Loving A Runnaway
2008 – I met a twelve-year-old, front-tooth missing, phonily happy teenage girl who ripped the heart right out of my chest. But in its place, God put His heart for her. And so she became “umntfwana wami” (my child) ever since.
2009 – I returned to Swazi to find “my child,” was nowhere to be found. “You will never see her again,” I was told. “She’s a prostitute,” they said. After being abused and sold by her step-mom, she decided to run away. They said, “She’s not worth it.” They were looking out for my own benefit. “It’s no use. You’ll never see her again.”
But through Divine Intervention, I spotted her in a blue hat, sitting in the back of a white truck with a bunch of men. When I called out to her, she leapt out of the moving vehicle, ran across traffic in her bare feet, and flew into my arms. “I’ll never lose her again,” I vowed.
2010 – After graduating college with a teaching degree, I moved to Swazi for the year to volunteer teach. It took me two weeks to find her. And two weeks to lose her. She was back and forth, back and forth. Into my life, then out. Appearing for help, then disappearing. Begging for hope, then running from it. I chased, pursued, refused to give up. And in the pursuit, I met so many girls with horror stories of abuse and forced prostitution just like her. Sister Mary Jane told me, “This sounds like a life-calling.” I laughed. I had my own dreams. I couldn’t stay here forever.
2011 – She got pregnant. By a man whom her step-mother had sold her to. She let the walls come down. She shared openly for the first time in 3 years the horrors of her past and present.
But then I moved back to America.
I got a teaching job. The best one. One I dreamt of.
She gave birth to a baby girl! I sent clothes through another volunteer who was onsite. She still remembers that moment to this day.
2012 – My friend, Chris, and I started the non-profit Hosea’s Heart.
She got pregnant again by the same man but hid it for as long as she could. She tried to abort him, but he survived. He is the prince of my heart to this day, and the aura of
God in our home.
2013 – We opened Hope for Life girls home! She was placed in the home. Her first time in over five years she was somewhere safe and away from the streets. But not for long. People running the home onsite (we were partnered at this point) didn’t think it was right to have a pregnant girl in the home. So, one day, without warning, they told her to pack her bags and sent her to her birth mother – the woman who left her as a baby in the grass to die. The counselor said sending her away was possibly even worse than the sexual exploitation she’s endured. To be given hope, given a home just to be told you’re not good enough and see it ripped right out of your hands. I don’t know that she’s ever healed from this yet.
When I returned that summer, I went to find her and put her back in our Home, refusing to let others treat her like she was nothing.
2014 – My heart split in half when I decided it was time to be in Swazi full-time. I had to leave the 99 sheep in pursuit of the one. But one is worth it. I moved to Swazi and moved into the girls home, becoming a mother of many. She left the home. People said, “I told you so.”
2015 – She stayed with a pastor and his family but suffered immensely with no supervision, abusing the children she had but never wanted. The lack of psychological, emotional, and spiritual support did its damage. But she eventually went to a rehab program and shocked me with her growth and newness, strength, and love for Jesus and love for herself. But the months were few; counseling was scary because it meant she had to face her past; she ran away again. I thought it was our end. I was devastated. I wanted to leave. I wanted to give up. If I couldn’t succeed in helping one girl, how in the world could I continue to run an entire organization of them?
Near my birthday that year, I got the best early b-day present. She came back to me! She shared my room at the volunteer house (I still lived at girls home, but had a room at the volunteer house to live in on weekends). She became a cook and worked for rent, food, and small change. But at that time, she was already 6 months pregnant. However, she thrived in this new environment of Christian support, love, work, and dreams. She gave birth towards the end of the year to a baby boy and named him Joshua because of the biblical significance of his name.
2016 – She started counseling again. She still couldn’t face the pain. She ran away again. Back to a life of selling herself. I thought 2015 was the worst heartbreak, but I was wrong. It took a whole lot of prayers and some inner calm of Christ himself to keep me in Swaziland. By this time, I was exhausted on all levels – a full house of girls with dramatic, intense needs—feeling inconsolably homesick, feeling like an immense failure, and overwhelmed by the millions of things I needed to improve/change/do to better Hosea’s Heart. The truth was, I knew why she ran away. She didn’t feel loved. I became a workaholic. I buried her under the work of Hosea’s Heart, so much that she came to hate Hosea’s Heart. She said she wished I never started it.
2017 – God strengthened me immensely through the heartbreak and then miraculously brought her back into my life again. She came back in February, and lived with me full time. She was very sick and I thought some of those nights were her last ones. But she improved immensely. I was now living at the college where I taught one class of English. We lived there until July when I had to move out of the college again because my teaching term was over. From Feb – May (before I left for the States), it was like living inside of a miracle. We had arguments, fights, outbursts, lots of tears, but best of all, lots of love and grace. She humbled me in many ways. I learned to “keep No record of wrongs,” though it was very, very difficult. She learned how to deal with conflict without running away. She became the best version of herself I’ve ever seen. She worked countless hours cleaning, washing, serving, being an incredible mom and daughter at the same time. I got to teach her from a homeschool curriculum and see her dreams grow. She instilled in me self-discipline with the Word of God. She read it relentlessly—questioning, reflecting, soaking it in. We began a bedtime routine of sitting down together (after putting the kids to bed) to journal silently and then read Scripture aloud and talk about it. My heart was on fire for the Lord.
Then came August. We were no longer living at the college but had moved back to town and lived in an apartment near a bar. She told me how she hated weekends because the loud music from the bar was calling her back to her old life. She would sleep with earphones in and play worship music to cut out the past.
I left for the States to transition Ayanda into college. It was supposed to be the highlight of my year. But the day I left and hugged umntfwana wami goodbye, she sobbed in my arms. I was so confused. She knew that I would only be gone three weeks – the shortest time I’ve ever been away. I thought she was doing so well. But I should’ve known from the way she wept. From the look on her face that said, “Don’t leave me. I’m not okay. Please don’t go.” But I had to go.
When I was away, I could sense something was wrong. A couple days before I was about to return, I had this odd sixth sense (aka Holy Spirit) that she was gonna run. That she was gonna disappear before I got back. So I prayed. And I asked the volunteer onsite to make sure my girl was there to pick me up from the shuttle. I knew that if she didn’t greet me then, she was gonna bolt. I was DELIGHTED when she met me at the shuttle. But I knew immediately something was off. She was ashamed. I didn’t know it then, but that’s what she was. (She made a lot of poor decisions while I was away.) She was reserved and standoffish yet so longing to be hugged and loved. I had missed her birthday so I brought back bday gifts from my family and me. She cried. “Wow, you really love me!” she kept saying. (As if 9 years hasn’t proved it yet? :/) She confessed that she had wanted to run away while I was gone again. I told her I was so proud of her for staying and fighting it out.
Two days later, it was my birthday. We had made plans together. But when I went to our apartment to meet her, she was gone. I called her but she had already ditched her phone. (And got a new number so no one could contact her.) She didn’t leave a note or say happy birthday. Just gone. Gone. My 31st birthday. And I haven’t seen her since. 🙁
Journal entry — 10-6-2017 (Note: this is obvi more poetic than literal)
“There’s a constant sadness that continually attacks me, trying to impair me. I have yet to name the happenings of my heart. I’ve tried to be strong. They think I’m strong. I try not to let the emptiness in this house shine through in the emptiness of my heart. They don’t understand. But do I even understand? What do I feel?
I feel numb sometimes. Like the darkness punched my gut and knocked the wind out of me. I fight for breath.
Things that were once natural and routine are strings of pain. Praying with Benji and Lucia every night without her on the other bed next to them praying with me is like lemon juice on a wound that’s be reopened countless times.
My heart tries so hard. fights in vain. To ignore and reject the pain. She can’t hurt me again, I say. Don’t shed even one more tear for her, they say.
Jesus, the ache inside me is crippling. My throat tightens and sadness envelopes me. She left me empty. My anger burned so violently it blew a fuse. But grace came and cleaned me.
Still, the pain remains unwashed. There is a dam of tears, a well so deep I can’t access it anymore. My soul is stricken without notice. I mourn the death, the loss. For this apartment is no longer home but an empty tomb. There is no place I can go that is without her; yet she is gone and I am without.
I bury my face in her sweatshirt, I stare at her picture, willing her to come back to life. Already I wonder who the girl is in the photo frame. Is that really her? Is the girl I gave my life for really gone again? her bible left behind on purpose. other things of hers she didn’t bother to pack. Except her shoes. She took every pair with her. not one stayed behind. She’s a runner. I guess she needs every pair, huh?
This is worse than death. Harder than a funeral. There is no celebration of life here. no goodbye. No closure. No one to tell me it’s okay to cry or it’s okay to grieve as I would be allowed if it were a funeral. No one to hold me up when I waver when the pain gets too strong. Instead, they practically hate her. They don’t want me to mourn her. My heart screams but makes no sound. It wants to break free, but that means the dam must break, and I don’t want to hurt anyone in its path.
And yet, all this sadness, all this pain — is simply an ocean of opportunity waiting to glorify your Name. Lord, turn these dry tears into oceans of mercy, rivers of joy, and lakes of love. Soak me in it. You have the final say. This is your victory. She is your child. I am yours. Let it be.”