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The VanderWal Boys Tell All! What's It Really Like to be on Assignment for The Luke Commission


Sometimes the quietest and most profound members of The Luke Commission are the VanderWal boys.

Zion tops the pile of kids,
as he plays at a clinic.

Not quiet as in three 7-year-olds and a 4-year-old tearing through their daily lives in Eswatini, but quiet about what it all means. Not profound as in analyzing medical and spiritual needs, but profound about what is God doing in this tiny African country saddled with the deadliest disease known to mankind.

Individually, I asked the boys questions, and Harry and Echo captured a few prayers and conversations. May this "out of the mouth of babes" update tickle your fancy.

"What do you like best about living in Eswatini?"

"Helping our mom and dad at clinics," said Zebadiah. "I like school," said Jacob. "Playing soccer," said Luke. "Climbing up the ladder into our treehouse," said little brother Zion.

image image
Zion hangs out a school window used that day as a pharmacy where free TLC medicines are distributed. Zeb fits shoes on a thankful Liswati boy.

"How do you help at the clinics?"

"Usually I help with sick people. But I couldn't yesterday, because I was kind of busy playing," explained Luke. "I do help Daddy with the cards. He puts dots by the medicines and I circle them."

Luke helps translators move
Operation Christmas Child
boxes off a semi-truck and into
The Luke Commission

"I like to unload everything from the trailers. The carts are heavy, but I'm getting strong," Jacob said. "I try to work in the pharmacy, but sometimes I get the medicines mixed up."

Zeb continued, "I help Mom in the HIV department. I give her bottles and set up everything for the blood. Sometimes I find things for Mom, like her red book. It's usually in a big bag that's like all the other bags."

"I carry boxes to Mom, and ride in the car without fighting," Zion said.

Four-year-old Zion asked Echo late one clinic night, "When are you going to be done with the patients?"

Echo answered, "Until we go to heaven there will always be sick people."

Zion - "When are we going to heaven?"

Echo - "When we die."

Zion - "I am going to be sad when you guys are dead. Are you going to be dead yesterday?"

image image
Jacob paints a little girl's face with a Jesus symbol at a mobile clinic. Luke takes a rest behind the pharmacy carts in the corner of a bush school on a very hot day.

Zion also is contemplating leaving his parents when he grows up. He realizes Echo is separated from us, and it's a long way from Sagle to Eswatini.

"When you are done in Africa, you will see me there... at the hairport," Zion assured his parents. "After I am done, I will come right back to Africa to you."

Seven-year-old Zeb asked Jesus one night before bed, "Pray that patients coming and going will learn about You and from generation to generation they will believe in You." Ah, yes!

First-grader, almost second grader Jacob prayed, "Help the good days not to come to an end, but help us to serve You every day of our lives." Ah, yes!

Zeb finishes his school work.
Today his classroom is outside.

"What are you learning in school?" I asked. Harry is their on-site teacher with appreciated assistance from A Beka Book Video School.

"I'm writing a story about George Washington Carver," noted Zeb. "We learn about kites, butterflies, Abraham Lincoln, black bears, and a circus."

"I like counting by 3's," said Jacob. "Grandma, did you know one-half of 12 equals 6 and one-third of 12 equals 4?"

"Fractions," answered Luke, also 7. "One-half is bigger than one-fourth because the pieces are bigger. I have to spell lots of words, too. In the morning, we read our Bibles and then we do our schoolwork."

In his assignment "When I Grow Up," Zeb wrote: "I want to be a missionary doctor. I'll travel to many places in the U.S. My studies will be hard. One day Luke and I found a girl that had both legs burnt. Two years ago a patient was 17 years old. He had an infected leg. We drove him to the hospital. The doctors could not help, so they had to cut off his legs."

Falling asleep anywhere is easy
for these boys. Succumbing to a
late-night clinic are Jacob (top) and
Luke (bottom). Zeb is still helping
with his medical bag.

"What's your dad's hardest job in Eswatini?" I asked.

Zion - "Circling cards."

Luke - "Knowing what medicines to circle on cards."

Jacob - "Seeing a patient who's having trouble living."

Zeb - "Helping us in school. And being a doctor. Now that's a hard job."

What's your mom's hardest job in Eswatini?

"Setting up the clinics and setting up the table when it's dinner time," answered Jacob without hesitation.

"Helping people with HIV and people with bad cuts," said Zeb.

"Taking care of people with big bubbles on their feet and taking care of people with wounds that smell bad," said Luke.

"Helping a boy with a hurt leg. He was crying for his mom," sympathized Zion.

image image
The VanderWal boys (Zion, Jacob, Zeb, Luke) stand in a trailer filled with Operation Christmas Child boxes on the way to the Liswati bush. Zion, Jacob, and Zeb hand out Christmas Child boxes in the summer. The shoebox full of goodies is often the first gift of a Liswati child has ever received.
Echo shows how Liswati women carry
their "babies" on their backs, even
children as old as Zion when they
tire - and he was tired. Taken at 10 p.m.
and still on site.

How about this dinner conversation...

Luke - "What two people do you think we are talking about in Bible class?"

Echo - "I don't know."

Luke - "Take a guess."

Zeb - "First, 2nd or 3rd missionary journey."

Luke - "Who are the two?"

Echo - "Paul and Barnabas."

Luke - "You are right, Mama. People were lying about them when they were missionaries."

Zeb - "People have lied about us, too, while we were missionaries."

Luke - "But that won't make us stop being missionaries." (He pumped his fist in the air).

Robbers and fleas and treehouses and chickens also occupy the VanderWal boys' musings.

Jake asked in a letter, "Have any robbers come into your house? Is anyone sick? Are you happy?"

Jake's prayers also reflect concern for the robbers' souls. "Please help the robbers to stay away and to accept You as Savior."

Zeb and this boy Tally are the
same age, but Tally is a dwarf.
Zeb holds his friend, who's become
a favorite of all the boys.

Luke petitioned God one night recently, "Help the fleas to leave us alone (to be explained in a future update), and help us to find grass for the roof of our treehouse."

Luke wrote in a letter, "We have been working on our treehouse and our chicken house. One day a big black bird came and took the chicken away and ate it. And he ate another chicken."

Later Luke told me, "It's sad to kill a chicken when he hasn't lived long. He didn't know what it's like to be a man rooster."

Countless stories remain to be told about the Emaswati and the God's working in their lives. Even after the VanderWals return to the States this month, we will weave those stories into updates.

With these final words from the kids, may you be touched and strengthened to continue your bond with The Luke Commission, whether in prayer, giving, or putting your hands to the plow.

Jacob: "Mom, I can't wait until all of Eswatini loves God."

Luke, on a 2.5-hour drive home after 237 were saved: "If we weren't missionaries, would those people have asked Jesus into their hearts?"

Zeb at prayer: "God bless the people who have given the money for us to be here this many years."

image image
Luke holds a Liswati baby dressed in a new bonnet and blanket. The little one's mother is delighted. Zion in the bathtub washes off bush dirt. Notice the color of the water.

Zion before leaving for each clinic: "To the work! Luke Commission on assignment!"

Thank you, Jesus, for Your assignment!

Janet Tuinstra for Harry and Echo and the boys


Copyright 2020 by The Luke Commission