“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” -2 Corinthians 5:17
It’s a Friday night, and that means movie time! The girls giggle in excitement as we momentarily argue about which movie to watch; since we’ve made it through my narrow-themed DVD selection (made up mostly of dance movies), it’s time for repeats. The older girls want 10 Things I Hate About You and the younger ones want Pitch Perfect for the millionth time, but we all agree on Step Up II instead (which has nothing to do with my suggestion, of course). They pull up their chairs around my laptop screen and we switch the lights off. Lucia snuggles in with Sindi, and that’s when I realize Tenele isn’t in the room. I sneak out of the living room to check on Tenele. I push that squeaky door open and pop my head in to find her sitting on her bed reading her little purple Bible I gave her. Looking up at me and seeing my ear to ear joy, Tenele smiles. “What, Mom?”
“You don’t want to watch the movie?” I ask, coming in to sit on her bed.
“No, I’m reading,” she says matter-of-factly.
My joy is too much, so laughter fills the room. “Tenele, there really is no greater joy than to know my child is walking in the truth,” I quoted the Scripture. She laughs too in a shy and modest acceptance of the praise. “I’ll leave you to it,” I pat her knee and rise to leave. At the doorway, I pause and look back at her, in awe of how much she has changed.
“What?” Tenele giggles nervously as I stare at her.
“I am just so proud of you, Tenele. You truly are a new creation.”
When I left her, I didn’t go back to the movie right away. I went to my room to process all that had happened in Tenele’s recent life. Was this the same girl I met six years ago? Was this the same girl I had pursued tirelessly and painfully for nine months? Was this the same girl who lived in prostitution, who was a bully to others, who refused to believe anyone besides Mary-Kate would help her, and who beat her own children. No. This young woman is indeed a new creation, and every time I looked at her, I was looking at a living, breathing miracle.
Since Tenele’s miscarriage, we had moved her back into the home for a few transition weeks before looking for another place for her. Her time at Project Canaan was exactly what God needed to heal her and to captivate her heart. She came back a mature, thoughtful, Scripture-hungry young woman. No longer would she fit in at the home full of girls; she was a woman. She saw how older women raised and treated their kids; she received advice, challenge, and even books like Redeeming Love from her new co-workers and friends at Project Canaan. So, she returned to us equipped for a life of growth and independence. She returned ready to listen to me and follow my instructions about how to discipline her kids instead of resulting to beating them (which is how she was raised and abused). It was one of the sweetest feelings I’ve ever had to see her put into practice what I had been teaching her. Tenele never had a good connection with her boy, Luciano, but their relationship was transformed when she returned. He started saying, “Ma-mah, Ma-mah,” and Tenele would snuggle him. She started using her voice and her finger to say, “No, no,” to him instead of swatting him when she didn’t want him to do something. And he listened, imagine that. The way she loved and cared for her kids was astounding in comparison to how she treated them before. Instead of treating them like a burden on her back, she cherished them, realizing that they were her first priority above her own life and dreams. Lucia repeats everything she hears and sees, so when she’d see her mom read the Bible, she cried one time to Tenele saying, “Can I have my own bible, too?” How beautiful!
But… You weren’t expecting any buts in this one, were you? Neither was I. This poor girl, I just don’t know when she’ll ever catch a real break. While things were going wonderfully here, a dark part of her past met her on the street one day. I was away in Pretoria this past weekend when Tenele ran into Cedric, the father of Lucia and Luciano, when she was in town meeting a friend to help her get a job at shop in town. Cedric detained Tenele for several hours as they talked and caught up on life. He made several requests of Tenele, which involved threats. When Tenele refused to go home with him, he said, “Oh, did this time away make you forget about me? Don’t you remember that I’m not scared of blood?” Immediately, her dark past of living with Cedric in captivity and being beat and abused, stabbed and almost killed once, flooded her and clouded her judgment. It was getting late and nearing dark. Tenele knew she needed to get home but didn’t know how to lose Cedric, so instead she pretended to enjoy his conversation and stayed in town talking with him. Back at the girls home, Gogo was getting worried, so she phoned Tenele. Luckily, Tenele was holding her phone and showed it to Cedric saying, “See, the one who’s caring for my children is calling. I need to go.”
“Don’t answer that,” he demanded.
So she didn’t.
Amazingly enough, Gogo must’ve sensed something was wrong and called Tenele again. When Tenele realized Gogo would keep calling, she got the courage to leave Cedric in town.
“I have to go,” she said. “I’ll be in trouble, and my kids need me.”
“No, you’re not. You’re coming with me.”
Tenele started crying. “I need to get the kids.”
“Fine,” he gave in. “But bring Lucia and Luciano tomorrow and you will all stay with me.”
“Okay,” Tenele agreed. “But you have to call Mary-Kate first. Here’s her number…”
And Tenele took off for the bus rank to catch a kombi home.
When I got back from Pretoria, I didn’t know about the story, just that Tenele had gotten home late one night, so I went in to scold her. Before I even talked to her, though, I could see she wasn’t okay. Her face was stern and conflicted. When I asked what was wrong she refused to say. Only when I started telling her I knew about her getting home late was she willing to explain about Cedric. I sat up with her that night until 1:30 in the morning because she was so full of fear and anxiety and couldn’t sleep. She recounted her past with him and cried and cried. Through her recounting more details of her past, I learned what stronghold Cedric really did have on her and it made sense why she couldn’t leave him during the 9 months I was there. Apparently, Cedric was the first one Tenele’s step-mom sold her to, and it indeed was an exchange of possession. In paying for Tenele when she was 12 years old, Cedric believed he owned her. She ran away in the streets as a prostitute until Cedric found her again. He beat up anyone who tried helping Tenele, including an older woman who was the mother of Tenele’s friend. He took her by force, and Tenele had to live with him, pretending to want to be his girlfriend, pretending to enjoy someone she loathed. She lived in fear for so long, thinking if she just pretended and did what Cedric said, she could survive. Thinking that life was far behind her, she has found so much freedom. But now after seeing him again, her mental state immediately went back to one of captivity. She told me, “If Gogo hadn’t called again…I would’ve gone with him that night. I didn’t know what else to do.” God bless Gogo!
Another blessing is that God has provided a place for Tenele to move into for the time being. Just yesterday, I moved Tenele and her kids in with a pastor, his wife, and his two boys. Luciano will finally have some males around! In trying to help Tenele get rid of her dark ghosts of the past and ending her fear of Cedric, we read through the Scripture of David and Goliath. She marked it in her Bible and said she’d refer to it if ever she feels afraid. Also, as a whole family at the girls home, we prayed protection and healing over Tenele. We circled around her and laid hands on her, and as we prayed she cried and the girls hugged and held her. That’s what family is for!
Tenele indeed is a new creation, and nothing can reverse that. Satan has no hold on her life and darkness has no place because in June she was set free. And she was been washed in grace and molded into a new woman! Please continue to pray for strength in her newfound faith and trust in the Lord, that He will be her refuge. That perfect love drives out all fear. And pray for Cedric. Though he is a man, he looks like such a boy to me, so scrawny and seemingly harmless. Pray that God breaks his heart, and like Saul, he calls him from a life of persecution to a life of righteousness. Pray that Tenele’s future of hope may be magnified and that she gets good direction and discipleship living with the pastor’s family. Lastly, in your prayers, praise God for all that He has done in this girl’s life, all he is doing, and all he will continue to do. And praise God that he has let me be a part of this journey to witness what it looks like to be a new creation!
Friday, 19 Sep, 2014
God bless your work there. What a wonderful feeling it must be to see how God is using you in the lives of these girls.