Amos’ Story

People who are homeless are not social inadequates. They are people without homes – Sheila McKechnie 

My name is Amos.  I became homeless because an untreated bipolar disorder.  I lost my job and ended up on the streets.  I was afraid to go to a shelter because I heard so many stories of how dangerous shelters are.  They’re full of drugs and drug dealers, people steal your shoes and there are bedbugs and body lice.  I preferred to take my chances outside of the shelter.  So, I slept on the streets, abandoned buildings and parks.  I didn’t sleep in parks often because at night they weren’t safe and my sleep was often interrupted by the police asking me to move along.

My life changed when I was arrested for stealing food.  I had begged all day but nobody gave me anything.  Usually, I would get at least five dollars in change and I would buy a hot chocolate and a chicken sandwich from Tim Horton’s.  But that day, I was out of luck.  Maybe it was because it was cold and people were anxious to get home.  I don’t know.  All I know is that I was starving and I had to have something to eat.  I ducked into a supermarket and grabbed a loaf of bread from off one of the shelves but I got caught as I tried to make my escape.  I was arrested.

Fortunately for me, the prosecutor and the defense attorney and the judge said that I wasn’t a criminal but I needed help.  They told me to go to a homeless shelter and to get treatment for my bipolar disorder.  I had to go on medication and see a psychiatrist.  I can see now that getting arrested was the best thing that happened to me.  I got treatment and got better.  Thanks to my psychiatrist, I was placed in transitional housing and received job search assistance.  It was at one of their health and wellness activities that I met Vivica, a Christian woman.

She shared with me that she was a battered woman who was forced to choose between staying in an abusive relationship and homelessness.  She wound up on the street and stayed there for a few nights until she went into a church to pray.  One night, she fell asleep in one of the pews and the custodian found her.  He referred her here, a safe place where she received the emotional support she needed.

Just recently, she found out that her abusive boyfriend was arrested for aggravated assault.  He would serve 14 years in prison.  I could see the sadness on her face.  “I hope that he will find God in prison,” she said.  “I will pray for him.”

“Do you still love him?” I asked.

She thought about it for a moment.  “To be honest, I don’t think I ever loved him.  I cared for him and stayed with him because I thought that I could help him but I was wrong.”

“I’m sorry that you wound up with a guy like that.”

“Sometimes we meet up with people who hurt and spitefully use us but they need our prayers.  Something happened to them and that’s why they’re that way.  Maybe he was abused too.”

“I wish I could be as forgiving as you.  I’m still sore with my boss for firing me because of my illness.  I guess I should have been taking my medication and gone for treatment but the medication I was taking was making me sick.  I tried to explain that to him but he wouldn’t listen.  He said that he had to let me go because my mood swings were affecting my co-workers.”

2aada538b73f386fc0c3a5cc2396f9be2“I’m sorry you lost your job.  Didn’t you go and get help?  Maybe see a psychiatrist who would prescribe different medication that might be better for you?

I shook my head.  “No, I thought I could manage it but I was wrong.  I didn’t go for treatment.  I took the medication which was making me sick because I wanted to find another job.  Once I got a job, I was going to see a psychiatrist and get new medication but I couldn’t get a job.  As soon as I told them that I was let go from my last job because I had bipolar disorder, the interview was over.  My rent increased and I couldn’t pay it so I had to leave.  I don’t have family here.  They are all back in East Jerusalem.  I’m the only one who moved to Canada because I wanted a better life for myself.  I was tired of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“So, you’re Palestinian?”

“Well, my father is Israeli and my mother is Palestinian.  So, I’m both.”

“That explains why your name is Amos.  It’s the name of a Jewish prophet in the Bible.”

“I was brought up in the Jewish faith.  Before my parents married, my mother converted to Judaism.”

“So, you’ve read the Bible.”

“The Hebrew Bible called the Tanakh.    It contains only the Old Testament.”

“The Bible I read and study contains both the Old and the New Testaments.”

“I know that Christianity is one of the three major monotheistic religions.”

“Did you know that the first Christians were Jews?”

“I don’t know much about the faith except that they believe in the Trinity and that Jesus is the Messiah.”

“We also believe that salvation is by faith and not by works.”

“I’m curious to learn more about your faith and what you believe.”

She smiled.  “I’ll be more than happy to talk to you about these things.”

“How later after dinner?”

“Okay.  We’ll find a quiet place where we can talk.”

“Vivica, would you go out with me even though I’m not a Christian and am mentally ill?”

She sat down beside me and put her hand on mine.  It felt nice and warm.  “Amos, of course, I would go out with you.  There are so many examples of interfaith couples and your mental illness isn’t something you should apologize for or feel ashamed of.  It doesn’t define you.  You and I have known each other for a while now and I have never treated you differently from anyone else because of your illness.”

“That’s true and I’m really grateful for that.”

“I really like you, Amos and to be honest, if you didn’t ask me to go out with you, I would have asked you.  It’s the twenty-first century.  Women are not waiting to be asked anymore.”

I laughed.  “Good for them.”

“Do you think your parents would object to you dating a Christian woman?”

“They might but I can always remind them that when they were from two different faiths when they met and fell in love but then again , they might be happy for me.”

“Happy for you? Why?”

“Happy because something good came out of all of the bad stuff I have been going through lately,” I replied as I reached for her other hand.  “I got to meet you.”

She was so moved by what I said that she couldn’t say anything.  She just smiled and reaching out, she touched my face.

Out of bad situations, God could bring good into our lives.

Sources:  National Public Radio; Daniel Pitino Shelter; Salvation Army; Solutions Center; Treatment Advocacy Center; York RegionDare2Share; Psycom

Sherry’s Story

d0249233cc33125d63d8c2837c6518e1

I want to tell somebody but who will believe me?  Who will believe that the man who uses me for a punching bag is one of New York’s finest?  I’m just a former exotic dancer who had the misfortune of getting hooked up with the wrong man.  I guess I was flattered by the attentions of a veteran cop whose face has been plastered in the newspapers numerous times for his exemplary work, cleaning up crime and cracking down on drug dealers.  He has had the most arrest records and commendations than anyone else on the force.  He is a hero in the communities, feared by the criminal element and admired by his colleagues.

Yeah, who would believe that this man of the law was beating me up?  When we first met, I thought he was a real decent guy.  He used to come and watch me dance.  One night after I finished my number and was at the back of the club about to smoke a cigarette, he joined me.  He lit my cigarette and asked me my name.  I told him.  He didn’t introduce himself.  He didn’t need to.  I knew who he was.  To tell you the truth, I was surprised that he was talking to me.  There were other dancers that I thought were more up his alley.

“What are you doing here at a strip club?” I asked him.

He lit his cigarette, took a few drags before he answered.  “I’m off-duty,” he said.  “So, what’s fine looking woman like you doing in a joint like this?”

I shrugged.  “To make money.  Besides, I like to dance.”

“Do you have a man?”

I shook my head.

“How much money do you make?”

“There’s a man who comes in every night and he pays me $2000 to dance for him and then we would spend the  rest of the time talking.”

“Is that the man I saw dressed in the expensive suit and wearing a hat?  He reminded me of JR Ewing.”

“Yes, that’s him.”

“He’s married, isn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“I bet his wife doesn’t know what he’s been up to.”

I finished my cigarette.  “I’d better be getting back.”  I turned to leave when he caught hold of my arm.

“How about you dancing for me this time?”

“Sure.  Whatever you want.”

“And afterwards, we go back to my place.”

“Sure.”  We went back into the club.  I danced for him and then we drove to his place.

He lived in a nice neighborhood.  After his wife died and their kids moved out, he Tiriansold the house and moved into a penthouse apartment facing the Hudson River.  I stood at the window looking out.  He fixed the drinks and brought mine over to me.  In person, he was a very attractive man.  He looked younger than 55.  His hair was dark with touches of grey at the sides.  His brown eyes met mine.  For a long time, neither of us say anything.  In the background, soft jazz played.  And then, he suggested,  “Let’s go over to the sofa where it’s more comfortable.”

I followed him over to the sofa and we sat down.  We talked for a while and then he took my glass and set it on the coffee table next to his.  While he placed on hand on my thigh, he leaned over and began to kiss me.  I didn’t resist.  I was attracted to him.  The kisses became wild and passionate and we ended up having sex on the sofa.  After I got dressed, I was going to phone for a taxi but he insisted in giving me a lift home.

He dropped me home and there weren’t any plans to see each other again.  I was disappointed but then I asked myself, What did you expect?  He’s a cop and you’re a stripper.

I didn’t see him for a while and then one night, he showed up at the club.  He saw me with the rich married man.  I was sitting on his lap, talking to him.  After he left, my cop friend came over to me and told me to meet him outside for a smoke.  I got dressed and went outside.  He was waiting for me.  I walked up to him and was about to say something when he grabbed me roughly by the shoulders.  “You’re quitting your job right now.”

“But I need the money,” I protested.

He struck me hard across the face.  “You heard me.  You’re quitting.  Now, let’s go.”  He gripped my wrist tightly and dragged me behind him to the parking lot where his car was parked.  He opened the door and shoved me in.  I cringed when he slammed the door.  I sat in the passenger seat, holding my face, shocked as we drove off.

We went to my place and as I stood there, still in shock, he said, “Sherry, honey, I’m sorry I hit you.  It’s just that the thought of you dancing for other men drives me crazy.  I’m sorry.  I promise I won’t hit you again.  Forgive me?”

I nodded.  “Yes, I forgive you.”  He looked and sounded so sincere.  I wanted to believe that he would never hit me again.

He pulled me roughly against him and began to kiss me.  I kissed him back.  We ended up in bed.  He spent the night and left early the next morning.  I went to the club and told the manager that I quit.  He was understandably livid, especially since he knew that one of his best customers was the rich man who always asked for me.  I had no idea what I was going to do now that I was working at the club.

My cop had it all figured out.  Several weeks later, he asked me to marry him.  It didn’t seem to bother him what other people would think of him marrying a former stripper.  We got married and I moved in with him.  I wanted to find another job but he refused to let me.  So, I became a housewife.  I felt like a prisoner in our home.  I couldn’t go anywhere without him.  If I needed to go to the supermarket, he took me on Saturdays.  If I needed to go to the salon, he took me.  I don’t know how he managed to get away from work just so he could take me where I needed to go.  I guess when you’ve been with the force as long as he has, you can pretty much do whatever you liked.

We stopped going to the policeman’s ball because he felt that I was too friendly with the younger officers.  Two years ago, after we got home from the ball, he beat me because he said I was flirting with the desk sergeant, a young Nigerian man.  It wasn’t true of course, but my husband was blinded by rage and jealousy.  I was black and blue and had a black eye.  Once when I was in really bad shape, he took me to the Emergency but never left me alone with the nurse who tended to me.  And he answered all of the questions and as soon as the examination was over, we were out of there.

We went home and I was laid up in bed for a few days in bed.  He took care of me.  He apologized for what he had done and brought me flowers.  He told me that he loved me so much it drove him crazy to think that I would leave him for another man.  And as usual, he promised that he would stop hitting me and get help.  I stopped believing him.  I stopped hoping.

We hardly had company over and when we did, I had to wear long sleeves to cover the bruises on my arms.  There were times when I could hardly move because I ached all over.  During the day, it was a struggle to do the chores and I was always so exhausted.  At night, I lay there in bed, long after we had sex, staring up at the ceiling, wishing I could just go to sleep and never wake up.

We didn’t have any children because he didn’t want to have any.  He already had two from his previous marriage.  “Besides, I want you all to myself,” he said and then, he would take me into the bedroom and have rough sex with me.  Sometimes, he liked to pretend that I was under arrest so that he could hand-cuff me to the bedpost while we were having sex.  There were other kinky things that he liked to do to me  and wanted me to do to him.  I went along with it because I loved him and he was my husband.  He told me that he never  wanted to do these things with his first wife but he wanted to do them with me because I was beautiful and exciting.  I brought out the animal in him, he said.  And he was like a wild animal in bed.   Sometimes it was thrilling and other times it was terrifying.

Then he started to blame me for the abuse.  “I never hit my first wife.  In fact, I never hit a woman in my life until I met you.  You make me do it.  There’s something about you that drives me so wild with jealousy that I lose control and I hit you.  Do you think I like hitting a woman?  It’s your fault that I do it.  I love you so much it makes me go crazy just thinking of you with another man.  I swear if you ever leave me, I’ll find you and kill you.”

I began to hate him and wish that something bad would happen to him but I always felt guilty afterwards.  I couldn’t go on the computer because he was afraid that I would go into those chat-rooms and pick up men.  I had the Bible which my grandmother had given to me a long time ago when I was finished with the household chores, I sat down and read it.  It gave me comfort.  I quit smoking.  I began to pray every night when he was sleeping.  I asked God to help me.  I claimed His promise, “For I know the plans that I have for you, says the Lord, plans for peace and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

My help came through a neighbor who was out of sugar and she came by to borrow some from me.  After we exchanged pleasantries, she followed me into the kitchen.  As I reached up in the cupboard for the bag of sugar, the sleeves of my shirt moved back and the bruises on my arm were exposed.  As I closed the door and turned to face her, I saw her staring at me.  Her expression was grave.  “How did you get those bruises on your arm?” she asked.

“I bumped into stuff,” I lied.

“I’ve seen bruises like those before and I know that they are not from bumping into walls or doors or from falls.  He’s beating you, isn’t he?”

“Please, I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Sherry, you need help.  It will not get better.  It will only get worse.  Do you have family or friends you can go to?”

“I have family and friends but I’m too ashamed.  And who will believe me?  He’s a cop.”

“I’ve known women whose abusive husbands are cops, doctors, professors and even judges.  And I’m sure someone in your family will believe you, especially when they see the bruises.  If you prefer, I can take you to a shelter where they will take care of you.  All you have to do is pack what you need and I will drive you there myself.”

“All right,” I said.  Maybe this was God answering my prayer.  I got what I needed and I walked out of the apartment.  I didn’t leave a note or anything.  When my husband came home that evening, he would find me gone.  My neighbor and I went to different shelters but I was turned away because they were full.  As I tried to figure out what to do next, I remembered Lucy.  Lucy still worked as a waitress at the strip club where I used to work.  She and I were good friends.  I let her stay at my place when she walked out on her cheating boyfriend.  She always told me that if I ever needed anything, not to hesitate to call on her.

I couldn’t remember her phone number off hand so I called the club and asked Bill, the bartender for it.  He seemed happy to hear from me.  It was he who got me the job at the club.  I called Lucy and she told me to go right on over.  My neighbor dropped me.  She hugged me and said, “Take care of yourself.  When you’re ready, get help.”

I thanked her and watched her drive away before I went into the apartment building.  Lucy was standing at door when I showed up and she hugged me tightly.  “It’s so good to see you,” she said.  “Ever since you got married, you’ve been a stranger.  Come in and tell me everything.”

We went over to the sofa and sat down.  I told her everything and showed her the purple marks on my arms.  “I had to leave him,” I said.

“Yes, you did.  The brute.  He thinks because he’s a cop, he’s above the law.  The first thing you do is to report him.  He belongs behind bars.”

“Who will believe me?  I’m accusing my husband who is an exemplary cop of abuse.  No, going to the police is a bad idea.”

“All right.  We won’t go to the police.  You don’t have to make any decisions right now.  You’re welcome to stay here for a long as you need to.  Whatever you decide to do, you have my support.  Are you hungry?  I’ll fix you something before I head off to the club.  When I’m gone, please make yourself at home.  Call me if you need anything.”  She got up from the sofa and went into the kitchen to fix me some supper.  I wasn’t hungry but I forced myself to eat.

“I should be home around 2.  I have a spare room.  You can put your things in there.  See you later.”  She hugged me and then she was gone.

It was a nice, modest apartment and quiet.  It was in the heart of Soho.  After I finished eating, I washed the plate and went into the living-room to watch some television.  I rested my head against the back of the sofa.  I must have dozed off because when I opened my eyes the room was dark.  I got up and turned on the floor lamp beside the window.  I stood looking out at the street below when I heard the key turn in the lock.  I glanced at the clock above the fireplace.  It was ten-thirty.  Lucy said that she would be home by 2.  Perhaps, she decided to check on me or she wasn’t feeling well.

I called out to her but there wasn’t any answer.  Puzzled, I started for the foyer when I froze in horror.  My husband stood there.  Fear and panic gripped me.  “What are you doing here?”

He came into the living-room.  “To take you home, my Love.”

“How–how did you know I was here?”

“A little birdie told me.”

“You’re lying.  Lucy wouldn’t have told you that I was here.”  And I knew it couldn’t have been my neighbor who brought me here either.

“Who said anything about Lucy?”

Then it hit me.  It was Bill who told him where I was.  He was the only one beside Lucy who knew I was here and I had begged him not to tell anyone that I had called.  He had promised to keep his mouth shut but somehow, my husband had gotten him to talk.  “Where–where did you get the key?  Did you steal it from Lucy’s bag?”

He laughed.  “Of course not.  I showed the landlord my badge and told her that I had a warrant to search this apartment.   If she had bothered to check she would have seen that the paper I showed her was the lease for my apartment.  Now, get your things, we’re going home.”

I backed away from him, shaking my head.  “I’m not going anywhere with you.  I want a divorce.”

His expression darkened and he grabbed me by the shoulders, shaking me.  “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you divorce me so that you can run to another man,” he muttered through clenched teeth.  “I would kill you first.”

Although this wasn’t the first time he threatened to kill me if I left him, I was really frightened because of the look in his eyes.  I felt as if I were staring into the eyes of the devil himself.  I wanted to run for my life.  I shoved hard against his chest and managed to get free.  I headed for the door but he grabbed me back the hair and dragged me back into the living room.  He shoved me face down on the floor and raped me.

When he was finished, he stood up.  I lay there for a while, trembling and crying.  Then, I slowly got to my knees.  My back was turned to him.  He yanked me to my feet.  “Clean yourself up and get your things because you’re coming with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.  You raped me.”

“How can you call it rape when I took what is lawfully and rightfully mine?” He demanded.

I was shaking so much that I could hardly stand.  “You’ve beat me and raped me for the last time.  I’m going to file for a divorce and get a restraining order put on you.”

“Over my dead body.  You’re my wife, Sherry and the only thing that’s going to separate us is death.”

Then, I saw him pull out his gun and point it at me.  I screamed and then everything went black.

When I came to I was lying in a hospital bed.  I learned that the bullet caught me in the shoulder because I had moved.  If I hadn’t it would have gone straight into my heart.  My husband shot me and then he shot himself.  The police were called to the apartment when a neighbor reported hearing two gun shots.  The landlord told the police that my husband had shown up and told her that he had a search warrant for Lucy’s apartment.  The landlord believed him because she knew who he was.

I told the police about the years of abuse I had suffered at the hands of a man whom they had respected.  When they asked me why I hadn’t reported him, I told them that I didn’t think that they would have believed me.  After I was discharged from the hospital, I stayed with Lucy and went for counseling and psychotherapy which really helped me.  A couple months later, I decided that I had had enough of New York.  I sold my condo, packed up and left for Lisbon, Portugal.  Years ago at the strip club where I worked, I met a visitor from Lisbon.  He was a very nice man who gave me $1,000 each time I danced for him during the three weeks he was there.  I always promised myself that if I were to go and settle anywhere in Europe it would be Lisbon.

Lucy and I are in touch.  She is dating a guy she met on the tube.  I told her to bring him to Lisbon the next time she visited.  I’m not dating at the moment.  After being in an abusive marriage, I’m not ready for another relationship.  The men in Lisbon are very attractive but I want to remain single for a while.  I’m working at a boutique and love it.  I have become a member of an English speaking church where the members are like family.

I love living in Lisbon.  Sometimes, I wish that I had come here when I first thought about it and then I wouldn’t have met my husband or been a victim of domestic violence.  Then, I tell myself to forget about the what ifs and be thankful that I’m still alive.  My life could have easily ended that night in Lucy’s apartment if it had not been for the grace of God.   I was a victim of domestic violence and now I’m a survivor.  I have survived to tell my story.  Other women have not been so lucky.  I think about them often and that’s why I want to join in the fight against domestic violence.

There are times when I meet couples who are still madly in love with each other after thirty or more years of marriage and I’m filled with a heavy sadness.  That could have been my husband and me.  I sometimes ask myself why couldn’t he have loved me the way the Bible says a man should love his wife?  And I wanted to love him the way the Bible says I should but how could I respect a man who beat and violated me?  How could I submit to his violent and controlling ways?  He claimed he loved me but his love was was cruel, selfish, demanding, easily provoked and abusive.   I believe that if he really loved me he would have gotten the help he needed and our marriage would have survived.

Today, I’m speaking fluent Portuguese and am a volunteer at a Domestic abuse treatment center here in Lisbon.   God spared my life and I want to use it to help women who are going through the same thing I did.  It is my earnest prayer that one day very, very soon, domestic violence will be eradicated.  Marriage between a man and woman who love each other the way the Bible teaches could be a very beautiful thing.  Love shouldn’t hurt.  It shouldn’t kill either.

March 7, 2019 was a national day of mourning for victims of domestic violence in Lisbon.  Portugal’s Cabinet went out into the street to observe a minute of silence as part of a day of national mourning it decreed for victims of domestic violence.  According to police, 12 women have died this year in domestic violence incidents — the highest number over the same period in 10 years.  On the eve of International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said in a tweet that domestic violence is “a collective challenge” for society as a whole – National Post

Sherry’s story, though it is fiction, it is the reality for many women.  Some have survived domestic violence and others have not.  There are resources for women who are in abusive relationships and for the abusers as well.  Here is a list:

Victims of abuse often feel guilty as if they have done something to provoke their abuser or that they somehow deserve the abuse they receive. Abusers are often skillful at making their victims feel responsible. But no one deserves to be abused by another, and abusers are responsible for their own choices and actions – Bible Info

Join the fight against domestic violence.  If you are a victim, please seek help as soon as possible.  Your life depends on it.  Be a survivor not another statistic.  If you suspect that someone you know is in an abusive marriage or relationship, please reach out to that person.  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  Take action today for the many women who feel trapped in the vicious cycle of abuse and feel that there is no way out for them.  Domestic violence affects all of us.

Sources:  Huff Post; Bible Gateway; Bible GatewayTVO

Janco’s Story (Part Two)

kult_model_Geoffrey_Camus_209688Five years have passed since I took Nata to the shelter for street children.  A lot has happened within that time.  I’m still handing out tracts but now I’m a Youth leader in my church.  My Mother is back home and she hasn’t touch a drink since she checked into the Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centre.  She is working part-time at a bookstore.

My brother Jacquan is out of prison, a completely changed person.  After my first visit to him, he read the tract I left and was curious to learn more about God and this Jesus who would die for him.  I took other tracts on my next visit and then I learned that the Prison Ministries department had a programme with the prison where my brother was.  Volunteers visited the prisoners, mentor them and study the Bible with them.

Jacquan accepted Christ as his Savior and when he left the prison he was baptized in our church.  Mama and I were there.  He got a job working in the warehouse of a distribution company while studying to become a pastor, believe it or not.  It goes to show you that with God nothing is impossible.  In his free time, he shares his story and the Gospel with kids living on the streets, prostitutes and drug dealers.  Some of them listen and invite him to go again while others curse and threaten him.  He also visits the prison where he had spent ten years of his life to mentor, pray and study the Bible with the inmates.  I never thought I would ever be proud of my big brother but I am.  He was dealing drugs and now he sharing the Gospel.  He was a prisoner and now he’s going to be a preacher.  All he needed was a second chance and God gave it to him.  Now he could spend the rest of his life doing good.

Nata stayed at the shelter until she graduated from high school.  I was there for the ceremony.  She didn’t return home but went to live with a cousin and her family.  While she was at the shelter, I visited her as promised and was relieved to see that she was happy there.  She is going to Wits University now and studying Computer Science.  Good for her because this has been a male dominated field of study all over the world and Africa needs more women computer scientists.

I am no longer working at the grocery store.  I got a job as a Social Media Coordinator at a Christian organization and love every minute of it.  And my work as Youth Leader keeps me busy.  I look forward to teaching Sabbath School, worship, fellowship, our weekly meetings, outreach and recreational outings.  I am in charge of a terrific group of young people.  I learn as much from them as they learn from me.  Tomorrow, is Youth Ministry Day and I have invited Nata to come.  The youth are in charge of entire day’s programme.  I am nervous and excited.  The only thing I am responsible for is introducing the speaker who is none other than my brother, Jacquan.  My best buddy, Gidea offered to do the special music.  He has an incredible voice.  After the service there will be a fellowship meal which I’m sure everyone is looking forward to.

Right now, I’m meeting with the group participating in the service in my flat.  We are going over the details and making sure that everything is in order.  Lesedi has bravely volunteered to teach Sabbath School.  I have no doubt that she will do an outstanding job.  She has the making of a leader.  I am considering making her my Sabbath School Superintendent.  One of these days, I will discuss it with her.

After the meeting is over, I pray and then they leave.  The flat seems very quiet now that they are gone.  I head back into the living-room and turn on the television.  I was about to watch 3ABN when my doorbell rings.  Did one of the youth forget something?  I hurry to the door and look through the keyhole.  It’s Nata.  I quickly open the door.

She stares up at me.  She’s wearing a black top and denim skirt and a red scarf on her head.  “Hi,” she said.  nata

“Hi,” I reply, wondering what brings her to my neck of the woods.  I lean against the door.  I can’t get over how pretty she is.  “I wasn’t expecting to see you until tomorrow.  Have you come to tell me in person that you can’t come?”

She shook her head.  “No, I will be there.  I just came by to thank you in person for being so kind to me and to ask you if you would study the Bible with me.  We don’t have to do it now or here.”

My face brightened.  “Sure, I would be more than happy to study the Bible with you.  We can do so on Sunday in the park just around the corner from here.  Tomorrow when I see you we can decide when and where we will meet.”

She nodded.  “All right.  Thanks, Janco.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Have you been in touch with your parents at all since you left home?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Nata, at some point you need to face them and deal with the issues you have with them.”

She lowered her eyes.  “I’m not ready to do that yet.”

“Okay,” I said.  I didn’t want to push her.  “It’s best to do it when you’re ready.  It’s getting dark, you’d better head home now.  Do you have far to go?”

“No.  My cousin is a twenty minute bus ride from here.”

“Would you like me to walk you to the bus stop and wait with you until the bus comes?”

She raised her eyes to look at me.  “You don’t have to,” she said quietly.

“Wait here,” I said as I leaned away from the door.  I went inside, turned off the television, grabbed my keys and went back.  I closed and locked the door.  “Let’s go.”

We walked to the bus stop and waited for the bus.  There were a couple of other people waiting there.  “Do you still live alone?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“So, you’re not married then?  I don’t see a wedding ring on your finger but I know that most Seventh-day Adventists don’t wear jewelry.”

“No, I’m not married.”

“What about a girlfriend?”

“No, I don’t have a girlfriend.” I was about to ask her if she had a boyfriend but just then the bus arrived.  Lousy timing.  “See you tomorrow, Nata.”

“Good night, Janco.”  She smiled up at me before she turned and joined the small line to board the bus.

I saw her sat beside the window and look out.  She waved as the bus pulled away.  I watched it until it disappeared before I returned to my place.  I was looking forward to seeing her tomorrow.

Saturday came and I was up and about early, anxious to get the day started.  I had a light breakfast, showered and put on a new suit.  Yesterday I had gotten a haircut.  I looked sharp.  I smiled at my reflection before I grabbed my Bible, wallet and keys and left the apartment.  It was a beautiful, sunny day.  I put the top down on my car and enjoyed the half-hour ride to church.  Already, the parking lot was filling up.

As I made my way from the parking lot to the front entrance of the church, I was greeted by church members and visitors.  I spent some time chatting with people before I went down into the basement and into one of the rooms to meet with the youth and have prayer with them.  At the back of my mind I was hoping that Nata would come.

Everything went exceptionally well.  I was so proud of my youth group and the special music by Gidea was a sermon in itself.  And speaking of sermons, Jacquan’s message, Set Free, brought tears to my eyes and I saw other people dabbing their eyes.  At the end of the service, many people came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed the program.  I was very pleased and I shared the positive feedback with everyone who participated.  I hugged Jacquan and told him that I was very proud of him.  When we parted, we were both in tears.  My mother came and whisked him away.  As I was about to leave the reception area and head down to the fellowship hall to have something to eat, I saw Nata.  My heart leapt in my chest.  I was so happy to see her.  I went over to her.

“You came,” I said.  She was wearing a yellow jacket over a floral dress with splashes of yellow in it.  For the first time since I knew her, she wasn’t wearing the red shawl on her head.

“I told you I would,” she said.  “And I’m happy I did.  I was truly blessed.”

“I’m thrilled to hear that.  Are you going to stay and have something to eat and meet some of the youth?”

She nodded.  “Sure.  You look very handsome in your suit.”

I smiled.  “Thank you.  And you look very pretty.  Let’s head on down now.”

We went downstairs to the fellowship hall which was buzzing with lively conversation.  It settled down when the pastor announced that he was going to say a prayer.  He offered thanks and a blessing of the meal and then people were helping themselves to the different delicious looking and smelling dishes.  Nata was in front of me in the line.  After we finished helping ourselves to the food, we found a couple of seats and sat down.  For several minutes we were alone.

“In case you’re wondering, I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said suddenly, startling me.

I felt my face get hot.  “That’s good to know,” I managed to say after a while.

She smiled.  “So, there’s no reason why you and I can’t go out with each other.”

“No, there isn’t.  Are you free this evening?”

“Yes.”

“We can go bowling and then have pizza afterwards.”

“That sounds great.”

Just then several youth joined us.  I introduced Nata to them.  We had a great time, socializing.  By the time we were ready to go our separate ways, Nata had been invited to our next outdoor activity and to attend church the following week.  I dropped her home and I told her that I would be back at six-thirty to take her bowling.

Our first date was a blast and it led to other dates.  We have been dating for almost a year and today we are riding in a cable car to the top of Table Mountain where I will propose to Nata.  I’m nervous and excited but I have no doubt that this is God’s will for my life.  The Lord has opened His hand and poured out so many blessings on my life.  I am so thankful to Him for His love and goodness not only to me but to my family and Nata.  True to my promise, I studied the Bible with her.  Two months ago, she answered the altar call and accepted Christ.  Now she is a baptized member of my church.  Yes, God is good.  He has turned so many lives around.

Sources:  Crossroad Prison MinistriesUPMI; SDA Church; The Conversation

Claude’s Story

I’m sitting in the cafe that I frequently go to because I love their Latte when I can feel that someone is staring at me.  I turn my head and my eyes meet those of a very beautiful African American woman.  As we lock eyes for what seemed like eternity, I debate whether or not to walk over there or simply walk out.  It hasn’t been that long since my marriage ended after I found out that my wife was cheating on me.  Her betrayal still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.  Relationships are the last thing on my mind right now.

The owner of the cafe, a jovial man walks over to her and she looks up at him.  He leans over and says something to her.  She grabs her handbag and immediately leaves.  The owner comes over to me and says in a low voice, “I saw her making eyes at you,” he said.  “I don’t want her business in here.  I told her that if she came here again, I would call the police.”

I stare at him, confused.  “What do you mean?  What kind of business is she in?”

He looks around to make sure no one could hear him.  “She’s one of them ladies of the night.  Seems like she likes to go into reputable businesses and find customers.  Well, she’s not use my cafe for her sordid business.”

“But, she didn’t look like a…”  I couldn’t even say the word.

“No, I don’t suppose she does but I know her kind.  I see her  hanging out on the street, trying to solicit and now she has the gall to come into my cafe.  I told her not to show her face around her anymore or else I’ll set the police on her.  I think I scared her off.  I don’t think she will come here anymore.”

I thank him and finish my Latte.  I get up from the table and leave.  Outside, I stand on the sidewalk and look in both directions.  I spot her standing at the corner.  I hurry towards her.  This is crazy, I think to myself.  I shouldn’t get involved.  But, I can’t let an opportunity to reach out to someone who needed help pass me by.  She turns her head and sees me.  I can see the surprise on her face.  “Hi,” I say when I reach her.  “I was hoping that you hadn’t gone far.”

“Why did you come after me?” she asks.

Up close she is very beautiful.  “I wanted to talk to you.”

“You’re not a cop, are you?”

I shake my head.  “No.  I’m a lawyer.”

“You think I need one?  Did the owner press charges against me?”

“No.  Why would he press charges against you?”

“Because I’m a hooker and I was on his premises.  I thought I was trying to solicit?”

“And were you?”

“No!  I was in there like any paying customer when I saw you.  I can’t help that you’re a very attractive man.  I was just admiring you.  I wasn’t going to solicit you or try to pick you up.”

“If he hadn’t told me what you were, I never would have guessed.  You don’t look like a…”

“Prostitute?  Well, during the day, I’m a regular person, doing regular things but at night I get picked up by all sorts of men.”

“Why do you do it?”

She shrugs.  “I got laid off a year ago.”

“So, why can’t you try to find another job or go through a temporary agency?”

“Listen, why should I settle for another nine to five job when I can earn $120. a customer?  I make more money having sex with rich, white businessmen?”

“You don’t have to do this.  You can make that kind of money without selling yourself.”

She stares at me.  “How?”

I think about it for a moment and then I say, “A former client recently told me that if I had any favors to ask of him, don’t hesitate.  I can call him and see what he can do for you.”

“Why are you doing this?” she asks.

“I’m a Christian lawyer.”

“Oh.  Wouldn’t your church have a problem with you helping me?”

“No.  As Christians we are supposed to help others.”

“I used to go to church a long time ago but stopped going because the members were judgmental.  I got pregnant out of wedlock when I was 17 and they treated me like I was the devil himself.”

“So, you’re mother?”  I can’t believe that as a mother she would sell herself.

She shakes her head.  “I was.  I lost the baby.  It was a stillborn.”

“I’m sorry.  What about the father?”

“He was one of the deacons.  That’s why I left the church.  They were a bunch of hypocrites judging me when the baby’s father was a man they all respected and treated like he was a saint.”

“I’m sorry you had a bad experience and you were judged instead of shown love and mercy but not all churches are like that.”

“I guess not but I’m not interested in going back to church.  How do you think they would treat me if they knew that I was hooking?”

“Unless you told them, how would they know?”

“I guess you’re right.”

“Listen,  I have to run.  I have to meet a client.  Is there a number where I can reach you?”

“Sure.  Do you have a business card and a pen?”

I fish in my breast pocket and hand her a business card and a pen.  She takes them.  I watch as she scribbles something at the back of the card before she hands it and the pen back to me.

I look at the card before putting it and the pen back in my pocket.  “Thanks for writing your name too, Danica.”

“What’s yours?”

“Claude.”

She holds out her hand.  “Well, it was nice meeting you, Claude.”

I shake it.  “Likewise.”

She withdraws her hand.  “Well, don’t let me keep you from your client.”

“Do you have any plans for tonight?”

“Yes, the usual.”

“How about having dinner with me tonight instead of…”

“Is this you being charitable again?”

“No.  I just you would spend the evening having dinner with me instead of with a complete stranger who’s only interested in you for one thing.  You’re a beautiful and smart woman, Danica.  You deserve much more.  Stop selling yourself.  It wouldn’t bring you any satisfaction or happiness.”

“Okay.  You don’t have to argue your case, Counselor.  You’ve talked me into having dinner with you.”

“Good.  Where do you live?”

She tells me.  “What time should I be expecting you?” she asks.

“I’ll be there at seven.”

“Okay, Claude.  I’ll see you at seven.”

I smile and then, I walk away.  I could feel her watching me.  I find myself looking forward to seeing her tonight.

At promptly seven o’ clock I show up at her apartment.  She looks amazing in a black dress with a V neckline and three quarter long sleeves.  She’s wearing her hair up, giving her an elegant appearance.  We go to one of my favorite restaurants where we enjoy a sumptuous meal and a very engaging conversation.  When I take her home, I ask her to have dinner with me the following evening.  By the end of the month we are seeing each other regularly.  She’s no longer soliciting. My friend and former client was able to find her a well paying job at a PR firm.

I’m taking her to church where she feels warmly welcomed.  What impresses her is that there’s a ministry for former drug addicts, drug dealers, alcoholics and prostitutes.  She sometimes can’t believe that a church is willing to minister to such people.  After her baptism and becoming a member of the church, with my encouragement and support, she has become a part of the ministry.  And now she’s helping prostitutes to leave the streets and they receive counseling and job training.  Many of them have joined the church.

I never imagined that I would get married again but that was before I met Danica.  We got married last year and are expecting our first child in the summer.  I thank God that I was in the cafe the same day she was.  I went there as usual for a Latte and found love.

An Invitation

“So, what are your plans this weekend?” Vihaan asked Leona Friday morning when she was at her desk having a cup of hot chocolate.

His question caught her by surprise.  It was the first time since she had been his secretary that he had asked her such a personal question.  She pondered it for a moment and then replied, “I’m going to a friend’s bridal shower tomorrow and on Sunday, I’m going to church.”

His eyebrows rose.  “You’re a Christian?”

“Yes, I am.  Why are you so surprised about that?”

He sat on top of the filing cabinet.  “I’ve met Christians before and they’re nothing like you.  There are three things I have found about Christians which put me off and I’m not alone in this.”

She put her cup down.  He had her full attention.  “What are the three things?”

“Well, first, Christians and preachers always tend to condemn and criticize people for their sexual habits and preferences, life-style choices and even political views.  Second, they are hypocrites.  They oftentimes don’t practice what they preach.  Doesn’t the Bible say something about gossip and yet most of the people who are guilty of gossiping are so people who say that they are Christians.  And they talk about the sins of others but what about theirs?  And third, it’s hard to have friendships or relationships with Christians.  The things I like to do they look down on.  They try to make me feel bad because I don’t go to church or read the Bible.  You, on the other hand are not at all like them.  You’re laid back, not uptight, you socialize with non-Christians and you don’t act like you’re better than the rest of us because you go to church every Sunday.”

Leona had heard this before.  Sometimes, Christians were their own worst enemies.  They were so caught up in not being like the world that they forget that they are supposed to be the lights that would bring non-believers to Christ.  They forget that He they were once like those whom they look down on.  They forget that Jesus died for everyone and that God doesn’t want anyone to perish.  “I know that some Christians are judgmental and critical of those outside of the church and even of other Christians.  With regard to sexual immorality, that is addressed in the Bible but sexual sin isn’t the only thing Christians are warned against.  We are warned about wild living, worshiping false gods, doing witchcraft, hating, making trouble, being jealous, being angry, being selfish, making people angry with each other, causing divisions among people, having envy, being drunk, having wild and wasteful parties, and doing other things like this.  And you’re right about gossiping and we are told not to associate with a gossip.  And some Christians are hypocrites.  They are quick to point out someone else’s fault but ignore their own.  Jesus talked about that.  He called the religious people out a lot and even called them hypocrites.”

“Jesus loved everybody, didn’t He?  I mean He didn’t look down on certain people, did He?”

“No.  He ate with tax collectors and sinners, society’s undesirables.  Today, that would be the homeless, prostitutes, drug addicts, drug dealers, prisoners, anyone who need to know about God and His love and mercy.  Jesus likened Himself to a doctor.  Doctors are in the business of healing. They would send a sick person away because of who they are.  It the same with Jesus.  Whoever went to Him, He didn’t reject.  He showed them the same love He would show to anyone.”

“So, He was not particular about who His friends were?”

She got up and went over to the filing cabinet to do some filing.  He shifted so that he was facing her.  “He didn’t turn anyone away because of their lifestyle or situation but He did tell them not to continue sinning.  Jesus showed everyone love and compassion but He still wanted them to turn away from a life of sin.  It’s like our parents. They love us but when we do wrong, they correct us.  They don’t ignore what we are doing because they love us.  Only an unloving and uncaring parent would allow his or her child to continue doing what is wrong even if it ruins that child in the end.”

“This is very interesting.  I would really like to continue this conversation.  How about having lunch with me at one.  We can grab some take out at the bistro around the corner and then go to a quiet spot in the park.” Corporate-Headshots_4812-500x1000

She smiled.  “That sounds good.  And if you’re not doing anything on Sunday, maybe you can stop by my church and meet other Christians like me.”

He slid off the cabinet.  “I just might do that.”

“Good.”  She watched him walk away.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to offer him an invitation to come to my church and see that there are Christians out there who have the heart and mind of Christ.

Sources:  ; Bible Gateway;