Swaziland, a small, landlocked monarchy in southern Africa, is a long way from Buhler, Kan. However, Tracy and Becky Spencer plan to build their second home in that nation – this one for orphans of HIV/AIDS. They feel like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz”, saying, “We’re not in Kansas any more.”
The Spencers’ vision for building Christ-centered orphanages in Swaziland, where 50 percent of men and 32 percent of women are infected with the deadly virus, looks and sounds like the fulfillment of a prophecy given to them by an Oklahoma pastor more than three decades ago during a home Bible study.
John Hollar looked directly at them in 1984 and said, “You will be a father to many more than your eyes can see.” Today Hollar, is director of Christ for the Nations in Dallas.
In 1984, the Spencers had four children, and one was on the way. The family eventually grew to eight — four adopted and four biological children — but it hardly numers “as far as the eye can see.” However, in 2006, when the Spencers traveled to Swaziland on a mission trip, they pondered Hollar’s words. There, in Swaziland, the Spencers saw untold numbers of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and wondered if they were Tracy’s prophesied family.
“From the standpoint of the first time ever going on an overseas mission trip, it was very life-changing,” Tracy said. “Just everywhere you turn there are kids on the streets, chasing your car, asking for help.”
Spencer also was struck by the orphans’ inability to obtain an education.
He and Becky knew that Jesus saw these abandoned, orphaned and vulnerable children like lost lambs. “The Good Shepherd’s staff is grand enough to care for each one – through His people,” Becky said, explaining the ministry name.
The Spencers founded Grand Staff Ministries Inc. (GSM), upon their return from that first trip to Swaziland in 2006. This nonprofit Christian charity started as a sponsorship program for orphaned and vulnerable Swazi children. Since 2006, GSM has provided money for educating 209 Swazi children; 61 children are currently in school, courtesy of sponsors. Five more have pursued post-secondary training in college or trade schools.
When the Spencers first visited Swaziland, 11 percent of homesteads were run by orphaned children, mostly because of the high death rates from AIDS. Just four years later, in 2010, that number had grown to more 20 percent or about 195,000 children without adults in the home.
Today, an estimated one-half million people in Swaziland are infected with HIV. Additional untold numbers don’t know they’re infected because of the stigma associated with the disease. Some people visit Christian medical mobile units after dark to receive anti-retroviral medications to avoid suspicion of their HIV status. Others refuse to be tested and receive life-saving drugs.
Becky, who is an author, speaker and singer/songwriter, supports the Swaziland vision by inviting men and women at Christian conferences, churches, and retreats to sponsor Swazi children at either $25 or $50 per month, which pays for students’ uniforms, tuition, books, fees and lunches.
The Spencers’ residence, a former nursing home built in 1895, was converted to a bed and breakfast within a year of their inaugural trip to Swaziland. The Spencers welcomed their first guests in 2008. Becky and Tracy saw their home transformed into a haven for burned-out pastors, tired Christians, troubled spouses and weary travelers. However, many also have become close friends and partners to the mission work they’re doing in Swaziland.
In 2014, GSM began raising funds to build their first orphan home in Swaziland. Last May, they had raised only about 40 percent of the total needed. Then GSM received a sizable financial pledge from a widow in the United States to help build the orphanage.
Barb Haley is the widow who promised enough cash to complete a 1,540-square-foot building for homeless or abandoned children. Haley, who had received a large insurance settlement after her husband’s death, was planning to use a significant amount for a major home renovation until she attended a Christian writer’s conference where Spencer talked about GSM and one Swazi girl in particular.
“I decided right then to give every penny of that money to the ministry to help fund this new home,” said Haley. “I feel so blessed to know that God is allowing us to be a part in this undertaking. I can honestly say I have nothing but joy when I think of the project ahead.”
The girl Becky spoke about was Angel, whose mother abandoned her when she was small. Angel lived with her grandmother until the grandmother died. She was reunited with her mom, but when Angel was in only the third grade, her mother began locking her out of the home. The Spencers, Angel’s pastor and their missionary friends all witnessed changes in her that would indicate this precious little girl was being sexually victimized. Now about 14 years old, Angel reluctantly lives with her mother and other siblings from different fathers, but she frequently runs away.
Building orphanages is vital to changing the course of Swaziland’s future, Becky said, but the success of sponsorship is profound, already. The benefits are evident in the lives of Swazi men and women who’ve reversed downward spirals.
Twenty-eight-year-old Swazi Colane Nkambule graduated college in 2015 with a degree in broadcasting and media, thanks to the financial support of his American sponsor, Penny Takeda. A GSM supporter from southern California, Takeda saw Nkambule’s promise in secondary school and chose to invest in his life through university training.
Nkambule’s success defied the odds stacked against him.
Orphaned and uncared for by immediate relatives, Nkambule lived on the streets of Swaziland’s capital city, Mbabane, for five years, stealing food from street vendors. His crime devolved further into alcohol and drugs and probably would have killed him if not for the Christian ministries \that helped Nkambule beat his addictions.
Changed dramatically by Jesus and through relationship with Takeda, who consistently prayed for him, Nkambule gushes with gratitude for GSM, Swazi pastors and U.S. sponsors. He said they provide needy Swazi children the opportunity to live a responsible, honest, productive life.
Nkambule’s achievements are incentives, the Spencers say, for them to continue fulfilling the prophetic words and vision for their ministry and Isaiah 58:10, which states God’s desire for His people: “Spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your light will become like the noonday.”