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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - Sweet Banana

In our recent update about the stabbing of Makhasi, I finished with a comment that I would finish the story later. I guess that time has come.

The Friday night that we had been to visit Makhasi in the hospital we learned that he was supposed to go to Pretoria the next day for a conference where he would be able to apply for several scholarships. Because he wouldn’t be able to go, one of the other boys decided he would go in Makhasi’s place and apply for or get as many scholarship applications as possible. Unfortunately Makhasi hadn’t thought to grab his ID book in the rush to the hospital (imagine that), and since the transport to Pretoria was to leave at 4:30AM the other boys wouldn’t have time to go to his house to pick it up. So the task fell on me to take the boys to his house to pick up the ID before taking them all home.

For a long time now I have thought it would make an interesting TV show on the Discovery channel or something like that to have someone walk through various cities around the world in the middle of the night to see how quickly that person would be accosted. I doubt that Thabong would be the most dangerous but its not a place where I would want to take my chances.

Only one time previous to this evening have I been in a township after dark. Last September there was a team here from POG church and they had invited the boys from Thabong to The Pines for a bar-b-que, or as it is called here, a braai. Things didn’t wind down until about 9:00 so we didn’t end up taking the boys home until after dark. I felt very fortunate to have the guys from this team with me, as all of them were guys I would consider to be relatively “tough” and not to be messed with. Even with these men with me however, I felt pretty uneasy and they said they did too. The boys themselves said they were not comfortable and only go out after dark when absolutely necessary.

So here I am leaving the hospital, visiting a friend who had been stabbed, going back to that very neighborhood on a Friday night after dark. The boys did console me with the fact that white people never come here after dark and would probably be a prime target since they are generally considered to be carrying money. So I had that going for me.

As we sat in the car at Makhasi’s house waiting for his grandmother to find his ID, I had a chance to talk to the boys about the realities of life in a township. Approaching the township you could see that there was a thick haze hanging over the whole thing, probably about 40 feet high. Driving through there were groups of people standing around fires, many times fueled by old tires or piles of trash. This gave them both warmth and light. It also contributed to the thick haze.

I asked the boys if you would see prostitutes walking around the streets or hanging out on corners. Their response actually surprised me a bit. They said not a chance – no prostitute would make it through the night if they tried something like that. Instead they all gather at a shopping complex near the entrance of the township. Along with these women gather the big semi’s, which are used as cheap hotels. On my way home I had to pass by this complex and saw probably 40 semi’s parked with crowds gathered around. This in a culture where doctors say its safe to assume that 50% of the population is HIV+. How willing we are to be blinded to the consequenses of our sin!

The boys were also able to point out the various gangs and exactly which “turf” belonged to them. I asked them if they would be able to walk to their home from Makhasi’s – about half a mile – at that time of night, which was about 8:30. They said probably but they wouldn’t chance it. Now, if they were walking from their grandmother’s house to their own – again about half a mile, only in another direction – they said they would be safe. This because of their uncle, Sweet Banana.

Sweet Banana (not his real name, shockingly) is actually their first cousin once removed, but family relationships are kind of fuzzy. Typically people are introduced as brothers or cousins, so it takes some investigation before one is able to determine the true family relationships. And I thought the O’Tool and Wiedemeier families were confusing…Anyway, this young man had been invited by his cousins to attend our Wednesday Bible study. When I met him it was obvious he was a bit of a rough character but I learned that night talking with I really had no idea.

This past December was the last time the boys had been to the hospital prior to their visit with Makhasi. In December Sweet Banana had been in a bit of a tiff with a rival gang…to the point that he had been shot through the leg and had his skull fractured with a sword. Apparently his gang had enacted some sort of vengance on a member/members of this rival gang and when the other group retaliated a few days later his whole gang fled. He is known as someone who will not back down from any fight and it was true this night. After he was left by his friends he fought until he was shot, cut up, and left for dead.

I said it was obvious he was a bit of a rough character. Some of the scars from that night were still visible when we met two weeks ago. The boys say they are known to be his relatives and no one would mess with them in that neighborhood. The only danger they believe they would face would be from someone who doesn’t know they are related.

This vein of conversation led back to the topics we had covered that day in Bible study. The last several weeks the boys have had so many questions that we haven’t even been able to get into the actual lesson, but that is good because their questions are obviously in the areas where God is working in their lives. Many of them have come to understand that salvation is only through faith in Jesus and not through the good things we can do. This leads to the obvious question “If we don’t have to do good things to get to Heaven, why do good things at all?” They are trying to reconcile those who say “I know its wrong but I’ll just ask for forgiveness later” with the message of salvation only through the grace of God. It led us into a discussion of alcohol, fornication, drugs, theft, and a whole variety of vices so common in the culture here. DJ told me on Friday night that if they had pulled me aside and told me what to say to Sweet Banana it couldn’t have been more to the point for what he needed. It was actually very cool, that same meeting one of the other boys asked how you know for sure you are saved. That led to an unbridled explanation of the fact that Jesus died for sinners and unless you trust only in His sacrifice you cannot go to Heaven.

In hindsight it is amazing that this young man who we are quite certain has been involved in theft, gang beatings, and likely even murders attended this study and sat and listened throughout the whole thing. He was not back the next week because he was in town working but the boys said they will bug him until he comes back again. While he was not there, we had 5 new kids at study that week – 4 boys and our first girl. They said they will all be back again, and I promised them all new Bibles if they continue to attend. Pray for the conviction of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who are not yet saved, and for continued growth in those who are.

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