In 2012, my friend Alli and I visited Swaziland for the first time. Our trip was mainly planned to see and encourage our friend, Amy McAdams, and her family. They had been in Swaziland almost two years at that point, and are still serving full-time as missionaries. During the week that we spent with them, just living life, and going along with them, doing whatever they would normally do, we caught a glimpse of the beauty of the Swazi culture and the hard circumstances of many of their lives.
On our last day, we went to an unsponsored CarePoint for a visit. It was a long drive, because of rough roads, not because of the distance. I had gotten used to seeing the hills in the outskirts of Manzini, but the mountains we drove through to reach Lesibovu (“the place of the red dirt” in SiSwati) were breathtaking. We bounced along that dirt road for almost an hour and wondered what to expect.
We had been to CarePoints in town all week and the kids there were comfortable with the McAdams, since they had grown up with more diversity from being in the city. We had been warned that the children we’d meet here would be very shy, and possibly afraid of us, because most young kids had not seen white people before. Pretty soon we drew closer, and Amy pointed out the log building on a large piece of mostly bare red dirt that was the church at the CarePoint. We had made it!
Like they’d said, many kids were super nervous seeing all of us ‘mulungus’ emerge from the vehicle. I’m sure the whole McAdams family, plus the two strangers was a whole lot to take in. Little ones hid behind big kids and a few moms who were also there. We went into the church for an official welcome by the pastor, and a time of testimony. One young teenager volunteered to share, and though we knew nothing of her, her character and maturity became quickly evident. She started with “My name is Takitsi and I want to say that I love the Lord” in beautiful English. She read from Psalm 119, verses that I still recall so vividly. These stood out to me profoundly:
“Your statutes are wonderful;
therefore I obey them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it gives understanding to the simple…
Your promises have been thoroughly tested,
and your servant loves them.
Though I am lowly and despised,
I do not forget your precepts.
Your righteousness is everlasting
and your law is true.
Trouble and distress have come upon me,
but your commands give me delight.
Your statutes are always righteous;
give me understanding that I may live.”
I didn’t know her story yet and still was moved by seeing how David’s words resonated with her. The sincerity with which she read was obvious.
Before we left, the kids sang a song together. Takitsi was near the back of the group but we quickly could see that she was the one leading the song, and her voice rang out so beautifully. Though almost all of the 80 kids were still really reserved, she beamed with pure joy, belting out words that the Pastor translated to me as a song about the Israelites going to Canaan. He summed it up with, “It is really a song about hope.”
We came to learn more about her as we left the CarePoint. Her mom was either dead or had left, and she was living with a stepfather who was not kind at all. Because of lack of financial and emotional support, Takitsi had not been able to attend school regularly and was 15 but studied on a fourth grade level. She was very intelligent and desired to get an education, so she was a great example of why sponsorship of the CarePoint was vital to benefit all the children with assistance with school fees, consistent feeding and discipleship, and medical care when needed. That was one of the clear reasons we knew God had allowed us to meet the people of Lesibovu, and we felt very sure that we were supposed to commit to helping as a Connect Community through Children’s HopeChest, and six months later, we officially launched our commitment.
The next year we returned to the CarePoint as a team, and then again the following summer. Both times we were able to see and talk to Takitsi briefly, hearing the great reports of her schoolwork, but also the continual concern of needing a safe place to live. She moved to an aunt’s house, but it was not a good home either. During our 2014 trip, I asked how we could pray and what concerned her most. She became very serious, and said to please pray for her home situation. She was struggling and discouraged. I promised her we would pray diligently for God to get her to a better place where she could be loved and also attend a better high school with more challenging courses.
God worked through both the missionaries there and a different ministry in the town of Manzini. Before another year passed, we heard the incredible answer to prayer that Takitsi was in a girls’ home–loved, safe, wanted, and thriving. I was sent photos of her smiling face, being hugged by her new “sisters.” My heart was thrilled at God’s provision and answer to our specific request for her to be in a better place. Plus, she was closer to a better high school there in town, and was progressing quickly to make up for the years she had not been as regular in school attendance.
When we visited again this summer, one of our primary goals was to be able to see Takitsi in person, and to remind her how crucial she was to God moving us to become connected and committed to the ministry of Children’s HopeChest and Adventures in Missions (AIM). We laughingly told her it was her “fault.” Her challenging testimony, courage, and joy compel us to continue to return to Lesibovu, and to do all we can to share with others about the way God is working there.
We were blessed to be able to have her share dinner with us one evening, and we sat and talked with her for about an hour. She still has the same beautiful smile, joyful outlook, but even deeper maturity and hope. I asked if she remembered telling us to pray about her living conditions, and did she see how faithful God was to provide through these various servants? She looked down, covering her face out of emotion, just nodding. Takitsi also shared her goal of finishing high school soon and then applying to universities, hopefully to pursue a medical degree eventually, so she can pour back into her country, which is in desperate need of more medical doctors. Her grades on exams have been so high that she’s ranked as one of the top students in the whole country and just finished in first position in her class after her recent exams. She’s made up for the years of school she missed and then some, and this January will begin her final high school year as a senior, at the age of 20.
Takitsi became the inspiration behind the challenge that we knew God had placed in our hearts, five years ago, to commit to spreading the word about Lesibovu, and doing our part to encourage the work there. Since we committed to being a Connect Community with Lesibovu, Takitsi has been one shining example of the power of the AIM and HopeChest partnership working so well together.
Though discouragement happens as sponsorship takes a while to build up, we regret not always being able to annually travel as a team to visit the CarePoint, and we frequently feel as if we are not doing enough, we see God doing powerful things at Lesibovu. It is wonderful to get reports of how all children received shoes for school, how the percentage of children performing well in school has consistently grown, and how the number of children attending regularly and being mentored has grown from around 80 to three times that in as many years. We are honored to be a part of such a life-changing ministry, and it is our passion to maintain this relationship. We see how God works through the AIM missionaries and Swazi staff serving on a regular basis, and love that we are able to come in occasionally to see firsthand the way this community is benefiting through the opportunity with sponsorship that Children’s HopeChest provides.
I still am moved by that very moment we first heard Takitsti sing, because it has come to encompass all that Lesibovu is to us – it’s a place of red dirt, many smiling faces, servant hearts, and beautiful mountains, but mostly, it is a picture of hope –litsemba.