By Steve Rees, Special to ASSIST News Service
BUNYA, SWAZILAND (ANS – September 19, 2017) — In a class with 69 students in Bunya, Swaziland, 15-year-old Vamsile Ngwenya failed six out of 10 classes, receiving “fair” marks in only four subjects last year.
Ranked 27th in her class, Vamsile (pronounced VAMseeLAY) “can do much better,” said one of her teachers at Osuthu Methodist High School. “Work harder” another instructor scribbled.
The head teacher wrote the words “fail but promoted” in red ink, then signed and stamped Vamsile’s report card with the school’s seal.
Despite studying with her sister, who was more academically inclined in 2016, a check mark next to a “failed number of subjects” box on her progress report summed up Vamsile’s scholastic performance.
A tutor and food for Vamsile and her sister – paid for by a growing children’s ministry in the United States — didn’t prevent her failure at school or in completing homework at their southern Africa homestead.
“The school promoted her anyway, which is the norm in Swaziland. And sets the children up for additional failure,” says Becky Spencer, a former public school teacher who is putting her training in the U.S. to use in Swaziland through orphan care and education. “Can you imagine what the report card looks like for the 69th student?”
As Vamsile’s American sponsor looking at her “progress” report, I couldn’t imagine. The red-marked document moved me to pray in agreement for an answer with Becky, her husband Tracy, and board members at Grand Staff Ministries, Inc. (GSM) in central Kansas, which provides education, orphan care and of love for Swazi children.
If Osuthu refused to promote Vamsile to the next grade, she would probably learn the sex trade around her homestead in Mangcongo where — like much of Africa — HIV/AIDS continues to spread through ignorance, polygamy, promiscuity and mythology.
In addition to praying for Vamsile’s supernatural turnaround, I wrote a letter, encouraging her to seek help from the Lord and to commit to Him her efforts in the classroom and at home. I later learned that carrying water and wood are priorities over homework.
I hinted that visiting her someday was on my “bucket list.”
“The Lord delights to prosper you in every way, including your education,” I wrote. “Don’t be too hard on yourself but, instead, commit to doing better, asking our Heavenly Father for supernatural success.”
While I couldn’t speak directly to her, I believed that my written words were as powerful as life and death, spiritually. (“Death and life are in the power of the tongue. And those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21 NASB)
I knew that Tracy, Becky, the GSM board and its supporters prayed for all the sponsored children. Through fall and winter at my home in Colorado (summer in Swaziland), I lifted Vamsile before the Lord as often as He brought her to mind.
When Vamsile returned to school in January 2017, I began preparations to visit her in July and August with GSM supporters — including the Spencers — who were planning to distribute 100 care packages to children, host a party in their honor and dedicate the first of 11 children’s homes in Swaziland.
After traveling 24 hours by plane and SUV, I shopped (with lots of gift ideas from Becky) for a dress and other clothing for Vamsile before meeting at her homestead in Mangcongo. There, Vamsile and her sister are in the care of Walk By Faith Church, and its pastor.
All of GSM’s sponsored children — like Vamsile, now 16 — are paired with a pastor and church.
“Oh, how I wish we could have captured Vamsile’s face when she first recognized Steve (me) from the pictures he’s sent to her,” Becky wrote on Facebook. “She was overjoyed. And when she received presents from him, Vamsile was overcome with such gratitude and joy.
“I’m praising God for another child who has a better understanding now of our Savior’s great love for her,” Spencer said.
I met Vamsile a second time with about 100 other children and pastors at GSM’s Shepherd’s Care Children’s Home, the first of 11 future residences and a planned feeding center. In addition to prayer and financial support, sales at a boutique in Buhler, Kansas help fund GSM’s African mission.
We played ball games — one akin to basketball without hoops — during which Vamsile demonstrated her superior ball handling and passing skills. The children and pastors were then treated to roasted wieners and marshmallows. Before leaving for the long trip back to her homestead by van, Vamsile told me she wants to be a teacher.
I smiled and promised to pray but had doubts.
That is until I saw her most recent report card two days later.
Vamsile received one A in religious studies and B’s in other subjects with “excellent” and “very good” remarks from teachers.
There’s room for improvement, but Vamsile’s efforts resulted in movement to the No. 2 spot in her class. I posted pictures of her on Facebook, thanking the Lord for hearing our prayers for a turnaround at school.
“Vamsile is well-behaved, but just needs to pay more attention to instructions at school,” says Colani Nkambule, a GSM staff member whose college education was funded by the ministry that now pays him to oversee vulnerable Swazi children.
Almost 30, Nkambule was hungry and alone, too, until GSM offered him a shot at going to school. As a GSM employee, he works with teachers, pastors, parents (where they exist) and/or grandparents (gogos).
A journalist by training (thanks to GSM), Nkambule knows what it’s like to be preoccupied with things other than school.
In 2006, GSM’s Men of Courage began helping Nkambule and others like him pay for college or trade school after another ministry failed them. Today the adult men are working at trades or in professions.
For Vamsile, her native language, SiSwati, doesn’t come easy; English-speaking skills exceed her command of the Swazi mother tongue.
“Her teachers emphasized how well-behaved she is. That’s cause for rejoicing since character is even more important than grades,” says Spencer, an ordained pastor, author, songwriter, worship leader and Bible teacher.
Parents of adopted and biological adult children and grandchildren, the Spencers believe GSM is the fulfillment of a prophetic word given to them by Christ For The Nations President John Hollar in 1984: Specifically, Tracy would be a father to many more children than he could see at the time.
At the time, they had two kids by birth, Becky was expecting baby No. 3, and two teen-aged girls lived with them. Later, they adopted four more children.
“That could have been the fulfillment of the prophecy already, but God wasn’t done,” Becky says. “Now we have all these Swazi children.”
Over 200 have gone through GSM’s sponsorship program.
Not surprisingly, all the sponsored children call Tracy father — all the time. Not just when he’s handing out care packages filled with new, store-bought comforters, personal hygiene items, pens, pencils and candy. Gifts the gentle, spiritual giant — both in prayer and ministry of the Word – purchased and packed.
In the Spencer’s estimation, there’s no dearth of vulnerable children in Swaziland – let alone the African continent. They are, in fact, as far as the eye can see. When and where possible, GSM is the hands and feet of Jesus to the lost and least of these — desperate Swazi children.
Young girls like Angel who find the love, compassion and mercy of the Lord (Hosea 14:3) through spiritual parents when their fathers and mothers are absent or have nothing to offer their children.
Spiritual house parents Tallie (Patrick) and Masiza (Siza) Matsebula are seeking to heal the wounds of abandonment inflicted by Angel’s mother, who left her outside at night before she came to Shepherd’s Care. But it’s not easy.
Despite the Matsebula’s love for Angel and four children of their own, she is prone to wandering.
Like the Good Shepherd in search of lost sheep, the Matsebula’s arms are like the Master’s staff gathering His flock to safety, away from predatory wolves.
Trained as Assembly of God pastors, the Matsebulas work with Swazi social workers in placing children like Angel. She lives with the Matsebulas at Shepherd’s Care Home, which Patrick designed and managed during its construction.
Work on an adjoining feeding kitchen, which will be operated by Swazi mothers, is progressing. In the future, full-time missionaries will lead Bible studies and help the Matsebulas at Shepherd’s Care.
In August, members of the Swazi Parliament joined local leaders and members of the community in dedicating Shepherd’s Care Home.
Two girls are currently considered as potential residents of the home, Becky says.
One has no family and goes to homesteads begging for food. The other, a fifth-grade girl in the child-sponsorship program, is a candidate, too.
“We learned that her grandfather has been repeatedly raping her for the past three years,” Becky says.
The girl was examined by a medical doctor, and a police report was filed. The Department of Social Services is involved, too.
“Even though these stories are common in Swaziland, they are not okay… Not with me, not with you, and certainly not with the Lord,” Becky says.
Like Tracy Spencer, Patrick Matsebula is a giant of a spiritual father.
Born in Swaziland, Patrick’s father left the family for a second wife — a witch doctor — in neighboring South Africa. Hatred for his father, a “pastor,” consumed him as a young boy.
Tragically, one of Patrick’s sisters died after ingesting something given to her by the stepmother, the witch doctor; his biological mother, wisely, avoided the same fate by refusing her rival’s “medicine.”
Polygamy, even among Swazi sects that call themselves “Christian,” is common.
If not for intervention by the Lord in Patrick’s life — three times he heard a voice from heaven — his father’s footsteps might have become his own.
Instead, in obedience to a heavenly voice, Patrick went to an Assembly of God church where he was born again and filled with the Holy Spirit, rejecting traditional Swazi religions, which promote worship of ancestors and polygamy.
Patrick’s wife, Siza, tells Swazi girls to stay focused on their education and, like stale chewing gum, spit out boys. It’s a message that sent Vamsile and her friends in Mangcongo into fits of laughter.
“I promise you to excel in my school work so that I have success in life,” Vamsile wrote. “But I know God is the provider.”
As long as there are children in Swaziland, there are opportunities to provide for them, says Spencer, who prays for sponsors to respond to the need. GSM spreads its message on social media including Facebook and has a website, www.grandstaffministries.com.
Photo captions: 1) Steve Rees with Vamsile Ngwenya. 2) Tracy and Becky Spencer, founders of Grand Staff Ministries, Inc. in Buhler, Kansas and Swaziland, Africa. 3) One of the boys they help in Swaziland. 4) Colani Nkambule, GSM staffer in Swaziland, journalist and graduate of Men of Courage ministry, a former branch founded by the Spencers. 5) The Matsebulas- — Patrick and Masiza, who are houseparents and overseers. This picture was taken recently at their graduation from a course at the College of Theology in Swaziland. 6) Steve with Vamsile.
About the writer: Steve Rees is a Christian, freelance journalist who lives in Longmont, Colo. He attends Rez.Church in Loveland. In his free time, he enjoys the Rocky Mountains and writing news and feature stories that exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and shine light on the people who love him.
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