By Jennifer Agee
As I walked into the shack the home was tidy, the floors were clean, there was a clean school uniform hanging on the wall and the dishes were neatly put away. There was a faint smell of cooked rice that hung in the air. The mama was smiling from ear to ear and she gave me the biggest hug. You know those hugs you get when you can tell somebody really means it. While we were still holding one another I whispered in her ear with tears in my eyes, “I am so proud of you mama. I am so, so proud.” The power of the moment was huge because I could not have honestly said this to her 8 months ago. Here is the story of a life – a family transformed.
8 Months Ago – When I walked into the shack the place was a mess. There was a young girl about 14 who was desperately trying to clean the place up. I could see in her eyes that she was embarrassed. The floors were so dirty your feet stuck to them, there were papers, dirty laundry and very dirty dishes everywhere and the smell was awful. I asked where her mother was and she said sleeping. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon. I asked her to please go and call her mother for me, which she did. When the mama came out of the room she sat on the bed next to me. I could smell her before I saw her. She was drunk. I briefly looked around the room one more time and as I locked eyes with the young girl something inside me welled up with righteous anger and sadness. I quickly asked one of the mama’s to take the girl for a walk outside and not to come back in until I came out. Thankfully, I had two Xhosa mama’s with me so one could stay in the shack to assist the conversation that was to come.
I don’t know what it was but something inside me snapped and I did the one thing that as polite people we are not supposed to do. I said exactly, and I mean exactly, what was on my heart and mind. Words flowed out of my mouth that I could not believe were coming out. My heart was broken for this little girl. In a country where 50% of all females are raped she was a sitting duck. “Who is protecting your daughter when you’re drunk? Everyone around here knows you are a drunk and that they can do whatever they want with her or to her and you won’t do a thing!” Not one of my prouder moments, I must admit. The “conversation” went on for quite some time and then something caught my eye.
Hanging on the wall was a picture of Jesus and I just stopped. I took a deep breath, sat in silence for a brief moment and then took the mama’s hand into mine. I looked into her eyes and asked her if she believed in Jesus. “Yes.” Have your trusted Him with your whole heart? “Yes. When I was 17 I chose Jesus.” The feel of the room completely changed and my heart softened. She was a broken sister on the road of life. I have been her in different forms many times in my life. With true sincerity I told her that as my sister in Christ her family was my family and that I could see that she was hurting. Her eyes filled with tears and I asked her if she wanted things to be different in her home. “Yes.” Are you ready to stop drinking? “Yes.” Then the other mama in the room and I put our arms around her and began to pray. We made plans for one of our Community Care Workers to begin visiting her several times a week to offer support. As we left that day, I saw the mama and the young girl standing there and I deeply hoped that the next time I saw her there would be joy and not sadness in her eyes.
It is hard to describe in words how different things were. First, let me say that I did see this mama every month and that a visible change had started to take place. About 4 months after my first visit to the family, I ran into the young girl as she was walking home from school. She gave me the biggest hug and in English said to me “Thank you for helping my family.” My visit last week confirmed that things were much better in the home and with the mama and she beamed with pride at every word of praise given. The young girl looked so much healthier as she was smiling with her eyes no longer turned to the ground. She seemed genuinely happy. What a blessing and honor it was to walk together with this family as they made difficult changes to embrace a better tomorrow.