Janine Maxwell’s Hope For Africa

Her Story of Sacrifice in Swaziland

As Told By Jennifer Walk ’15

Janine (Willis) Maxwell ’85 had already established a successful communication firm based in Toronto when her life was wrecked for a new cause. In 2004, she decided to close the business and dedicate her life to service in Southern Africa. Today, she and husband Ian oversee Heart for Africa, an organization that operates on 2,500 acres in Swaziland. Maxwell sat down with Jennifer Walk to discuss life in the midst of the current drought in Swaziland, and her radical mission to bring Swaziland’s “unseen” into clear view.

I was in New York City on the morning of September 11, 2001 with some clients from my marketing agency. We were in a meeting when the hotel conference room was evacuated, and as we rushed out onto the street, our eyes were greeted with people running in every direction. Many were covered in white ash, and I heard screaming, crying and the ring of police gunfire.

The terrible events of that morning caused me to examine some difficult questions when I returned home to Toronto several days later. I started asking myself why I was spared, and out of that question came new dedication to seek out what God wanted me to accomplish with the rest of my life.

In high school, I traveled to Jerusalem with Norma-Jean and David Mainse, who created the Canadian Christian television show “100 Huntley Street,” of which my parents were big supporters. It was there that I learned about Evangel College and then applied shortly after my return. In my first year at EU I roomed with their daughter Ellen Mainse. That is how I got to know her brothers, Ronald and Reynold and then ran into Reynold twenty years later in Toronto, just months after I began asking those deep questions about my life and purpose. Reynold was spending his days travelling the world and gathering media of street children for his parents’ show. For me, the conversation with him was an answer to my search for purpose.

A month later, I was on a plane to Zambia where I watched him talk to these children. My heart broke as I heard similar stories again and again. “My mother or father contracted AIDS, and now they are dead,” they would say. Many of them were left with younger siblings to care for, and they had no resources. I knew I had to do something. In July 2004, I closed my agency. Before I knew it, I found myself in Swaziland, and everything changed for good.

In 2005, Ian and I took over a ministry called Heart for Africa. Since then, we have focused on four areas: Hunger, Orphans, Poverty and Education. We live on 2,500 acres in the middle of nowhere where we do large-scale farming and vocational training for locals and, of course, our children. As of May 2016 we have 112 children for whom we are the legal guardians. Many of them live at “ElRoi,” our home for abandoned babies. In Hebrew, El Roi means: “the God who sees.” In many cases, these children are the products of rape, of parents who have died due to disease, or have fallen prey to extreme poverty. These are the forgotten and unseen of society, but I know God sees them.

We know that hundreds of children are dying in Swaziland alone, and we believe these are the ones the Lord has sent to us. We’re working diligently to make sure that every child that comes to us, no matter their handicap or hardship, is able to fulfill the purpose for which the Lord has put them on Earth. To me, this mission means I have the best job in the world. I just have to get out of bed in the morning to make a difference. We work to bless and save these children, but if we hadn’t said yes to God’s plan, we would have missed the blessing. As I sit and overlook our farm, with nothing growing right now because of the drought in Swaziland, I still give thanks for the land that He has provided and all the people He has sent to help make this a place of hope.

Jennifer Walk is a content specialist at BYM Agency in Overland Park, Kansas. She also studies comedy writing
and performance at the Second City Training Center.

To learn more about Heart For Africa, visit their website at heartforafrica.org

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