June 20, 2007
This is a BLOG written while living in Cape Town, South Africa. I was a volunteer for the NGO. This is one of my stories….
There are so many experiences to share, so many stories to tell and I feel it’s important for me to express as much as possible to all who would listen. I’ve been learning that what you expect out of life, you will receive. It’s not just something that is said, but an actual state of mind that is lived, whether you choose to believe it or not. The prayer of my heart has been to attract those who need my help the most. And so far, that desire has not gone unmet. I’ve made connections with some of the most interesting, underprivileged, heartfelt, compassionate, heroic individuals. Each one so different, each one having a special need, each one brought into my life for a purpose bigger then I could first comprehend. I will discuss two of these touching stories and hope they inspire you to look within as much as they have inspired me. If you want to be used by God, make yourself available and the stories will unfold before your very eyes.
A few weeks after arriving in Cape Town, I was walking to the park to write in my journal when I noticed 3 homeless people washing their clothes in the river. I watched as they scrubbed, rinsed and laid them out to dry. As I wrote in my journal, I felt a nudging in my heart. I couldn’t help but notice their disposition and found myself proud of the dedication they conveyed. I sat there speculating what their lives must be like, wondering what I would do if I were in their situation. When I finished writing, I went back to the house while the 3 of them waited patiently for their clothes to dry. 20 minutes later I was heading back toward their direction when I felt the need to buy them something to drink, and as I headed to the corner store I felt another nudge to buy them a full dinner with all the extras including dessert. The truth was, they’d been outside all day washing clothes and I hadn’t witnessed them eat or drink a single thing.
As I headed back in their direction with a paper bag full of fresh, sizzling hot chicken, I felt a little afraid of what they would think. Would they feel offended by my hand out or grateful? Would they even still be there? What were all the white suburb families going to think, as they watched in contempt toward these homeless folk who dirtied up their beautiful river view with worthless clothing spread out all over their posh neighborhood park. Would they be angry with me for contributing to their dismay by offering food to the very people they loathe? Just as the thought ran through my head, something in me snapped! I realized my own fear of the unknown was contradicting my act of kindness and selflessness, which offered much blessing and hope to those in need of an open hand. This was a blessing and to think anything less was a fallacy. So I fought the temptation to render myself guilty of crossing some sort of line. I was right to bless these people and no one was to tell me differently.
I walked up toward them shyly. A little hesitant at first but confident none the less. I told them I couldn’t help but notice they had been there all day and thought maybe they had been too busy to step away for a drink or food so I picked up some dinner for them. Their faces flooded with delight. A look of utter shock overtook them. They reacted just as one would hope, grateful, grateful, GRATEFUL. They were beside themselves, smiling from ear to ear as they shared with me that their last 20 Rand ($3.00) had gone toward laundry detergent and they had no money left for food. I asked if I could sit with them while sly looks from neighbors shot through me. They treated me with such respect, laying down a clean towel for me to sit on as not to dirty my summer dress, truly I couldn’t help but enjoy their company far more then any present company I had been in. They were authentic and real, it was refreshing. They each individually shared their personal stories with me and though they all had much to say that would have broken your heart, the one I’ll share with you came from a man named Jonathan.
Jonathan was shot on his 21st birthday, 3 times point blank, aimed at the heart. Each bullet missed a major artery and he managed to live. As he showed me the scares and bullet impressions that still remained, the women in the group, Barb started to shed tears. It was an emotional story as he told me that none of his family came to see him in the hospital and the doctor’s wife ended up baking him a birthday cake and surprised him with it. The doctor ended up putting him in a private hospital while he recovered and he’ll tell you those were the best days of his life, for the first time he had 3 square meals, shelter and a TV with a remote, and the remote is the part he couldn’t stop talking about. The doctor blessed him by covering the hospital expenses and sending him on his way once he had recovered.
He told about his near death experience, how upon arrival to the hospital, he had been pronounced dead but the doctor who took him in gave it one more shot and Jonathan inhaled his ultimate life saving breath. He explained how everything was black, he saw a bright light appear and knew he had an opportunity to take another breath, and in that moment he chose to inhale and his life was spared from sudden death. His faith in God was renewed and he was forever bonded to the one who gave him a second chance at life.
At the tender age of 29, Jonathan has endured much heartache, trial and pain, yet there seems to be a shocking brightness in his eyes that I can’t quite describe in words. His eyes have the innocence of a child’s first giggle. Something in him understands how to shine amidst the darkness, though much of him is buried by the loss of loved ones. His pain was deep when he spoke of family. It even hurt me to hear him speak of it, I could only get a glimpse of what he must feel everyday, but even a glimpse was all I could comprehend. I asked him where his mother was and he told me she was a 5hr train ride away. I asked how long it had been since he’d last seen her and he said much too long. He had a basic idea of where she was but wasn’t certain as she lived on the streets as well. However the one thing you can be sure of with the homeless, is that they don’t travel far from the familiar. They stick with locations they know support them in some way, so they can always be found, when looking.
So I offered to pay for him to go home to see her, as it was Mothers Day that coming Sunday. And I understood how important family was to him, though he didn’t seem to have any that really cared for him. The train ticket would have been unthinkable for him to pay, but peanuts for me in the scope of things. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. But it felt right. It was something I felt I needed to do and so I did.
Barb had her own story of heartache and pain. She had two children, one 12 years of age and the other 17. Her husband abandoned them, leaving her homeless with 2 children that she couldn’t afford to take care of. She ended up on the streets and her children went to live with her sister and husband. She hadn’t seen them for over a year as they lived in a small community outside of Cape Town. None of these 3 smelled of alcohol, nor were they strung out on drugs, they were everyday people who’s lives had taken a turn for the worse and they didn’t know how to bounce back. So I offered to send her and her current boyfriend Michael, who is dieing of TB, to visit her children. I just wanted to give them something they would remember. A blessing that would remind them that they were important too. That they were not ’the forgotten’ even though it appears that way almost every day in their current existence.
I felt if I could rejuvenate even one morsel of hope within them to believe for something better then it was worth investing into. I don’t think at that point I had any idea what was to come. I went in with a heavy pulling, like a magnetic attraction toward them, but why, was still to be discovered. I left them that night after 5 hours of sharing our hearts and stories. We sang, we laughed, we danced and we didn’t care what anyone else was thinking. It was a blissful, beautiful experience. I smiled at the weird looks and embraced the enlightenment of walking in someone else’s shoes for a moment in time.
As the evening wore on and the sun disappeared into the night, I knew I’d best be on my way. And as I said my good-byes and sent them off with a few blessings, Jonathan asked me to sing them one song. As a singer I was very excited to do so, and the only song that seemed fitting for the moment was, ’His Eye is On The Sparrow’ by Lauren Hill. As I started singing out loud for all the neighborhood to hear, I saw Jonathan’s eyes swell with tears as he fell to his knees, he cried out, "Thank you God, thank you, thank you for being so good to me, thank you for all your blessings." He knelt in the grass, arms raised toward the sky as though he were reaching for the stars and for a moment I sensed he was at peace, centered in pure stillness of heart, he’d made a connection with his creator. As I looked around I noticed a few neighbors assessing the situation. I saw windows opening, people coming out of their front doors to listen to the sound of my voice echoing through the streets, singing the praises of the Lord who would be faithful to watch over, even the Sparrow.
We shared a moment that would stay with us forever, an experience that would soon lead to many more of the same magnitude.
About 3 weeks later, Jonathan showed up at my CCS House. Only he wasn’t alone. He had someone with him. As I walked out to meet him in the pouring rain, I noticed an elderly women around his arm. As our eyes made contact I could see a vibrancy glowing from the inside out. He looked so proud. Before I could even get to the gate, I heard him saying, "This is her, mother, this is the girl that paid for me to come see you." Jonathan grabbed me and hugged me so tightly, "Bebe, this is my mother! I’ve brought her back with me so I can help take care of her, thank you for reuniting us, I wanted her to meet you, I told her you were an angel." His mother grabbed my hand and asked if she could hug me. As I leaned in, she whispered in my ear, "You are an angel my dear, you’ve done a very wonderful thing for my son and I. It is so good to see him. Thank you. You have been so generous and kind. Thank you my dear, thank you." Oh of course I felt the most rewarded out of the two of them. I mean look what money can BUY!!! Wow. That was far better then having spent that money on a night out or a few new dresses. The return on that money was an endless treasure of hope and possibility. I felt ecstatic for the financial investment I had made.
As we stood there hugging, unsheltered from the rain, I asked if I could take their picture and keep it for my memory bank. They agreed and I stole a still frame of a time to be remembered. We parted ways once again and left our fates to the winds of the heavenly skies.
About three weeks later while out running errands before the sun fully set, I noticed a family sitting in the bushes heating water over an open fire. I felt that tugging and decided to pay closer attention to what it was trying to tell me. I figured I’d purchase some food for them and offer it to them on my way back. Just as I was returning I noticed they were about to eat some kind of porage for dinner. When I told them I had bought them lasagna they were elated. Some heated, cheesy, meaty oversized lasagna instead of watery porage seemed just the trick to brighten their evening. I was thrilled to do it. They were very gracious and full of gratitude and the children were frantic. And just when I thought I’d answered the tugging in my heart I looked up and saw Barb coming!
She grabbed me and hugged me so tightly. She held on for a moment as tears streamed down her face. "Michael, Michael get over here, it’s Bebe. Oh Bebe, you’ll never know what you did for me and my children." She went on to tell me how she arrived at her sister’s house where her children currently live to surprise them, and found her two children tormented with tears and SHOCKED to see their mother. Turns out they had read in the news paper a week before that a homeless women named Barb, who seemed to fit her description had been murdered on the streets, the children were convinced it was their mother the paper spoke of. She said if I hadn’t sent her home to see her children they would still think she was dead. Barb’s sister has no phone, so the only communication would be in person. Barb said she told her children of this angel named Bebe, who showed up one glorious day to answer their prayers. She told me that night her and her children sat together and asked God to flood my life with blessing after blessing for all I had given to reunite them.
She said, "Bebe, I’ve prayed for you every night since we met. You gave me something I hadn’t experienced before, when you spoke to me that night you opened my prison doors, I was able to see some light, peace came over me and I knew somehow I’d make it through. When I saw the pain in my children’s eyes I knew I had to try and stay with them, so I asked my sister if she would help me get my feet on the ground, she said yes but her husband said no. He told me he’s already done enough by raising my children and I couldn’t argue. Bebe, most people think we like living on the streets, but I don’t. I hate it. If I could trade hearts with you for one day Bebe, just one day you would see, you would know how much pain is in my heart. I know the moment you felt the pain you’d want to give my heart right back, I don’t think anyone could handle my pain, I don’t think anyone should have to."
Tears flowed in a constant stream, her misery was unbearable to witness. I couldn’t help but shed my own tears. I knew of the hopelessness she spoke of. I knew what it felt like to dwell in a cold, lonely, empty, personal hell. I knew what kind of torment one can endure when the lights shut off and all you see is darkness covering all potential escapes. I roamed through my personal hell for 8 years looking for a way out, finding one escape lead to another prison that I would have to search my way through. But once you’re far enough in, there is no other way out but through, and that is where it is the darkest, scariest and loneliest. Though I couldn’t imagine having to search alone through all the chaos of a tortured mind while living on the streets, as that itself carries a magnitude of torment. I held her as she cried and gave her the only gift I had which was a compassionate heart and a listening ear.
Later to brighten her spirits I took her to a second hand store and we bought some new clothes for her, so she could feel clean, beautiful and WARM. We said our good-byes as I gave her my mobile number and told her to call if she ever needed anything.
The richest gift I received from that whole experience was the understanding that when you’re called to ACT, just ACT. Don’t doubt, don’t wait, don’t stand on the side lines and observe to see if someone else will move first, GO. Had I listened to all the persuasive voices in my head I would have missed out on these two incredible stories. I would have missed out on reuniting two families. Two innocent children could quite possibly still believe their mother was dead. There was so much purpose in that random act of kindness that the human mind could not comprehend, nor foresee. You can’t always know what your goodness will accomplish, where it will go or how it will be returned to you, but we can know that when we are faithful to our inner convictions then the natural flow of life remains unscathed. We are here to be a blessing. We are here to heal the world at hand. Whether you do one by one or two by two really doesn’t matter, the point is, just DO. Give of time, love, money and energy. Just GIVE. Go volunteer somewhere in your community. Give of your time, be a blessing. When you get up, others will get up. The better you make someone else feel, the better you will feel. It all comes back around. It always has --- it always will.
I have to tell you one more story, just to show you how quickly and how random that inner conviction can hit and how in touch with it you must be to make contact with it and follow it in a moments notice. The following day after meeting Michael, Barb and Jonathan, I was walking home from using the payphone to call my friend back home and share my story with her. As I walked down the street toward the house I happen to look up and see this elderly women walking very slowly, she didn’t seem to have good use of her legs. I felt an instant desire to acknowledge her with more then a smile as I passed by her, I really couldn’t explain why other then I felt the tugging and in a moments notice I followed it’s lead. I said, "Hello, how are you today?" She looked a little shocked and relieved at the same time. She said, "Not so good dear, my daughter has left me with her children because she can’t afford to keep them."(A very typical story in South Africa, most of the children at my crèche and the children's hospital, have run away parents, so the grandparents end up taking the children under their care, but they usually can't afford them either.)
She told me she had just moved here from Eastern Cape to take the children and she was short a $100.00 Rand, which is a lot of money if you're poor, but in Canadian funds it's only ($15.00). Turns out her landlord was going to give her till the end of the day to come up with the money as she was already days late in paying this final amount, if she could not do so she and the children were out. She had a terrible look of hopelessness in her eyes, I remember feeling the intensity through her eyes more then her words. She continued, "I haven’t got much use of my feet, so its hard for me to go out and beg for the 100 Rand, and I don’t want to go downtown because it’s too dangerous at my age to wonder around there alone. I don’t know what I’m going to do, could you spare anything, please my dear, I don’t know what to do? Anything will help." I didn’t even think twice, I opened my wallet and praise the Lord, I had a 100 Rand. As I went to give it to her, she shouted in disbelief as her knees started to give out, she latched on to the nearest car, and started crying out, "Oh God, thank you!! Thank you, Thank you!!"
She bent down and as she got to her knees I asked her what she was doing and she said, "I want to kiss your feet, my dear. You have saved me from wondering the streets alone begging for money, how else can a women of my age and ability thank you?" I told her there was no need for that. It was my absolute pleasure to give her this money and truly I wished I would have had more to give. I can honestly say that even now tears flood down my face remembering her, I’ll never forget the look on her face when I gave her the money, it was for her the proof that ’All things are possible, if you believe.’ She didn’t know how she would come up with that money, she just knew somehow she had too. And because I followed that still small voice, that tugging or whatever it is for you, I was given the opportunity to bless someone’s life and the cost $15.00 and the reward ’priceless.’
It’s a shame how many of those opportunities we miss out on because we’re too busy to follow that nudge or too preoccupied or selfish or proud or disassociated. I say this only because I, myself have down right disobeyed that voice for selfish, personal reasons. However, I’ve since committed to following that conviction, I continuously find myself in the most amazing experiences. I challenge you this day to welcome opportunities to give and then listen for that voice, that inner conviction, that nudging or tugging and even if it seems too random or off course, or overwhelming, or out of your way; FOLLOW IT, SEE WHERE IT LEADS YOU!! You just might be surprised what opportunity will knock at your door when you welcome it's presence.
I hope to share many more stories with you, as there have been so many that I have already experienced along this journey, and I believe I have thousands still to come.