Letting the Tears Fall
So, we prepared for mission Capture Tenele. I had a basketball game later that morning, so we had to get her before the game. I called Tenele and told her we were coming to get her. She said, “okay” and I asked her to meet us at the kitchen and she said, “okay” but of course didn’t do it. So, the five of us ladies split up at Mangwaneni to find her. Alex and I asked a few of the kids where Tenele stayed (I didn’t remember how to get there…it’s like a maze going through all the huts that look the same).
A few of the kids knew the general area and one girl brought us to Tiny. (Tiny was the one who first showed Titi and I to Tenele when I first got to Swazi.) After exchanging greetings and hugs with her, she took us to Tenele. Surprised but seemingly happy to see that I made it through the maze to her house, Tenele greeted me. Her and Nomphilo were washing dishes and clothes. She was standing outside her house, and I took a step towards it and asked if I could see inside.
“No!” she said quickly putting her hands against my arms. And she laughed and pretended like there was nothing to hide. But I respected her request and didn’t go inside. The hut was small and square, but the door was partway open so I could see one end, which was very tidy and had their shoes all lined up and the dishes washed and stacked. As I told them, “asembeni!” (let’s go) they went inside to change and I heard a man’s voice as they talked quietly. They finally came out and we successfully completed Capture Tenele. (It wasn’t as hard as I had anticipated.)
Eilidh took the girls to the nurse to get Tenele’s bandage changed. Again, not a single tear. While they were with the nurse, I went to my basketball warm-ups. We were supposed to play the National South African team, so we needed to get some good practice in. Eilidh brought the girls over later to watch. But by this time, I was sweating profusely because of the intense heat and the South African team still hadn’t shown up yet. So I went to sit with the girls in the shade. Tenele tried to tell me she was going to leave, and I asked her to stay until after my game so that I could talk to her. She didn’t seem like she was going to comply.
Zanele, one of my Swazi friends who had told me she was willing to counsel Tenele if she wanted, came over to talk to us and asked Tenele what happened to her foot. They spoke in SiSwati, but I could figure out what they were generally saying by the look on Zanele’s face and her repetitive, “Unemanga,” telling Tenele she was lying. I asked Zanele about it a few minutes later when we were alone and Zanele said she didn’t believe Tenele’s story about “stepping on a knife.” When I told Zanele the whole story Zanele was disgusted that I am still trying to help her.
“Why are you wasting your time and money on her when there are other girls who are willing to change and take your help?”
I was a bit taken back by this disgust she had for Tenele, but I guess that’s what most people see Tenele as anyway…a waste of time. But not me. She’s not a waste of time and it kind of offended me that Zanele said that about her…after all, she is like my daughter. In fact, the other volunteers said, “she’s your child, of course you have to help her.” They understand, and it’s so wonderful to have support. But what Zanele had to say afterwards was much more helpful.
I told Zanele about Tenele’s background and that her step mom had forced her to have sex with other men for money, and Zanele’s venomous attitude towards Tenele suddenly changed. I told her about the boyfriend she is staying with and how he beats her and she said that most women (especially Swazis because women depend so fully on men here)in abusive relationships never leave. They are more scared of leaving rather than being beat. She also told me that someone needs to sit down with Tenele and tell her the truth about things and not take her lies, etc. After talking with Zanele, I knew I had to sit down with Tenele and have a one-on-one conversation, telling her the truth and that I know the truth and not to lie, etc.
So, while the South African team was still absent, I asked Tenele to come with me so we could talk. When she asked Nomphilo to come with, I gently said, “No, just you…” and Eilidh stayed with Nomphilo while a took an uneasy Tenele to some shaded steps to sit and talk.
I prayed earlier that morning in my journal about what to do and say because I had no longer have any idea how to help my child. In my journal, I prayed:
“I don’t want to spend my efforts in vain. Lead the way. Blow your trumpet of victory over Tenele’s life right now. Whisper to my head and my heart what I should do, what I should say. I am at a loss for words and direction.”
As we talked on those steps, God truly answered this prayer in a way I never expected.
At first I tried reasoning with Tenele about the stab wound, but she wouldn’t tell me the truth, then I tried addressing the fact that she lives with a boyfriend, but again she refused and refused no matter what I said. I told her that I KNOW the TRUTH because people from Mangwaneni told me and that no matter how much she lies, I know the truth. She said, “I keep trying to tell you but you just keep saying, ’unemanga’ (you’re lying).”
“Tenele, it’s because you ARE lying.”
She just didn’t get it.
I turned away in bitter frustration at her stubbornness. We sat quietly for a few moments looking away from each other. I sighed with helpless defeat and rubbed my forehead as tears started welling up in my eyes.
“Don’t cry,” came her quiet voice as she looked at me out of the corner of her eye. “Don’t cry.”
And from this point on, I have no idea what all came out of my mouth, but it definitely came from the whispers of the Lord. At one point she finally admitted she had a boyfriend and stayed with him, but beyond that, she wouldn’t tell me anything. But the words that came out went something like this:
“Tenele, you know how much I love you…”
“Yes, Mary-Kate, I know.”
“Tenele, I love you no matter what. I know you don’t want to tell me the truth, but I already know it, Tenele. I already know what you’ve been through, and I can’t imagine it. Are you scared to tell me the truth? Ashamed? Don’t be scared or ashamed to tell me. Tenele, it doesn’t change what I think of you or how I treat you. I love you…even when you’re drunk…” I paused to see if she would oppose this statement, as she usually would, but she didn’t. She hung her head and soaked in every word that came from my mouth.
“I love you even if you smoke. I love you even if you sleep with your boyfriend. Okay? I love you and that won’t change.” She nodded and her eyes started getting glossy, still she wouldn’t look up.
I continued, “Tenele, I know what you’ve been through and I hate it. I hate what your step-mom did to you, I hate that your boyfriend beats you…I hate that you have been through so much suffering. I know what you’ve been through, yet I don’t know how it feels. You hide your pain so well, Tenele. I cannot imagine how much pain you are covering up. I don’t understand what you go through. But Tenele, you don’t deserve it. You don’t deserve to get beat, you don’t deserve…” and as I talked on, she started really crying.
She covered her face with her hands, but the tears streamed through the creases between her fingers. I told her about a love that she deserves and I told her about a love that she is worthy of and I told her that I wished she believed it. I told her how I want to help her, but I can’t unless she lets me see the truth. And on I talked, I wish I remembered what all I said, but it doesn’t matter. I asked her if I should pray with her. She nodded.
So, with my hand on her bald head as she leaned into my embrace I prayed…and prayed…and the more I prayed for her the harder she cried. And we sat there for a few minutes when I had finished praying and she kept crying. The South African team had arrived during all of this but we were relocating courts, so I was supposed to have left earlier, but I didn’t. The coach came back for me, so I asked Tenele if she would come with to watch my game and spend the day with me; I told her it would mean a lot to me. She sat there still crying but said she would come.
As we left to go to the courts, she was very closed off. She was so sad, and I didn’t know what to do or say. She wouldn’t really respond to me. She wouldn’t respond to Eilidh or Nomphilo either. But no one else knew what we had talked about or why Tenele was crying. But apparently, even during my game Eilidh said that Tenele refused to come close to other people who were watching the game because she was still crying. She let Eilidh comfort her and Eilidh told her how much we all loved her, but she kept crying, avoiding looking at anyone.
After the game, I sat with her as she was in this same state (she had stopped crying) and was very closed off. It was like she had let me see a deep and painful, vulnerable part of her and then she realized that she let me in and then retreated, closing off worse than before. Eilidh left and we stayed to watch the guys’ game. I couldn’t get anything out of Tenele the whole time. It started scaring me a little bit, because I though, Oh no, she’s worse than before. I tried making her laugh, smile, talk to me…I asked her if she would talk to me but she shook her head no. She refused my offers to get her lunch. Finally, as I sat next to her, I bowed my head to pray, telling the Lord I had no idea what to do. I didn’t even really know what to pray for…so I prayed ten Hail Marys and an Our Father. When I looked up, it was like I could feel a change already. It was weird…but awesome feeling.
Sure enough, as we got up to go home, slowly Tenele’s attitude changed. I said to her, “You know Tenele, last night a few volunteers and I were going to bring some mattresses and come sleep at Mangwaneni just to make sure you were okay,” (which we actually had thought about doing for like one second before stating the obvious…WAAAAY TOO dangerous for any female to be going there especially at night.) But at this statement a huge smile spread across Tenele’s face. And I made some more small talk with her. When we got to the house, she accepted my offer to get her food, water, and some 7up. As I came out of the kitchen to bring them food and drink, Tenele had already picked up a book and was busy trying to read while Nomphilo strummed a few strings on the guitar. Tenele-Bell was back.
I gave Tenele an early Christmas present; it was a book called “Runaway Bunny.” It was one of my favorite books as a child and Tenele picked it up to read one day awhile back and as she read it outloud to me, I realized how incredibly perfect this book is for her! I wrote in the book about why I wanted to give it to her and the message of the book is a reflection of my love for her, but more importantly that it’s God’s love for her. That no matter how many times she tries to run away, God will NEVER stop loving her and chasing after her. She cherished it. I played some guitar and sang some worship songs as they read some books.
Then Tenele taught me a card game and Michel, another new volunteer, joined Nomphilo, Tenele, and I in an intense card game full of laughter and joy. Soon, the girls said they needed to go. I told Tenele that they both could stay here for the night if they wished.
“Tomorrow, Mary-Kate,” Tenele smiled.
“Tenele, you said that yesterday,” I rolled my eyes, knowing it was her way of saying a polite no.
“But I will tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I just smiled.
On the way home, Tenele hummed the song, “Open the Eyes of my Heart, Lord,” as I had played it on guitar earlier. I asked her to think about our conversation earlier and how if she wanted to leave Mangwaneni, I would do whatever I could to get her out safely. The problem is she doesn’t know how to leave. That’s her life, and she’s scared to leave it. I didn’t understand why she would deny an opportunity to stay at my house for a night to help her with her foot and give her food, etc., but when I think about it, I realize she’s probably afraid to…maybe it would be worse with the “boyfriend” if she stayed for a night…I don’t know. But what I do know is something BIG happened that day. Something really BIG. She let me see her pain, and moreover she let herself see her pain. She’s being broken, which is what I have been praying for, because now she can be built back up with healing and strength, more beautiful than ever before.
She didn’t let me see her cry when she was stabbed, but she opened up her hurting heart to me and finally let the tears fall. I pray God will soon change these tears into healing rain. It’s a long process to help Tenele and to see her actually change, but I KNOW it’s coming. Please pray with me for this day!
Tenele and I before my basketball game…and right before our talk.