Those last two posts were a little heavy so its time to share some of the good we encountered on this trip. For seven years, teams have traveled to Ludlati and much has changed over those seven years. Trust has been built. Doors opened. Relationships formed and strengthened. Memories made. Its easy to focus on the obstacles and forget the victories because they feel few, but the truth is, there is a lot to rejoice over at Ludlati.
We have had the privilege of walking beside the women who come and cook six out of seven days every week for 150 kids on average. They are amazing, courageous, strong, funny and resilient. They are our friends. They cook, clean, teach, discipline, care for and watch over every child that comes through the gate at Ludlati. They are volunteers from their community who have decided to give back. Each year we get to see a little more of who they are and find ways to encourage them to keep going. The care point could not exist without them. I guarantee most people I know would lose to them in an arm wrestling match. To wash dishes for them, carry water, sweep out the building is an honor because they can do it better every time. They let us enter their world and pretend we know what its like. They share their jokes with us, sometimes their troubles, and best of all their hugs and laughter. I think of them each day when I stir a pot with my tiny spoon as I remember how they take a 4 foot one through a pot of bubbling porridge like a hot knife through butter. They have my up most respect and admiration and it is an honor to sit in their circle.
Then there are the shepherds at the care point. They change annually, but we have been fortunate to keep in touch with the ones not assigned to Ludlati anymore. They come back to see us and it is amazing to see how they grow and change. These people are the real deal. Every year I come, their dedication, sacrifice and love for the Lord and kids leaves me speechless. Just do the math with me. Each care point has at least one, usually two, shepherds. Ludlati, one of 34 care points, is seeing about 150 kids everyday. These young adults are responsible for discipling them, grief counseling, relationship building, hygiene education, and anything else that comes through the door that day. I can barely keep up with my 4 kids and they are taking on 180. The task that is before them is impossible. Yet day after day, they show up and put themselves out there. They see everything – the good, the hard, the amazing and the devastating and still keep coming. They are the future of Swaziland. They are the ones who have visions of how to move forward. From these people have come sports ministries, music ministries, business plans and dreams of a better future. They are giving back and directly affecting the next generation of Swaziland. They are leaders, servants, dreamers and tireless. Each year it is a privilege to walk beside them and cheer them on.
This year more than ever it struck me that the older kids at the care point were the younger ones when I first came. They have literally grown up right under our noses. There are so many stories that could go here, but I will choose two.
I met Bongiwe on my first trip in 2011. I chose her as our family’s special friend to write to that year and when I came back in 2012 we connected. This sweet girl at the time was small, shy, on the fringe a bit, but always came to the care point. Last year it was a blessing to see her have her own group of friends and be a part of things. This year I was blown away when she was one of the girls performing a tribal dance they do for us on Fun Day. She was confident, strong, smiling and beautiful. She is still shy, but this year while we watched the choir I felt arms around me and a head on my chest and when I looked down, it was her. She has grown in confidence and I was told she is doing great in school and not just by her. I take no credit at all for her growth – credit all goes to the care point ladies, shepherds and the Lord. I am but a very small piece and I cannot tell you how seeing her makes me proud and thankful. She is overcoming.
Mkhuleko (yellow striped shirt below)
I have to admit that before this year I don’t remember meeting him. But after this year I will never forget him. A tall, smart looking 20 year old, in his first year of college, we were told he asked to come back and volunteer on his break at Ludlati. He told us he had been coming to the care point since he was 13. We have his testimony on tape and I don’t think there was a dry eye when he was done. He told of his first time at the care point – a place he didn’t want to go, but found warmth and acceptance there. He spoke to the work the shepherds did and the relationships he has because of coming. Now he is grown and wants to give back to the care point and his community. He spent his entire 4 weeks of break helping out and spent the week with us while we were there. He and some friends have started a rap group and they performed on Fun Day for us. He could have chosen to do anything with that break. I am so thankful he chose to come back and serve and be an amazing example for the others.
So, yes, there is a lot of hard. But there is also a lot of good. Each year we see what hope can do. We see how the Lord takes our small offerings and turns them into miracles. Each year we see growth and change. Each year we are flabbergasted by these young people who give their all.
Hope does not disappoint.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit given to us.” Romans 5:3-5