I’m here in South Africa celebrating the work of the hands of God. Our first day was spent in a morning planning session and then out to Soul City. Soul City is where the poorest of the poor live, with shacks made out of discarded scraps, paint and even discarded curtains. As far as the materialistic mentality we have in American – it doesn’t get any worse.
Often God asks us to do things and we never see the end results, yet here in South Africa we routinely see the fruits of our labors. Eight church volunteers take care of 42 families - 170 people - who have nothing. Parishioners visit the sick daily and well families every other day. They bring food, make sure they get medical care as needed, provide massages, clean and even cook. Allow me to share a few details of the families we have met through this ministry.
This is the home we built on my first trip in 2007 for a family of 15. I walked with trepidation down the dirt path among the thousands of shanty homes. What would the house be like after 4 years? Would it still be standing, would it be vandalized? What if the family had moved or all died of AIDS or TB?
To my amazement, the house was beautiful inside! The grandmother had decorated the interior with love and faith! The family continues to receive medical and food support from St. Thomas, the house and mattresses are intact, even adorned with a new bedspread and a ton of love. Nevertheless, the family continues to face challenges. One daughter died in 2009. A new grandchild has TB and has been hospitalized since birth for 1 year and 6 months. She can’t be with her mother until she is cured. Although they have shelter, they need their faith to survive. Their smiles when they recognized us hid all their pain.
The second house is the home of Gladys Ndakane, the little girl that started the feeding scheme program (more on that on Tuesday’s blog!). Fr. Xolani found her on the streets of Kagiso 6 years ago and grieved that children were going hungry. Gladys lives here with her father and mother and three siblings. All children go to school. They are from Pretoria but don’t have valid IDs so they can’t get any steady work. Mostly they get food from the dump. But St. Thomas is helping with food, checking on the family every other day making sure that they feel loved. We want to move them to a new house, one not in Soul City. Maybe we can next year.
The 3rd house is the Lebakeng family, the house that we refurbished last year. Mashadi is the oldest at 18 and cares for four brothers and sisters. I said, “Mashadi, do you remember me from last year? You wrote a poem for me and gave it to me at church.” “Of course, I remember you. I still have the book you gave me, too.”
This family had nothing last year and the partnership of St. Thomas and St. George rebuilt their house after their mother died of AIDS. I don’t recall seeing them smile last year; but what a difference a year makes! I met the most amazing lady named Angie from the church. She is a volunteer from the parish and felt called to live with the family so they will have an adult guardian and Mashadi can go to school. Angie helps them with their homework, gives them lunch money and helps them to grow strong because she says, “I don’t want them to feel like orphans.” We would like to build another room on the house, so that Angie will have a room of her own. Now, she shares two bedrooms with Mashadi and her four brothers and sisters.
This last gentleman is Tommy. We met him for the first time this year. It was a tough winter; so difficult he was forced to burn all of his clothes and furniture last winter to stay warm. His house is so filthy there is no point in continuing his TB treatment. He scrounges in the nearby dump for food. Everyone else has left Tommy to die, but not the parish of St Thomas. Sophy is an amazing volunteer that visits him daily, brings him food, cooks, cleans, and even massages his weary legs. I asked Sophy, “What does Tommy need most?” “If only we could get some donations of soap and other cleaning supplies to keep his home clean, maybe he could go back on his TB medication and survive.”
I asked Sophy, “How do you cope with the despair, and people dying frequently in Soul City?” “When it is your passion, it is easy. Some days I don’t feel like going to Soul City. But when the time comes, I am eager to go. When God calls you to your ministry, He always gives you the resources and the strength to answer his call.