This article was originally published in the July 2022 edition of ITMI Monthly.
Iminathi* was not yet 9 when it happened.
Iminathi* was not yet 9 when it happened.
She was violated physically by one of the men herding cows in her rural community of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
The following Sunday, when the community missionaries, the Smith family, came to give her a ride to Entabeni Church, as they often did, she could barely bring herself to get in the vehicle. She kept her eyes on the grass and dirt beneath her feet as much as possible.
Eventually, Iminathi and her mother, Zandile*, stopped attending church.
Zandile loved to laugh and make jokes, sharing her beautiful smile with everyone around her. She seemed to have true faith.
But after her daughter’s traumatic encounter, she couldn’t understand why something so horrible could happen to her daughter, and the temptation to see the witch doctor was too much.
Mother and daughter avoided the Smith family and everyone from the church, assuming they would only be judgmental.
“Sadly, rape is such a “normal” sin in my community. It happens a lot. Young girls are not safe at all,” writes ITMI’s Fifi Smith, a Zulu young woman in her twenties.
Fifi grew up in the Zulu community of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, a cluster of three villages. In her teens, ITMI’s Kelly and Cherise Smith adopted Fifi and her sisters.
Now, Fifi serves the Lord as an ITMI partner, called to reach her people in KwaZulu Natal with the Gospel message.
One of the ways she ministers to the community is by lovingly hauling and delivering water from the distant community water taps, particularly for the elderly and widowed.
Fifi visits a Zulu widow in her community.
It is a daily struggle for the elderly, single women of the community to haul the heavy buckets up the punishingly steep hills. Using contaminated water may be closer but it is costly in other ways.
“Since I was born, I have had issues with my skin and digesting food,” Fifi explains, “Before my parents adopted me and my sisters, they found us in such an unhealthy environment. From using dirty water to bathe and drink to eating food that is not healthy. We ate mostly starch food since it was very cheap food in South Africa. Going to bed on an empty stomach was normal to us. But because of God’s grace, I’m where I am because of Him. I am improving with my skin, and I can eat without feeling so sick. Even though I am gluten-free and have certain foods that I can’t eat, I am healthy. I can only thank the Lord Jesus Christ. Serving Him on the field is one of my biggest blessings.”
The government promised to deliver water, but it had been two months since a water delivery truck made it out to the rural village outside Durban, South Africa.
A family friend of the Smiths from Durban has been blessing people with 5L bottles of water. He brings them to the Smith’s Farm, and then Fifi delivers them.
It was a humid summer day. Fifi was delivering the water bottles when she ran into Zandile. She looked quite different than she had when she was faithfully attending Entabeni Church.
Now the chicken feathers and raw meat she wore on her head proclaimed her new faith in the power of her dead ancestors to protect her from harm.
Immediately, Fifi pulled the truck she was driving to the side of the hilly dirt road. She hopped out and hugged Zandile, enthusiastically asking how she was doing.
“I wanted to show Christ as much as I can,” Fifi later shared, “I wanted her to know that there is forgiveness in Christ, and we can be cleansed. She can be restored. ...But reading from the book of Mark, seeing Jesus healing and having so much compassion for people, that’s what I want to show to my Zulu people, that Jesus is the only solution. Please be praying for me, that I speak the truth in love and show compassion.”
Many young girls in this area find themselves pregnant at young ages - whether through their own doing or forcibly - causing them to drop out of school.
Income is difficult for most families in the remote villages of KwaZulu Natal. If they can find work in town, for most, the meager paychecks barely cover the cost of daily transportation to town and back.
Once a week, Cherise offers young girls in the community the opportunity to earn a little bit of money by hand-crafting jewelry made of beads from a local plant.
ITMI also helped Fifi purchase some sewing machines so she could teach young ladies to sew.
They are still in danger, but earning income - even the small amount they can make by selling the jewelry and sewn goods - builds up their security and their ability to see themselves as God sees them - valuable and capable of contributing to His world.
But that’s not all that happens during the weekly crafting sessions!
Cherise or the local pastor’s wife leads the group in a Bible study each week. This has been an effective way to lead young women in KwaZulu Natal toward putting their faith in Jesus Christ as their only Lord and Savior.
At the beginning of 2022, Fifi’s phone rang late one night. It was her friend, a young lady named Thandeka*. Someone had set fire to the home where Thandeka lived with her mother and baby daughter.
When she got the call, Fifi wasn’t in KwaZulu Natal, where Thandeka’s family resides. Fifi immediately called her mother, Cherise, who was. The family escaped safely, but all of their possessions were burned.
After the fire, Entabeni Church, Fifi’s church where Thandeka has been faithful to attend since 2015, rallied around the family, helping them with food and clothes.
Thandeka finished her senior year of high school in 2013. She was forced to take care of her mom since her father died when she was young. Her older brother took his own life a few years ago. Thandeka also had a niece who recently took her life.
Thandeka has faced a lot of trauma for her young age. But Fifi says her faith in Jesus has not wavered.
“Because of her faith in Jesus Christ, she has been doing well, even in all she has been through, she hasn’t left her faith in God. She has been such an encouragement to everyone,” Fifi says.
Before the fire, Thandeka started a creche, or daycare center, in one of the villages in KwaZulu Natal.
Most of these parents who bring their children to Thandeka to look after during the day are still teenagers and can’t or don’t send their children with lunch. But she is required to provide one, so she has appealed to the government for help.
When they can, the government provides Thandeka the equivalent of approximately $150 USD monthly so she can provide lunch for the children in her care. But this has not been reliable.
When the government money doesn’t come in, she has to close the center. When she is open, she allows Fifi to visit and teach the Bible to the little ones she watches.
Thandeka with some of the children in her care.
When Thandeka started the creche, she had to take some classes to be able to open it. She finished the first required certificate, but not the second certificate.
Now, that certificate is coming due. Thandeka has to take weekend classes for about nine months, but she can continue working while she earns the certificate. If Thandeka doesn’t complete the classes, Fifi will lose this opportunity to impact young minds and hearts with Biblical teaching.
Fifi is praying for and has let us know of this need for $1880 to help Thandeka complete her second certificate and maintain her position of influence in the community.
Fifi and Thandeka enjoy caring for the children.
This will not only help Fifi preserve her opportunity to mold and shape young minds with Biblical teaching, but it will keep a believer employed, providing income with which she can continue to be an agent for the Kingdom of God in her own family and the community.
This help will also demonstrate to this hurting family - a family that made a decision to trust the Lord in situations where many Zulus would struggle with the temptation to return to the witch doctor - that the Lord is worthy of their trust and allegiance.
More than that, it will also be a testimony to His faithfulness to the entire community.
About the Authors
Steve Evers has advocated for and served the ITMI partners as ITMI Director since 2001. Approximately once a year, Steve visits with ITMI partners in their countries and brings stories back to encourage supporters. Steve enjoys photography and mechanics, (both hobbies that have greatly benefited ITMI partners!) Prior to becoming ITMI's Director, Steve served on the Board of Directors for 4 years. Steve lives in Arizona with his wife, Darlene.
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