Growing up I never ate peanut butter and jelly. Something about the combination made me disgusted, even the smell. When I found out that PB&J was going to be our main food group, I was pretty worried. Come our first outreach, the wonderful blend served as lunch, dinner, and afternoon snacks. Not only did our team get to enjoy this delightful sandwich, but it seemed that every Swazi staff member enjoyed the delectable taste as well.
There’s something about Swaziland peanut butter. It’s like crack. Once you have a taste, you can’t stop. It’s like you can’t wait until the next hit. Who knew that something I once despised would be the very thing I looked forward to. It’s become our sustenance, we put it on everything. Mornings of french toast and eggs always have peanut butter. We eat it with yogurt, we make cookies with it, we add it to cereal, we melt it and put it on brownies, and we eat it by the spoonful. All the snacks I brought with me have peanut butter in them, and just for kicks and giggles I put it on those also.
We’ve had the privilege of living with a few TLC staff members. Lindo, a Swazi nurse, has one of those laughs that makes everyone else laugh; it brings joy to everyone in listening distance. We’ve spent many-a-nights staying up talking to her about all the things that make our lives different, but somehow we connect deeper with her than some who we’ve known forever. When we see her on outreach days, the whole day gets a little more radiant, especially when we get to hear her laugh.
Something I continually reflect over is the TLC staff members. For every Swazi member we get to know, we gain more pieces of the Swaziland puzzle. The only word that comes to mind when I think about their personalities is ‘pure’. Their intentions, their desires, and their motives are pure. Their work ethic overflows from that, and allows them to work wholeheartedly and tirelessly until the job is finished with perfection. You see it the most on outreach days. A Swazi staff member is in charge of each room, and from the time we set up to the time we tear down, their service is selfless and sacrificial without complaining. It’s almost like they actually DESIRE to do the work set before them every single day.
I would like to say it’s because they have such good peanut butter to live off of, but I think its because their sustenance is much deeper than that. Their relationship with Christ reaches past the surface and covers every crack left behind from a life of poverty and sickness. They understand that day after day they will have what they need because the Lord provides. They want to be stretched, they want to wake up with joy every morning and go to bed with praise on their lips…and they have peanut butter to sustain.
One thing we’ve had to get used to is the amount of breast feeding we see. If a baby starts to cry, the mothers remove their shirts and breast feed, which happens a lot in room 2 where we test mothers and babies for HIV. It makes sense and for the most part works, as the babies find their mothers breast a comfort and the milk their nourishment. Although I don’t remember that time in my life, it’s made me think more about how important that time was. It was a time that I grew closer to my mother, but also provided me with the strength to continue growing and developing into who I am. I look at the babies on their mothers breasts being tested for HIV and wonder if they will be the next generation of TLC staff members with stories that reveal the splendor of God.
In a stage of distress, David wrote about this time in his life. Psalms 22 says,“Yet you are He who took me from the womb; you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. On you was I cast from my birth, and from my mother’s womb you have been my God. Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” When I look at the little babies crying in their mothers arms, I remember this verse. They are so small, their tears are so big, and whether they know it or not their God is already sustaining them with their mother’s milk. He is already providing a means for them to trust that He will provide. This verse says from the time we leave the womb, God is already ours if we allow Him to be. David calls to his Father to be near even now because he can trust in His presence. He has what he needs to survive.
How often do we find ourselves lacking nourishment simply because we aren’t willing to be comforted by this truth. We’d rather turn to our own temporary form of nutrition instead of being satisfied with the sustaining provisions of our Father. He knows us, He knows our needs, and more than that He knows our hearts- the hidden desires that we haven’t discovered yet. Not just now, but from the time we left our mothers wombs. Whether we’re in North America, Africa, or Antarctica, even the people groups that are undiscovered, He knows and if faithful to provide, even when we don’t ask for it.
This week was another tough week for many of us. We finished another three day rally of outreach, and on the first day I caught the Swazi flu from the team, making day two and three pretty rough. Around 11 o’clock on the ride home on the third night, I thought about all the ways that the Lord had provided over the week. Not only was I surrounded by a team that strives to encourage one another and be blameless before the Lord, but a new family of Swazis that were just as encouraging and supportive. We’ve all begun to feel the third week pains of knowing we only have a week left, and will be leaving those who have made such a difference in our lives. Mpandulo, one of the TLC Swazi staff members has decided that I’m his white sister, so he makes sure to take care of me as if that were the case. Abbie and Hannah have worked most in the surgical room, and have made connections with the Swazi nursing staff as well. We’ve had every need met by our TLC parents- Brian and Missy. My health is almost fully restored, my bite count is now only 1, my phone was found and returned by the regions leaders, and I was able to work in the pharmacy for almost an entire day. We’ve been given rest when needed, care when helpless, encouragement when drained, and joy when stuck in the pits.
Peanut butter has been our Swazi sustenance, but each of us have found an even greater sustenance on this trip- one that comes through scripture, prayer, and praise. We’ve been encouraged by the stories of the ‘Swazi saints’. We’ve seen miracles through medicine, waken up to the sunrise over the mountains of Swaziland, and gone to bed with our hearts full of encouragement through each of our live’s toughest moments. We are sustained, and will continue to be sustained despite the lack of warm water, power outages, foreign bug bites, and frustrating sicknesses. Our God has revealed himself to us daily, and shown us how willing he is to provide for our every need, although beside him we are lesser than a baby who is mostly capable of crying and pooping. Like David, He’s only waiting for us to nuzzle into Him and rest in His ability to be powerful beyond our crippling fear that rids us from His fullness. He wants to fill us with His presence, His nourishing milk that takes us to the next day, and the day after that. He wants to be our only sustenance, if only we were to allow Him, because there is none more able to satisfy our needs.