God works every day through believers to implement His design for His Kingdom here on earth. Sometimes we are not aware of His plans unfolding. Then, other times, we are allowed a miraculous glimpse of the heart and mind of God as His will is accomplished through our humble efforts.
Such was the journey of a simple little story, Shepherd of eSwatini.
In 2016, my husband, Gary and I traveled to the tiny country of eSwatini (formerly called Swaziland) to visit the first Hope for Life Children's Home built by Pour International, an organization we supported.
We fell in love with the beautiful people of eSwatini, especially the children. We visited two carepoints--a place where children can get an after-school meal. I noticed the lack of books there. We had brought books with us to establish a library at the children's home, but those were not written for or about the children of eSwatini.
Even before we left Africa, I knew God was leading me to write a story. I interviewed Babe Elliot, a kind, older man who patiently answered all my questions about his country and its people.
I chose the 23rd Psalm as the foundation and told the story of Sandile, a young boy who cares for his family's goats in eSwatini. When his grandmother reads the beautiful words of the Psalm, he compares God's care of him to his caretaking of his goats. He concludes with joy that God is indeed his shepherd.
Scott and Marcia Borg, the founders of Pour International and missionaries to eSwatini, helped me to get my words translated into siSwati, the native language of eSwatini.
But the story had no illustrations and I knew no artists--certainly none who would donate the considerable time and work for a book that was intended for children living in 3rd world poverty.
I shelved my little story and Gary and I left for a winter trip south. While camping in Louisiana, a fellow camper noticed our Iowa license plates and introduced herself. Kris Grover and her husband lived in Elkader, Iowa.
Our two dogs, Molly and Maggie, enjoyed each other's company and Kris and I walked them and chatted. I learned she was an artist.
The morning we were leaving the campground, Kris appeared at our door with warm coffee cake and a project she was currently working on. The canvas was a torn paper collage showing Jesus cradling a lamb. The sweet, contented expression on the lamb's face brought tears to my eyes. Kris told us she called the painting, "The Good Shepherd."
Gary and I told Kris that when she finished the painting and we were all back in Iowa, we would purchase it.
Two months later we met and I received the beautiful finished canvas of "The Good Shepherd." I had brought with me a copy of my story, Shepherd of eSwatini and I asked Kris if she would consider doing illustrations for the book.
She didn't say "yes" immediately. She knew it would require a tremendous amount of work, and it involved doing things she'd never attempted as an artist. But God kept nudging, and finally Kris agreed.
The process wasn't smooth and easy. Kris struggled with some of the details of the drawings. One lovely image wasn't culturally sensitive and had to be changed. She suffered a dog bite on her hand and was unable to work until it healed. When the pictures were complete, the process of formatting for publication frustrated both of us.
We never gave up. And now Kris and I present our small part of God's Kingdom work, Shepherd of eSwatini. The book is written in both English and siSwati and 100% of the proceeds of books sold will be donated to Pour International to support the Hope for Life Children's Homes.
There are now three homes where twenty-two children thrive. I hope sometime in 2020 to be able to hand out books to the children in person.
The book is available on Amazon.com.
Susan Lawrence taught elementary school for 33 years before hanging up her chalkboard to write and speak. She writes novels for both adults and middle grade children. Susan lives in Iowa with her husband and short-legged Lab, Molly. She has 3 children and 7 grandchildren who love to hear her stories.