By Morgan McKeown
I had one of the best surprises last week. About two weeks ago I found out that my home church was coming to Swaziland. It wasn’t even a question–I had to meet up with the group. My team was gracious and reworked some plans so my friend Chad (who also attends the church) and I could be dropped off to spend the night with the mission team. The group was overwhelmingly hospitable from the get-go. I didn’t actually know any of the 80 people from the church, but that didn’t matter at all. They willingly brought me a new sleeping mat, tent poles, letters, and lots of hugs.
I brought my sleeping bag thinking I could just crash on the floor of someone’s room. At this point, I am used to sleeping pretty much anywhere. When we arrived at the hotel, I went up to the room with Pastor Jeff Reinke, his wife Robin and their family. While Robin and I talked, Jeff disappeared for a few minutes and then came back to explain that he had gotten me my own room.
For the last month I’ve been in a tent bathing with buckets, sleeping on a deflated sleeping pad, and using hay bales as a chair. It was the first time all year I had a room all to my self.
It had two giant beds, chairs, a balcony overlooking the mountains, a bathtub, carpet, and a toilet that didn’t require a bucket to flush. What luxury.
The blessings didn’t end with the room; we had an amazing dinner that wasn’t cooked over a fire. After dinner they asked Chad and me to share with the group. I had been praying about what to share and instead of going on about missions or what God is doing in Swaziland like I normally would, I shared about freedom and how God uses missions to set us free.
That night I ended up in a room full of junior high and high school youth and lots of parents. God was moving in an amazing way. Passion was being stirred in the youth while they were being broken for the hardships in this country. They ended the night on their knees in tears, asking God to take care of the orphans in Africa. I was so encouraged and inspired by their unrestrained prayers.
While I was there, Robin also gave me a warm winter jacket. She wanted me to have it to wear on cold nights at camp and then to leave it in order to bless someone I knew. I was so excited; Immediately I had a picture in my mind of a boy who desperately needed something warmer for the cold nights.
(Thulane at the back of the hand washing line before lunch.)
Thulane has been one of my favorites from the beginning. I know that you are not supposed to have favorites but I can’t resist. Every time I go to the Mbutu site he runs up, usually holding his baby brother, and wraps his arms around me, pressing his head into my stomach. I always rub his rough, short hair and ask how he is doing in Suswati.
(Eliza holding Santigo, his hair is yellow because he is malnourished.)
I noticed his precious sweet spirit on my first day at Mbutu. Every time we teach a song or a new concept he is beyond excited, so thirsty to learn. He tries so hard to remember all the motions and do everything exactly right. Thulane is older than the other kids but can’t go to school because his mom doesn’t have the money to pay for school fees. Here kids have to pay to go to school, which sadly exempts the poor from education.
Every day Thulane and his younger sister Eliza share responsibilities for their tiny baby brother Sandisne.
They both have permanently curved backs from supporting another’s weight on their tiny frames. Sandisne cries all the time, he is extremely malnourished and will not allow his siblings to ever set him down.
Eliza holds him about six inches from the ground and tries to comfort him. I’ve seen Eliza fall into the dirt while trying to hold Sandisne and sit down at the same time.
Tuesday was our last day at Mbutu. I had recently returned from my trip to visit the church mission team and knew that the jacket they had given me needed to go to Thulane.
It would dwarf him, but he could grow into it. After we finished presenting the Gospel to the kids and singing lots of songs with them, I pulled Thulane and his sister away from the group.
Through Nocolas, our Suswati friend, I asked both how old they were. I was slightly confused– it was a simple question and it sparked an entire conversation. Finally Nicolas explained, “He is saying he is three years old, and she is saying she is 1. They have no idea how old they are.”
“How is that possible?” I responded in shock.
“They have never been to school. They don’t know anything, how old they are included.” Then Nicolas gently pealed back their lips and checked out their teeth. He declared, “This one is around 9, the other is near 7.”
I couldn’t believe it! How was it possible for a nine-year-old to have no idea how old he is? How is he ever going to make it in the world without knowledge? I asked Nicolas if it would be possible for Thulane to go to school.
He said that if someone were to pay his fees he would gladly start the first grade. School fees are some where between $50 and $70 a year, not much to me, but insurmountable for a lot of Swazis.
The care center that’s being built in Mbutu will eventually include a school, but that won’t be done for another few years.
Finally, I explained to Thulane that I had a present just for him. I told him, “God loves you, and He knows everything that’s going on with you. He loves you so much that he had a group of Americans bring a jacket just for you. You matter to God. He has not forgotten you or your family and neither will I.”
(At Mbubu one of the cold days, Thulane is on my right. I have on a jacket and two sweat shirts, the kids were shivering so I was running them around to warm them up.)
Morgan is from California. Her favorite thing in the world is spending time with friends and family. Her hobbies include playing volleyball, slurping down mad amounts of caffeinated beverages, and planning really great get-togethers. She went to Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington. After graduating with a degree in Speech Communications, she worked as a youth director at a church near San Diego, California. She just returned from traveling the world. Read her blog here. If you’re interested in helping Thulane and other orphans, you can email Morgan.