A year ago today, I arrived to South Africa to where there and Swaziland would quickly become another home to me, and will forever hold a special place in my heart. I embarked on one of the biggest journeys of my life, that by God's grace He made possible. Now that I am back in the States many people ask me if living in Africa was life changing. It was that and more! My time in Africa was not only life changing, but Africa became home and opened up my eyes to see the need for love throughout this world. I went to Africa praying that God may use me to share His love and for Him to give me His eyes to see the need. To break my heart for what breaks His. To mold me, humble me and change me. To become more selfless and care for the hurting. He did that and SO much more!
Africa has changed my life forever! Being a missionary was not about snapping photos with the children to get praised for giving 10 months of my life to missionary work. It's never about that. To God be the glory and praise always! It was about truly loving and making a difference in the lives of the beautiful people there, who have now become family. It was about meeting them where they are at, truly getting to know them, living life with them and amongst them. Being there to not only tell them that they can succeed in the midst of adversity but actually helping them succeed. About telling them and showing them that there are people who love them and that most importantly God loves them. Helping them meet their needs and helping them strive towards sustainability. Like they say, "Not only giving them fish but teaching them how to fish." That although I may never fully understand their life, that I have a heart to reach out and give my all to do what I can. It's not about what I did for them but it's about how God used me to help them. Yes, I fell in love with their culture, Africa has become my other home, I learned new languages, how to cook different traditional African dishes and more, but most importantly God changed me and opened my eyes to see the needs in this world. He changed me and ignited a fire in me to continue to do international development aide.
GOD CHANGES US AND HELPS US GROW TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THE LIVES OF THOSE AROUND US. HE HAS CALLED US ALL TO BE MISSIONARIES IN SPREADING LOVE AT OUR HOMES, AT OUR JOBS, IN OUR COMMUNITY AND AROUND THE WORLD.
God continues to open my eyes to see that we all need more of Him and that we all need to love more selflessly. That there is pain, hurt, poverty, need, depression, and so much more all around us in every part of this world. That we all need to rise up and truly love our neighbor as we love ourselves and as He has loved us. To offer those in need our best, not our scraps. To be open to listen and reach out to our neighbor. To truly show God's love and not be consumed in our own selfish wants, that we forget about those around us. We need to show them and remind ourselves as well, that we are all loved by Christ regardless of the color of our skin or social class standing. To care about something going on in this world not only because its happening to you or until it happens to you, but to care about the worries of this world because you love like Christ loves us. Because you love your neighbor like you love yourself and like He loves you. Because you hurt when they hurt and you join them in their pain. Showing them that you are there for them and being that shining light of love and peace. If God gives you His all and you always strive for whats best for you, why not for your neighbor? We must stand up for justice, peace and love! Showing all those around us that violence, hate and lies are not the answer. Showing them that love truly conquers all because He loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to die in the cross for our sins.
In June, a few days before flying back here to the States, I fractured my wrist while in South Africa. Due to the pain and trying to figure out if it was a fracture or not, I spent some of my hours of my last night in Swaziland at the hospital. I was frustrated because at that moment and those days, I was limited to what I can do and carry because of the injury. It was then though that God gave me the reality check that throughout this whole journey it was God working through me. That I didn't do it all alone! That He was my strength and that it was time to trust that God will continue to bless my Swazi families in the midst of my physical absence. That it was more than ok to ask for help and that I needed to trust those after me to continue to do the work that needs to be done there. That they will continue with the work that God has started while I was there. As a volunteer group that we had from Canada helped us during my last two weeks in Swaziland and I trained one of the girls that would stay there for a few more weeks after the group and I left, I looked around me with such gratitude to God for all that He has done. I pray that God will continue to bring more help to the beautiful people in Swaziland and everywhere else where help is needed.
Saying "See you again soon' to my beautiful children and families was so SO hard. I sobbed and till this day find myself thinking of them every day and crying. When I dream of my cuties it feels so real and I can't believe how quickly the time went. Those plane rides this past June were a challenge because of the pain I felt, as my arm became swollen and as I looked at those screens in each plane, showing me that I was going farther and farther away from my home in Africa. But I am beyond thankful to God because in each flight and layover God showed me that He was with me by placing certain people there. From a lady who sat right next to me whom had an injury as well and together we comforted each other. To another lady on the same flight who was leaving South Africa to go back to her homeland in Ecuador because her french husband, whom she met in SA, passed away and he was all she had there in SA. We were both leaving a place that became home to us. To a mother and a baby behind me, who I was able to talk to in siSwati, having a piece of my Swazi home with me, as I spent 10 hours on that flight. To meeting amazing people at the airports who were so loving and helpful. God showed me that He is always there!
The moment I stepped onto American soil my heart started pounding quickly because I wasn't ready to face life in America again. At that point, the re-entry culture shock began to hit me like a ton of bricks. It was strange to look around me and feel out of place in my own country. Till this day the re-entry culture shock is still a challenge. I came back a different person! Not only with a tad bit of an accent, new lingo and added languages but with a completely different way of thinking and being. I miss the humble rural area living, spending time with my cuties and focusing on them.
I quickly grew frustrated as upon my arrival my mother, brother and I walked into an In-N-Out place and I was overwhelmed with watching as some families are no longer spending quality time while they eat, but instead glued to their phones. The children playing games on their tablets, while the parents are on their phones, as they eat their food. After being away from the easy access of internet for so long, I have learned to truly appreciate it for what it should be used for and not letting it consume my life. I grew frustrated to see how technology here and in many other places have consumed our lives and taken away the beauty of family time and a childhood of playing outside for so many. How we quickly become more worried about capturing our every move on a photo or video to post it for the world to see. Being glued to your phone as you see those likes or comments add up, while missing out on those priceless moments with those around us. It's ok to want to take photos and videos because they are precious moments that we can look back at, but don't let it be your main concern and don't let social media consume you. Don't let it take away those actual face to face conversations and in person quality precious moments.
Use technology and social media for the good. Let's not just post about something and share it without actually taking action. Let's actually let our actions speak louder. Let's not let something tragic happen, shake us for just that moment and let it be a trend that we share at that moment and it quickly fades away as we continue with our lives. Let's pray for this world! Let's take action in whatever way we can! Let's continue with those conversations and continue to see what we can do to make a change. Lets see how God can use you and the career/gifts/talents that God gave you to make a positive difference. To be that change and light in the midst of all that is happening around us. Let God lead and lets show His Love to all, in the midst of all this chaos. Lets truly love our neighbor like we love ourselves because the One loves us.
This world needs more people who will stand up and love selflessly without expecting anything in return. Lets break the chains of selfishness and be more selfless. Lets break the chains of poverty, violence, hate, discrimination, racism and more by being that positive change and taking action for a better tomorrow. Actually caring and loving all people.
This week God reminded me that there is hope for this world! That there are people who want to make a difference, who want to love others like Christ loves us. That yes, this world is full of hurt and evil but it is also filled with many people who will fight with love and compassion because love conquers all. This past Saturday night and Wednesday night my family and I went to Eisenhower Medical Center with friends from Destiny Church for a prayer and worship night for a friend of my little brother. As we prayed and worshipped together we not only prayed for Patrick, believing in healing over him but we also prayed for our valley and all those who are hurting. God reminds me that we need to unite in prayer and action.
As I apply for jobs and my masters program I don't know exactly what is next for my life but I do know that my purpose is to continue to help people grow, to love on them, to be there for them and to show them that there are people who loves them and that there is a God who loves them even more. Just because I am not in Africa for this season in my life, it doesn't mean that I will stop loving them or being a part of their lives, My prayer is that God may continue to allow me to be there for them in any way possible until that day comes when I go back. I can't wait for that day that I can go back to South Africa and Swaziland to see my beautiful children and the people that have become family, but for now I thank God for allowing me to be here for my family and I know that He has me back here for a reason, to make a difference in the community that I grew up in. I want to be used by God to make a difference in my community, my khaya(home) in Africa and everywhere in this world. For His honor and glory to share His love! My prayer is that God continues to give me that heart that hurts when others hurt and that He keeps me humble and grounded in Him. That I may never stop seeking growth in all aspects of my life, so that I can continue to bless others.
We need to be that light in this world that God will use to bring HOPE, LOVE and HEALING to those in need. We can't become comfortable in our own little world, only caring about our needs. There are needs to be met all around us and someone who needs love everywhere we go. Whether it be your parents, siblings, another family member, friends, acquaintances, your community or others around the world that need help, REACH OUT to them and show them that they are not alone. Let's show EVERYONE around us that they are not alone! That we are all loved by God and by each other! That we will lift each other up and be there for each other.
Allow God to use you and be that shining light of love where ever you go!
"Staan op genade. Wandel deur geloof. Leef in liefde" (In Afrikaans)
"Stand for grace. Walk by faith. Live in love"
The part of being a student missionary that all missionaries dread, the day that I tried to not speak about for a long time now and the moment that I knew I would find a challenge with, before even arriving to Africa is coming......
This past Tuesday as I put these two signs up in front of our Welcome Place I took a deep breath as I tried to hold back the tears. During each month that I have been here, I couldn't wait for it to be the end of the month, because I knew that this meant that I would get to go around to all our families, distributing their monthly food parcels and being able to visit all of them. I remember my very first distribution in August and telling myself, "Wow, this is the first of many. 9 more to go." I thought that 9 more was a lot! But then, as Swaziland quickly became my home, I stopped counting how many more distributions I had left before returning to America, because these moments stopped becoming a part of my monthly or daily duties as a "student missionary" or "long-term volunteer" but it became my life. It became a part of me and I love it! My life became less about me and more about them!
As I changed the date on the signs to May and put them up, I felt the cold winter breeze hit me and I couldn't believe that winter here in Swaziland is upon us once again. Couldn't believe that it was my tenth distribution as well, because this meant that my return to America was and is near. This meant that as we go around to different areas in our community to deliver their parcels, I would have to tell my children and Swazi families that I was going back to America.
My heart feels heavy.... With a mixture of emotions! Happy because I will soon get to hug and see my family and friends in America but so SO sad that I will be far away from my cuties, Swazi family and South African family for some time.
Although so many great things are happening, these past days have been some of the hardest of days. It's hard to not look at my children or hug them as they go home after school, without wanting to cry. Cry because I don't want to leave them! Cry because I am not ready to go back to America. I don't think I would ever be ready. The thought of waking up and not being there for them is torture for me right now.
But then I am reminded that it is not I but God working through me. I have to continue to trust in God that He will continue to be there for them. Trying my best to continue to laugh and enjoy every moment here even when I feel sad. The children have taught me how to be happy and enjoy life in all circumstances.
This past Tuesday we were also able to harvest the sugar beans that we planted when I first arrived here. As I opened up the shell of the beans to take them out. I realized how great God is for allowing me to not only plant the seeds of maize, beans, potatoes and more in our gardens and farms, but He has also allowed me to watch it all grow and be able to harvest it.
What a test of patience it was but also what a testament that shows us that God is in our midst during every season of our lives, helping us grow through the moments of heavy rain and even through moments of drought. That just like the beans as we set them out to dry before taking them out from their shells, we must be still, be patient and wait for God until we are ready and His timing. Trusting in Him during every season and every moment.
God has called us to plant a seed of love and hope in the hearts of all those that we come in contact with. Showing them that with Christ ALL things are possible and that they are surrounded by many people who are there for them. To lift them up and show them that they can rise above their circumstances.
We might not always get to see that seed or seeds that we plant grow, but I feel blessed that God has allowed me to be here to watch my Swazi cuties and families grow. That God has allowed me to be here! To be a part of the growth and development taking place in my Swazi khaya(home)! There is still so much to be done here and seeds that have just been planted or still need to be planted but I know that God will continue to be in our midst and will provide all our needs!
As I harvested the beans I also realized that each bean that we planted months ago eventually became nice big plants that flourished into many beans. What a beautiful sight it was to watch it all grow!
I realized that when we plant a seed of love and hope into someones life it becomes a ripple effect in which they also begin to plant seeds of love and hope into others' life.
As the "I'm going back to America next year" has now turned into "I'm going back to America next week" my heart hurts to know that the day is coming when I won't be here with my cuties in person, but my heart is also full of gratitude. Filled with gratitude to first and foremost God for allowing me to be here, but also to all the beautiful people here in Africa who have allowed me to take part in their lives and journey. For becoming my family and a part of me!
E Africa kuse khaya! Africa is home now and God is not finished with me here yet!!!!!
I feel blessed for the time that God has allowed me to be here as a student missionary and praise Him for the opportunity that God has opened up for me to God willingly return here next year!!!!!!
God has opened up the door for me to continue to be a part of Seeds of Hope Outreach/Saving Orphans Through Health Care & Outreach(SOHO) and I can't wait to share the big news with you all as to how, very soon!!! As well as letting you all know how you can get involved wherever you are!
Pray for us, SOHO as we continue to work towards sustainability for the beautiful people of Swaziland!
As we strive to continue to... Heal. Educate. Feed. Empower & Nurture.
Please continue to pray for me as well as I spend these last days with my cuties before heading back to America.
Ngiyakuthanda!! I love you my beautiful children!!! <3
"It is not a goodbye but a see you again soon"
Praising God through every season of my life and the season that He is preparing for me back in America as He uses me to continue to represent SOHO and my Swazi cuties. Most importantly as I let God lead and use me for HIS GLORY. This new season in my life will not be easy but I know that He will be by my side. Can't wait for the day when I come back again soon!
At the end of the day it's not about the "I" but about the "we". We are all one family, regardless of the color of our skin, our social class standing, financial status and more. We have all been called to reach out to one another and help each other rise above our circumstances. We can each make a difference in someone's life wherever we are.
Siyabonga Jesu!!! (Thank you Jesus) To God be the honor and glory!
Who would have thought that 9 months ago I would arrive to Swaziland and completely fall in love with these beautiful faces?
Actually... Way before I met my cuties in person, I loved them already! Was praying for them! Thinking of them AND just couldn't wait to love on them..
I can go for days talking about the moments that I've shared with them, about the challenges that together we were able to overcome, about how much I love them and SO much more but one thing I will say is that....
My Swazi children are so SO special to me and they taught me how to love like a mother loves her children!
I think about how my mother was with us growing up and I feel blessed to have a mother who taught me how to be selfless and to give your all to your children. To love without expecting anything in return and to care for those that you love with your all.
I love my Swazi cuties... I love everything about them!
Here, I have learned to put them first! To do anything to make them smile. To make them laugh. To pick them up when they fall! To wipe away their tears and hug them. Reassuring them that everything will be ok!
Being there for them, even in their messiest moments. When they get sick and having to clean up after them. Not feeling disgusted when it comes to having to clean up after them while they are sick. Or when they come and give me a big hug with their cute tiny muddy arms, after playing in the dirt all day or not taking a bath for days. Cleaning their wounds even if its a challenge to see the wound without feeling the chills. I love them! I love them as they are and love being there for them in their toughest days.
I love every part of them and I love that the Lord has allowed me to be here for them! I feel grateful that they have allowed me into their lives. That I am no longer just that "Umlungu"(white person) which they would call me by at first, but that I have become their friend and family in which they now call me "Mama Patty" or Teacha Patricia".
Soon I will be going back to America and my heart hurts. The thought of leaving them breaks my heart! It's hard not to look at them and not want to cry as I think about that day when I leave. Now I know what it felt like when back in August of last year, my mother had to trust in God to let me get on that plane and watch me go as I left her side to come to Africa. For her to let me come here and realize that she will not physically be here by my side for when I got sick, to hold me and hug me for when I cried and for many other occasions.
Being like a mother to these beautiful children, my beautiful children, has been one of the greatest blessings and I wouldn't change these past months for anything! I would re do all the difficult moments over and over again if it means putting a smile on their faces and making a difference in their lives!
I love getting to know more about them and them getting to know more of me! Me teaching them and them teaching me, because they don't even realize it, but they taught me so much as well!
This Thursday, I wanted to do something special for them before having to leave soon and it was one of the most funnest days! I will forever cherish this moment.
As my very own children, I wanted to give them the opportunity to experience something new and from my childhood, Breaking a piñata!!! We made them two small piñatas, which my Mami taught me how to make and would make them for some of our Birthday parties growing up. The smiles on their faces as they broke them and ran towards the candy that would fall out was priceless! It made me so SO happy!!!!
Although I am leaving back to America, God willingly I will be back soon and no matter where I go they will always be in my heart and I will be there for them in any way that I can.
Just like my Mami had to trust in God to let me come here, I am trusting in God that he will continue to take care of my Swazi cuties and that the distance will never change the love that I have for them!
For now, while I am still here....
I will hug them even tighter. Continue to show and tell them how much I love them. AND enjoy every minute with them!
God placed me here in Swaziland for a reason and although my time as a student missionary through La Sierra is soon coming to a close, God is not finished with me here yet! I will God willingly, be back again very soon and will continue to be a part of their lives.
I can't wait for the moment in which I can bring my mother and family here to introduce them to my cuties and everyone here in my Swazi home that have become family!
Thank you Lord for life and for the gift of love! AND of course thank you mami for showing me through not only your words but actions as well, what a great Godly mother looks like. If this is a glimpse of what it feels like to be a mom, what a precious gift from God it will be!
E Africa kuse khaya! <3 (Africa is home now)
Ngiyakuthanda! I love you my Swazi cuties! <3
To say that these past months have been a walk in the park or easy would be a lie but man can I say that God is so SO good! He is present and He is my strength! He hears us when we call out to Him and He reminds me daily of His love towards us.
After the passing of my sweet little Melusi I was heartbroken, but with the Lord as my strength, He has allowed me to continue with the work that He has called me to do here.
Have you ever faced the challenge in your life where the world around you seems to be falling apart? People around you that you love and care about passing away? Having your heart broken by someone? Things not going well in school? Questioning what your purpose in life is? And the list can go on.
Many of us face the challenge in life where something goes wrong or someone hurts us, breaking our heart. Whether it be someone whom you love breaking your heart or someone dear to you that you trusted. Could even be a stranger who chooses the wrong words or actions to express themselves towards you or those around you.
While here in Swaziland I have faced the challenge of watching as some of my cute innocent little children are abandoned by their parents because they feel that they can't take care of them or choose not to. Or mother's who have children and choose to follow a guy so they leave their children with their Gogo(grandmother) or Make(mother). I've also seen how many people here in Swaziland watch stealing take place, accepting it as a norm and teaching the children that it's ok to steal to get what you want.
Swaziland has become my khaya(home) and what hurts my children hurts me. It hurts me to watch them hurt. To watch them struggle. To watch them as they have to become like adults at such a young age to be able to take care of one another. To watch as so many people whom they love and that I've grown to love pass away due to illnesses or tragedies.
We live in a world with so much pain and hurt where people are mistreating each other, abandoning each other or causing harm in a way in which we feel the pain will never end BUT through it all God is in the midst bringing peace, grace and healing. I'm a strong believer that grace that is extended with love conquers ALL because God conquers it all through His love and grace.
I would agree when they say that its easy for us to expect grace to be extended to us but when its our turn to extend that grace, we find it more of a challenge.
Back in December I watched as two people close to my heart here in Swaziland dared to steal many things from us.... As well as other cases in which we still don't know who stole our items. I was heartbroken! Not because of the materialistic items because those come and go, but because of the fact that people that we trusted and care for would do that to us. Before finding out who they were my biggest challenge for weeks was looking into the eyes of my children and all the families that we care for here, not knowing who it was.
I also came across another situation in January when we had a clothing distribution for those who helped us at our SOHO farm. One of the lady's tried to steal clothing items by tucking them in between pockets of other items or in pants. As I caught her my heart sunk. I didnt know what to do or say... I turned to one of our helpers for guidance on what to do and she told me, "You either ignore it or get used to it!" I couldn't believe the words that came out of her mouth. I gave the lady the amount of items that they were allowed to get and off she went. I was so in shock. I felt numb. I just didn't know what to do. She simply walked away, without a "I'm sorry" or anything....
That night I cried... Cried because I couldn't accept the fact that this is what some of the adults here in Swaziland are teaching their children. Cried because I couldn't accept the fact that they are stealing from the same hands that gives them all that we can give.
About two weeks later is when I really got to experience that grace that Jesus shows us throughout scripture.
One Saturday, as the Sabbath came to a close and I was taking a Sabbath nap, I was awakened by a phone call from Make(mother) Monica to Ma Joy. She was frantic, telling her that a gogo who lives down the hill near where we live was hurt. We didnt know exactly what was going on. Was she still alive? Is she ok? What was wrong? I quickly ran down the hill with Make Monica's son as we shouted out to her searching to find out exactly where they were. We found them! We found the lady lying on the ground unconscious. It seemed as if she had injured herself while chopping wood.
I quickly ran back home to tell Ma Joy and Pa Louis, who are my South African parents that I live with. They were already at the gate waiting for us to be able to take the gogo to the hospital. We were able to get people to help us carry the gogo up the hill to where our van was. As we entered the van Make Monica told us that we must wait for her niece who had the gogo's medical documents. Then, I come to find out that the niece is not only but the lady who a few days back tried to steal. My heart sunk as she entered the van and together we helped her aunt. That night, putting what happened aside we worked together for the good of her aunt.
The following day I was asked to go back down the hill to where this gogo's home was. The family wanted to talk to me. It didn't dawn on me that the reason they told me to go down there was to give me the news that this gogo who was ill passed away. As I was sitting there in their living room, the niece walked in sobbing. I couldn't just sit there and just watch her cry. I hugged her and comforted her. At that moment I learned to put my anger and hurt aside, to love regardless of what had happened. Grace is extending love to all!
A month later in February I found out who stole one of my personal belongings. I ended up finding out that it was one of my very own girls from a teen camp that I had the privilege of leading back in August. My heart was broken to find out who it was and how she went about in doing it. Even so, my heart was broken because she showed no remorse towards what she did and was forced to ask me for forgiveness. What to do or say to her when I face her? Was my question at that moment. I didn't know, but I did know that God would guide me and help me through it. A few days after finding out, her and her mother came to see us to apologize.
We could've reported it to the police and she would have been in big trouble but instead I CHOSE TO EXTEND GRACE!
As much as she hurt me and I felt as if my trust in her was stripped away I couldn't do that to her. I extended that grace, that trust me was hard to do. But how can I not? If God does the same when I fall, when we fall. He gives us that second chance to get right back up. That night when she came to apologize I poured out my heart to her. I told her how much I care about her and that I want nothing but the best for her. That I want her dreams and goals that she told me about back in August to become a reality. That the wrong choices that we make in life have consequences but that doesn't mean that she can't get right back up and do good.
My trust was definitely tested these past months and I found it so hard to trust those around me after all that had happened, but the Lord has helped me through it.
My frustration in the parents of my sweet innocent children here and the examples that they give them continued and continues to frustrate me but I have come to realize that not everyone here is the same. That there are amazing people here who are trying to rise above their circumstances and work hard . That there are parents, family members and gogos who are trying their best to raise these beautiful children.
In this world full of pain, challenges and evil we must learn to rise above it all and show them that Christ has conquered and continues to conquer it all with love!
I have come to realize that when we face such situations in which you are frustrated with what is happening around you, you can either choose to be upset about it all, simply complaining and just watching it all continue to happen, or you can choose to rise above the circumstance, seeing how you can make a positive change.
I have also come to realize that "forgiveness is unlocking the door to set someone free and realizing you were the prisoner"- Max Lucado
When people hurt us or those that we love, it is difficult to not feel like retaliating but as we see in John 13 Jesus leads by example. On that final night, when Jesus and His disciples gathered in the upper room for Passover Jesus chose to do something that most people during that time wouldn't dare to do. This was something that was common for the slaves to do for their masters. Jesus, the Son of God, humbly washed the disciples feet! He didn't just choose one but He washed the feet of all of the disciples, even though He knew that they would betray Him, not trust in Him and leave Him to face His accusers alone.
So what does God do to all those that do wrong? He washes their feet! How beautiful is that!
Many people would then ask theses questions.... "You expect me to wash his/her feet after all that he/she did to me? And simply just let what happened go?"
"Most people don't want to....... Most people keep a pot of anger on low boil. "But you aren't most people" Grace has happened to you. Look at your feet. They are wet, grace soaked. Your toes and arches and heels have felt the cool basin of God's grace. Jesus has washed the grimiest parts of your life. He didn't bypass you and carry the basin toward someone else. If grace were a wheat field, he's bequeathed you the state of Kansas. Can't you share your grace with others?
Revenge won't paint the blue back in your sky or restore the springs in your step. No. It will leave you bitter, bent, and angry. Give the grace you've been given. You don't endorse the deeds of your offender when you do. Jesus didn't endorse your sins by forgiving you. Grace doesn't tell the daughter to like the father who molested her. It doesn't tell the oppressed to wink at injustice. The grace-defined person still sends thieves to jail and expects an ex to pay child support. Grace is not blind. It sees the hurt full well. But grace chooses to see God's forgiveness even more. It refuses to let hurts poison the heart."
This past week I had the opportunity to work with our form school(high school) students that we have on our education fund. Education here in Swaziland is not easy to obtain because form school is not free. Many students end up dropping out at a very young age. Thanks to generous sponsors and donations, through our education fund, we are able to help as many students as we can with their school fees, uniforms or transportation costs for the year. We had an Education Fund Camp, in which we brought in "Real Life Role Models" speakers, had workshops, devotionals, a work program where the students helped harvest the maize at our SOHO farming land, helped at our community garden and so much more.
As I got to know these wonderful students more during this past week I was reminded of how hard working these children in Swaziland are. I've realized that we must set that example for them, that they possibly all don't get to see at home. That we must show them that hard work does pay off. That it's better to work hard for the things that you want. That there are people who love them, want them to succeed and are there to support them. That they are not alone! That they will face challenges but that we serve a God that will be with them every step of the way. That they are loved by us and most importantly loved by God!
I have faith... I have hope.... That these children... That this community... That the people here in Swaziland... The people that have become family... Will rise above their circumstances and achieve all that they set their minds to. That they will see that together they can work hard to succeed. That they will realize that they are surrounded by people who love them. Most importantly that they will know that there is a God of grace and love!
One night, during camp, I was making cookies with one of our campers and as we were making them she randomly told me, ''Miss Patricia, I've been to many camps but I really like this one. With this one I feel like I am really growing spiritually and mentally. Thank you.''
Her words made my day because everything we do here is for them. For them to grow and see that they do have a bright future ahead of them in the midst of their challenges.
On Friday, the last day of camp, we also drove some of the students back to their homesteads. As we dropped of the last camper, she got off the van and with a big smile on her face as she hugged me said, ''Bye, bye. I love you.'' I then responded back to her, ''I love you too. See you again soon''.
I am not a student missionary to receive anything in return but I am a servant of God because I want people to experience that same love and grace that God gives to me, to all of us. I want to reflect Christ so that many can come to know Him. But I must say that my heart was happy as she told me those words. Happy because it made me realize that she is happy! Happy because in the midst of our frustration we as SOHO are doing something right. Happy because I hope that she is experiencing the love of Christ.
I have found grace, peace, love and forgiveness!
1 John 4:7
Our Education Fund Students
These children... My beautiful Swazi children are so hardworking and loving! They are what keeps me going. I admire them for their strength and courage! They've taught me how to laugh and smile through everything! Finding beauty and happiness in everything! I love them so SO much! <3
Being here in Africa for almost four months now has been such a life changing experience. I've grown so much and although the living conditions may be out of my comfort zone and many challenges come my way it, has been exciting to experience many moments in which I get to say, "My first time doing _______ ever" or "First time doing this or that in Africa" From having no running water, limited supply of water and facing other challenges, I have learned to appreciate all that I have and those that I love. I have grown so much and have had so many exciting moments, such as learning how to jive or farm, in which I was proud to say that it was my first time experiencing those things.
BUT on November 20, 2015 I didn't want this "First time..." to happen. It was Friday and we were so excited because it was the last day of school for the year, and we couldn't wait for our preschool graduations that next week. That excitement quickly turned into sadness as I received the news that one of my little preschool cuties passed away that morning at 11 am. As I received the news over the phone, I burst into tears crying. My heart filled with sadness, anger, hurt and a mixture of emotions. I just couldn't believe it! So many questions ran through my mind. Why God? Why did this have to happen? At that moment my heart felt so broken and I still continue to ask God for strength every day.
My little Melusi passed away that Friday, November 20, 2015 at the young age of 5 years old and I just couldn't accept or believe it. So many things that I still wanted to help him with and frustration hit me as I wished that there could have been something that I could've done to stop him from passing away but there wasn't. My little cutie got so ill. I couldn't wait to watch him grow and continue to be there for him, and many days I sit here wishing that he didn't pass away but only God knows why.
There are many "First time.." moments in which I couldn't wait to experience here, but my first night vigil and burial service in Africa for one of my very own preschool students was definitely not one of them.
Here in Africa, when someone passes away they take them to their home to spend the last night there with their family for a night vigil, where everyone goes to visit the family to give their condolences throughout the night, before having their burial service the next morning. As Melusi's sister, Gugu walked me into the room, she sat me down right next to the family in the room with Melusi, as if I were part of their family.
As I sat there in the cold room on the grass mats on the ground, tears rolled down my eyes, as I had my little Melusi to the left of me and people from the community kneeling down in front of us to sing, pray and to give their condolences. That night was so difficult and it got even more difficult for me when we had his burial service that next morning at 5:30 am.
As we were ready to begin the service, Gugu reached for my hand, as again she lead me to the front. As we stood there with everyone in the cemetery, my heart felt heavy and so broken. Throughout the service I kept praying for God's strength. At that moment I wished that it was all just a nightmare. That I could open my eyes and wake up from this nightmare. That Melusi wasn't gone. But no, my reality was that my little Melusi passed away and I was at the cemetery.
As the service continued they asked for the immediate family to come up to grab some dirt from the shovel with their hands and place it in the hole where he was being buried. It's part of their culture for the family to do that before they begin to cover the hole. Gugu quickly grabbed my hand, stood up and said "Let's go". Once again they made me feel a part of their family. As she held my right hand and we both reached for the dirt in the shovel I was ready to shout and say NO! THIS CANT BE! But instead I took a deep breath and felt God giving me peace. God was there with us through it all and continues to be there for me during this heartbreak. He continues to give me peace when I feel like I can't take it anymore.
Although these past weeks have been a challenge and a day doesn't go by without me thinking of Melusi, I will forever cherish the moments that God allowed me to have with him.
Everywhere I go where I spent time with Melusi, I think of him and remember all the moments that we shared. I know that once January hits and school starts again it will be difficult to accept that he is not there with us and will not be graduating, but I am taking it a day at a time. I know that God will continue to give us the strength and peace that only He can give us.
One day our little Melusi came to school struggling to keep his pants on, which were too big for him and he had no underwear on. We quickly helped him and he went home so happy.
Before Melusi passed away, my older brother asked me if there was anything that the children needed for Christmas and that moment with Melusi at school came to mind right away. I couldn't wait to surprise Melusi this Christmas.
In honor of Melusi, I will be raising funds to give the children underwear and socks, during our clothing distribution at our Christmas parties this month on the 20th and 25th.
If you would like to help in any way please contact me. A donation of any amount is greatly appreciated.
Melusi will always hold a special place in my heart and I have this blessed assurance that one day we will all be reunited once again where there is no more pain and no more suffering.
Our wifi was taken out by a big thunderstorm two weeks ago and as I finally was able to connect to social media yesterday I felt overwhelmed to find out about everything that is happening back home as well. Thinking and praying for my La Sierra University Campus family who experienced the loss of one of our students, Nicholas Culver and Bobby Brown's wife, Velda Cobb-Brown, as well as those who were affected by the tragedy in San Bernardino and others who are experiencing the loss of a loved one.
May we continue to hold on to God's promises and love during this difficult time.
Thank you for showing me how to live day by day. For showing me how to smile and laugh, even when things are difficult. For making my day with your adorable chimuelo smile and cute little dance moves. Thank you for being one of my little dance partners, as you reached for my hands every day to dance, swaying from left to right. For teaching me how to jive. For teaching me how to love without expecting anything in return and for simply being you. I wish that I could hug you again and continue to be your "teacha" but for now I'll hold on to those memories, until we meet again.
Siyabonga Jesu! Thank you Jesus for the time that I got to spend with Melusi, my family here in Africa and my strong support system back home whom I love so much.
"Siyahamba, hamba siyahamba, hamba siyahambe kukhanyen kweNkosi" (We are walking, walking, we are walking in the light of God).....
This is the song that the children taught me and that we sing when I get to walk them home after school. I remember the first day when I walked them home. They were shocked that instead of waving goodbye to them at the gate, I actually continued to walk with them. They all gave me these huge smiles, as they came to me to hold my hand and started singing this song. As we continued to walk there were many moments in which I thought to myself, "Are we there yet? I knew their homes were far but how much longer". I even asked one of the children if we were almost there and he told me, "Teacha, Up. Up. ", as he grabbed my hand to continue to lead me. I still had no clue to where they were leading me to but I continued to walk with them and instead of focusing on how far it was, I began to embrace the moment with them. Laughing, dancing, playing games, skipping, running to see who would get to a certain spot the fastest and so much more.
As I walked back home, at first I couldn't believe how far I had walked and I thought about how they walk home alone so frequently. Then it hit me again... These children face so so much BUT yet they are always so happy. You definitely don't know what its like until you get to experience it for yourself and even then I only get to experience a glimpse of what they do. I definitely continue to admire these children and this community. There are no words to describe how much I love them!
I also thought about the song and how in life there are many moments in which I face situations and I begin to get tired or overwhelmed and ask God, "God, How much longer? Where exactly are you taking me?" It was at that moment, as I was walking back home, in which I realized that although we may grow weary or tired, God is right there walking with us every step of the way and we have to embrace every moment with Him, allowing Him to take the lead. Being here has been such a blessing and many days I feel like I am not strong enough or find myself wondering and asking God "Whats next?" Many times I find myself wanting to know exactly what will come next, but being here I have learned to allow God to give me the strength to trust in Him, as He continues to lead me on this journey/walk with Christ.
I can't believe that I've been here for almost three months now. Every day is a new adventure and a new learning experience. God is so good and this past month He has been working in our midst. Although I have faced and continue to face challenges, He continues to remind me why I am here.
I look back at the month of October with such gratitude to God, my family and so many others who have made it possible for me to be here and who are helping to make a difference in the lives of the beautiful people here in Swaziland.
Although we were able to do three distributions it was so difficult to watch as some of the children on our last stop began to fight over who would get what and taking things away from each other. I pray that we can receive more clothing donations soon, to be able to go back there again. It breaks my heart to see such a big need.
Thank you for all of your love, support and prayers!
"Teacha! Teacha! Teacha Patricia" is what I get to hear every morning during the week, as the little cuties with their accents shout out to me when I walk into the hall where they have breakfast and sing songs before going into their classrooms. I have been here in Africa for over a month now( I arrived on August 19th, 2015 after over 48 hours of traveling due to a flight delay) and every day I still find myself in awe. As I wake up every morning and look outside my window I tell myself, " Wow. I am actually here!" Coming to Africa has always been a dream of mine and I cant thank God enough for calling me here. Change can be scary and leaving your comfort zone can be so difficult but when God calls you and you allow Him to lead you where He needs you, you begin to realize that in the midst of change, God continues to be your constant, never changing, always present, part of you. He has allowed me to grow so much and although I am in a new place and so much has changed over these past years, God is so good! When you truly "Let go and let God" you may experience change and new experiences that can be challenging, but it is the most beautiful experience to watch God work in your life, and to feel His presence in the midst of chaos.
This September was not like other Septembers over these past few years. Instead of me going through training for another year in ministry with Spiritual Life, being an Ignite leader for the freshmen or completing the first two weeks of Fall Quarter at La Sierra University again, I find myself here in Africa. I find myself here in Africa being the teacher now, with my own lessons and activities to plan for, gardening, planning different programs for our community, going to various homes for our monthly food distributions, experiencing a new way of living and most of all being able to show the beautiful people here that we love them and that above all, there is a God who loves them. It has been days filled with new experiences, change, growth and a completely different way of living but I love it here. There are many things that I didn't think I would ever be doing or would even ever get the chance to experience. From leading out a Girls Camp, to teaching, to bagging maize, living with no running water for so long, walking the streets of Africa, being able to fetch fresh items from our garden to eat every day, carrying things with my head, experiencing the bumpy dirt roads in Swaziland, playing the role of nurse when the children come to us with cuts or injuries and so much more.
Africa has become my home and I am learning so much from this community. I admire the strength of the Gogos( grandmothers) and siblings who have to become the parents of many of the children in Swaziland because of the death of their parents.. Many of them raise up to 8-12 children on their own. I admire the strength of the children so much as well!
The children don't even know it, but although I am one of their teachers, I am learning so much from them and they help me to appreciate everything. An education is not easy to obtain here in Africa and school fees can be expensive for many of the families who can't afford it. Not only that, but almost everyone here in Swaziland walk to wherever they need to go. All of our pre-school students in the the three pre-schools that we have need to walk home, to and from school. We even have children that walk up to 40 minutes to arrive to school, whch means that they walk 80 minutes each day of the week to go to school!!! (But yet sometimes we complain about having to walk inside the store, to our car in the parking lot, or at our University campus... MERCY!) These children are only in pre-school and they already face so many challenges to receive an education, but yet they come with the biggest smiles on their faces, ready to learn, sing and play, The most difficult thing about being with the children every day is saying "Goodbye. See you tomorrow" because worry fills my heart as I watch them walk away. The fear of them getting hurt while walking home; some even walking home alone, and not being there for them fills my heart. Every night before I go to bed I keep them in my prayers, asking God to protect them and for me to be there for them as much as I can, showing them that they are loved. Coming here has really tested my faith and I have learned to really place my trust in God.
Every month we also have food distributions for the families in which we go out into the community and deliver their monthly food aid to their homes. Those who are closer to our "Welcome Place" center come to pick up their food parcels there. It is heart breaking to see their living conditions and we strive to help them the most that we can. What I love about being able to go out into the community is being able to visit our children who are disabled. I love being able to play with them. Life in Africa with a disability is extremely difficult for them. They don't have resources available to them like we do in America and its heart breaking to see the adults and children who have disabilities that have no one to take care of them.
The month of October has begun and we are busy with prepping for our next food distribution, pre-school graduations which are coming up in November, various other programs and so much more.
I don't know what other challenges or new experiences I may face this month or the months to come but I will place my trust in the Lord, who daily gives me the strength that I need. I love the children and their families and I pray that God can continue to guide us and help us, as we do our best to help them. We are hoping to have a back to school clothing distribution soon but we currently are in need of more boys clothing. Please keep us in your prayers, that this may be possible and if you would like to make a donation, for us to be able to purchase clothing for the children, a donation of any amount would be greatly appreciated.
We are also hoping to get a youth boys and girls soccer club going. The children love to play soccer and I want to be able to have a program for them in which they can play and have a community that supports each other.
If you would like to help or get involved in any way please contact me.
Thank you so much for all your love and support. Many blessings!
"Staan op genade. Wandel deur geloof. Leef in liefde" (In Afrikaans)
"Stand for grace. Walk by faith. Live in love"
PS: I miss you Mami, Angel, Jr., Candy, Jaylene, Jayden, Chente, Shaggy, sister-friends, friends and family! Love you all!
This little cutie is 10 year old, Sithwa who wasn't expected to live for so long but praise God he is. When we went to go visit him and his family in August we were told that he might have TB but then when we went back this September we got the results and found out that he doesn't have it. Praise God! Please keep him and all the children in your prayers!
Many of the children automatically thing that I speak Swati(siSwati) fluently so I am having to learn very quickly. Especially the day in which one of our teachers had to go see a doctor so I taught one of our classes all by myself. God was so good and helped me through it all. (Teaching them Spanish too. lol)
"Take a deep breath.... Everything is going to be ok" I have been telling myself this for a while now as what seemed like months are now only days away from me getting on that plane and arriving to Africa. As I begin to take care of the final things that need to get done before I leave and start saying "See you when I get back" to friends and loved ones different thoughts are continually running through my mind.. Not only that but it might sound crazy to you but tears of joy and sadness come and go. I am sad to leave all the people that I love but I know that it's "not a goodbye but a see you later" and that they will always be there for me. Tears of joy run down my face because I can't believe that soon I will be meeting the children and families that I already love without them even knowing it. Also, because God continues to remind me that even in my moments of stress, He is with me and brings peace to my soul. I can't believe that God has provided and has lead me to this point in my life. Although I still haven't reached my financial need goal for my time there, I will continue to walk by faith and trust in Him. It is so clear for me to see that this is what He has called me to do and I am still in awe of all the great things that He has done and continues to do.
Thats the great thing about God right???? That although we might think that we know what His plans are, they are greater than what we could have ever imagined. BECAUSE God loves us, is there for us and His timing is always perfect.
I have learned and continue to learn, how to trust in His timing and daily pray for strength, during those moments in which I patiently need to be still and know that He is God.
Jamie Tworkowski puts it best by saying, “We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all the mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.”
Throughout these next months in Africa I want to love. I want God to use me as His vessel to bring hope, joy, love and peace to those around me. I want to continually grow in my walk with God and pour out my life to Him.
God has put me on this new journey and has called me to step out in faith as a missionary for a reason and although I don't know what lies ahead I will trust Him.
"And I could hold on
I could hold on to who I am and never let You
Change me from the inside
And I could be safe
I could be safe here in Your arms and never leave home
Never let these walls down
But You have called me higher
You have called me deeper
And I'll go where You will lead me Lord"
I have had this song on repeat from the start of this journey and I continually catch myself singing this song as I go about my day. This song has helped me to put my trust in God and has helped me when it came to stepping out and taking that leap of faith to saying yes to the calling of being a student missionary. God indeed has called me higher and deeper to a place that although I know some things about, will still be the unknown for me. Although I will face struggles, experience change, experience heartbreak and so much more, I know that God has called me to go out there and serve Him. He has called me to love and I will go wherever He is leading me.
I cannot wait to meet all the beautiful children and people of Swaziland. I love them so much already and I haven't even met them yet.
THANK YOU for all of your love and support throughout this journey!!!!!
I will try my best to keep you all updated as much as I can throughout my journey with this blog and more.