Saturday, February 23, 2008


Tonight, I sent this out to our family and friends:

Dear friends and family---

I apologize that I've not written sooner about our Swaziland trip. To be honest, I've not known how to start or what to share and how to say what I'm feeling and what we experienced. The girls and I had an incredible experience. God blessed us so abundantly on the trip. But we're still processing it all and to be honest, I still feel "too full" to even know where to start, but I'll go ahead and begin and then send out more as I am up to it.

I've been sharing in bits and pieces at my blog, , but to try to put it all down in a cohesive narrative is just overwhelming at this point.

I can say that the trip has changed our lives. Even though I lived there for 2 years 18 years ago, I experienced things this time that I didn't experience last time....and I've reacted to things differently than I did way back when.

In many ways Swaziland has changed. There are many more modern structures and roadways. Cell phones are surprisingly common...even in MUDHUTS! The people who live in the cities dress much more "in style" and westernized than they did 18 years ago. I saw very few people wearing the traditional Swazi dress. There are internet cafes and fancy gas stations along the main highways and in the cities of Mbabane and Manzini. So on the surface, things have seemed to have progressed.

But when you get beyond the superficial, I found that as reported by so many missions and humanitarian organizations, Swaziland has changed also in horrible ways. The HIV/AIDS rate among adults is nearly 50%. A huge percentage of the children are now orphaned. Abuse and abandonment of children are on the increase. More and more elderly gogos (grandmothers) are left to raise large numbers of orphaned grandchildren. Parents die and leave siblings barely in their teens to raise younger sisters and brothers...or the orphans are split up among relatives, often becoming virtual slaves in their new homes.

The sick and handicapped are often left alone to fend for themselves as their relatives, spouses, or parents travel great distances looking for employment. Schooling has become a luxury that many can not afford and so they stay trapped in the vicious circle of poverty...often turning to prostitution or crime in a desperate attempt to survive.

But despite all these horrific things, we saw so much good. For one thing, despite the state of things in Swaziland, the people are still the warm, friendly, laughing people that I remembered. Upon arrival in Africa, my little bit of the siSwati language seemed to come back full force and I quickly got back into the Swazi groove. I felt like I was back home and had a great time singing siSwati songs with the teenagers and children at the carepoints, exploring the Manzini markets and shops, getting to know hotel staffers and craft hawkers, worshipping in freedom and joy at a siSwati church, making Swazis laugh with some of my mangled attempts at difficult words, and introducing my daughters to the land I've missed for 18 years.

But to be honest, it didn't feel like 18 years had passed. Though there were many new things for me to see there, it didn't feel like I'd been gone nearly 2 decades. It just felt so right to be back there. The majority of the time was a time of joy and excitement and feeling very comfortable in the culture.

There were rough times emotionally. Its not easy hearing of the passing of so many and fearing that loved ones are among the numbers of the deceased. I broke down one day and just wept and wept.

And I still weep. Yesterday was a tough day for me. My emotions were fierce. I have it so easy here in America. I have so much...too much. I have so much stuff it won't even all fit in my closets and shelves. Its so unfair that I have an overabundance and there are so many who are dying from an extreme underabundance.

The $5 that I spend on a pair of cheap earrings at the local Claire's Boutique would feed an orphan for a MONTH at a Swaziland carepoint. The $50 I'd spend on a couple of cute, spring shirts at Belk's will send a child to school for a year.

Just doing without some of my wants would provide children with their basic needs.

I don't know where God is leading our family in all of this. We do believe that we're supposed to be praying regularly for Swaziland and giving more financially. But beyond that...I don't know what He wants to do with Anna and Betsie;s new love for the Swazi peope and my renewed passion for them.

I just know that I'm no longer satisfied with the status quo. I can't just keep on living my self-centered, materialistic lifestyle when precious little children are dying because they're families can't even afford the barest necessesities of life.

I don't mean to be such a downer. That's one reason why I put off writing.

The first few days back I was still feeling pretty euphoric about the incredible experience despite the fact that physically I was worn out and very sick with a nasty, nasty case of sinus crud. At that time, I was just physically too worn out and ill to do much effective communication. But as I've healed up physically over the last couple of weeks, I've found myself getting more and more troubled emotionally.

I almost put off once again sending out a newsletter. Its just not fun to get a letter from someone who is in a foul mood. But I can't put it off forever. You all have been too important to me in this journey to just keep leaving you out of the loop.

We did have a great trip. Those precious smiling faces from the children we loved on and the amazing, sacrificial love and dedication of the Christians we met blessed us tremendously. There are heroes walking around that country that left me humbled.

I feel so privileged that God let me go back to Swaziland. I hope I don't have to wait another 18 years to return. But regardless of if I ever step foot on that land again, I'm forever grateful for my time spent there. I will share more of what we saw in future letters...the success stories as well as the sad ones. The hopes of the ministers there and the dreams of the children.

In the meantime, visit my blog, read my daily jottings and see some of our trip photos. And please, keep praying for us. We need your prayers. And most of all, please keep praying for the nation of Swaziland.

WIth great sadness but also with great love and thankfulness,


Other blogs related to Swaziland and our trip:

Kevin and his wife Christie were on the trip with us:

Claudia Mair Burney was one of the authors who we traveled with. She is writing a book based on our time in Africa. Her blog is:

Tom Davis is the CEO of Children's HopeChest and one of our trip leaders:

A talented Canadian blogger and writer, Erin Wilson has been sharing her thoughts and photos:

Two Canadian couples joined us for the last few days of the trip. One of them has a great detailed blog at:

Jumbo and Kriek Gerber are on staff with Adventures in Missions. They were our guides for the time we were there. What incredible work they are doing:

The Black Family is an American family serving God in Manzini, Swaziland. My girls, along with the two other teenagers on our team, got to hang out some with their teenage sons. and


wilsonian said...

So well put, Elysa.

Elysa said...

Thanks for reading it, Erin. I've decided I really needed to quit just stealing y'all's stuff and actually write some down on my own.;)