In the late 1990’s, Kevin & Helen Ward were raising their family in Mbabane, Swaziland. Both had successful careers; Kevin in the hospitality industry and Helen in her dental practice. Kevin is a Swazi-national and Helen had moved to Swaziland as a young child. Both of them were troubled by the increasing number of street children in the nation’s capital city.
In April 1997 Challenge Ministries Swaziland (then known as Teen Challenge Swaziland) began when Kevin & Helen, out of this concern for what they were seeing, started a drop-in centre and coffee shop for the street children in Mbabane which they called “The Lighthouse”.
The coffee shop provided a place of refuge for those on the street. However, it soon became abundantly clear that feeding and clothing the children was simply not enough.
At this time they were introduced to one of the most successful residential rehabilitation programs in the world; Teen Challenge USA (now Global Teen Challenge) founded by Pastor David Wilkerson, author of “The Cross and the Switchblade”. It was then that they were encouraged to visit Teen Challenge UK to research their principles and learn God’s way of working with hurting youth. They brought home the same principles to apply to the Lighthouse program and it was then that Teen Challenge Swaziland (now Challenge Ministries Swaziland) was born, with the blessings and the encouragement of Rev. Don Wilkerson.
The Lighthouse rehabilitation program began as a residential program for youth with life controlling habits using the Teen Challenge program, in a caravan in Johnson Street, Mbabane. From there it grew into 12 stick and mud huts and finally into the current structure at Emafini (meaning “In the clouds”) which was built primarily by the staff and students of Teen Challenge Swaziland. Still, the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the resulting orphan crisis touched Kevin Ward’s daily life as he came face to face with the consequences of HIV/AIDS in the lives of the students and the children.
The Ministry of Health, through their social welfare office, began bringing vulnerable children, who were orphaned or abandoned, to Kevin & Helen. To address this need, “The Ark” was launched in Mbabane which had three bedrooms, it provided beds for abandoned and abused children who were referred to them by social welfare. Many of these children were HIV positive and needed health care.
In 2001, a housing complex of four houses in Ezulwini (meaning “Heaven”) was donated to them but they rapidly outgrew these homes. God was the faithful provider and they were able to move the children’s homes onto Hawane Farm in 2004, when a 15-hectare farm was purchased with the help of Teen Challenge UK. It was here where they expanded to meet the growing need; building homes and creating ‘families’ for the children. However the need intensified for a Life Skills Centre for youth as their children came of age in the children’s homes and students began graduating from the Teen Challenge program. So in 2004 the Ezulwini property became home to the first Life Skills Centre, named TC Life Skills School – TCMI. This training program was not only restricted to young adults from the children’s home and graduates of the Teen Challenge program but also to students applying from churches in underprivileged areas within Swaziland. The Life Skills program builds character, preparing the youth to be equipped for life by helping them be teachable, presentable, confident, faithful and knowledgeable. In 2006 the centre grew further up into Bulembu and then in 2008 moved into its purpose built unit on Hawane Farm. Today the Life Skills Centre can accommodate 23 students on Hawane, focusing on training the students in skills but also in our five key character traits; to love God, to be faithful in small things, to be teachable at all times, to be loyal to family/employer and friends, to present the Gospel through a lifestyle of worship.
In February 2006, they felt led to open a church in central Mbabane, so it was then that “The Potter’s Wheel Church” was founded by Kevin & Helen Ward, with the help of AG missionaries, Tom & Twila Minter and MAPS workers, Don & Elaine Smith. It began with a small handful of people meeting in a rented warehouse building in Mbabane. By the one year mark, the church had grown to two hundred. The TC Swaziland Board encouraged them to stop renting, and to build their own church building. Using land which had been donated to them in Emafini, they set the target to be moved into the building – ready or not – by January 1, 2009. They made it on time and on January 4, 2009, although incomplete, the first service was held in the very basic building.
Through the years God has demonstrated His faithfulness and goodness in providing people, funds and partners from all walks of life to serve with and meet the needs of this growing ministry. Together we continue to fulfil God’s call to work for Kingdom transformation one life at a time.