Some friends recently went to exactly where we're going in Swaziland (we'll spend most of our time at the Gege CarePoint).
Over the next few days I'll repost here, with permission, Glenn Packiam's thoughts on his experience.
If you go to New Life and would like to sponsor a child at our CarePoints, click the Ask Angela link on the side and email me for more information. (I'm the sponsorship coordinator.)
Read Part One HERE.
Read Part Two HERE.
Part Three: "Luck Bearers"
[NOTE: This series of blogs is a compilation of reflections from our NewLifeSundayNight trip to Swaziland in March, 2012. A separate absolute monarchy surrounded by South Africa, Swaziland has the highest HIV infection rate in the world. 60% of its population lives on less than USD$1.25 a day. Our church is partnering with Children's Hope Chest to "sponsor" two communities where orphans and vulnerable children abound. I will say more on this partnership and how the model works in Part 4 of this blog series. My goal in writing this blog series is primarly to help our church understand the nature of this partnership, and to find ways of getting involved.]
It is the strange way of the Spirit that whenever I write a book, I find myself having to live it out in new ways after its release. When Butterfly in Brazil came out, New Life Church experienced an unexpected transition and I had to put to new practice the ideas of staying faithful right where I was. When Secondhand Jesus released, I found myself beginning a long journey or renewed theological study and liturgical discovery that has shaped my own spiritual formation in fresh ways. When LUCKY came out last year, I couldn't help but wonder how the Spirit would lead me to live out in new ways the message of receiving and participating in the Kingdom that has come, is coming, and is yet to come. Little did I know, it would come on a trip to Africa.
Each day in Swaziland, we made home visits. Our team split up to make most of these visits, so my stories are of the ones I was on. The first was to a woman named Sophie. She said she was 90-years old and had been bed-ridden for almost 50 years by a grotesquely swollen left leg. Matt Howard began by thanking her for allowing us to come and visit her. As he asked more questions we learned-- with the help of an interpreter-- than she had been married to a pastor who had been habitually unfaithful. He had abandoned her when she became sick. As if that were not bad enough, each of her four children had died suddenly, just as their careers in the city were beginning to take off. Now here she was, lying on a mat on the floor, trying to care for her grandchildren. When we presented her with a bag of supplies-- candles, matches, rice-- a large bag of beans, and a large bag of corn flour, she burst into tears.She told us she knew God was faithful, that He was her provider. We prayed with her as we fought back tears of our own.
At another visit, we met a grand-aunt who had travelled miles across their "mountains" to check in on her 20-year old grand-niece who was the sole provider for her younger siblings. Jennifer Randolph shared the story of Jesus calming the storm, bringing a word of encouragement that Jesus is with them even in their storms. After presenting them with the same supplies and gifts of food, the old woman shared her own fear of a storm that would melt away the mud home her grand-nieces were living in. Storms are not simply metaphorical for her.
On another occasion, we met an old couple who were caring for the orphaned grandchildren. The grandfather was broken as he shared how he wished he could work the field and provide for his family, but his body was just too frail now. Chris Burley shared beautifully about how God fed Elijah with ravens. Somehow these stories took on a more earthy feel as sat on the rotting wooden bench outside, staring at people who would likely starve without raven-like intervention. It occured to me to say to them that we are like God's ravens,bringing them rice and flour and beans and candles and more. As we gave them the gifts, the grandmother began to weep. She said she had just been praying Psalm 23, trusting God to be their shepherd to provide for all their need. And now, we had come.
At another home visit, we met a grandmother who was tasked with providing for seven grandchildren by herself. She said life had been very hard without a man in the home. Her grandchildren would have starved if not for the CarePoint. She had no thought for her own need; her whole concern was only for the children. When we gave her the gifts of food, she looked away to hide her emotion. "It's like I always tell my grand children," she said in strained English, "I wash the pots and get them ready, but what goes inside, God will provide." (Our team reflected on these words later, recalling something Jesus had said about having never seen such great faith in all of Israel.)
One of our last home visits was about a mile away from the CarePoint in the Mankayane community. We had to hike through rocky trails and tall, whipping grass, to this home. Somewhere halfway up the hill-- the locals called it a "mountain" but Coloradoans know better-- with a 10Kg bag of corn flour on my shoulder, it hit me: we are "luck-bearers" to the world's "unlucky." We are announcing the good news that God has not forgotten them, that they-- the poor and powerless-- are lucky for the Kingdom has come to them.
You see, we may not be able to feed every hungry mouth. But that is no cause for despair. Every bag of rice we bring is a sign that a great feast is coming. "Blessed are those who are hungry now," Jesus said, "for they will be filled." We could see on every grateful face that the Kingdom had come to them...the poor are blessed for the Kingdom of God is theirs. Yet, there is so much more to be done. The Kingdom is yet to come. And we cannot bring it. Only the King can bring the Kingdom. So we pray, "Even so, come Lord Jesus."
And we carry a bag of corn flour and beans and rice, and say, "This is a sign that you are not forgotten, that God sees you, and that a Great Feast is coming one day, and you-- yes, even you!-- will be filled."