After two weeks of all-consuming pressure from every direction in preparing a new residence for 50 incoming CPx students, I was desperate to get back into Masiphumelele, the township we have come to love. Going to Masi is always an adventure—you may have a plan at the outset, but you can be certain it won’t happen the way you think!
Thulisile (names have been changed) was first on my list, a young pregnant mom who recently discovered she is HIV-positive. She was initially discouraged at the news, but now says “I am fine”-perhaps a bit of denial going on. A knock on the bright yellow door of her one-room shack roused her—she was sleeping at 10 AM, in spite of the music and clatter of township life. I told her about an HIV/AIDS support group in the area, and she agreed to go with me the following morning.
Next stop was Nomfundo, another young mom with two-year old daughter, Alizwa. Anita is my special friend, ever since I brought her a tiny hard-paged book with animal photos in it. I learned from her that English dogs may say “woof woof”, but Xhosa dogs say “huhm huhm”. Nomfundo recently suffered a painful miscarriage—she was also sleeping when I arrived. I stopped to remind her of our women’s Bible study that afternoon. She has said that she doesn’t know much about God, but wants to learn.
I had hoped to visit a Life Skills class for preschoolers taught by Natalie, a resident of Masi who works for Living Hope, a Christian community development organization. But Natalie had gone to a doctor’s appointment when I stopped by—I considered what to do next, and called Nomandhla, another young mother with HIV. In Masi, no one privately wonders what you want if you happen to stop by. Relaxed, spontaneous visiting is common—they live for the moment.
Nomandhla was delighted to see me. She met me at the entrance to the Wetlands, where we rich white people are not advised to walk alone. Masi-proper has its share of shacks among the cement-block homes, but the roads are paved and it is a legitimate settlement. The Wetlands, on the other hand, is illegally occupied on the back side of Masi, shacks of wood and corrugated tin and cardboard somehow cobbled together with narrow helter-skelter dirt paths between them. The shacks are on the edge of a marsh and water seeps in every winter, creating mud and mildew and respiratory problems.
I followed Nomandhla past the community water tap, trying to ignore the smells of feces, rot, and poverty that broadsided me—through the maze of shacks until we reached her home, recently constructed by a visiting team. It is built up off the ground with a nice wooden floor. Nomandhla’s life has literally changed—she is now on antiretroviral drugs for HIV, she has a new shack, and has been accepted in an art-training program. She looks to Jesus as the source for all these things. She was eager to tell me of a plan she has to earn money. She wants to cook and sell hot food to passersby on the main road where the taxis stop, but will need some capital to get started. We will talk again about this. There are many things to consider, budgets and sales projections to make if this venture is to be successful.
She took me to visit Biza and Lulama, Thulisile’s parents, who were both recently baptized. Biza was miraculously healed several months ago of injuries from a past car accident. He is so excited to know more about this Jesus and wants to attend any meetings he can. Lulama speaks very little English but we asked her to our women’s group later in the day. Biza invited himself as well but we were able to gently steer him towards a men’s group. We hope that Lulama will benefit from some time with only women.
Nomandhla and I then went looking for Zukiswa, mother of Phila, an eight-year old in the Vulnerable Children program. We wanted to invite her to our study, but she was not to be found. However, a withdrawn middle-aged man sat by her house rocking back and forth who answered (in Xhosa) every question Nomandhla put to him with “I don’t know”. Finally she asked me to pray for him, and prayed herself as well. I felt to ask about his father, which of course he has none. I told him that every person needs a father, whether young or old, and was able to tell him about the Father who waits for him with open arms. Nomandhla (and Joseph) will come back tomorrow to speak with him further.
At our women’s Bible study later that day, we Westerners listened in amazement as both Nomfundo and Wendy told how they initially were not interested in Jesus, but now see their own hearts changing. They are seeing that they need Jesus not only as a friend but also to save them and restore them. Nomfundo was drinking and depressed when we first met, but now her boyfriend is noticing changes in her and their fighting has lessened. They are finding life, and are on the Journey with us to become what we were made to be.
What an encouraging ending to a great day! When I stopped the next morning to take Thulisile to the support group, she had gone to the hospital the night before and now has a beautiful unnamed baby girl. Is there a way that this fragile child can walk a different path than that of her mother, and countless others in Masi? Is it foolish to think that she might learn to respect and value herself, to keep herself for one man, to allow her heart to be shaped by the love of Jesus? We pray for God to do the work of transforming a community, one life at a time.