My name is Bernadette; close friends call me Berni. I am married to André, and we have two kids (Joshua age 9 and Andrea age 6). I originally come from Paarl in the Western Cape, and Cape Town is my happy place. When I close my eyes and daydream, I see myself driving along Camps Bay or walking on Houtbay’s beaches with my toes in the white sand.
During our ten years of marriage, we’ve lived in five different towns and three different provinces, but Jeffreys Bay has been my favourite place of all.
I suppose my husband and I could be called ‘missionaries,’ just not in the normal sense of the word. We come from a radio background; I was a radio presenter for Christian Sunday morning programme for the national radio station RSG (Radio Sonder Grense), and he was involved in producing these Christian programmes and has also worked for Radio Pulpit for some time. God has called us to be involved in radio ministry, and this calling has taken us to many different places across the country.
Some of our experiences in radio have been exciting and enjoyable, and others have been nothing short of a spiritual battle. Racial separation, churches discriminating against other churches, and so many other things I don’t even want to mention. How does one not lose hope in such situations? But still, we knew that this was where God wanted us to be, and we had to trust that somehow, somewhere, His purpose would be revealed.
We arrived in Jeffreys Bay in March 2013. Four months later on 31 July, I gave birth to our third child, a beautiful little girl whom we named Jordan. Seeing that we already had two kids, we expected everything to be like it was the last two times. But when she was born, the doctor said to me that she had six fingers and six toes; I laughed and told him to stop joking around… until I saw for myself. She was struggling to breathe, and they took her away immediately. What was happening?
It was only after I was back in my room that the doctor confirmed that there was something seriously wrong with our baby. They started doing tests. With our other two babies, we had medical aid, but with this baby, we didn’t. I told my husband that I never wanted to end up in Dora Nginza hospital (a government-operated hospital in the region), so we saved up R26 000 so we could afford to have my delivery in a private hospital.
The financial pressure hit us quickly. Baby was admitted to NICU, and the hospital put pressure on us to decide whether we wanted to stay in the private hospital or not. Even just keeping her in NICU for the afternoon was costing us R10 000 (which we had to pay for immediately)! Now, you can imagine… I’ve just had a C-Section, I’ve just found out that my baby is sick, and the hospital is coming every half hour to ask what we’re going to do with her. It was incredibly stressful!
We soberly realised that we couldn’t afford to keep her at the private hospital, and we agreed to transfer her to Dora Nginza. Thankfully, her paediatrician was also working at Dora, so that gave us some peace of mind. My amazing husband managed to sort out all of the drama: arranging someone to care for our other two kids, organising an ambulance, paying the hospital (because they wouldn’t release her until we paid that first R10 000), and finding someone to travel with the ambulance to make sure that she arrives safely. I only managed to hold her for a few minutes before they took her away; it was the first time I had held my baby, and now I had to stay behind.
After being discharged, we traveled in and out of Port Elizabeth every day to visit her. After a week, I moved into Dora with her. Can you believe it?! The place where I didn’t want to be at all was now my temporary home. When she was fourteen days old, we got the results of the genetics test. The doctor said with absolutely no emotion, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Swartz. Your daughter has Trisomy 13, and she will not live longer than six months.”
My response was, “Thank you, doctor, but only God will decide how long my child will live.” I don’t know where the boldness came to say that, but I think, at the time, the Holy Spirit just took over―I did not even break down, cry, or anything.
Trisomy 13 is a very rare genetic disorder which affects many of the organs in the body. In fact, only 1 in 10 000 babies even makes it to full-term. During my pregnancy, none of our tests and check ups picked up the disorder which is why we expected a normal, healthy baby.
- Her heart was on the right side, not the left
- There were some holes in her heart
- She had a cleft palate
- She had the extra digits on her toes and fingers
- And later we found out that she couldn’t hear or see either.
After thirty-nine days in the hospital, we were discharged, and the kids got to see her for the very first time. We were determined not to focus on death―we were going to focus on LIFE. We celebrated every month that God spared her life. We started a Facebook Page called “Baby Jordan Swartz.” When she was three months old, we asked people to bake cakes and have a party, wherever they were, just to celebrate this little girl’s life with us. And they did! Friends from Dubai, Pretoria, Cape Town, and Paarl all joined us.
We even made it into the newspapers and a magazine. It was wonderful to share Jordan’s story with the world. The title of these articles declared that “we were never going to give up hope!” That’s what gave us the strength to carry on every day. Hope.
Jordan was battling to survive every single day; there wasn’t a day that went by that she did not have seizures. Our son, Joshua, told his friends at school that his sister stops breathing, and his dad breathes air into her body so she can breathe again. That was our ‘normal.’ Crazy, isn’t it? We even took turns sleeping because someone had to watch her breathing at all times.
When our precious Jordan was 4½ months old, she passed away. Right up until that moment, we still had HOPE that God would heal her. But as my husband says, “God DID heal her, just not in the way that we wanted.” We had peace. God gave us peace. We decided that her funeral would be a Celebration of Life. We did not want people to cry. We asked them not to wear black, and we asked our worship pastor, “Please, no sad songs!” Well, his first song was “O Happy Day,” and we were happy because we had an angel in heaven.
But enough of the sad stories. What’s happening now?
Radio Ministry – We have a business where we help other people start radio stations. By helping to set up these platforms, we can broadcast the Word of God to areas where we’ve never even been ourselves. The radio mission for Jeffreys Bay is huge! We are currently starting a Christian Community radio station that will cover 36% of the Eastern Cape (nine districts). It will be the biggest community radio station in the Eastern Cape. We’ve had to face so many challenges while being here, especially financially, but we’ve also realised that those challenges are only the enemy attempting to deter us from the mission to which God has called us. It is so easy to say “let’s pack up and go; there’s no money here.” But what is God saying? During the times when we feel most hopeless, we remember the promises of God that declare that “He will never leave us nor forsake us.”
Support Ministry – I am now a ‘support mom’ for Cleft Friends, an organisation that supports parents and families of children who have a cleft lip, a cleft pallet, or both. There is a huge need for encouragement and support for parents who have terminally ill babies, and I am privileged to be able to support moms who are on the same journey that I was on.
Entrepreneurship – In September 2015, I received a word from a friend that I would have a very successful clothing business. I’ve always had a passion for African clothing, and I LOVE to wear it, but I never thought that I could make it myself. I wanted to start the clothing business but didn’t have the finances, and I haven’t done any sewing since I was in primary school. So, I borrowed my mom’s sewing machine, bought some material, and made Google my friend. “Voilà!” I had made my first dress and skirt.
And that is how Be… Original (Bernadette Original) started. I mainly focus on African clothing, but I am also busy with other products that I can supply to the tourism industry (curios, gift shops, etc.). The business is growing rapidly, and I’m very excited about it! Within the first two months, some of my clothing and bags went to Australia. And since then, I have even had products go to Italy and Ireland. My motto is: Work with what you have in your hand.
You may feel that you are in a hopeless situation, that you have nothing to offer. But take heart! Give your nothing to God so that He can turn your nothing into SOMETHING!