A monthly column in which Jenni Pretorius Hill shares stories of hope which bring Heaven’s perspective to Earth
Recently I attended East London’s ‘Inspiration Awards’: a ceremony that “promotes and celebrates the inspirational ventures of NGOs and individuals”, as is stated on the programme brochure. Following the presentations, the audience are given an opportunity to vote for the most inspirational venture, and the winner goes home with a monetary reward.
This year, the prize went to a young man and his maths teacher – a woman who had so obviously inspired him in the subject that he not only excelled in it, but he has since dedicated his life to helping children who are failing maths and unable to afford extra tuition. They have set-up an after-school maths programme at Duncan Village library, called Izibalo, where learners from grades 7 to 10 can attend extra classes. This young man has a vision to expand the programme throughout the Eastern Cape, into the poorest and most under-resourced areas, to create “maths pods” – places of learning that will provide learners with a solid foundation in mathematics.
Prompted by the appalling failure rate and the increasing numbers of learners who are opting to take maths literacy – – a subject that severely inhibits options for tertiary education and career choices — Izibalo is positioning itself to help youngsters pursue careers in the desperately needed S.T.E.M areas of industry. As he told us of some of the success stories in this pilot project, I wanted to cheer. But his was not the only inspirational story we heard that morning, and I was hard-pressed to choose between them. I went away feeling uplifted, encouraged and inspired by my fellow South Africans, all of whom have identified a need in their community and have chosen to act upon it, regardless of the cost to themselves.
Because of the work I am in, I often find myself in the company of champions. A lot of the time these kinds of world-changers do what they do because somewhere in their lives they have had an encounter with the love of God, or the salvation of God, through another human-being. God loves to take our simple acts of charity, our basic expressions of living out the Kingdom, and our talents and abilities to change families, communities and even nations. He is at work through countless men and women, spread out in every sphere of society, to bring hope, rescue, inspiration and vocation.
In my life, I have often compared myself with people who I have thought to be more influential, more powerful and better able to inspire change than myself. This kind of thinking can so easily cripple us so that we despise what we think is too meagre an offering and end up doing nothing at all. Wherever I have found myself – in a place or a season in life – I have sought to live out a tangible Gospel for others to experience and draw hope from. It’s never been something particularly difficult or well-thought out, and on some level, not even intentional, but rather something that has sprung out of a natural awareness of my surroundings and the needs of those who He has entrusted to me at a particular time and place.
For example, one of my teaching jobs in London led me to a bunch of young Europeans, mainly from the once-Eastern bloc countries. Most of them were relatively poor and had come to London to learn English in the hopes of bettering their lot for the future. They were lonely, isolated from their culture and family, working very hard in often slavish conditions, and for very little. It felt like the most natural thing for me to organise socials for them: sight-seeing trips around London and regular Sunday lunches together to help with conversational English and friendship. As we grew closer, I began to share very openly to them about my life and more particularly, my faith. I discovered that most of them were desperate for a living relationship with God, and not for one lived out through catholic saints or their parents’ traditions. I started a Bible study around my kitchen table in my London digs and it wasn’t long before a bunch of them would join me for church on Sundays.
I’ll never forget the moment when a young Slovakian student walked into the auditorium and promptly burst into tears. In her broken English she told me she had “seen this exact place, in a dream, back in Slovakia.” She knew that God had led her there. I find it extraordinary that I got to partner with Him to bring change to this young woman’s life simply by doing what I loved. I’m not in contact with any of my students anymore; our worlds intersected for a little less than a year. But I often wonder whether their lives testify in some way of the residue my life left in theirs. For some, perhaps the seed fell and died, but for everyone? I like to think that there might be an inheritance in souls in Poland, or the Czech Republic and Slovakia. I will never know this side of Heaven.
As I write this, I am waiting for my young son to come out of surgery: nothing extensive, just a minor procedure. As I think on him, and the good legacy I hope I have left for him, I am reminded of a lesson he taught me once. We were on an early evening stroll through our neighbourhood. The municipality had failed to collect the rubbish that now lay strewn across pavements and in gutters. I felt my own rising anger and feelings of despair at our inept government; and then a little tug on my hand, “look Mama” I heard him say.
“I’m looking Joseph! What a mess! It’s disgusting.”
But he wasn’t looking at the rubbish, much closer to him in proximity than it was to me, he was looking up.
“No mama, I mean the moon. Look at the moon.”
It was brilliantly full, a golden apple hanging from the sky. My dismal and grumbling heart had censored my vision so that I had failed to notice it. I hope my son will always be one who points others towards the moon, rather than to the trash and degradation that so often litters our feet.
There are many men and women who have inspired me in my own course; they are courageous and kind people who have chosen to err on the side of hope and are constantly pursuing expression for the Kingdom of Heaven to be lived out upon the Earth. I would like it very much indeed, to one day be listed as part of this great company.
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