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Saturday, May 19, 2018

This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine



Early this morning I was up to watch the Royal wedding, joining millions of people around the world.  I remember doing the same thing as a teenager when Princess Diana married Prince Charles, and up early again to watch Princess Diana’s funeral. Canada is a member of the Commonwealth and I am proudly Canadian.

Everyone who watched the wedding will have their own favorite moments, but I actually sat up and started taking notes when Bishop Michael gave his message.  He asked us to “Think and imagine a world when love is the way.  When love is the way, poverty will become history and no child will go hungry.  We are family, we are brothers and sisters of God.” What a beautiful message for the world to hear. 

I have been in the US for the past two weeks talking about Project Canaan, and effectively talking about love.  The people whom I have stayed with, eaten with, laughed with and cried with have shown me love and I am so thankful for each and every one of you.  Raising 189 Swazi children is not an easy feat, but we join together with many to love these children back to life, despite the complications of HIV, TB, malnutrition, sexual abuse, physical abuse, burns, broken bones and broken hearts.   

When today’s ceremony ended and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex left the church, a choir started to sing, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine” and I started to cry (I was not likely alone). Meghan is stunningly beautiful and her gentle smile is a light that shines bright.  She reminds me of our daughter Rose. 


Rose is stunningly beautiful and her gentle smile lights up any room that she is in.  She is only 7-years-old, but has had a profound impact on everyone who knows her.  She is a thoughtful, caring girl who is aware of the people around her and who is always willing to lend a hand.  I will never forget the condition that she arrive to us in, and I give thanks for her life and her light.

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

Shine Meghan shine. 

Shine Rose shine.

Live from Chicago … let love be the way today.

Janine

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A 12-year-old mother, on Mothers Day



I have the privilege of spending Mothers day weekend with my children, Spencer and Chloe in Atlanta, GA. This is the first time in six years that we get to do that, and I am enjoying every minute. Our time together includes pedicures, delicious meals, a movie and lots of talking.

I asked Chloe what I should write my blog about today, and without missing a beat, she said, “ Why don’t you write about the 12-year-old moms that you know”. 

Wow.  Okay, that’s a good idea, let me give that a try.

MANY of our babies come to us because their mothers are very young teenage girls who have been violently raped and found themselves pregnant. There is a tremendous amount of shame and sometimes they want to commit suicide and even end the life of their unborn child.  It is in those situations that I am called to help counsel them.

I have looked deep into the eyes of MANY young 12, 13, 14 and 15-year-old girls who have been brought to me by the police or Social Welfare and I can see their pain and their shame.  As some of you know, my birthmother was also 15-years-old when she gave birth to me in 1963 and she too brought great shame on her family. In fact, she was sent away to a home for unwed mothers so that no one in her community or family would know that she was pregnant with me. After she gave birth, I was adopted by Bernice and Russell Willis, and she went back home with her secret buried deep in her heart.  (See more details in my blog:  http://janinemaxwell.blogspot.com/2012/05/my-birth-mother-was-15-years-old-when-i.html).

What I am able to say to these young teenage moms is that God has a plan for their lives and a plan for their baby’s life.  I am living proof that God doesn’t waste anything and that while an unwanted pregnancy, at any age, can be traumatic, it is ONLY GOD who can make a baby, and each child has a purpose.

We don’t often have family members visit our children, but just today we had a young teenager come to see her little boy whom we have named “Russell”, after my adoptive father. The girl just wanted to see if the baby (whom she hasn’t seen in four years) was okay.  She is now in Grade 7 in school, and lives with her Great Grandmother.  Russell has a bright future ahead of him and the young girl was able to see that her request for us to take her child was the right one.

Last night we had a wonderful evening with dear friends at the home of Dr. David and Becky Fern.   It was great to be able to share from the depths of my heart, all that is happening in Swaziland – the good, the bad and the ugly.  At the end of the evening our friend David Mears pulled me aside and told me that while he was proud of all that we have done and accomplished, we should be most proud of Chloe and Spencer and the adults that they have become.  David, I couldn’t agree more, and thank you for saying that. 

Thank you Kim and David Mears for your friendship.
Happy Mothers Day to the young mothers and the old.  Motherhood is not easy, but it is such an important job.  May I encourage you all to be strong and courageous as you parent the treasure that God has given you.

Thank you Spencer and Chloe for being amazing children and such wonderful role models to your 189 young brothers and sisters.

Live from Atlanta … I am a very proud mom.

Janine


 PS - I just had to add a couple of crazy hair photos from our kids in Swaziland to make you smile.

Deborah looks like Cindy-loo-hoo.



Both of these beauties came to us from young teenage moms.





Saturday, May 5, 2018

When you wake up and realize ...



Friends Ann, Lainey and Doug Williams
If you have been reading my blog for a while you have heard me say that living in Swaziland is complicated.  Every thing is hard, from the condition of the dirt roads that cause back and neck pain, having to travel to seven different government offices/police stations just to buy a trailer for the car or even finding sour cream for your favorite recipe.  I am not meaning to complain, it just is what it is, and to live successfully you must learn to go with the flow and learn to live with frustration and/or disappointment … and embrace the adventure!  If you don’t, you will be miserable.

Today I woke up and wondered where I was? I was in complete silence (no dogs, birds, tractors or people).  I slowly opened my eyes and discovered I was in a wonderfully soft bed in Indiana. I am in the US on an 18-day whirlwind trip to raise awareness and funds for Project Canaan and I am blessed to have Spencer with me as he is between school terms.

Last night we stayed with our dear friends Ann and Doug Williams and enjoyed a lovely dinner around a beautiful table with their friends and we were able to share about life in Swaziland – fun stories of what we have learned, difficult stories of child abuse, redemptive stories of the lame walking, the blind seeing and the deaf being healed.

I was asked what the hardest part of serving in Swaziland is, and I explained that it is having a foot in both worlds. Living in Swaziland full time, and visiting the US or Canada once or twice a year is like standing on a dock with one foot on the dock and one foot in a canoe in turbulent water. Some times it feels like Swaziland is the dock and the west is the canoe, and sometimes it feels like Swaziland is the canoe and the west is the dock.  It’s hard to explain. 

Once you get used to a way of living, a way of thinking, a way of being, then the “other way” seems odd/complicated/unstable/distressing.   When I share about the hard life for children, women and the poor in Swaziland it’s upsetting for western the listener to hear.  But then when I hear about opioid addiction, gun killing sprees and human trafficking in the US it is equally upsetting for me to hear.  Where is the dry dock? Where are we safe from turbulent water?

I hadn’t planned to make a “lesson” of this blog, but it seems obvious as I write this that our dry land or dry dock must be the Lord. There will always be turbulence in life, but if we keep our eyes on Him, we will be safe. Even if the boat flips over and we end up in the deep water, He is with us always and we can go to Him for shelter from any storm or uncertainty.

I look forward to the next 15-days of sharing God’s grace, His mercy and His love for His children all over the world, even through the darkness and pain, and I pray that people here who are being invited to the banquet will say “YES!” and not be too busy or distracted to join His work.

Live from Indiana … it’s Saturday morning.

Janine

Missing home already!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

We want to see the burned baby.


We talk a lot about stigmatization in eSwatini.  I am not sure if I had ever used the word before working here, but it’s a word that is used almost daily.

There is stigmatization of people with HIV/AIDS, OVC’s (orphans and vulnerable children), and people with disabilities.

A few days ago we had Pastors from our 30 church partners come for the day and there were two women who asked one of our staff to see “the burned baby”.  What?  Yes, they wanted us to call over our child who had been burned by her mother so that they could see her face.  They had read about her in the paper and then saw her a couple of years ago when they were here, so wanted to see her again.  As you might imagine, “mama bear” rose up and stopped the Auntie who had been asked from going and fetching our little girl. But then I took the opportunity to talk to them about stigmatizing a child because of the way they look.  They understood and apologized.

Another category of stigmatization is for people with albinism.  Albinism is quite common here (much more so than in the US or Canada) and I invited the founder of the Albinism Foundation of Swaziland to come and educate our staff on what it is all about and to help dispel the myths that circulate here about the condition.

Some of the myths that our staff learned growing up include:

·      People with albinism don’t die they just disappear.
·      People with albinism can see in the dark.
·      If you laugh at a person with albinism then you will “catch” albinism.
·      People with albinism have to cut the tags off the back of their shirts so the tags don’t cut their skin.
·      Albinism is contagious. 
·      People with albinism are not human, they are animals.

It was a fascinating conversation and Stukie (the founder) as she dispelled the myths and answered our questions with such grace providing us with excellent information.

She also explained that children with albinism are at high risk in Swaziland because they are considered “very lucky” and are often stolen from families, killed and used by some witch doctors as an “ingredient” to make muti (potion) for a person to drink to become powerful. Yes, children with albinism are sacrificed for a potion. It’s big business and people have paid as much as $200,000 USD for an albino child.   That is partially the reason for the myth that Albino’s don’t die they just disappear.

The conversation was as enlightening as it was disturbing.  
 
I personally know a family who has a baby with albinism who had two cars arrive at their front door and ask to take the "animal".  Fortunately they were able to send the cars away and get their child to safety.

Some days I have to go home and just sit on our patio and look at the beautiful scenery in front of me to forget the things that I have learned. Some days I have to go and watch babies learning to feed themselves to remind me why we are here and what God has called us to do.  Some days I am just numb.



Live from eSwatini … some days I just don’t understand.

Janine

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Kingdom of Swaziland no longer exists


Thursday was a big day here in Swaziland. It was His Majesty King Mswati III’s 50th birthday and it was the 50th anniversary of Swaziland becoming an independent nation after being a British protectorate. During the celebrations His Majesty announced that the country will no longer be called Swaziland, it will henceforth be called The Kingdom of eSwatini (translated from siSwati meaning land of the Swazis). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-43821512

We too celebrated the day with our children eating traditional Swazi food, coloring the Swazi flag and practicing our Swazi handshakes, dances and songs. It is important to us to maintain and teach our children about their own culture – these are Swazi children. 


It saddens me to think of this rich culture being lost in the rural communities where so many orphans and vulnerable children live.  As the aging Grandparents/caregivers die, who will teach them about their country’s history? Who will teach them a proper Swazi handshake or how to search for and cook traditional ligusha, as our amazing staff did this week?



In other news, our numbers are changing, and not in a good way.  We have received 11 new children in 2018, which is a child every 9.9 days. If that trend continues, we will receive 37 children this year, for a total of 215.  Last year we received 32 children and the 11th child arrived on May 12th, whereas this year she arrived on April 19th.  In addition to an escalation of children being placed with us there is also an increase in the level of starvation or malnutrition that these little ones are coming with.  Seven of the eleven have arrived severely malnourished (and three are products of teenage rape). 

Information is important and for us to plan for the future for the children.  We don’t ever want to have to say to say  no to a child inneed.

Effectively, we are full.  We have a total sleeping capacity of 204 children and have 189 children now. If social welfare continues to place children with us at this rate we will be FULL by the end of August. 

The good news is that because we track our stats so closely, we have started construction on a 4th Emseni building (dorm for 40 children). We are praying that the funding will come in to complete it quickly as we need it built by September.  


If you want to help us finish building Emseni, please contact david@heartforafrica.org today. 

Live from eSwatini ... it's Saturday morning.

Janine

Saturday, April 14, 2018

A visit with Baby Shirley's mom in the mens prison




Earlier this week three of us went to visit Baby Shirley's mother in prison. I will call her "T" for this post.   Baby Shirley is the child who was dumped in a pit latrine as a newborn and then had hot coals dumped in on top of her to make sure she would die. She did not.  You can read her story at http://janinemaxwell.blogspot.tw/2014/10/do-we-have-to-say-no-to-more-babies.html.

T was in the Mawelawela Woman's prison for two years and was then moved to a Men's prison 1.5 years ago where there is one room for 10 women within the prison. This is like a “holding” room for women ready to go to trial because the prison is closer to the courts than the Woman’s prison.  For 18-months she has been waiting for her case to get to get called.

A few months ago she started calling me every week to say hello, ask how Shirley was doing and generally have some contact with the outside world.  She asked repeatedly for me to visit, and I finally did.  I feel such empathy for this young woman because not only is she living with the guilt of trying to kill her own child, AND she has a severely disabled child (her second born, born with Cerebral Palsy) in prison with her. The child, whom she calls Rebecca, is now 5.5-years-old, can’t sit, walk, speak or communicate in any way, but she is living in the men’s prison with her mother and nine other women. Her firstborn child died from malnutrition. 

We arrived at the prison and were told to take off our jewelry and watches and to leave our cell phones and all other things in the car. We went in with only our ID cards and a note from the front guard saying that we could visit for ten minutes. We went through the big steel doors, with no windows and were greeted by a social worker and a guard who took us to a private office to meet with T. They were very kind and empathetic, and I think wondered who might be these first visitors for this sad inmate.

T was so happy to see us and she sat with Rebecca on her lap and asked us how Shirley was doing and told us how much she missed her baby. I struggled with that a bit since she was the very person who was responsible for the permanent scaring on Shirley’s face and her not having a big toe on one foot or an index finger on one hand.


We asked when she thought she would go to trial and she had no idea. It was a waiting game. My friend Janice asked her if she had a lawyer or if the court would appoint one?  They all shook their heads, no. The court only appoints a lawyer if it’s a serious crime. 

Wait, what?

This young girl is charged with attempted murder, and that’s not a serious crime?

Nope, if she had actually committed the murder, she would have a lawyer.

We asked if there was a time she might have been given bail, rather than keeping her in prison for so long with a disabled child.  T told us that when she first went to prison Baby Shirley’s biological father's family gave E3000 ($300 US) to T’s sister so that she could be bailed out of jail (3.5 years ago).  The sister spent the money on herself, and T stayed in prison.

The family is broken and her parents are so angry at her. She knows that when she is released from prison that she will return to a home filled with conflict, anger and shame. What will she do for food? It’s very hard to find a job and she is the only who can manage and care for Rebecca, who is growing every day. She is afraid and she is hopeless.

Where does T find hope?  I reminded her that God’s plans are not our plans and that maybe He has them both in prison as a place of safety? Seems strange to say, but she is provided with food, shelter and a clean place to sleep.  But that's easy for me to say when I get to walk back out through the gates and get in my car to drive home.

I am conflicted because I feel such empathy for the young woman, but then I am responsible for the child who was hurt, and whose heart and mind are still healing.  T is desperate to come and visit Shirley when she gets out, but I don’t know how that will work or what will be said. I am thankful to have our wonderful social worker, Margie Brewer, here to help us navigate that when the time comes.

A photo of T and Baby Shirley the day we first met in prison.
Some days are easier than others here.  Some days I can solve other people's problems, but that day was not one of them.

Live from Swaziland … going to play with Shirley today.

Janine

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Just tears

These two girls are the same age (20-months).

This week has been filled with tears.  Tears for starving children, tears for children who are being hunted so that can be cut apart and sacrificed by a Traditional healer (witch doctor) to allegedly give people power, tears for helpless and hopeless teenagers who are being raped and impregnated by an enemy, tears of hopelessness.

Yesterday we received two children, a girl and a boy. I was told that two girls were coming, because that is what the mentally disabled/drunkard/abusive father told social welfare.  When social welfare picked up the children and found the eldest to be a boy, he asked the father about it and his response was, “I didn't know I had a boy”.  The child is THREE YEARS OLD and has been living with his father since last August … and he didn’t know he was a boy.

The youngest child is a girl. She is 20-months-old and weighs 13.4 pounds (6.1 KG). 
Each day that father would lock the two children outside his mud hut and go drinking. When he arrived home at night, drunk, they would move inside. Neighbors alerted social welfare and when they arrived at the home the little girl was almost dead from starvation. They were both rushed to hospital and have been treated there. Yesterday they came home to Project Canaan. She is the size of a 4-month-old and the 3-year-old does not walk well, and doesn’t speak. We have a policy of not accepting children over the age of two, but the father told social welfare that the children were ages one and two.  He didn’t know he had a boy and had no idea of their ages.  We made an exception.  I wept.

We always pray over the children as soon as they arrive, but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t speak.  How can this happen in 2018?  How can this happen where we live?

We have received nine children in 2018.  Six of them arrived severely malnourished, two were newborns (product of teenage rape) and the last one is a child who was called an “animal” and was being hunted.  I can’t go in to any more detail on that story for privacy and security reasons, but it is THE MOST EVIL story I have heard to date.

I know that Jesus is our only hope, and I cling to that each and every day. Some days are just harder than others.

Please pray for our staff. We have a lot of children who are in desperate need of healing, love and hope.  We are also in need of more funds for the new children who have arrived and have a steep hill of healing to climb.  Please consider making a one time gift today, or become a monthly donor.  



We can’t do this alone.

Live in Swaziland … come Lord Jesus come.

Janine