A Mission Of Hope, Love In Africa
Wednesday - August 11, 2010
Pastor Herbert Mavimbela of Ekuphleni Church had to wonder what this day would bring. A team of Americans would soon be descending onto his church grounds in a rural section of Swaziland’s Manzini district to build a fence, plant a large garden and teach 80 or so vulnerable children Bible school. He felt hopeful. “No one ever comes to our region,” Pastor Herbert, quiet-spoken and thoughtful, told me after our arrival in a big Comby (van) stuffed with gardening tools, bags of donated oranges, mealy meal (corn maize) and bins of games, crafts and balls. “The need is so great here, but we don’t get attention from the organizations (NGOs, UN, etc.).”
Ironically, his region, Boyne-Sombodze, is an easy 20-minute drive from Swaziland’s main city, Mbane.
His was one of only 30 churches chosen (out of 6,000 registered) to be involved with this Heart for Africa’s outreach/sustainability project after an exhaustive advanced vetting to find sincere, trustworthy partners.
He must’ve gulped hard when only three men, two skinny women, two teen girls and two young boys arrived - a wimpy looking lot indeed. The garden plot was large, the ground hard and the needy children many.
Ours was one of 30 teams fanning out to remote Swazi churches. I, along with Brenna Schneider, 17, a Punahou senior, and the others from several states would be spending the next few days with him and members of his church. (Other Hawaii volunteers were on separate teams).
Sanbonani (Hello, we see you.) Yebo (Yes.) Sinjani (How are you?) Siapila (We are fine).
It was a sparkling, sunny morning in the Kingdom of Swaziland’s winter month of July.
The church women, Zodwa, Josephine, Glory and others, stood by the cement 8-by-8-foot kitchen ready to help. Inside, two huge iron pots set into a cement shelf and heated by a wood fire built underneath bubbled with bean soup and “sour porridge.” About 30 plastic plates and spoons sat ready.
At first only little ones, toddlers and preschoolers, wandered up - about 20. Shy at first, all had the standard runny noses. Some had disabilities. We played with them and sang songs while the three men and some church volunteers dug post holes with impressive gusto.
Midmorning it was time to feed the children. Suddenly, more approached. Oh, wow. I went in the kitchen to help. “Go get water.” I charged across the field with a big bucket to the water source, two faucets. Trailing me was Zodwa, laughing. “I will help you, Susan Page.” “Niabonga,” I, with skinny arms, said thank you.
After a blessing, some spontaneous singing and a cold-water hand wash, scooping and serving began in rapid, assembly-line fashion. By now there were at least 40 children and some adults. The plates started returning, so I rinsed them in my bucket as others grabbed and filled. Finally, little tummies were full and life sprang to their faces and bodies.
We expected about 80 children to join our Bible camp after the nearby primary school let out. But, by 1 p.m., there were 200 children, all looking at us. It was both overwhelming and joyous. Pastor Herbert shook his head at the numbers, and the church women again fired up the food. These children weren’t all of the most vulnerable but were hungry nonetheless. When the big pots went empty, we started handing out oranges. Everyone got something.
By day two we’d ditched our well-conceived plan for 80 and embraced what wanted to happen for the 200. We danced, laughed, sang, worshiped and painted thousands of fingernails. We became fast friends with the church women. The big vegetable garden, fenced securely, got planted. We went with Pastor Herbert into the community on dugout roads to visit desperately needy folks: the sick, lonely, destitute, abandoned. We gave out children’s clothes, oranges, soap and not nearly enough of anything except the love we felt for fellow humans.
Reading my Heart for Africa name tag, one little boy, holding my hand tightly, looked up at me and said, “I love you very much, Susan Page.”
What gift could we give that would be more valuable than that? Love and relationships are what bring hope to the hopeless. Sawubona - Hello, I see you. I love you.
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