Turning 40

Michael 40

Turning 40 years old is a milestone in any person’s life. Having recently accomplished this feat, I did the typical soul searching and contemplated the last four decades of my life. There are so many goals that I have yet to achieve—career, home ownership, financial independence.   However, I have come to realize that these are just natural things. Yes, they are noble and worthy aspirations which I still strongly desire. But in the end, these are the things that will one day burn. They won’t mean much in eternity.

The work that I am doing in South Africa is lasting. I came to this country when I was 26 years old, and I haven’t really left. I didn’t know when I was 26 that I would turn 40 in a foreign land. Back then, my whole life was ahead of me. I was young, and in my youthful naivete, I thought I would just spend a year or two serving and then move on to the next thing. The next thing was probably marriage or home ownership in my mind. Little did I know that this nation and these children would capture my heart in a way that would consume my service and commitment for 14 years. It has been the defining chapter of my life.

As for Goshen, we are moving along well. We continue to educate and disciple disadvantaged youth, and though it comes with ups and downs, I am proud of the impact we have been able to have over these many years. I recently learned that all of the elementary students that attend our Learning Center program literally form the top tier in their regular classes. Our older students are also flourishing. While some of our high school seniors have been accepted to premier South African universities, our senior college students are preparing to graduate with degrees in Pharmacy, Law, and Education making them all the exceptional pride of their communities. Spiritually, we are teaching the kids to “shift their gaze” from the distractions and circumstances of this world to focus on the Lord and hear His voice. We constantly reinforce that education and achievement mean nothing outside of the will of God, so it is important to always live to please Him!

Living to please Him in the light of these accomplishments has been the highlight of my adult life. My path, whether by choice or design, did not end up the way I thought or the way that most of my friends’ paths have directed. However, I am grateful to have educated these students in a way which has added just a few more opportunities and choices in their lives. I am grateful for the young men and women that I have had the privilege of mentoring—to shape and mold their choices. I am grateful that my life, though not perfect, has been an example in some ways to show others how theirs can be just a bit better. Finally, I am grateful for a Savior, who gave His life for mine, and how His Father’s plan for this life has pushed me beyond my comfort zone to do something amazing and lasting for His glory. I used to dread getting older, but now I realize 40 looks good on me!

 


Roxzane’s Story

RoxzaneThis year, we have asked out students to write their stories.  We are going to periodically post them for you to hear from them in their own voice. They want to be heard!  For some, we have changed their names to offer them some degree of anonymity.  Thus, we have noted these stories with an asterisk (*).   For others, they do not mind you knowing who they are and the struggles they have endured in becoming who God has ordained them to be.  You will hear from students in various phases of our program.   The grade levels are evident in their writing, but we did not want to take away from the authenticity of  them explaining themselves in their own words.  This is Roxzane’s story.

When I was in grade 1, I was very lazy, I did not want to do my work.  I thought that school was for playing and meeting friends; so, I let other kids do my work for me. When I was in grade 3, I decided to be better than the other children. I knew that I could do my own work and I really wanted to try.  I studied harder and to my surprise, I became better and better. I was so happy!  My mom and dad were also happy with my improvement and they were so proud of me.

When I was in grade 1 I felt like I didn’t want to go to school. I was at home a lot of times, but when I was in grade 2, my mind became bigger and better.  I was still wasn’t in school very much, but I did learned and listen even if I wasn’t in school.  I didn’t want to go to school, but I still wanted to learn.

If I wasn’t in school I would ask someone who was in school what they did. Then, I would do it too. When I showed up for school the next day, the teacher would ask me where I got the work. I would tell her I got it from my friend and she would ask me if I copied and I would say no. Then I would say she just told me what work to do. Then the teacher was very happy with me, and she gave me a gold star.  I loved getting gold stars! Then, the other children would be mad because they did not get a gold star and I would put the gold star at the front of my head. I would walk around the school and the children would ask where I got the gold star, and I would tell them about my work that I did in class. Then at the end of the school year, I will pass and go to the next grade and I would also do well and it was like that every day and year. I passed every grade.

Then, an amazing thing happened!  My teachers told me that I should try to be in the Learning Center.  The Learning Center is only for the kids who are the most clever.  I never thought that I could do it!  I took the test.  I was surprised when I passed.  Then, I was nervous.  I had to interview to get in.  I never did an interview before.  So, I went to talk to Michael and Ms. Terblanche.  It wasn’t so scary.  They asked me questions about myself and my work.  Then, I waited, and waited, and waited.  Finally, Michael called me from my class and I was in!  It felt good like wearing 100 gold stars on my forehead!

Now that I am in, the work is hard, but it is making me smarter.  One day, I will make my teachers, my parents, and everyone proud of me because I will reach my goals if I keep working hard.


Thandie’s Story*

not too happy2

This year, we have asked out students to write their stories.  We are going to periodically post them for you to hear from them in their own voice. They want to be heard!  For some, we have changed their names to offer them some degree of anonymity.  Thus, we have noted these stories with an asterisk (*).   For others, they do not mind you knowing who they are and the struggles they have endured in becoming who God has ordained them to be.  You will hear from students in various phases of our program.   The grade levels are evident in their writing, but we did not want to take away from the authenticity of  them explaining themselves in their own words.  This is Thandie’s story*.

This is the story of a little girl who was devastated by her parents’ separation.  She was raised by a drinking single parent, her mother, and a father who was almost never there for her. That’s my life.

When I was a teenager everything in my life turned from bad to worse. During my second year at Wittedrift High School while I was doing grade11, I started to do things I never thought I would do. I didn’t realize that I was digging my own grave.

Nothing was right in my life. I left my best friends because we started fighting.  As with every group of friends one of us had to be the leader, and I was tired of living in her shadow.  Two new girls came to our school that year and they had no friends at all.  I was more than willing to join them because they had the money and popularity that I longed for.  They had everything I ever wished for and that was more than enough to draw my attention. I had rich friends now and that was all that mattered. They paid for the cigarettes and alcohol, and I was more than happy. It was us against the world.

While the fun increased, my grades started dropping.  I didn’t care. I was having a great time! We were smoking in the school’s bathroom and drinking at school functions. We had friends with cars who took us anywhere for free. Everything was too good to be true. We were living the good life.

That was my own way of forgetting about everything that happened in my life –My suicide attempt, the separation of my parents, the men in my mother’s life and all the violence that came with them. Everything was my fault. I thought committing suicide would be better for everyone. I thought that it wouldn’t make a difference if I was gone because no one noticed me anyway. No one could see the pain that I was feeling. I just had to take the blame. Wasn’t I a mistake, anyway?  No one had time for me and I just had to do it.  Everyone was too busy with their own broken lives to notice that mine was also reaching a breaking point.

After all that drama in my life,  I dealt with more drama. Things were now way more than worse. In my matric year I was kicked out of the Learning Center because of changing the subjects that they believed I needed. I was furious and sad at the same time. I was their responsibility; at least, that was what I thought. It was now time for my parents to do their job. They had to pay my school fees on their own. My mother could afford my school fees if only she drank less and wasn’t in debt. But, she wouldn’t. What else could go wrong in my life? Why was I being punished? I started asking myself questions that I couldn’t answer. I needed answers.

One day I decided to make a change in my life. A good change. A spiritual change. I felt a need for God. I just had to turn to him for comfort and answers. I needed to be uplifted; so that, I could live a better life. It was time for a new life. I’ve been through so much, but it was time to put all that behind me. It was time to move on, and with the help of the Lord I could learn to forgive and forget. I had to break the cycle. As time went on my mindset changed. I grew mentally and spiritually. I learned how to make the right choices so that we don’t have to be caught up with consequences. My self-image was once broken but I had a choice. I could either rebuild it or keep it broken. With the help of the Lord and my spiritual leaders, I chose to rebuild it.  My life is still not perfect, but I have hope that it will only grow from here.


Precious*

March 11, 2006 283

She always stood out in a crowd.  I’m not sure if it is because she looked so white in the sea of black and colored children with her long brown hair, hazel eyes and splattering of freckles across her face.  It could have been the fact that this seven-year-old child just seemed somehow grimier than the rest of them, as if she could use a good scrub both inside and out.  Whatever the reason, Precious was always noticed by every volunteer, missionary and worker that came to visit our Friday afternoon program.  She had a mother–a known prostitute slowly dying of AIDS.  No one knew who her dad was.  No one cared.  For me, I chose to ignore her.  I rarely get involved with the children everyone sees; I look for the overlooked.

Then, one day, a one line note Precious wrote made its way to my desk after a session on physical boundaries and purity.  The note stated: “I have had sex. A lot.”  As soon as I read it, I went to find her. I immediately went into ‘Mama Bear’ mode.  “Precious, I got your note.  Do you want to talk about it?”  She looked around and claimed she had never written a note.  “Precious, didn’t you write this?” I said, showing her the short missive.  “Yes, but I was lying.”  With that she left the room, looked back at me, and muttered something in Afrikaans.

Several months later, I was headed into town and I saw her standing on the side of the road with her mother.  Her mother, well beyond her prostitution years, had begun to prostitute Precious to any man– truck driver, drunkard, or degenerate– willing to pay for her daughter’s favors.  As an American, I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t get Precious to admit to what was happening. I couldn’t call in the police.  All I could do was watch and wait.  Then, expectantly and suddenly, Precious’s mother died.

When I heard the news, I took a deep breath and thought the drama was finally over.  It wasn’t.  On the day of the funeral, a long forgotten uncle from a bigger city showed up, saw Precious, and decided that he could use her to increase his income.  He roughly told the family, “I’m taking her.”  I got the call to run to the village and stop him.  Without thinking and without Michael, I drove to the village and grabbed the child as the uncle was filling up at the gas station.  “Sorry, I don’t know you!  You aren’t taking this child anywhere.”  He gave me a smile and gave up the fight rather easily with the proclamation that she wasn’t worth the trouble.

Precious went home with me that night.  She only uttered two words to me, “thank you,” and she cried for the entire evening.  I tried to console her, but her grief was too heavy and too private for my well-intentioned intrusions.  That was the only evening she stayed with me.  The next morning a white South African family came to pick her up.  First, they were going to adopt her, but she was too much and too wild for them.   Then, an American couple wished  to adopt her, but she had too much baggage and too much pain for them to love.  Finally, a missionary couple took her in.  I thought they were perfect–not too young and not too old with older children of their own.  She would be their baby–prayed for, doted on and spoiled.

A few months later I saw Precious running freely through the township.  I asked her, “What are you doing here?  Why aren’t you at home?”  She looked me in my eyes like an adult would and said, “I can live with them on the weekdays, but on the weekends I must come live in the village.  They don’t care if I stay here.  I make the rules in that house!”  She knew that I did not like her leaving her new family to run the streets from which she came.  However, she was not my child, and I assumed they knew what they were doing.  Then, the rumors began to surface that Precious had seduced her new “father,” and he had been caught in a compromised position with her.  So, Precious held all the cards.  What happened?  How could an 11-year-old seduce a grown man?  I still don’t know.

After a while I lost track of Precious.  She ran the streets, drank, and partied with various men.  Then, I heard she had a baby–a boy.  Much like her mother, no one knew who the father was.  No one cared.  Later still, the people came to me and said, “We know that you love Precious, but you know she is sick!”  Sick, in Africa usually only means one thing.  Precious had AIDS.  I prayed for her.  I petitioned God for her, and I heard she recovered.  I thought God had performed a miracle.  I was wrong.

A month ago, I was at a 5:00 AM prayer service at our church, and for some reason I was moved to talk about and pray for Precious.  The next day, I received a phone call from Africa.  Precious was dead.  When I asked how, I was told the message said that she died from her own sin.  My heart broke.  Did Precious ever really have a chance?  Ravaged, in the end, by AIDS, Precious was doomed by her mother’s legacy and her own propensity to follow it.  How could I have stopped this cycle?  I don’t know.  I have lived here long enough to see children throw away their lives, and adults turn away from seeing their misery. Sometimes, we think that it is best for us to just mind our own business, but best for whom?  Is it best for the broken-hearted, or is it just easier for us?  I now know that I can no longer afford to turn my eyes away and hope that the problem will take care of itself.  It doesn’t. It won’t. We started this ministry to heal the broken-hearted and to offer hope to the desperate.  I find this  needed now more than ever, which is why Goshen must continue to be a beacon of light in the darkness.  All-in-all, I don’t know how I will save the next Precious, but I do know that I am going to try.

*Precious’s name and picture have been changed to protect her identity and family.