Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Blessings

Some of our Swazi friends have given abundantly during this Christmas season. From a preschool party, to gifts for all the children, and even hosting a celebration at a nearby game park, they have acted upon their love for the children we care for!

Here are some of the highlights from our Christmas party at Mlilwane, one of Swaziland's game parks. Our friends and long-time supporters of New Life Homes, the Kellys and the Youngs, hosted this party and did an amazing job! They even made it relaxing for us!

The kids went on a hike though the bush, where we encountered blesbok, nyala, impala, warthogs, wildebeest, and monkeys.

Despite the cold weather, Bhuti Tom decided to demonstrate how much fun it would be to swim in the river. No wonder the kids are laughing!

I think Tommy was a little concerned about crocs, don't you? 

Phumlani has a close (too close?) encounter with a warthog.

After walking back to the lodge, the families organized games for the kids and even the housemothers were encouraged to participate. In this game, the moms blew up their balloons until they popped. You can feel the anticipation!

The kids were treated to lunch, cake, and ice cream. Some of the little ones had a hard time keeping up with the drips, and used the excess as a hair conditioning treatment.

We wrapped up the day with personalized gifts for EACH of the 39 children. Can you imagine shopping for 39 different kids? These friends really blessed everyone in a BIG way.

When God gives, he always gives abundantly!

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" 1 John 3:1

Praying that you and your families also experience the abundance God promises.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Guest Blog: Tommy's Parents Visit Swaziland

We are POMs (Parents of Missionaries). When God invites a son or daughter into missions, He also invites the parents. For some POMs, the invitation from God is a complete surprise—for us, the invitation was somewhat expected.

“Your children are doing this because they love me and because I’ve asked them them to do it. Please let them go with your blessing and support. I know you will miss your children, and I’ll make sure you don’t have to face all this alone. I promise you it won’t be easy, but I also promise you joy.”
-Parents of Missionaries by Savageau and Stortz

With much prayer, we planned our trip to serve with Tommy and Mandi for two weeks in late September. We wanted to encourage, learn, teach, work alongside and share the joy that is promised.

After many flight hours, we were welcomed with open arms, not only by our children, but by the children they “parent” at New Life Homes. The house mothers, farm workers and teachers welcomed us into their community. 

We shared stories, hiked to the river, taught school, and prayed together. We sang His praises, danced, played soccer and cheered as each child’s gifts reflected the Lord’s goodness. We shared meals and worshiped at their church. And all was good.

We worked in the fields harvesting crops. Farm management ideas were shared, marketing strategies discussed. Long drives to town on very bumpy roads reminded us of our unnecessary constant complaints about American roads.

We wanted to know what a missionary’s life was like, and we found out. It’s a lot of work, and it doesn't stop at sundown. Little eyes appear at the doorsteps for any excuse to visit and share. Heart-to-heart
talks occur often, as each child finds the path that God has designed. And as in any family, discipline strengthens the soul’s resolve.

Now when Tommy and Mandi write about a child or adult on the farm, we can put a face to the story and a special prayer is lifted up. We see their challenges, joys and peace at the end of each day.

Some days, it is very difficult and lonely for us POMs. We miss them terribly and are so thankful for the opportunity God gave us to be with Tommy and Mandi. Continue to pray for them and for those on the
farm. Continue to pray for us, as we too were called by God to be Parents of Missionaries.

Dick and Ellen Nelson
Parents of Tommy Bottoms and his wife, Mandi

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

From One World to Our World

Have we mentioned that the kids at New Life Homes LOVE soccer? You can find them playing soccer at recess every day, and we even have our own soccer field (part of the pasture) and competitive soccer team. The problem is, with terrain like ours in rural Swaziland, the balls don’t last long. Traditional soccer balls will last a few weeks at best. That’s why we were so excited when a friend here told us about One World Futbols. These soccer balls are made especially for kids living in third-world conditions—where rocks, mud, and cow patties are part of the sport. My mom made a brief inquiry to the company to see if they would donate some balls for the kids, and we were shocked to receive such a generous and speedy reply. They wanted to donate 20 soccer balls.

Shipping became the most obvious obstacle, since the balls don’t actually deflate. Tommy’s parents bravely volunteered to transport 20 official-size soccer balls from California to Swaziland when they came to visit us in September. Nothing like adding some extra stress to your typical travel concerns! Their gigantic duffle bag caused a few raised eyebrows at customs and several requests to deflate the balls, but they did arrive to the farm safely, much to the joy of the children here. 

We laughed at their initial comments about the balls. 

“It feels like kicking a stone.” (Obviously not used to fully-inflated balls.)

“Sit on it!” (Marveling at the engineering.)

“This thing is a soccer ball?” (Skeptical of the color and material.)

Needless to say, they were a huge hit. Each of our classrooms has their own ball, as well as each of the orphan homes. We’ve also stashed a few away for the future. We (and the kids) are extremely grateful to my family for requesting them, One World Futbols for donating them, and Tommy’s parents for lugging them half way around the world. The kids have received so much joy from this gift!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Developing People and Their Pigs

Things have been hog wild around here lately and we would love to share some great news with y’all. This week we gave Masengwa, our local veterinarian, a lift to KaMfishane, where he works during the week. As we were catching up on all of the local happenings, he congratulated us on be
coming the largest pig farmer in the region. One of Masengwa’s duties is to monitor the movement of pigs in and out of the region while keeping a running census on each farm. 

Being the largest pig farmer in our very small area is not something that will make the front page of the Economist, but it has certainly been a fun and challenging lesson in how to invest in and expand projects. Over the past seven months we have expanded the pig operation more than 300%. We have more than 150 pigs on the farm and we take approximately seven pigs to the market every week. For a plant guy, this expansion in pig production has come with a steep learning curve, lots of prayer, and more than a few frustrating days. However with the help of some excellent staff here on the farm and your support, we have been able to scale-up this project into a sustainable operation that has had numerous benefits to New Life Homes. These benefits include greater income to support the children, more involvement and interest by the housemothers (as noted by their gathering around each sow that gives birth), while providing increased food security for the children we support.

As we developed the pig project and began to work with surrounding pig farmers, we realized that there was a great need to increase the amount of knowledge and sharing of information between homestead farmers and pig production experts. We recently organized a New and Emerging Pig Farmers Field Day on the farm that featured experts from all over Swaziland speaking on a wide variety of subjects such as feeding, animal health, budgeting, recording keeping, genetics, sanitation, and quality evaluation. 

e invited service providers to attend and display the goods and services offered as well as give out many freebies. Government vehicles provided transport from more than two hours away, the house mothers took care of registration and food, while our farm manager, Mthi, served as emcee. Despite a torrential rainstorm that came out of nowhere (it was the only time it rained all winter) we still had more than 75 people attend. It was a great opportunity to train and equip Swazi’s to care for their animals and generate income for their families.    

New Life Children’s Homes is becoming a hub for providing high quality products while also investing in the development of others. I hope this gets you as excited as we are here in Swaziland. The future for many of our agriculture projects is very bright and this will have a direct impact on our ability to serve the New Life Homes children and the surrounding community. We have dreams of continuing to expand and strengthen our existing production. Thank you for your prayers and financial support.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

We’ve come to know the unique personalities of the 39 children that call New Life Homes “home.” For those of you with children, you’ve probably enjoyed watching your children develop their distinctive personality traits, especially in the early years. We have enjoyed the slow, trust-building process that happens when children let you see them as they really are. The one thing we can say with confidence is that God made each of these children uniquely wonderful, and we get so much joy as they reveal themselves to us!

Simphiwe is one of the most expressive children on the farm. By just looking at her face, you can tell pretty quickly what’s on her mind. This six-year old loves to hold your hand, show off her dancing skills, and her deep, gravelly voice has us constantly in stitches.

Thulani is an eager to please preschooler who is a relatively new addition to New Life Homes. We marvel at how quickly he has developed his English vocabulary. He cracks us up with his spiritual commentaries about himself (“I’m loving God right now!”) and others (“Vusi is not loving God right now.”).

Nothando has a very sweet and gentle personality. During our weekly prayer time, she consistently volunteers to pray out loud. Although her long, rambling prayers sometimes bring snickers from the older kids, we can see that even at a young age she is spiritually aware. 

Please keep praying for these children, and the nation as a whole. The farm is a very hope-filled place, but when we look at the bigger picture it can be really disheartening. The poverty, sexual promiscuity, fascination with the occult, and extensive impact of HIV/AIDS is widespread. Please pray for transformation for the country and perseverance for the laborers!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Swazi Math

I thought you might enjoy a sample of Swazi math. It's certainly practical, but makes us go "huh?" sometimes (or in this case "ugh!"). 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Growing Exponentially

One of the pastors that we have gotten to know while living here always reminds his congregation that living in Swaziland never lacks for opportunities to serve others. So the question that we have faced is not if there is a need but rather, where do we start? One of the things that we talked about before coming to Swaziland was the desire to work with child-headed households, or those households that have not immediate relatives to care for or look after kids. These same kids are often attempting to run a household, taking care of younger siblings and trying to feed themselves all while going to school. What we have learned is that working with this population is very challenging for a variety of reasons and can often leave one quite discouraged. That being said, there are clear exceptions. Enter Alex.

Alex is in Form 5 (11th grade) and has a history on the farm. In fact for a while he is well known in the community not for his many positive attributes but rather one who has no family with the exception of a younger sister. He was a notorious chicken stealer and a trouble maker. Needless to say, it was a surprise to everyone when they saw Alex strolling across the farm nearly 5 years since his last incident seeking help from the resident math teacher. Enter me (Tommy). I began meeting with him weekly and sometimes bi-weekly to
discuss algebra, exponents, and geometry and we began to develop quite a trusting relationship. His marks in math were tops in his class and he even wrote me a poem to show his appreciation. As we continued to meet to talk about math, I began to wonder how and where he gets the food for both he and his sister. I suggested planting a garden and told him that I would supply the seedlings if he put up a fence and prepared the soil. I was ready to be let down as the prospects of preparing a garden from scratch and fetching water I am sure seemed daunting. I returned a week later and was totally blown away. It was AWESOME! 

I was so impressed by his efforts. Along with his onions, Swiss chard, cabbage, lettuce, and beet root, we have made a plan for him to plant 50 more lettuce plants that we will be able to grow and sell to generate some much needed income. I do not know how this is going to go for Alex in the future, but I thank God for putting him in my life and for being encouraged by Alex. Please continue to pray for this project and for Alex. Pray that he is able to continue to perform well in school and can secure a good future for himself.

A recent trip to the beach in South Africa!

On a side note, we are all about presenting factual material on this blog and we steer clear of embellishing. That being said, in the previous blog post entitled “We are expecting” we talked about how our adopted goat was pregnant. It turns out she was just getting a bit fat (a winter cover that seemed to go a bit too far). This week we are letting her run out in the community to meet a nice billy so that we can have a grand-“kid” soon. We are sorry for jumping the gun on that one.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A "Little" Gift

As long as I can remember I’ve been an avid reader. Reading has shaped some of my fondest educational experiences—from participating in countless summer reading programs at the Fortuna Library to reading The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles in Mrs. Giffith’s sixth grade class (I can vividly remember drawing a picture of what I thought a wangdoodle looked like)—a good book has always easily engulfed me.

After reading Charlotte’s Web to my third and fourth graders, I knew reading and studying literature would have to be part of our regular classroom curriculum. The children LOVED that book. A few of the little girls even cried (spoiler alert!) when Charlotte died. It reminded me how literature has the power to take us to a different world.

I started to think about how my students would benefit from participating more fully in our literature units. What if they could have their own copy in their hands? Seeing the words in front of them would certainly increase their comprehension as well as provide opportunities to practice reading on their own. I mentioned my idea to my mother-in-law, a former teacher, and she said she would see what she could do. Approximately a month later I received a class set of Stuart Little in the mail! 

My students are delighted to have their own copy to read! I still read aloud, but now they also read on their own, with partners, and to the whole class. It has greatly enhanced our literature program. I love looking around the room and seeing my students engrossed in their books! 

If you are a fellow book lover, perhaps you would be interested in donating a class set of children’s literature to New Life Primary School? Please contact me if this is something you get excited about. Eventually, we’d like to strengthen our library to include at least three different class sets.
Special thanks to the Whited family for the awesome bulletin board goodies!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Gods Promises

Today was one of THOSE days. The day started well—I had a well-prepared teaching plan and I was even caught up on my grading. The kids seemed eager to return to school after the weekend. The day started out normal, but it didn’t take long for things to start going wrong.

The subject today in English was using apostrophes to show ownership. Despite my preparedness, things didn’t go as planned. The kids seemed completely confused. The word “apostrophe” was lost on them. The pneumonic I created (“if there’s many don’t use any”) to dissuade them from using apostrophes in plurals, had a major fault—what about plural possession? Like boys’ or children’s? As the student’s began their worksheet, hands started waving insistently in the air, calling out for help. My patience was wearing thin. I uttered the words that no teacher should say, something along the lines of “Please. No more questions. Just work on your own. Please.” Our mid-morning recess could not have come soon enough.

At recess I was pondering the future impact of my terrible lesson. Donald, one of my fourth grade students, came up and handed me a note. Here’s what it said:

Dear Tom and Mandi, we like your teaching. Sis Mandi is a good teacher. I have not seen one like her. And Tom is a very nice man. We are thankful for the kindly people that God sends to Swaziland to help the farm. We are happy to be with you in the farm. Tom and Sis Mandi we are thankful for the fun things you have done for New Life Homes’ children. I pray that God will make you strong. May God bless you.

What a perfect prayer for me at that moment. Donald, with his simple note, encouraged me and also reminded me that apostrophes are temporary. Helpful, yes—but still temporary. Apostrophes are nothing compared to the eternal promises of God. Gods promises. See, did you even notice?

So today’s lesson comes from a fourth grader. “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promises. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” Hebrews 11:23-24

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Youth Ministry Swazi Style

Tommy and I recently returned from a youth retreat (where do they get off calling an event like this a retreat, anyway?) with 14 New Life Homes teens. We enjoyed spending time with the kids in a more social setting, and in an environment where we could watch them interact with other teens. Many of the other kids attending the retreat are “city” kids that go to some of the most prestigious schools in the country. We were so proud of how our kids immediately got involved, participated in spiritual discussions, led prayers, exceled on the soccer field, and even indulged in unrecognizable dishes during an eating contest unlike any we have ever seen! 

The theme of the camp was “unstoppable” based on the Philippians 4:13 verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Tommy and I both served as team leaders, which meant shepherding a group of approximately 15 young people in everything from an intense water balloon fight to small group discussions. We also taught two devotional sessions. In one session, highlighting the providence of God, we shared our dating experiences that led up to finding “the one.” The kids REALLY seemed to get a kick out of this. Isn’t it funny how kids think it is totally weird/funny/gross when older folks talk about loving each other? Kids in Africa are no exception to this rule. The second devotion focused on God’s strength in the face of temptation, and how “when you are tempted He will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it” (I Corinthians 10:13). We enjoyed sharing some of our life experiences with teens going through the complicated years of adolescence. 

Highlights from the weekend include: 

· A swimming competition where one of our boys forgot he couldn’t swim until he reached the deep end (as further evidence of their impressive confidence despite being orphans!). 
· A talent show that included some of our “farm” boys showing off their dancing skills. 
· Observing how respectful, kind, and helpful the New Life Homes teens are. 
· A “Swazi-style” Fear Factor activity which caused about half the participating kids to vomit. This would not fly in the US! 
· Watching approximately 40 students recommit themselves to living for Jesus. 

Thank you for praying for our time at camp. We still have some follow-up conversations to pursue, and we are still considering strategies for a more structured teen ministry.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Something to Squeal About

The drive out to “the farm” is not for the weak or the weary. After turning off the tar (paved) road, there is a 45-minute jaunt up and down hills and around blind corners that shakes your innards and tests your fortitude. Once you pass through the farm gate, you will be met by a smell that brings you to attention and also provides extraordinary comfort for all those who call the farm their home. It is the smell of pigs. Why are the pigs located at the entrance? According to Peter Kopp, “so people know they have stepped onto a farm.” As if they did not know already. That beautiful stench from the pigs has increased a bit lately and I wanted to give you a sneak peek as to why. 

When we arrived, the farm needed to increase their revenue stream. A natural for me to focus on what I am comfortable with—vegetables. But as you may know, agriculture is about finding and seizing opportunities to fill or create markets. There is a huge market for pork in this country. The supply (quantity and quality) is generally poor and we can easily sell any high quality pork we produce. So we have expanded. A lot. When we arrived there were about 40 pigs on the farm. Today, there are about 120. Though we rear and raise our own, most of these new pigs were purchased from nearby pig farmers at weaner stage (approximately 5 weeks old) and will be grown out until about 20 weeks. We’ve been busy converting some existing chicken houses into pig growing rooms, and have made progress in maintaining pig health and resolving feed issues. For the farm this is a big investment. As you can imagine, as we have been expanding we have also been waiting for the cash flow to begin. It has been a balance of patience and aggressiveness as we work to ensure a more consistent cash flow for the months ahead. While we are not totally in the clear, we are beginning to see the light. The first group of pigs that we purchased after we undertook the expansion will be ready for market next week. Praise God! This has been a team effort—from the local homesteads supplying the weaners, to Mpush, who leads our pig operation, to the kids who work and clean the pig unit—everyone has chipped in. 

We are confident in the direction we are heading but can still use an immense amount of prayer as we continue to move slowly through the development stage. Everyone on the farm is excited at the potential to produce our own value-added meat such as bacon and sausage. Please pray for wisdom in making decisions for this project and for everyone involved—even the pigs! If you were to ask the kids and the moms about the smell on the farm, few would turn away in disgust. A more popular response would be “THAT is the smell of money!”

Making feeders using plastic drums (barrels).