Prior to leaving for our trip to serve at Project Canaan in Swaziland, I was very anxious. Normally I am a very at ease traveler, but this was much more than that. I was a full blown crazy woman. What was I worried about? I nervous about leaving my kids for 11 days and not having cell phone service to connect with them for a majority of that time. In addition, I was nervous about everything that the country we were going to entailed.
Swaziland is a land where 50-60% of the population suffers from HIV and TB, the highest AIDS rate in the world. The unemployment rate is 82%. The average life expectancy is in the 40’s. Most children drop out of school and begin working full-time before first grade. A “very good” job will pay the equivalent of $100 US a month. And this is a land where vipers, spitting cobras, and black and green mambas are prevalent (and I HATE snakes).
And yet. . . Once we arrived in Johannesburg, I was filled with this amazing sense of excitement and peace. We were traveling with great friends and working with an amazing ministry. I went into this experience with my heart and mind open and willing for God to work in me and outside in the world. What did that mean? Well, first and foremost it meant I had to leave my own expectations about what I wanted this trip to be checked at the door.
When I think of a mission trip, I envisioned being out in the “world”, helping the poor and needy. While we did go out into the Swaziland community on our trip to distribute Feed my Starving Children manna packs, eggs from Project Canaan’s dairy farm, clothes and donated toys and trinkets, a majority of our time was spent on Project Canaan. What did that look like? It was a lot of rocking babies and playing with little ones, painting fences, sorting through donated shoes, clothing and other items, making Christmas cookies, and decorating for the holidays amongst other things. To be completely honest with you, even though I knew I was going to an orphanage, these were not exactly the kind of “life changing experiences” I envisioned necessarily doing on a mission trip.
The Why –
My own selfish desires lasted for probably about two minutes before I honestly felt the Holy Spirit speaking to me. I was on the playground playing with children close to the same age as my own youngest child. One of the kids looked up at me with huge eyes and a smiling face. I looked into those eyes and so clearly heard “This is why you are here”. Let me be clear, these children are LOVED and so well taken care of. Janine and Ian Maxwell love each and every one of these children as if they are their own. But each child is 1 of the currently 143 living there. These kids will never experience the one on one love and experiences that my own children will have. God brought me to Africa to love on these kids like they were my own children. Because – they are his children.
If I had been set on what I wanted my African “experience” to consist of, I would have missed so much. I would have missed:
- the joy on the female employees’ faces when they were each able to pick out a new bra from the donated items we brought with.
- what it was like to provide the children of the women at the Kibbutz with toys that my own children picked out for them.
- the snuggles as five kids battled to sit on mine and my husband’s laps during the Christmas movie night.
Swaziland is a beautiful country, but there are many sad and horrific things going on there. And yet, where we were on Project Canaan – it is a place of hope and goodness for 143 children, 280 workers and the surrounding community. If I had not freely opened myself to God working in me that week, I would have missed God’s presence. I would have missed His voice that I so clearly saw and heard. God was there. God IS there.