The South African Series

Can These Dry Bones Really Live?

Sometimes going into the townships is like going into a war zone, and watching the dead remains of the troops that live there miraculously get up day after day to trudge through life. I look at the carnage all around me and ask myself how it’s possible. How do people go on like this day after day?

Last week was a particularly hard week for me, which is I didn’t blog as much. There were so many dreadful reports coming at me in unabated waves of drama that I could hardly endure it.

Here’s my problem: Essentially, I have a bleeding heart, and I want to fix everything – particularly if that problem is in close proximity. So for instance, I feel really bad about the famine in Somalia; but I also feel like their government (or interim government) should have seen this one coming and prepared. Eventually, the UN will sort them out. I’m sending them my positive thoughts, but I’m not sending any money. Juxtapose that sentiment to clear and present suffering. I have never been proficient at ignoring misfortune when it’s staring me in the face, particularly if that face belongs to a child. I’ve handed out countless coins, t-shirts and trinkets over the years that have done little or nothing to lift the recipient out of poverty or affect real change, but done more than enough to soothe my conscience.

But last week, the calamities were too much for me to handle. I just had to get away. I stepped back momentarily from my duties to reflect on all that had happened and pondered my part in turning these things around.


Remember my aspiring 6th grade hunchback Top Model? She came to afterschool looking slightly more forlorn than usual, but with a lopsided Cheshire grin on her face. A few kids had crowded around her. I discovered shortly afterward that her father had just died the day before; yet there she stood, laughing and dancing like she’d just lost a pair of socks. Her mother is dead as well. She passed away a few years before, so she’s pretty much alone. When I asked where she was going to live, no one could say for sure. Thandiswa pointed to a shack where a local ‘mama’ who takes in children when they are orphaned and said she might go and stay there. I looked back at the girl, shyly dancing to praise and worship dances with the rest of the students wondering what was truly going to become of her.


Bianca is a beautiful colored girl whose face is always masked with a hard frown and has been ‘going through it’ with her uncle. She had already been abandoned by her mother a little under a year ago, who left her daughter in the care of an elderly uncle so that she could pursue her passion (meaning men) in George, the next largest city to Plett. She had been promising to return to care for Bianca, who is all of 12 years old for months, only to fail. Her uncle in the meantime staggers home drunk almost every night, bringing all manner of women into his shack and having sex in the bed right next to Bianca! Sometimes he’d lock the door and make her wait outside in the cold and dark, where she could be attacked by anything from a rabid dog to a surly man.


Last week, a new little boy showed up at ASP with a burn on his face and eyes that had no life. He couldn’t have been more than 5. Thandiswa had noticed him around the township for a few weeks. He never went to school, and he always had the same tattered clothes on, day after day. Finally, she beckoned him over and asked him what his name was. Eventually, she got him to lead her to his house so that he could meet with his mother. On arrival, she discovered that he had a 2 year old brother who was in the house, and only slightly better cared for. Moved with compassion, Thandiswa told the mother that she’d come and pick the boy up every day at 2 pm so that he could have a meal at the church.

“Yes, it’s good,” said the woman. “I don’t want him here anyway!”

Why wouldn’t she want her own son in the house? Because her BOYFRIEND didn’t want him there. She has allowed her current boyfriend’s disdain for a child that he didn’t father overshadow her motherly instincts and duties and had given her son over to neglect. The shoes he was wearing the day Thandiswa took him to church were so worn down they had no soles. And he was filthy… So filthy that he had to be bathed at the church that day.


I was having tea last Thursday with Fezi, the pastor’s secretary when Thandiswa called. She was in the hospital.

“Thandiswa had a miscarriage,” Fezi announced.


“You know, she didn’t really want this baby anyway,” I mulled. “Just 2 days ago, she told me she didn’t want it.”

“Yes, I know,” confirmed Fezi. “I said to her ‘Maybe you are happy the baby is now dead.’ But she said she thought she would be happy, but a part of her is not.”

We quietly sipped our tea.

Dry bones come to life

But do you know what the crazy thing is? All these strangers lives are now inextricably interwoven. Bianca gathered the courage to go to the social worker’s office to tell them she had to move. Unbeknownst to her, Thandiswa had a conversation with her husband, convincing him that they must take her in that very day. In that same week, Thandiswa and her husband took in the 5 year old boy who had been neglected by his mother as well. And get this: part of the reason Thandiswa did not want to have this baby was because neither she nor her husband was working. This weekend, he’s on his final round of interviews and is one of two candidates being considered for a job, and she has been offered a job to be a translator for a small NGO.

And even though her baby died in the womb, she has brought new life into her home with her 2 foster children and given them a fresh injection of life and spirit too. Bianca smiles a lot more and the little boy is slowly coming out of his shell.

Maybe it’s possible. Maybe by faith, dry bones can actually come to life. And maybe that part of the miracle has little to do with me in that end.