Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seeing Senkhosi

Did ya'll read my last blog? It was a really important one. If you missed it - check it out here. If you read it and haven't donated or shared it with anyone yet, I hope you'll decide to take action right now. Because I know over 100 people read it, and these kids need every single one of you to respond!

*Okay - I'm going to get down off my soapbox about our India kids, and talk to you instead about our Swazi kids!* Or, specifically, one Swazi kid. I have been wanting to share these pictures and video from Africa because they mean so much to me - but lots of work + a crashed computer hard drive (not fun!) got in the way. Today though, I want to share a very special reunion with you all.

Some of you - who have followed my blog from way back in 2007 - may remember me talking about Senkhosi. He was the first Swazi baby that I fell head over heels for when I took that 1st trip, back when he was just a 1 year old toddler. I took a million pictures of him, played with him, prayed for him and his Mom, journaled about him, blogged about him, prayed some more, and couldn't forget him when I came home. His sweet little face and his story is a big reason why The Sound of Hope exists today. He is also the child that truly made adoption the plan for my future (instead of just a possibility). When I came home from Swaziland in 2007, I started an adoption savings account immediately!

Senkhosi, 1 year old (2007)

This picture of his tiny shadow is still up on our dining room wall, and others of his adorable smile are on my desk. He's not one I could forget!

I went back and saw him in 2008, and was thrilled to find out that Thulie, his HIV+ Mom was still alive. We had heard she might not make it the year before (the reason for many of my desperate prayers). It was amazing to see them again, though I was sure he didn't remember me. I brought him a little Elmo sweatsuit my mom found for him, and new socks and shoes. He was beginning to learn English and could say, "How are you? I am FINE!" while running around giggling!

Tickling Senkhosi, 2 years old (2008)

Fast forward 4 more years. Senkhosi is now 6 years old, and I knew I had to see him again on this trip. I found some Auburn clothes for him - a shirt, hat, and socks - and we went to buy bags of food for his family. I doubted they would remember me, but I couldn't be so close and not see the child that had (in so many ways) changed my life. And so, off we went, not really expecting much of anything - except to bless this little family I met 5 years earlier.

Boy was I surprised when we saw them! Not only did Thulie remember me - she was quick to show me how! She pulled out a tattered family photo album and as she turned the pages, I saw photo after photo that I had taken! Pretty much the only pictures she had of Senkhosi as a baby were those I had shot in 2007. And then - there was a photo of the 3 of us too! I was floored. I didn't even remember bringing these back to her (though I must have printed them in 2008 when I visited). I couldn't believe she still had them!

Perhaps the best part of our visit though, was Rusty letting Senkhosi drive. He had noticed Senkhosi watching carefully from the backseat, and invited him to give it a try. After an initial look of fear (that took some prompting to get over), he climbed up in Rusty's lap and took the wheel. He had a blast "driving"! It made me flash back to my childhood memories of driving in my Daddy's lap, and my Grandaddy's. It was neat to see Senkhosi have a moment like that. His eyes shone with excitement and he couldn't stop smiling! (Don't worry friends - we were going slow on a little dirt road! ;)

I can't explain how special it was to spend time with Thulie and Senkhosi, and to see them still together after all this time. ARV drugs (+ prayers) are truly a miracle! They have given this little boy 5 more years with his mother.

Ericka, Senkhosi, and Thulie (2007)

Ericka, Senkhosi, and Thulie (2012)

It was incredible to see how Senkhosi has changed and how he is flourishing. Thank you to all of you who make our work possible! What a gift it is to be able to return time after time, and to watch this precious little boy grow up before my eyes!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

URGENT NEED :: Asha Mission Land Project

To all my blog readers (and fellow blogging friends) I'm sorry I've been a little MIA. I have so many fun blogs I want to share - with more videos and pictures from our time in Africa, a recap of our Singer's Reunion this past weekend, and even a Springtime Giveaway - but I have been consumed with this need and right now, it's all I can post about.

I am BEGGING YOU to please, please watch this video and GET INVOLVED. We are up against some overwhelming odds, and I know that we cannot do this without each and every one of you getting involved in some way!

$75,000 may seem ridiculous and impossible to you - but today I am standing on the truth that NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD! I am sure that Joshua felt pretty ridiculous playing an instrument aimed at the walls of Jericho, and that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego thought walking through fire was impossible. The truth is, God has a history of making the impossible, POSSIBLE, and He loves it when the odds are stacked against Him! $75,000 in less than 30 days is completely do-able - if we all work together!

So, here is what I'm asking. 

1st - I am asking you to consider what you can give. And not just $10 either - these precious little boys and girls are worth so much more than that! As I said in the video - I am asking you to give until it hurts. And believe me - Rusty and I are doing the same thing. (I would not ask you to do something that I wasn't willing to do myself!) DONATE HERE. 
2nd - I am asking you to spread the word to everyone you know. Send an email with this video and this blog (or this link to give) to your friends and family and coworkers and small group.  Repost this video or blog to your facebook. Tweet this link on twitter. Challenge everyone you know to GIVE SOMETHING!

3rd - I am asking you to take a look at this list of fundraising ideas (below) and choose one. I know that most of you who read my blog do so because you care about the children the world has forgotten. You are the people who love orphans - who believe they deserve a hope and a future. I am asking you today to do something about it. Put some action behind what you believe! Consider what you would do if this was your child. What lengths would you go to, to ensure a safe and healthy future for your little boy or little girl? I know we're all busy people, but I am asking you to put these children first. They have no one to fight for them except you and me! Their future rests in our hands.

So please - I beg you - choose one of these ways to get involved and then DO IT! We will help you publicize whatever you decide to do via facebook and twitter and even give you ideas to make your project a success. Just comment below or email me (erickabennett(at) which thing you're volunteering to do - with the proceeds going to this need! Or - come up with your own fundraising idea and let me know about it! (I'd love it if you got even more creative with this!)

Here's the list - please pick one and get to planning!
  • Garage Sale - Usually a Garage Sale makes around $1,000 to $3,000 profit. We are looking for 10 PEOPLE who will volunteer to host at least 1 Garage Sale each before May 20th. This is the perfect time to do some Spring Cleaning for a great cause! Your trash really will be "another man's treasure" - because it will give LIFE, HOPE, and a SECURE FUTURE to our precious kids in India! Don't have enough stuff to do a yard-sale? Why not put up a big ticket item (like a boat, car, furniture or antiques) on Craigslist?
  • EBay Sales - Have some old collectibles? How about a camera, clothes, books, or jewelry? I have seen some crazy things go for high prices on EBay! So go through your closet, attic, basement, and garage and get to selling! If you aren't EBay savvy - you could always sell your items via facebook post. (I have seen some girls recently doing this with old pageant dresses and suits!)
  • Benefit Shows - Are you a musician? Are you willing to lend your voice for children in need? We are looking for 10 MUSICIANS who will host 1 Benefit Show each before May 20th. It doesn't matter if you don't have a big following or a great venue. I once did a small coffeeshop show in college that raised $1,900 for a charity! You may be surprised at the turnout! We'd be glad to send Sound of Hope brochures and lend you our logo for any promo posters you create!
  • Art Auction - Are you an artist? How about a photographer? Would you consider auctioning off one (or more) of your pieces online, or getting some friends together for an art auction? A small auction could easily be set up at a coffeeshop, college, or church!
  • Tax Return Donation - According to my online research, the average tax deduction is around $3,000. That means, if just 25 people donated their tax return to this cause, we would be COMPLETELY FUNDED! Will you donate your tax return so these kids can have a home? Will you challenge your friends and family to do the same?
  • Share Your Savings - Many of us are at the age where saving is important. We are thinking of the future of our spouse and our children. Unfortunately, these kids in India have no one saving for their future. There is no one putting away money for their college fund. There is no one even saving for their needs next month. Would you consider giving away a percentage of your security to provide for theirs? Would you donate 5% of your savings to give these kids a future? What about 10%? What about 25%?
  • Birthday Campaign - Do you have a birthday coming up in April or May? How about asking for donations to this project instead of presents? You can have your friends give directly to this link, or you can set up your own page by clicking "FUNDRAISE" on the right side of that page and following the prompts.
  • Do Something Crazy - Remember when your school raised funds by promising you could pie the principle in the face if you met your mark? Or that your favorite teacher would die her hair pink if you raised $1,000? Think up something similar and challenge your friends and family to help you reach your fundraising goal! What would people pay to see you do? Wear your rival team's jersey and sing their fight song? Shave your head? (You can click the "FUNDRAISE" button on the right side of this page to set up your own page and keep track of your donations!)
  • Calling All Bloggers - I know there are many of you who have your own blog, and it would mean the world to me if you would do a post about this need! You can even add the widget below to your blog and people can give right on your page! Just click this link to get the embed code (you can even change the color to match your blog!) It would be amazing if you would set a goal for you and your blog readers to reach together - maybe $500? or $1,000 by the deadline? You could even do a giveaway once you reached your goal!

      Whichever fundraiser you plan to do, remember it must be completed (and the money sent in) before May 20th. Donations can be given online here, using the widget above, or mailed to this address :: The Sound of Hope - PO Box # 534 - Helena, Alabama  35080.  Thank you in advance for loving and fighting for these children. Together, we can insure that they have the HOPE and FUTURE they deserve!

      Monday, April 16, 2012

      Happy Songkran!

      This weekend is the celebration of Songkran, which is the Thai New Year!

      It is crazy to think that just a year ago we were living in Thailand, taking part in the city-wide water fight celebration. And now, to think that this holiday will be part of our little girl's heritage forever! Here's a video of our visit to the moat last April. (Please ignore my hysterical laughter - I was the one holding the camera and didn't realize it would be so loud!) It was crazy but fun... until about the 20th time I got doused over the head with ice-water and couldn't think straight!

      We did see a more "traditional" celebration when our sweet waitress from one of our favorite restaurants asked if she could "bless us". She poured fragrant water over each of our hands from a special silver bowl. It is meant as a blessing to your elders and it was a really beautiful symbol (even if it is from a Buddhist culture).

      Here's a little more information about Songkran from Wikipedia::
      Songkran falls in the hottest time of the year in Thailand, at the end of the dry season. The most obvious celebration of Songkran is the throwing of water. Thais roam the streets with containers of water or water guns (sometimes mixed with mentholated talc), or post themselves at the side of roads with a garden hose and drench each other and passersby. This, however, was not always the main activity of this festival. Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbors, and monks.
      The throwing of water originated as a way to pay respect to people, by capturing the water after it had been poured over the Buddhas for cleansing and then using this "blessed" water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder.The water is meant as a symbol of washing all of the bad away and is sometimes filled with fragrant herbs when celebrated in the traditional manner.
      Songkran is also celebrated in many places with a pageant in which young women demonstrate their beauty and unique talents, as judged by the audience. The level of financial support usually determines the winner, since, to show your support you must purchase necklaces which you place on your chosen girl. (Yes, you read that right - a beauty pageant is a part of the celebration! Just another way for me to feel connected to Thai culture! ;)
      It's only fitting that this weekend (such a special date in Thailand) would bring something new and exciting to our adoption front. After weeks of searching and praying, I have finally found 2 families who have experience adopting from Thailand! The first already has their precious little girl home with them - the second is still waiting for their daughter. After hearing that it is harder to adopt a girl from Thailand these were such encouraging connections! We have already been emailing back and forth and it has been a real blessing to hear about their experiences.

      Now that we are home from Africa, we will be able to move forward with our adoption paperwork - but first we must choose an agency. We are hoping to set up some phone meetings with 2 different agencies and pick one of them soon. Please be in prayer with us about this decision - as it is a HUGE one. I have been asking God to give us peace about which one to choose and I know He will direct this decision!

      Sunday, April 8, 2012

      Resurrection Power

      It would be an understatement to say that we see horrible things in our line of work. The truth is we see heartbreaking, disgusting, unfathomable injustice, need and pain. Third world countries are not easy places to be... especially when you know and love so many of the people suffering. It would be easy to get lost in hopelessness and give up in despair. But this morning I woke up with a revelation from God......  


      All day today I have been reflecting on this TRUTH :: My God conquered DEATH - and that is why I can see the darkness of the world without despair. THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST is the reason I can stand in brothels and slums and AIDS ridden villages and proclaim that HOPE IS COMING! He is the reason I can face poverty and genocide and human trafficking and declare that His LOVE and POWER is greater! Easter is the source of our HOPE and our FAITH and the PROMISE of LIFE! This is the POWER of the RESURRECTION! He has conquered death! He is ALIVE and able to do ALL THINGS!!! Nothing is too big for my God!

      Tuesday, April 3, 2012

      An apple a day...

      Our last day at the carepoint in Nsoko, we decided to bring some apples for the kids who came to eat lunch. I approached some older kids to ask if they would help me "round up" the little ones (as I assumed it would take some time to get them all in a line at the door). What happened next shocked me.

      The older kids (teenagers) RAN to the door while yelling for the little ones, who immediately rushed from the playground. The next thing I knew there was a mini MOB all around! I have never in my life seen children so excited about apples! They were not lining up for candy or toys - they were anxiously waiting for a single piece of fruit.

      For children who eat meals that consist of only pap (maize meal), beans, and rice, an apple was a very special treat. Their excitement for something so simple gave me perspective, and made me even more determined to see the Community Garden we're starting flourish. This garden will provide not only healthy vegetables for the children at the carepoint (which means more nutritious meals), it will also empower and provide for up to 18 families in the community! To find out more (and to donate to this project), CLICK HERE.