Jan24ThuJanuary 24, 2019
On my recent trip to Swaziland (who recently had a name change to eSwatini), I decided I wanted to drive there from South Africa. You wouldn’t think I would want to do this as I had done it at least one hundred times in the past. The fact is that I never get tired of the drive, especially once I get off the highway and onto secondary roads. All of sudden, it is first world and third world mixed together in every kilometer you drive: it is mud houses, rondavels, modern homes, planted forests, hills, dales and glens.
We had to stop in Carolina for a "Wimpy" coffee; that was part of the ritual. It was the halfway point, so it was all part of what we did. Beyond that, the geography starts to change. It's all hills and curves in the road and then there are the mountains of Swaziland. At a certain point, as you look to the left you see the mountains and at the same time a deep valley.
As I drove, I was not paying attention to how fast I was driving. I have a confession to make though: I didn’t see a speed zone, and I got stopped for speeding. Fortunately, the policeman was very sympathetic, and he reduced the fine considerably. It was an experience for my travelling companion, another TWR counterpart, as they make you get out of the car and take you under a tree to deal with you. After dealing with that, I never exceeded the speed limit for the rest of the trip.
Crossing into Swaziland is an experience. Again, you have to get out of the car and go inside. The immigration officer asked me how long I had been married. When I told him I’d been married 40+ years, he told me that was too long to be married and offered me a new bride! I informed him I wasn’t interested as I was truly happily married. My travel companion couldn’t believe what he was hearing; it was definitely the most eventful crossing he had ever made. We proceeded to Swaziland immigration, which was uneventful.
Our time in Swaziland was special in so many ways. However, as I look back, it was the people that we worked with, fellowshipped with and the good things of the culture that made it so special. When I lived in Swaziland, I was given many different names. One of them was “Baba Ray,” which meant father Ray. This was not just a title; it was a reality that came with expectations. It made me part of the culture, and it forced me to integrate into the culture. It meant I was part of funerals, weddings and engagement parties. It also meant that many times I was expected to come up with a solution to the problems my staff faced. Many of my staff didn’t have living fathers, so I had to fill that role.
While I lived in Swaziland and when I met with female staff, there weren’t just hugs; there were loud squeals of joy that only a Swazi can make. Today, there are only a handful of the same staff there, but the greetings were the same. Bonisile is one of the remaining staff, and she has an amazing story.
Bonisile joined us as a cleaner in our office, and she always did her job with joy. Today Bonisile is working on reception, helping with finance and ensuring all the government paperwork is done. She even has her driver’s license, which is not easy to get in Swaziland. She and a group of ladies gave me a second name, “Big Boss.” The station director after me was shorter than me, so they called him “Small Boss.” When I saw Bonisile on this recent trip, it was like I had never been gone.
The reason for our recent trip to Swaziland was primarily to meet with our Canadian missionary family there. The Clarke family have served in South Africa and are now in Swaziland. I appreciate them so much. They volunteered to move to be part of the team there. They didn’t need to do that but felt called to go and willingly moved to a more difficult place. Words cannot express how much I appreciate their willingness to go the second mile for TWR. Ingrid oversees finance for Swaziland, and Greg oversees administration. That is the simple explanation of what they do. Swaziland has a small team, and the only way it works is if the whole team pulls together, which means you have a job description and then you do whatever it takes to make the ministry work. The Clarkes are great examples of team players.
A trip to the transmitter site always takes my breath away. To see the towers, the feedlines and transmitters and realize the impact of the whole installation is what takes my breath away. The antennas point in different directions: Madagascar, Angola, all of East Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, to name a few. Each night, people sit around fires, in their mud huts and even in palaces to listen to the message of hope. In many cases, they don’t just listen. After the program is over, they discuss it together which reinforces the truth of the gospel in their minds.
When I was sharing with the staff in Swaziland, I asked them this question: “When you are working out in the antenna field or you get called out in the middle of the night, do you ever wonder if anyone is listening?” It is natural to ask this question. We know that people are listening, because they contact us and tell us amazing stories.
Swaziland is a small country with a huge voice reaching into Africa with a message of hope. As I drove the seven-kilometer road from the transmitter site out to the main road after the visit, I thanked God again for allowing me to be part of a family of committed team members who give all for the kingdom of God. We are a light on a hill, and it cannot be covered up; it reaches to the sky and comes back down again into the remotest of places throughout southern and eastern Africa.