December 23, 2021

December 2021 Update

Merry Christmas from Eswatini!

We’ve had an absolute whirlwind year, again! It’s hard to even remember what all has happened week to week, never mind month to month. It’s been great to have our Umdoni Vlogs to help us look back and see what all God has been accomplishing here. We’ve become so accustomed to going with the flow, walking into roles, helping with needs, and pouring ourselves into work and our staff --it’s hard to rest, it’s hard to reserve space to connect with God.

Last week we broke free and went on our first vacation in two and a half years. We decided to stay in a part of Johannesburg we hadn’t visited before. On day 4 of 6, someone attempted to steal our car. Thankfully nothing inside was stolen, but they left our minivan non-drivable with no place to put our key in the ignition. We had to arrange late night rides, towing, and next-day repairs. We ended up getting the car professionally hot-wired using a screwdriver to drive the 5 hours back to Eswatini! The ordeal, getting the car home, and getting it repaired was expensive and tiring but we thankfully had the help of several kind strangers. We did have an alarming realization, after the fact, that our everyday life actually feels more stressful than having a car break-in!

car break-in

We’ve been living for the past three years out of packed boxes and suitcases, moving multiple times. Twice we also frantically packed “go bags”- once during the initial stages of Covid and again during the start of the national unrest/riots in June. We cleaned and organized what we could thinking, “Well this is it, guess we have to move home, at least this stuff will be useful to the staff here.” We also had thoughts of, “If the embassy pulls their staff, we can’t get services and we’ll be forced to leave.”

After so many years of living this way, we didn’t realize just how much stuff had accumulated simply because we forgot we already had a duplicate somewhere in storage. We now have SEVERAL bottles of sunscreen, lotion, and children’s cough medicine!

Things aren’t all bad, just a bit messy and there are a lot of positives to report. Zach is really maturing and is super clever. We were lucky enough to find an amazing Montessori school 10 minutes from our home. We feel God watching over us because the school opened literally just in time for him to start first grade one year ago- during the pandemic no less! A funny twist is that Zach’s newest classmate is a prince from the royal family. We don’t expect to run into his father, His Majesty, during a family day, but the school now has great security as a police car spends the whole school day in the school driveway.

Zach at school play

Our daughter “Isa” just been accepted into a great preschool in a nearby city which Zach’s school is en route to. In general, Isabella is our little gem, and comic relief. She’s just a delight to be around and interact with. We’re excited to see how her personality continues to emerge. Pray for us as we start potty training this week! We especially hope to have Isa out of “nappies” before Melinda gives birth in early March!

Isabella playing with a hat
Isabella smiling

Mom Hom is doing well, she’s helping teach classes, curriculum development, and working out how we can use some of our books which teams and missionaries have left to create an Umdoni staff and student library. This is important because we’ve really struggled getting quality materials for our 16 (next year 26) students due to budget and logistic constraints. We’d love to get permission to locally reprint some of our books so we can give the students great materials to go along with the curriculum we’re helping our staff develop.

Gogo Hom plays with the kids

We believe in the vision of Umdoni, we’re seeing fruit and growth in the staff and students. We’re also constantly facing a dilemma of where to house and teach, especially because of Covid and the nearby town board. For ourselves, we were able to move into our new house at the end of October, though it’s not fully finished. We’re grateful for our new home, even with the construction dust and ironing out the kinks of a new building. It’s been a nice reprieve for our family to have more space, but it’s also so much nicer than some of our student housing that it is often guilt-inducing. We’re daily seeing the difference in our level of living versus the Swazis; it’s challenging some days.

Umdoni planting

The solution isn’t to move home or build walls like the rich do here. We want to raise the standard; that’s the basic operating vision of the campus. We’re currently fundraising for better student classrooms and housing, but we also need large places to safely store food, farm and workshop equipment, small tools, and an internet-equipped lab for our students. We’re seeing so much potential; it’s exciting to be at ground level but also frustrating to have to scrape by. We need a lot of help, but we often forget to ask amidst the frenzy of keeping the program functioning.

I think for me the hardest thing is when your work is missionary work- it’s easy to pour yourself into that without healthy boundaries. It’s easy to sacrifice your personal space, your family life, your friendships. You feel like that’s the right thing to do “like Paul did,” but it’s also easy to start becoming grouchy; distancing yourself from others, from God. It’s interesting when you start to wonder if you’re even making a difference. This was especially true with Covid restrictions and when all the civil unrest was happening. It’s easy to forget that we’re here because God asked us to be, and not just because our skillsets are needed. We are still very Western in our mindset; trying to quantify the success of our work rather than trusting that God is doing so much more than we can see with our own eyes.

It’s difficult to find balance in a whirlwind, but that’s always been the calling put on the life of Christ’s disciples. Jesus never promised easy living or Corvettes; he promised that God would enter our messy lives. That’s the heart of our personal vision and Umdoni’s vision. Namely, to help people find God’s heart and a way to sustain themselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. We never asked to be at the tip of the spear or front and center. We’re believing that failing with grace and being messy, but in step with God, is leading people to move out of their comfort zones. To encourage them to start that dance with the Holy Spirit and believe that they are worth investing in. It’s been incredibly hard, but it’s been worth it.

We need help. We are praying big prayers for funds towards: student housing, classrooms, permaculture systems, a TLB (backhoe), a computer lab and finishing building our house. Getting curriculum or permissions to reprint resources, or even visiting us to be a guest teacher in your field of expertise. Whatever grabs your heart, we would welcome your investment.

Our other prayer requests are cooperation from the ministry of housing and the local town board for our farm site plans, unity in our staff and students, and to strengthen our personal time and relationship with God.

Have a wonderful and merry Christmas, thank you for all your support over the years.

Love, Brandon, Melinda, Zach, Isa, Baby Boy Babb and “Gogo Hom”

If you would like to invest financially, here are some giving links: Umdoni Classrooms

Umdoni General Funding (Select SWRising in the “Give To” area)

Babb Family Home

Also, we are thankful for the many unexpected one-time donations we have seen come in this year- if any of those were meant towards the building of our house, please let us know so we can request AIM to allocate it properly, thank you!