Monday, December 9, 2013

Feel Free to Wish me "Happy Holidays!"

Every year at Christmastime I hear so many comments from people lamenting that they were greeted with "Happy Holidays" in stores.  I hear complaints from Christians when they aren't allowed to dominate December with "Merry Christmas." Because, after all, Jesus is the reason for the season, right?

I fear we are missing the mark.

Jesus should be front and center in my life in December. And every other month for that matter. But the way I see some Christians forcing the issue isn't the best way to keep the Christ in Christmas.

Jesus never told us to bully our way into culture. He never told us to boycott stores because they don't say Merry Christmas. He never said that our preference should be #1. In fact, the Bible says that we will be persecuted for having followed Him, that we should take the position of the servant, not the king.

He told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He said to be humble, be meek, be kind. He told us to make disciples (not converts!) and to live in a way that showed his love to others. He said "They will know you by your love" (John 13:35). That's how we are supposed to make a name for ourselves.

I have to be honest. I have never heard of someone falling in love with Jesus because a store told them "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays." And I've never heard of someone deciding they wanted to be a Jesus follower after watching Christians demand that Christmas be front and center in our culture or complain when it isn't. When Christians consider only our own feelings and our own desire that December be about Christmas, we accidentally railroad over others, sending the message that our preference is more important than theirs. Or worse, that our preference is more important than they are.

I don't know about y'all, but I only have so much energy to use every day. I get tired (it's those dang kids!). And I'd rather use my energy telling the story of Jesus in ways that show others that they matter to him. I need it to love my neighbors and my friends, those who love Jesus and those who don't.  I'd rather use that precious energy serving others. Those are the things that help people get to know and fall in love with Jesus.

Christians, we have the honor of telling the story of Jesus' birth. We can (and should) tell it with words. We can tell our friends and loved ones about how the birth of a baby changed our entire lives. Why do we want stores to tell the story for us? I'm pretty sure I don't want Target to be in charge of telling the story of Jesus. That's my job. And I need to do it with my life. All year long.

So here's how we can keep Jesus front and center this Christmas:

Honor our friends and neighbors. Honor those who love Jesus and those who don't. Invite them to dinner or to drive around with you to look at Christmas lights. Invite them into your life so you can love them. Have a neighborhood cookie swap. Be involved in the lives of others. There's no other way to love them. Be a blessing to all who encounter you. Someone else's day should be just a tiny bit better for having their life intersect with yours. Especially during the craziness of the holidays.
Give gifts to Jesus for Christmas.  Spend less on all that stuff you normally buy.  Then take the money you have saved and use it in ways that honor Jesus: donations to organizations that save lives, buy warm gloves and hats and give them to the homeless, sponsor a well in a country that doesn't have clean water, bring a Peppermint Mocha to the man panhandling on the street or to your neighbor who doesn't get out much. We are buying less for our kids this year and giving them each $10 and a card describing various ministries that bring life and love to others all around the world. They each get to pick how they want to donate their gift. It's a great way to teach our kids how to give gifts to Jesus.
Tell the story: tell people why this is such a meaningful time of year for you. "Merry Christmas" doesn't really encompass all of that. Jesus' birth is supposed to be good news for everyone, not a slogan we champion. Don't rely on stores to tell the story for us!
Live the story: Actions speak louder than words. I'd rather that people see me serving and loving others than to hear me talking about the importance of stores saying "Merry Christmas." I can live out the story of Jesus much better than I can tell it.

So... Happy Holidays to all of you! And Merry Christmas! May this season bring you closer to the God of Peace.

PS. Just in case you think you might be being persecuted by not being told "Merry Christmas" at the stores this year, I found this helpful flow chart. ;)
from Rachel Held Evans.  Love her!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Help Me Get Rid of My Husband SALE!

Just a few more weeks left to order and help me send my husband AWAY (to Swaziland to work with widows, orphans, and their communities!)

Last week's sale on bag tags is now closed (you can still order them, but the price is back to $6).

This week?

These make awesome teacher gifts! 
100% customized. Price includes up to 3 colors, a symbol and a name.
Just let me know what you'd like on there and I'll figure out how make it happen.

For a military wife whose husband flies helicopters!

Northwest High School Volleyball Team!

Patriots (or Greensboro Academy!)

Caldwell Academy!
I'll stop taking orders at this price on Saturday, November 30th. And then I think I'll just have time for one more sale week before orders close up for good (till next year!)  Order by emailing me at yklj AT triad DOT rr DOT com. :)

Or check out the rest of "The Store"  There's a new listing... super-cute coffee mugs!
And thank you for helping me send my husband away!!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Help me Send my Husband AWAY!

Every year, I do a big fundraiser right around the holidays.  I think this is year #4 for me.  I love to be crafty and usually I prefer to make things as gifts for folks. But when I have a good reason, I'm happy to sell my creations. This year's reason: Getting rid of my husband.

Not permanently.

He's headed back to Swaziland this summer and all proceeds from my fundraiser this year go towards his trip.

And this year, I've decided to put one item "on sale" each week.  Now through Saturday, my bag tag/keychains are on sale for $5.  Stay tuned on Sunday for the next sale! Check out "the store" for more stuff:

The Bag Tags are clear acrylic circles.  But I can put a color behind it if you'd like! Customized with an image and a name. Shoot me an email at yklj AT triad DOT rr DOT com to order. I charge actual shipping if you aren't local.

I made this one for my mama!

These can be used as Gift Tags. This year, my kids are going to leave them out for Santa to use
and he can use them for their gifts every year.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Random Acts of Kindness!

Every year I try to get away with having a birthday and not having anyone find out about it. I'm not averse to birthdays, but I REALLY don't handle attention very well, so I just try to get through the day under the radar.

Unfortunately for me, I have the sweetest friends and someone usually rats me out on Facebook and then my secret's out and I end up with a lovely FB page full of sweet birthday wishes. Which is really nice. I'm not complaining.

But this year, in honor of my birthday, my daughter, my dad, and I went out to commit 35 Random Acts of Kindness (ahem... for my 29th birthday). It was SO much fun! Here are a few of my favorites:

$1 left in the dollar section of Target.
My daughter thought it was really cool to place them on things SHE would have bought.

This was my most favorite one. A sign on the dressing room mirror that says "You look amazing!"

Money at the redbox. Even better since that particular redbox was out of order today; at least the person would have an extra dollar even if they couldn't rent a movie at that redbox!

I didn't get pictures of everything we did, but we also went to the photo lab at a drug store and paid for someone's photo order (anonymously, of course). The guy behind the counter was really nice and gave me the idea to hit the pharmacy too! So we bought a gift card and attached it to my "Random Act of Kindness" card and we left it with the pharmacist to use on the next customer! We also dropped donuts off at the fire station to thank the firefighters for working on Veterans Day.  I still have a few more on my list to do before I get to the full 35. (update: done!)

I struggled with whether I wanted to share this idea - I didn't want to cheapen my Random Acts of Kindness Day by blasting out to the internet that we did them. But honestly, we had SO much fun with this that I felt like I had to pass the idea along. I couldn't stop smiling and the store employees that I let in on the secret were smiling too.  It was all-around great! I stole the idea from a dear friend who did it when she turned 35 (thank you for being an inspiration, Leah!). Even if not for a birthday, I really recommend a "Random Acts of Kindness Day." We will be doing another one sometime soon. I'm thinking we might do just a few on everyone's birthdays every year!

AND... if you want to do your own - here is a printable version of the cute cards I made to leave with each of my "acts of kindness!"  Maybe I'll consider that act #36 ;)

I uploaded it as a pdf and you should be able to download it here!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Advent Conspiracy and where to shop for Christmas!

Here we go! Halloween has come and gone and though I know Thanksgiving is next, most of us have set our sights firmly on Christmas.

Actually, I love Thanksgiving - we spend it with my husband's side of the family. My in-laws have 7 grandchildren (ages 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 4, and 3! My sister-in-law and I have graciously taken turns each year adding kiddos to the fam) and we have a blast!

So I'm not trying to make Christmas come too early. I'm just really excited about what our church is doing for Christmas this year and I know y'all have already started shopping. Or at least thinking about it.

Missio dei:gso will be taking part in the Advent Conspiracy this year. We have known about this for many years and have done our own version just with our family.  We are beyond excited to be part of a church community that wants to focus on this together!  Want to know what it is? Watch this (it's quick and worth it, I promise)


So... in the spirit of not-spending as much and giving meaningful gifts, I thought I'd highlight some of my current favs!  And (shameless self-promotion), I will be doing a Christmas fundraiser to help send Rob to Africa this year too!  More on that in a few weeks.  For now, check out some WONDERFUL ideas for a more meaningful gift-giving:

Connected in Hope
If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know about the Women of Mt Entoto (if not, click here!). It's the worst of jobs: barefoot women (and young girls) carrying back-breaking loads of firewood down the mountain. For about $2 a day. Having to leave their children unprotected at the top of the mountain, being abused by police, shunned by society.  Connected in Hope empowers women in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to weave scarves for a good wage, so that they can feed their families, pay for medication, educate their children. Give the gift of a beautiful scarf that helped a woman regain her life.

Read about Anna Malika's story - it is beautiful.
Women and children all over the world are being trafficked for the sex trade. It's not a pleasant subject, but it is happening.  Elegantees works to rescue women in Nepal who have been trafficked, teaches them to sew and sells the clothing so that the women can earn a sustainable wage.  The founding director has never taken a salary and their prices are very very reasonable!

Noonday Collection
Noonday has beautiful jewelry and accessories, made by artisans all around the world for fair-wages AND they give a percentage of their proceeds to adopting families as grants to help them cover their adoption costs. Need I say more? Love them.

Heart for Swaziland
A friend of mine is heading to Swaziland to volunteer with Heart for Africa next summer and she is selling the CUTEST necklaces to help her fund her trip! Check these out:
She has so many different styles. This one's my favorite.

Want to buy local AND recycled? Check out Greensboro's own Basslets!  My friend Dunia grew up with the sounds of guitar around her for her whole life and was certain there was a better option than tossing those old guitar strings in the trash. I love her solution: Jewelry made from recycled guitar strings! I have a set of the bracelets and I really love them! I think I've been wearing them almost every day for the past week.

Happy Shopping!

Monday, October 14, 2013

a better BOO!

Confession: I have been known to buy the big bag of Halloween candy as soon as it shows up in the grocery store and hide it from my family. I pretended that I was hiding it for Halloween... but then I'd sneak a piece every once in a while a few times a day and long before Halloween arrived, I'd have to buy another bag.

And, of course, I had to buy the "good candy." None of that cheapo chocolate for us. I insisted upon buying the bag that had Twix, Kit Kats, and Reece cups. Oh and then the other bag because it has Almond Joys in it.  Because, you know, I really care about the children in my neighborhood and I wanted to be remembered as a house that had good candy.

And then a few years ago, I was shocked to learn that the vast majority of American chocolate was farmed by children.  In slavery or close-to-slavery conditions. I thought to myself, "The companies must not know!"

I'm naive sometimes.

Turns out, the major chocolate companies here in America are fully aware that the farms where they buy their cocoa use child slave labor. They were told back in 2001. And they've done very little about it, other than to rally together to prevent legislation that would have required a label to tell consumers which chocolate was produced without slave labor (you can read more about this here - I blogged in more detail last Christmas). A few, including Nestle and Mars, signed something saying they'll work towards total eradication of child slave labor by 2008. That was five years ago and it's still happening. I think Mars at least has signed a new one with the new goal of 2020.

Photo from The Dark Side of Chocolate

Our children's Halloween chocolate comes at the expense of another child.  This is happening y'all. 

This is happening so that we can dress our kids up in fun costumes and eat yummy chocolate.

This is happening because we just really love Kit Kats (and I really do love them - I get it.)

This is happening because our chocolate companies are continuing to use forced child labor.

It's happening because we are letting it happen.

I want to blame the chocolate companies. Okay, I do blame the chocolate companies. But you know what? They sell chocolate because someone is buying chocolate.  If we refused to buy it, the companies would be in a pickle, wouldn't they? 

What if we supported fair-trade companies? What if this year for Halloween, we gave out responsibly-sourced chocolates? I don't know about you, but I would feel a million times better about Halloween candy if  I knew some families were choosing not to give out chocolate that was produced by child slave-labor. As much as I love chocolate, it just no longer tastes good to me when I know that children the same age as my kids had to farm it in terrible conditions. That takes the sweet right out of my beloved Almond Joy.

And I've told my kids. Not all the gory details, but I want them to know. Riley loves Twix (since we only buy fair-trade, he just got his first one at school this year!). I don't blame him. But when I told him about how Twix are made, he was pretty upset.  And he and I have searched the internet to find our own Twix recipe so we can make our own using fair-trade chocolate. He's happy we can do something to rectify the situation (and still have our sweet treat, of course).

Want to join us and do something about it this Halloween? Oh, good - I knew you would! :)

You can get 150 fair-trade mini chocolates from Equal Exchange. They are on sale right now for $24.99.  Add a candy bar for yourself to your cart to make your total more than $25 and you can use this coupon code to get free shipping AND 10% off: friendofee.  Is this more than I usually spend on Halloween candy? Yes. But you know what, we will still be able to put dinner on the table tonight.

Milk Chocolate with a hint of hazelnut: 

Dark Chocolate:

Or just swing by your local EarthFare or Whole Foods and see what they have in their candy aisles. You'll find some fair-trade chocolates to hand out on Halloween, I promise.

Want more resources? Check these out:

Watch The Dark Side of Chocolate.  This is a documentary about where our chocolate comes from. I'm fairly certain you can find the actual documentary on youtube.

Check out Rage Against the Minivan's blog post about ways to handle an ethical Halloween. She has really great, practical ideas plus a link to another post she did detailing more about the chocolate situation:

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I still hate beauty pageants, but....

Normally, I truly don't care who wins Miss America.  I'm not a fan of beauty pageants. You can tell me that the pageants are about the "whole woman" and that intelligence and humanitarian service weigh heavily in the decision-making process. I'll believe you when the contestants no longer have to parade in front of the judges in bikinis and heels. I still think the whole thing isn't helping our culture's assault on women's self-esteem. But that's not why I'm writing.

And if the winner had been white, I probably wouldn't even know who won. I definitely didn't even know the pageant was happening. But our new Miss America isn't white. She's of Indian descent. From New York.

And she's American.

Frankly, I am embarrassed that enough people wrote racist and offensive tweets and Facebook posts that there have been several news articles about it. And my heart hurts extra for my Indian friends. 

If you believe racism no longer exists in our culture or think "we've moved beyond that." I'm sorry, but you are quite mistaken.  The reaction from her fellow Americans to this beautiful young woman's win breaks my heart. And I'm proud to hear that she isn't even going to acknowledge the comments. She's taking the high road, stating "I have to rise above that."

And while I'm glad she's not going to stoop to the level of those who attack her, I do hope the rest of us will do more than just sit idly by.  Racism exists. We have a long way to go.  And it doesn't only exist because racist people are still alive. It continues when those of us who aren't racist don't speak up. It exists when it is allowed to exist.

This should be a wake-up call for all of us. When we hear racist comments, we need to address them. Staying quiet does nothing.  I'm not calling for fights or arguments. There are plenty of ways to very appropriately let someone know that what they've just said is offensive to me.  A simple "hey, that's not cool"  or "I don't really find that funny" can go a long way instead of sitting quietly when someone says something ridiculous. Some folks honestly don't realize what they've just said and mirroring back their statement can really help. I've asked people, "Do you really believe that?" and had them say, "You know what? No, I don't." And my hope is they've left the conversation with a deeper understanding of how they are coming across.

My favorite response to people who start a sentence with "I'm not racist but..." is to respond with, "I hear you saying you aren't racist, but I'm also hearing you make a racist comment." And then allow the silence that comes after that. (Allowing the silence. That's a little therapy trick... free of charge. You're welcome.)

I want my children to grow up in a world that is better than the one in which I grew up. I want my kids to see their parents actively loving others, fighting oppression, choosing justice.  Even in the small things.

So while I never planned to talk to my kids about the Miss America pageant (especially not my daughter), I now have a wonderful opportunity to talk to them about what it means to be American and what Americans look like. And about what they can say or do if someone ever tells them otherwise.

So thank you, ignorant people who tweeted about the Miss America pageant, for the opportunity to teach my kids how to deal with people like you. And maybe, just maybe, someone will listen and reconsider. And the world my grandchildren will grow up in will be just a little bit more like heaven.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Why I cried on the first day of Preschool

Our youngest, Amani, is three years old. Two years ago yesterday, I carried him out of an orphanage in Ethiopia to live with me in Addis Ababa until we could get his visa to enter the US.

Playing on the floor of our guest house in Addis!
Looking back, I can see his anxiety over me standing up to take the picture.

Two years ago, I had an incredibly scared, confused little boy. He would only let me put him down for a few minutes at a time, crying if I moved an inch, insisting to be picked back up if I so much as shifted my weight. I held him most of the day. He'd cry if I sat down. So I held him standing up. We were both exhausted. Him from fear and anxiety, me from... well, from standing up holding a crying baby all day long.

Two years ago, I didn't know how to comfort my scared, confused little boy. I didn't speak the language he could understand, I didn't know the songs to soothe him or how he liked to be held.

Two years ago, my scared confused little boy was so sick. I didn't know he'd end up in surgery only a week after we came home.

Two years ago, his chronic ear infections and pneumonia were threatening his hearing and his breathing.


Two weeks ago, he started preschool two mornings a week.

Two weeks ago, his school paperwork indicated a very normal, healthy boy. (um, well they would have... I still need to turn those in... doh!)

Two weeks ago, he requested a red polo shirt and navy shorts so he could dress like his big brother for his first day of school. (He has since requested that exact same outfit every day of school.)

Two weeks ago, he held my hand as he giddily skipped up the walkway to his school.

Two weeks ago, I had to catch up with him at his classroom door to remind him to hang up his backpack before he could go running into the room.

Two weeks ago, my confident, happy child gave me a giant hug and said, "Bye Mommy!"

And I wept.

Not because I'm sad that my baby is growing up. Because I know how far he has come. Because I know what his life would look like had he never been adopted. I was overcome with joy over the blessing that is my third child.

I am always honest when people ask about adoption: it is the hardest thing I've ever done. The first year home was nothing short of insane. I don't think I breathed until year two.

When you have normal, healthy kids, you don't always realize what a gift that is.  When you have a child from "a hard place": one who has had to survive, to struggle, to be strong and then you get a glimpse of normal, it is such a blessing.  His first day of preschool felt like my crowning glory.

I praise God for my giggly, happy, healthy, nothing-short-of-amazing third child. I praise God for normal. It is truly an unbelievable gift.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Noonday Giveaway!

We have a WINNER!

Big huge congratulations to Heather Kostecki! Heather, send me a message on FB (or comment again on the blog) to confirm your email address so Rebecca can send you your voucher!

Thanks so much everyone for being part of the giveaway! This was really fun! And if you didn't win, go back to Rebecca's site and buy yourself something pretty to console yourself. I promise this is the kind of splurge you won't regret later. :)

Over the past several years, we have been really paying attention to how we spend our money. I don't mean that we are always searching for the best deal, although I do try to save money when I can. I mean we are watching what our money does after it leaves our hands. Are the foods and clothing we buy results of child or slave labor?  Are employees and workers treated fairly? Is there evidence that a company values money over people? Have I contributed to injustice or oppression in making my purchase? I want to be aware of what my money does when I spend it.

Generally, there is a higher cost to great deals.  That cheap article of clothing is cheap for a reason.  There is a low-cost retail chain with a tagline of "Life is Better" (or something like that) and it makes me want to cry. Sure, it might be better FOR ME to pay less, but what about the assembly line worker who can't afford to feed his/her children or the child who is forced to work and unable to attend school because it's the only way to feed the family? A lower price doesn't necessarily make life better for everyone.

That is why we only buy fair-trade chocolate and drink fair-trade coffee. It's why I spend more on clothing now and look for fair-trade items. And I know there are lots of ways we fail in this area. I wish we could do more but for now we do the best we can.  I was so excited when I discovered Elegantees! It's really affordable, very cute shirts and dresses sewn by women who have been rescued out of the sex trade. Their staff is all volunteer so all proceeds go directly to the women they are serving. Love them!

I have this shirt but sewed up the sleeves.
It's my favorite!

Let me be honest. I'm no fashion guru.  Until last year I mostly wore jeans and t-shirts and I've just recently started really wearing jewelry. During our adoption process, I wore the same necklace every single day. Rob bought it for me in Swaziland just before we started our adoption and I plan to give the necklace to Amani's wife on their wedding day. He grabbed it the day I brought him out of the orphanage and he broke the chain - perfect timing! And after he came home, I wore a cross from Gondar every day. I've just started changing my jewelry every day!

And then my friend Rebecca (who also introduced me to Elegantees) started talking about the Noonday Collection. I was excited to find a cool place to buy fair-trade jewelry and accessories. And I'm thrilled that I have two Noonday pieces: a bracelet from India and a necklace from Ethiopia.

Here's how Noonday works: they partner with artisans in 3rd world countries, enabling them to sell their wares in a much larger market and at prices that allow them to feed their families. When you buy a Noonday piece, you also get the story behind it. My necklace is from the Mt Entoto region of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia (I blogged about the firewood carriers here).  The women who made my necklace are HIV positive and selling their jewelry enables them to afford their medication. You know, so they can stay alive. That's exactly what I want my money to do when it leaves my hands! And on top of that, my necklace is made of reclaimed artillery shells from past wars. It is fair trade and recycled, y'all! Can you hear my heart singing?

I rock it with my red TOMS... 'cause I'm cool like that.

So I thought Noonday was pretty cool. Then I started talking to Rebecca about doing this blog post and did a little research. Not only does Noonday invest in our brothers and sisters around the world to assist them in earning sustainable wages, but they donate 10% of their profits to adopting families!!! That means they are both helping families keep and raise their children as well as helping children who desperately need parents find their way home. I don't know how it can get any better than that.

Oh wait - I know how! How about a $25 gift voucher to Noonday so you can be a part of empowering others too? That's right! Rebecca has graciously offered me a $25 gift voucher to give away (she is that awesome, y'all!) on my blog! And the fall line comes out today! Lucky us!

So here's what to do: Go to Rebecca's Noonday page, scope it out, and decide what you would spend your gift voucher on if you won. Comment here and tell me what you picked. I'll pick a random winner on Wednesday, September 4st. Don't forget to leave me your email address; Rebecca will email the voucher directly to the winner! 

Want an extra entry? Share this post (on FB, Twitter, whatever) and comment (again) telling me you did!

Me? I'm saving my pennies for my next Noonday purchase!

Embellished Belt
oh love

And I am just a teeny tiny bit obsessed with these.
Made in Ethiopia of course.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Why Heart for Africa?

Let me be honest. If you want to do some international humanitarian aid, there are LOTS of ways to do it.  Many trips are cheaper and the travel time is considerably less.  To get to Swaziland, I left my house at noon (EST) on Saturday. 44 hours later, I arrived at our hotel in Swaziland - about 8 am on Monday (EST - it was around 2 pm local time). We had time for orientation and then went to bed. The next morning we were finally ready to get up and work.  You spend a considerable amount of time just traveling when you go to serve in Swaziland. Traveling home is faster - only about 33 hours. And it's a pretty expensive trip. Travel to Johannesburg is not cheap, and Swaziland doesn't really have many safe options for a big group to stay, so we actually stay in a fancier hotel than I stay in when I travel in the US!

So why are we so committed to Heart for Africa? Why Swaziland?  Oh, I'm so glad you asked! :)

We have been involved with Heart for Africa since 2008 when my husband first traveled with them. He also just rotated off of their Board of Directors this past fall. I'm hoping when church-plant stuff slows down a bit, he'll be able to serve on their board again one day.  Rob has been on five Heart for Africa trips and I just returned from my second. In the years we've been involved, we've really gotten to see how Heart for Africa operates. We've gotten to know Janine and Ian Maxwell, who moved to Swaziland about a year ago to be able to serve there full-time. And I am thrilled that I've gotten to know Jimmy and Chrisy Wilferth. Jimmy is now the President of Heart for Africa US since the Maxwells moved to Swaziland. You'll just have to take my word for it, but these folks are fabulous.

There are two main reasons why we will continue to serve with Heart for Africa:

1. They are doing it right. 

This is not an organization full of Westerners who are coming into a third-world country to "fix" things. Heart for Africa partners with local churches who are already working hard to improve conditions in their country. Heart for Africa staff and teams listen to them, partner with them, and assist with the things they they have identified as helpful.  It's about empowering Swazis, encouraging them.  The Project Canaan Farm exists to provide food and employment to local Swazis and for the orphanages with which HfA partners. Let me tell you, as a social worker, all this is REALLY really important to me. It isn't a bunch of Christians who are trying to bring Western Christianity into a country.  Don't get me wrong, it is very much a Christian organization. Everything Heart for Africa does is to bring glory to God, it's to be the hands and feet of Jesus in Swaziland.  I see Jesus in everything they do.  I have to admit, sometimes I hear how some organizations are trying to serve God around the world and it makes me cringe. Heart for Africa works within Swazi culture, not trying to change it. Loving the Swazi people as they are, the way Jesus does for us.

And they're really listening. To God and to the Swazi people. In Swaziland, there are no orphanages that will take children under three. So Heart for Africa has opened a Baby Home. It's been open less than a year and they already have about 35 babies. They've built a Toddler Home and many of the babies will transition there in September. Those children need education so now there is a brand-new Preschool and there are plans to have a Primary School and a High School as the kids grow up. The Swazi government knows about Heart for Africa and social workers now call Janine first when they learn of a situation involving a baby.

Sisekelo PreSchool
Friends who donated Pre-School
musical instruments - here they are!!

They're helping the community. Some mothers who have chosen to place their babies with Heart for Africa have older children still with them. Heart for Africa is (a little frantically) building a special home for some of those mothers so they can have a safe place to live with their children when they truly had nowhere else to go. As a mother and as an adoptive mama, this is really dear to my heart. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to empower mothers to be able to keep their children. What an incredible gift that is to a family and to a community!

Housing going up!
HfA is currently paying rent for two women & their children
until they can move in here!

Heart for Africa provides opportunities for job training and employment. They have a carpentry center, Kufundza Learning Center, where men can come and learn the skill. They are getting accredited so that participants can have official Swazi certificates of training when they complete the program.  They have just started a jewelry project, Khutsala Artisans, where women can come and learn to make jewelry and Heart for Africa will sell it so that the women can earn an income.  On the farm, there are job opportunities as well.

Khutsala Artisans Jewelry

Kufundza Learning Center - Carpentry Apprenticeship 

2. The Swazis are worth it.

If I lived there, I would hope and pray that someone would be willing to come even though it's hard and even though it's far. And they do pray that. It is so humbling to hear someone tell you that you are the answer to their prayer.  When I was in Swaziland in 2010, we were visiting homesteads in our community and when we told a man how far we had come, he stood up and hugged us! He said he'd been praying to God that someone would come and that we were the answer to that prayer. We brought him so much joy and all we did was walk up to his homestead and offer to pray with him. This is hard to explain, but relationships are really important to the Swazi people, just going and being there to encourage them does so much.

Swazis are relational. I've been told this many times. Until this trip, I thought that meant that although we did have tasks to accomplish each day (planting seedlings, watering gardens, distributing TOMS, food, and clothing), the most important thing was spending time with the people we came to visit.  And that is true, the time we spent with the children of Ebholi Primary School and with the families on the homesteads was so meaningful to them.  But this year, I experienced this in a whole new way. I visited Ebholi for the first time this year, but my husband has been there twice. They knew who I was within five minutes of my arrival there. The kids saw my name tag with my last name and said "You are Rob's wife! He has told us about you!"  And then they asked me about my kids! I brought a photo album with pictures from the previous year's trip and they remembered everyone by name.  They recognized Rob's guitar case.  Just being there means so so much to them. You don't need to bring them anything; the fact that you have come is the greatest gift. This is incredible.

This is Rob in 2010 at Ebholi School... three years before I ever got to go!
He was also there in 2012, but I don't know where he saved his pictures from that trip!
I recognize so many of those sweet faces!

This year, I got to serve as Team Leader for my team. Honestly, I was hesitant about it, but I am so glad I did. And one of the best moments for me was getting to complete the Heart for Africa survey with Ms. Similane, the deputy-principal at Ebholi Primary School. When I asked her what Heart for Africa does well, I was overjoyed and humbled by her answer. She said Heart for Africa is really good at helping them provide for the kids' basic needs. Then she said, "it's the encouragement. Knowing that they are here for us emotionally, that they are supporting us and that they stand beside us." What!?!?  That is amazing!  In this country where people are starving, where children and adults are dying of HIV/AIDS, the #2 thing that was so important to Ms. Similane was knowing she's not alone, knowing that Heart for Africa stands with her as she struggles to help the children in her care. That, my friends, is truly amazing.

I still can't figure out why I get the honor of serving in Swaziland. I can't begin to explain the joy it brings, I can't explain how my heartbreak brings me closer to God. I can only show you and hope you'll come with me to Swaziland one day. God is working there and getting to be a part of what he's doing is an honor. I am so grateful.


We used a classroom for our shoe distribution day
One of the days we were out in the community was set aside as our TOMS giving day. We were really excited, knowing this had been a great day for our site in the past.  TOMS gives shoes every 6 months, if possible, so the kids at our site had already experienced two TOMS distribution days.

I have to say, I'm pretty impressed with TOMS. I liked the idea before, but when I learned that they come back every 6 months (because kids' feet grow fast) and that they match the TOMS to the culture/terrain of the area, I was really delighted.  For Swaziland, they have a great rubber sole with good gripping and their TOMS are black, because that is what the kids there have to wear with their school uniforms. And I was glad to see they really are a much sturdier shoe than what you get when you buy a pair in America.

Our little set-up during a quick lull that morning

Ms. Similane had TOMS day down to an art form. She'd send the kids in in groups of 5-10, our first two "sizers" would size their feet, write the number on the child's hand, then send him/her back to the three in the back who were "shoeing."  They'd place the shoes on the child's feet to make sure they fit (and if they didn't would call to the runner for a different size).

Sizing feet!
Writing the shoe size on his hand

Once we had two good fitting TOMS on a kiddo's feet, we'd draw a heart around the shoe size so we'd know that child received a pair of TOMS. At the door, we'd check them off on the chart we send back to TOMS, and give that child an orange. It was really a smooth process.

Asking each child his/her age was sometimes harder than you'd think!
Look in his hands - those are his old TOMS! New ones on his feet! :)
Waiting for new shoes!

Flat Reece was there with us. He was very helpful. :)
If you don't know this story, ask me, it's hilarious!
At the end of the morning, we had given out 251 pairs of TOMS shoes. There were only four children we had to send away without any shoes. TOMS policy is that the kids have to walk out in their new shoes (because good fit is important) so you can't hand them a pair of shoes and let them walk away.  But for the four kids we didn't have the right size for, we had knitted caps they could choose from.

We saw a few miracles happen this day too. We ran out of the bigger sizes really quickly, and at one point, I told Ms. Similane that I didn't think we would have shoes for a group of 6 boys who were next in line to come in but that we wanted to size them so that the next team would be sure to have bigger sizes. She told the boys and they said they understood. They came in and, I still don't know how this happened, we were able to fit every single one of them with a pair of shoes! And these were boys who live at the school - they have truly no other way in their lives right now to get a new pair of shoes.  God is so good, y'all.

My team for the week. We really clicked.
Every single one of these folks is an amazing blessing!