We Are All Slaves

“We are all slaves,” Todd declared and Marsha stared at him.

black girl in white blouse“What do you mean by that?”  she wondered.

“It’s what my pastor said last week.”

“Where did he get that information from?”

“The Bible, of course.  It’s in chapter six of Romans, verses twenty to twenty-two.  We are either slaves of sin or slaves of God.  We serve one or other other.  We serve sin when we allow it to control our bodies, making us commit immoral acts.”

What sort of immoral acts?”

“Adultery, fornication, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism and fornication.”

“What’s fornication?”

“It’s sex outside of marriage.  It can be between two people who aren’t married to each other or between two unmarried people.”

“Oh.”  She turned away so that he wouldn’t see the expression on her face.

“But, sin isn’t just about sexual immorality.  There’s spiritual immorality as well.”

“What happens to a person who is a slave to sin?”

“Romans 6:16 says that obeying sin leads to death.  Doesn’t your church teach you these things?”

She shook her head.  “No.”

“Why don’t you leave that church and come to mine?”

She turned to face him.  “Leave the Catholic Church?” she exclaimed.  “How could I?  I was born and raised a Catholic.  Why should I leave the church just because Father Montgomery hasn’t taught us what’s in Romans 6?  He might one of these days, you know.”

“I used to be a Catholic but I left because I realized that they were teaching what wasn’t in the Bible and the sex scandals–”

Marsha glared at him.  “I’m sick and tired of people attacking the church.”

“Why are you getting so upset?” Todd asked.  “I’m not attacking the church.  All I’m saying is that it needs to address the and rid itself of the sex scandals.  I’m sure that if you or someone you knew were a victim, you would feel differently.  You would want justice.  The church is supposed to be a place where people should feel safe.”

“I have to go,” she muttered.  “I’ll see you tomorrow at school.”  She turned and walked away before he could say anything.

As he headed home, he felt impressed to pray for her.

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Father Montgomery finished saying his prayer in the chapel, blessed himself and rose to his feet.  Next he went to the confessional to listen to three people make confessions.  By the time he left the parish, it was almost six o’clock.  He let himself into the abandoned mansion.   When he first visited it, he ventured down into the secret room, called a “priest hole” where Catholic clergy hid from their Protestant hunters.  Anti-Catholicism was rampant when Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558.  He tried to imagine what it would have been like to spend any amount of time there.  It made him think of the Jews who were hidden by well meaning citizens so that they could escape the concentration camps and ultimately, death.

It was in the Master’s bedroom where Marsha waited for him.  It was still furnished.  The furniture was old but still in good condition, natural light streamed through the large windows and the bed was still functional.  She was sitting at the edge of the bed, hands on lap when he walked in.  He knew right away that something was wrong.  “What’s the matter?” he asked as he sat down beside her.

“I ran into Todd on my way home from church this morning.”

He frowned.  “Who’s Todd?”

“He’s a boy from school.”

“Tell me what happened when you ran into him this morning.”

“He told me that we are all slaves.  Slaves to sin or slaves to God.  His pastor read this in chapter six of Romans.  I don’t want to be a slave to sin because it leads to death.”

“Marsha, you aren’t a slave of sin.  Such talk is foolishness.”

“But what about us?  Aren’t we sinning against God?”

He put his arm around her shoulders.  “It isn’t sin when two people love each other.  I love you and you love me, don’t you?”

“Yes, but–”

“Then, we aren’t sinning.  We are in a monogamous relationship.  We aren’t unequally yoked.  We share the same faith and believe in the same God.”

“Todd said that the church teaches things that aren’t in the Bible.”

“Do you trust me, Marsha?”

“Yes.”

“I would never mislead you or the rest of the flock.  What I teach is sound doctrine approved by God Himself.  Now, let’s not worry any more about what Todd or anyone else who has misguided views about our Church and its teachings.”  He gently pushed her back on to the bed and began to kiss her passionately.

Even as she surrendered to him, at the back of her mind, a small still voice was telling her that this was wrong but, as usual, she let her heart rule her head.

It was love for Eve which made Adam sin against God.  Don’t let love blind you to God’s truth.  It is by the constant obeying of His Word that we are delivered from sin.  Don’t be a slave to sin which leads to death but a slave to God which leads to eternal life.

Sources:  Atlas Obscura; Flickr

Naomi’s Story

246f1a5e7c97bb2aac484e131cb6103cMy name is Naomi.  Like my namesake, I have been tempted to change my name to Mara which means “bitterness”.  I have a lot to be bitter about.  All of my life I have been bullied and mistreated due to the color of my skin.  I have black skin.  I’m the darkest in my family.  Even they have a big problem with my complexion.  I was the black sheep of the family.  I never felt loved or accepted by them.

I once overheard one of my aunts, ask my mother, “Are you sure she’s yours?  She’s so black.  We don’t have anyone in our entire family that is black like that.”

And my mother’s response still hurts me to this day.  “If I had known that she would be so black I wouldn’t have named her Naomi, which means ‘my delight’ and if I weren’t a Christian I would have aborted her.  I couldn’t give her up for adoption.  Who would want her?”

None of them believed that any man would want to marry me.  All of my sisters, including the youngest one got married.  I was in my thirties and still single.  I didn’t have any boyfriends.  The boys at school shunned me.  None of the girls didn’t want to be friends with me.  The girl I thought was my friend only acknowledged me when we were outside of school.  After a while I stopped being friends with her.  I would rather be friendless than to have a fake friend like her.  It hurt, though.  And being friendless meant that I was lonely.

I was very smart, though and did exceptionally well in school.  Some of my teachers were kind to me and encouraged me but there were some who weren’t.  And I got bullied a lot at school by the other kids.  They called me “tar baby” and told me that I looked dirty.  Some of them rubbed my arms to see if the “dirt” would come off.  Many times, I ran off to a quiet place where I broke down and cried.  I got no comfort at home.  I hated my life and I began to wish that I had never been born.

I was about to commit suicide when I was 16 but was stopped by a voice which told me, “Lay down the knife; don’t hurt yourself in any way.”  The voice frightened me but I obeyed it.  I never tried to kill myself again after that.  Instead, I continued to work hard in school and went to university.  Life on campus hadn’t changed.  I was still treated like an anomaly.  I tried to ignore the stares and the remarks.  I remember one guy asking his friend, “How could you tell under that blackness that she’s pretty?”

Graduation was fast approaching and I wondered what I was going to do after I left university.  I didn’t want to go back home and I was sure they didn’t want me to either.  One afternoon, when I was in my dorm flipping through a magazine to see if they had any jobs posted and I came across photos of various models.  One of them was as black as me.  I couldn’t believe it.  She was a model!  Someone had hired her.  I began to consider modeling.  I was tall and slender.

I looked for the contact information and I called them.  I was told go in which I did.  I wore my best dress and a little makeup.  The receptionist told me to have a seat.  About twenty minutes later, a man walked in and asked me to stand.  I did.  He told me to walk about for a bit which I did.  Then, he turned to the receptionist and instructed her to book me for a test and photo shoot.  He nodded in my direction and then quickly walked away.  The receptionist gave me a form to fill out which I did.  She told me when and where to go for the shoot.  I was very excited when I left the agency.

After I graduated, I became a model.  I got lots of jobs and I soon realized that in the modeling world, it doesn’t matter how pale or how dark you are and that you don’t even have to be beautiful or pretty as long as you photograph and model well.  My unconventional look got me noticed.  Pretty soon, I was getting a lot of jobs.  I loved modelling and working with different clients.  I met terrific people and traveled to so many places.  I especially enjoyed going to Paris.  It was there I met Dathan, the photographer I was going to work with.  His mother was German and his father was Nigerian.  We did a photo session together and it was a blast.  Afterwards, we went for lunch and right after that, we began dating.

male-model-lacy-testimonial-1I don’t exactly know when it happened but I fell in love with him and I thought he felt the same way.  Once while we were making love, he whispered, “I love you,” in my ear and I clung to him and whispered it back to him.  I always imagined that one of these days, we would end up getting married and raising a family.

Well, I got pregnant and when I told him, I didn’t get the reaction I had hoped for.  He became very reserved and when I mentioned marriage, he told me flatly that he couldn’t marry me.  I was stunned and hurt.  I was willing to give up modeling to be his wife and raise our child.  It didn’t matter where we ended up living.  I would have followed him to the ends of the earth if he asked me to.  “I thought you loved me,” I cried.

“I do, Naomi.  I love you so much…”

“Then, why won’t you marry me?” I demanded, frustrated and very close to tears.  “Is it your family?  Are you afraid that they wouldn’t accept me because of my dark skin?”

He closed his eyes and sighed heavily.  “I can’t marry you because I’m already married.”

I stared at him.  I couldn’t believe what he just said.  He was married?  All this time I have been involved with a married man?  I had to sit down or I could have collapsed.  I began to cry uncontrollably.

He rushed over and pulled me into his arms.  “I’m so sorry, Naomi.  I know that I should have told you that I was married but I was afraid to.  I wanted to be with you so badly.”

I let him hold me until the sobs subsided and then I pushed him away.  “Please leave me alone,” I said.

“Naomi…”

“Leave me alone!”

He stood up and quietly left the room.  After he was gone, I got up from the chair and went into the bedroom.  I lay down on the bed and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.  The next day, I flew to New York where my next assignment was.  I somehow managed to get through that photo shoot and the others which followed.  I told the agency that I was pregnant but I didn’t tell them who the father was.  They weren’t upset or anything.  They let me continuing modeling until I began to show and then they had me do jobs which didn’t require any physical exertion.  I modeled until I couldn’t anymore.

I stopped modeling after I had Alia.  She was beautiful.  She had Dathan’s complexion.  I had enough money from my modeling to last us for a long time.  I doted on her.  She was a happy baby and filled me heart with so much joy.  Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dathan.  I was still very much in love with him.  I wanted to call him or send him photos of our daughter but I couldn’t.  I have to keep reminding myself that we have two separate lives.

I don’t feel any bitterness toward Dathan or my family or my classmates from school and university.  It has no place in my life now that I have started reading my Bible again.  I know now that it was God’s voice I heard that day when I tried to commit suicide.  He saved my life and I’m very thankful.  If He hadn’t, I wouldn’t have met Dathan or had Alia.  My only regret is that Alia isn’t going to be raised by both of her parents.  When she is older, I will tell her about her father and it’s up to her if she wants to get in touch with him or not.  Right now, I am raising her the best I can with God’s help.

I was inspired to write this fictional story because of Nyakim Gatwech, the South Sudanese descent African American model who is teaching people not to be afraid of the dark.   She has been dubbed the “Queen of darkness” and had an Uber driver suggest that she bleached her skin.  She’s proud of her black skin. “Black is bold, black is beautiful, black is gold… Don’t let American standards damage your African soul.” 11 year old Kheris Rogers started a clothing line, “Flexin’ In My Complexion” with her sister after she was bullied at school.  She recalled when the students had to draw themselves for an assignment, the teacher handed her a black crayon instead of a brown one.  All of her classmates were African American but she was the darkest.

Kudos to Nyakim for breaking down the barriers of conventional beauty and encouraging others to do the same.  And way to go, Kheris, for creating a fashion line in the hopes of instilling confidence in other young girls who face bullying because of their dark skin.  There are many shades of beauty and black is one of them.

Source:  Modeling Wisdom

Pit Toilets: Death Traps?

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Shoddily built pit toilets made from cheap metal are often left uncovered.  CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES

Many of us have more than one flushing toilets in our homes.  We have access to proper sanitation facilities.  When we use public washrooms, we can lock the doors of the stalls we use and when we’re done, we have running water and soap to wash our hands.  Sadly, this is not the case for many people.

For Hunaineh who lived in a collective shelter in Arbin, Syria, access to sanitation is still in the distant future. Attiya Hirji of Oxfam Canada shares Hunaineh’s story:

When nature called, we used to listen carefully to make sure there were no close clashes and then run to the nearest empty space to pee. Even now in this crowded shelter where the sewage system is not working properly, we still lack proper latrines. We sometimes have to queue for almost an hour to use the same dirty toilet that tens have used before.”

Oxfam is asking for donations to install water pumps and latrines.  They have organized water conservation and hygiene promotion sessions. Oxfam has also distributed hygiene kits across Syria containing washing powder, soap, shampoo and hygiene pads to help prevent the spread of disease.

Having access to a clean, working toilet can change lives and save them.  In South Africa, two children have drown in a pit latrine. Last year, three year old Omari Monono died in the outside toilet at his aunt’s house in Limpopo province, the same region where five-year-old Michael Komape drowned in a school toilet in 2014.  Omari’s mother, Kwena Monono said that her son “was pulled out of the toilet head-first at about 16:00 on Wednesday”, after having gone missing two hours earlier.  This mother was hurting over the loss of her son.  She was quoted as saying, “I’m hurting. I cannot eat or sleep.” and “Every time I see something my son loved, my heart breaks and I just cry.”

In March of last year, the death of 5-year-old Viwe Jali in a pit toilet at her school was a tragic accident waiting to happen, according to Section 27’s, Mark Heywood.  The little girl is believed to have drowned on Monday in her school toilet in the Eastern Cape.  She lay there overnight and was only found the next day.  Heywood says, “We know there is the danger of children falling into them because they are not protected properly.”  These toilets are a threat hygiene and health.  He went on to say that,  pit latrines in and of themselves are not the problem in rural areas where there is no water for example. It is the lack of safety measures that is the issue.  “It is the safety and the method of construction and the hygiene of the pit toilets.”  

Listen to this radio interview with Mark Heywood as he explains what the real problem behind the pit latrine deaths is and what his plans are to resolve it.

Last year, five year old Lumka Mkhethwa went missing at school in March and it was feared she had been abducted.  Her body was found the next day.   She had drowned after falling into a pit toilet in the grounds of Luna Primary in Bizana, South Africa.  Her tragic death caused an outcry prompting the government to announce that it will get rid of “hole-in-the-ground” toilets at more than 4500 state schools within two years.  “This is an initiative that will save lives and restore dignity to tens of thousands of our nation’s children, as our constitution demands,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on August 14, 2018.  “It will spare generations of young South Africans the indignity, the discomfort and the danger of using pit latrines and other unsafe facilities in our schools.

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This is the pit latrine where 5 year old Michael Komape died at his primary school in 2014.  Photo by GALLO

Pit latrines, sometimes called long-drop toilets, are a type of toilet that collects feces in a hole in the ground.  They are poorly constructed and are dangerous for children to use.  This is why young children like Omari, Michael and Lumka should have been accompanied by an adult.  Lumka’s father, Vuyani Mkhethwa said: ‘We do not understand how this happened. We were under the impression that children are escorted to the toilet at that age.” 

Omari’s aunt left him to relieve himself outside the toilet as usual while she was busy with her house chores when she noticed she had not seen the toddler for some time.  So, even though Omari wasn’t using the latrine, he should have still been monitored.  Maybe he got too close that time and fell in because as mentioned earlier, these latrines are often left uncovered.  What a heart-wrenching tragedy for his family, especially his mother and his aunt.  It was the aunt who called the police when she searched for the boy but couldn’t find him.

Pit latrines are considered basic sanitation yet, according to Water Aid, an estimated 27% of South Africans don’t even have access to basic sanitation and that is slightly lower than the global average of one third.   The UN defines basic sanitation as:

  • a flush or pour-flush toilet linked to a piped sewer system
  • pit latrines with a slab, septic tank or ventilation
  • a composting toilet.

About one in five South African schools have pit latrine toilets – BBC

According to spokesperson, Zukiswa Pikoli, the death of little Omari reinforces the need to eradicate pit toilets which and to provide communities and schools safe and adequate sanitation.  And this happened after the unfortunate death of five year old Lumka.  President Cyril Ramaphosa said that her death forced the government to act and ensure that decent sanitation is provided at all schools.  Eastern Cape has more than 1500 schools with pit latrines and 61 with no toilets at all.  “Schools should be places where children have fun, get educated, where they are safe.” He also said that schools should be the “heartbeat of wholesome communities”.

This World Toilet Day, Oxfam encourages all of us to take the Pay2Pee Challenge by donating $2 every time we use the toilet.  Together let’s “flush” this problem for good!

Sources:  BBC News; Oxfam Canada; Their World; 702

Folani’s Story

photo-1553394951-efd4b4aadd2bMy name is Folani.  At the age of 16, I was forced to marry the man who raped me so that I wouldn’t bring shame on my family.  He wanted to marry me but after I rejected him, he raped me.  I told my my mother what he had done to me and she insisted that if he still wanted to marry me that I should consent.  “No other man is going to want you,” she told me.  “Be grateful if Mr. Adebayo still does.”

“But, Mama, he raped me.”

“And whose fault is that?”

I couldn’t believe how unfeeling and uncaring she was.  I wished my father were still alive.  He would have had Mr. Adebayo arrested and charged.  I wished I had older brothers who would make Mr. Adebayo pay for what he did to me.  I wouldn’t want them to kill him, of course.  There are other ways to make a person pay for what they have done without taking their life.

I got no sympathy from my mother or my step-father and when Mr. Adebayo asked their permission to marry me, they consented.  I know he wanted to marry me because he wanted to avoid punishment and prosecution.  He was a government official and he had his “reputation” to think about.  I had no choice but to go along with this.  I had brought my family into disrepute and the only way to preserve my family name and avoid a life of sexual shame was to marry the man who raped me.  This was the only way to prevent the social stigma of pre-marital sex.

The night before the wedding, I cried bitterly.  I didn’t want to marry this man.  I didn’t want to stop going to school.  I had dreams of becoming a doctor but now those dreams were squashed.  I lay in my bed curled up, wishing I could die.  Death would be better than the future.

I married Mr. Adebayo and we lived in his big house on the hill.  He was abusive to me, demanding his rights as my husband.  He struck me when he tried to touch me and I pulled away.  Night after night, I was raped.  I became pregnant but I miscarried because of repeated domestic violence.  Just when I didn’t think I could take any more of the physical and sexual abuse, my husband suddenly died.  I could have run away and left him there in the floor but I called the police.

It turned out that he died from cardiac arrest.  After the funeral, his sister and mother threw me out of the house.  I didn’t return home to my mother and step-father.  I went to my paternal grandmother who let me stay with her.  When I told her all that had happened to me, she cried and prayed over me.

While I stayed with her, she read the Bible to me and told me about God and Jesus.  I listened.  I missed going to school but my grandmother couldn’t afford to send me.  One night, I got down on my knees and asked God to help me.  I couldn’t give up my dream of becoming a doctor one day.  The next day, someone from Camfed came to my grandmother’s house.  They had heard about my situation through its network of former students who had been supported through their education program.  The charity offered to pay my school fees, and provides books, uniforms and sanitary protection.  As my grandmother and I listened, I knew that God had answered my prayers.  Thanks for Camfed has enabled more than two million girls like me to go to school has made my dream of becoming a doctor a reality.

After I graduated from school, I went on to university.  I chose to live on campus but visited my grandmother every weekend.  I thank her for telling me about God and I thank God for coming through for me.  I wish I had run away from home and gone to live with my grandmother instead of marrying Mr. Adebayo but I was afraid that I would bring shame on her.

When I told her this, she reached for my hand and gently squeezed it.  “You wouldn’t have brought any shame to me, Folani child.  What happened to you wasn’t your fault.  A wicked and evil man violated you and to avoid what was due him, he, your mother and step-father forced you to marry him.  You’re free of him now that he’s dead and you are free to live the life God has planned for you.  Now you can become a doctor–the first in your community and family.  Your father would be very proud of you.”

With tears in my eyes, I hugged her tightly.  “Kutenda, Ambuya.”

Folani’s story is fiction but there are true stories of girls who have been forced into marriages because of poverty, economic hardships, difficult circumstances and protection from sexual violence.  Advocates for rape-marriage laws argue that they shield the victim and her family from the shame of rape.  This isn’t true.  This law benefits the rapist and the girl’s family.  The girl has no say in the matter and is forced to marry the man who violated her.  She is forced to drop out of school and forsake her future which only education could make possible and be in a marriage which more often than not is abusive.

I urge you to help Camfed which is changing the lives of girls through education; Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of more than 1300 civil society organisations committed to ending child marriage and enabling girls to fulfil their potential; Girl UP which believes that Girls are powerful. Girls have limitless potential. Girls can change the world. And yet in certain places around the world, girls continue to lack access to opportunities; CARE which is working towards gender equality, women’s empowerment, champions among men and boys, and an end to violence against women and Forward, the African women-led organisation working to end violence against women and girls.

Marriage is a choice not something to be coerced into.  Education not marriage should be a girl’s priority.  Marriage is between an adult man and woman not between an adult and a child.  And girls who are raped should be protected by the law and their families and not forced to marry their rapists to save him persecution and jail time or to safe the family face.  Rape is a crime and should be treated as such.

Take action to help girls like Gloria, who was forced into marriage at 12 and a widow twice by the time she was 17, to have an education and a future.  Help them to fulfill their dreams.

Sources:  Wikipedia; UN Women; BBC News; UNFPA

Sophia’s Secret

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Jamie Grill/Tetra Images/Getty Images

My name is Sophia.  I have been living with a secret since I was eight.  It’s a shameful thing and every-time I think about it, I feel sick and I wish I could curl up and just die.  No one at school knows but I keep wondering if they could tell just by looking at me.  Do I look different?  They don’t treat me like I am but I feel different.  I feel that there is something wrong with me because of what’s happening to me.  Maybe if I were ugly or fat, he wouldn’t trouble me.  Every-time we are together, he tells me how pretty I am.  I don’t want to be pretty.  I don’t want him to notice me.  I wish I were invisible.

I wish I could tell somebody but who would believe me?  He keeps telling me that this is our little secret and not to tell anyone.  He warned me that no one would believe me anyway.  So, I keep quiet.  I lie there, staring up at the ceiling and let him do things to me.  I hate it but what can I do?  He’s my uncle.  He was my favorite uncle until he started violating me.  It happens whenever we are alone in my grandparents’ house.

During the day, I try to keep busy so as not to think about it and at night, I cry myself to sleep.  Whenever I visit my friends’ homes, I envy them.  They seem so happy.  They are not orphans like my little brother, Tony and me.  Our parents died in a car crash ten years ago.  We are living with our paternal grandparents.  I love my grandfather because he reminds me of my Dad whom I loved very, very much.  My grandmother and I aren’t very close.  She complains that I’m too much like my mother whom she never accepted.  She had wanted my Dad to marry an Italian woman.  My mother was Puerto Rican.  My grandmother is more partial to Tony because he looks more Italian and a lot like my father.

I wonder what she would say if she knew what her favorite son was doing to me.  One evening, I found out.  My grandfather and Tony had gone to a Baseball game and my grandmother had gone to visit a friend.  It was after seven when she got home.  She was at the end of the corridor when she saw Uncle Matteo coming out of my bedroom.  He froze when he saw her.  Then, he recovered, smiled and said, “Hi, Mama.  Sophia was just showing me the school project she’s working on for school.  She needed my input.”

My grandmother believed him.  She smiled as he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  “Have you eaten?” she asked.  “I can fix you a nice bowl of Tuscan Soup.”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  I have to go.  I have Maybe next time?”

She looked disappointed.  “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” she demanded.

“I have a date.”

“Who is she?  Do I know her?”

He shook his head.  “No, Mama.  One of these days, I will bring her here and she can have you delicious Tuscan Soup.”

“All right.  Run along.  Whoever she is, she must be special for you to pass up my soup.”

He kissed her on the cheek again.  “Ciao, Mama.”  He turned and hurried down the hall.  “Ciao, Sophia.”

I didn’t answer.  I stood there, happy to see him go.  I wrapped my arms around me, feeling dirty.  I felt so ashamed.  I wanted to run away and go where he couldn’t hurt me anymore.  I thought of my mother’s sister, Aunt Teresa.  I’m sure she would let me live with her.  Taking a deep breath, I turned to face my grandmother.  “Nonna,  I want to go and live with my Aunt Teresa.”

She stared at me.  “Why?” she asked.  “Aren’t your grandfather and I taking good care of you?

“I’m not happy here.”

“What do you mean?” she demanded crossly.  “We feed you, put a roof over your head and we let you do what you like as long you follow the house rules.  Do you think your Aunt Teresa can do a better job raising you?”

“Nonna, I’m not leaving because Nonno and you.”

“Well, it’s up to you.  I wouldn’t stop you.”  She turned and walked away.  I could tell that she was upset and I was sorry but I had to leave.   And I did that weekend.  My grandfather dropped me off at Aunt Teresa’s house.  He was sorry that I left because he would miss having me around but I think he understood.  He knew that my relationship with my grandmother was strained.  He promised that he would visit me with Tony every other Sunday.

My Aunt Teresa was more than happy to have me.  Her daughter, my cousin Natalia had moved out and into her own place so I got her room which was much nicer than the one I had at my grandparents’ house.  I settled in very quickly.  I helped with chores as I did at my grandparents’ house and I did some of the cooking too.  I wasn’t as good as my grandmother but I was improving.

One night, I had a nightmare.   I dreamed that I was back in my grandparents’ house and Uncle Matteo was in my bed.  His mouth and hands were all over me.  I woke up, sweating and shaking like a leaf.  The next morning when my Aunt Teresa and I were alone, sorting the laundry, I told her about the abuse.  She was visibly upset.  She hugged me tightly and I began to cry.  It felt so good telling someone.  I felt as if a heavy burden had been lifted off me.  When she drew back to look at me, she said, “The Bible clearly says,  that no one is to approach any close relative to have sexual relations.  What your uncle did to you is criminal and he should be reported.”  And she reported him.

My Aunt Teresa had a friend who was a social worker come and see me.  She told me that I wasn’t to blame for what happened to me and that I did the right thing telling someone.  That made me feel better.  I started to live again and I began to read the Bible my Aunt Teresa gave me.  I started to go to church with her and I loved it.  I met wonderful people and made new friends.

My grandmother was angry with me and doesn’t want me over at the house anymore.  It’s on account of me that her son is in jail.  My grandfather was broken up about it and he apologized to me for not being there to protect me.  He swore that if he had known, he would have reported the abuse himself.  He and my grandmother are no longer together.  Tony has moved in with Aunt Teresa and me and my grandfather is living with Uncle Alberto and his family.

It wasn’t my intention to cause any trouble for my grandparents but I had to tell someone my secret.  And now I’m a part of a Youth Program called Give Voice.  It encourages teenagers and youth to break the silence about their own abuse or to report to someone they trust when they suspect that someone they know is being abused.  It’s a support group where we feel safe talking about our experiences and there’s also a mixture of fun and other activities.

I created a pamphlet for Give Voice which we hand out at schools, colleges, universities, libraries, shopping malls, on the streets, subways, bus stations, doctor’s and dentist’s offices, hairdressing salons, barber shops and other public places.  We want to get the word out that there is help out there.  Don’t suffer in silence.  Tell someone you trust.  Put your abuser where he or she belongs:  behind bars.

When it comes to any type of abuse, silence is not golden.  Tell, cry, yell, do whatever you have to but don’t keep silent.  Abuse should never be kept a secret.

Sources:  Government of Canada; Bible Info; Bible Gateway

Tamika’s Story

I was turning tricks since I was 15.  My father was in prison for manslaughter and my mother was a coke head.  I didn’t have any siblings.  I was the only child.  I thought of dropping out of school and finding a job so I could save up enough money to blow this city but I then I decided that I wanted to make quick money.  I was an attractive looking girl.  I’ve had many boys and men hit on me.  So the plan was that I would go to school during the day and turn tricks at night.  I knew exactly where to go.  It was a prime spot where rich men drove up in their fancy cars.  So, I started out walking the streets and getting into cars which took me to dark alleys.  I made a lot of money which I hid in a box under my mattress.  When I had enough, I would leave home and go to another state where I could start a new life.

One of my johns was a foreign businessman.  I met him when I was 17.  I suspected that he was German because of his accent.  It reminded me of Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List.  He took a real liking to me and several times he picked me up in his black sedan.  He didn’t take me to an alley but to a quiet spot on a bridge or at a lookout place where you could see the city below.  It got so that he didn’t want me to have other johns so I went only with him and instead waiting for him in the usual pick up area, I waited outside of The QG department store.  Then, he bought a fancy and very expensive penthouse apartment uptown and that was where he and I would go every night.  I didn’t mind.  He was very attractive, probably in his early or mid-forties and he was rich.  He bought me jewelry, a fur coat and expensive dresses.  I later found out that I was the first and only prostitute he had ever been with.

He was a very intelligent and he exposed me to the finer things in life.  He lent me books by German classic authors such as Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht and German-Swedish poet, Nelly Sachs.  He started taking me to the opera, museums and the ballet.  Sometimes we enjoyed fine dining and a couple of times we took weekend trips to Ocean City, Calvert Cliffs State Park, Deep Creek Lake and Chesapeake Beach.  We drew some attention wherever we went but he didn’t seem to care.  I always worried that I might run into one of my former johns, though.  Then, I figured that they would probably wouldn’t even recognize me because the lighting was always poor when I was with them or if they did recognize me, they would act like they didn’t know me.  I was glad that I was off the streets and that I had a man who was taking care of me.

There were times when we didn’t see each other because he had to go away on business.  I missed him like crazy and was always thrilled when he came back.  When he showed up at the penthouse, I would throw myself at him and we would kiss each other wildly and end up in bed where we spent most of our time.  I wondered sometimes if he was in a relationship.  I didn’t notice a wedding ring but he could have removed it.  I was afraid to ask because I was afraid of the answer.

When I graduated from high-school, I applied to three universities and got accepted to all three.  He offered to pay for my tuition.  I chose John Hopkins University.  When I told him that my area of study was Computational Medicine, he seemed a bit surprised.  I explained to him that I loved computers and have always been interested how human diseases are identified, analyzed and treated.  I showed him the books on Human Disease which I had borrowed from the library.  The whole thing must have seemed strange to him because I used to turn tricks.  I never had unprotected sex with any of my johns because I didn’t want to contract HIV/AIDS or get pregnant.  I never kissed any of them nor engaged in fellatio.  I was a prostitute but I had my standards.  I was lucky I was never met with any danger or violence as some girls have done.  I think Someone was watching over me.

One day I was in the kitchen fixing dinner when my mother stumbled in.  She looked awful.  “So, where you got them fancy clothes from?” she demanded.

I turned to face her.  “Mama, you have no right to go into my room without my permission.”

“Don’t you sass me, Girl.  I got every right to do what I want in my house.  Now, answer me, where did you get them clothes?”

“I saved up and bought them.”

“Where did you get the money to save up?”

“I got a job after school,” I lied.

“What job?  Where?  How come you didn’t tell me ’bout it before?”

I didn’t answer.

She came closer to me and studied me.  “You lyin’,” she said.  “Where did you get the money?”

“Mama, please leave me alone.”

“You been turnin’ tricks?”

“No, Mama.”  That was true.  I wasn’t on the streets any more.

“Did you rob somebody?”

I looked at her.  “No, Mama!  I’m not a thief.”

“Then, you got yo’self a Sugar Daddy.”

“Mama, you don’t know what you’re talking about.  I’m fixing dinner.  Why don’t you sit down at the table and have some?  You don’t look like you’ve eaten all day.” I tried to help her over to the table but she slapped my hand away.

“Don’t give me that,” she snapped.  “You’ve been holding out on me.”

“No, I haven’t, Mama,” I denied.

“Give me some of that money.  I deserve it for all them years I struggled hard to raise you after yo’ Daddy got thrown in prison.  Give me some of that money.”

I got angry then.  “So that you could waste it on drugs?  No, Mama, I’m not going to feed your drug habit.  You need help.”

She drew her hand back and slapped me hard across the face.  “Don’t you talk to me like that!”

I threw the spoon down, turned off the stove and rushed out of the kitchen.  I ran out of the house, hailed a cab and went to the penthouse.  I spent the night there.  When I went back to the house, my mother wasn’t there.  I decided that I would going to move out.  I had had enough of her and her drug problem.  I quickly threw all of my clothes and jewelry in the suitcase.  I put the money I kept hidden under the mattress in my satchel.  I went to get my fur coat but it wasn’t there.  I searched my room and the entire apartment but couldn’t find it.  Then, it dawned on me that my mother must have taken it.  She was probably could to sell it for money to buy drugs.  Hatred and fury welled up inside me and grabbing my suitcase, I stormed out of that miserable place I had called home for 19 years.

I moved into the penthouse and when my man came there the following night after returning from one of his business trips, I told him what had happened.  “I can’t believe she sold my fur coat,” I wailed.  “I loved it because you gave it to me.”

“Don’t worry about the coat,” he said.  “I can buy you another one.  But, your mother…she needs help.”

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“When I told her that, she slapped me.”

“She slapped you because of how you spoke to her, Tamika.  She’s still your mother and you should still show her some respect.”

I didn’t answer.  I lowered my eyes feeling a little ashamed.  I got up from the sofa and stood in front of him with my head bent like a school girl who had done something bad, standing before the principal.

“I have a friend who used to be a drug addict but now he’s a pastor.  Perhaps, I could get in touch with him.”

When I looked up at him, there were tears in my eyes.  I realized then that I was madly in love with this incredible man who wanted to help my mother, a woman he had never met.  “Thank you,” I whispered before I reached up and put my arms around his neck.

He held me tightly and then when he drew back, he murmured, “I want to marry you, Tamika.”

I stared at him, stunned.  “Why?” I asked.

Weil ich dich liebe.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Because I love you.”

I swallowed hard.  “I love you too, Dieter.”

He caressed my cheek with his knuckles.  “I want to take care of you.”

“And I want to be your wife,” I said in tears.

He smiled that winsome smile of his before he lowered his head and kissed me.

The next day, he officially proposed and two weeks later, we got married.  The penthouse became our home.  He relocated to the office in Baltimore.  In two and a half years I will be graduating from John Hopkins and am thinking of doing my Masters.  Dieter is very supportive and proud of me.  We have both decided that after I have completed my Masters, we will plan on having children.

His friend, Jakub, the polish pastor and former drug addict visited my mother and he was able to get through to her.  She’s now in a rehab center getting the help she needs. Dieter and I began to attend Jakub’s church where we were warmly welcomed by the congregation.  We began to study the Bible with Jakub and a year later, we gave our lives to Jesus Christ and were baptized.  Now, I’m actively involved Women’s Ministries and Dieter is an elder.  We are extremely happy that we found each other and Christ.  My mother is doing well and she is currently doing Bible Studies with Jakub.

I have learned that no matter where we are or how far we have fallen, God will always find a way to reach us.

Sources: John Hopkins; Adventist Mission

Janco’s Story (Part One)

kult_model_Geoffrey_Camus_209680I’m a Literature Evangelist and youth leader in my church.  I’m on fire for the Lord so I leave tracts on buses, trains, taxis, the waiting rooms of doctors, dentists, on sidewalks, streets–yes, I drop them as I walk.  Sometimes I would stand on the sidewalk and hand them out to people as they walk by.

Just recently, I left a couple of tracts in the changing rooms of a few department stores.  I’ve left tracts on the table before leaving a restaurant and in public washrooms, believe it or not.  Every opportunity I get, I make sure I leave or hand out a tract.  I take being a Literature Evangelist very seriously because eight years ago, someone left a tract on the a park bench which turned my life around.  You see, I was heading in the wrong direction.

Eight years ago I was 17 and living with my mother.  My father was a deadbeat who abandoned us when I was seven.  I haven’t seen or heard from him since he left.  My older brother, Jacquan was arrested and convicted of dealing drugs.  He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.  My mother was an alcoholic.  She had fallen on and off the wagon since she first started drinking after my father left.  I was going to school and working at the same time. It was tough.  I had no life.  I couldn’t hang out with my friends because after school, I had to show up for my job at the grocery store close to school.   I did different things such as bagging groceries, stocking shelves and working the cash register.  I worked for six hours and by the time I got home it was almost nine-thirty.

I was tired but I had either had to do my homework, work on a paper or study for an exam.  I had to fix myself something to eat because my mother was passed out on the couch.  An empty bottle of Vodka lay on the carpet.  The room reeked of alcohol so I opened the windows to let some fresh air in.  I took up the bottle and cleaned up the room before I had something to eat.  Then, I took a quick shower, went to my room and spent two hours doing my school work.  After I was done, I went back to the living-room to check on my mother.  She was still passed out.  So, I got a blanket and spread it over her, turned out the light and went to bed.

That was my life.  I was tired of my mother being drunk and having to clean up after her.  It was like I was the parent and she was the child.  I was the one who cleaned the house on the weekend, went to pick up groceries, did the laundry and the cooking.  By the time I was done, I was too wiped out to go anywhere.  And when I did, my buddies complained because I didn’t want to do much.  If we went bowling, I would sit it out or if we went to the mall, I would find a place to chill because I was too beat to walk aimlessly about the place.  I dated a few times but whenever the girl found out that my brother was in prison they would act all weird and I wouldn’t hear from them again.  So, my social and love lives were suffering because of my dysfunctional family.  I started to get angry and resentful.  Sometimes, I found myself wishing I could just get up and leave but I couldn’t do that to my mother.  She needed me.  So, I stuck it out.

My mother was sober on the day I graduated from high-school.  She threw a party and invited family and friends over to celebrate.  Later that night, she got wasted and while she was passed out on the couch, I cleaned up the place.  After I was done, I went for a long walk, trying to figure out what to do with my life.  I wanted so badly to run away.  I was tired of dealing with my mother and her drinking problem.  I had tried many times to get her to go for help but she always promised that she would stop.

I walked and walked until I got tired of walking.  I went to the park which was nearby and found a bench under the light post and sat down.  I sat there for a while, my mind spinning.  The resentment for my mother and the bitterness toward my father filled my throat like bile.  Dark thoughts filled my mind.  I wanted to lash out at them because they had ruined my life with their selfishness and self-destructive ways.  At that moment, I wanted run away and leave my mother to drink herself to death.  Yes, I thought, why should I continue taking care of a drunk?  I was young.  I had my own life to live.  Why shouldn’t I go somewhere else and start a new life.  I decided right then and there that I would pack up and leave this wretched place.

I started to get up when my eyes fell on something beside me.  It looked like a pamphlet.  I picked it up and looked at it.  It was titled, Talking With God.  I was interested in reading it.  I knew about God but I didn’t know Him.  My parents were never religious.  I was always curious about religion but never pursued it.  I got up from the bench and went home.   I went straight to my room and lay down on my bed to read the tract.  I just ate it up and I wanted more.  I got down on my knees that night and prayed to a God I didn’t know but wanted desperately to know more about.

The next day, I showed my Christian friend, Gidea the tract and he recognized it.  “That’s one of the GLOW tracts,” he told me.  “I can get you the rest of the tracts if you want.”

My eyes brightened.  “Please get them for me.”

He smiled and promised that he would.  A few days later, before we went to our classes, he gave the tracts to me.  I put them in my knapsack, anxious to read them that night after I got home from work.  “Thanks, Man.  I really appreciate this.”

He clapped me on the back.  “No problem, Bro.”

I finished reading the tracts in a few days.  When I saw Gidea again I asked him if I could go to his church.  He was delighted and I went on Saturday.  The people from his church were so warm and welcoming.  I couldn’t wait to go back the following Saturday.  I met the pastor and his wife and I was given Bible Study guides which I devoured.  I got baptized a couple months later.   Unfortunately, my mother was too drunk to be there.

I first learned about Literature Evangelism from Amiri, another church member and I told him that I was interested in handing out literature.  And he helped to make that possible and I’m indebted to him.  When my mother was sober, I gave her the Breaking Addictions and Steps to Health tracts to read.  I invited her to come to church when the guest speaker was a former alcoholic.  She came and afterwards she spoke to the speaker who prayed for her and gave her the name of a social worker at a Drug and Alcohol Rehab center in Cape Town.  After some persuasion, I convinced my mother to check it out.  I went with her and a week later, she moved into the guest house.  I visited her every weekend and she’s doing well.  She looked so much better.  It was strange and good seeing her sober all the time.

I know she has been reading the tracts I left with her and the Bible.  I can see the changes.  I encouraged her to pray and I prayed with her.  I can see God working in her life and transforming her.  And she started going to church every week and it was the greatest moment in my life when she was baptized.

I’m still living at home.  I got rid of all the alcohol.  In my spare time, I do things around the house such as repainting the walls, polishing the furniture and making repairs.  I want my mother to come back to a nicely fixed up home.

The last time I visited her she asked me if I had visited Jacquan in prison as yet.  When I said no, she urged me to, saying, “God loves him too.”  That got me.  I needed to humble myself, swallow my pride and go see my brother.  The following Sunday morning, I went to see him.  He looked terrible and he hardly said much.  I told him about Mama.  “That’s good she got help,” he said.  A pause then, “No word from Dad yet?”

I shook my head.  “I don’t expect to hear from him again.  How are you doing?”

He shrugged.  “Surviving.  How come you’re here?”

“Mama encouraged me to visit you.  She reminded me that God loves you too.”

He looked surprised.  “God?  Don’t tell me that Mama has gone all religious.  How did that happen?”

I told him and showed him the tracts.  “I will leave these with you.  It’s up to you if you want to read them.  I hope that you do.  Do you mind if I prayed for you?”

H shrugged.  “Suit yourself.”

I prayed with him and promised that I would visit again soon.  I saw him take up the tracts before he got up and left.  I left the prison hoping and praying that he would read them.

I was standing on the sidewalk one day handing out tracts when I saw Nata, a girl who attended the same high-school I did.  She was in grade 8 when I was in grade 12.  Just recently, I found out that after she graduated, she run away from home.  Gidea told me that he saw her on the streets.  african-girl-portrait-scarf_iphone_750x1334

She saw me and smiled.  I watched as she approached me.  “Hi,” she said when she reached me.  “What’s that you’re handing out?”

“Gospel tracts.  Would you like one?”

She shrugged.  “Sure.”

I handed her the one about Connecting With God.  She took it.  I hope she reads it.  “How are you doing, Nata?” I asked.

“Surviving,” she replied.  “I hate to ask you this but could you give me some money?  Someone the money in my bag while I was sleeping.”

“When and where did this happen?”

She hesitated.  “Last night on the street.”

“Are you living on the streets?”

She nodded.  “I have been since I left home.  Things got so bad at home that I had to leave.”

“Nata, do you know how dangerous it is for a girl to be living on the streets?  So far you’ve only been robbed but something worse can happen.  You can’t stay on the streets.  Isn’t there a relative you can stay with?”

She shook her head.  “No.  My relatives have their own problems.  They wouldn’t want me around.  What about you?  Can I stay with you until I can find a job?”

“I’m sorry but that wouldn’t be possible.  I’m a Christian and it wouldn’t look good for me to have a girl I’m not married to living with me.”

“All right.  Do you have money you can lend me?  When I get a job I will pay you back.”

“I have a better idea.  There’s this house for street children.  I know the woman who runs it.  She goes to my church.  I can take you there and she will help you.  You can stay there until you decide to return home or find a place.  While there you can continue going to school.”

She considered it for a moment.  “My parents wouldn’t find out that I’m there?”

I shook my head.  “No.  Not unless you want them to.”

“All right.  I will go to this place but if I don’t like it, I’ll leave.”

“Fair enough.  I will take you there right now.”  I stuffed the tracts in my satchel bag and we headed for the bus stop.  In half-hour we were walking into the shelter.  I introduced her to Amahle, the church member I told her about and waited until everything was sorted out.  “Thanks, Amahle.  Take care, Nata.”

She stared up at me.  “You will check up on me, right?”

“I will.  And don’t worry, you will be well taken care of here.”

The anxious expression on her face faded.  “Thanks for the tract.  I promise I will read it.”

“Good.  The next time I come, I will bring more.  I’ll see you soon.”

She didn’t answer.  I could feel her eyes on me as I turned and walked away.  I knew I had done the right thing bringing her here.

Sources:  Ixande; SA News; Kindernothilfe;