Tuesday, April 2, 2013

a request

Dear friends,
I'm writing to ask you to consider praying about sponsorship of one of the children I met when I visited Swaziland last year. You have probably heard me talk in person about Lesibovu at some point in the last 10 months since I returned from my trip. I have passionately shared about the need for sponsors for these children with many people, and am again asking individuals now to consider it if they have not previously.
Last November, we began our sponsorship project with 82 children in need of a special friend who would pray for them, who would write occasional notes to them, and who would commit to a gift of $34 per month, which provides needed food, shelter, assistance with school fees, and discipleship through the Children's HopeChest CarePoint. We now have just 38 children remaining to connect with an individual or family who will be able to build a relationship through letters, and possibly visits, and will give a child in need great hope.

*I have been touched by those who are on very limited income who have taken the responsibility as a privilege and signed up quickly to sponsor.
*A family of five chose five children to sponsor, and brought me to tears. *Anther couple thoughtfully decided on a child who looked older, knowing they could really write and communicate with this young man, to encourage him at a crucial point in his life.
*Another family chose a little girl who shared the same name as their mother, and have prayed faithfully for their other family member across the world. 

Families are seeing the impact that giving personally to a child in a specific community that we are all connected to is really powerful. These children know each other, as we do. They play and worship together, live near one another, go to the same schools; just like we do. We can even travel to visit them together and spend one-on-one time with these friends, letting them know that the common love of Jesus binds us, and that we can pray for each other. Our communities are connected in a beautiful way that honors Christ, not limited by time or space.
These kids are real, precious children, so similar to my own, yet they are living in a world of hardship I could hardly imagine - except that I have seen it. Water is a precious commodity. Food is scarce, and without the CarePoint, most wouldn't have even a daily meal consistently. Disease is rampant, and 1 in 5 children are orphans. Adults that live to be 50 years old are rare. Sounds hopeless, almost.

However, there is hope! They need to know the source of hope is Jesus. Now that we know of the dire situation, we have a great task before us, but there is such a simple, effective solution. Partnering with HopeChest provides basic necessities, but also weekly discipleship, which means the cycle of hopelessness can end, through godly teaching, and loving interaction from Swazi young adults who are investing their lives into the children of Lesibovu. This is a program that works - now members of this discipleship team actually involve former CarePoint children who are now training and giving back to their communities.

I don't want anyone to miss out on the blessing that sponsorship can be. If you have contemplated signing up as a Lesibovu sponsor and just have not had time to peruse the profiles, or handle the steps of completing the online form, please let me know. I am eager to help in any way I can. I have profile cards available for you to view anytime, or you can see them here: hopechest.org/community/lesibovu
If you are already sponsoring - THANK YOU! You are such a blessing to the children of Lesibovu by your faithful gifts. Another way all of you can help - Do you have a small group, a Bible study, a few neighbors, or a class that would like to hear how they could become sponsors? I would love to come share with them, so please let me know. If you are not led to commit to a child sponsorship, please pray as we share the need with others. Thank you for your time!


John 14:18  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why Swaziland?

Some of you may not have heard the facts and reasons why it is so necessary to gather sponsors for the children in our CarePoint at Lesibovu. Here is some information from Children's HopeChest that may explain better how serious the situation is. However, instead of being overwhelmed by the severity of the need, please check back here tomorrow and read how you can be a part of bring hope to this country and the community of Lesibovu in particular.

(taken from http://www.hopechest.org/swaziland/)

Swaziland Data

  • Estimated number of people all ages living with HIV (2009): 170,000-200,000
  • Orphans (all causes): 100,000 (8.4% of population)
  • Orphans (by AIDS): 69,000
  • Total population 1,185,000 (2009)
  • Life expectancy at birth: 46 years
  • Estimated adult HIV prevalence rate: 25.9%
  • Data provided by UNICEF

The Challenge

This small country in Africa has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world, giving it the name, “Nation of Orphans”.  Generations of people in this country have been decimated by AIDS leaving many children orphaned and alone, without anyone to call mom or dad. The average person in Swaziland only lives to be about 46 years old.
Because there are virtually no orphanages  in Swaziland, these children are literally left to fend for themselves without any means of survival. Widely held myths and misunderstandings about AIDS have left many girls vulnerable to sexual abuse and infection of HIV.  Young children throughout Swazi are often found to be the head of the household, caring for all their younger siblings and other children who have no one.  Orphans are left susceptible to malnutrition, disease, and abuse.  Children roam the streets unclothed and hungry looking for answers and for someone to care for them.  Due to this harsh reality HopeChest has created a place for orphans to find refuge, a place to be loved and fed - a CarePoint.

The HopeChest Solution

In Swaziland, HopeChest partners with another organization, Adventures in Missions.  Both organizations collaborate daily with local Swazi pastors to ensure that the orphan’s medical, physical, educational, emotional, and spiritual needs are met.  Pastors in Swaziland oversee many of our ground programs and are the fire behind development.  HopeChest highly values these relationships with local leaders.
Through community sponsorship: kitchens, daily feeding, weekly discipleship programming, wells, school buildings, community centers, and garden projects are possible.  Overtime, CarePoints in Swaziland will grow to be self-sustaining, enhancing the lives of both the children and the community.
The most important part of our work in Swaziland is through our Discipleship Program.  We have hired local believers, to mentor, build relationships, and most importantly to look after the spiritual wellbeing of the children. They do this through weekly bible studies, and counseling sessions with all of the children involved at our CarePoints.
The number of orphans that HopeChest impacts is growing rapidly, and we want YOU to be involved.  HopeChest is currently serving over 4,000 children through nineteen CarePoints in Swaziland.  But there are still thousands of children that need support.

Check back tomorrow to read how YOU can be part of this support! 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Christmas at Lesibovu

Here is a wonderful guest post by our friend who was recently an AIM intern in Swaziland. Kimberly Woolridge assisted the missionaries in different positions while there and was so helpful, sending photos and encouragement to me about "our" kids at Lesibovu. For those of you who know about the generous donor who gave our carepoint a Christmas party, here are the details. Thank you so much Kimberly!!

A Lesibovu Christmas

by Kimberly Woolridge

I’ve decided to process Swaziland through the telling of stories. I’m still struggling to put words to my time in Swaziland, and it dawned on me that story-telling would be a good way to do so. My first story is going to be all about the Christmas parties we had at many of the care points in November.
Why celebrate Christmas in November, you ask? Well, first of all, there were more than a dozen Christmas parties to put on, so we had to start early. Also, the AIM workers in Swaziland needed a Christmas break just like any of us, and it would have been impossible to do all the parties in the first two weeks of December. We also helped facilitate preschool graduations in late November and early December. With all this said, November was just as good as any month to celebrate Christmas.
in line
world racer preparing rice
Christmas cabbage

waiting on Christmas lunch

I’d like to specifically share about the Lesibovu Christmas party, though they all followed a similar format, yet with differing aspects specific to each care point. We celebrated Christmas at the Lesibovu care point in late November. We arrived along with one of AIM’s World Race teams. Pastor Welcome gathered the children as they arrived from school in the afternoon.

beef stew, beets, slaw and rice

that's a pile of cabbage!
The gogos spent the morning cooking rice, beef stew, beet salad, and coleslaw. A truck load of cabbages was delivered. Bags of sweets had been prepared and set aside. We sat around, enjoying each other’s company as the children of the Lesibovu walked in from school. The whole D Team was there and Deli stood before the children to share the story of our Lord’s birth. Pastor Welcome led the children in song and praise to the Lord.

 The children prayed together as one with eyes closes and hands clasped. They thanked the Lord for their food. Then, the World Racers led the children in some fun songs. They stood in a circle and laughed and smiled and had a good time. Then each child received their warm meal, bag of candy, and head of cabbage. They walked home with full tummies!

AIM World Racers leading the children in songs

 I know they still carry heavy loads in their lives, and I cannot pretend to understand their heart’s hurts and cracks, but it fills me with joy and gratitude to know that on that day, they got to hear the redemptive story of Christ’s birth and celebrate it. What a joy to know our Savior and celebrate his birth! The children at the Lesibovu care point had a beautiful celebration that day!

so grateful

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Lesibovu!

{all photos courtesy of Kimberly Woolridge}

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Connecting with Lesibovu - Part 3: A Sponsor's Story

 I asked a friend and member of the Lesibovu Leadership Team to tell her sponsorship story. Thank you, guest blogger LaShea Wood!
 As I sat and looked at all the profiles of children from Lesibovu who needed to be sponsored, I felt so overwhelmed. How could I pick just one child? There are so many in need there. Everywhere. My shoulders began to tense and my head began to ache as I looked through profile after profile. I began to pray for God's guidance and peace because the enormity of the situation hit me so hard. I didn't expect it. I've seen the ads and all the Facebook posts about orphans and HIV, but it never truly HIT me until now. I don't know why, but it didn't become real until NOW....
At first it didn't seem like much, "Ok. I'll sponsor a child. That's all I know to do!" Seems simple enough, but as I sat at the computer scrolling through page after page of children needing to be sponsored I couldn't pick one....just one. How is one suppose to make a difference?! The estimate is 143 to 210 million orphans in the world and I'm suppose to pick one!? 

Well, I didn't. My son, Dylan, did. Children see in black and white. There is no gray area, no questioning. "Ok. We get to sponsor a child who may not survive and thrive otherwise!" He looks through a stack of Alli's photos from Lesibovu sitting on my kitchen counter and 5 minutes later says, "I want to sponsor that one." It's a photo of a small boy who looks 2 maybe 3 holding a bowl in nothing but a shirt. No shorts. No shoes. Just waiting for food. Holding his little bowl. He's beautiful. I told him to go ask his brother and sister if that's the one they wanted to sponsor (just knowing they are going to argue and fight over who they wanted to sponsor, but they didn't). They all agreed! If that's not a sign from God I don't know what is! All my kids agreed! That's huge! So we did it, I looked him up on the website and found his profile and there he was- "Lunga, male, 4". I thought to myself, "He's 4? He's so little." I entered all my info and it was done. He was our child! I looked through the rest of Alli's photos and found 2 more pictures of him. They are now plastered on my refrigerator and my kids talk about him as if he were a relative or friend. 

A week later we got our full profile on Lunga in the mail. As I read his short profile, I was thankful to see his mother and father were still alive and she's his caregiver. I believe she's the one holding him in one of the photos on my fridge. He's got 2 siblings and walks 10-15 minutes to the Carepoint where he gets food. That doesn't seem to far away...or does it? I walk 10 steps to my kitchen for food: a near endless supply of goodies. He has to walk 10 minutes and that's so he can eat once a day if he's lucky. Some of these children walk 3 hours to the Carepoint. I also have a picture of Lunga standing in line for food, but it's a big cauldron of porridge and from what I'm told that's what they eat every. single. day. I don't know about you, but I don't call that "food". In our 1st world country, with our 1st world problems ("DirecTV isn't airing the game! Are you kidding me!") we can't even wrap our head around what that must be like. I know I sure can't.
As soon as we got Lunga's profile, the kids immediately went to writing letters and drawing pictures for him. I sat at the computer twice to send a letter to him but couldn't. I didn't know what to say, then it hit me. He's only 4. He can't read it. Once I email it and it's translated, it's going to be his mom who reads it. The lady holding that sweet boy in the picture. Now all I can think about is being in her shoes and as I type the letter all I can picture is this mother who has no means of providing for her 3 children, who probably lives in a small hut of a home with a dirt floor reading my letter. Once again, my shoulders tense and my head begins to ache. What do you say to someone in such dire circumstances? I stared blankly at the screen. Please, God, give me the words to speak hope to this mother. That somehow I can encourage her. I want her to know that someone, somewhere cares for her and is praying for her and her family. That our God truly cares for them. 
Sponsorship is not just about providing a child with food, education, shelter, etc. Sponsorship is about hope. It's about building a relationship with a child and their family. To be able to let Lunga and his family know that we are here, we care for them, love them, and are praying for them, gives them hope for a better tomorrow. At the end of my letter to Lunga (or his mother) I put this verse: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - Jeremiah 29:11 
When you sponsor a child it is so much more than sending money to help a kid - imagine being that orphan or that parent or grandparent that receives that letter. When they find out someone, somewhere, cares enough to help them, you've given them hope and a relationship that can do so much more any amount of money can do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Connecting with Lesibovu - Part 2: Local vs. International Missions

I love how as Jesus is preparing to leave the disciples at the Transfiguration, and prepares them for the Holy Spirit's coming, that they ask a question of Him. They're anxious to know when His kingdom will be established and  Jesus tells the disciples that only His Father knows the time. Then, He tells them - "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

An issue I wanted to address after hearing it mentioned a few times lately regards concern for local giving versus supporting foreign missions. The questions haven't been asked critically, but honestly, and I certainly do appreciate folks wanting to know how we can invest time and heart into a community across the ocean, when there are so many needs here in our own town. Our team is fully aware of local ministry opportunities, and thankfully, everyone who is serving on the Lesibovu Leadership Team already ministers within their respective churches or community.

Here are a few of the ministries in which our team already serves:
monthly feeding and visiting with homeless men at The Firehouse Shelter in Birmingham, working with a Chilton County based Ukrainian orphan-hosting ministry, pastoring a youth group, leading a college group Bible study, involvement in adoptive family ministry, leading adult small group Bible studies, and many more. The folks who are encouraging sponsorship of these children at Lesibovu already have shown their heart for giving to others here in our own Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria.

We do not intend to place the lives of African children above the needs of homeless men in Birmingham, or children in our own church's preschool ministry. They are all equally as needy for the love of Jesus, the power of hope, forgiveness, and the Truth of the Gospel.

However, there IS a difference. Here in Alabama, (especially the county in which we live) we have a pretty safe, easy-access to food/shelter/clothing world, even for those in need. There is public assistance for those who need food, shelter, and medical care. Even in rural areas, we are not far from churches with food pantries, social services that offer help with any area of need, and government programs designed to help those who are hurting or vulnerable. For children without parents or a stable home life, there is the Department of Human Resources, and they handle finding foster homes for orphaned or abandoned children temporarily, or even permanently. I know, because my son came into my family through this system. It works. He was never without care, and I am so grateful! I have a dear friend ("T") who grew up as an adolescent and teen in the foster system in another state. T's story is hard, and filled with pain. God beautifully redeemed those years and gave her a foster family that she says changed her life forever.

When we first discussed sponsorship, T was passionately concerned, hearing stories of neglect, abuse, and abandonment facing orphans in Swaziland. She was appalled at the dire circumstances many, many children face there, and was determined that her family would sponsor a child. A few days after we talked at length about Swaziland, she texted me late at night: 

"I just had a big revelation. BIG. I've always wondered why people go outside the US to adopt and for orphan care. Because I was a foster kid, my heart has always been here. It never EVER occurred to me that these kids have no advocate or no systems in place to care for them. Had I been somewhere like Swaziland, I may not be alive."

That is what drives us. We know there are instances where our system does fail, here in the U.S., but when is there no hope for an American baby to have care or a family? In Swaziland, it is the norm for children to go without. Their situation is dire. The UN Development Program says that this country will very likely be extinct by 2050 without dramatic intervention, due to the prevalence of HIV, poverty, and malnutrition.

The good news is that we know of the situation, God has given us much that we can share and so there IS hope. People with resources and education can make a difference. One very simple way to do that is through sponsorship. It doesn't cost much, and it multiplies greatly when your contribution is combined with the others from our Lesibovu community. Please consider how you can minister "the to end of the earth" by giving monthly to one of these beautiful children.
Ncobile, F12

Snakekelo, M2

Banele, M8

Friday, November 2, 2012

Connecting with Lesibovu - Part 1: Sponsorship

For $34/month, you can impact the life of a child at the Lesibovu CarePoint in Swaziland. I have been asked several times already what that money goes toward. Here is a breakdown of that money, so that you can see how much directly affects your sponsored child.

80% ($27.2 per child) goes to directly support the care of children at Lesibovu
-   50% of the 80% is material benefit (i.e. food, shots, educational support). This amount is where we can physically see the money directly at work.
-   30% pays for cooks, discipleship team members, social workers, letter writing translation, gas to get the food to the CarePoint, etc. The benefits are important, but not as visible since they involved others aiding the children and ministry.

20% of the $34 ($6.80) stays in the US to pay for employees and administration of Children's HopeChest. Their work here, spreading awareness of the needs throughout the world, and sharing with us at events like this three day launch weekend, are invaluable help to educate more people and involve more communities. 

That 50% going right back to the CarePoint is a great proportion of money invested in the lives of these children. That alone will make a difference as they receive daily balanced nourishment, when they previously hoped for one meal per day
. However, they also will receive medical care, vaccines needed to fight common illnesses like tuberculosis, and help with school fees. In Swaziland, public school is not free, and uniforms are also required, which both are very challenging to families who are already overwhelmed with poverty. Education is a precious luxury that can change the course of many lives, but is not something to be taken for granted. I'm grateful CHC makes that a priority as well as feeding these children. 

Beyond the very important monetary investment, something even greater happens when the CarePoint is sponsored. Relationships are formed with missionaries who are involved with the CarePoint, and there is weekly, important contact with native Swazi adults who disciple the children and are consistently in their lives.  These discipleship team members are wonderful examples of the hope that sponsorship gives - some of them now have grown up seeing CarePoint support impacting their own lives, and have chosen to commit to education and ministry, giving back to their communities. We have seen firsthand how American missionaries are welcome and accepted. However, Swazis on the Discipleship Team are especially respected and make such a difference, as they truly realize the obstacles these children have ahead of them, and have shared similar circumstances. 

As much as I may passionately care for the children of Swaziland, I cannot relate to going hungry and walking hours to receive one bowl of food per day. I have never feared for a place to sleep, nor gone without clothing or clean water. Unfortunately, these issues are normal problems for Swazi children, and Swazi adults can truly relate to their struggles and are so vital to the ministry. We had the pleasure of spending time with several D Team members. Their joy was contagious, and their devotion to serving God by pouring their lives into the children at the carepoints was a beautiful thing to behold. 

$34 per month is a small investment if we can comprehend the eternal value it can have. It is worth inconveniencing ourselves out of a family meal eating out, or a few coffee treats each month. That money has measurable impact on children, and quickly, and Alli and I have witnessed it firsthand. Please pray that God will guide you in deciding if this is a commitment you can make, and join with us. I believe that you'll also be challenged and encouraged by the relationship that is built with your sponsored child. Correspondence between you will allow you to hear ways to pray for the child, how your investment is impacting his/her life, and may lead you to a visit to meet your child in person one day. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Moment We've Been Waiting For

This quote was posted on Facebook last week by one of the Lesibovu leadership. I love it and agree with it so much:

"Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they're not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes.” David Platt

Five months ago, Alli and I returned from Swaziland. Emotions we felt included:
elation, exhaustion, frustration, concern, joy, love, pain,

and above all, HOPE. 

We knew that our eyes were opened to something we could not forget. When a friend recently was researching the situation in Swaziland more on her own, I got hours of texts from her. Sobbing, angry, amazed that this kind of poverty, illness, and abuse is going on, seemingly unnoticed by the majority of the world. Her question was, "So now what? What do we do?!"

That's exactly how Alli and I felt. I described to my friend the incredible sense of being pulled toward a challenge and commitment we could not ignore. I told her there was only one thing we knew to do, so we were doing it. That one thing is to help find sponsors for a group of children at a carepoint that we visited. And today, we get to show you the profiles and the precious faces of 82 children who need support from us. 
...deep breath, tears of joy and amazement....

Please look at this link. Pray for these sweet kiddos, aged 2-15. 

So, what can you do?
  • Please consider if you can sponsor one or more of them. 
  • Share the link with people you know. 
  • Join us this coming weekend, as we celebrate our friends' return to the US, and come visit with them, and see these profiles in person.

We will be hosting three events over three days. We tried very hard to make opportunities easy for you all to choose how you can be involved even during a busy weekend. We would love to see you, introduce you to our Swazi missionaries, the McAdams and Clyburns, and also Wil Crooks, from Children's HopeChest, and share a meal or dessert with you.

Details about the events: These are family friendly, easy events. You can drop in, visit, hear about the work HopeChest is doing, and have dessert on Friday. Same with breakfast Saturday. Sunday is a lunch just after our worship service, and since the time changes the night before, we will all be hungry and will eat immediately. Wil is going to share during the meal, so no one has to linger too long with tired little people.

11/2 Friday night: 7-9 pm Dessert and coffee bar (no charge) at The Church at Shelby Crossings, 532 George Roy Pkwy, Calera AL 35040

11/3 Saturday brunch:
9-11:30 am Breakfast buffet (no charge) at the Weatherly Clubhouse, 100 Wembley Way, Alabaster  AL 35007

11/4 Sunday lunch: 11:45 am -1 pm Lunch ($5 adults, $3 kids) at Shelby Crossings,
532 George Roy Pkwy, Calera AL 35040

You can also follow us on Facebook and keep up with the events here.

We are praying for God to prepare those willing to sponsor children, and that His goodness will be evident through the testimonies given. Thank you for your encouragement as we have anticipated this day for so long!