Sunday, December 16, 2012

Pair of Ducks

We returned to Davis last night after spending approximately four weeks on the road, most of our time being spent at Mission Training International in Colorado. We are grateful for a challenging and engaging training and God's protection during several snow storms that we forged through during the drive home.

As 40 adults were learning upstairs in the training center, approximately 25 children were receiving similar training downstairs. Although most of our curriculum was different, there were some similarities built into the program. A pair of ducks is something we ALL learned about.

If you say "pair of ducks" fast enough, you'll hear something that sounds a lot more like "paradox." At our training, we learned that many of our experiences can be described by this word. In each "pair of ducks" there is a yay duck and a yuck duck.
In some ways, your heart will be saying "yay!" and it other ways it will be saying "yuck!"often at the same time.

For example, we just purchased our tickets for the flight over. We leave January 12th. The yay duck in us is thrilled to finally begin this adventure, after much waiting and anticipation. The yay duck is so hopeful in this calling we're received, and we can't wait to see what the Lord will do in and through us. The yay duck says "Let's go!"

The yuck duck in us is experiencing great sorrow just thinking about the loved ones we'll leave behind. The yuck duck want to resist leaving our community in Davis, our careers, and some of our favorite hobbies. The yuck duck says "How can we possibly leave?"

As you can imagine, its a very emotional time for us. This week will bring many goodbyes. Thank you for praying and caring for us in the midst of the yays and the yucks.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Questioning Our Pickers

Most of the time, what seems like a bad idea usually turns out to be a bad idea. It tends to be the same with good ideas. However, there are those rare circumstances when, what seems like a good idea is actually, well, a bad idea. 

One week ago we left Davis and headed to Colorado Springs to attend a 3-week missions training with approximately 40 other missionaries preparing to enter the field ( On our second day of travel—in which we spent most of the ten hours on the road in the beautiful state of Wyoming—we were quickly approaching the Colorado State line and were getting very hungry.

 In search of some good home cookin’, we decided to stop at a local diner instead of hitting up another Subway. We picked the Luxury Diner (the irony will hit you in a moment) in Cheyenne, a restaurant that had more than its fill in character but left us questioning our pickers. 

This fried food frolic left us feeling like we were 8½ months pregnant for the last three hours of the drive. You would think the lesson would be learned, but it turns out we have a history with misjudgment. 

When making the decision to attend this training, we heard awesome reviews from others. We still thought it was a bad idea. How could this be a good idea with a dissertation to write, curriculum projects to finish, and relationships in which we’d like to invest? 

Boy, were we wrong. We do have too much work to do, and we do love our friends and family, but we had no idea how much more we could learn and grow. We are learning a ton about ourselves, each other, and God’s plan for our lives. What seemed to be a terrible idea, turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. 

We’ll still misjudge situations—evidenced by the fact that I (Tommy) took down 20 hot wings the other night and could not sleep a bit. That being said, we are both so thankful that what seemed to be so bad is turning into something that is oh sooo good.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wonderfully Made

Over the past two months Tommy and I have received some very special news... both of our sisters are pregnant with the first little ones.
(Congratulations John & Beth Tinsley and Dan & Megan Quinn!!)
We are already blessed with a niece and two nephews (see pic of Ashley, Jack, and Charlie with Nana and Opa below) and we are thrilled about the imminent addition of two new little ones!

Like any proud Auntie and Uncle, we are more than happy to share pictures of our soon-to-arrive nieces or nephews!
This is Baby Tinsley (Tommy's sister and brother-in-law), due in late April.

Last week, Megan and Dan (Mandi's sister and brother-in-law) invited us to participate in the gender determination ultrasound appointment. What an incredible experience, to see this little one wiggling around! Baby BOY Quinn will make his arrival in early May.

Of all the things we'll miss, meeting these two babies when they enter the world is definitely at the top of our list. However, we know God is good and He is in control. We already feel blessed beyond measure and so full of love for them! Please lift their parents up in prayer--for safe and healthy pregnancies and for preparing them to raise their little ones according to His will.

"Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things." [Ecclesiastes 11:5]

Please pray! We drive to Colorado Springs this Sunday (with one pit stop in Salt Lake City). Please pray for safety for our long journey. We will be attending a three-week training session for missionaries entering the field. Pray that we would be willing learners as we soak in information about culture, life balance, and field work. Pray that we connect with other couples and develop some new friendships.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


My dear friend Courtney Welden competes her first Ironman today. This incredible feat includes a running a marathon, completing a 112-mile bike ride, and swimming more than two miles.

Courtney decided to use this opportunity as a platform to tell others about New Life Homes and raise additional funds to support our work there.

Regardless of what happens today, Tommy and I are so proud of Courtney! She has chosen to approach a demanding feat in such a purposeful way--what an amazing woman! To see her video about the race, check out our previous entry "Tri-ing for Something Greater."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Mighty Moringa

We were surprised to find out recently that the profitability of the agricultural enterprises that support New Life Homes have changed dramatically since we were there in 2007. At one point, a robust laying hen operation was the most profitable operation that supported the farm. Today, the moringa has taken over the top spot.

The leaves of the moringa tree are incredibly nutritious. They are rich in protein, vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin C, and minerals. 

Here's a look at some of the nutritional benefits.

Currently, the leaves are harvested, dried, and ground into a fine powder.
Here are some photos of the moringa dryers on the farm.

The drying process stabilizes the shelf-life of the leaf. The powder is then sold at the local market or consumed on the farm. When cooking, ground moringa is added like a seasoning and the nutritional value of the meal is enhanced immediately--and we've heard it's pretty tasty too!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sometimes the Chicken Doesn't Make it Across the Road

People often ask about what we will eat while in Swaziland. We will eat a plethora of vegetables, a passel of corn and corn by-products, rice, and a whole lotta chicken. Raising chickens has become a very successful income generating enterprise at New Life Homes. Live chickens are sold at markets in the capital city, Mbabane.

Tommy and a few of the farmhands loading up the birds early in the morning.

The chickens raised for meat also are harvested to support the many growing bodies on the farm. Every few weeks the farm is covered in feathers as a number of women from the community help with the harvesting and cleaning of the birds.

Another way chickens are utilized (in a bit less gruesome fashion) is through the large free-range egg production enterprise. The eggs are gathered, cleaned, and packaged on the farm and are sold in grocery stores throughout Swaziland under the much sought after “Likhaya Lemphilo Lensha” or “New Life Homes” label. 

The value of chickens cannot be understated in Swaziland. Whenever you and your family sit down before a heaping plate of BBQ chicken, think about us--it is almost guaranteed that we are having chicken for dinner too. I probably just had to work a little bit harder for my meal!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Welcome to the Farm

With only four childrens' homes on the farm, each new addition is something to celebrate. Last week, we received news that six children have been joyously welcomed to the farm in the past month. 
The photos below show baby Busiwe being welcomed to the farm by the children and Tommy in 2006.

Two of the children are HIV-positive and have never received medical care. Two of the children, siblings, come from a background of serious neglect. One of the girls is an albino that has been rejected and abandoned by her family. Albinism is a serious cause for concern in Swaziland, where albino children have been targeted because of a belief by witch doctors that the blood and body parts of albinos can bring good luck and fortune when used in potions (an interesting, but somewhat graphic article is below).

Please pray for these new arrivals--that they adapt to their new surroundings, their new families, their new school, and their new way of life. Change can be hard, even when it's a change for the better. Please pray for strength for the children battling HIV/AIDS and that the doctors would have the wisdom to provide the care they require. Pray that the children and staff at New Life Homes would be sensitive to each child's unique needs and know how meet them in a practical and loving way. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I (Tommy) was taking a look back at some old journal entries from the first time I was in Swaziland in 2006. My entries were filled with amusing stories--and almost all were overly dramatic

I get pretty excited about spending a significant amount of time interacting with the children "on the farm.” Unlike last time we were there, many of the kids are now entering their teen years. Previously, one of the boys that had just turned 13 began to ask me some challenging questions, such as “When are boys old enough to start having babies?” My initial reaction was to respond with a “well… never,” but I assumed he knew which gender actually delivers babies. 
I stopped, took a deep breath, and began to wander into the weeds...talking about marriage and God’s plan. As I began to think that I was in the clear, he came back at me with a, “when…exactly?” 

Oh boy. Sometimes silence is good. This challenging conversation reminds me how the young men of Swaziland need positive male influences in their life-- and that is one statement in my journal that is not overly dramatized in the least.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Meet Mukelo

Teachers aren't supposed to have favorites. However, most teachers can identify a few students that have really left an imprint on their heart. That's Mukelo.

I don't know all the details of Mukelo's story, but I do know he came to the farm as an infant--sick and malnourished. When I met Mukelo in 2007, he was possibly the brightest five year-old I had ever met. Having been raised on the farm since birth, his mastery of English and Siswati (the traditional Swazi language) was remarkable. Mukelo would often serve as a tiny translator, communicating with visiting missionary teams and quickly relaying information to the other children.

Mukelo, in salmon-colored shorts, is proud of his scarecrow!
 Last time I was there, Mukelo declared himself the personal caretaker of my water bottle. It was really an obsession. He would clean it, refill it (only once with diarrhea-inducing rain water), and would always ask "where'd the water go?"  He would also ask me to set it on his head--somehow the dimensions of the bottle wouldn't allow him to do this himself--so he could carry it for me as we worked in the garden.

Mukelo was sometimes too smart for his own good. I can't wait to see this mischievous, delightful, and hope-filled little guy again! 

We just settled into our new (temporary) home. Please be praying for the many preparations, logistics, and loose-ends that need to be tied up in the next 90-days. It is sometimes overwhelming.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Preachin' Man

In one of the videos we often share, the children living at New Life Homes share what they want to be when they grow up.

Siboniso wants to be a judge or maybe a scientist.
Zweli wants to be a DJ.
Mkhuleko wants to be "the pastor... the preachin' man."

This video, shot by Aaron Kopp (son of Peter and Mary Jean, who we'll be serving alongside), features Mkhuleko in his element.

In a country that claims the lowest life expectancy in the world, with an average of only 31.88 years, planning for the future does not always come easily for young people. However, the children at New Life Homes are encouraged to dream and hope for a future that employs their many passions, gifts, and talents.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Northern California Exposure

Nobody makes you feel more at home than the people who live in Humboldt County. Those folks are passionate about a whole host of causes--even if some might make you scratch your head. One cause that gets them fired up is supporting their own. As many of you know, Mandi was born and raised in Humboldt and has maintained many friendships over the years. With the help of Mandi’s awesome parents, Elvis and Linda, and some very generous volunteers, we held a benefit barbeque last weekend at Christ Lutheran Church in Fortuna. We even had a country gospel band, lead by Pastor Paul Demant!

Elvis and Linda served a wonderful meal that received rave reviews--especially Elvis’ chicken! We enjoyed reconnecting with old friends, and meeting some new friends as well. George and Elna Demant (pictured below) have been strong supporters of New Life Homes since we served there in 2007. Elna was so moved by New Life Homes' ministry, she has been sponsoring a child living "on the farm" for the past five years! She also regularly sends care packages to the children there. We are so encouraged by George and Elna's commitment to caring for Swazi orphans!

On Sunday we attended services both at Christ Lutheran Church as well as Hydesville Community Church--where Mandi attended youth group as a high school student. After each service we were able to visit with people who wanted to learn more about how God is moving in Swaziland. We hung out in Hydesville for their second tailgate party of this year (we were also at the first!) and ate some delicious food including tri-tip wrapped in a pancake with bbq and chili sauce.

Yeah, it was pretty delicious. Humboldt Countians, thank you all for your hospitality and most of all for your prayers and support!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Lesson on Treasure

The Bottoms' hit a major milestone this weekend--our first yard sale! And boy, was it entertaining. Not only did we love mixing and mingling with our bargain-hunting visitors, but we unloaded some serious stuff. We also unloaded our neighbors unwanted belongings (with their consent) which they cheerfully donated to support
New Life Homes

The funny thing is, we haven't missed a thing. Okay, maybe one thing--our wall clock. Yes, we're realizing the clock was worth much more than the $5 we received from it.
At least we have a new excuse for being late!

On the second day, we did some serious mark downs. A young man could not resist an ornate wine stopper that had been $9 on Saturday, but was marked down to $0.50 on Sunday. That's 95% off. Talk about a deal! Here is a picture of us among our serious shoppers:

This was another necessary step in preparing to leave for Swaziland at the end of the year. We have decided not to rent a storage unit, and will be relying on the generosity of friends and family who have agreed to store, borrow, or buy all of our earthly possessions. We're finding this to be a healthy, yet somewhat uncomfortable lesson on how much we value our stuff. Isn't amazing how much we accumulate and how tightly we hold on to it?

As Jesus so aptly put it, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

We celebrated the completion of a successful yard sale with dinner at our favorite (and only) bike-themed pizza place.
We had a lot to celebrate

Housing update: Thank you for your prayers! We officially confirmed our housing arrangement though the fall today, with only a couple weeks to spare.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Meet Gift

The New Life Homes school is the primary education for all 32 children living at New Life Homes. An additional 30 students come from the local community. While teaching preschool in Swaziland I had one student from the local community--Gift.

And a gift he certainly was! Gift proved to be a tenacious learner. With no previous English language exposure, Gift grew by leaps and bounds. I also developed a warm relationship with his Mom, as she walked him a mile to and from school each day. She even made me a traditional Swazi dress!

I was delighted to receive an update on Gift today. Gift continues to attend New Life Homes school. He will be entering grade five next year. His mother has become a teacher's aid at the school, and is really thriving in her new role. I can't wait to reconnect with Gift and his mother again. 

From James 1:17: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Midcourt Celebration

As some of you may realize, we are nearing the beginning of football season. I am a big sports fan, particularly of college football. It just so happens that college football provides an excellent metaphor for our support raising efforts. Last year, the national title football game pitted Alabama vs. LSU. Alabama dominated nearly every aspect of the game, to the point where LSU could not even move the ball past the 50-yard line. Needless to say, Alabama won. A few weeks later, Alabama and LSU met again, this time on the basketball court. When the team dribbled the ball past midcourt, all of the Alabama fans went crazy with sarcastic cheering

Well friends, we too are at the halfway point in raising our financial support. We are grateful for all of you who have decided to prayfully and financially support what God is doing in Swaziland. These next few (hectic) months are going to be awesome as we are confident that God will provide and move us beyond the goal line. That celebration will even louder than those Alabama fans.

P.S. If you would like to be part of moving us beyond the goal line, just click the "GIVE" button to the right of this post.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Unexpected

Even unexpected change should, of course, be expected.
Knowing that we'll be departing to a developing country in just a few months, we have prepared for change. We are well aware how flexible we need to be. We know things won't necessarily go as planned. Yet even in the midst of all this mental preparedness, change is not easy to handle.

In the span of two days, we became aware of changes in our housing plans both here in Davis and abroad. We learned of an unexpected 3-week training we need to attend. Mandi learned of a change in her teaching assignment. We are not certain how all these changes will impact preparing to leave or finishing our job and school responsibilities well

One thing that we can expect and rely on is God's unchanging nature. We find a lot of peace in knowing that the big things of life, the things that matter, are unwavering.

As James writes, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." James 1:17 

Please pray that we find a place to live in Davis before the end of September. We are specifically looking for a private or semi-private arrangement for the months of October and November. Pray for the packing, selling, and redistributing process that has begun as well. At times it is overwhelming.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


SiSwati is the national language of Swaziland and is spoken by approximately 95 percent of Swazis. SiSwati and English are the country's two official languages. All schools teach in English, and a high competency in English is required for admission to most secondary schools. 

The children living at New Life Homes have exceptional mastery of the English language, many learning English at a very young age. This video, shot by Aaron Kopp, features adorable Yenziwe practicing her ABCs.

Tommy and I will learn the local language. Despite the difficulties of learning an African language (e.g., no Rosetta Stone SiSwati version), we know it is important to invest in Swazi culture by understanding and speaking to our neighbors in their heart language. Please pray that our minds would be moldable as we take on this challenge!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Doing the Edges First

In many ways Mandi and I are idealists, but we are also are very aware that we are pieces of grander puzzle. And when I say puzzle, I do not mean one of these 30-piece "easy peasy" puzzles that you conquer while waiting around at the dentist. I am talking a 1,000-piece, call your cousins to help, type of puzzle. Whether you work in missions, agriculture extension, teaching, or parenting, sound advice and sage wisdom are invaluable.

One person who exemplifies this truth is a Swazi sugar cane grower named Jeff. Jeff is a large-scale producer who knows how to grow crops and earn an income. I can study how to grow crops and work with innovative researchers and farmers, but knowledge of the local landscape cannot be understated.

While previously in Swaziland, Jeff visited the farm at New Life Homes shortly after we installed drip tape in a field of newly-planted tomatoes. He offered his time and advice to ensure the crop successfully made it to market. It is my hope and prayer that we can mobilize more farmers like Jeff who are willing to mentor and teach new farmers.

People like Jeff are the edge pieces of the puzzle. If you identify them as assets, and start putting them into place early on, everything falls together a little easier. It's like making a 1,000-piecer seem like, well, a 500-piecer (this stuff is still not easy)!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Meet Raymond

As Mandi and I continue to raise support and receive encouragement, there is no better motivator than thinking about the numerous possibilities to serve people who are looking to change their lives in significant ways.

As previously discussed, we will be based at New Life Homes, which is a permanent, Christ-centered home for orphaned and abandoned children. Nearly all of the daily operations are funded by a working farm that provides employment to a number of people in the community. This has and will continue to be an awesome venue for training and teaching the Swazi people ways that they can break the cycle of poverty and make significant strides to provide an abundant, healthy, and safe food supply for their families.

Installing drip irrigation. A first for the region!

One of the all-star workers that I have gotten to know while previously in Swaziland has gone above and beyond and is now one of the primary managers of the farming operation. Raymond has developed outstanding skills related to selling the farm-grown products to local markets and handling the finances. He is also a very skilled driver (something that is quite valuable in Swaziland).

Not only has he helped turn the farm into an uber-productive training center, but Raymond has replicated many of methods used on the farm to do some pretty amazing things on his own homestead. How awesome is that?!?! It is people like Raymond that make us want to jump on a flight tomorrow!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tri-ing for Something Greater

While I was in Swaziland in 2006, Tommy completed his first long course triathlon. He loved every mile of it (well, almost every mile). However, his one hesitation was how self-serving it seemed to be and his desire to do something greater.

When my dear friend Courtney was selected earlier this year to compete in her first Ironman triathlon, I was thrilled. Friends since high school, I knew this was something Courtney had longed to do. I was excited to encourage her as she attempted to accomplished something great.
But great wasn't good enough for Courtney.

Courtney wanted to do something greater. She also set a goal to raise $2,000 to support New Life Homes. Here's her video explaining why she's competing for a cause.

We are so thankful for Courtney's desire to "tri" something greater on behalf of the orphaned children who have found a home at New Life Homes. We are also encouraged by her creativity! She is using her resources to advocate for vulnerable children in Swaziland and engage a whole new group of friends Tommy and I (and the children) have never met. Now that is truly something greater.

If you'd like to financially support Courtney's fundraising efforts, visit African Leadership Partners' fundraising page.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Happy Davis-versary!

All our stuff was packed up, we didn’t know where anything was, and we were utterly exhausted. This was what Mandi and I were feeling as we spent our first night in Davis. It just so happened to be the 4th of July.
Cued by the sounds of booms and bangs, we headed upstairs to the small balcony of our townhouse and between the limbs of one of the large pine trees we could see fireworks rising from Community Park. Looking back, it is crazy to think that we did not know where the fireworks were coming from—let alone how to get to the nearest grocery store
This is a terrible photo, but it is actually from our first night in Davis! See the fireworks to the right of us?
As we celebrated our four year Davis-versary last night, we reflected on how great it has been to become enveloped into a community that has shown us so much love. Davis has its many quirks, but it has some great people and awesome bike paths as well. 
Today summed up our love for this area as we went swimming and read on the shores of Putah Creek, watched some bike races downtown, and finished the evening off at the Austin’s house with some great friends, terrific food, and some intense around-the-world ping-pong played in the middle of the street. We will probably have to write another blog post about Davis sometime down the road, but for now, on our four year Davis-versary, we would like to thank Davis and officially renew our vows for another five months.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Let Your Words Be Few

I love the way The Message translation paraphrases Jesus' instruction for prayer. In Matthew 6, Jesus instructs His disciples: 
"With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply."

The prayers of the formerly orphaned and vulnerable children living on the farm are simple, grateful, and sincere. Here is a small sampling of some of their precious conversations with our Creator.

"Thank you God. We love you soooooo much! For the food. For Make Shongwe, Sis Hlengiwe, Babe Make Kopp, Sis Mandi, everyone. The cows to eat. The eggs. Amen." - Mhukelko

"Thank you God. For us. You love us. Amen." - Mukelo

"Thank you Jesus. We love you. We love you soooooo much. The cake. Amen." - KK