Friday, December 10, 2010

What if gratitude was a verb?

Last week on World AIDS Day I showed the film A Grandmother’s Tribe at our church, to a room of mostly Jr. High kids and a few adults. It is a story of two grandmothers from Kenya who are preparing for their Christmas celebrations and raising their grandchildren because their own children have died from AIDS. One thread that was woven through the movie, from the grandmothers and the grandchildren, even though they lived in terrible poverty with unbelievable hardship - - - is GRATITUDE. This really struck my CCC teammates, Dion and LJ, and they’ve been talking about it since; how little we Americans understand about how grateful we should be, how often we Americans seem to confuse wants with needs and are disappointed when we don’t have things that are complete luxuries for most people in the world (especially at Christmas).

Since the film’s showing numerous people have asked to borrow my DVD and have expressed that they want their kids to watch it so they will feel more grateful. I should be thrilled with this, more people spreading the word about the injustice and plight of people in Africa. Right? But for some reason this sudden interest in helping people feel more grateful troubled me. Thinking and praying about this unusual response for the past few days, I finally realized what is that is bothering me. GRATITUDE IS JUST A NOUN.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

If I had a sinus problem in Swaziland . . .

. . . well actually, if I lived in Swaziland the odds are I wouldn’t know that I had a sinus infection.  If I noticed a few symptoms, I wouldn’t think of going to the clinic for what seems like a minor discomfort. There would be no lab tests, no X-rays or CT scans. I wouldn’t worry about taking antibiotics too often and lowering my resistance; there are no antibiotics available. I wouldn’t be considering treatment options; there is no treatment and are no options. I wouldn’t learn how to rinse out my sinuses with warm, clean saline water; there is no clean water available and certainly no place to purchase a little product like a Nettie Pot. I would learn to live with the burning eyes, the green, smelly mucus coming out of my nose, the pressure headache. And as my life went on, if I experienced more pain and discomfort or perhaps even more serious issues like meningitis, brain abscess or infections in my eyes or scull, I would have no idea that these problems were connected to living with an infection that would have been easily treated in most of the world.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thank you Willow Creek Leadership Summit

Friday August 6, 2010 - Two years ago today my life changed forever at the Willowcreek Summit. I had just returned from Swaziland, Africa, feeling called to continue serving there but frustrated that the local people we had come to love seemed unwilling or unable to participate in their own solutions. Volunteerism was nearly non-existent. Instead they seemed dependent on us (and other western help) to address the complex problems they faced every day. I sensed that the help we offered was not really helpful, at least in a sustainable way, but didn’t know what to do differently.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Prayer for weary leaders . . .

I read this on the "Lausanne Movement" blog this morning, written by Mary DeMuth, a missionary / church planter who now lives in Rockwell, TX. It lifted me, perhaps it will you also - Wendi Hammond

As a former church planter in France, I remember weariness. There were times I’d fly back to the states for writing related work. I could barely share my story without saying words like, "I feel like I’ve been through a war." We suffered greatly in every way possible as we worked to plant a church. We lived and breathed by God’s sufficiency. But underneath all that undergirding power lay the tenacious, persistent prayers of others.

When we left for France, our church’s global prayer team gave us a significant gift--a framed piece of rope. They said they were holding the rope for us, an anchor to our journey.

Hold the rope they did, as did so many others.

Today my heart is heavy for leaders who are weary and discouraged as we were. I remember the fatigue, the bone-tired wearineses, the discouragement. And I remember the deliciousness of discovering God’s sufficiency when we were weak. So in that spirit, may I offer up a prayer for you?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Lazarus Effect

I want to share a few thoughts with you about a new HBO documentary called The Lazarus Effect about the use of Anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS in Africa. But first, a few comments about the biblical story from which the title comes.

I think it is interesting that before performing the miracle, Jesus stopped in town to pick up the sisters, Mary and Martha, and the crowd of mourners. And he wasn't just looking for an audience; He was looking for partners! Consider His words starting in John 11:38: Then they came to the grave. It was a cave with a stone rolled across its entrance. "Roll the stone aside,” Jesus told them .

Jesus could have commanded the stone to move. In fact, a stone moving by itself might have made the overall miracle seem even more impressive! But He knew the impact of a miracle shared by an interdependent community, so Jesus made them partners.

But what he asked next would require more from them than simple stone moving. He would ask them to become humble, vulnerable and genuinely compassionate by getting dirty. Touching a dead person would cause them to become unclean, unacceptable themselves. Jesus knew this, yet in verse 43 He said: "Lazarus, come out!" And Lazarus came out, bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, "Unwrap him and let him go!"

Rereading this passage, it occurs to me that there are two types of Lazarus effects. First is the obvious and miraculous transformation in the recipient from the healing touch of Jesus. Less obvious but perhaps even more powerful is the transformation that happens in the hearts of the stone rollers and unwrappers. The biblical story ends with Lazarus out of the tomb, unwrapped and alive. We know what happened to Lazarus and can imagine how the memory of being raised from the dead changed him forever. What we don’t know is how those who participated in the miracle were different, yet I think it is fair to imagine they also were also changed forever. When we are willing to get dirty, Jesus uses us and changes us at the same time.

The HBO documentary, The Lazarus Effect depicts the miraculous transformation in AIDS victims, in just 40 days, from getting onto an anti-retroviral regiment that costs just .40 cents per day. As we learn how ARV’s restore life to AIDS victims, we also hear Jesus calling us again to become His partners; to roll away stones and take off grave cloths.

Watch this 30 minute documentary here: The Lazarus Effect

Monday, May 3, 2010

An Athiest on The Good Samaritan

Self proclaimed atheist Peter Singer, Princeton University bioethics professor says this:

The path from the library at my university to the Humanities lecture theater passes a shallow ornamental pond. Suppose that on my way to give a lecture I notice that a small child has fallen in and is in danger of drowning. Would anyone deny that I ought to wade in and pull the child out? This will mean getting my clothes muddy, and either canceling my lecture or delaying it until I can find something dry to change into; but compared with the avoidable death of a child this is insignificant. A plausible principle that would support the judgment that I ought to pull the child out is this: if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable, moral significance, we out to do it. This principle seems uncontroversial.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A history lesson

Last week I had a short but interesting conversation about Africa with a friend. Reflecting back on the conversation now, it occurs to me that the perspective expressed by my friend might be one of many Americans. My friend, perhaps finally voicing a suppressed angst and cynicism about our work in Africa, said this (my summary):

“The fact that so much of the African continent seems to be caught in an endless cycle of disease, poverty, illiteracy and civil war is Africa’s own fault. The rest of the world managed to move through history learning how to overcome these things, and African people have had the same opportunity as the rest of the world to create their history. It is not our responsibility to rescue Africa from self-made problems, and doing so keeps Africa stuck in the cycle.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Rubbing off . . .

When I was a little girl, my grandmother’s house had white washed exterior walls and a courtyard with a fence that was also whitewashed. When my sister and I played in the courtyard the whitewash would rub off on our clothes. In fact, it seemed like just hanging out near the whitewash would cause it to rub off on us. We were pretty oblivious to the influence of the whitewash on our clothes while we were busy playing. It wasn’t until we came inside and were away from the courtyard that we noticed how the whitewash had affected us.

Isn’t how it is with things that rub off, good or bad? It’s not very often that we try to get something on us, it just happens. That is what happened to me last month in Swaziland.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shelley, Patti and I just returned to Piet Retief and the home of our friends the van Wyngaards. We spent 5 days in the South African Cape teaching and talking about solar cooking and pasteurizing water using WAPI’s. The weather was cooperative and we actually cooked Mealie Pup perfectly, starting from cold water. Only an African woman knows what a big deal that is. Even though this area has sporadic sun in the summer, we determined that with just 100 days of sun per year (a very reasonable estimate), a family could save $1600 Rand by using solar instead of parafin or electricity, school fees for several children. Thanks to Grahamstown and Kirstenbosch Rotary clubs for hosting us and working to see that the introduction of this technology is helpful and sustainable.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Laura - 27 February 2010

Sorry for the delay in posting. We have no internet access to update, and can send updates only when Arnau travels here and then back to his home in South Africa.  This week has been one of traveling to see people of the Shiselweni region of Southern Swaziland. Jeanet, a wonderful young pharmacist serving a one year missionary commitment with the Home Based Care project, and I have visited some of the more difficult clients. We have a 2 wheel drive Nissan Pickup, referred to here as a “Baakie”, to reach clients further out. With Jeanet’s careful driving, we have gone mud bogging on clay roads, driven over roads with grass growing several feet high and no longer visible, and up hills with no roads to park, climb through barbed wire and then hike on foot to the homesteads of clients. I don’t know how, but only by the grace of God we have not become stuck and stranded in the mud! One very precious man we visited, John, is single, in his seventies, and living on his own far out of town. He has a serious leg ulcer that has been in various stages of healing for several years. Jeanet, since she arrived in January has been going out to visit and do dressing changes twice a week. I have been able to visit him twice, and will see him again on Monday before I leave. He has a very small homestead but a beautiful garden that he is out in and tending to each time we arrive. He does this while on crutches, due to his wound and previously having his toes on that foot amputated as a result of his injury. Bamboo grows dense around his yard to serve as a hedge, and he as woven a fence with the reeds to direct the path in. He grows his own fruit, squash, corn and chickens so that he is self sustaining, but this also puts him in danger as neighbors know of his gardening skills and want to steal from him. On Thursday I took my Polaroid camera with me, and took a picture of my teammate Patti and I with John as a gift to him. The look on his face, of pure amazement, as he watched the picture develop was priceless. He had never seen a picture of himself, much less one that magically appeared before his eyes. The last two days we have had a good bit of rain, but it falls hard for a short period of time. The paths become quite muddy, so I pray they will be passable on Monday, and we will reach John one last time before I leave.
Half our team departed for South Africa yesterday, and Jeanet went home to South Africa for the weekend to see her mom for her birthday. Kristen and I stayed on and went out on “local” visits with 2 caregivers, Jabu and Maria. We used local transportation, a small van called a Combie. They are much narrower that a 9 passenger van in America, and are marked for 16 passengers. The one we travelled in had 18 passengers. The combies only travel on the tar roads, which are limited in the country. We had to walk quite a bit and wait quite a while before one stopped to pick us up. It cost 4 rand (about .60 US) each way. When we got off, we walked several more miles on clay roads and paths to see our clients. The Caregivers are a generous and dedicated bunch. It requires a great commitment to their neighbors to continually and joyfully serve. As we walked the paths, they sang with such beautiful voices.  On our return to the church, Maria gave Jabu a 25kg bag of beans to take with us. She effortlessly placed it upon her head to carry. Kristen and I tried. I could hold it for maybe 3 seconds, without using my hands to hold it, and had a sore neck to show for it.
Missing eveyone at home. Give Camden a kiss for me! Love you all,


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Quick Swaziland update

We have a quick minute with internet access to update the blog.

Shelley, Patti and I left Laura and Kristen in Swaziland as we head to South Africa to work with two Rotary Clubs and do solar cooking training.

Not nearly enough time to tell about our time with the wonderful, selfless, sacrificial caregivers. More stories will come as time and internet access is available. The highlight perhaps, was the graduation of 42 new caregivers and the opportunity to wash the feet of the leadership team. Words cannot describe how I felt washing off the dust from miles of walking down dirt roads and goat trails to in hopes of visiting a stroke or AIDS victim. So humbling. Such an honor.

Pictures to follow. Pray for Kristen and Laura as they visit more clients and ready the store room with medical supplies. Pray for us as we have to opportunity to help people from black townships learn to save money and access safe water.


Monday, February 22, 2010

February 2010 - Laura Clark

The Swazi countryside is beautiful and green. This side of the country has rolling hills and small mountains covered with trees. It actually reminds us a lot of the foothills of Fresno when they are at their greenest in early spring, on a clear day, just after the rain. The weather has been warm, but tolerable. After a first day of rain, we have had sunny weather. Mornings are “misty” just like Fresno fog, but it burns off and clears up by 10, leading to a gorgeous day. The sunsets are just BEAUTIFUL! Today will be a day of organizing supplies into the storage container, and then going out on my first visit with the caregivers. I’m excited and looking forward to it. Missing everyone at home, but so glad to be here.

February 2010 - Patti Thornton

Arnau picked us up for church this morning and as soon as we pulled in to park, the singing could be heard – so alive, so harmonic, so very moving. Kristen and Wendi were enthusiastically embraced with the genuine joy that indicates that friendships are being formed because of the shared passion for serving through the association of Shiselweni Home-based Care and Project Glory. Those of us who had not been here before were greeted with only slightly less enthusiasm so we felt very at home in a church far from our own. We enjoyed the music, Wendi’s sermon reminding all of us to be stewards of our blessings and to continually grow them through perpetual education and sharing.  Surprisingly, young people far outnumbered older and there were no adult men attending today’s service. Most of the congregation walk up to several miles from their homes to attend, so church starts sometime after 11:00 a.m. when most have come in the doors. I like this schedule and the devotion of the people so devoted as to walk from early morning to attend.

After lunch, the caretaker who lives on the property where we are staying guided us on a walk through tall itchy grass, making a wide berth around the bee hives he has set up for honey production. We saw deep red dragon flies and swallow tail butterflies as well as 6 foot coleus plants, camellias, hibiscus, lilies and a pond. All tired and sweaty we came back for showers and a brief nap.  While we were assembling WAPIs, our guide returned with a plate of roasted corn, a nice appetizer. He stayed to visit with us and candidly answered questions about being Swazi, a married man and father of a 3 year old daughter. He was engaging, educated in a private high school, and a factual source of information about the culture and how he believes AIDS can best be curtailed. His reply was that it is up to every individual to decide how to cope with sex, birth control, and AIDS but strongly pointed out that education was the key. He said there are people who firmly believe “condoms cause AIDS” and further, most don’t want to be tested, male or female, even though the AIDS testing is free. He pointed out the further complications of sex outside marriages, non-monogamous sexual partnering by both men and women makes solutions difficult to find..

February 2010 - Wendi Hammond

A great trip has started for us. 

Saturday we took Shelley to meet Tabitha, the little girl she sponsors from New Hope Orphanage.  I’ll never forget driving up to see this little girl loitering by the gate.  Shelley hopped out of the car and said, “Tabitha, its Shelley.”  When she heard this, Tabitha leapt in the air and ran over to the gate.  Their embrace was like the commercial with two star-struck lovers running toward one another on the beach, but with no corny overtones, just anticipation fulfilled beyond either’s expectations. 

We left Shelley to visit with Tabitha and had Debonair’s Pizza with Bongani Dlamini, Swaziland YFC’s national director.  We delivered to him a new (for him) laptop, complements of Johananson Transportation, which is going to empower his ministry greatly.  I was excited to hear him report about how he is collaborating with other YFC colleagues from South Africa and Mozambique to host some “See the Story” events.  This idea grew out of a conversation Bongani and I had last summer about what Fresno/Madera YFC is doing to tell our story better.  Very fun!

Today was church.  Oh how wonderful to see old friends and for Kristen and I to introduce Laura, Patti and Shelley to them.  Many hugs and smiles.  The music that comes out of the mouths of Swazi people always moves my heart.  I know it brought tears to the eyes of my teammates who were hearing these angelic melodies for the first time.  I was the preacher for today and talked about the parable of the three servants from Luke 19 and the importance of everyone “stewarding well” the things they’ve been given.  My hope and prayer is that as I shared my gratitude for the equipping I’ve received from my pastor, mentors and teachers and responsibility to steward these things . . . members of the Dwalini church would sense the same gratitude for what they’ve received from Arnau over the years and a renewed commitment to invest what they’ve been given so that the kingdom can advance.

Another highlight of today was a candid conversation about AIDS and Swaziland with the young man who serves as a caretaker of the house in which we are staying.  What a great glimpse into the heart and mind of a young Swazi person.  Patti will share more about the conversation below.

Tomorrow we’ll split up.  Three of us will visit caregivers in new community, share the technology of solar cooking and water pasteurization using WAPI’s.  The weatherman is predicting a hot, sunny day.  Two will remain behind to begin organizing the medicine and clothing in the donated 40ft. container, a big job, but one that will make a tremendous difference for the caregivers as they come to get supplies to carry out their ministry.

Thanks for your prayers.  More later.

Friday, February 19, 2010

safe and sound

Arrived in South Africa.  Last of our internet access for a while.  Wonderful lunch with the van Wyngaard family.  Beautiful day.  Tomorrow making lots of connections in Manzini, including with our friend Corine.  Sunday Wendi is preaching (I'll take prayers).  We'll each write some reflections after a few days and have Arnau post for us.  The van is leaving for Swaziland . . . .

Monday, February 15, 2010

Off we go . . .

On Wednesday five of us from Fresno will travel to Swaziland and South Africa. Our hope and prayer is that our presence will equip and encourage people who are committed to their own communities and their neighbors. On this trip will be; Shelley Verwey, Laura Clark, Kristen Nitz, Patti Thornton and myself (Wendi Hammond). Here is a recap of our plans:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


There is a little red hawk that I see on my way to work. He sits on the top limbs of a dead tree or a street light along the junction of southbound highway 41 and westbound 180 (Fresno residents will know where I’m talking about). I first spotted him about 6 months ago. After that, I started looking for him every day, right after the McKinley exit. I keep watching until my exit; Blackstone / Belmont. I find him about half of the time, and because I find him so regularly, I expect to see him. I assume he’s somewhere nearby.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Beyond the disaster

This week we’ve been glued to the television, watching reports about the tragedy in Haiti with our friend and ministry partner from Swaziland, Arnau van Wyngaard, who is in Fresno. We invited him here to provide him the opportunity to tell the story of Shiselweni-Home Based Care and the tragedy unfolding every day in sub-Saharan Africa because of HIV/AIDS. There is a tension in my heart while I watch the situation unfold in Haiti with Arnau here. We believe that God provided the opportunity for him to visit us so that our families and friends would become more aware of both the grave situation and the tremendous work being done by local volunteers. We still believe this. But while my own heart is breaking about the situation in Haiti, I am also concerned that the crisis is overshadowing the opportunity for Arnau to share the story of Swaziland . . . and then I feel guilty that such thoughts cross my mind.