Church under the tree…and a casualty!

After a late arrival and settling into our guest home, our first night in Swaziland gave everyone a chance to catch up on some long awaiting horizontal sleeping. This morning we awoke with a renewed sense of energy and ready to experience church together. Yesterday we discovered an exciting opportunity to participate in two church services today. Pastor Peter and Precious have been in the process of starting a church that meets near the Bhobokazi careppoint on Sunday mornings before heading over to Enaleni for their service. They are going multi-site 🙂

Without knowing what to expect, we discovered that this potential church has been meeting under a tree off the road next to Bhobokazi. We were invited to join in and what an experience! As we gathered with a handful of people circled around the large shade tree we joined in as they worshipped, prayed and shared the word. It was a powerful experience and one that in our first minutes of this trip have already marked us. We witnessed a powerful move of God being demonstrated as those gathering from the community were given an invitation to be prayed for. What a remarkable thing to be invited into and to be a part of this! There are some powerful words reflecting on this experience below.

Following church under the shade tree, we headed off to Enaleni for church there. Once again, words are hard to find in explaining what a privilege and beautiful experience it is joining together in worship with our brothers and sisters here! We truly feel honoured to be representing Riverwood in what has become a kindred connection with a worship community on the other side of the world. It was great to sit under Pastor Peter’s teaching together and also to hear of their excitement they have for next Sunday as we prepare for our 10-year celebration when Todd and his crew join us. We can’t wait!

Following church we headed out for a quick visit to the local Swaziland market to buy gifts and keepsakes to bring home. Though it felt a bit strange to be at the market on our first day, today was the only day in our schedule with any time to make it there.

After arriving back at our guest house, we had our team orientation with the staff here, shared some supper together and then it was time to get to work. We had major unpacking to do with 1200 pounds of luggage to sort through and get organized for our first visit to Bhobokazi carepoint tomorrow.

It was also at this point in our day that we had to navigate a more difficult event as one of our team members had clearly developed an issue that needed some medical attention. Dealing with some sudden and severe swelling on her ankle, and with the help of our nurses and trained medical team members, we decided that the symptoms were pointing to a returned infection that had previously been treated. Without attention, we feared the consequences could get serious. We carried some uncertainty of what type of medical care we would be able to find on a Sunday evening here in Swaziland but with the help of our trip hosts, set out for the local clinic. An overnight bag was packed as we didn’t know how long it would take to see someone. The rest of our team rallied around and prayed while we went for help. Let me tell you it was a remarkable experience as we rolled up on the emergency clinic. Within 10 minutes we had been admitted and were seeing a doctor.

Within 30 minutes we had a diagnosis and within 45 minutes we were walking out with prescriptions filled and with much relief knowing that what could have been a precarious situation was now on its way to being resolved. We were so grateful! On a lighter note, we now joke about the giant sign as we rolled into the emergency clinic that was there to greet us….clearly they use the term differently that we do!

After the team celebrated the results and breathed a sigh of relief, we resumed working and preparing for our day tomorrow. Now, as I write this, all our bags are packed, our team is sleeping, and we carry a deep sense of God’s care for us in all that we have seen and experienced today. We can’t wait to see our Bhobokazi kids! Until tomorrow!


Today we had church under the tree in Bhobo in then went to regular church in Enaleni. Church under the tree in Bhobo was such a profound experience. 

The church there had started meeting about three months ago, pastored by Peter and Precious. When we arrived it was about 30 people, kids included, literally under the shade of a tree. Worshipping, gathered in a circle. It was hot, and a lot of the situations that these people were coming from I’m sure made them even more wet with tears. 

We didn’t need lights

We didn’t need seats

We didn’t need coffee

We didn’t even need a building

What we absolutely did need, was Jesus.

I will be convinced after today for the rest of my life that the only Name that could ever cause people to find fulfillment in gathering under a tree in +30C in the middle of Africa with total vulnerability and complete service to each other, is the name of Jesus. And to top it all of they were in a circle. What an incredible picture. The body of Christ, gathered under a tree, watching over each other, and asking to Jesus to watch over them all. Worshipping, sweating, learning, crying, gazing, all for the name of Jesus. All that is needed is Jesus.

If Jesus is all we need to do church, then the reality is scary: As soon as Jesus is taken out of the spotlight, the church ceases to exist. That was a lesson refreshed in my head today. As I look toward bible school in the next year of my life, perhaps that was the most important lesson I could have learned.

I am once again grateful for the rawness of which the people of eSwatini worship and gather. – COLE

12 thoughts on “Church under the tree…and a casualty!

  1. Well team, today at church, you had 7 worship communities (including the African Worship Community)…stand to pray for you…and commission you to the task ahead! We prayed for your safety! We prayed for health! We prayed for anointing and that each of you would be used by God Himself to make a sizeable difference! (In my heart, I also prayed that God would use our friends at Bhobhokazi and Enaleni to make a sizeable impact upon your hearts as well!)

    I was so inspired, all-over-again, by your photos and refections! What you are doing this week takes all of us back to the core of what it means to be a Christ-follower! To deny ourselves! To take up our cross! To walk into the villages and CarePoints that Jesus would walk into! To invite and welcome the children! To look into the eyes of those who have so little, but love like they are the richest people on earth!…and to proclaim the hope that can only be found in Jesus!

    SwaziTeam 2018…each of you is leading our church this week!…and I, for one, will follow your lead!

    Lead on!

    – t

  2. Sounds like a beautiful experience at Bhobokazi! Thank you for sharing. As always the Penner’s who were left behind here in Winnipeg are cheering on the whole team, but especially Allison! We can’t wait to hear about your first day with kids At Bhobokazi. Allison, I hope you were able to give our special friend a big hug from all of us.

    Since I know there can be quite a language barrier with the young kids, I’ll leave you all with a brief snapshot of a conversation I had with our 4 year old today, Just to show you that even when speaking the same language, their little minds often operate on a level much different than ours.

    R: Do you know how to make a sled?
    Me: No, I don’t.
    R: I know how to make a pretend real, real sled. We make them at my bakery!

    Blessings on what I’m sure was a full day in every sense of the word. May you find rest. Be it in sleep or shenanigans or whatever Jon finds himself doing at 2am.

  3. Oh dear. Are you are hurt? Okosua. See what I did there? Sorry, it’s the dad in me making the bad jokes. You can give me noogies later, maybe.
    Seriously, though, I don’t know if you all know that today is World Aids day. It reminds me partly of why you (and eventually we) are there. This horror that is devastating so many lives. But thank God we have hope in so many ways. Besides the medical and educational advances we have hope in God and so does eSwatini. Let us not lose sight of, or joy in, that as we pour His love on the kids and their families and they pour it back on us.
    God bless you all. Have fun. Be blessed. See you Friday (I think). I will be available for a short period to set up a daycare if needed.

  4. Every day we pray for you guys! May all of you experience all God has for you there! Can’t believe how full your first few days have been already! Love the beautiful pics! “O God strengthen each one of my brothers and sisters. Fill them with health and great joy as they give themselves away. Let them see the faces you want them to see and give them amazing encounters with amazing people”…. We love you!! Rhoda

  5. Hey Team!

    So glad to see that you’ve finally had some days on the ground. What a privilege to get to be part of church at Bhobokazi! I think it is so cool that out of the overflow of Enaleni Church, we are seeing a new church birthed at our other care point. And you got to be there in it’s first days! So cool.

    So you had your first day at Bhobokazi! How was it? I remember my first day at Bhobokazi. As we sat in the Carepoint before most of the kids arrived we were told some of the history of Bhobokazi. Maybe you were too and if not I’m sure Jon and Carolyn can fill you in. But we were told its history and Jon said that Bhobokazi had earned the name “The Forgotten Carepoint.” And as we sat there I heard God whisper in my soul, “It is not forgotten.” And let me tell you, I think you’d be hard pressed to forget the beautiful, vibrant Bhobokazi.

    Cole! I’m endlessly proud of you. You continue to serve so well. I know that you gave it your all at Bhobokazi today. Thank you for the little sneak picture of my guy. He looks so happy to be with you! And an excellent reflection on Church and on faith. Just last week in a meeting we were talking about what keeps you going when life and ministry gets hard and I talked about how I listened to a sermon from Hillsong Church about how we have to keep the main thing the main thing. We always need to remember why we are doing what we’re doing. It’s for Jesus. And I love that we heard those messages so clearly from such different types of churches. But isn’t that beautiful? That what unites us isn’t the songs we sing or the rooms we meet in or the way we move through a service, but that the name we choose to lift high is the name of Jesus? So cool.

    So team! As you relax after a long hard (and hopefully good!) day my encouragement to you is this: Keep the main thing, the main thing. When the heat and long days and hard work start to set in, remember why you’re doing this. It’s to show these beautiful children the love and affection of Jesus. And I can assure you of this, when you choose to remember that, you’re gonna find the new strength to do it.

    Praying for all of you! Keep giving it all you got, can’t wait to hear how the next day goes!


  6. So wonderful to see the pictures and read about your first day in Swaziland. What an amazing experience and thanks so much for sharing it. Sending my prayers and love and hugs to all. (a special hug to my son Jon). May the Lord continue to bless you and use you to bless others. Sue Courtney

  7. Sanibonani!

    It sounds like you have all had a great time worshiping at both locations! How cool to be able to do so under a tree …. Jaret reminded me that Jesus teached under a tree … what an interesting concept to be able to be brought back to.
    Akosua, 1. I can’t believe how fast you were seen and out of the clinic. 2. I hope those meds work fast so you can enjoy playing with those darn cute kids.

    From the post about church and a causality, it seems that you have now met our wonderful kids and bomakes at Bhobokazi today. As you guys have just shared about your experiences of the day, I just want to encourage you to spend some time with the bomakes at Bhobokazi the next time you are there. They are remarkable ladies, and their stories are just amazing.
    But 1 thing I want to share with you is how much you all (and previous teams) are and will be making a difference in this carepoint and the connection that Riverwood has made with them.
    Jaret and I had the privilege to visit them just over a month ago. I had asked if the bomakes had any prayer requests before I went to play with the kids… Gracie said she needed prayer for her legs and feet as they are swollen and that she is OLD… Oh Gracie! Another Bomake told me she wants peace and stability in her home.. as her husband gets drunk, comes home, and becomes violent. (Now if you haven’t been told this yet… Swazi’s are a very private people and wouldn’t have said anything of the sort.. this shocked me to my core in more ways than I could imagine.) This is exactly why I say Riverwood has made such a difference and continues to make a difference! She trusted me with this information and I think it was only because I had told these ladies where I was from. So be encouraged as you go through this journey, even if you are a newbie or have been on this trip many times, that even if you have moments where you don’t feel like you are doing anything… YOU ARE!

    Sorry this was a bit longer than I anticipated. I can’t wait to see more pictures and journey with you. Sleep well and have fun at Enaleni!

    Kailey Enns

  8. Oh what a wonderful way to start your trip in Swaziland! Church there is so rich and full of songs that sing right to my soul. A tree service in bhobo wow!! What an experience that would have been. I know your are all tired and filled up to the brim with the love of those two communities. What a blessing. I am praying for you all to overcome the pain of the infection. To overcome the heat and to be met by Jesus. I witnessed miracles there and I pray that you feel God’s presence as you lay everything you have out. I wish I were there to hear all about the first experiences and by looking at the pictures I know that is been something you can not even dream about. Please hug my kids for me!! Sending you all love and prayers!!

  9. Cole, thank you for sharing your thoughts and words. I love the simplicity and imagery of a church under a tree. As you have said, we are bound together not by a building, or lights, or a production that wows us but by our faith in Jesus and the truth of the gospel. It is truly a remarkable thing to me that regardless of where you are in this world that truth remains the same. It surpasses culture and status and is available to everyone.

    Thank you Lord for the gift of you. I pray for this team that they will continue to see you and be blessed in new and profound ways. – Deb Schwartz

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