once just dreams of sustainable micro-enterprises and leadership development programs are now realities.  The ministry is now seeing children who have grown up within the carepoint system “graduate” and go on to become leaders within their own carepoints, communities and country.  This new wave of rising Swazi leaders is just beginning too – what an exciting time to see God’s faithfulness come to fruition within Swaziland!

This week we were able to visit three different carepoints of the ministries 34 – each of them serving approximately 200-250 children.  We are deeply familiar with our “home” carepoint, Ekudzeni, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s only one slice of a much bigger ministry pie.  Already, we are finding it so interesting and eye-opening to see the personality of other carepoints and get a taste of their community culture.

The full-time missionaries here are very busy and admittedly, we find ourselves with spinning heads and tired bodies after only one week of serving as we are trying to acclimate physically, mentally and spiritually to the foreign environment we have just immersed ourselves in.  In some ways I knew what I was getting into, but I have never been here in the role of a mother, only with teams sans kiddos.  I’m finding that at least initially, much of my attention needs to be on my kids, helping them navigate this new world of literally stepping into the unknown each day.  For as much as my heart has desired to have my children here, I have been anxious about it too.  So far, I am beyond impressed with their resilience and their bravery.  It’s not easy for anyone to be forced outside their comfort zone, but I have witnessed each of them CHOOSING to step into this, to be brave, to try, to trust.

Ava has probably had the most natural transition, mostly due to her age.  All the Swazi kids seem to respond well to her and she has enough maturity to hold her own.  Yesterday, a young child took a hard fall near her.  Despite dozens of other older kids around, no one gave any indication they were planning on helping.  So, Ava scooped up the little guy, blood running out of his mouth then consequently onto Ava’s shirt and down her arm, but she didn’t hesitate in helping him.  Her God-given compassion in that moment was so beautiful.  Cross’ composure has really surprised us as he unintentionally acquires an entourage of at least half a dozen or more Swazi boys wherever he goes.  They are curious, sometimes a little rough, occasionally they seem to taunt in Siswati, but for the most part they are welcoming and Cross has handled the complete lack of personal space like a flippin’ rockstar.  Shae has the most to work through on the days we visit carepoints.  The Swazi children find her fascinating, amusing and small enough where they apparently feel somewhat entitled to grab, pinch, tickle, laugh at, tease and chase her as much as they want.  The majority of it is not mean spirited, but Shae doesn’t understand why the kids are sometimes being “rude” so she ends up in tears multiple times each day.  Yet she keeps getting back out there – literally wipes her tears, takes a deep breath and says she wants to try again.  I’m proud of her.  Heck, I’m proud of all my kiddos.  It’s not perfect, it’s messy, WE’RE MESSY, but what a beautiful reminder of how God sent his son, Jesus, into the mess of this world, to meet us where we are at, helping us understand who He is and how much He loves us.  He didn’t wait until we were cleaned up and had it all figured out – He dove into our mess and confusion.  Personally, I’m so grateful that He still does that today for anyone who invites Him to.

In summary, we’re on a SLOW path of learning to embrace the messy, learning to bend lower in our service to others, learning to identify and disassemble the false idols in our lives, learning that often our comfort is a hindrance . . . looking at the mess of our own hearts and learning to more fully embrace whatever God may be asking of or inviting us into each day.

Signing off for now from Swaziland . . .

One Week Down . . .

Many of you have been praying for the Lord to go before us and make a way for us – THANK YOU!  We have felt the enormous blessing of the fruition of that prayer during our first week here in Africa.  From shockingly smooth travels to consistently great attitudes from all the kiddos, our families introduction to this unique season has been as good as we could have ever hoped for.

Some of the details I was most stressed out about (16 hour flight with 3 kids in tow, our luggage surviving/arriving the trek, would the pick-up truck we are borrowing fit all of us and our luggage, etc.) have all worked out without a hitch.  Dear friends of ours from Salt Lake City have family in Pretoria, South Africa and they generously have allowed us to borrow their “bakkie” (farm truck) for our time here.  As if that wasn’t amazing enough, they helped book a shuttle for us from the airport, put snacks in our room so we would have something to eat when we arrived and graciously hosted us in their home for a delicious South African meal.  It was huge comfort to have a personal connection when we arrived.  It’s not often I have found myself a foreigner in an unfamiliar land, but even in this short week I have developed a new appreciation for and desire to be on the lookout for those who are foreigners in my home and find ways to extend a warm greeting, help if needed and encouragement.

SONY DSCWhen we landed in Johannesburg, Shae looked out the window and asked, “When are we going to get to the real Africa?”  I chuckled at the comment, but knew exactly what she meant.  In her mind, the real Africa does not consist of highways and tall buildings but safari animals and large expanses of land.  Kevin and I were hoping to give our kids a fun introduction to the continent so we decided to stay at an inn in South Africa that had plenty of animals to see right on their property.  On our first morning in Africa, the kids awoke to the sounds of animals roaring so we threw on our clothes and they raced around looking at lion cubs, giraffe, and monkeys.  We even had the opportunity to play with a baby tiger cub!  Needless to say, they loved every animal sighting and interaction.

Yesterday we drove four hours through South Africa to the Swaziland border and we purposefully choose to take a route neither Kevin nor I had been to before.  The road took us into gorgeous high elevation terrain (yay for mountains!) along a nearlyIMG_1791 deserted, dirt road which gave us a great appreciation for “our” African pick-up truck.  Anytime we drive anywhere it feels like an adventure as Kevin and I have to keep reminding ourselves – “STAY LEFT!”  So far, so good, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t unnerving at times.

Weeks ago, I found out there were few lodging options available in Swaziland the weekend of our arrival due to a large music festival.  Luckily I did find lodging in the northern region of Swaziland at a place called Bulembo lodge.  Upon arrival, Kevin and I quickly realized how serendipitous it was that we just “happened” to stay there.  Back in 2012, while Kevin was in Swaziland on a micro-enterprise/business leadership exploratory trip he heard about a crazy project up north where people were attempting to restore an old mining ghost town into a thriving, sustainable community whose main focus would be caring for HIV/AIDS orphans.  Well, you guessed it – the town of Bulembo is the location of that “crazy project” and we had the amazing opportunity to sit down and speak with one of the project’s directors as well as tour the museum and get to know some of the town’s residents.  It really is a remarkable story of what is happening in this tiny corner of Swaziland.  If you want to learn more about this incredible community check out www.bulembu.org.

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We are all so grateful to be here together as a family and in some ways; it feels a bit like a homecoming to me.  The time I have spent here over the years has definitely cultivated a real love for and longing to be back in Swaziland.  Having Kev and the kids alongside me this time makes “home” feel not very far away.  Tomorrow we finally get to connect with all of the amazing folks that work for CHC/AIM (the organizations we partner with).  We are excited to get in a serving groove and see what opportunities God will lay before us to support the local staff and dive into the incredible work they are doing daily to serve the orphaned and vulnerable children here.

Signing off for now from Swaziland . . .

SHOWING UP

townsends-swaziland-30One week from today our family will be en route to Swaziland where we will live, serve and learn for approximately three months.  To put it simply, we believe relationships are important, and to have real relationships you have to show up.

Collectively, Kevin and I have made six trips to Africa, but never together, never outside the umbrella of traveling alongside a team and certainly never with our three kiddos in tow.  This next season we are stepping into is admittedly outside our comfort zone; however, we are beyond excited for the opportunity to dive further into relationship with not only our friends in Swaziland, but with Jesus.  Looking at Jesus’ life, he talks about and CarePoint_Ekudzeni_Day4_01shows a special concern for the orphans, widows and poor.  Do we need to travel halfway across the world to care for orphans, widows and the poor?  Certainly not, yet we have experienced firsthand that God often calls or bends people’s hearts in a certain direction – toward a specific group of people or maybe an individual for seasons of our lives.  For the last six years and for the foreseeable future we feel strongly that we are to spend ourselves on behalf of the orphaned and vulnerable children in Swaziland, with the hope that through a committed, long-term relationship we can help facilitate cultural collaboration, and through development assist individuals and communities realize and release their full, God-given potential. 

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The currency of the Kingdom of God is relationships – personal relationship with Jesus and relationships with others.  As complex as it sounds at first, it’s actually remarkably simple in that regardless of socio-economic status, geographic location or religious affiliation, we as a species share this gorgeous blue and green marble called Earth and should be caring for one another.  Being in relationships is actually what allows us to know how to do this.  Taking all that into consideration, we have found that it is much easier to have relationship with someone if we actually show up.  So, that’s why we’re going to Swaziland.

Many people have asked us, “So what are you going to DO while you’re over there?”  We could spout off a list of half a dozen things we think we might be able to assist with during our time there; however, we are still learning to embrace the more productive approach of focusing on being PRESENT and AVAILABLE without agenda (yes, you read that right).  We feel led to position ourselves – physically, spiritually and emotionally – in such a way that DSC_0744 with the start of each day, we are ready and able to say YES to whatever God asks of us – His ideas, His timing, His agenda – not ours.  Will that come naturally to us – HECK NO.  That is completely opposite of our natural wiring, which is to plan, prepare and accomplish.  Yet we genuinely long for and see the immense value in a crash course of putting aside our let’s-get-things-done-now-no-time-to-talk-our-way-or-the-highway-Western culture to learn, embrace, see and potentially help advance some of the amazing developments already underway that are instilling HOPE in thousands of Swazi children’s lives.

So now what?  Well, would you consider joining this journey alongside us?  Would you consider keeping tabs on this crazy adventure we feel led to embark on?  We will use this blog site to document and share our experiences – whether that is me blabbing away or one of my kids sharing their perspectives through their unique lens of being a child trying to absorb an entirely different culture for the first time.

And if you feel so inclined, would you consider praying for us?  Would you pray for the children in Swaziland?  For the full-time missionaries that live and serve in Swaziland year P1010697after year?  Would you pray for the Swazi young adults that are being trained to help lead, comfort, counsel and disciple the orphaned children within their own communities?  Would you pray that the severe drought that has ravaged the already insufficient fields and livestock would end?  Would you pray for sustainable transformation that would help alleviate poverty within the nation of Swaziland?  If you couldn’t tell already, we truly do believe in the power of prayer, but if that’s not your cup of tea – don’t sweat it.  We would just be honored to have you tag along with us, share in our joys, learn with us in our mistakes (which will be many) and enjoy being a fly on our wall while we dip our toes into what it looks like to serve as a family overseas.  Thanks for even sticking with us far enough to read this mini-novel . . . there will be more, so stay tuned.  🙂

 

 

 

OUR SPIRITUAL POVERTY – March 2015 Team Trip Blog Post

It almost always starts with just one voice – an invitation of sorts. A gorgeous melody begins to infiltrate the air in an expectant way. My body seems to have a knee-jerk reaction . . . throat tightens, ears strain and eyes gently close. It’s just a normal day at the carepoint, but I know what’s coming. I’ve heard this before. Maybe not exactly the same tune, but a variation familiar enough that I brace myself for what is about to unfold. And then, it hits. With a force that defies what I had thought possible before I ventured to the other side of the world, the chorus of voices – strong, uninhibited and effortlessly harmonized. Bare feet start rocking in perfect unison on the red soil and rhythmic hands intensify the swell of song that surrounds us. I am lost in what I can only describe as a holy moment. Tears are brimming but I do my best to keep them at bay for if anyone noticed, if anyone asked, it would be nearly impossible to explain the turmoil that these moments stir up inside me. I am plagued and perplexed at how these people, who live among such poverty and face hardships beyond my comprehension, can sing boldly with an authentic joy that takes your breath away. Simultaneously I am inspired and ashamed, enlightened and tormented.

God called me to this tiny nation tucked inside the eastern part of South Africa five years ago. Initially, the knowledge of this country’s unfortunate titles – “Highest HIV/AIDS rate in the World,” “Lowest life Expectancy,” “Nation of B&AOrphans” – seemed reason enough to dive in and try to help in some way, but God continues to reveal unexpected layers of this onion – sometimes joyful and at times, more painful than I would have ever anticipated. The call to serve in Swaziland is not what I expected it to be.

As Americans we have such a rigid idea of what poverty is – lack of food, clothing, water, shelter. Poverty is so much more than that, with a root system so widespread and under the surface, we often fail to identify it, much less deal with it. Initial interactions with the people of Swaziland upheld my preconceived notions of poverty as I held children who were severely malnourished – bellies distended in disturbingly disproportionate ways, hair crunchy from lack of nutrients, lethargic bodies with a look of fear in their eyes. However, as the moments God allowed me to have in Swaziland turned into days, days into weeks and weeks into months I have learned that poverty extends far beyond what I originally thought.CarePoint_Ekudzeni_Day1_03

Nestled in a lush rural valley, the people at Ekudzeni Carepoint have welcomed me and others from K2 the Church with open arms over the past three years. They didn’t have to make us feel at home. They didn’t have to patiently teach and coach us through simple Siswati phrases and they certainly didn’t have to extend us grace when we were stumbling through and sometimes trampling on Swazi cultural etiquette. But they did.

The bomake (cooking women) at the carepoint gather firewood and cook large pots of rice and beans that take hours to prepare over a hot fire to feed hundreds of children each day. They choose to do this daily without payment. Despite having very meager resources, they serve others all the while folding God into their work as naturally as breathing.

myaloChildren as young as three years old will walk miles, often bare-footed, to the carepoint to receive their one meal for the day. Most of them have lost at least one parent, if not both. They face an uncertain future due to a lack of resources and opportunity. Yet, each day before they receive their meal, they gather together and give thanks to God – hands folded tightly, eyes reverently closed – reciting a staccato version of the Lord’s prayer that is both beautiful and haunting.

By the world’s standards – most of these people have practically nothing – the clothes on their backs and the hope of some type of sustenance each day. By the world’s standards – I am rich – with food stockpiled in my pantry and a closet overflowing with clothes, and that is just the tip of a gluttonous iceberg. Yet, I am NOT the one who breaks out in spontaneous worship, boldly giving thanks for His provision. I am NOT the one who turns almost every conversation back to God’s goodness and promises and truly trusts Him. I am NOT the one who stands on the foundation of memorized scriptures that have been forged into my DNA through walking with Jesus through the “valley of the shadow of death.” I am a self-limiting and immature Christ follower. I cringe at this admission, but it is undeniable to me now.

CarePoint_Ekudzeni_Day1_12As we continue to send teams from the States to go love on, learn from, and serve alongside the people at Ekudzeni Carepoint, many of our worldviews are being pulverized and then reconstructed brick by brick. Living out James 1:27, “Pure and faultless religion is this: caring for the orphans and widows in their distress and turning your back on the things of this world,” has deeper ramifications than I had anticipated. As we dive deeper into relationship with the Swazis, God sheds a painful light on the deficiencies in our own culture and hearts. Our self-sufficiency has choked God out of our lives. We strive for independence not realizing the joy and freedom of dependence. We have embraced things of this world. I embrace things of this world. The Swazis are often bold in their worship and their focus on Jesus yet delightfully soft spoken and intentionally paced in their everyday conversations. In the States we tend to lean in a different direction – soft spoken about CarePoint_Ekudzeni_Day1_20and sometimes embarrassed to worship God and then rushed and distracted during our interactions with others. Everything is a jumbled blur. My compass is completely out of whack – spiritually dizzy. I thought the ACT of caring for the orphans and widows would be what helped me turn my back on the things of this world. I was not anticipating that it would actually BE the orphans and widows who would help teach me this process. The poor are the rich and the rich are the poor. I feel as if the air has been ripped out of my lungs. I am humbled – humiliated, yet there is hope.

When we step across cultural, geographic or comfort boundaries, we are forced to lean on Jesus – not ourselves. When we dare to stand on the edge in situations where we feel completely overwhelmed and ill-equipped, our survival hinges on allowing God to fill in all the gaps. We can never be in God’s mighty wake if we are the ones leading. Taking a blind leap into poverty, serving the orphans and widows, feeding the hungry, sitting in the dirt with others with no motives other than just being present with them – changes everyone involved. Slowly the economy of the Kingdom infiltrates and overtakes the economy of the world. The poor are empowered, the rich are humbled. Perspectives shift, hearts are softened, blinders are ripped off – we begin to realize that without Christ alive and blazing within us, we are all impoverished.

CarePoint_Ekudzeni_Day1_17The people at Ekudzeni Carepoint are no longer nameless faces to me. They are my friends and my family, and we know one another by name – Nombulelo, Happy, Saul, Cebsile, Bandile, Zakitsi, Myalo, Veliswa, Lando, Siphesile, Mbuso, Bongani, Mdoli and dozens of others . . .they have blessed me and taught me so much. The woman that broke the silence in an overcrowded waiting room in one of Swaziland’s HIV/AIDS Pediatric care centers, with a melody about Jesus, which led the entire room of children and parent’s to erupt into a unified chorus praising God, despite the reason they were sitting in that room in the first place – she taught me an important lesson: God has given us all an invitation – to say, “YES” to Him and follow His lead. It often starts with just one person, one voice, but God can take a person’s bold step of faith and multiply it into a bellowing and beautiful chorus that infiltrates our life and beautifully impacts the lives of those around us. So for now, as the chorus swells with powerful Swazi voices declaring God’s goodness, I will close my eyes, unclench my fists and raise my hands high in full admission of my spiritual poverty. I will choose to soak in the sweet and humbling song God is singing over me, praying that one day, regardless of my circumstances, I too might be able to experience HIM fully.