Wednesday, August 11, 2010

We're Home...

We are home! I wanted to thank you all so very much for following our journey to South Africa...your prayers, comments and support have meant so, so much to both of us. I am still in awe of the opportunity the Lord gave us in going...I hope you felt like you were right there with us. I plan on sharing my own reflections of the trip and still have more stories and some sweet videos to share. My prayer is that Jesus be glorified...I hope your heart has been touched, your love grown for a people you have never met, and your own faith strengthened.

"Glorify the LORD with me, let us exalt His name together." Psalm 34:2-4

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 9

We made it through customs in Durban and Jo'burg fine and had no problems with the strike, so much to our family's happiness looks like we'll make it home just as planned :)...leaving here for Frankfort, Germany shortly.

We had our last prayer and worship time with the staff this morning. They gave us our official Zulu goodbye...someone starts to sing and then they all form a line of singing and dancing and one by one we all hugged goodbye. Saying goodbye to the staff wasn't any easier than it was to tell the children goodbye. Many of these people I can't even communicate with but the way I have seen them give of themselves in serving these children grabbed my heart and made me love them without having to use words to communicate. I made sure to have a good cry before I went in to see the kids because I didn't want to confuse them...I guess they expected me too though because several asked me 'mama brandy, where are your tears?'...believe me I wanted to allow them to come...I wanted to lay myself down in that floor and drown myself in them...especially when Nqobile asked if he could come home on the airplane with us...if we would be back next week? next month? 6 months from now? God sweetly allowed us to make it to the door before our tears began to flow. How do you respond to that question anyway...there isn't a good one. The truth is I don't know if I will ever see him or the others again and I cannot bear the thought of that. The truth is I wanted to bring him home and my heart is torn into a million pieces right now.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 8

I don't have a detailed post in me tonight. Today has been a great day. I have hit an emotional wall though. I love this place and these people have become like family. I know that seems almost impossible since I have literally only known them for a week. Mama Gail and Izzy told us today that when they found out we were coming they prayed daily if it wasn't in God's plan for us to come here that He would close the door, and if God had a purpose in us being here He would allow us to walk in and fit like a hand in a glove. That is the only explanation for how I can love these people so this moment I am perfectly aligned in God's plan and with His heart. It doesn't make rational sense. I am way out of my comfort zone. I am a self-professed germophobic. Jason has joked and said that he cannot believe I haven't found a way to levitate myself in the bathroom here. I gag every time I brush my teeth in the children's bathroom because the smell of urine is so strong. Whenever I walk out my bedroom, my personal space no longer exists. Every inch of my body is covered by a child...within the first couple of hours here I had 5 children sitting in my lap, one one both arms, one rubbing their hands all through my hair and two with their cheeks pressed to mine on both sides. Tonight we sat around the table with Izzy, Jean and her son Alvain (photo below) and ate some type of concoction of macaroni and cheese that contained mince meat, carrots, vienna sausage, mashed potatoes and green beans followed by a dessert of pudding containing sponge cake, fruit cocktail and covered with sprinkles on plates that I know where not washed in the most sanitary of conditions...we were such a hodgepodge of people...but we laughed and had such sweet fellowship together.
Jean gave us a torn piece of paper before bed with a handwritten note saying how much our time here has been like a ray of sunshine to them. Many times you aren't able to see clearly in the present the reason for God asking something of you...There are many reasons that I cannot see why God would bring us so far for so short a time but there are countless reasons already that I clearly see the purpose in Him bringing us here.

We leave in the morning. Please pray for the children. It helped that when Brent and Courtney left we were still around to help with the transition. I just don't want it to be any more difficult on the staff. Please pray for them too. They work tirelessly and I think it has been a tremendous encouragement to them having new faces around and more hands to help out sure doesn't hurt either.

As much as it hurts to tear my heart away from this place, I cannot wait to see my kiddos. I must wish this little guy a Happy Birthday before I sweet little lovie is 4 today...

"For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men." 1 Timothy 4:10

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Day 7

We went to the early church service with Brent and Courtney this morning at the church they have been attending here. We immediately ran into Bert...he is the person that first invited them to this particular church. He also is in the construction business and is responsible for helping get built the part of the Tabitha Community Center that has already been constructed in Sweetwaters.
He was a lovely man with a strong faith and a tender heart. When he realized that today was their last day here, he started weeping and said "I will see you again in Heaven one day" which Courtney started to cry and then I began crying. I thought to myself how we came here to support them and here I am breaking down every time she does. Maybe I'll let Jason be the strong stable one. We stood there talking with him for a little while and before we departed he said "Come, everyone come very close. I want to pray." He was not content until literally all five of us where entangled with one another...he prayed and we cried some more. I have found that often here. There is a unity and an immediate sense of family among the believers. I think coming from where we do, I find that less often. Back home it is somewhat of a cultural norm particularly in the South to be involved in church...just my own speculation here so take it or leave it...many times there may be a big body of people in the church simply because it's what you're supposed to do on a Sunday, but not necessarily because they are believers or followers of Christ. Here it is against the culture, the people do not go to church just to go, or believe in Jesus just because it is the thing to do...many of them have been isolated, left family and friends because of their faith, and suffer persecution because of it. They follow Jesus because they know Him to be worthy of following. I have become even more aware of what a gift the Lord gives us in the body of Christ and the unity of He can unite believers and has the ability to almost instantly give us a deep love for one another as His family.

After church we came back to the orphanage to let them say goodbye to the kids....
That was an answered prayer also...some people from the community host a monthly birthday party for the children which happened to be goodbyes were not quite as hard for the children or Brent and Courtney...and it was more like we will see you again than goodbye which is always easier. Brent and Courtney will be getting Tabitha's new website up and running and managing it from the States so they plan to continue being involved as much as possible.

I took the opportunity to be able to capture a photo with Mama Gail and Izzy. These two want no attention brought to you can see in the photo Mama Gail wouldn't even look at the camera :) and Izzy tried everything to get out of it...but they couldn't say no to Brent and Courtney...and I took advantage of that!
Mama Gail is a nurse and the founder of Tabitha ministries. She is the one holding miracle baby Seth. Over 14 years ago, she responded to God's call to go into the communities surrounding Pietermaritzburg. Upon working in the communities, Gail began to realize that God was asking more from her than a day or two of service. As she was visiting the homes of the sick, God birthed in her the idea of training local women to serve as caregivers to people dying in the community. Gail's heart told her that if these people were going to have a fighting chance they would have to learn to care for themselves and not become dependent on outsiders. That revelation didn't allow her to lay aside her role in the ministry instead she gave up most everything because of it. She knew God was calling her to be involved and in her words, she is quite terrified of not being obedient to the Lord. She left the comforts of her job in the hospital and began to pray and fast for God to raise up workers. God, starting with Zanele, began to bring the workers to her. She accompanied them on in-house visits and began to train them how to offer basic care. Everything that Tabitha has become has been a result of this group of courageous women. As they visited the homes of the sick they would report back to Gail what they were finding. Out of taking care of the sick and dying, the children began to come. The majority of the children here at the orphanage have no remaining relatives and she has always taken in the sickest of the sick. Gail is an incredible visionary. She examined each new problem and has tried as best as she could to address it. As more and more people die, more and more children are left orphaned. They of course cannot all be housed here. That is her vision for the Tabitha Community Center. She is in the process of building a center in Sweetwaters that God gave her a vision for 15 years ago. It will be a place of safety for the community and the children. It will be able to hold children that are in immediate danger and those sickest among the people. Only one room is currently built and is now used for training the caretakers and people of the community and is also where they hold programs for the children of the community. She refuses to go into debt and only builds as they have funds. That said, the first thing she had the contractors do is lay the foundation for the entire center. It serves as a promise to herself and those who work with her that she plans on seeing things through. Currently they provide uniforms to 3,000 kids because she heard that they would be kicked out of school and left home alone during the day. She uses local seamstresses to create the uniforms to provide income back into the community. She is a woman of unbelievable faith. She told us that Tabitha it not normal. Instead of doing campaigns for donations, they fast and pray. The first three months of each year is a staff wide fast. They break up the days and someone on staff fasts every day. Once that is over, they have a 12 hour fast once a month. She says that Jesus has never let her down and she has nothing in her that believes He ever will. Only a couple of people in this ministry are even paid. The caretakers (both hospice and of the children) all work for a monthly food stipend and bus fare into the city. The most anyone on this staff makes is the equivalent of $15 a day. They work very long and very hard days. To put that in perspective, the cost of most things here isn't any less than back home. A tank of gas here still costs around $45. Unlike any person we have ever met, this saint prays and honestly expects God to do what He says He will do in taking care of what He wants done. She only sees herself as a pawn in His hand. We kissed 30 kids goodnight tonight that are alive simply because she said yes to God. There is no way to estimate how many hundreds of kids in the community are still alive because of her obedience. Her life is evidence that one person can make a tremendous impact.

Izzy has been with the ministry for the past 10 years. What Zanele is to the community of Sweetwaters, Izzy is to this orphanage. She also is one of the most selfless people I have ever met. When she first felt God call her into ministry to children, she didn't believe herself capable, particularly when it came to such sick children. However, she was obedient and now lives in the orphanage in a bedroom right next door to the children's' rooms and has for the past 10 years. This meager little room is considered to be a large part of her compensation. Honestly, that is so whacked up from my normal way of thinking. We tend (at least I do) to think 'what am I going to get out of this?' She gets a humble room and 24 hour child duty and what does she get as payment? Her payment is that humble room and 24 hour child duty. She has no vehicle. She takes every Thursday afternoon off and walks to a friends house for coffee. Otherwise, she is with these children literally 24 hours a day 7 days a week 365 days a year. I know how overwhelmed I get with my own children and asked her if she ever just wanted to run away. She said "Oh yes, I fire myself at least 3 times a week. Then one of them smiles at me and I think...okay, I can do this for one more day." She is unbelievable. I have never heard her raise or voice or get angry...she is loving, gentle and kind. Even though she has to be beyond exhausted, she continues to love these children and love the Lord. She puts together all the bible programs for the children here and the children in the community of Sweetwaters, supervises the other caretakers of the children, helps Gail with administrative tasks...her jobs are too numerous to list...and beyond that, everyone here just steps in when they see that something needs to be done no matter whose "job" it is. She is currently in the process of adopting this little cutie...Ester (age 3)
Izzy is an amazingly strong and inspiring woman to say the least.

After all the goodbyes were said, we left to take Brent and Courtney to the airport. Last photo with them before they left....
It has been blessing upon blessing being here with them. I am so thankful for the privilege and opportunity God gave us in coming...we have been blessed in so many ways. I love that about the Lord also...when you try to bless someone, you end up with just as much or more of a blessing yourself. It was such a joy to be able to share this time with them. I think for them it has meant so much to know that someone from back home will be able to get and understand what they have been through...that they will have someone to talk to about the emotion of it all. They love these children and this place deeply and I know that God will continue to comfort their hearts as they grieve over missing this place. He has a special plan for those two...they love the Lord and desire for their lives to bring glory to Him. It is a privilege to know them. We love them deeply and will miss them our last couple of days here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Day 6

We went back into the community of Sweetwaters early this morning to do a program with some of the children at Tabitha's community center. We got there around 8:30 and there were already children lined up everywhere. It is strange to see so many children just walking around unattended. It is unlike anything I have ever seen...there are literally children everywhere...lining the busy streets coming into the community, children carrying children, children even sitting around outside the local "pub"...all unattended and many very,very small. A sweet 18 year old girl named Pucks went with us this morning to tell the children a bible story...
She is a beautiful girl with a sweet spirit and has been volunteering with Tabitha for a couple of months now. She was so very good with the children. After she finished, all the children formed a line and we handed out sandwiches (over 20 loaves of PB&J to be exact), cookies and a sweetie (piece of candy). News of food spreads fast and as our sandwiches started to run out and the line kept going, we had to tear them into 1/4's but thanks be to Jesus we had something to give to every child. There were around 200 children there this morning and we were the only adults anywhere in sight except for these 3 sweet gogo's (Zulu for grandmother)...
They are remarkable women...they all have children and grandchildren living in their homes and also help look after the children of the community. They also are hospice caretakers and have volunteered with Zanela and Tabitha ministry for many years. They are lovely amazing women. After the children were fed, we painted their faces with a paint crayon...literally for almost 2 hours...the majority of these children have absolutely nothing and are appreciative for anything. At one point the tip of my crayon broke and landed in the dirt. I told the child that picked it up that he could keep it and you would have thought I had given some extravagant gift. It is beyond heartbreaking. Today was our last day to go into the community and I won't allow myself to think that I might never go back there.

I have so many pictures of the children that I couldn't pick which ones to share. I created a video slide but I cannot get it to frustrating but hopefully tomorrow I can get it to work...I'm too tired to try anymore. Here is a picture of the group as a doesn't capture their spirit but it'll have to work for now...the majority of these precious kids are children from child-headed households...babies looking after babies...
We finished at the community center around lunch time and headed back to the orphanage.

Brent and Courtney had previously asked permission for us to take the kids on an outing. We took the 4 year olds first. We loaded them in the back of the truck (apparently legal here) and took them to McDonald's for ice cream. The kids rarely get to go on outings...maybe once every 3 months. They have been so excited waiting for it! Once they got their cones we quickly saw they must have never gotten these before. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Notice in the picture of Mandla below...he chomped off the entire end of his ice cream first. Everyone of them had ice cream everywhere! It was really kind of eye opening to see them out of their natural environment. Considering their backgrounds there is much
comfort and security in the routine of their everyday. Several of the little ones were scared to go into the restroom when they heard the dryers that you use after washing your hands. They need extra reassurance that everything is okay and that you are with them. Even going out of the playground, it was new and they were unsure what to do. Once we encouraged them that it was safe and fun and showed them exactly how to climb up to the slide and come down they enjoyed it. But after just a few times they were ready to go. I didn't really realize the emotional drain that just encountering something new would take. It was such a sweet time with these little ones. On the way back we turned up the music and they loved it...we made sure everyone stayed on their bums though. :) Spending this time with them once again reminded me of just how much ingratitude is in my own life and how something as simple as a trip for ice cream to a child like this is a rarity.

As soon as we dropped the 4 year olds off we picked up the 5 to 8 year olds and took them bowling...imagine taking 13 children bowling! They have been so excited all week and anytime one of them would slip and say something about it another would correct them and say "shhh, we mustn't let the toddlers know." Check out Jason and Brent in the Toyota Venture...
We have gotten more laughs out of that vehicle. Jason said at one point he almost stuck his feet out the door and attempted to drive it like the Flintstones. This vehicle is known in the community for offering help and assistance. We crammed all 18 people into two vehicles and off we went...Tabitha only has these two vehicles and it is amazing to see how many people they can manage to fit into them. The big kids did so well and were so excited about bowling.
Jason teaching Lulu to bowl.

Me and Zethembe. He is 8 years old and the oldest child here. He is very smart and definitely takes on a leadership role with the other children. It is very sweet how they all watch out for one another.
Sihle (pronounced Sea-clay) and Nqobile
Nqobile kept breaking out his dance moves. This little guy makes me laugh constantly. He loves to dance and says he'll be a male model when he grows up. He is full of life and extremely outgoing.
We finally whipped everyone out...including ourselves and headed back home. We all had so much fun. It was definitely the longest and most exhausting day here so far, but worth every single second of it.

Tonight is Brent and Courtney's last night here so we ended the day with dinner out. It has been such a blessing being here with them...such a great day...going to bed extremely grateful tonight.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Day 5

Every morning here starts off with a time of prayer and worship. It includes every person that plays a part in the orphanage and is a mixture of Zulu and English. Usually just the younger children come but this morning all the children were included. It is a sweet, sweet time of singing, dancing and prayer…

This morning we traveled back into the community of Sweetwaters. Tabitha ministries does training once a month for the hospice caregivers…also anyone in the community is welcome because basically everyone in the community provides that type of care whether it falls under the umbrella of Tabitha or not. They meet in the future home of Tabitha community center…as of now only one room in the building is complete but they trust God to provide the remainder. Courtney talked to the women this morning about how to give a sponge bath, how to massage the body to increase circulation, and ways to help Tuberculosis patients breathe better. These women were so thankful and so willing to learn. They were like sponges. Whenever she would say something of particular interest they would all lean forward and give a long “Ooohhh!” I realized basic education is something that I have always taken for granted as I watched these women take earnest notes on the simple task of how to bathe someone properly. Prejudice would have you to think that people like this deserve their fate, but I do not think anyone who has ever been given the privilege of access to education, proper nutrition and medical care, and just what we as humans deem to be the basic necessities of life have any right to make a judgement about someone who has not.

Below are some pictures of the ladies from today that volunteer as hospice caregivers with Tabitha. They all report to Zanela ( the amazing lady I spoke of yesterday) and as I said about Zanela…no one is paid…they receive a monthly food stipend that honestly any one of us would turn our noses up at…but it is the way they can keep their families from starving. These people are so receptive and very appreciative. Before we left they asked us to tell them about ourselves and where we were from. They were so funny when we told them that we had been married for 11 years and had 3 children...they just kept on clapping and were so delighted...and we told them that we felt God had brought us here to meet them for a purpose...that He sees their suffering and hears their cry for help...that they were a beautiful people and it has been a privilege for us to meet them...many of them raised their hands to the sky and kept repeating Siyabonga, Siyabonga which means thank you, thank you.

Most of the caregivers are older but they try to find younger women to help also...the caregivers do not have vehicles and have to walk the hilly countryside to check on patients...the distances they walk can be quite far and many times they will walk the long distance only to find that the person has died or else has been taken to the hospital for critical care.

These photos make me laugh so I wanted to share them. Whenever anyone sees my camera, they want me to take their picture and then they want to have a look at themselves. This sweet lady on the right was so funny...I'd say and this was the look she'd give. When I showed her she said "oh no,no" took three tries but we finally got a good one!! :)

After the training we returned back to the orphanage and just hung out with the kids. Brent and Courtney leave on Sunday so all the team made a surprise lunch to go ahead and officially say how much they have enjoyed having them this past two months. Mama Gail made a speech and then one of the Zulu women starting singing a prayer song and dancing and one by one every single person and all the children came by to hug us and officially say goodbye. I do not know how Courtney and Brent did not fall in the floor weeping...I started crying at the thought of leaving here and I literally have only been here for four days... these children and this place have captured my heart like I would not have thought possible. They asked Jason "Baba, why is mama crying? Why is tears coming from her eyes?" These children are pure sweetness. Pray for Courtney and is going to be extremely difficult for them to leave on Sunday.

These are some of the sweet women and Brent and Courtney taken at lunch today. These women are some of the caretakers of the children. The majority of these women live in Sweetwaters. None of them are paid...they all work for the monthly food stipend and also get bus fare for the ride into the city.

We got to spend the rest of the night with the kids. It is amazing to see how these women manage to get 30 children ready for bed so efficiently. It was a sweet night of bedtime prayers and tucking the kids in. Speaking of sweetness…I’ve been dying to introduce some of the kids to you…

Meet Nzuzo (pronounced Zuzu) and Seth...

I wanted to share these sweet little ones first because many of you back home have already prayed for them. Zuzu is 3 and Seth is 7 months old. About a month ago God brought these two little ones across the path of Tabitha ministries. Their mother has AIDS and suffers from mental distress. She buried Zuzu in the ditch up to his neck in the front yard and laid Seth beside him on a blanket. A neighbor eventually heard them crying and found them and someone got them to the hospital. When Gail received a call from the hospital Seth was in critical condition and not expected to make it. On a Tuesday approximately two weeks ago he had a serious lung surgery and was placed on a ventilator with little likelihood of surviving...3 days later he was brought home to Tabitha. He is thriving and getting stronger daily. It is amazing to see the improvements he has made just since we have been here. There is no denying that our God is still very much a God of miracles.

Meet Nqobile (pronounced No-bee-lay) and Moppie....

I love these little guys. Nqobile is 6 and Moppie is 4. These little boys mother died of AIDS and were left with only their father. They are unsure of the abuse they suffered but eventually their father brought them to Tabitha. When they arrived Moppie was healthy but Nqobile was malnourished and had obviously been abused and suffered much trauma. If anyone looked him in the eye he would scream uncontrollably. Gail said it was terrible for many months until she reached the point that she didn’t know what she was going to do. She went in one night while he was sleeping and stood over him and prayed. She said after a while he opened his eyes, looked up at her and smiled. She says since that night he has been a completely different child and considers that as only one of countless miracles that the Lord has performed for these children. If you were to meet these two little boys you would not know the horrendous things they have lived through. They are happy and funny and full of life. It is the case with every child. What this ministry has done with these children is amazing. Some of them have slight behavior issues but none any more than the average child. That has been the most surprising thing to me while being here. They are well behaved, well mannered and well adjusted kids. They look out for one another and take care of each other. They are very happy and loving and kind children.

Meet Emmi....
She is pure sunshine. When you walk in the room her little eyes light up and she immediately begins to chatter loudly and gets so excited. Emmi is 7 months old. Emmi was found abandoned at a bus station. Someone eventually took her to the hospital and that is where she was when Gail found her. Gail was actually at the hospital to check on Seth. She was told that no one would claim this child and asked if she would consider taking her in. She said that she took one look into those eyes and couldn't walk away from her...and you can certainly understand why.

I'll be sharing more about the children, I just wanted to give you at least a few faces so you could see why this place and these children are so special. It has been a privilege to be here with these children and this people. I am so thankful to God for the opportunity to be here and so very thankful that I have seen John 14:18 lived out daily..."I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you."

"I will proclaim the name of our Lord. Oh praise the greatness of our God!"