Friday, March 30, 2012

A very special "War Eagle Moment"!

If you know me at all (or have even met me once), then you probably know I am a proud Auburn University graduate and a HUGE Auburn fan. So, when we planned our latest trip to Swaziland, I decided to buy Auburn shirts for a few of our "special friends" here. I stopped by the store Bama Fever / Tiger Pride to shop, and after some small talk with the manager the reason I was shopping came up (gifts for the kids in Africa). She began to ask questions and before I knew it, she had filled an ENTIRE BOX full of brand new Auburn clothes, socks, hats, and toys to donate! I was FLOORED! We typically don't take "in kind" donations overseas, but I definitely made an exception that day!

Last week we were able to dress all the preschool kids at our carepoint in a new long-sleeve shirt or a pair of super soft fleece pants (winter is coming!) They all got new Auburn socks too! It was amazing to see their faces when they got their new clothes!

 He was so proud of his new Auburn shirt!

All the preschool kids in their new Auburn shirts and pants!

Mischievous Thembilihle! She looks so cute in ORANGE!

There were even shirts for all the carepoint staff - the Gogo's (Grandmothers) that cook for the kids, the "D-Team" that does discipleship, and the preschool teacher, Bongiwe!

After all the kids were dressed, I took a few minutes to teach them some Auburn cheers. Here they are learning how to say, "Waarrrr Eagle, HEY!"

Of course, I am saving the best for last - we got them cheering on video! They are too cute saying "Auburn Tigers" with their Swazi accents! Talk about a special "War Eagle Moment"!

*For my friends who are Bama fans, you are not forgotten. Although it was painful, I bought some beautiful red and white elephant batiks today that we will have for sale at an event later this year. You guys will love them! We've also got some elephant wall hangings from India, and elephant jewelry from Thailand!

Friday, March 23, 2012

God loves Gogo Flora

Meet Gogo Flora. She had 7 children but they are all dead. Now she is the sole caregiver for her 7 grandchildren. She is crippled, asthmatic, diabetic, and has high blood pressure. She is also full of JOY.

We met her during a homestead visit this morning, and couldn't get her off our minds. I just kept thinking, "What if that was my Grandmother or Rusty's MeMaw? Wouldn't we want someone to take care of her?!" We knew she didn't have much, and felt we needed to bring her some food tonight. So we took a trip to the Spar and picked up some basic groceries - maize meal, beans, soup, sugar, salt, cooking oil, tea, candles, matches, and soap.

When we arrived back at her homestead, she was shocked to see us. When we began unloading the food, she was OVERJOYED! Between her minimal English and my minimal siSwati, we found out that she had run out of food TODAY. She gestured as if to say, "How did you know?!" to which I responded, "Mkulukulu" (God!) Gogo Flora shouted JESUS!!! and began to praise Him. She danced and laughed and clapped her hands. Then she said, (in perfect English), "WE WILL EAT TODAY!" After she hugged us, she hugged herself and began talking in siSwati about how much Jesus loves her and how God provides!

As we drove away, Rusty and I were so encouraged. Friends - this is not a story about our benevolence, this is a story about the GREATNESS OF OUR GOD!

THIS is the God we serve. A God who loves Gogo Flora and her grandchildren so much, that he would send 2 white people over 9,000 miles to be sure that this family didn't even go one day without food. This is MY GOD - a God who is in every detail. This is the God of the UNIVERSE, who is not too busy to care about a single sparrow. If you are struggling today, then I hope this story reminds you who God is. MY GOD will move mountains to care for His children! 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Children's Library :: Nsoko, Swaziland

Those of you who follow The Sound of Hope may have heard about this project we started a few weeks ago. We've been asking for donated books and funds to start a Children's Library in each of our homes in India and Thailand, as well as our carepoint here in Swaziland! Books are so expensive overseas and very hard to find, so the children just do not have access to them (not even in the preschool here!) But today - that changed for the kids at our carepoint. Check out the videos below!

The Children's Library :: Part 1

The Children's Library :: Part 2

To help us start libraries for our kids in Thailand and India DONATE HERE.

It was truly incredible to see the reaction of the kids and their teacher! She kept telling us how attentive the children were today because they were so excited about the books, puppets, and flashcards. "Before, they were getting bored," she said, "but now, I have something in my hand to teach them with, and they are concentrating so much!"

We believe this little library is going to make a big difference in the lives of these children. THANK YOU to everyone who donated the books and funding to make this project possible!

*Note - This is just the beginning of this library project here. Our American partners in Nsoko are already talking to some friends of theirs about bringing more donated books to fill these shelves. We can't wait to see the library grow!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Welcome to Swaziland!

It's a GORGEOUS day here in Africa (no more rain!) Check out the view outside our bedroom window. Isn't that tree beautiful!?

We are headed to Nsoko today to begin work at our carepoint. But first, I wanted to share this quick video update with you all!

As long as the internet cooperates, we'll be sharing more videos and pictures in the next few weeks. So be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates!

Friday, March 16, 2012

We made it to Swaziland!

Just thought I'd share a quick post from Africa! After 3 days of travel time (including 18 hours on airplanes about around 8 hours in cars/buses) we finally made it to the beautiful Kingdom of Swaziland.

Our first night in South Africa, we met up with Will & Tara Miller for dinner one night and breakfast the next. It was so much fun catching up with them. It's always great to run into friends in other countries... makes the world feel so much smaller!

Ms. Tina - this picture is for you! :)

It's good to be back in Africa after being away for so long. Back to the land of rooibos tea every morning,  big white smiles on beautiful brown faces,  red dirt trails to carepoints, bars on all the windows and doors, and siSwati ringing in my ears!

Don't worry Mom - I'm not in jail! These are on every door here! 

We're tired and struggling with some jet lag, but sooo happy to be here! We had a fun braai (Afrikaans for "grilled meat") tonight with some of our friends and tomorrow we are headed to Nsoko to get to work at our carepoint. We can't wait to see the kids and start setting up the library!

Be sure to "stay tuned" to our Sound of Hope blog, facebook page, and twitter account for updates. The internet can be kind of tricky here, but we're hoping to share as many pictures and videos as we can while we're in country! 

ps- We shared this fun video on facebook, but I realize all of you aren't facebook users. So, if you want to see our highlights from 2011 (in a fun, 90 second video) - check it out HERE.

pps - It's been raining here the last 2 days, and I cannot get this song out of my head! Fitting, huh?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Prayer requests for our time in Africa...

I've had several people tell us they'd be praying for us while we're in Africa, and some ask how they could specifically pray while we're gone. Here are a few of our requests, if you would like to lift them up for us while we are overseas!

  • Safety - I realize there is no guarantee of safety in this life we lead, and God never promised us we'd be safe or comfortable while serving Him! But we sure are hoping God is not done with us on this earth yet! We would appreciate your prayers for protection and safety - for us and our gear. Last time Rusty was in South Africa (where we will be for about a week of our trip) he was held at gunpoint and robbed (along with 20 members of his World Race team). So we are (understandably) anxious about returning. I am also concerned about the fact that we are going in the summer - as there are many deadly snakes in Swaziland and South Africa active this time of year.
  • Health, Sleep, Energy. We are always on the go during these trips - trying to make every moment count. On our last trip we were working 14 hour days and didn't schedule in enough rest (off-days). Needless to say, we both got terribly sick. We've tried to schedule a little better this time, but being in a new country (with new germs!) and on the go can wear you out! Please pray for our immune systems, for good rest, and for enough energy to get our work done each day!
  • Favor & Traveling Mercies - We'll have about 40 hours in airplanes, around 18 hours of "layovers", and at least 15 hours in cars over the next 4 weeks.
  • Vision for the future. "God ideas" and direction! 
  • Divine Appointments - we want to be walking in God's plan, not our own!  
  • Discernment - to "lean not on our own understanding", but to receive wisdom from the Lord every time we need to make a decision.
  • Help retaining language - I made a real effort to learn about 30 words/phrases of siSwati back in 2007, but I am very out of practice. Please pray that these words will come back to me, and pray it will be (supernaturally) easy to learn more of this language. I want so badly to be able to add to my siSwati every trip so that I can talk with the gogos and children with less of a language barrier!
  • Good internet - so we can share "real time" videos, pictures, and blogs with all of you back home!
  • That all our "goodies" for the kids will get there without customs hassles or lost luggage! (books for the Children's Library, & clothing.) 
  • That God would work through us to show His love to everyone we meet (and that we would be receptive to whatever He asks us to do.)
  • That God would break our hearts AGAIN for the people of Swaziland. We go back to serve, but we also go back to remember why we serve. It is so easy to get comfortable and complacent when we live in America. We are praying God breaks our hearts for what breaks His and renews our desire to love and serve the children (and adults) of Swaziland!

Thank you to each and every one of you who are "prayer warriors" for us! We couldn't do what we do without your prayers covering us!

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    "Kisses from Katie" giveaway winner!

    And the winner is....

    JENNIFER FLAVIN from Paisley Print Shoes!

    I chose my winner using the random # generator from Congratulations Jennifer! You are going to love reading Kisses from Katie! Be sure to message me your mailing address and I will get this in the mail to you tomorrow!

    To everyone else who entered, THANK YOU for following The Sound of Hope on facebook, twitter, and signing up for our blog updates. I'm planning to do more giveaways on my blog AND through The Sound of Hope in the next few months, so "stay tuned" for more opportunities to win!

    I can't wait to share our videos, pictures and stories with you while we are in Africa. Please keep us in your prayers! 

    ps - If you didn't win and you want to purchase this book, I would encourage you to do so from this link. They give 50% of the proceeds back to Katie's ministry, Amazima!

    Tuesday, March 6, 2012

    FREE "Kisses from Katie" GIVEAWAY!

    In 6 days I'll be on my way here....

    (specifically to the little yellow dot that is Swaziland.)

    And I can't think of a better way to celebrate our return to Africa, than a FREE GIVEAWAY of a wonderful book that was written in Africa! I just finished Kisses from Katie a couple of weeks ago, and it did not disappoint. I laughed and cried and underlined whole paragraphs. I loved reading Katie's raw, real, beautiful writing - and I found myself in her story. So much of her explanation of what was happening in her heart to put her where she is today, reminded me of my own journey from prissy pageant girl to the woman who regularly spends time in third world countries and deals with job hazards like parasites and rats! (ugh!) A woman who now leads an unexpectedly crazy life - but a crazy life that I love.  I never could have guessed that this would be the life God had for me!

    I like the way Katie puts it - 
    "I have learned that something happens when one makes herself available to God. He starts moving in ways no one could imagine. "
    "People from my first home say I'm brave. They tell me I'm strong. They pat me on the back and say, "Way to go. Good job." But the truth is, I am not really very brave; I am not really very strong; and I am not doing anything spectacular. I am simply doing what God has called me to do as a person who follows Him. He said to feed His sheep and He said to care for "the least of these,", so that's what I'm doing, with the help of a lot of people who make it possible and in the company of those who make my life worth living."

    I believe that the children we care for in Swaziland, India, and Thailand are some of the ones that make my life worth living. And I want you, my wonderful blog reading friends, to be impacted by this book the way I was. So - I'm giving away a copy for FREE!

    What you'll get :: 

    One Hardback Copy of Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis

    How to enter :: 

              Step 1 - Choose one of these ways to "follow" The Sound of Hope 
    • Sign up for our blog updates HERE (upper right corner)
    • Like us on Facebook HERE
    • Follow us on Twitter HERE

    Step 2 - Comment below and tell me which way you chose to "follow us" (you can do all 3!) and you will be entered to win! And don't forget to leave an email address so I can get in touch with you if you do win.

    That's all you have to do for a chance to win your own copy of Kisses for Katie! It's really a "win-win", because believe me - you're going to want to see the pictures and videos of our sweet kids in Africa that we'll be sharing via facebook, twitter, and blog the next couple of months!

    I'll be announcing a winner on Sunday, March 11th - so enter today!

    Monday, March 5, 2012

    Cruisin' Together...

    Valentine's week we took a little vacay. Not just a "we've been working for 6 weeks straight in third world countries now let's take an hour to ride an elephant and call it vacation" - but a REAL vacation! One of those "leave your computer at home and turn your phone off" vacations - and it was wonderful!

    Neither of us had ever done a cruise before, and we were dying to give one a try. So when we found a great deal on a balcony room (which we loved!) we hopped aboard the Jewel of the Seas and set sail for MEXICO!

    The Jewel of the Seas @ port in Costa Maya

    We cruised Royal Carribbean because some friends of mine used to be entertainers on that line, and we really enjoyed the shows! We even got to be in one show - the "Love & Marriage Gameshow" - though it was as embarrassing as it was "fun"! And then the ship re-played the embarrassment over and over on the "cruise channel", making us mini-celebrities for the rest of the cruise! (gee... thanks...)

    We also ate... a lot. We won't talk about how much weight we gained (between the 2 of us) in a week! Gotta love all that "all-inclusive" food! YUM!

    My favorite part of the cruise had to be Formal Night. I love any excuse to dress up, and I was dying to wear my new RED dress! It was such a wonderful way to spend our Valentine's Night!

    (I really wish I could figure out how to scan in our "professional picture" from the cruise, but I don't know how to work our scanner. Just know it's pretty epic - there is even an ice sculpture in it! HA!)

    We didn't really pick the cruise for the ports (we didn't care where we went as long as we got some down time together) but we did have fun shopping a little in Cozumel (though I was disappointed in the touristy prices) and eating some authentic Mexican food...

    Lunch at a sea-side restaurant... chicken fajitas and fresh guacamole!

    Enjoying the view off the island of Cozumel!

    A pic of me in my new Mexican earrings! Love them!

    The next day, we spent a relaxing afternoon laying out on the beach in Costa Maya. That is... until I got completely fried. Yes - me - the girl who  never burns! 3 weeks later and I'm STILL peeling... ick. :( Mexico, we are not friends anymore!

    You can see some of the burn on my chest and shoulders here (my legs matched - I looked like a LOBSTER!) Thank the Lord my back didn't burn! It hurt to even stand in the sun for days :(

    Rusty, not burned at all, because his loving wife made him wear sunscreen but didn't take her own advice...

    But, even a miserable sunburn couldn't make me miss this GORGEOUS sunset our last night. I felt like I was in the sunset scene where Rose is "flying" in Titanic... so romantic! What a wonderful end to our vacation!

    We tried to get a good shot of the 2 of us, but my hair was not cooperating with the wind!

    The sky at sunset - unedited. It was absolutely BREATHTAKING!

    It was so nice to truly "unplug" from the world and relax together. Our friend Josh said it was a "babymoon" because of our adoption plans, which put everything into perspective! We talked about how even though we don't know when we will bring our little girl home, this will likely be one of our last vacations together - just the two of us. As much as we are looking forward to meeting our Baby Girl, I really want to cherish the time we have left as just a couple. I know when things change they will change quickly! I'm glad we had the chance to make this memory together! :)

    *If any of you are looking for cruise suggestions, we would definitely recommend Royal Caribbean to our friends. The staff was wonderful, the ship was super clean, and there was always something fun to do! :)

    Sunday, March 4, 2012

    Book Drive for Swazi & The KMO Conference

    I just wanted to share a couple of things with you guys, in case you didn't see The Sound of Hope Blogs about these two events. (Sidenote - if you don't get blog updates for The Sound of Hope you should definitely sign up! Just enter your email in the upper right corner of this page. We post a lot of stories, videos, and pictures there that I don't share here - especially when we're overseas. You can also follow The Sound of Hope on facebook and twitter.)

    #1 - Book Drive for Swaziland! 
    We've decided to add a Children's Library to each of our Children's Homes overseas, and we're starting with Swaziland. Everyone can be a part of this - even if you just send 1 book (maybe your child's favorite bedtime story?) We leave soon and will be taking the books with us - so we need all your donated books in by March 7th. (If you live in the B'ham area, you can contact me and bring them by my house.)  Check out the blog for more details about what kind of books we need and where to send them, or click here to donate funds for the project!

    #2 - kNOw More Orphans Conference
    We're really excited about this conference that's happening in Birmingham next weekend (March 10th). For those of you in Alabama (or within driving distance) - this is a great way to find out how you can be a part of caring for orphans in the US and around the world! You can register HERE for the event. The Sound of Hope will be a part of the Resource Expo, so be sure to come by our table and say hello!

    Saturday, March 3, 2012

    Going back.

    If you haven't heard yet, we are going back to Swaziland for 4 weeks during March and April. It seems like the past few months been about going back - and I'm so grateful we get to return to the places and the people we love.

    In a world full of unkept promises... there is something about going back. Visiting somewhere once is nice... but going back says I care. Going back says, you aren't just a number to me. Going back says, I didn't forget you.

    In November, I went back to India for the first time in almost 4 years. To go back to the same Children's Home was incredible. To hear the kids say, "Auntie - you remember me?" and to tell little Shanu, "Last time I was here you were only 3! When did you grow to be so big?!" was surreal!

    2008 - Shanu, age 3

    2011 - Shanu, age 6

    To see Jyoti - who was terrified of white people in 2008 (and wouldn't let me hold her) come RUNNING to me and throw her arms around my neck was an emotional experience. She covered me in kisses and hugs and didn't leave my side either day we were there (unless it was to ride on Rusty's shoulders and give him kisses!) I found out from the house mom that this once timid little girl had been sashaying around the house all day proclaiming, "MY Auntie is coming!"

    2008 - Jyoti (age 2) with Simini

    2011 - Jyoti & Ericka Auntie

    To return to the same leper colony I visited in 2008, and to tell Baba's widow Saranoma, "I remember you... and I remember your husband. I sang for him last time we were here"... there are really no words to express the look in her eyes. She didn't believe me until she showed me a picture of her deceased husband and again I shook my head and said, "I remember." She couldn't comprehend that this white person from far away would not only return to visit again, but remember her and her husband. It spoke volumes to her. Tears filled her eyes and she wiped them away with the corner of her saree. She didn't leave my side for the rest of the visit... feeding me and hugging me as long as I would let her.

    2011 - With Saranoma in the Leper Colony

    To return in December to the Refugee Camp we visited in April and love on our kids there was thrilling! I could barely contain my excitement as I searched for the familiar faces and ran to embrace my "little sisters" there! These children have been through so much and I can only imagine how hard it is to trust a stranger. But when we return again and again we aren't strangers - we're friends.

    2011 - With 2 of my Karen "sisters" from The Refuge

    This is the case with so many people around the world. We meet them, and love them, and we mean it when we say, "We will see you again." These dear people from so many different countries and cultures become friends and family to us. It is the most amazing thing to watch our precious kids around the world grow up before our eyes! They are the reason we keep going back. 

    And so, I can barely contain my excitement when I think of returning to Africa after 3 and 1/2 years away...

    2007 - With Senkhosi & his mother Thulie

    2008 - Tickling Senkhosi in his new Elmo outfit!

     I cannot wait to see the ones we love in Swaziland again!