Yesterday we had talked to Tony about going with us to interview some children, but apparently there was a conflict and a change of plan. In his place, we were delighted to find out that his mother Rhoda was going to be our interpreter. She escorted us to two schools to speak with the students. Rhoda and Tony referred to the area where they live as “the ghetto” but they seemed to use the term in almost an endearing way. I don’t believe it carries the same negative connotation that we have in America. Each of the schools had some orphans in attendance, as well as children with families. Based on what they were learning, I would say the curriculum is poor. In America, parents would never allow their children to attend any thing like this.
Amazingly, the children were well-behaved and compliant when a request was made of them. They were a bit shy, but when we started blowing bubbles, that atmosphere changed. Abundant laughter and excitement filled them as bubbles floated through the air. We asked the children what they usually played with and the teacher pointed to the next room saying, “Those old car tires.” We looked into that room and saw four tires lying on the floor. She said, “We move them around and play different games with them. Sometimes they act like it’s a make-believe car and pretend to be driving it.” Then she made a wavy hand motion moving towards the floor and said, “We would like one of these.” I was pretty sure that she was talking about a slide with a wavy contour.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have a slide to give them, but they were overjoyed when we gave them a soccer ball. The children surrounded the ball, all trying to place their hands on it at once, and then sang a song. It was heartwarming to witness their gratitude for a gift that seemed so simple to us. The conditions of what they consider a classroom are: no electricity, no air-conditioning, very little ventilation, no chairs, no desks, no tables, and a temperature near 100° inside the classroom. There were cement benches in one of schools, yet the children were gathered in front of the classroom, usually sitting on the floor. Josh and I concluded that this school would probably be considered middle-class, based on other examples we’ve seen.
The condition of the road that we traveled to get to the schools was akin to what we had experienced many times. Calling it “crappy” would be a compliment. However, Rhoda was the first one to be honest with us about the difference between a good road and bad road. Josh and I looked at each other a bit surprised. Finally, someone stated the roads as they were! Rhoda is a delightful person, and did quite well communicating with us. She told us about Tony and some of the admirable characteristics he possessed saying, “Tony loves Jesus too much.” At first, I didn’t quite understand, but a bit later, when she repeated the same statement, I came to the conclusion that “too” is used to mean “very.”
After we left the schools, Rhoda wanted to show us her house. She was industrious and possessed many of the characteristics of a virtuous woman. As she showed us all of the things that she was involved with, I thought of Proverbs 31. For example, in front of her property is a church that she had built for the community. Behind that is an entrepreneurial workshop where, in one corner, fish was being dried out for resale and the other side of the room contained small piles of sand, gravel, and other materials. She also owns a taxicab that’s driven by someone else and she’s a landlord with a couple of rental units. She is very thankful for what God had blessed her with and how she’s been able to help her community.
She shared intimate details with us concerning Tony and, as Josh and I sat there listening, we realized how mightily God’s hand had guided their path through supernatural events. From the time of conception until present day, she views him as her hero. Tony nearly died as a small boy, and there is apparently quite a bit more to the story, which she’d like to share with us next time we visit. However, the story we did hear about Tony and his mother is like a Biblical one, because Rhoda freely admits that she made mistakes, but that when she cried out to God to save her son and help deliver her, it has led to something special.
When she was a young girl, desperately wanting to complete school, she agreed to have sex with a married man so that she could continue with her education. She knew it was wrong from the beginning, yet she got pregnant. Knowing that it was going to be quite burdensome, she vowed to the Lord that she would be the most Godly influence she could. She simply pleaded with God to help her, as she knew that Tony had extraordinary gifts at a very young age. His heart ached for those around him that were suffering, to the point that he didn’t know if he could take the anguish anymore. His mother prayed and prayed and prayed that something special could come through this child, and God has granted her wishes, although it has not been an easy road.
Rhoda remarried and, after a time, Tony had some additional family members. They were able to have some stability from the new father, until he died from AIDS. This disease is a rampant epidemic in this country, and has led to over 1 million orphans. The treatment and different medications available in Malawi are far less effective than what is available in the United States. The estimated lifespan varies quite a bit after detection, usually two to five years; however, Rhoda herself was diagnosed with AIDS nearly 14 years ago. She cried out to the Lord, “I will live my life completely for you and I will raise my children to do the same.”
I know I have been guilty of making promises to God in difficult situations, but many times I did not follow through. Making an oath is something Jesus tells us not to do, so I now take it far more seriously than I did in the past. But Rhoda kept her oath. She diligently worked from sunrise to sunset. She got involved with any types of business opportunities she could, and ended up building a church for the local community. Constructing low-rate rental homes, supporting the schools and orphans in the community, and fostering orphans in the past and present are just a few of the ways she furthers God’s kingdom. You can say that it is a God-incidence that she is still alive with AIDS after all these years. She has a robust appearance and a luminous countenance. We filmed an extended video of her talking. As you listen to her speak, you will marvel at the wisdom she has. We would like Rhoda and Tony to consider becoming part of the EchoAfrica outreach, but we will proceed together on a trial basis because we need sufficient time for all parties to develop trust for one another.
Josh and I believe that Duncan was put in this situation to help us learn to trust the discernment the Holy Spirit gives us. He revealed to us two extremes: focus on personal gain versus gain for others. There was a stark contrast between the way these two individuals conducted themselves in nearly every aspect of their lives. Since he was a child, Tony was asked by his pastor to be a mediator and assistant in the church. There were many older people that talked negatively about Tony because of their jealousy. The pastor said that Tony was the only one in the church that consistently tithed on a regular basis, and Tony’s integrity and trustworthiness was put to the test. He passed with flying colors.
Rhoda refers to God as her father and husband, and Tony as her hero. She is a remarkable woman and the testimony of her life is just as noteworthy. God took her repentant heart and diligent prayer and gave spiritual growth for her and her son that is rarely seen in today’s society. We had absolutely nothing to do with meeting Tony, since God had orchestrated the chess pieces. I highly doubt that Duncan had ever been questioned to the extent I prodded him. God wanted his deceitfulness to be revealed so he could repent if he felt led to. He seemed to be in complete agony the last time we met. Josh and I treated him in a kind and respectful way and we prayed for him yesterday. Now whatever happens is between him and God.
I am a bit disappointed with myself. God clearly showed me several signs that I should have been questioning sooner; however, I am very thankful that we didn’t get involved with that situation. Instead, God placed a righteous alternative at the very hotel where we were staying. Meeting with Tony’s mother and hearing the whole story was complete confirmation of God’s goodness, but we still need a length of time to gain full trust with one another. Each conversation we have with Tony is meaningful, and we are excited that Felix will now be under his mentorship.