Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Gift and Thabo at a special Hlanganani Event

There are some things I like talking about when people ask us what we do here.  Most of the things we do here seem extraordinary when you juxtaposition them against our privileged middle-class American upbringing. Our work now is mainly among the very poor in Diepsloot, although we do a lot of church wrk in the wealthier neighborhoods in Joburg.

At the end of each day, as I pray and reflect, thank God I can usually whisper, "Thank you, Lord."  The danger of work like this is that I can become quite pleased with myself, seeing myself as fearless and the voice for widows and orphans and the sister of so many with much less than most poor in the world.   Thank God I am am Janet, though, so prone to messing up -- it keeps me humble, and totally reliant on the grace of God.

I wince when I remember some of my days.  Last Sunday was a re-letter day for me blowing it here.

After moving into our new building, we (our church) had to become very mindful of the amount of children and their play on the grounds.  Still an unfinished work site, there are places kids are given as play areas, but as kids are, they want to explore everything, and can venture into some areas with potential danger.

Because we taxi in many people from Diepsloot , we had to make a decision that we would allow no unsupervised children to come on the site...for the protection for everyone.  The traditions of the township (kids play and eat together without parents, or with each others' parents, or whoever is around),make our policy foreign in action and concept.  The solution to handle this most effectively meant that someone who had knowledge of (and relationship with) the Diepsloot kids that come to the service had to meet the taxis - large white vans meant to carry 18 passengers, but many times stuffed over capacity to as many as 25.

I was appointed for the task that was both necessary and ominous.

Meeting each taxi I made sure that the kids that were on the taxi without parents or a legal guardian got back to Diepsloot on the same taxi with our apology and a reminder that they should be coming with their parents, or a supervising adult.  In my haste, I sent an orphan, Thabo (13) back home when I shouldn't have.  The waythat supervision of our beloved "Hlanganani Orphans" goes, each is supervised by a care-worker who is a regular attendee of church.  Thabo's care-worker did not come on the same taxi as he was on, so he appeaared to be unsupervised, or unclaimed.  In reality, his care worker was already in church.

If you don't know the Bible well, you probably have the same reaction as if you do.  Sending an orphan back from church and not listening to his explanation (in broken English) of how he was supposed to be there...sucks.  As I said, I was in a hurry - and maybe on a mission to send a message - and Thabo was put back on the taxi and sent back home.  Not to be discouraged or turned away, Thabo got on the next taxi bound for Junction and saw me again, directing the flow of traffic.

I challenged him, asking why he wasn't listening to me.  As is their custom, Thabo let me finish what I was saying, and tried to explain that his care worker was here already, but as soon as he spoke, tears began to leak from the sides of his eyes.  I felt bad and frustrated at the same time, and decided to take him myself to the registration table for children's ministries .  As I signed him in, he gently picked up his name-tag, and that is when I recognized him.

Thabo, a beautiful boy with a fine mind and caramel skin, had shaved his head the day before, leaving his appearance much altered (he usually has a natural cover of black hair).  As soon as I realized my mistake, I gasped, turning to him apaologizing, explaining why I didn't recognize him.  As I did this, his floodgates opened and he covered his face with his shirt, weeping.

It was at this time that two of my friends saw what was happening, and as I explained to them what had happened, they prayed for him.... and I joined them, feeling very guilty and blaming myself for being such a schmuck.  After a short prayer, Suzanne said "Maybe Thabo should sit with you today!" and winked at me.  I looked into his eyes (still red and teary) and asked him if he wanted to.  I punctuated it by "I would like you to, if you want to."  He nodded, and went to our seats with me.

Since Mario is an elder, we usually sit in the front row, and so there is no "low-profile-seating-when-you've-blown-it" seats available.  Thabo enjoyed the service and afterward went to have a muffin with me in the coffee shop.  As Thabo was inflating slowly to his normal self,  I still felt awful. He drove with me, Portia and her boys to the service in Diepsloot, worshiped and sang with joy... and walked home after the service.

The following Sunday (two days ago) things went much more smoothly.  Less kids were unaccompanied, our team had a clearer vision and more functioning system.  There was one thing noticeable.

No Thabo.

I went to an expert to find out where he was: Gift.  Gift (13) is also a Hlanganani orphan who attends both Sunday services, is a friend to all the kids in our church.  He has a special connection with Thabo, since he is also a Hlanganani orphan.

I asked him where Thabo was.  Taking out his earpieces of his mp3 player, Gift shrugged and said "Maybe he's still upset with you because you sent him home on the taxi last week."  Leave it to a kid to not tart it up in a digestible fashion.  I nodded, and asked if he would take me to where Thabo lived after the first Junction service.  He agreed.

There is a 9:30 service at Junction, then a break and an 11:30 service in Diepsloot every Sunday.  Only a few people attend both - Mario and I being two of them.  Between the services, I loaded Gift into my car and we treked into the Diepsloot extension where Thabo lives.  Thabo lives in a house owned by an older man and woman, who together supervise about 11 orphans.  As I approached the house, I had the whole kit: a gift for the family, a candy bar for Thabo, and Gift to interpret.

When I came into the yard, all the kids gathered around Gift asking why he was bringing a white lady and who was she? Gift said nothing, but smiled at them, feeling like a full-blown translator, I'm sure.  As soon as she saw me, the granny welcomed me in, explaining that the kids were inside.  I recognized her from many Hlanganani gatherings, since she was a woman we honored many times.

I paid my respect to her, gave her a gift, and then told her I was here to see if Thabo was okay.  Peering around the corner, Thabo soon became visible and then looked (in utter shock) from me to Gift and back again.  I'm sure he was wondering what we were doing there.  I explained to the granny that I'd like to take Thabo to the Diepsloot service if he wanted to come (even though it is seen as walking distance).  She agreed, saying that the kids stayed home only because they had overslept.

Thabo also agreed that he would like to go, and asked if he could have a bath first.  I told him it was probably unnecessary, and that he would be okay like he was.  His mannerisms suggested total shock (and perhaps a little happiness) that I had come to his home, and he eagerly changed to go to church with us.

We ended up taking Thabo and two of his siblings to church with us, stopping to buy snacks on the way.  It was a good resolve, as far as I could tell, Thabo making lots of eye contact and smiling a lot.  Today he was more recognized than rejected by me, and I could tell he appreciated my gesture to reclaim him.  

His forgiveness complete and my concious cleansed, we went to the Diepsloot service to worship and celebrate.  The service was awesome, and later I reflected... and remembered the parable that Jesus told about a widow and a lost coin.  If she has ten coins and one is lost, she''ll look for it, and not stop until she finds it.  When she finds it, she calls all her friends and tells them about it.  This is how God is with us... and He made me be the same way on Sunday, looking for Thabo and refusing to accept he was "lost".

And now I tell you... that I am happy, and will look closer from now on.

  In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine respectable people who do not need to repent. "Or suppose a woman who has ten silver coins loses one of them---what does she do? She lights a lamp, sweeps her house, and looks carefully everywhere until she finds it. When she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, and says to them, 'I am so happy I found the coin I lost. Let us celebrate!' In the same way, I tell you, the angels of God rejoice over one sinner who repents." 
(Luke 15:7-10)