Today we will talk with my good friend Joshua Ward about Bulembu, Swaziland. Swaziland is surrounded by South Africa, except for a short border with Mozambique, Swaziland depends heavily on South Africa from which it receives more than 90% of its imports and to which it sends 60% of its exports. Joshua was born in Southern Africa and is a 3rd generation Swazi. He grew up in ministry life, with both parents in vocational ministry.
Swaziland, now Eswatini, has the highest HIV rate in the world, resulting in over half of the child population either being orphaned or vulnerable. Struck by the masses of children flocking to the streets of the capital city, Kevin Ward, Joshua’s father, resigned from his corporate job to start caring for orphans.
Starting out as a soup kitchen in the capital city, serving street kids, the ministry has grown to include family-based orphan care, community development, a men’s rehabilitation center, and a safe house for abused women. Together, we are on a mission to bring Kingdom Transformation, One Life At A Time, and we believe we can really transform this entire nation within 1 generation.
Joshua spent much of his childhood on a farm, where he and his family lived with 50 orphaned and vulnerable children. It was here that the Lord birthed the vision of Bulembu – an abandoned mining town rebuilt to be a refuge of safety for the orphaned generation of Eswatini.
After studying business in Tennessee and working in corporate America for a little while, Joshua was quickly drawn back to serving the ministry. Joshua now lives in Phoenix, AZ. He attends CCV and serves at the Verrado campus, and leads Partners in Action, a 35-year old Phoenix-based nonprofit that is focused on resourcing Kingdom Transformation in Eswatini and beyond.
He is married to his college sweetheart, Caroline, who is a part of the CCV worship community.
They don’t have children yet but are excited for that season to come. In the meantime, their Corgi puppy proves to be challenge enough for them.
Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/joshuadward/
Christ’s Church of the Valley: https://ccv.church/
CCV Missions: www.ccv.church/missions
Pastor Larrie Fraley: linkedin.com/in/larrie-fraley-53445032
Larrie: [00:01:21] Well, I have been waiting patiently to introduce our next guest. I feel like he's family. I first met Joshua as a teenager in Swaziland. I know his mom and dad very well. And let me tell you, they did a magnificent job in raising this young man. He is a leader well beyond his years. Joshua is a strategic thinker and very competitive and achiever in every aspect of life. He's a strong believer with a great commission mindset and worldview. I'll let him tell his story. Joshua, welcome to the show.
Joshua: [00:01:57] Larrie, thank you for your very kind words there. I'll try to live up to them, but we'll let we'll let the Lord work that out in my life. Thank you so much for having me on the podcast. It's a real privilege to be here with you. You know, like Larrie said, I have known about CCV. I've known Larrie personally for many, many years. And it is just such a wonderful privilege to now live in Phoenix, here in the Valley, and be a part of the CCV community. My wife and I attend Verrado campus. And, you know, when we moved to Phoenix, I was the one who had all the relationships with CCV through our ministry. And now she's on the the worship staff here with CCV. And so now I'm introduced as Caroline's husband, and I am very happy that that is the case. So wonderful to be on with you, Larrie.
Larrie: [00:02:48] Well, tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, how you grew up. Our audience would be really interested in knowing that.
Joshua: [00:02:58] Yeah. Thanks. So I'm a third generation Swazi, Swaziland, or now the Kingdom of Eswatini is this very small nation bordering South Africa and Mozambique. 1.2 million people, about 4 hours drive north to south, maybe 3 hours east to west. So if you could imagine a really tiny country, that's where my grandparents moved to from the UK. They had a journey through Southern Africa but made their way to, to Eswatini and naturalized there. So that's where I grew up. You know, most people would look at me and say that I'm a mission's kid. MKPK, Pastor's kid. For us it was our community. So we just say we're a ministry family. And I've been very blessed to grow up in all spheres of ministry where we we have dealt with the poorest of the poor and then some of the most wealthy people that that have come to try and be the hands and feet of Jesus in their missional concept. So really blessed to grow up on the missions field with an incredible family. You know, my dad was the first in his family to become a Christian. And so I've had the blessing of watching a first generation Christian take the role in his family. And then obviously growing up under that leadership, the son of a pastor, you know, I've found that pastor's kids tend to go one of two ways. Either they really love the faith or they walk far away from it. And I've come to believe that pastors who lead their family and preach from from what they live out tend to raise kids that love the faith. And so that's what I saw in my dad. And that's why I'm so passionate about my faith in Christ and the work we're doing in the Kingdom of Eswatini.
Larrie: [00:05:01] Well, I remember visiting your mom and dad's farm and kind of watching you work in the farm. And so it's in some respects, you grew up on a farm, right?
Joshua: [00:05:14] Yeah, I did. It's funny, we were growing houses quicker than we were growing crops because obviously a part of our ministry is orphan care. So we needed housing for more and more orphans. So I grew up on a farm with 50 other children. My house was in a string of houses that had foster families beside me. And so that that was our life. Now, we did have some crops because we tried to grow our own food for the program and strawberries that we'd take to market. But yeah, it was a farm upbringing for me, which was wonderful.
Larrie: [00:05:53] Well, I'm sure that's where you you learned a lot of your work ethic. There seems to be this work ethic among kids that grew up on a farm that a lot of us don't have. So you're blessed and it shows that you have those. Tell us a little bit about the country. We, many of us know it as Swaziland. I still have a hard time calling it Eswatini. But tell us about Swaziland. It's government. It actually has a king, right?
Joshua: [00:06:20] Yeah, that's correct. So beautiful nation, absolutely phenomenal people. The culture is one of honor and respect. It really is a peaceful country. There's a unique sense of peace to the kingdom of Eswatini as it relates to typical African nations. So most African nations have a history of multiple tribes being forced to live in unison under one governing authority. In our country, the Kingdom of Eswatini is run by a government and a parliament system which ultimately has a king in the ultimate seat of power. He's a good king. There's been some some recent pressure on his role in the nation, which is to be expected with foreign influence. But, yeah, we're a kingdom. We're one tribe. So that that is the Swazi tribe, hence the derivative being Swaziland. Now the kingdom of Eswatini. If you were to imagine Africa, you would maybe think very quickly of dry, dry lands. We do have some dry lands, but the unique thing about Swaziland is geography is that you've got three climatic bands all smashed into this very small country. So there's beautiful range and spectrum of topography within this country. Now, more importantly for this podcast would be an understanding of of maybe the not so beautiful areas of our nation.
Joshua: [00:07:57] So the culture is magnificent. And unfortunately, there's huge pressure caused by HIV. Now, it's a it's a polygamous culture in Swaziland. So if you imagine a disease that transports or transmits through sexual activity in a polygamous culture, HIV really tore through the kingdom of Eswatini. So we have the highest HIV rate in the world, which has resulted in a huge orphan population. And it's really messed up the development of the Swazi nation, because if you were to look at a population permit today, you know, 46% of our population is below the age of 18. And the parental generation really has been wiped out. When I was ten years old, back when you met me first and and Rick met me, we would have been looking at a 32 year average lifespan. That is since improved to 58 to 60 years old, being the average lifespan of of a person born in Swaziland. But that's still significantly lower than is 78 to 80 years old.
Larrie: [00:09:21] You know, it's probably good at this time to kind of let the audience know how did she get involved with Swaziland? And it took place many years ago. I'm going to guess right around the year 2008 or sooner. We had a missions weekend here at CCV where I spoke and we had all of our mission partners in. And a guy named Rick Ueable came and talked with me about this project that he was involved with in Swaziland. He mentioned that he and others were in the process of actually procuring or buying some property in Swaziland that used to be an old mining town. That has been abandoned because the mines closed. And so that was of interest to me because his vision was to acquire this property, which already had a community. It had a hospital, a theatre. It had all of the different physical parts of a of a of a city already intact. It was just abandoned. And one of the visions was to take the hospital, convert it into a clinic that would meet or serve the needs of those with HIV, particularly the women who were pregnant. Because they found out that if a woman would give birth naturally who had HIV, there's a good chance that the HIV virus would be transmitted to the child. But if they're treated in prenatal care, there's an equally good chance that they would not have HIV.
Larrie: [00:11:02] And so that was the vision. It sounded amazing to me. I visited Swaziland with Rick. That's where I met Joshua's dad, Kevin. And the relationship began to form. But as Joshua was saying, I literally walked down the streets of a town called Bulembu. Which is the community that they purchased. And I saw. I saw people that were in their thirties. I could not find anyone older than that. It looked like a young community. And that is, as Joshua had mentioned, HIV was rampant at the time, and they were not living more than 30 years. So that's how CCV got involved. We immediately took them on as a missions partner, and the whole project began to develop the community into a sustainable community. First of all, that people would have jobs. These orphans would be raised in some of the homes that were abandoned and therefore live in an actual home like setting with a mother or a mom that would take care of them. We would limit the houses to around eight. So it wasn't overly crowded and that's how we began. And lo and behold, I'll let Joshua tell a little bit about what Bulembu is like today, but that's how CCV got involved.
Joshua: [00:12:24] Yeah. Thanks, Larrie. So Bulembu has been just an amazing picture of God's provision and taking man's small vision and blowing it out to a God sized dream. And so if you could imagine me growing up on a farm with 50 kids and someone arrived and said, this is phenomenal work that you're doing, but it's way too small. The orphan crisis is raging and you're only looking after 50 kids. And so we took this person up the road to this abandoned mining town, Bulembu. So imagine 4400 acres, 1300 homes, three schools, an electric grid, a search grid that was all just abandoned and it really looked like the rapture had happened. I mean, we're talking whiteboards or chalkboards in the schools still had writing on it. The chest x rays in the hospital were still up on the light board, movie reels were still in the cinema and all just vacant. And so we said, Hey, this is our dream to take this abandoned mining town and bring new life to it all for the purpose of orphan care. And the goal has always been to create this self-sustaining community that looks after 2000 orphans. So that was where CCV got involved with sending teams. And you personally, Larrie, were very involved with even founding our Bulembu Community Church and training up local pastors to lead that church. And so CCV has journeyed with us through the very beginning of Bulembu to what it is today.
Larrie: [00:14:06] And it's been an honor to be part of that and actually watch what God has done over the years. We don't have enough time on this podcast because we could go literally on for hours on what God has done through this ministry. And so we will have future podcasts that explore that. There's there's just way too much to talk about today. But I can tell you for sure that this has been a highlight of CCV Mission Partners. And so we're going to look forward to doing that sometime in the near future. I know Joshua mentioned that it looked like the rapture. It really did. I can remember walking into a school and seeing the textbooks still open right down to the piece of paper with the pencil where the child was taking notes. Now, Joshua, correct me if I'm wrong, but you have to have to understand that here is was a community that was pretty much the entire community was employed by the mine. And when the mine decided to close, there was, I'm guessing, panic because there's not a lot of jobs in Swaziland. So when that happened, I'm assuming now and you correct me if I'm wrong, that there was this mass exodus, people were rushing out of the city because they needed to be and find jobs first before those jobs were gone. Is that correct?
Joshua: [00:15:26] Yeah, that's right, Larrie. And actually, the mining company intended it to be a quick exit. And so they told all the mining employees that their last paycheck would be paid from the capital city and that once that paycheck had been collected, they were no longer welcome in Bulembu as a town. And so that really triggered this mass exodus response. And then the town just sat vacant until we arrived in 2006 and began the journey.
Larrie: [00:15:57] I remember going on a trip there, and me and another pastor here at CCV, a guy named Gary Gillespie, happened to wander into an abandoned school and into a classroom. And before we knew it, we turned around and there was this massive bull that was between us in the door. And Gary was trying to decide what to do. I think I was faster than Gary, so he was a little worried. And so we managed to get out of there unharmed. But yeah, the wild animals had taken over much of the city. And so if you have not gone there, which most of you obviously have not, but we have sent hundreds of CCV people there on mission trips. And by the way, it is the easiest mission trip for us to fill here at. For some reason, people want to go to Swaziland, the furthest place in the world from CCV. It takes 30 hours or more to get there, but yet the trip fills up. Every time we we, we we go there. And so there's a new trip coming up now. I think it's already full. But but if you've not had a chance to look at Swaziland, go to our website, see ccv.church/missions and check out the mission trip to to Eswatini or Swaziland and see what that's all about. I can assure you that you will be impacted, your life will be changed if you go to Swaziland. My assistant, Nancy Coughlin, goes every year. She leads that her with her husband. And so it's a great mission trip. Check out the website for that. I'll also include links to Joshua's website, Partners in Action. We will not talk about that today, but that is another podcast that's going to be coming up soon, which is a whole other part of the ministry which you're going to find amazing. Joshua. Well, I want to thank you for being here today. Tell us more about the needs of Bulembu and and maybe, perhaps what some of the vision of Bulembu is.
Joshua: [00:18:08] Yeah. Thanks, Larrie. So just on on the trip side of things and this speaks to the need as well. Trips really are a huge part of the ministry output we're able to accomplish in Bulembu. Our goal is to raise the next generation of Swazi leaders, and we're seeing that happen. You know, there was actually a young man, his name's Mduduzi. He was born on the exact same day I was to very different circumstances. But the Lord brought our paths together through Bulembu and he has just completed his welding trade certification and is starting a welding business. Now, when you ask why this this person Mduduzi wants to weld, it's because there was a team from CCV where there was someone on that team who had had welding expertise and Mduduzi happened to be interning in the maintenance team and experienced welding from a team member. So our teams really do encourage our kids to think bigger beyond what they have currently imagined. We expand their horizons by sending teams to visit and it's a huge love transaction, right? You are saying, hey, I love what you're doing and who you are so much that I'm coming to visit and care for you directly. So teams really are a big need for us. We've gone through a dry spell, obviously with COVID international travel has been shut, so it's been two tough years of not having teams in Bulembu. Outside of that, there's the typical needs. So we are prepping the next shipping container to go out to Bulembu by the end of this year. Ccv was actually a part of last year's shipping container that took seven months to get there. The world is in a logistics freefall and so we experienced that firsthand with taking seven months. Can you believe it to get there? But yeah, if you are able bodied and willing to travel, I would implore you to get on a CCV trip. I think we've got to going this October. One of them is already full, but the second trip is still has a few vacancies.
Larrie: [00:20:36] Yeah. The other thing that I might mention about TRIPS is that there is it doesn't matter whether you are skilled in any particular area. There are there's a lot to do on these trips, whether you're involved in what we know as vacation Bible school with the kids or whether you can work in some of the construction projects perhaps, or even in evangelism. And so there's opportunities for everyone to go on these trips. And you might think, well, I can't really afford to go on a trip. But let me assure you, of all the years that I've been involved in trips and the hundreds of trips that we involved I can't name on, on one hand, how many people who wanted to go on the trip that couldn't find a way to go through some fundraising techniques that we would give them or whatever. God, if God wants you on the trip, you're going to go. And so please follow up on that. Check our website out.
Joshua: [00:21:32] Yeah, thanks, Larrie. And I would add to how people can stand with us. You know, prayer is so necessary if if not ever before now, you know, our country is facing some unique challenges. I mentioned earlier a few of them. And so the kids we're dealing with in care come with a lot of baggage. And if you could be praying, you know, if you can't go and you still want to be a part of what we're doing, please cover us in prayer. We're dealing with immense trauma, and a lot of it is spiritually influenced by local tradition and belief. There's a lot of a lot of trauma counseling we are going through. And we believe that that ultimately that healing comes from Jesus Christ, revealing his love to the children. And then beyond that man, there are hundreds of thousands of kids, literally hundreds of thousands of kids who we have not reached yet, and they are experiencing that trauma today. So if you could be praying for the kids in our care and the kids we haven't reached yet in Eswatini.
Larrie: [00:22:44] Well, Joshua, well said. And we will be praying for you. We look forward for the future podcast that we're going to do. I'd really want to have you back and let's talk about some of the spiritual warfare that's actually taking place in Swaziland, as well as what Partners in Action is doing. Joshua, thank you. And we'll continue to pray for you. God bless.
Joshua: [00:23:08] Thank you, Larrie. God bless you. And a very big thank you to CCV and all that you as a church have done for not only our ministry, but the nation at large in the kingdom of Eswatini. God bless you, and thank you for taking just a moment to listen to this podcast.
Speaker2: [00:23:24] This has been. Let's go. 360. Your visibility into what God is doing worldwide as we talk with those living out the great commission inspired by the great commandment so that we'll stand with the great multitude before the throne when the mission of God is complete. May God bless you as we go and send those here near and far. Thanks for listening.