Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Laura and I are in Madrid for a long layover, thinking about grabbing the metro to take a little trek into the city. But wandering the streets of Madrid doesn't sound nearly as inviting right now as grabbing a kombi and wandering dirt roads, visiting homesteads with caregivers, Swazi heroes who give time day-after-day to care for and love their neighbors who are suffering.

On our last day Kristin and I visited with Nomsa and Zandile, the three generation of Harriet, Else and Khanysile, who has a 2-year old son (and whose name also happens to be my Swazi name). Harriet is a stroke victim who cannot walk any longer and whose facial muscles are also paralyzed. There is little for the caregivers to do for her but encourage and love. We read some scripture, prayed and sang. As we said goodbye we gave each woman a hug. When we hugged Harriet she grabbed our hands to her face and struggled to form her frozen lips into a kiss. In Siswati she thanked us over and over for coming all the way from America to pray for her. My own heart swelled as I thought about Swazi volunteers doing this day-after-day, asking nothing for their time, paying taxi fees from their meager income, even sometimes giving from their own limited food supply to those they care for.

Each teammember experienced similar emotions as we traveled with caregivers by foot and kombi to visit their clients( BTW, a kombi is an African taxi filled with people, bags of corn and rice, even chickens). If our time in Dwaleni encouraged these heroes to keep on keeping on, then it was worth it.

Please join us in praying for them.

Stay tuned for more as we process our time in Swaziland.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hobbes the zebra

You know you are in Africa when you look out the window and there is a zebra outside.

I am in love.

We’ve had a bit of variety in our outings the last few days. Monday we met up with the Luke Commission, a medical team that goes out to remote areas and gives medical care to those who need it, along with HIV testing and vision testing. The highlight for me, once again, was the children. As soon as I stepped out of the car, I pointed my camera at the crowd of kids gathered to the side. A few moments later I realized that every time my flash went off the crowd inched closer and closet to me. Before long I was SURROUNDED on all sides by them, and every time I took a picture they all would raise their hands and cheer! The coolest thing about the day was that we had the privilege of being able to hand out Christmas boxes from Samaritan’s Purse. Although it was a little strange to see Christmas wrapping paper at the end of July, it made no difference to the kids as they ripped open the boxes and pulled out all their new treasures. I wish I had put down my camera and handed out a few boxes myself, but I couldn’t stop taking pictures of their precious faces! I thought about the boxes that my friend and I had packed two years ago, and it was incredible to see the end result of it. I will never let another Christmas pass without packing another Samaritian’s Purse Christmas box!

Yesterday we went to the Hlane reserve, and got up close and personal with some of God’s most incredible creations. I felt like I had jumped through the TV and into the Discovery Channel. Amazing! Rhinos, giraffes, elephants, a lion, impala, nyala, hippos…my childhood dream of an African safari has been fulfilled.

Last night we stayed at the Mananga Lodge. Although our farmhouse is quaint and wonderful, it was nice having the luxuries of more modern facilities for a night. (Well, as luxurious as you can get in Swaziland anyway). And of course, we got to meet Hobbes, the owner’s pet zebra. I can now say that I have officially pet a zebra.. yet another dream come true! I’ve decided I want one of my own. He is the sweetest little guy, and he comes in and out of the buildings as he pleases. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know he’s a zebra. This morning Bree and I were up early, and took a stroll around the grounds in our pjs, and chased after some very strange birds (which looked more like walking mushrooms than birds).

Today we will be visiting Herefords, which is were the Hope Rises team has gone in past years. I can’t wait to meet more new friends! Time to get ready!


Church experience

Only one week left to go. We have seen so much, yet so little. Church on Sunday was amazing. As we sat among a church body of friends and potential friends thru the crowd rang out a voice so beautiful and so pure. It was that of a young 17 year old and as she sang out chills rang from my head to my toes. She is small and young but when she sings to Jesus I’m convinced the heavens still to hear her lift up a joyful and desperate cry. What an amazing young girl. I thought such talent is hidden here. Just as I began to think of how I could find a way to get that sound onto a CD or into the world and feeling like there is some injustice done due to the fact that that sound isn’t being shared with the world showing his glory, I felt him quicken my heart to his voice. “That sound can raise the dead its true but I get all that. That voice that beauty Stills the heavens and that sound is bringing me glory right here for such a time as this. She brings encouragement, hope and joy to her people. It is a sound unique to her nation for her nation, for such a time as this.” I am reminded at how human I am and how often my thoughts and my intentions are not always in line with what HE is doing. I repented and sat there in awe of his creation that morning feeling lucky to have been able to witness something so pure and lovely. Yesterday we went to a small shopping area and saw some fun things and to a Game Park to see wild animals, again causing my heart to be still and at peace just being able to be so close to his creation. To sit there, wind in my face looking out at Africa and its creatures was just so incredibly breath taking. So I’m now being called to breakfast so as I enter a new day and another week with such a beautiful people here in Swaziland My eyes and ears and heart are open to hearing him and watching him move and I’m looking forward to seeing what he has in store for our team this last week we are here!.


Luke Commission and game drive

It’s been a great weekend and beginning to a new week. We had a wonderful time at church; beautiful music, wonderful message, gracious people. Monday we joined a Luke Commission rural clinic in a very remote area. It was dry and barren, and about 10 kilometers off the tar (paved) road. It was hard to believe that families were living in this area, much less children going to a school. It was great to see these people receive medical care. The highlight was handing out gift boxes from Samaritans Purse. Children leaped and yelped with joy as they open their boxes. Most didn’t have any idea what to do with the box, having never received a wrapped gift in their lives. The Youth for Christ dance and drama team joined us again and entertained the children and people who were waiting. It was wonderful to connect with YFC halfway across the world, committed as we are to reaching lost kids with the message of Jesus.

Yesterday a trip to the market and game drive. Gifted artisans making a living selling their craft. I love watching them work and having the opportunity to purchase items I know were made by Swazi people.

On the game drive we were able to spot giraffes, elephants, antelopes, rhinos, hippos, and a male lion out for an afternoon stroll. All beauties for sure, but that lion wandering around was the highlight.

Today we head to Herefords to visit our friends from previous years. We are very excited to see them and introduce them to new friends from America. At the same time, we visit them with bit of sadness because we’ve come to learn that some have taken advantage of our generosity in the past and have not maintained the work we tried to help them start. This experience, and working this summer with Swaziland Reformed Mission – Home Based Caring, has taught us many lessons about better ways to help people in Africa who are facing such terrible challenges. These lessons, and the friendships we’ve formed in Herefords may help us work there in a more effectively there sometime in the future. And Nomsa Mamba – Herefords shining star and tireless servant, is modeling servant leadership day after day. Bless her!!


Friday, July 17, 2009

Using a camera to God's glory

I honestly did not know what to expect when I came to Swaziland. I had been told that I would fall in love with the people, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. Yes, I fell in love with the men and women that I met. But it was the children who captured my heart. It began with the little granddaughter of Shorty, crawling around under the table and pews as she translated. It grew as Bree, Em, and I took pictures outside with the 3 or 4 children that were outside the church. But it absolutely exploded when I saw the stampede of children run across the field towards us when they saw our digital cameras. They swarmed around us, laughing and smiling and motioning for us to take their pictures, squealing and giggling with delight as we showed them the images on the back of the cameras. They were so beautiful, every single one of them! Nothing, nothing could have prepared me for this…me, of all people, falling in love with children!

That’s not to say that the adults mean less to me. They are in every way just as beautiful, and in many ways, just as childlike and precious…every one of them was warm, kind, loving, and excited about the things we were teaching. As the rest of the team worked with the people to build solar ovens, I did my best to document everything with my camera. I felt a little useless not helping, and I struggled with that for a little while. But I realized that God gave me a gift, and finally, I was in a position to be able to really use it for Him, for His work, and for His glory.

I can’t wait to see what more God has in store for my heart.


Building relationships in Swaziland

So we have been here for about two and a half days now and have seen a lot of things. It’s different here, obviously, and as a team we are getting to know each other more and more. Today we had a chance to go out into the community with the caregivers in Dwaleni. Along the way we met a man, who was sitting on a mat outside his hut. He was in pain, thin, and his feet were very swollen. He doesn’t want to go to the clinic where he can get help. The language barrier has been a challenge but even so, it takes no words to see someone that is in pain nor does it take any words to read the face of a man such as this. Walking back from the visit I was contemplating how much I had no right to complain that I’m in pain or have had no sleep when this man lives like this 24/7 and I get to go back to a house with running water, electricity, and the ability to take a pain killer and even a sleeping pill to help ease my slight discomfort. Then this young girl came running up and decided to attach her self to me. I think she was about 12 and from what I gather, is alone. She is not in school which here we have been told is a sign of an orphan. I can’t help but remember my self at that age and I can’t imagine living like she does.

These care takers of the community have such big hearts. They care deeply for their people and want to do something to make a difference. The way they show the love of Christ is very hands on, and speaks so much about the very core of the heart of the Father. We have not done much by our standards but I’m sure we will never know just how much a simple smile, a hand shake, a hug, or even just a gentle touch truly means to them. Nor are we fully aware of how God can use those things to encourage, strengthen, and even bring a little joy to their day. So in all I’m doing I’m trying to remember that it’s not about what I’M doing it’s about what He is doing through me while I’m here.

There is so much more I know I could and should share, but for now I should stop… seeing as we are having a meeting as I type this and I should pay attention. ;) It’s beautiful here… and I’m just trying to keep my eyes and my ears and my heart open to what God is speaking and trying to show me.

So until next time … Be blessed and count your blessings knowing as an American reading this on your computer or one you are lucky enough to have access to, you are already better off than SO many others.


The attitude of the Swazi people

I am struck by how friendly and polite these people are with each other. It seems like the relationships are the most important thing to nurture. It’s not about the task necessarily. They greet everybody they pass, whether they know them or not, so unlike the U. S. The other thing I noticed is how content these people are with their situation. They smile so easily, both young and old alike. Time seems to stand still. I purposely didn’t bring a cell phone or watch, and I have no idea what day it is or what time it is, and for once in a very long time, it just doesn’t matter.


Seeing a man with AIDS

It is of my opinion that Africa is, without a doubt, God’s country & Swazi people are surely blessed with relationships that we, Americans, only read about from days of the prairie. I was walking today with some Care Givers that go into homesteads of the sick, and along the way people would stop what they were doing, greet and chat with us briefly - It is the Swazi way. God made it clear to me before leaving for this wonderful land that even though I was thrilled to be going and “doing” for them… “Relationships” were going to be on the main menu – He was right.

I am amazingly comfortable and at home with everything and everyone here. Even the Aids infected man that I was privileged to visit with today. Walking up upon his mud shack, he was already laying outside on a torn up mat in the dirt soaking in the sun that had been missing the last day or so. His clothing was torn up, old, filthy and clearly too large for his thinned skeleton frame. He was missing patches of his grayed, matted hair, missing teeth, & he spoke in SiSwati of the sores up his boney legs and along the torso of his body. His feet were bothering him as well and were obviously swollen. He spoke with our Care Givers & I was asked (and completely honored) to pray for this man. Afterwards, he expressed that he hoped God would bless me for praying for him... this took me back. I was not there for God’s blessing but only praying that God would
bless him with peace and comfort. Even in his weak and sick state he was thinking about God blessing me. I asked permission to have a photo with the man & our small group. He gracefully agreed and we squatted down next to him as I placed my hand on his back – except I felt nothing there - just his protruding shoulder blade. I took another photo of just him in front of his homestead as the others had walked ahead. I considered showing him the picture but was concerned he wouldn’t take to his reflection, but I’m glad I didn’t listen to that deception. His smile was huge when I handed him the camera that showed him as he was in all his glory. It was a joyful point and yet admittedly I realized that if that had been me, I would have been only focused on my horrible appearance and what others would think. A humbling experience and a lot was learned today from this wonderful, poor man. This place is strangely beautiful. I feel so at home here… did I mention that already?

The little orphan children that have surrounded us these last few days are so full of life and laughter… and dirt :) They run around the church grounds and play while some serious construction of a new building is being built around the children. Its sole purpose will be for the use of assisting these OVCs (Orphans & Vulnerable Children). You see the nails, wet concrete, holes dug for support poles in the beautiful red soil, men hand sawing and using machetes to notch boulders… all happening with the children weaving in, out and amongst the chaos, dodging the men passing with their building materials. In the back of my mind I’m thinking of safety, but oddly it’s all okay. Even the little boy throwing rocks at the horned cattle that had wondered over to graze near the orphan’s outdoor hut on the property seemed to be of no concern. And, the nails from the ground that are used by the children to bang on poles seem to not raise an eyebrow. Everyone here seems so at ease. It’s amazing & I strangely long for their attitudes. I feel so at home here… have I mentioned this yet?

Our connections with people here – the shakers and movers, are incredible. Pastor Arnau Van Wyngaard and Shorty really make things happen. The Care Givers that we have met so far work for nothing and yet choose to give their time, talents & treasures. There are even men in this group, and that is not characteristic of the culture here I’m told. God Bless them all! It would take this short story into a novel if I wrote of how extraordinary these people are and all they do and go through on a daily basis. You will just have to trust me & wait for me to write and tell of it after my return. I love this place – I feel so at home here… have I mentioned this already?


The OVC Feeding Scheme at Dwaleni

Today I’m struck by the unbelievably difficult lives of the people of Swaziland, and fact that they appear to be oblivious to the difficulty. Picture this:

Load your wheelbarrow with two large cast iron pots; take it about ½ a mile down the road to a little wooden shack with a tin roof held up by four sticks and a few more along the sides to keep the cows out; wander around to find some wood and start a fire; roll the wheelbarrow to collect water (or fetch it in a bucket which you carry on your head). You then roll over to the store room of the church where you load up a large pumpkin and a bucket of dishes and utensils. Back at the shack you chop up the pumpkin with your machete, and begin cooking the pumpkin meat on the fire for the OVC (orphan and vulnerable children) who come by every day. As it cooks you lean over the fire to stir the pumpkin mush with a big stick/spoon you’ve made. You stop periodically to gather more wood. You prepare for the children by sweeping the dirt with a wisk broom you’ve made out of bundled, dried weeds. As children (and adults) wander over you serve them the pumpkin mush. When the meal is over you pour cold water into your wheelbarrow which you use as a basin for washing the dishes, using a bar of Jik (germ killing soap) and threadbare washcloth. You then load the “clean” dishes and utensils into a bucket, back to the store room.

After serving the children in this way as a volunteer, you return home with your wheelbarrow to do the same, in exactly the same manner for your family.

No one complains. No one even finds this life hard. It is simply the life they lead. Oh how much these people have to teach us.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

South Africa time before Team Arrives

Hello All,

Wendi and I are safe in South Africa right now. After spending a few days in Swaziland making partnerships with various organizations, and traveling a lot, we are fairly settled in Piet Retief, SA. We are taking this time to relax/prepare before the team comes. The team is leaving Fresno in a couple of hours, and our prayers are with them. Both Wendi’s and my bag finally arrived. I hugged my bag – cause after five days I was pretty sure it was officially in outer space. For now I have forgiven the airline people – let’s see how long that lasts. :)

We are currently staying at the lovely home of Arnau and Wilma Van Wyngaard. They have opened their home to us, and have taken us in. They showed us around post-apartheid South African townships. We are learning so much. We have spent many hours at the dinner table talking about missions, ministry, politics, finances, and Swaziland. They have spent many years caring for the people of Swaziland. Wendi and I are drinking a lot of Rooibos tea and learning about South African traditions.

As many of you know, I miss Mexican food A LOT when I leave the US. So, today at Spur Restaurant, we tried the nachos and the fajitas. It was definitely not the same as home, but anything with guacamole was enough to satisfy for now.

The Van Wyngaard’s teenage daughter Este told me how much she loves the movie the Parent Trap (the new version). This brought up the subject of Oreos and peanut butter and how she has always wanted to try that combo. (You will have to see the movie). But, that’s all I needed to hear. I grabbed my crunchy Skippy pb and we went to the store to get some Oreos. Amazingness. I always travel with peanut butter.

Back to the Swazi people – We love every one of them that we meet. They always have a warm welcome for us. Today, Wendi and I joined the Van Wyngaards at their church in Swaziland (yep, we keep crossing the border – with Arnau I do not fear border crossing, they know him pretty well). I love African church. We prayed together, sang praises together about jumping to heaven with the Lord, and read scripture together. Church with the Swazi people makes me smile. I will leave you with the verses that Wendi shared at church today. This is our prayer for the Swazi people and for us:
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:16-21
We will be in Swaziland on Tuesday for the rest of our time here. In Swaziland, email and facebook will be harder to get to. However, texts and this blog are the best way to get a hold of us. Love you all. Please continue to pray for Wendi and me as we prepare for the team to arrive. Pray that we can stand in the knowledge of what God has called us to do, and to walk in power, love, and grace. Also, please pray for the team as they leave the US shortly. Back to my Rooibos tea… And Este just knocked on the door I promised her more Oreos and a viewing of the Parent Trap tonight…got to go.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

First day in Swaziland

One bag found (mine – not the bag for Durban). We'll get their gift to them one way or another.

Great first day. Matshapa Rotary at 7am. Wonderful people, great heart for their community and service. Exploring work together in the future. Very exciting prospects to talk about when home in Fresno.

Lunch with Corine and our friend Nomsa. Learned about all that has (and hasn’t) been happening in Herefords since last summer. Good time to encourage Nomsa. So faithful to serve her neighbors, even when very few will join her.

Sent Laura off to Tsanini with Nomsa and Corine. She is happy to see Courtney, Swazi friend from last year, and then tomorrow the ladies in the community.

Tomorrow a day with the director of Swaziland Youth for Christ. Anxious to learn about the ministry here and hopefully be an encouragement.

Friday to deliver special goodies to Tabitha at New Hope Children’s Home from Kenna Scott and have a chance to learn even a bit more about this ministry. Then on to Piet Retif to begin preparing for our team’s arrival next week.

So many good conversations. Learning that it is not enough just to have a desire to serve. It is very important to consider, analyze, evaluate and of course seek God’s guidance about our service, at home and abroad. Doing wrong things, even with the right motivation, are still wrong things.

Learning also that there isn't that much difference between Americans and Swazis. We're just all human, with the propensity for both great good, along with selfish and corrupt actions.

But thank God for the promise of Romans 8:28. Got will work all things together for good, to those who love Him and are called according to His will.

I'm so grateful that God can use even our mistakes and us - with selfish and sinful natures. Exciting week ahead.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Madrid...soon to be South Africa

One and all,

Wendi and I made it this far...Madrid. We have had a lovely travel experience, except for the two lost bags at the moment, and the fact that we haven't slept but maybe 6-8 hours in the last 48. Because we had such a loonnng layover, we tried to enjoy seeing Madrid in all its glory. And, now we are waiting to board to Johannesburg. In regards to the lost luggage - yes, we have two out of four of our checked bags lost in outer space. Hopefully, the airlines will find them, but I decided as I was in Madrid, dealing with all kinds of airline people - I needed to learn Spanish. So, please hold me to that. I should not travel internationally again, until I can say "Where is my bag?" and various other things in ALL kinds of languages.

In dealing with all of sorts of people in airports the last couple of days, I have learned more about how to love people. If you have ever flown with me, you might know that I get impatient in regards to airline workers that have no answers, and I gently guide them into finding out the answers, or else. I do not always have grace and patience for these people. So, I hope that this love that I am trying to learn for people will carry us into the ministry that we will be doing in Swaziland. Even on the travel over to a country, we are going to have to learn new things and release control of the situation.

Wendi and I are excited to get into Swaziland and begin all of the things that have been laid out before us to do. Our project planning and partnership making will begin as soon as we land. We have hope that our Swazi friends will learn as much as we do when we are with them. Please pray for us as we (humans) are looking for lost luggage. We do know that God knows where the luggage is, so we just hope He informs someone else. Also, please pray for rest, and health. The team that is coming next weekend will need prayer then as well. Thank you Lord that you have prepared a way for us ahead of time, and into that we go!

To Grace, Patience, and Swaziland!


Friday, July 3, 2009

Parting Thoughts

As Laura Pound and I prepare to leave for Swaziland in the morning, two random and conflicting thoughts and emotions kept playing in my brain last night when I should have been sleeping. I’ll try to capture them below.

First HOPEFULNESS – On Wednesday evening our friends Bob and Barbara Bradford stopped by and asked what we are going to be doing on our trip. As Rich and I explained to them how we hope the trip will look, I realized that each time I tell it the more I believe it to be exactly the kind of mission work God wants to anoint. Before we determined to work with the Swaziland Reformed Mission, I met (online) and had numerous conversations with Pastor Arnau Van Wyngaard. One statement he made I have oft quoted and I realize now that it has become my mission philosophy. Arnau said (from my memory – sorry if I’m misrepresenting you Arnau):

Americans tend to come to Swaziland and look for where the need is the greatest, then get to work solving the problem, resolving the need. But the most successful mission work looks first for where the fruit will be the greatest, and this is where the Swazi people are desperately trying to care for one another and solve their own problems. The fruit will be the greatest here because the people will continue working after you leave, after all, they were working hard before you ever arrived.

Could the problem of focusing on the need instead of potential fruit be what Jesus was trying to address when He told the parable recorded in Luke 13:6 to 8?

The Swaziland Reformed Mission has mobilized 500 local caregivers, volunteers who are all connected back to a church for training, care and support. They tirelessly serve their neighbors without asking for anything. Although now some western organizations have now come along side, the project was launched and very effective before anyone from America or the west noticed. And if we all disappear, they will continue to serve their neighbors as the hands and feet of Jesus.

On this trip we will be teaching coordinators about pasteurizing water at their own homestead using the sun and a little device called a WaPI (water pasteurization indicator). We will also show them how go make and use solar ovens to expedite the pasteurization process and also cook their food, eliminating the use of precious wood and also the back-braking work of standing over a pot for hours (usually with a baby strapped to your back). After teaching the coordinators we will go into the homesteads with them on visits and work with families. We are taking 700 already made WaPI’s and supplies to make 100 more with the locals. All of the supplies should be available in Swaziland or South Africa for pennies. When we leave, if God anoints our work as I believe He will, the people will be able to pasteurize contaminated water for their families without having to wait until someone comes to build them a well.

The best part is that we are working through the caregivers. My prayer is that the people will believe it is THEY, and not us, who are serving them with this new technology. It is the caregivers and their respective churches that will be there after we are gone to continue providing physical care, and more importantly spiritual care. My prayer (and will you make it yours) is that we make long lasting relationships with the leaders and coordinators of the Swaziland Reformed Mission . . . but that the individual families in the homesteads will barely remember us. My prayer is that the people served by the caregivers day-after-day will be blessed and ever more connected to their own caring neighbors, because we were there.

The second emotion I was feeling last night was HOPELESSNESS. Flipping through the channels while I tried to induce sleep, it seemed as though every single station that wasn’t showing reruns of 70’s comedies or CSI was running some kind of Michael Jackson exposé. It’s not their bad. They run what people want to see.

I couldn’t help thinking as I flipped through the channels how many millions of dollars will be spent by ordinary people to deify (others would say honor) MJ. Thousands will spend whatever it takes to get themselves to the Staples Center, which will apparently be just the first of many similar services around the country. Why? What will be gained? Who will be served? People are losing their jobs every day all over America. Children are orphaned or dying every day in sub-Saharan Africa. And besides the money we’re spending, what about all the mental energy used watching hour-after-hour of MJ life, energy that could be put to good use making a real difference somewhere, for someone besides ourselves.

Arrrrgh. We are such hopeless people . . . that is without Jesus. I need to remember Paul’s words to the Romans (15:13)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for your prayers – keep an eye on the blog and jump in with encouragement. The team will be ever so grateful to hear from home.

Wendi Hammond