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Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Life & Times of Louis & Amber - A New Chapter for Okuhle

Okuhle is a young girl we've come to know during our ministry here in South Africa.  In the past we've shared her history and stories about her.  You can read those here:
Okuhle's history
Okuhle's growth

Last week we went to Dunamis Christian School, the school we have partnered with in the past and with whom we plan to work as we receive children at Restoring Hope Village.  We went there to see the end-of-term awards ceremony.  While there we realized Okuhle wasn't and we asked about her.  We learned that in October she went to live with her step-father and his wife in Hani Park.  This man is the father of her youngest sister and Okuhle has known him for a large portion of her life.  He was not present with the family when her mother died, but has since returned to the area.  At the time he wasn't in a position to care for her for various reasons.  Okuhle has always had a strong bond with him and in the past we've taken her to visit him.  Most of the time it was because she wanted to go and share the gospel with him.

In the past year he was married.  Currently he is employed in one of the few mines still in operation here.  The reason they live in Hani Park is because he is originally from Swaziland, therefore not able to get SA citizenship and unable to get a proper house in Thabong.  You'll remember Hani Park is a squatter camp made up almost entirely of tin shacks.  However, in the past year there has been much development and most of the dwellings now have access to electric services.  Some brick houses have even begun to be constructed and a couple streets have been paved.  In fact, Okuhle's father has laid out a foundation for a house on their little tract of land.  Of course, that could be years or possibly never for something to come of that.

After learning of her new living situation we wanted to follow up with her and make sure everything was fine.  We were able to track her down and sit down with her for a long talk.  During that talk it was evident that she really enjoyed living with her "parents".  She has a good relationship with both - she herself told us that sometimes she is afraid she is too good of friends with her stepmother so that she wouldn't be as strict as Okuhle knows she should be.  We found out that her parents have given house rules that she has to follow and chores to do.  It appears they are taking a real interest in her life.

Ironically, since October she has been attending school at Nanabolela, about a mile away from her house.  This is the same school in DJ and Brilliant's neighborhood where we have started meeting for church!  That could really help us open some doors for ministry into that school.  We asked if she would like to attend church with us and help Amber teach Sunday School.  She really wanted to but knew that she would have to ask permission from her father (another great sign that they care for her).  He granted his permission and last week she was a tremendous asset at our very first service.  She knew the songs and help us carry the tune and she actually taught the children their Bible lesson.

We let her know that if she ever needed anything to give us a call.  Last Saturday I got a text to call her (cell phones are prepaid and most people never have credit on them - they can send a free message asking for a callback).  I called and she said she didn't feel safe.  Both her parents were at a funeral and 4 girls from the neighborhood were giving her a hard time.  Normally we wouldn't just come running for something that seemed so minor to us, but given the circumstances and the realities of township life, we thought it best to check on things.

We learned that a neighbor boy is "dating" one of those girls but now apparently has eyes for Okuhle.  This of course made the original girlfriend jealous so she and her friends started tormenting Okuhle - really, nothing too big.  It was a blessing though, because it gave us a chance to reinforce some of the teachings we had tried to instill in her before.  First, stay away from boys because they are only looking for one thing.  This was actually the second boy who had shown interest in her.  The first received a visit from Okuhle's father which squashed things (another positive sign that her new parents are truly caring for her).  The second thing we were able to talk about is biblical conflict resolution.  Both Amber & I were thrilled with her response.  She already knew some of the verses we talked about, and it is clear she is still studying her Bible.  The next week while I was working at The Village I received another call from her that those girls were back, but she said she was praying blessings on them and they left her alone after a bit.  She was very excited to tell us that it had worked!

Okuhle has long craved a family relationship.  To see now that she has what looks like one is such a blessing.  Many of you know that she has a younger brother and sister.  The brother has been with relatives in another province since her mother died - a long story.  The young sister was very sick and still requires significant medical care with a strict regimen of ARV's (HIV medication).  So for now it appears Okuhle will be the only one to live with her new "parents", but she still cares for her siblings and checks up on her young sister.

It is exciting for us to see that Okuhle still has a passion for Jesus, still reads her Bible and takes notes in church, and is witnessing to the friend that she has made since her return to Hani Park.  Please continue to pray for safety, protection, and spiritual growth for this young woman.

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