Monday, November 14, 2016

We’ve Been Keeping A Secret

Since January, we’ve been hosting the teens for a weekly gathering. 

During our first couple years in Swaziland we tried launching a community-based youth group, but it really wasn’t the intimate setting we were looking for. Early this year we introduced a special time just for the high school students living at New Life Homes. We found what we had been looking for. The perfect mix of intimacy, depth, and familiarity.

We may be missionaries, but the topics for our weekly gathering don’t include God, the Bible, or even Jesus. We talk about sex. And yes, at the beginning it was very awkward.

We have learned that sex is a taboo topic here in Swaziland, as it is in much of the world. However, in Swaziland, the stakes are much higher. People are contracting HIV from their sexual habits at an alarming rate. The purpose of our meetings is to help the teens think proactively about their sexual decisions and make wise choices now and in the future. 

We have been using Cru’s CrossRoads curriculum (, which uses character-based education to teach adolescents the benefits of abstinence. We talk about everything from social pressure, to STIs and birth control. We also tell lots of personal stories, which adds just enough humor to the environment. It has become a weekly highlight for Tommy and me. We have been so impressed by the teen’s honesty and their willingness to ask questions and discuss difficult topics. They know a lot already, but are desperate for a forum to make sense of it all.

We took the teens on a canopy tour to celebrate our time together and make some memories with them. It was a fantastic day. Please join us in praying for this group and for the young men and women they are becoming.




Thank you for praying for us, especially during this challenging time of transition. Tommy is stateside right now, and I (Mandi) am coping with single parenthood for 11 days (not that I’m counting). It is also a very busy time at school, with the grade seven students writing their national exams, and organizing curriculum and supplies for the next year’s teachers. We’ve begun packing, sorting, and finding homes for many of our possessions here in Swaziland. I’m so thankful for a small house! We have four weeks until our departure. Our house may be ready, but our hearts still have wrapping up to do. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Coming Home

Technically, we were supposed to write this blog post two years ago. And then a year ago. But now it is really time, and as much as we look forward to returning it will be so hard to leave Swaziland!

We like love our life here. We wake up in the mornings and sip tea while enjoying the beautiful sunrise over the surrounding hills.

We read a lot of books and we never see any streetlights at night. We've developed many friendships that will leave holes in our hearts. We have jobs we love. We have become comfortable in our surroundings and can readily anticipate life here.

In many ways, Swaziland feels like home.

So why are we leaving? Sometimes this question is even difficult to us to answer.

So here's the simple answer:
We are leaving to allow Swazi nationals the opportunity to step up and assume responsibility. We came here to learn, train, and equip. Mandi and I have many responsibilities at New Life Homes and our continual presence here presents the risk of creating more dependency. We want other people to step up into positions that they have the knowledge and the skills to fill. 

This process of handing over is not easy, nor is it comfortable, and at times it can be really frustrating. We do not know how exactly how this transition is going to work. We are trusting that God will continue to provide the wisdom and personnel (both locally and abroad) that is needed to fuel New Life Children’s Homes.

Here are some key things that we want you to know:
1. We will be coming back to the U.S. (permanently) on December 15, 2016.

2. Our mission organization (African Leadership Partners) will continue to provide our personal salary for three months (through March) while we settle, and thus we are asking our financial supporters to continue their regular support until then.

3. We do not know where are going to end up yet (more on this below).

Please pray for the following:
1. New Life Homes. We are about to go into a massive stage of transition with the farm and the school. Please pray for wisdom, energy, and the right people to step up.

2. Pray for Peter and Mary Jean Kopp. Out colleagues and dear friends who founded New Life Homes will be taking on numerous additional responsibilities in our absence.

3. Jobs. I (Tommy) have been working for the past few months to find a good fit but have not yet be able to finalize anything--primarily due to the distance. I have a brief visit to the U.S. scheduled for interviews and transition preparation. If you do hear of any interesting positions opening up, please feel free to contact me ( Thanks!

4. Our transition. We have a lot to sort out here and when we get stateside. Jobs, housing, insurance, vehicles, and much more. All while preparing for the arrival for baby #2 in early February. 

We will leave with mixed emotions. Though, a few things are certain:
1. We gave it our best and it's been an incredible adventure.
2. We have been consistently encouraged by God working through you!
3. It really is time to come home.

With Love,
Tommy, Mandi, and Avery

Sunday, October 2, 2016

An African Adventure

In August, we took a family vacation to Victoria Falls. If you are not aware of Vic Falls, they are  big (355 feet high and 1 mile wide) and awesome. We drove more than 1000 miles through South Africa and Zimbabwe. We eventually arrived at our destination, and spent about 4 hours total at the falls and the rest of the time running after Avery. Here are a few pics.

It is the dry season, so the falls are not at their peak.

There is an insane amount of mist that arises from the falls. At certain times of the year, you cannot see anything. We did manage to get quite soaked while we were there.

One afternoon, we walked from our hotel to the Victoria Falls Hotel. It is a pretty neat, colonial-style hotel that has hosted the British royal family. This is where Avery had high tea to celebrate her first birthday. We left her and went and took a nap. Joking. We did feel very English. 

Mandi is quite fond of her.

So am I. 

We went swimming every day. 

This is right before Avery pooped in the pool. Seriously. 

She really liked drinking the pool water. We did not encourage that behavior. This is a pre-poop photo as well. Sorry for the legs in the pic. Not my choice.

We visited a crocodile farm. I instructed Avery not to tease the crocs. That is a picture of a croc with a human arm hanging out of it.  The farm had more than 10,000 crocs on site. Really cool place. And yes, I wore Crocs to the farm.

Avery holding a baby croc.

BIG crocs being fed. This is the first time we have ever seen Avery scared. We think it is good that she has a fear of crocs. 

We went on a river boat cruise on the Zambezi river. It was very beautiful.

Saw lots of elephants, crocs, kudu and monkeys. The two and a half hour boat ride was a bit long for Avery (and us), but we had a great time nonetheless. 

Overall, it was a great family excursion. Not easy and sure, and in hindsight we would have done some things differently (like fly instead of drive), but who cares now? Fun times. Thanks for your support and for loving us even when we take time to get away.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Visitors = New Friends

This is the first summer we’ve been in Swaziland and haven’t had mission teams visit from the U.S. We look forward to these groups, who always find unique ways to serve the children at New Life Homes. We really enjoy their companionship as well.

However, at the beginning of the year we decided that we would not host any teams in 2016. Peter and Mary Jean Kopp, our colleagues and New Life Homes directors, have been on a much-deserved furlough since April, and the increased workload and decreased human resources can be straining. In fact, here's what we've resorted to in the childcare department:

Just because we haven’t had teams doesn’t mean we haven’t had visitors. We’ve had lots of day visitors, a few weekend visitors, and a couple that even joined us for their honeymoon!

A group joined us for the day from Germany. They came from all over the country and were touring different community projects to learn about HIV impacts and how communities are meeting associated needs. They enjoyed our pork, chicken, and broccoli, and shared gummy bears for dessert.

A church from Durban, South Africa visited for the weekend, and kept the kids busy with sports, crafts, and lots and lots of food. They pulled out some of the biggest pots we’ve ever seen, and cooked seriously fiery food. They brought toiletries for the homes, supplies for the school, and lots of love for the kids.

Tiersa Chaffin, whom we worked alongside for two years, brought her new husband, Tim Rogers, to the farm. Tim is a talented soccer player, and he put on some soccer workshops for the kids. Tiersa helped the kids connect with their sponsors, and enjoyed spending quality time with them. It was a lovely visit!

We’ve also hosted local pastors, agricultural leaders, and government officials. Often these folks show up unannounced. 

We’re proud to be part of something that draws people from all over the world. In many ways, New Life Homes is a model for organizations striving to meet the needs of those affected by HIV/AIDS. Visitors often comment positively on our family-based care model and efforts to be self-sustaining. We think it’s pretty great, too!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Thank Goodness!

Another school year is underway in Swaziland. 

In fact, our first term is almost over. I can't believe it! This school year has been different than others. The biggest difference is having a tiny sidekick. For a couple hours each day, Avery joins me at school. She gets absolutely giddy when I strap her into the baby carrier and we head toward school. She brings much joy to all the students and teachers. 

Before school starts she plays a few games of peek-a-boo, is jostled and bounced, and of course her outfit is thoroughly inspected by all of her friends. 

Another positive change is the addition of a competent, cheerful, and loving teaching assistant. Her name is Goodness. She has been such a blessing to me! She encourages and works with struggling students throughout the day. She marks almost ALL my papers. She stays after school to clean up, close up, or meet with students when I have to run home. She has made my transition to a working mommy SO much easier, and I am so thankful for Goodness! 

She has become a good friend and her daughter and Avery enjoy spending time together, too. 

Although she's not formally trained as a primary school teacher, I'm praying that Goodness will feel confidant enough to take my place next year. She has all the qualities of a good teacher, and I'm working with her on adopting additional techniques and teaching strategies. Please pray with me! 

I have 14 students this year, and a wide range of talents and abilities. Thank you for praying for their growth: academically, spiritually, and socially. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

When Something Clicks

Avery is a pretty calm and a very sweet baby. We are often asked, does she ever cry? The answer is yes. Though she has the ability to turn on the bright side when she leaves the house, there are times when Mandi and I long for the day when she is able to regulate her emotions. I find myself wondering when these certain steps to maturity will be taken. Though my overwhelming desire is that she stay small, cute, and giggly, maturity is a beautiful thing. This has become evident here on the farm over the past few months.

Over the past many years, the farm has hired the high school-aged students to work during the school break. They love the extra income and we love keeping their minds and bodies busy. Up until a few months ago, their work was helpful, but sometimes created more work for us than what we received in return. And then something clicked. Over this summer break, we have employed a group of boys who have become mature in ways that we did not know was even possible. They have played a huge role in not only getting the daily duties sorted, but have brought forth creative solutions to challenging problems. They have constructed and repaired, conducted all the breeding (natural and using artificial insemination) and record keeping for the pig operation, and completed a significant amount of the tractor work. And they have done everything with a great attitude. I would have never imagined some of the kids here being so interested in the interworkings of the farm. But now, they are having visions of what their future holds. High school students who want to go check pigs at all hours of the night? It is like a dream come true.

Anyone who has been to New Life Homes will say that the best part about this place is the kids. It is even more enjoyable now when I can look at a rarely-but-sometimes-fussy baby and hope that one day she will mature like the young men and women growing up here at New Life Homes.

Enjoy some pictures of these strapping young men in action:

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Our Village

We welcomed Avery Grace Bottoms into the world on 27 August… just over two months ago. In those two short months, she has brought much joy and fullness to each and every day.

Parenthood brings its own set of challenges, and such a steep learning curve! We are so lucky to be surrounded by people who adore Avery. They have helped us adapt by sharing their time, cuddles, wisdom, and love.

As one of the moms said earlier this week, Avery will soon visit her “really, really” home. She will also meet her “really” family for the first time. In the meantime, we’re feeling so grateful for our farm family. We’ve heard it takes a village to raise a child. This is our village, and we couldn’t do it without them!