Bulembu is blessed with many dedicated volunteers and today we would like you to meet one of them who has rapidly become part of the fabric of this unique town. Originally from Ohio, USA Stacey’s  heart beats the words ‘eSwatini’. Enjoy reading her story in her own words.

BB: Hi Stacey, this is your first time talking to us, please introduce yourself!

How (and when) did you come to be here and had you been to Bulembu previous to this time?

SW:  In 2009, my church, Christian Life Center had begun a partnership with Challenge Ministries. At that point, I had just finished my Bachelors and was planning to go into grad school. I thought I knew what I wanted, but God had very different plans. One Sunday, CLC offered for someone who had “just recently finished college” to serve in eSwatini for 3-4 months. That was a bit too on the nose for me to ignore. I prayed about it, and didn’t really hear something huge from the Lord, but decided to put off my grad schooling and go. I figured it would be a good experience and then I would continue on with school.

Boy was I wrong! The moment I set foot in eSwatini, I had this powerful, warm, bizarre sense that I had come home. To a place I’d never been. I loved everybody and everything. I sensed God more powerfully than I ever had in my life. I fell in love with the Kingdom of eSwatini. During that time, God really showed me what my gifts were and called me into ministry. I can still remember the day; I was at the Hawane Women’s Retreat (the first one!) looking over the women we were ministering to from afar. And that day I knew I was called to eSwatini.

When I came home however, all the doors slammed in my face. I was devastated but determined.  I got into youth ministry at CLC. I always knew, in my heart that I would be coming back to eSwatini. I just didn’t know how or when. For about 8 years I worked as a youth leader and then a youth pastor. I got my pastoral credentials. I waited and waited and waited. At times I gave up, but the Lord always reminded me.

During that time I became very close friends with Waheedah Masinga. She and I went to the same high school, and CLC. We knew each other as acquaintances before this but Swaziland really brought us together. We both had a common heart. I saw her and Musa get married, build a life together. It was wonderful to see. The two of them are very good friends to me. I consider them family. Finally all the right doors opened when the Masingas asked me to come serve in Bulembu as Junior Youth Pastor. They knew my heart and they knew my gifts, so it was a huge blessing to be invited. I can’t believe it took essentially ten years, but I’m living proof that whatever door God has opened, no man can shut. When God says “go” He will make a way, even if it takes a while.

BB: How is Bulembu/eSwatini different from your home town/country and what are your favourite things about Swazi culture?

SW: Wow, I think they are different in every possible way – except for in the basics of being human. I’m from Ohio, in the American Midwest. It’s flat, quiet, and filled with corn. OK, not as different as I thought! But really, American culture is all about independence and forging your own way and being a bit of a rebel and an activist and an isolationist. Voting for your political favorites and criticizing them nonstop. Whereas Swati culture is all about interconnectivity, interdependence, working together, conforming to the established culture and respecting all your authorities. I can see value in both sides of that coin – and I think a balance is good. I would say that what I love most about Swati culture is that interconnectivity that most African cultures have. You aren’t lazy if you still live on the homestead. You’re part of a collective – your family is always around – you have a clear role – you work together. I think Americans push themselves a bit too hard to go it all alone, and that can lead to burnout and isolation. For example, in Ohio you don’t really greet people much. It’s not a harsh environment by any means but it’s still much different than Swati culture, where you seem to greet everyone all the time, complete strangers or not. They EXPECT to be greeted. I love that. There’s so much more relationship there. Also, Americans kind of struggle with a cultural identity. We are such a melting pot – which can be good too because we are so welcoming to all cultures and more diverse – but Swazis know who they are. They respect their King, know their praise names, have roots. Sometimes as an American I wish I had more of that.

BB: What have been your highlights so far?

SW: Everyday I wake up in the morning and hear the birds which are distinct to this area and remember, “I’m in eSwatini.” That’s been incredible. But really – the caregivers have been my highlight. God has given me such a heart for them and I sense so much of His Spirit in my relationships with them. I love them so much, and it’s a joy every time I get to minister to them, hug them, laugh with them, encourage them. And it’s been even better to see God work in their hearts, heal them, heal their families, strengthen them.

I also really loved getting to spend REAL time with the Masingas, seeing old friends, visiting Hawane and Potter’s Wheel, getting time to advance those precious relationships I had before, learning how to drive on the other side, and learning how to navigate Mbabane on my own. Those things I didn’t really get to do before. I’ve also really loved getting to TRULY know the kids and young adults and develop longer term relationships with Swatis. There’s just a different element to long-term relationships, ones that have been forged through difficult times and good times, joy and sorrow. And we have certainly experienced both this past year in Bulembu.

BB: We’ve heard you’ve taken a new role recently?

SW: Yes, the Lord gave me the opportunity to become Women’s Pastor. This has been a decade-long dream and it is also what the Lord told me I would be doing here. So I am VERY thankful and VERY excited. God is so faithful. Remember that!

BB: In what ways have you seen God working lately?

SW: Oh so many ways. But I guess what I will point out is what He is doing among the caregivers, even recently. There are women giving their lives to the Lord, working through challenges, experiencing breakthroughs, finding the strength to overcome, doing their jobs with excellence even when there are huge hardships in the background of their lives. It’s marvellous. Those aren’t the things that people know about or broadcast because they happen behind close doors, in counseling rooms, in worship times – but they are happening. Wow is He working, even despite the craziness with corona virus. I prayed for an auntie over the phone and she was healed. Swati women are amazing, and if I have to tell them that every day for the rest of my life to convince them, I will.

BB: Any fun little known facts about you before we close?

Well, I worked with horses for 10 years growing up, and even went to college for it. My Bachelors is in French, I went to school in France for a little while. So as you can see, I have no idea how I ended up in this place. God’s plans, not mine! haha. But I’m so thankful I went with His plans. They were way better.

Thank you Stacey!