She Said Yes
“Mama Kate, where’s make(mom)?” Lucia tugged on my skirt one day.
“She’s at her place,” I answered.
“At her place…” she echoed, just as she repeats everything I say. She looked at me with sad eyes.
“Should we go see her today?” I asked.
“Yes!” she jumped up and down.
Isn’t it amazing how forgiving, pure, and loving the little ones are. No wonder Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belongs to children (Matt 19:14). The past few weeks were hard on Lucia in particular as she stayed at the girls home with us while Tenele stayed at the pastor’s house on her own. Tenele ached for her children, too, but she knew she had to embrace the consequences. Time was running out, though, for Tenele to figure out what she was going to do with her future. She claimed she would move back to Mangwaneni or would find her own place. She wanted to find a job. Then she wanted to ship her kids off to Cedric’s family. Her thoughts were inconstant and based on emotion. There was one option, though, that was the clear winner: Challenge Ministries.
I learned about Challenge Ministries through my dear missionary friend Elysa Mac. Elysa and her husband Jim and their kids go to a church in Mbabane called Potter’s Wheel, which is a church that supports Challenge Ministries. Jim and Elysa had purchased tickets to a dinner fundraiser, which explained all they had to offer and how young people’s lives had been transformed. Teenagers and young adults could become a part of this program to get rehab for different things and intense counseling and faith building. One of the members of the church, Waheeda, welcomed me so kindly one day and exchanged numbers with me, letting me know I could contact her for anything. Well, when things with Tenele had gone sour, Waheeda popped into my mind one morning. I decided to contact her and see if she had any resources for Tenele. She contacted Challenge Ministries, explained my situation, and gave me the director’s number. By God’s grace, the director said even though they currently didn’t have room, they’d give Tenele an interview and see if they could help.
I brought Tenele nearly two weeks ago to this interview. The director was incredible. The program was perfect. It was a year long rehabilitation program that would offer her counseling, strict supervision, discipline, classes and learning, Bible studies, and healing from her past. The director, who had talked to both Tenele and I separately, was so impressed with Tenele’s vulnerability and honesty. One of the interview questions was about her kids. “Have your children ever been abused before?” the director asked her. Tenele should her head yes and held back her tears. “By me,” she said shamefully. Furthermore, when the director asked Tenele what she needed help with most or what she wanted as a result of this program she said, “To manage my anger,” and “to become close to my God.” Beautiful. But the director was very clear with me that this was a strict program and for the first six weeks, Tenele would be removed from all life and communication outside the walls of the ministry center. For six weeks, she would not be able to see or even talk to me or her kids. She wouldn’t be able to even say hello or hear Lucia’s voice on the phone. Then, after the six weeks, the programming would begin and Tenele would slowly earn rights to communicate and then visit us or we could visit her. When we left the interview I was on cloud nine because this was exactly what Tenele has needed her whole life–a safe place with loving people to admonish, build, and correct her. She couldn’t take any more bandaids; it was time to open the wound to heal it. Though I was thrilled, I knew Tenele wasn’t. Tenele was too used to her “freedom,” and it would be the biggest sacrifice she’s ever had to make to say yes to Challenge.
The director told us to take a couple days to talk it over and think about it, but that they would take Tenele as soon as she said yes. Unfortunately, Tenele couldn’t. She said no. She couldn’t get beyond the thought of being isolated from all of us for six weeks and she was scared at how strict the program was. I was crushed but I wasn’t surprised. I saw it coming, but I let it be her choice. But that meant she had to find other options.
Time was burning up too quickly. By the end of the month, true to my word, Tenele would have to leave the pastor’s house because I refused to pay for her anymore. I regretfully had to call the director of Challenge and tell her the bad news, but she told me if Tenele changed her mind to give her a call. So I gave Tenele the director’s number and repeated what she told me.
Though Tenele gave me more than several reasons not to hope, I still somehow felt the glimmer light inside. Sure enough, ten days later, Tenele gave me the best news I’d heard all year. “Mama, I’m going to Challenge.” Again, by the grace of God, the director said they’d make room for her, and welcome her in to the program. What made her change her mind? It could be a million things, but something special happened in her last Saturday when we as a Hosea’s Heart family did a prayer walk in town. During this prayer walk, Tenele came across several people in town that she began minstering to and praying for. One of our other girls, Sibussa, said that day was the day she fell in love with God. I believe it was the same for Tenele, too. Because something was different after that. The crazy thing about all of this… is that Tenele had the option to do Teen Challenge several years ago when Christina brought her to this interview. Though Tenele said no back then, it was a seed that God has been watering until today, when it finally took root!
Yesterday was Tenele’s last full day until she moved to Challenge. So, she spent the whole day at the girls home. As night drew in, I could tell she was getting stressed. Her eyes, her eyes never lie. And they seemed to be growing dark with the night. I stood with her outside on the porch and said, “Tenele, tell whatever those evil thoughts are in your mind to go away. You are doing the right thing, and I’m proud of you.” She half laughed at me, surprised I could tell what was going on in her head.
She nodded and proceeded to say to her thoughts, “Yeah, leave me alone; go away!” She admitted she didn’t know how to manage her thoughts and often times got confused as to why she behaved the way she did. “I don’t know why I do what I do,” she said in frustration. “I really do love the Lord.”
I answered her, “Maybe that’s exactly what you’ll learn this next year at Challenge. And it’s evident, Tenele, you love the Lord, because you said yes!” At bible study that night, the Spirit was so thick among us and while I played guitar, the girls went around taking turns praying for one another. It was beautiful to see how powerful and compassionate Tenele prayed for her fellow sisters.
So, the next morning(just a couple hours ago), I dropped Tenele off at Challenge Ministries. Luciano cried and cried when she left, and Lucia was so confused and sad. Tenele, too, burst into tears, but she embraced it. She told me, “I’m happy, Mama, because I will be closer to God.”
It will be hard not hearing from Tenele until mid December, especially since she’ll miss Lucia’s 3rd bday. But she said yes to the Lord, and that means more than anything.