“Why are you here in our country?” The customs official at Manzini International Airport asks in a calm, non-assuming, but firm voice. Manzini International isn’t quite LAX. In fact, it’s pretty much just two little rooms. One has two booths in it for passport control, and the other is where your bags are dropped off. They get two flights a day from South Africa so naturally, eleven white (or Hawaiian, Christine) people arriving on the scene is no small occasion.
We had been trained by SMU very clearly to not mention Jesus-related things in our response to such a question. Some foreign countries don’t take kindly to the idea of missionaries. Weston wasn’t prepared to lie, though. He’s not a very good liar anyway.
“…Tour…Tourism?” He replies, as if she was supposed to know the correct answer.
“Where are you staying?” A tone of suspicion has arisen.
“Uh, Youth For Christ Swaziland is hosting us.”
“Youth for Christ, eh? So you are Christians?”
“All of you, born-agains?!”
At this point, we are sure with our cover blown that roughly 40 hours of travel have gone to waste, we would be detained, and we would have to return to the States failures. Horrified, we just look at each other, waiting for the next move.
Then a smile breaks over that precious, Swazi customs official’s face.
“We are glad you are here. Welcome to Swaziland.”
Well, it was probably time to change our shorts anyway.
Yes, we are safe and sound here in beautiful Swaziland. Summer is in full force here, but this is not your quintessential Africa. No Rafikki in a lone tree in the middle of the desert; lion babies being declared king, all the animals singing songs and whatever else happens in Kenya. No, Swaziland is a verdant, lush, mountainous place that is still largely undeveloped outside of its humble cities. We met up with our contact, Bongani, at the airport with his two children, and two staff members from YFC: Lelo (lay low) and Wandihle, but we call him Wawa. From there we loaded all of our bags (which, PTL, all arrived safely) into the back of a Volkswagen Caravelle circa 1991 and headed for Mbabane.
We arrived at the YWAM base that we will call home for these few weeks and were blown away. It’s set atop the most incredible view of Mbabane, just outside the city where you can see the one well-paved road that runs through the country. The house has a thatched roof with a loft where the five of us bros are sleeping. The ladies have their own room on the other side of the house. There is running water, but it’s really just for washing dishes and heating water for tea and coffee. A short walk down the hill finds an outhouse with two, count ‘em, two stalls where we can take care of business.
The flies make for that authentic African ambience.
Water is limited, so a shower is either bucket-style if you like it hot, and if you like running water it’s cold and quick. Really, all things considered, our conditions are posh.
Mo is on staff with YWAM and he cooks our meals. Highlights have been stir-fry last night, and some oatmeal-raisin cookies—courtesy of some ladies on the team.
Internet… well, I owe you all an apology. Turns out Starbucks with free wifi aren’t in abundant supply over here. Today, we purchased what’s called a Dongle, which will connect us to the internet, and then we had to purchase a data plan to split between the group.* That said, internet is in short supply, and so I will not be able to update you all as regularly as the team would like.
To recap so far: we’re alive.
Our first two full days here were spent in somewhat of a recovery. We’re not dramatic, it was really hard sitting on those planes and stuff. Really though, it turned out to be the perfect prologue to doing ministry here. Bongani, his wife Kumbu (the jury is out on the spelling), and his two children Scebile (3) and Bongani Jr. (5) are just the best. So full of life, delightfully sarcastic, and infatuated with Jesus and doing his work in Swaziland. The staff—who in addition to Lelo and Wawa are Tiny, Noxie, and another Bongani whom we call Clark—are so vibrant, loving, caring, and hilarious. We have become fast friends with them all, and I would attribute that in large part with getting the weekend to really get to know them as a part of our team, not just our hosts. They don’t even actually live at this YWAM base, or even Mbabane for some. They have simply given this time to serve us in the midst of their busy lives.
On Saturday, we went to a cultural village in the region of Ezulwini—aptly named, as it translates “Valley of Heaven,” be that it’s one of the most beautiful places I have seen in recent memory. It was a cool opportunity to better understand Swazi life and traditions, hear some traditional music, see some rad dances, and maybe even get the chance to dance ourselves.
A local woman told me that I have good, natural rhythm. It may have been the greatest moment of my life.
Sunday we got to visit the first of three churches that we will attend while here. We made a short presentation, sang some songs, and then were dumbfounded by the preaching of a local man, who may have been as wide as the guitar he wielded at the start of the service. It’s pretty great to receive such a powerful word when you think you’re the ones who are doing the giving.
Monday was our first day of ministry, brief in the end, but super effective. We originally hoped to do some door-to-door stuff, making relationships and getting the word out about YFC, but what ended up happening was completely different. We happened upon a park where we were going to stop and scarf some lunch, but we ended up seeing about fifty local boys swimming and jumping on a trampoline. Yeah, parks in Swaziland have pools and trampolines. We ended up getting to talk to them, tell them about YFC, the gospel, and hand out a ton of Bibles. Our group didn’t waste any time in getting right into the action and it was a really special moment.
Today was pretty incredible, too. We ended up doing that door-to-door stuff we hadn’t done the day before, and we saw a ton of kids come to Christ, we handed out a bunch of Bibles, and I made a little buddy or two. Oh, and then we happened upon a soccer field and got our butts kicked by some locals. We let them win in exchange for taking a second to hear the Gospel.
There’s plenty of stories to tell, but there’ll be plenty of opportunities for their protagonists to tell them better than I could over this silly internet thing.
This trip has shaped into something really practical. As we can now see a better picture of what our actual “mission” here is, Youth For Christ Swaziland is in a time of rebirth. They’re a para church ministry, and so their goal for the time being is that, with our help, they can begin to establish a more prominent partnership with churches in the area, and get the word out to local youth about the Gospel and about weekly meetings and events. That means strategizing with YFC staff, doing outreach like we did today, and then visiting local churches.
Almost in passing one morning, Bongani sat us down and put this whole thing into perspective. Lounging in the common area of our house, he looked at us and said, “You know how you know yourself to be someone who laughs and jokes and is joyful, and at some point you can feel yourself not being that person anymore? But you don’t know what to do about it? That is how I have been feeling for the past couple months.
“Seeing you guys when you showed up at the airport a few days ago, something happened to me, like a fire lit inside of me, and I can feel myself returning back to the way I used to be. I am feeling a renewed excitement for this ministry. And if you take nothing else away from this trip, you can go home knowing that you have blessed me and this ministry.”
You can’t put a price tag on that.
Please continue to pray for us. Pray against spiritual attack, and thank God for His provision of these people and this place. We are so excited to see what he continues to do in and through each of us.
*The motivation to go to such great lengths for internet when we’re only here for such a brief time is not because we’re overeager to update our Myspace pages. We bought the Dongle because we’ll be able to donate the it to YFC when we leave—a need that they were not afraid to express.