We are still cleaning up after the storm that hit us a few weeks ago. Below is an article written by our friend Reverend Ken Jefferson, a Scotsman, a Baptist Minister, and the pastor of the Mbabane Chapel. This article appeared in the local paper here- the Swazi Observer. We met him a while ago, because he writes a wonderful weekly column in the Swazi Observer from a theological perspective and we called him to thank him for it- the rest is history.
He came to St. Philip’s the morning after the storm to see for himself and generously helped us. He has also helped us in the past; last winter, through Rotary, he got us 100 much-needed blankets. His articles are always well-written and inspiring and we offer this to you to provide a window into what we are experiencing now, and to offer hope and faith to all in difficult times.
Blessings and love,
Srs. Barbara and Diane
“PICKING UP THE PIECES” by Rev. Ken Jefferson
In the days between Christmas and New Year there was a storm. It struck in the late afternoon, and for many places across the country, it was just another storm. We have them and we cope with them throughout this season.
However this storm hit one small area with exceptional force, causing major damage. In fifteen brief minutes it swept through the St. Philips Mission, lifting roofs of houses, taking down power lines, tearing down trees, leaving the nuns who run the orphanage with a repair bill that will run to as much as half a million Emalangeni.
A few months ago, the Mbabane Rotary Club provided a hundred blankets for the children being looked after at St Philips, and in this emergency the nuns contacted me, as president of the club. They reached out for assistance in the crisis that had overtaken them.
They had already contacted a former volunteer, now working with the US embassy, and with this young man I quickly made my way to the orphanage, to see and survey the damage at first hand. It was a scene of real devastation.
The two nuns, Sister Diane and Sister Barbara had endured a frightening experience. The wind came with such force that it lifted the tiles of the roof of their house. Then torrential rain fell and soaked everything inside. The hours of the night were long and difficult. One of the staff lost his possessions when his small house was wrecked. The kitchen which feeds over 130 children was smashed up, the dormitories had holes in the ceiling, and the church which stands at the heart of the mission had sustained substantial damage.
For the sisters there was more than the element of physical fright in their experience. Heartbreak followed in the wake of the storm. To have the work they love and the service they offer dealt such a severe blow in such a short time seemed to be a stunning setback, just at the time when the work of the mission is so critically needed. They realised that plans will have to be changed. Before there can be the dream of expansion, there will a necessary period of repair and consolidation.
It would be my prayer that the Catholic community in this and in other countries will learn of the disaster that struck St. Philips and become significantly involved in repairing the structures. This is a time for Diocesan leadership to come to their aid, and to demonstrate even in cash-strapped Swaziland, practical and physical help can be brought to bear, effectively and quickly. It would be nothing short of a disgrace, were the sisters to find themselves lacking in the support they deserve, and one can only hope and pray that this will prove to be an hour in which their will be the best and most generous expression of local Christian love and solidarity. Oddly and sadly enough, Christian churches are not always fast or first to dig their hands into their congregational or national purses, when funds are required, nor are they as ready as might be supposed to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into hard work on behalf of brothers and sisters in the faith, in spite of their being taught that there is no duty like the duty of loving one another, which is the essential badge of discipleship and in and of itself an essential witness to the world.
But even as I make these points, I know as I do so, that Sister Diane and Sister Barbara have not and will not allow themselves to be overwhelmed, nor are they sitting back and waiting for help to come from one quarter or another. Indeed even by the time I arrived at the mission they had somehow or another got a work force busy, and at a time of national holiday, had somehow managed to get men working on replacing tiles on the roof, and they were arranging to have as much made wind and water tight as they could.
What especially impressed me was the fact that shocked though they were by all that had happened, in no sense had they given way to despair, or descended into self pity. Indeed their primary concerns were not for themselves, but for the members of the mission staff who had suffered loss. Even in an hour of radically changed circumstances, these ladies had not buckled under pressure. They were evidently made of sterner stuff, and just maybe that sterner stuff has a name. It is called faith. It is faith that triumphs in adversity.
I am sure that these nuns have lived lives in which they have been trained in prayer and in meditation. They have spent years of their lives learning to trust God in all things, and this is for them an hour when the hidden life of devotion reveals its true worth, in the discipline of picking up the pieces and starting over.
And maybe we need their example at this special time in our own lives. As we have entered a new year, it will certainly bring us all kinds of storms to be faced. There will be days when our personal sky goes dark and we will feel threatened. We may have to face forces that are terrifying, and find ourselves having to face devastating times. Will we be able to come to terms with tough times? Will we be able to cope and to care enough to keep on going, when it would be easier to give up and cave in?
It would be my prayer that many of the readers of this column will remember the words of Jesus who called His disciples and still calls us to ‘have faith in God.’ Because faith- real faith- is not something that pays dividends in the good times. Faith endures. Faith holds us up, keeps us together even when our world is blown apart. Faith is for every circumstance, and like love and hope it lasts for ever.
By the way of you want to donate to the rebuilding of this orphanage you can phone the sisters on 602-2475 and ask for Sister Diane.
Pastor Ken Jefferson is pastor of the Mbabane Chapel, Makhosini/Ridge Street. The chapel meets for worship every Sunday. Youth Bible class at 9.30.am. is followed by Morning Worship at 10.30. The J team for kids happens at the same time and there is a crèche in operation for the very small children. You are warmly invited to attend this growing family church. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 638 2290.
Apparently there is little or no insurance cover on most of the facilities, and to start the reconstruction process will involve the sisters in the hard work of finding funding to rebuild.