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!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Packing A Fresh Perspective

I’ve noticed that guests have the awesome ability to help us see where we live and what we do with a fresh perspective. Last month, we had a short-term team from University Covenant Church visit us at New Life Homes. They enthusiastically joined us in our life here, from the mundane to the exceptional—and helped us recapture a fresh perspective about ministry in Swaziland. 

Nick Bua, Mandi, Christine and Andres Zarate, Ellie Kammert, Amber McIntyre, Tommy, and Rod Layman

From the get-go they were intent on showering the children with tangible love. They brought soccer cleats, shirts, and gear for all the kids. I think we’ve mentioned that soccer is practically an obsession here. The kids were absolutely delighted.

One of the most exciting projects they organized was the purchase and construction of a new play structure for the children’s homes. We’ve had the same structure for at least ten years, and it was beyond the point of repair. Check out the wonderful gift they left us!

One of our visitors, Andres, was kept very busy with welding projects. He even trained a few of the older children and employees in some basic skills. After working some incredibly long days, it was amazing to see what he was able to accomplish!

The team completed signs that have been on our “to-do” list for over a year. Now, when you drive by New Life Homes, you know exactly what we have for sale. The signs turned out really well, and we’ve already had new customers because of them.

Some of the ladies kept the children busy after school and on the weekend with crafts and dance classes. They learned everything from ballet to hip-hop. I also appreciated help in my classroom, with team members teaching lessons, listening to children read, and marking papers.

We finished their two-week stay here with a weekend trip to Hlane, one of Swaziland’s game reserves. Tommy and I especially enjoyed getting to spend some downtime with them. What a special group of people! They worked selflessly and really encouraged us with their love, support, and heart for missions. 

Did I mention they even brought an entire baby shower with them? We were blown away by the gifts they carried with them, from our family at home and our “extended” family at UCC. We felt really blessed!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Cape Town Getaway

After being in Swaziland for more than two years, we finally made it to one of our bucket-list destinations: Cape Town. Since our holidays typically revolve around picking up agricultural supplies in Johannesburg, we relished the opportunity to relax and explore such a beautiful region. We just wanted to share a few pictures to prove we made time to get away for a few days!

A view from the plane...

Visiting Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years.

Boat ride back to Cape Town from Robben Island, with Table Mountain in the distance.

View from the top of Table Mountain, looking East.

Meeting some penguins along the Cape.

Cape Point

Hiking up to the top of Cape Point, with the Cape of Good Hope in the background.

Kirsetenbosch Gardens

Wine and cheese tasting in the Stellenbosch Winelands. 

Visiting American friends from Swaziland who recently relocated to Stellenbosch. We had a wonderful time visiting them and their sweet kiddos in their new home.

We feel so lucky to live within a short, 2-hour plane ride from Cape Town. There are few cities that stand out as being so culturally interesting (for better or worse), geographically diverse, and absolutely beautiful. The food was exceptional, and we even got to eat at a Mexican restaurant!

Tommy and I both agreed we felt more refreshed and relaxed than we have in a LONG time. 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Value of Quality

Perhaps my most enjoyable weekly indulgence in Swaziland is enjoying an ice-cold glass of Schweppes’ Dry Lemon

The second most anticipated indulgence is reading Farmer’s Weekly. A South African publication, it is an excellent mixture of technical, market, and political information. It even has a few sections that Mandi enjoys, most notably, The Hitching Post personal ads.

I recently read an article that shared tips for investing in business opportunities in Africa. One of the nuggets shared was that people, even if they are living in poverty, value quality. In fact, it gave several examples of companies that have actually increased the quality of their products when entering into lower per-capita economies.

In Swaziland, we have also seen how people value quality. Let me give you three quick examples from the New Life Homes’ Farm. 

Broilers: Typically, in this part of the world a broiler chicken is grown out for 5 weeks (from hatching until harvest). If taken care of properly, that would yield a bird that weighs 1.8kg (about 4lbs). We have realized that people like a bigger bird and we grow ours out to 6 weeks, weighing 2.2kg (4.8lbs). We charge more, create a more comfortable margin, and make customers happy. 

Pigs: We have made every effort to improve genetics over the past two years. We believe that if we can provide high quality pigs consistently to the market, we will never have a difficult time selling the pigs or demanding a higher price. So far, we have found both to be true. Recently, we have begun to artificially inseminate (AI) some of our stock using semen from top producers. We are excited about these opportunities, even if it makes our current boar incredibly frustrated (as he is temporarily unemployed).

Goats: You probably remember us buying a goat about two years ago, although for more of a hobby than a serious enterprise. Since then, we’ve learned that the market is massive and the supply is low and inconsistent. In many rural communities, there is frequent inbreeding within herds and animal health is poorly maintained. To make a long story short, New Life Homes now has 30 goats, half of which are Swazi indigenous goats (hardy with less meat) and half are Boer goats (less hardy, but with lots of meat). People are clamoring to buy our goats, especially the Boer goats, because of the quality. We sell these goats as breeding stock, which helps rural farmers increase their profitability over time. 

We are surrounded by people who live in poverty. Yet they still have eyes that allow them to recognize quality. The future for these enterprises is bright because we maintain a high standard of quality. The margins are good and the people on the farm (moms, kids, workers) are really excited about the direction we are headed. This is a huge win. Please continue to pray for wisdom and guidance as we seek to provide for these precious children.

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Cultural Adventure

Things have been a bit of a whirlwind lately, but having just finished our last school day for a few weeks, I (Mandi) find myself taking refuge from the chilly weather and finding time to finally get an update out.

We took a school trip this week to the Swaziland National Museum, King Sobhuza Memorial Park, and Cuddle Puddle Hot Springs (yes, that's the real name). We had a great time, and here are some pictures to prove it!

During part of the tour, our guide told the kids that Swazis believed in ancestors and pray to them. Lihle asked the guide, "Do you believe in ancestors?" The guide responded that she did, and then posed the same question to Lihle. Lihle responded, "No, I'm a Christian so I pray to Jesus Christ." I was pretty proud of my bold little student!

 The students were able to sit in the late King Sobhuza's classic car.

My growing belly has been a constant source of curiosity and in some cases, concern. Upon donning my "swimming costume" the kids exclaimed, "But you're too fat!" I assured them that my entrance would still leave a *little* bit of water in the pool.

It's been a long week at school, and I had a particularly frustrating encounter with one of our teachers today. Dealing with conflict in an open way is very counter-cultural here. However, I feel like it was resolved and I continue to pray that the teachers we work with would understand we are for them, yet we will still hold them accountable to do excellent work.

Thank you for praying for us. Stress has been higher than normal lately, and we really appreciate your commitment to pray that we would receive the wisdom, patience, grace, and joy we need on a daily basis!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A New Baby

So we have some news. Our goat herd is expanding. We are expecting at least three baby kids in the next week! We are now up to twenty goats. The pigs are doing well. The broccoli and cauliflower is growing. We have almost hit the mid-term break at school and the learning thus far has been very high quality. And in August we are expecting another baby to arrive. Not an animal, but our very own human baby!

To say that we are thrilled is a massive understatement.

We have been meeting with a great doctor in Nelspruit, South Africa and the facilities and the care seem really top-notch. Mandi is doing really, really well. The weather here will start cooling down with the arrival of fall in a few weeks, which will be really nice. We're starting to think about how to decorate the corner of our bedroom and what African name we will give the baby (just kidding!).

To those that are worried about our child being left off the ballet for the 2066 presidential elections, let me remind you that we still fall well within the bounds of the Natural Born Citizen Clause that was put forward by Alexander Hamilton and company. The rest of you know that we actually do not care at all if our future child is president of our country (or their local FFA chapter, for that matter). We just want them to feel loved!

That is all for now. We appreciate your friendship, love, and support.
Oh yeah, and the baby is due on August 31. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Backpack Blessings!

Last week, the children of New Life Homes returned to school after their 7-week summer vacation. As a teacher, the beginning of the school year involves long hours spent at school preparing, but also involves excitement and anticipation. For young students, there’s also a great deal of excitement, which was confirmed by daily visitors peeking through windows to monitor the progress of school preparations.

The children at New Life Homes also had something extra to be excited about this year—new backpacks! While home in the US, University Covenant Church organized a backpack drive and was able to provide each of the 42 children with a new backpack filled with school supplies. 

A few days before school started, we gathered together and gave the children their new bags. They were so excited! Not only were the bags “cool” (boys) and “beautiful” (girls) they were also much better quality than the backpacks we can find here in Swaziland. They marveled at the contents, which were completely above and beyond what they anticipated receiving.

A few days later I was at one of the houses watching a movie with the kids. One of the boys, KK, was sitting on the sofa with his bag in his lap with his arms around it—for the whole movie! What a perfect illustration for what a precious gift these bags were! 

The gift also communicated an even more important truth to the children—you are loved. People around the world, who have never even met you, care for you and love you just because you are a child of God. Now THAT is a generous gift! On behalf of the kids, we share a sincere thank you for this special gift.

Please continue to pray for our school as we proceed as a private organization. The Ministry of Education has been neither cooperative nor communicative. We are praying to keep our government-assigned Siswati teacher for the year. Tommy and Peter are also adjusting to their increased involvement in the classroom. Despite some of the challenges, we feel much affirmation that we are doing the right thing for the long-term sustainability of the school. We do value your prayers in this area!