The following story may not be for young ears. It deals with some of the realities of life here in South Africa. It isn’t a pleasant story to tell, and I’m ashamed to say that it caused some emotions in my mind that aren’t Christ-like. There will be no photos in this update to protect the privacy of the young person involved.
Life in South Africa is full of contradiction. It is a country full of beauty, in which tourism is one of the primary industries. Yet many of the people live in constant fear of violence, malnutrition, and disease.
When visiting, it is easy to feel sympathy when confronted by the vast amounts of physical poverty. But we frequently remind people that it isn’t the physical that should cause a broken heart. Life in a tin shack isn’t as terrible as one would initially think. In fact, it wasn’t all that long ago in the US that large portions of our population lived in similar poverty. My grandmother lived through the Great Depression and told us many stories about it. Several of my aunts and uncles remember getting electricity in their house for the first time. We’ve become so used to these relatively modern conveniences that it seems so terrible to us when someone else doesn’t have the same. But the real issue in South Africa is it’s great spiritual poverty.
These fears of violence, malnutrition, and disease are all real. They exist not because of poor education, lack of resources, or few opportunites. They exist as a result of sin. Selfishness, greed, anger, lust, laziness, and a host of other vices are rampant. It is these very things that cause the miserable conditions faced by the majority of South Africans. The following story vividly illustrates the challenges faced by the young people of South Africa.
In our ministry over the past several years we’ve come to know many young people. Some of these children because they have come to live with us, and others through our various outreach projects into the community. This story is about a young girl named Mamele who has been living in Extension 15, an informal settlement near Thabong.
Mamele has been living in a shack with her mother’s last boyfriend and his new wife. Since she is orphaned they have been serving as her guardians. From everything we can tell they truly care for her and provide as well as possible. But life in the townships being what it is there are always a host of complications.
Mamele is 16 years old with a clear Christian testimony and a bold witness to those around her. Something that sets her apart from almost 100% of her peers is the fact that she claims to be a virgin. We have no reason to believe otherwise. At least, she was a virgin until sometime at the end of January.
Without going into any details, we recently learned that she had been raped around that time. A young man had cornered her and threatened her with a knife, to which she replied “Go ahead. I know where I’m going if you kill me.” As she was trying to talk her way out of the situation a couple of this boy’s friends arrived at his shack. She asked them for help and their response was “You’re going to give him what he wants and we’re going to help.” They then stood guard outside while he proceeded to violate her purity.
Because of his threats against her and her family she didn’t tell anyone. As you probably know, this is very common with victims of sexual crimes, no matter where they live. She did call me around that time and tell me a boy had threatened her with a knife, but left out the part where he had actually abused her. Since those types of threats are part of daily life there didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. We told her to tell her “father” which she said she did.
Two weeks ago she came to us, telling us that she had been feeling sick for a couple weeks now. The day before she had gone to one of the clinics for an exam. During that exam she learned she was pregnant. The doctor could tell this was her first time and that it had been violent.
For about an hour we listened to her tell what had happened. Normally she is a very vibrant and outgoing person. When she started with the story she seemed to be as strong and mature as ever, but as it continued you could visibly see her shrink back into the child she is. We gently questioned her to make sure the details fit and remained consistent. Lois, Amber & I spent some time counseling her. The most heartbreaking moment came when Lois took some time alone with her. She looked at Lois and said “I just want my mom.”
This is the shameful part for me. As we heard this story an overwhelming feeling of intense anger came over me – anger at this young man, anger that a girl who is living right would have to face something like this, anger that this unborn child has to be born into this situation. All I wanted was to find this kid who committed the crime and make him feel the pain that he had caused. I truly wanted to hurt him badly.
As we continuted counseling Mamele I brought up the issue of abortion. She said “No, I would never do that. This baby didn’t do anything wrong to deserve to be killed.” I also asked if the young man should be punished. She said he should, but that she wants him to come to know Jesus. She felt sure that if he came to God for forgiveness he would be forgiven and would know that what he did was wrong. Here I am the missionary, on the outside looking in, filled with anger this kid, and what she wants is for him to come to Christ.
We took her to a godly nurse we know here in the community. This nurse knows her well and spent about 30 minutes speaking to her, comforting and counseling Mamele. We asked this nurse how common a situation like this is. Her estimate is that over 90% of girls have been raped or sexually abused in some way by the time they reach age 20. Statistics like these are notoriously inaccurate, due mainly to a lack of reporting. According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, South Africa rankes 2nd in the world in rapes, 2nd in assaults, and 1st in murders. So when we say that this is a reality of life in the townships it is no exaggeration.
Now Mamele is faced with many decisions. As soon as the school learns she is pregnant she will be expelled, regardless of the reasons. We are still working with her as to the best way to handle everything. Adoption is a very strong option, but the US and South Africa don’t have a great relationship in this field, so there is still some research we need to do. Obviously there is still much counseling that we need to do with her in relation to the baby and in relation to her own needs.
We greatly request your prayers for this young woman, and for us as we continue to work with her. Pray also for the perpetrator of this crime. We ask that you continue to lift up the people of South Africa, that the gospel of Jesus would grow and lives would change for Him.