Monday, October 13, 2014

Taking the Plunge

Not every day on the mission field is a joyous one. In fact, over the last two years we have faced our share of sorrows. Today, however, was a wonderful reminder that God is moving.

During our weekly chapel time in the children’s homes, we have been learning about things Christians believe. A few weeks ago, our colleague Mary Jean spoke about baptism. She shared with the children the importance of making your commitment to Christ known in a public way, just as Jesus did. Some of the children responded by sharing their desire to be baptized and publicly declare their decision to follow Jesus.

Today we celebrated the baptism of ten children. Ranging in ages from 10 to 17, the children stood before our community and proclaimed their intent to follow Christ. Many of them shared their desire to tell others about His life-transforming power. It was certainly a joyous celebration. 

So, with thankful hearts we were able to watch these children declare their relationship with Christ. It was a wonderful reminder that God is at work in Swaziland. He is being made known, and many of the children at New Life Homes have embraced Him with their whole hearts. 

We celebrated afterwards by eating ice cream, enjoying each other, and encouraging those who were baptized. Please join us in praising His wonderful work. Also, continue to pray for those who took this important step today. We ask God to guide them as they grow into mature believers who transform their communities for Christ.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Guest Blog: Mission Team Visits Swaziland

This guest blog was written by Rick Tucker of University Covenant Church

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22)

My first trip out of the country was an all-expense paid trip to Afghanistan courtesy of taxpayers and the U.S. Army. While I was there, I spent a lot of time reading the Bible and going to study groups led by Army Chaplains. I remember one series very well. We studied the book of James. The chaplain started the series off by explaining to us soldiers that he saw the book of James as "the gospel in boot leather." That made sense to us. We all knew a lot of politicians and pundits who talked about supporting troops and saving the Afghan people from oppression by the Taliban but we were the ones there, "in our boot leather", taking risks and trying to make it happen. 

A couple months ago I was able to experience the "gospel in boot leather” when my short term mission team was hosted by Tommy and Mandi Bottoms at New Life Homes (NLH) in Swaziland. 

Tommy, Mandi, and guest blogger, Rick Tucker.

 The book of James can be controversial because it spends so much time talking about deeds rather than simply relying on the faith that Paul described in Romans. But, when we visited Tommy and Mandi, I came to a richer understanding of what James described. James wrote, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in the their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27) While visiting NLH, I felt as if I had walked into the manifestation of James 1:27. 

Evaluating goats for parasites.

Installing a new mini-greenhouse in the nursery.

If you're reading this, you probably already know about NLH so I'm not going to describe it to you here except to say that it is A LOT more than what you imagine it to be. The NLH staff have a tremendous responsibility. It caused stress for me to just contemplate it, and they do it every day – it’s their life. They are running a commercial farm, a primary school, a children's home, a ministry and a variety of other things all at once. Any of those things is a challenge but they do them all. 

Teaching at the on-site primary school. 

The kids at NLH are a blessing. Each has special gifts from God that we were able to unwrap a little and see during our visit. I thank God that Tommy, Mandi, Peter and Mary Jean Kopp and Tiersa Chaffin have sacrificed the comforts of home in the U.S. to minister to these children in rural Africa. Hearing the children's stories broke my heart and I can't imagine what could have happened to them without NLH. Their gentle spirits touched my heart in a way I did not expect and as I sit with my four children, at home, I thank God for creating and calling such dedicated people to care for 42 children at NLH.

Spending quality time with kids.

It's not just the children that depend on NLH. People from throughout the community have jobs and training because of the opportunities provided by the farm. I met people who had previously worked on the farm and now ran their own farms where they successfully support their families. People ranging from community members to government officials could not stop heaping praise on NLH. Nobody could do all that they do without relying on God and receiving His blessing and they do it with grace and humility. What they do at NLH, their "deeds", demonstrates a deep faith in God. It encouraged my faith to see their actions and still motivates me when I reflect on it.

The short term team, long term team, children, and house mothers.

Please keep all the NLH missionaries in your prayers. They need it. God called them to a big job that makes a huge difference and they have willingly answered that call. Please pray for God's daily guidance of the farm so that they can continue to support the children. Please pray for the generosity, of people who hear about NLH, to support the financial needs that are not being met by the farm's output. Most of all, pray for the people of NLH, the missionaries, the children and the employees to feel God's love and encouragement as they go through their daily lives, that seem routine to them but are so extraordinary to me. My visit to NLH was a life changing and faith growing experience. I pray to someday have the kind of faith that produces such sweet fruit (and vegetables... and honey... and eggs... and poultry... and pork... and beef) as I saw during my short visit. 

Thank you NLH for answering God's call. You are special people. 

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Friday, August 22, 2014

Together Again

Isn’t it wonderful to be reunited with someone you love? This past month, a brother, sister, and niece were reunited at New Life Homes.

Seven years ago, due to some unfortunate circumstances, a brother and sister were placed in separate orphan care homes. The brother, Musa, arrived at New Life Homes. The sister, Nsike (n-see-ge) was placed at a home for girls. They rarely had contact and were unable to visit one another.

Last month, Nsike visited Musa at New Life Homes for the weekend. During her visit it was quickly realized Nsike, was in a fairly desperate situation. Several unexpected events left her living alone and caring for her 7 year-old niece Nonhle (pronounced known-hle). She was maintaining the homestead, fetching firewood and water nightly, all while achieving very high grades in her high school classes. It was an easy decision to invite Nsike and Nonhle to stay at New Life Homes permanently.

It has been nothing short of awesome to watch them reunite with Musa and watch their relationship flourish. As part of a proper introduction to you, I feel like I should tell you more about them.

Nsike (far right) hanging out with some of the girls during a weekend retreat.

Nsike is a graceful, funny, intelligent, contemplative, and joyful young lady who is currently in Form 4 (a junior in HS). She has jumped into taking care of the broiler chickens on the farm and has formed a reputation of staying up late studying and helping others study too. She has an awesome singing voice, and we’ve enjoyed the vibrancy she’s brought to our Teens for Christ ministry.

Nonhle is a cute, happy-go-lucky little girl. She is very willing to give hugs, hold hands, and loves all positive attention. She has started preschool and is already improving her English. She has bonded quickly with her new mom, brothers, and sisters. Her sweet, yet clever nature will no doubt warm our hearts and keep us on our toes for years to come.

We praise God for bringing these two to New Life Homes. We ask that you pray for the children, their house mother, Make (ma-gay) Shongwe, and for their futures. We are excited to see how God will continue to work in and through these two young ladies

Friday, July 4, 2014

Family Time

I (Mandi) just wanted to share a brief update about the seventeen days (yes, I counted every one) I spent stateside last month. It was a very special time. 

I arrived two days after the birth of my new niece, Cora Louem Quinn.

I spent most of my time at my sister's house in the Bay Area, getting properly introduced to Cardon (14 months) and Cora (newborn). My vacation included lots of dirty diapers and cleaning spit up from clothing, carpets, and couches. I loved every minute of it! I am completely enthralled by these little ones.

My brother and parents also came down for weekend visits.

I enjoyed four days in Escalon with Tommy's family. I stayed with his parents, Dick and Ellen, and also spent time with his brother's family and our niece (Ashley) and nephews (Jack and Charlie). It was so special to reconnect with them!

I relished some of life's simple pleasures like Target, burritos, pool parties, and ice cream.
I left feeling so thankful for the blessing of family. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Another Theft

One visitor who came on a short term trip to Swaziland commented that “things are always happening in Swaziland.” We can comfortably say that his observation is true.

On Tuesday night I was robbed at gunpoint. I was on my way to pick up Mandi and three visitors from the airport in Johannesburg when I was a part of a well-planned car accident. The accident happened in Swaziland, a few miles from the South African border. When I stopped to exchange details, the two men held me at gun point, threatened me, and stole everything—truck keys, passport, money, wallet, phone, and all forms of identification. Once they left, I ran to the guard shack of a royal residence close by and the guard at the gate pulled a gun on me too! Thankfully, the guy believed my story and offered to help. I used the guard’s phone to call the only number I could remember—one of the New Life housemothers. Peter and Mary Jean Kopp (our trusted colleagues) left immediately to meet me. They arrived about two hours after the incident and the police still hadn’t arrived after multiple calls from the guards and the Kopps. The police finally arrived, but were soon called away to a similar incident involving the same suspects up the road.

Obviously, this was a scary and frustrating event. We know that we are called to serve God and we also know that he does not guarantee our physical safety when serving Him. That being said, events like this wear on the heart and mind and we are asking for prayers of comfort and strength. We all realize there is much to be thankful for—I was not physically hurt, they didn’t steal our vehicle, and the location was close to help. I was thankful Mandi was not with me. Two of the soldiers from the royal residence stood at the scene with me in the cold for nearly three hours, assuring me they would not leave me until someone came. We are so grateful to those two kind men. 

Of course, I couldn’t continue to Johannesburg without a passport. The Kopps and I came back to the farm late that night and Peter and I got up at 4 AM to head back to town. Peter used the spare keys to take the vehicle from the police station to Johannesburg to fetch Mandi and company. I worked with the police for about three hours and then began to sort out passport issues, banking details, and phone replacements. Needless to say, it was a huge relief to see my wife! 

Please continue to pray. This is both disheartening to us and has caused a significant amount of trauma. Please pray for everyone on the farm. Some of our Swazi friends have experienced trauma associated with violence, and this act has stirred many emotions. 

Please pray for justice. 

Please pray for me. My mind has been racing since this happened with regrets, fears, and frustrations.

Please pray that the details regarding the forms of identification and money will work themselves out.

Please pray that our hearts and minds are not hardened and that we can still be ready and willing to accomplish what God has planned here in Swaziland.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Recently we have been considering what God has planned for our “next step” in life. Although some days we desire to board a plane (or helicopter, or boat, or just about anything!) and go home, we also face a deeper knowledge that our time here is not finished. We feel especially compelled to stay and invest more in the youth ministry. Strategically speaking, the school and farm development projects are not at a place where they are ready to run independently. There are still many ideas to share and relationships to development. There is much training to be done!

 We will continue to serve in Swaziland through 2015. We will return home for several weeks towards the end of 2014, and look forward to visiting with family and friends. We can’t wait to reconnect with you in person! I (Mandi) will be travelling back to California in just over a week to be with my sister as she gives birth to a baby girl, and am looking forward to meeting my newest nephew (her firstborn) for the first time as well. I will head back to Swaziland after spending two short weeks with family.

We can’t say it enough—we are SO grateful for your support and care. In some of our lowest moments we have received encouragement and prayer that has reassured us of our calling here.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Keeping Young Minds Busy

Our greatest goal is to see the children at New Life Children’s Homes come to know and love Jesus Christ personally.

Secondly, we desire to prepare the children here for a brighter future. We place a huge emphasis on education, which extends from New Life Primary School to individual tutoring sessions, a robust library, and learning practical skills on the farm. We are in the middle of a countrywide 3-week long school break. We know from experience that kids tend to get into more trouble when they are less busy, so we try to provide ample opportunities for the kids to stay busy. This week, we hosted a daily science camp.

The goal of the camp was to enrich their school-based science experiences with hands-on experimental learning. All the New Life Homes missionaries pitched in to teach students about simple machines and weather. Mandi organized the daily activities and curriculum, while Tommy taught sessions on agricultural machinery and the water cycle (one of his favorite topics). We had 22 children attend each day, including a few from the community. 


The kids provided some feedback at the end of the workshops.
“Was it too long?”
“Was it fun?”
Several students made specific comments, but I think 12-year old Mnelisi said it perfectly:
“We kept our minds busy all week!”

Friday, April 18, 2014

Turning to Teens

Winter retreats, spring mission trips, corn-eating contests, small group hang out sessions, and lots and lots of dodge ball consumed a significant amount of our lives while we were working with high school students in Davis. We loved the kids, the leaders, and the activities. We were often as tired as basset hounds at the end of each program. It was (and still is) easy to see how the shaping of one’s Christian faith is critically important during those adolescent years.

While taking a short reprieve in South Africa a few weeks ago, we began to evaluate our ministry here and we noticed a need for people to pour into the high school-aged students, both on the farm and in the community. It may be interesting to note that the biblical knowledge of these kids (even those who are not Christians) is better than the average Christian in America. That being said, their faith may be shallow and riddled with confusing legalistic ideas and infusions from other spiritualistic beliefs. We thought, why not start a youth ministry that meets teens at different stages of faith to share a Christian message that is easy to understand?

These teens play a highly-competitive game of musical chairs.
Recently, Mandi and I, and our colleague, Tiersa, launched Teens For Christ. We had more than 25 high school-aged students come to the first meeting and an equally impressive crowd at the second meeting. It was awesome to see teenagers engage with faith questions and discussions in a way that is both different and inviting. We played games, I gave share a message about Jesus, had some small group discussions, and enjoyed popcorn afterwards.

Teaching about sin.
Lots of laughs, good questions and comments, and a plethora of high fives filled the preschool classroom where it is being held. This accomplishes many objectives of our ministry. It reaches out the community, we get to know the “farm” kids’ friends (like any good parent would want to!) and we form relationships with kids who are in desperate need for attention and affirmation. 

We are currently having Teens for Christ once a month and are looking in the possibility of expanding it to every two weeks. Please pray for this undertaking. Pray especially for relationships to be formed that will allow us to share our faith in a real way. Pray that we would be able to communicate clearly with the teens, and that they would be receptive to what we share. Most of all, pray that kids would come to know Jesus Christ in a personal way.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

When Two Ministries Collide

New Life Children’s Homes is a complex, multifaceted operation that is difficult to explain to people – even if they have spent years prancing around this place. There are many aspects of our work here including caring for orphaned and vulnerable kids, operating a school, running a farm that provides food and income to the kids, employing house mothers whose job is to oversee the “farm,” as well as employing nearly 20 other folks from the community to make everything work. It is a place for training others (from kids to leaders in our country), as well as a place where people do business. It is a busy and sometimes crazy place. This makes it attractive to others – from Swazis who want to see a place that a bunch of crazy Americans are helping run to foreigners who want to meet and support the kids and missionaries. We get quite a few visitors who all have their own angle of interest.

This past week, we hosted the Minister of Agriculture for Swaziland (akin to the Secretary of Ag for the U.S., who is currently Tom Vilsack). Along with Minister Vilakati about 25 other government leaders descended on the farm for a tour of the many agricultural operations. Peter (NLCH founder and director), myself, and Mthi (our farm foreman) each talked about different facets of the farm. Below are some pictures of our time with the minister.

More than anything, this brings an immense amount of pride to each of our farm workers and our kids. They see that important people are visiting because of their effort. It is fun to be a part of a team that works hard to serve our kids and community while producing high-quality products. 

The craziest part of the meeting? As we wrapped up, Minister Vilakati asked where we were from in the U.S. After I told he that I came from California, he mentioned that he was familiar with the state from his college years. He said that he attended school in San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly! After we gave each other half-hugs realizing we were both Mustang alum, he then mentioned he received his masters at UC Davis. Whoa! I did my graduate work in Davis. Though we did not proceed to a full hug, there was a pleasant appreciation for each other’s paths that brought us both to a small farm in Swaziland. What an interesting connection!

Below is a picture of the great team that we have assembled on the farm (from L to R), Harriet Makhubu (leads the chickens and the nursery), Raymond Dlamini (our sales and marketing director), Sipiwe Shongwe (house mother), Winnie Johnston (house mother), Mthi Nhleko (farm foreman), Peter Kopp (founder and director), Winile Khumalo (house mother), Happy Msibi (house mother) and, well, me.

Thank you for your continued prayers and support for this project.