Over the past couple years you’ve read a few stories about a young man named JT here on our blog. We met JT through a contact with his high school two years ago. Since that time he has become one of the young men that are now very much a part of our family. We have gotten to know him quite well and he has given us permission to share his story publicly, in hopes that it would be an inspiration to someone.
Teboho Augustinus Jakuja, known to us as JT, was born July 31, 1990. His mother was from Lesotho and his father, originally from Lesotho, had moved to Welkom with his parents to work in the gold mines at the age of 14. JT has a younger brother, Atang, born in 1996.
It is common here for families to live apart from one another, especially spouses as one or the other seeks work, education, or a better life. Unfortunately, that also contributes to broken families, unfaithfulness in marriage, abandoned children, and a host of other violations of God’s plan for the family. This was true in JT’s case. He and his brother lived with his mother in Lesotho, while his father sought work in the mines, first in Welkom, then later in northern South Africa.
JT’s mother was employed as a teacher. By his accounts she was a very intelligent and loving woman – and looking at the character of her children that must have been the case. She suffered from chronic and severe asthma. Often she would tell JT that when she was gone he must pursue his education, as it would be the only way for him to escape a life of poverty, and the crime and disease that so often accompany it.
In 2003 the family reunited at Christmastime here in Welkom, staying with JT’s paternal grandparents. During that visit JT’s father and mother had a violent argument and she was beaten badly. His father returned to his work in the mines and JT, his brother and his mother returned to Lesotho. After their return his mother’s health began to deteriorate. She must have known, because she made arrangements for the boys to return to Welkom and live with their grandmother. She told JT “One day I’ll die and your father won’t have anything to do with you. You and your brother will live with your grandparents.”
Then, one day in February 2004 JT returned home from school to find his mother had died from a severe asthma attack, likely worsened by the poor health from the domestic dispute. He said “I wanted to die. I was making plans to kill myself when I thought ‘If I die, who will care for my young brother.’ He was the only thing that kept me from killing myself that day. I knew that I couldn’t leave him an orphan.” JT was 13 years old at the time.
For several months JT tried to be the man of the house. He dropped out of school, both out of depression and to care for Atang. He didn’t want to leave Lesotho, since that is where his family is from, which is a big deal within the culture. Finally, after missing nearly a year of school, he was convinced to visit his grandparents and leave Atang with them. During that visit he came to realize that he must finish his education if he was truly to care for Atang, so he decided to remain in Welkom.
The boys had many extended family members now living in Welkom. In his father’s family there were 5 girls, with his father the only Jakuja boy. All the sisters are very close to one another, and JT enjoyed the support and company of several cousins. It was a good thing to have so much family nearby. Due to the poverty of his grandmother, he and Atang would frequently be forced to stay with another family member.
Not all his family took the new responsibility well. One family member became bitter toward JT, feeling that he and his brother were somehow “mooching” off the rest of the family and not carrying their own weight. She began to make things quite difficult for JT.
One member of the extended family is Stara (Sweet Banana). We’ve shared parts of his story at other times on our website. He is a cousin to JT’s father and was orphaned as a young child. He also lived with members of JT’s extended family but due to the added burden he placed on the family economics he often had to do without. Many times if there wasn’t enough money to go around, the biological children received first and Stara was left holding the short straw. His school uniform was almost rags, he didn’t have shoes to wear to school, and other kids at the school would torment him because of it. According to the boys, Stara is very intelligent but dropped out of school because of the bullying. He then turned to a life of crime, joining one of the street gangs.
After many years of gang life, and many close encounters with death, Stara quit the gang and is trying to go straight. He sells fruit on the street during the week, but still spends the weekends drunk in the taverns. One day he told JT and his cousin DJ that he turned to crime partly to punish those who had made his life so miserable, and partly because he wanted to be able to afford shoes, clothes, and food. He saw that he was always the one left out when the money ran low and decided he would take matters into his own hands. He said to JT “You are doing the right thing. Keep working and take care of Atang. Don’t follow the path that I took.”
JT passed high school in December 2009. He finished ranked in the top 10 students in the entire province. His goal, the one thing that motivated him through the years of study, the years of poverty, the difficulties he faced was caring for his brother. Because of the individual at home that was causing problems JT began to live at the school. He had been elected student body president and had his own little office – basically a broom closet. He began to spend nights there, studying at any and all hours, sleeping when he was tired for a few hours, then waking up to resume his studies. He would return home every few days to bathe and wash his school uniform. His dedication began to catch on and many of the other boys began to spend nights with him at the school, forming study groups, sharing what food anyone brought, and sleeping on desks pushed together when they grew tired.
Throughout the last 2 years of high school all the boys began to apply for scholarships. JT’s mother was right - Education is the only way to escape the life of poverty, crime and disease for these guys. And the only way for them to obtain an education is with a scholarship.
During this time is when we came to know JT and the rest of the guys. Initially, we maintained contact with them because they hoped to continue their education through a foreign exchange program in the US. Of course, God used that desire to open spiritual doors and in February 2009 we began a Bible Study with 5 young men. It quickly grew as new members joined. JT came to know Christ as his Savior early on, and many of the other boys quickly followed. As they continued their studies at school they also began to grow in grace and in the knowledge of their Savior.
JT’s scholarship applications began to drag out, and we weren’t sure if he would receive one. His ambition was Chemical Engineering. For awhile he considered dropping that to pursue medicine, because he would be able to finish his medical degree sooner, get a job, and be able to put his brother through college.
Finally, through the assistance of another Christian woman in town, and while we were away in the US, JT was able to get a scholarship to study Chemical Engineering. He has a full bursary which pays for housing, food, and tuition. Unfortunately, the school he received the scholarship for is in Afrikaans, a language that he doesn’t know. So he will attend lectures, then bust his hump in the English textbook so that he can learn. His high school habits now serve him well. It was the boy’s policy to stay a couple chapters ahead, so that they would know more than the teacher. That plan is paying off now that the textbook is his main source of information.
We’ve learned that JT is unique in this culture. He is very careful with his bursary money, budgeting it so that he has some left over to buy books for the next term. Often the bursaries are a month or two late in paying, so he would be without his books for a good portion of the term. He shows great foresight to prepare financially when he does receive the funds. He also uses his money sparingly so that he is able to provide for his younger brother. Their father has completely dropped out of their lives – a typical case here in South Africa. When a mother passes away the children are deemed to be orphans because usually the father cannot be found, has already died, or is completely irresponsible.
At the end of the 2nd term this year JT took some money he had saved to buy school shoes for Atang. Once again the individual with animosity toward JT and his brother began to cause problems, saying that JT should have used that money to repay for all the years he had been cared for by various family members. Of course, this person hadn’t been involved in any of that care herself. She accused JT of purchasing shoes that were “too nice” because he wanted to buy shoes that would last at least a year.
Many times JT has told us that he is what he is today because he knew he needed to care for his brother. Now that he is away studying, his cousin DJ has helped looking after Atang. DJ is a couple years older than JT but was never able to get a scholarship. He would help tutor JT and prepare him for upcoming lessons. He also does that with Atang. DJ has been out of high school for 3 years and continues to apply for scholarships. He has been accepted to study at the University of South Africa next year if he can find the funds.
JT has started attending a church in the town where he studies. Together with a friend they now teach 7-8 year olds in Sunday School. Every week he gives them homework, saying “They need to learn to work hard, and they need to know God’s Word.” It’s pretty awesome to see young Christians maturing into godly young people with a heart for others. n addition, both DJ and JT were concerned that Atang come to know Christ as well. DJ has started a Bible Study with Atang and his own young sister Kate, using a children’s comic book style Bible called “Good and Evil.”
I don’t know how the lives of these young men will touch you. Maybe you are a young American, wasting away your prime years in pursuit of selfish pleasure. Maybe you look back at how people have reached out to you and want to reach out yourself. Maybe this helps open your eyes to life on the other side of the world. Whatever God is doing in your heart, I pray that the testimony of JT and the others who, in the face of great challenges, remain committed to Christ and a life of faithfulness would challenge you.