East Valley couple continue African mission

Kay West, second from left, last year published her second memoir of her time in Africa. (Facebook)

Kay West has jetted from Phoenix to southern Africa and back six times in five years.

The only year she couldn’t go – usually with a team of local friends and supporters – was in 2020 when the pandemic impeded travel of any kind.

Along with her husband John, she is a co-founder of the Ahwatukee-based nonprofit Swaziserve, founded in 2010 after the couple sold their three-story Ahwatukee home and all their possessions to go to Swaziland. The country since 2018 is called Eswatini, also written as “eSwatini.”

The Wests’ ministry was focused on spreading the word of God as well as helping local women and children improve their lives through projects including feeding programs for children, the elderly, and at-risk families. The couple also established an orphanage.

In 2014, West said, God called the couple to relocate across the border from Eswatini to South Africa, where they ministered to the same Swazi tribe.

Her book “Refiner’s Fire: My Walk with God in the Rainbow Nation” relates their story in South Africa from 2014 to 2017.

While John West was very hands-on during their seven-year residence in Africa, moving back to Ahwatukee has required his attention be focused on working to support himself and his wife while using his talents to also help Swaziserve.

“Kay and I work together as a team,” said John. “While she does the ‘up front’ mission work,’ I do the behind-the-scenes things like accounting, banking, formatting newsletters, and anything else I can do to support our mission of Swaziserve.”

A crucial part of his support actually involves them both.

“Most of all, we pray together. We’re a small organization but do our very best to serve God and His people with excellence,” he said.

“John works full time to support us so that, unlike many other nonprofits, we do not take any salary,” said Kay. “Donations go directly to those we serve. We choose to live frugally so that I can focus full time on ministry.”

On their last trip July 5-28, COVID, the Russia-Ukraine war and in-country rioting and violence were part and parcel of experiences Kay and her fellow women travelers faced.

“Our team of four women had been planning for months for our sojourn in the countries of eSwatini and South Africa. When two of us contracted COVID only weeks before we were to leave, it was a little disconcerting, though we did recover in time,” West wrote in a missive to her followers on Swaziserve.com.

Getting to and from southern Africa was arduous for the four women, who selected the best travel price but not the most expedient passage.

Their journey began with two days of travel and were met by a friend who ferried them three hours to their first South Africa stop.

They visited over 20 villages, towns and cities in the two countries during their stay.

Their return trip required crossing the border from Eswatini into South Africa to Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. From there the women jetted to Frankfurt, Germany then on to Chicago and finally, Phoenix.

“In addition to our team of four from the U.S., we were accompanied by various African ministry partners and friends along the way, who acted as interpreters as well as helping us with all the shopping for donations, distributions of donations, and so much more,” said West.

West said miracles followed as the various countries’ COVID-19 travel requirements fell by the way.

“We were very relieved, but still had the test prior to crossing the border into eSwatini to deal with. God took care of that, too,” she said.

“The news has been rife for months with stories of canceled flights, people stuck in airports, and luggage lost. In fact, some dear fellow missionaries, who traveled about the same time we did, had much of their luggage go missing. All six of our flights were without incident and all seven of our suitcases arrived on time and intact.”

She said COVID-19 has devastated the Eswatini/South Africa region.

“As Americans, we suffered from COVID economically, but for the people we serve in Africa, who already had nothing, the impact was horrendous,” she said.

“Many were already surviving hand-to-mouth with absolutely no money or ability to store food beyond their daily needs. So immediately many people went hungry. Compounded by severe lockdowns at times, they couldn’t even go out to work or find food,” she reported.

“Their economic recovery has been hard, just as ours has, but they started with less to begin with. Thanks to the generosity of donors, Swaziserve has been able to give funds for emergencies to approximately 30 families a month since early 2020.”

Further making life difficult for those served by Swaziserve are food shortages exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine war.

And then, the women faced frightening issues in-country.

“For three days when we were in South Africa, the news was of full-scale rioting and road closures happening in one city where we were to stay for several nights. The protests abruptly ended the evening before we were scheduled to travel there,” said West.

“We were to drive a certain road to reach several communities where just a month before a busload of people had been robbed and then murdered on the same route. Honestly, it is not a super-safe place to be, but God made a way and covered us,” she said.

As they prepared for their flight home, she added, “another large-scale protest began taking place in the area where we had been ministering for several days. Once again, we escaped unscathed.”

Kay has also been to Kenya in the past years as part of a medical mission team and stayed on to train women in another project in which she’s involved as International Leadership Developer for Southern Africa’ for Moms in Prayer International (MIP). In that capacity she oversees leadership development in 14 countries.

In both, she lauds her local ministry partners who oversee and are actively involved in a plethora of projects.

Swaziserve partners run a feeding site for more than 100 children and the orphanage, provide and raise chickens in villages that allows the communities to earn money. They also run sewing programs, employment assistance for a rural clinic and other projects.

“They are the locals and can do the ministry so much better than we ever could,” said West.

Swaziserve supporters, locally and beyond, have helped keep current projects moving forward, and helped add new ones such as the children’s sponsorship program establish by the Wests after returning to Arizona.

“We continue to be so grateful to our wonderful Ahwatukee neighbors for your compassionate support of not only those in our community, but also for people across the globe,” said West.

She praised their generosity, which she said “continues to help widows, orphans, and families who are in desperate need know that they are not forgotten.”

She said Bridgeway Community Church in Ahwatukee has been very supportive of Swaziserve since its inception.

“One recent example is that our church raised over $5,000 for the team to use during their trip to purchase basic needs as gifts for over 200 women and their families,” she said.

Kay is actively involved in public speaking and recently addressed a conference at Arizona Christian University and she has been a featured speaker with Moms in Prayer International.

She has also published “Refiner’s Fire; My Walk With God in the Kingdom of Swaziland” and “Refiner’s Gold; My Walk With God in the Rainbow Nation,” which are available on Amazon.

A third book ‘Threads of Gold’ is expected to be completed later this year.

“This one will be a little different from my first two books. It’s a compilation of the stories of the African women themselves, taken from in-depth interviews with them that I had the privilege of doing,” she said.

Information: Swaziserve.com

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