Lehlohonolo (meaning “Lucky” in Sesotho, our second boy by that name) came to The Pines in October 2008. Prior to that he had been living in Honi Park. According to what we understand from the story he told the social workers, he had been living in Hani Park for over a year (very relative when you consider his age. It could have been 3 months, could have been 3 years.)
Lehlohonolo is 9 years old, and currently his birthday is unknown. He says his mother and father left him with another woman in Hani Park over a year ago. Apparently, he has a younger sibling who was still nursing at the time, and his parents took that child with them. He doesn’t know where they went or why they left him.
Several weeks prior to his arrival at The Pines, he says the woman he was living with “fired him”. Again, we don’t know the reasons, or why he chose to use those words to describe it, but we do know he was kicked out and left to fend for himself.
After being abandoned again, he began living in the toilets in Hani Park, moving around periodically for safety reasons. Hani Park is a township near Welkom that is populated by the poorest people. Many of them are illegal immigrants. While living conditions vary greatly from township to township, Hani Park is considered a tough place to live. Hardly any of the shacks are wired for electricity, and running water is only a dream. The toilets consist of a brick or tin outhouse-type building with just a hole in the ground. It is in these that Lehlohonolo took refuge for several weeks. You can imagine what he would have been exposed to during that time.
While moving from toilet to toilet and scrounging for something to eat, he befriended another boy living in Hani Park. After a couple weeks of playing together, this second boy told his mother about the child living sleeping in the outhouses. This mother then phoned the police, who located the boy and brought him to the social workers, who then in turn brought him to us.
Lehlohonolo arrived at The Pines knowing no English at all. He claimed he had been to school a few times, but went only when he felt like it. While he didn’t know his alphabet, he did know a few of the sounds certain letters make. He was enrolled in kindergarten at the school, and at the age of 9 is by far the oldest child in the class.
Since he arrived, we have made a specific effort to work on his reading skills. He learned the alphabet within the first two weeks, and shortly after learned the sounds each letter makes. We make all our children read books during homework time, but Lehlohonolo presents a unique challenge. He can parrot the sounds we say, but since he doesn’t speak English, he wouldn’t be learning anything. Fortunately, several of our older girls are quite bright and seldom have much homework. They have enjoyed earning a little extra money working with Lehlohonolo on his reading and therefore on his English.
Lehlohonolo is a very bright child and appears to learn quickly. Already he is picking up some English from the other children, and definitely knows how to say “I want to swim”. While it took awhile to earn his trust in the pool, he is now jumping right in with the other children. He has learned to hold his breath and is now starting to swim on his own.
As you would imagine, any child from that sort of background is going to arrive with baggage, and this case was no different. The first week of school the teacher couldn’t get him to leave the classroom during lunch or recess because he was terrified the other children would steal his supplies. After he learned they would not, he decided that it would be easy for him to steal theirs. It took a couple weeks to straighten that out. Initially, we also had problems with him threatening other children, but that seems to be a thing of the past, as he learns he no longer has to fend for himself.
Actually, he followed in the steps of our first Lehlohonolo, who has now become one of our biggest leaders among the children at The Pines. Both of them, when they arrived, would take toys and other items they found around The Pines and sell them to their classmates at school. After a short adjustment period, it is wonderful to see them learn to trust their mama’s and the other children. Lehlohonolo has learned that if he asks for extra jobs around the property that he will earn a few Rands that he can take to school to buy treats. Now he is always asking for extra work.
After the initially adjustment to school, Lehlohonolo has opened up quite warmly to his teacher. I spoke with her just last week and she is sad the term is over and he will be moving on. It seems he has found a special place in her heart. While he has only been with us just over a month, he has already progressed so much in school that he will be skipping Grade 1 entirely and moving into Grade 2 when the new term starts in January.
A secondary blessing we’ve seen from his arrival is in the lives of our other children. They are greatly concerned that he come to know Jesus as his Savior. Within the first week they brought him to me so that I could make him learn. I told them that no one can be forced to believe in Jesus. Each person must understand for themselves that sin has a penalty, no matter how small that sin might seem. They need to know that there is no way they can pay the debt of sin outside of spending eternity apart from God. Yet in spite of the ugliness of our sin, God sent His own Son to pay with His death on the cross. If we simply trust Jesus Christ as the payment for our sins we will be saved.
Most of our older kids know that, and they had been telling Lehlohonolo that he needs to ask Jesus to save him. I sat down with all of them and with the older kids interpreting, we shared the good news with the new guy. He still doesn’t want to believe, but we trust that God brought him to us, not so we can just feed and clothe, shelter and educate him, but that he too would come to know the peace of a relationship with the God of the universe. We ask that you would pray along with us.