Do you ever wonder what it looks like to obey and surrender to what God is asking you to do? Ray continues taking us through the years of his surrender and ministry in this series on his 30 years with TWR.
Sandy and I were getting a brand new house! We were excited as it was the first new home we’d ever lived in. TWR Swaziland owned property, and three new homes were being completed…and we were getting one! But there was a lot more going on than just a new house!
Once I arrived in Swaziland, the outgoing station director spent a lot of time briefing me on the situation there; it was much more complex than Bonaire. We had over 30 local staff plus missionaries from several countries. We owned land and several buildings, and it turned out that maintaining the buildings would be the easy part of the job. Understanding the Swazi culture would take me years! Leading this ministry was not something you learned by reading a book.
The night before I accepted responsibility, I prayed for two things: key verses from Scripture that would be my anchor as I served in this role, and that I would hear God’s voice. God very clearly showed me that I was not the previous station director. I would do things differently; I had to seek him and lead in the way he directed me. Scripture and hearing that voice from God would become very important as the days went on.
Often it seemed we went from crisis to crisis. I arrived in Swaziland at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and it affected the staff. We had a staff member die, and many of our local staff had family members who died of AIDS-related diseases.
A couple weeks in, a staff member came to my office with one of our Canadian missionaries. The conversation went something like this, “My son is sick, and he needs an operation. If he dies, it is your fault.” His young son had a hole in his heart and needed surgery. But how was it my fault if he passed away? He went on to explain, “You are Baba (meaning father); it is your responsibility to find a solution.” Legally I didn’t have any responsibility, but I was not about to be blamed for a death!
We began looking for a solution, but it looked grim. A British-born doctor in town told us that people just die in Swaziland; there is nothing to be done. There were no specialists in the country to deal with this either. I saw the chief surgeon in Mbabane, the capital city; he was much politer about the situation but told me the same thing: there was nothing we could do. I was devastated.
A week later, a colleague saw this surgeon in a restaurant having lunch with two heart surgeons from South Africa. At the surgeon’s request, my colleague told them about this boy. They agreed right there that they would do the surgery in South Africa for free. The boy had the operation and is a grown man today. God was at work in Swaziland!
As time went by, I knew if someone came into my office and said “Baba,” it was going to cost me something: either time or money and most of the time, both! Yet, my role as Baba turned out to be a good thing. Most problems weren’t as serious as this one, and often I could help in tangible ways. This strengthened my relationship with these dear people. God had solved a big problem; he used me and gave me credibility with the staff. Being Baba also meant I attended most weddings of our staff, most funerals, most everything that involved family. I was truly considered a member of their families.
In the midst of it all, TWR was celebrating 25 years of ministry in Swaziland. Swazis love a party! The most important part of any party is the food, and the most important part of the food is the meat. Celebrations are no small affair, and we started planning a year in advance.
Swaziland is a kingdom and is ruled by the monarchy. The head of state is the king, and he needed to be invited. Rather than just sending him an invitation, you had to go and personally meet with him. Thankfully, we had staff who were related to the royal family so we were able to make the connection.
Celebration for 25 years of TWR Swaziland
On the day of the meeting, I went with church leaders and the leader of Voice of the Church, our local FM network. Before going, they explained protocol to me. First, the local church leaders would speak. I would speak last and extend the invitation. It was time. We all sat on the floor while the king sat in his chair. Everything went well; then it was my turn. You are supposed to say “Your majesty” at the beginning of every sentence. Before long, I was tongue tied. I don’t know why, but I asked him if I could just speak to him like a normal person. Because I wasn’t his subject, he agreed, and we had a wonderful 30-minute conversation! He agreed to come to our celebration.
We didn’t realize all that would be involved with the king attending. We had to be very organized and follow royal protocol. There were a lot of things to consider. A few days before the event, I got a call from the king’s speech writer wondering where the king’s speech was! Apparently we were to write a major portion of the speech. We did manage to write his speech, but in the end he just used parts of it.
I also had a scripted speech that day. Part of it was welcoming the diplomatic corps. When I said this, I mispronounced corps and said corpse, not only once but twice! It still is one of my most embarrassing moments. Everyone else thought it was funny; I didn’t think it was funny at all.
During my years in Swaziland, TWR Africa was in a time of growth. God was opening doors for us to strengthen our ministry continent-wide. God allowed me to not only be the station director but to be involved in every aspect of the ministry in Africa. What an exciting time!
Thanks for journeying with me through these years. Do you want to read more about our years on field? Let us know that you’ve enjoyed reading up to this point in our ministry and we’ll write more in January!
Did you miss the first chapters? Find them here: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6