Tuesday, April 12, 2011

House of Cards Photos

Our images are now available for you to see!

Click on the tabs above to see the photos for all five photos card series. 

We need to sell 600 sets to complete the project.

All funds for the materials to make the photo cards have been donated.  All the money received for the cards goes to build Eliya's house.

Each set costs $10.00 plus shipping and includes five different photo cards that are blank inside, envelopes, and inserts telling about Gogo Eliya and House of Cards so you can share the information with others if you choose. 

If you would like to order cards email us at newhopehouseofcards@gmail.com
If you would like to sell cards with us, we'd love to talk to you about that too.

We do accept donations that go directly toward Eliya's house. 
Checks can be made out to New Hope Church and designated for House of Cards.

Donations should be mailed to:
New Hope Church /House of Cards
584 Colonial Club Drive Harrisburg, PA 17112

If you have any questions about House of Cards please feel free to communicate with us. We'd love to talk to you.
Becky Bruckner

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Gogo Eliya

It is time to introduce you to Gogo Eliya!
Our current House of Cards project is to build a house for her and her grandchildren.

Jen Peterson wrote this story of meeting Eliya in November 2010:
On Monday afternoon, while Eric was driving one of our ministry partners (Celmpilo) home, he asked if they could stop to visit a go-go (SiSwati for grandmother) on her homestead. Celmpilo explained to Eric how he had heard of this elderly woman in his neighborhood. He had gone to visit her on Sunday and wanted Eric to meet her.
When Celmpilo and Eric arrived on the homestead, the go-go was sitting in the dirt outside, peeling the green leaves off of some kind of weed which grows wild around here. It is basically only good for animals to graze on. This woman was preparing grass for the family meal. Celmpilo introduced Eric to the go-go, Eliya.

Through Celmpilo's translation, Eliya told her story:
Eliya lives on this homestead with her two granddaughters, ages twelve and seven. The seven year old is HIV postitive. The girls' parents have both passed away due to HIV/AIDS. Eliya is in her seventies. She has been a widow for several years. Her arm appears crippled and bent, held up in a homemade sling. Eliya explains that approximately four months ago she fell and broke her shoulder. She was taken to a hospital by a neighbor and was treated. Follow up treatment was required to properly set the shoulder bone in the socket. Eliya had no money to pay for the initial consultation or any follow up visits. Therefore, the shoulder has not healed properly and Eliya is in constant pain, with very limited mobility.
Eliya also explains that she is, in fact, preparing the weeds/grass to cook for her and the children to eat. She says there is rarely any money for food. Because she is an elderly widow taking care of orphans, she does receive a small stipend from the government three times a year. It totals out to $30 a month...yes, that is right...this old woman and her two granddaughters live on thirty dollars a month. THAT IS ONE DOLLAR A DAY. Eliya says that every day she prays to God, and every day he provides something for them to eat. "It is like manna" she states. Today, it seems, manna came in the form of grass. Eric asked to see inside the tiny hut, which is caving in on one side. Eliya shows them inside and points to the mats on the hard, dirt floor where the three of them sleep.
"Each night, when it rains or the wind blows hard, I am afraid the walls will collapse onto us." Eliya states, "If we died in the night, crushed by our house, nobody would know we were in here. There is no one." The place is made out of sticks, mud and rocks. It collapsing is only a matter of time.
At this point, Eric is overwhelmed by the incredible need represented by this woman and her two grandchildren. There is, in fact, no food in the dwelling. Nothing. You know when you open your cupboard or refrigerator at home and say: "We have nothing to eat in this place..." ? Well, this woman had literally nothing. Not. A. Thing.
He tells Eliya that he is going to go to the grocery store and purchase some food for her. He asks her if there is anything special, a treat, that she might enjoy? After a moment of thought, her eyes lit up and she said: "I would like a Coca-cola!"
After returning to the homestead with several bags of groceries, Eric gives Eliya her simple request; an icy cold bottle of Coke! Eliya immediately gave praise and thanks to the Lord, for His provision. She knows He heard her prayer and was answering it.  At least for the next couple of weeks we know this family will have food to eat. What about when it runs out?
Monday night we prayed together as a family, along with Dan and Leah Luyk (friends here with us from Michigan until December) and Brandon (another missionary here for six months). We all asked the Lord to show us how to best help this woman and her granddaughters. In a place where every person you meet has some level of need, this family literally needed everything. Where do you even begin?
Tuesday morning, we were able to bring Eliya to the hospital that originally treated her for the broken shoulder. We have promised to pay her outstanding bill so that they will continue to treat her. They took new X-rays and it was determined that her shoulder has been dislocated (again) and arthritis has begun to form where things did not heal properly. The doctor was amazed at how this woman has tolerated it for so many months. "She must be in excruciating pain." He said. The course of treatment is that Eliya was admitted to the hospital yesterday and will be examined by the surgeon to determine if they can operate and correct the problem. Otherwise, she may need to be referred to an orthopedic surgeon/specialist at a larger hospital.
This is only the beginning. Eliya and her granddaughters need our help. They really need a new house. They need food provided for them on a regular basis. This is especially crucial with the seven year old, who is on antiretroviral drugs to treat the HIV. Those medications must be taken with food. They are growing girls, they will need clothing and shoes. Eliya will certainly have ongoing medical issues. She is an old woman. Who will take care of these girls when she dies? The list goes on and on.
It struck me, as Eric was repeating the story to me, when Eliya made the statement about the house falling down on top of them and nobody knowing they were inside. God would know. He sees this beautiful lady and these precious children. As I was waiting in the hospital with her yesterday, several hours of confusion and chaos that is the Swaziland health care system, I prayed. I prayed that when I look at this vulnerable (yet amazingly resilient) old woman, I would see my own go-go looking back at me. I prayed that the Lord would constantly remind me: this woman is my family. He sees her and I seated next to one another and He doesn't see how we are different; He sees how we are the same. "For God so loved the world, He sent His one and only Son..."

Jen and Eric have had recent word that Eliya is now sleeping in her open air cooking shelter so that if (and when) the place comes down she won't be smothered in her sleep. They have been able to raise some money for her and the children, but it has had to go toward food and medical expenses.  So this is where the House of Cards project comes in.  We would love for you to minister to Eliya with us!

If you would like to know how you can participate by purchasing or selling cards,
or if you have any questions about House of Cards,
please contact us at newhopehouseofcards@gmail.com

You can also send donations directly to:
New Hope Church /House of Cards
584 Colonial Club Drive Harrisburg, PA 17112

House of Cards Project #2

I'll never forget the day I printed all the photos to make the cards for Sheila's house.  I picked them up from the photo shop at Costco where they were kind enough to put them in a box for me.  I walked to my van and tears gathered in my eyes as I thought, "I have Sheila's house in this box." 

Once the cards were made, I took them to show a New Hope Church group that had gathered to share a meal with Jen and Eric Peterson and their family.  The Petersons are missionaries going to Swaziland in April of 2011.  I showed the group the photo cards and shared the story of how the project came about.  Eric got this look on his face that gave me pause, and quietly he said, "Becky, we have your next house for you.  As you were speaking the Lord told me that this is how we are going to build a house for Gogo Eliya."

This was news to me.  I had only planned on doing this project once.  But since that day the Lord has given us clear affirmation that we are to keep going.  The money for all the materials for the cards for Gogo Eliya's house has been donated and all the card sets have been created.We are working on trademark, logos, and copyrights...all things you will see taking shape over the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime we are going to keep moving forward!

We have created three new card sets. Each set has 5 different photo cards with envelopes. They include another African animal set, a set of cards made with Easter/Mother's Day in mind, and a set I call Blue Hope...we'll tell you more about that later.
We sell the photos cards for $10.00 a set.
Cards are available for sale and distribution beginning Sunday April 10th.
If you would like to know how you can participate by purchasing or selling cards, contact us at newhopehouseofcards@gmail.com

You can send donations directly to:
New Hope Church /House of Cards
584 Colonial Club Drive Harrisburg, PA 17112

Becky Bruckner

We're Building Sheila a House!

Sheila and Deb
At the end of March I was blessed to announce to the New Hope Church congregation that in six weeks, through the House of Cards Project, all the money necessary to help Gogo Sheila build her house has been raised.  We are already in the process of starting to build another House of Cards for Gogo Eliya. 

Very shortly I will have Eliya's story up and I will update you on all the things we are praying about developing for House of Cards. 
Also, we will keep you updated on the progress of Sheila's House as communication allows. 

Let us know if you would like to be a part of this ministry.  We do need help. 
Right now, please be praying God would guide our steps for the future.
Thank you to all who have participated in this ministry.

If you would like to buy cards, or help us to sell them, e-mail me at newhopehouseofcards@gmail.com
If you would like to send a donation directly to the project, you may send it to New Hope Church and designate it to House of Cards.
584 Colonial Club Drive Harrisburg, PA 17112

Becky Bruckner

Swaziland is Fighting for Her Life

Swaziland is fighting for her life.  This is the feeling you can’t help but carry after you spend even a little time with her.  It’s an intricate battle, one that takes some effort to wrap your head around.   Understanding it requires knowledge of Swazi’s enemies. 

AIDS has ransacked her people.  Swaziland has the highest infection ratio of any country in the world.  UNAIDS has published that 26.1% of the population is HIV positive but there is a lot of evidence the percentage is much higher.  This demographic is based solely on those required to be tested.  Most troubling is that 42% of pregnant mothers are positive.   This is likely more indicative of the true rate than the 26.1 reported.  Women 25-29 have a 44% rate while men 35-39 are 45% HIV positive.  AIDS has worked its way quickly through the population accelerated by polygamy, prostitution, incest, and extreme poverty.  Hunger leans toward desperate choices. 

Females of every age have few rights and little protection. Even if punishment is doled out for a crime such as rape, it is rarely severe enough to give pause.  Many Swazi’s don’t believe that AIDS is spread through sex.  They look for a cause/effect relationship and because they do not see immediate symptoms of the disease after intercourse they do not believe it is connected.  Thus condoms are viewed by some with suspicion--a plot to reduce pleasure—and by many with contempt.

The devastation left in the wake of this disease is almost inconceivable.  It has literally wiped out almost an entire generation.  Children are left with no parents and the “old” are left to care for their grandchildren.  Old is a relative term, because in Swaziland the average life expectancy for a female is 30 years of age.  The women who are left alone to care for their grandchildren are called “Gogos.”   They often find themselves to be the only caretaker left alive in the family. As the only living adult, they bear the burden of caring for children, grandchildren, even great nieces and nephews.  Many of these Gogos are widowed, having lost their husbands to AIDs, and some carry the disease themselves, having been infected by their husbands.

They are left with no money, no employment, little to no education, no protection, no food, and little hope that anything will change.  Though often they are provided with medication from various agencies for their disease, they may still have to pay a significant amount of money for transportation to get their medication, which must be taken consistently to be effective.  When the disease claims their bodies, and there are no more caregivers to be found, the children are the only one left to take care of the even younger children. 
Because of property regulations, which give inheritance rights to children unless they leave their homestead, the Swazi government does not allow for orphanages.  Instead of being comforted and able to mourn their loss, children are bequeathed with the unimaginable responsibility of finding food for themselves and their siblings—they are forced to focus on survival.    
It is in the midst of this context that you feel the full force of Swazi’s other enemy.  Poverty overwhelms her.  Though her cities might surprise you with bright neon lights, modern automobiles, and tourist attractions, you will discover a stark contrast that begins as you reach their outskirts.  What hits your eye first is the dirt.  Everything is the color of dirt. The brown countryside stretches before your eyes—with the lavender bloom of a few jacaranda trees defying its stubborn blandness.  It might surprise you, because on isolated properties vegetation thrives, nurtured by the mild Swazi climate. The sight of small children sharing the weight of a bucket of water between them along the dusty road explains the inconsistency.    Running water is a luxury of the rich, wells the friend of a few, and other water sources often distant and unreliable.   Growing a garden is difficult without a consistent water source, not to mention the goats that roam undetained and hungry bellies on the lookout for a free meal.  Drought and heavy rains alternate their tolls turning the land to either dust or mud.

Most of the stretches of green are sugarcane fields.  They are owned by the rich—those who have the money to put in irrigation systems.  They account for a large number of the few jobs available to Swazi’s people.  Unfortunately, their employees are paid barely enough to feed their families, about $120.00 a month—though they work 12 hours a day, six days a week.  Other industries and commercial enterprise are few and far between.  It takes more capital than the entrepreneurial have at their disposal.  The few poor who are well-educated are forced to find work in South Africa. 
Though the government does subsidize some of the education costs for orphans and the poor, it is generally not enough.  Most families have to pay about $150.00 a year per child, plus uniforms and books for primary grades and about $1,200.00 a year for high school.  For a family with multiple children and $120.00 a month income…well, you do the math.  
With little evidence of change on the horizon, poverty and AIDs bring along their close friends: alcoholism, and increased crime, and despair.  The death wave that began two years ago has not yet reached its peak.  Without help, Swaziland will lose the war.    
The landscape stretches before us with a dismal view. 
There seems little evidence of harvest in the making.
Until you look closer. 
Until a warm breeze blows away the dust that had seemed so settled. 
Until a new hope arises. 
We don’t have the power to make things live or grow, but
We can affect the soil.
AIM has already begun to do this.  Eric and Jen Peterson, Scott and Marcia Borg, Jumbo and Kriek, Julie, and other team members are making extraordinary strides in Swaziland.  They are affecting the environment, nurturing life and enabling it to thrive.  They are feeding and caring for children, discipling the Swazi people and empowering them to minister.  They are teaching job skills and creating commercial industries to help people support themselves.  They are coming alongside the people and providing support, direction, and provision to the needy.  They need help to bring life and breath to this land.

This is why we have begun the House of Cards Project. 
There are many Gogos who have children to care for, but no resources to with which to care for them. 
There are many children who are orphaned, but because Swaziland does not allow orphanages due to land inheritance laws, they have no income, and no money to repair their crumbling houses.  

The House of Cards Project uses donated photos to create cards.  Every 650 sets of cards we sell builds one house.  A house provides shelter from the hot sun and heavy rains, and protection for women and children, often dealing with hunger and disease.  
House of Cards is working with AIM missionaries in Swaziland to identify those in need and oversee the construction process.  

If you would like to buy cards, help us to sell them, or talk to us about how we can help your church or organization to build your own House of Cards, please e-mail us at newhopehouseofcards@gmail.com
If you would like to send a donation directly to the project, you may send it to:
New Hope Church and designate it to House of Cards.
584 Colonial Club Drive Harrisburg, PA 17112

How it all began...

Photo by Greg Star
When I got back from Swaziland a few months ago, everything was a bit of a blurr for me. 
I knew that God had asked me to go...but His reasons why were a bit unclear. 
I knew that I had been asked to be a part of a team that helped to shape and cast the vision for New Hope's ministry in Swaziland.
I knew that through the experience I began to feel like New Hope Church was home.
New Hope church decided to focus on the neediest part of Swazi, the area of Nsoko. However, Sheila was a woman we met in the Manzini area, thus her needs did not really fall under the umbrella of the church's long term vision. 
As the months passed, I had this nagging sense that there was more to  be done. 
Sheila's situation kept coming back to me...
I spent some time praying through this, and the more I did, the more I got the sense that the Lord was saying to me that this one was my job. 

Wil, Sheila, and Becky
Photo by Ken Roosenburg
Here is the story of how I met Sheila:
Our first day in Swaziland, we met up with Pastor Peter and his wife Precious to visit the home of one of the families of his church.  Marcia Borg filled me in a little on our drive there.  Sheila has AIDS.  She is mother to four children, the oldest being twelve.   She is also a Gogo—the term for Grandmothers who take on the care of their children’s children because they have died, more often than not, from AIDS as well.  Sheila cares for her 9 months old grandson.  Her husband died from AIDS, infecting her with the disease before he passed.   
Marcia had asked me to share a Scripture, so I turned to the Psalm I usually use when I pray with those who are sick.  Psalm 103: 1-3.  The words sat before my eyes.  He forgives all our sins and heals all our diseases.  All.  I read that word and I realized my faith was not big enough to read that to her.  How could I look into her eyes and into her condition and read the finality of such a statement with belief?  How could I not qualify it or reduce her expectation of it?  My faith was not big enough.   
When we arrived Sheila and the baby met us outside.  Not that our group could have squeezed into the one room anyway.  We all greeted Sheila, who was forgiving of our awkward Siswati.  Swazi’s have a somber look about them, but she did return our smiles.  Marcia knew Sheila, and spoke quietly and warmly with her for a while.  Soon she motioned me closer to share Scripture. 
In preparing for my trip to Swazi, the Lord had impressed Isaiah 40-41 on me.  Isaiah 40: 1 says, “Comfort, yes, comfort my people!” Says your God.  “Speak comfort to Jerusalem and cry out to her.” 
That was my call for this moment, to comfort Sheila.  So I turned to Isaiah 41:9-10 and read the verses over her,  looking into her eyes as I read them, as if to give her every word as a gift.   As Precious translated, she took in every one, hungry for hope. 
“You are my servant, I have chosen you and have not cast you away: Fear not for I am with you; Be not dismayed for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you.  I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
She nodded and thanked the Lord closing her eyes to receive them into her being.  “Thank you,” she kept saying as I read.   Afterwards we all joined around her and prayed, asking God to minister to the needs of her body, mind, heart, and spirit.  She was very grateful for our prayers.  Then Marcia asked her if there was something in particular that she would like us to pray for. 
Sheila's Blocks

Sheila turned our attention to a pile of cement blocks sloppily stacked on the slope in front of her house.  As a Timbale woman, Sheila volunteers her time at a Care Point cooking and caring for orphans and other children whose families cannot afford to feed them.  On the days she is not at the Care Point, she and other Timbale women meet for a time of discipleship and share a sewing machine and make purses to sell for income.  This money is theirs to use for the needs of her household as she wishes.  Over the last few months, Sheila had used her money from the bags to buy the cement blocks.  She did not yet have enough blocks for a one room home, or money to buy mortar to put them together or for a roof overhead.  She explained to us that the wind and rain come into her house through the large cracks in the wood. During the last rains they stayed outside because there was actually more water inside.  Suddenly the holes in her walls took on a deeper meaning for all of us standing there.  Sheila’s prayer request was for one of her two older boys to find work, when not in school, so that they could save enough to build the blocks into a house that would keep dry in the rains. 

Sheila's Oldest Son and Grandson in front of their house.
 I asked Jumbo later how much money it would cost her to build a little one room house.  It would be about $6,000, the roof being the most expensive piece.  Sheila sells the bags she makes through the Timbale project.  She volunteers daily at the Care Point, taking care of the needy children in her area.  It would take her more than 3 years to save enough money.
 "That’s a lot of wind and rain and time," I thought. 
Then to our surprise, Sheila quietly shared with the group that she has AIDS.  This is a testament to the relationships that are being developed among the Timbale women.  Swazi’s do not normally share such things.  They never cry in public, it is a shame.  But slowly they are learning to tell their stories, and to trust that they will find comfort, sympathy, and acceptance.  We gathered around her and prayed for her, brothers and sisters in Christ, with little else in common with this dear woman.  Though she did not ask for financial assistance, we couldn’t help but feel the weight of her need and silent hope that we might help her. 
Sheila's Cross
After we prayed with her, Marcia, a nurse, sat and talked with her for a bit about her health while the team engaged with the children.    Attention is hard to come by in Swaziland, especially from adults.  Women are stretched way beyond the breaking point, caring for children with little to no food, money, or protection.  Many of them sick with disease themselves. 
Marcia asked Sheila if she was taking her medication.  AIDS meds are provided free for women with HIV positive children, but they have to pay money for transportation to get their meds, money that could be used for food.  Then they must prove that they will come consistently before they are even given medication.  AIDS medication must be taken consistently, on a strict schedule, a concept foreign to this culture. 
Unless God heals her, Marcia told me, she probably has a year to live.  I slowly walked the property, taking a few pictures.  The bits of information I had received started to come together in my head.  This dear woman’s husband has recently passed away from AIDS, which he most likely contracted from another woman.  He infected her with the disease before he passed.  Sheila was taking care of her grandbaby because his Mom has passed, so that means that she has lost a daughter in the last year as well.  Sheila has maybe a year to live and she has 5 children under her care who will have no one to care for them after she passes. 
Her faith in God is strong.  Her love for Him unwavering.  Her focus lies not on her own grief, but on building a dry shelter for her children to live in when she is gone. 
Sheila and Grandson
We gathered around Sheila before we left and presented her with a gift:  a 25 lb. bag of cornmeal to make pap, their staple food for every meal, some beans, cooking oil, sugar, tea, packets of gravy to put over the corn meal.  It was enough to feed her family for a week to 10 days. 
Through Precious, Sheila said to me as I hugged her, “I often am very afraid when I lay down to sleep at night.”  “But tonight I will rest well because of your visit to us.”  “I will have joy in my heart.”
What will happen to Sheila, I wonder.  Is there anything we can do to help this woman who suffers from the loss of her husband, her daughter?
 This woman trying to care for her children and grandchild with no electricity and no running water. 
This woman who has cracks in her stick walls large enough for me to stick my arms through and a few cement blocks on her land she can’t afford to mortar together. 
This woman who volunteers her energy and strength to take care of orphans and the underprivileged on a daily basis.
This woman who is sick with AIDS.
And I wonder, if God doesn’t heal her, what will happen to her children?  If they leave their land, they lose their property rights, but if there is a good shelter for them there, they could keep their land. 
As I thought about Sheila and the children, I felt more and more sure that the Lord was telling me specifically to do something for her.  I had sensed for a while there was something special He wanted me to do with my photos, and as I was praying about it, a very clear picture came to me and I knew what I was to do.  My Aunt has been telling me for ages that I should make up photo cards and sell them...but for any number of reasons I have been hesitant to try to make money off my photos.  This time, I knew it was the right thing.  You can actually make a really beautiful photo card for about 50 cents.  If you sell it for the price of a greeting card, you can make a decent profit. I decided to call it the House of Cards project.  It has become a ministry of New Hope Church.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post and prayerfully consider how God might call you to join us in building a house for Sheila.

Becky Bruckner