Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Mike and Danielle Brower of Kimball led a group of volunteers to Swaziland in September. They brought school supplies, toys, clothes and shoes. But most of all, they showed the 131 children at Bheveni Carepoint that they were loved. The children, most of them orphans, were joyful and thankful, and happy just to play.
'Tis the season to go shopping, or so our culture tells us.
Families across our great nation are making preparations for a grand Thanksgiving feast. Some will slave in hot kitchens for days only to have their labors quickly scarfed down. Some will eat themselves sick, or at least into a stupor. Others will pick fights, badmouth relatives, interact only with a television or other electronic device, or choose to avoid family altogether.
The dinner bell hasn't even rung yet, and many of us are already checking out the Black Friday sales Ð figuring out where and when we can get the best "stuff" for the least money.
Before Halloween, stores had their Christmas displays out. And TV commercials tell us repeatedly what things we simply must request for Christmas this year. We must have the newest gizmo, the hottest toy, latest car, or biggest jewels in order to be happy, we are told over and over again.
Meanwhile, half a world away, children gather twice a day for a shared bowl of porridge and then later play in the dirt. Most have no parents, and many won't live to be 30. They'll never own an electronic device, or even have electricity. They may never ride in a car, much less own one. Perhaps someone will pay the $40 to $700/year so they can go to school this year. Perhaps.
By our standards, our culture, they have nothing.
But in some ways they are much richer than we are.
They are thankful for what they have. Even joyful.
The first visual impression Mike Brower had once he and his wife Danielle entered Swaziland two months ago was of the many young children and toddlers just wandering aimlessly in open places. No parents, no oversight at all.
"What hit me," Mike said, "was this is their life. It's not like they want what I have. But they're joyful, and really really thankful."
In September, the couple traveled to Swaziland, near South Africa, to observe first-hand a ministry in which they'd been involved for awhile. The end result of their journey was an even greater commitment to these children half a world away.
The focus of the Browers' interest and efforts is a tiny complex of buildings, open space, and a water tower, located about 25 minutes down a bumpy gravel road from any town. It's called the Bheveni Carepoint. A small group of volunteers and paid workers provide two meals a day, drinking water, and a place to get cleaned up for about 130-140 children from age 2-18. Simple things that we take for granted every day.
During their seven days in Swaziland, the Browers visited homes and witnessed the abject poverty of the lives of some of these children. Tiny hovels of sticks plastered together with mud to make up walls, and with a grass or tin roof.
"We never saw old men," Danielle recalled. "I think we maybe saw one the whole time we were there." They'd all died off. HIV/AIDS is epidemic and, once diagnosed, most simply go home to wait to die.
The Browers brought with them clothing and shoes, school supplies and toys. The children had next to nothing. But all they really wanted was to play. Mike and Danielle quickly realized these things would not bring happiness. These children already were filled with joy, in the midst of what we would view as incredible deprivation and need.
The goal of the Bheveni Carepoint, and its parent organization Children's HopeChest, is not to create dependence on Westerners. Rather, it is to provide support for them to survive and, somehow, thrive.
"We want them to feel they can have a dream," said Danielle, "and to pursue that dream."
Danielle sent off Christmas cards and Bibles to the Carepoint just last week, enough for everyone. The mission work at Bheveni is not affiliated with any particular denomination. Instead, they teach children the basics of God's love and building personal character.
Their current project is to provide a safe play area for the children. A playset and soccer field have been planned, and more than $5,000 in donations already raised. They need another $1,750 to complete the project, and hope to raise it by Christmas to build it soon (it's currently summer there). If enough individuals give just $10 each, the play area will quickly become a reality for the Bheveni children.
What the Browers learned: "You can make a difference. Not just with money," Danielle said. "I want to continue to help kids there, and to bring others along."
The Browers are very grateful to everyone who has helped in their various fundraising efforts for their trip in September, and since. Mike and Danielle will lead another team to Bheveni next September
You can read her blog, and learn more about the ministry, at moms4change.net.
Editor's note: Perhaps this week, as you're fighting over the last piece of pumpkin pie at dinner, or the TV remote, or the last DVD player in the store, remember the children across the world who are so full of joy in spite of their simple and "deprived" lives. What do you have to be joyful about, truly full of joy? Let that be your focus on this Thanks-giving Day, and every day.