A month after having a double mastectomy during an ongoing battle against breast cancer would not typically seem like a good time to start a ministry of fostering problem children — especially when you are already mom to two little girls and run a demanding ministry to the destitute.
But that is just what Marion Peake, together with her husband Matthew, started doing in July 2018. The couple have been foster parents to more than 40 children since then and currently are caring for eight foster children — and their two biological children — in their small home in East London.
Matthew recalls how, not long after they had chatted idly about fostering, Marion phoned him one day and reminded him of their conversation and asked him what he thought about taking in some children who needed a place to stay. He said he would be happy to do so if she was and so they began to take in children. He recalls it was “a very difficult season” as Marion was undergoing months of chemotherapy but he said God undertook wonderfully for them.
One of the memorable times in their fostering journey took place in April last year when they got a phonecall from the police who asked them if they would be prepared to take in a pregnant 13-year-old girl who had been thrown out of her home and turned down by other foster parents.
Matthew recalls how he and Marion wept as they prayed and asked God what they should do. Could they really handle a baby on top of everything else? God said they should take in the unwanted mom-to-be.
“She was literally lying on the table ready for surgery when the police went into the room and told her this family say if you would like to keep the baby you are welcome to live with them indefinitely.
“She said: ‘I want to keep the baby.’ So she kept the baby and a few months later gave birth to this beautiful baby boy called Elijah.”
Baby Elijah is still living with the Peakes.
Another remarkable testimony concerns a 14-year-old girl who has been a daughter in their house for less than a month. She had been living in a rural area with an aunt who is a traditional healer. The aunt treated her as a slave and had also been training her to become a traditional healer.
Matthew said: “On her first day, I said to her: ‘My sweety, we are going to love you as if you were our daughter. And in this house we believe in Jesus.’
“She didn’t even know who Jesus is; she’d never even heard of the name of Jesus. So when I told her about Him she cut off the beaded necklace and beaded thing around her waist and she just said: ‘I want this Jesus,” and we led her to Jesus and we have been teaching her a bit about Jesus since then. She is such an amazing young lady. We really love these kids so much.”
Marion said the girl who had been enslaved by her aunt spoke only Xhosa when she arrived at the house. But she was learning English fast, which was exciting because it meant she would be able to get a job one day.
She said they taught all of their children to speak Afrikaans, English and Xhosa and taught them about different cultures. The children all attended private homeschooling.
Marion said their very first foster daughter was currently staying with them for the holidays. “She comes back home every holiday because this is still home for her.”
She said one of the tough lessons she and Matthew had learned on their fostering journey was how painful it was to become attached to children and then later have to hand them back to their biological parents when their circumstances improved.
“It’s like losing a child,” she said.
The pain of “losing” their foster children led them to specialise in taking in problem teenagers.
“We decided that nobody wants teenagers. So we decided to take in teenage kids who feel rejected, who are troubled and have been through it all.”
A teenage foster daughter who has been with the Peakes for more than two years told Gateway News: “When I first came here I was full of fear and didn’t feel accepted because where I came from people didn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved and I felt they were mostly just using me.”
She said foster children generally felt that they were not listened to. Social workers said they wanted to listen to them but they seemed not to really hear them and to listen instead to adults, including those who abused them. For this reason many foster children lost hope in the system and never found the love and acceptance they wanted.
“So when I came here I thought it’s just another family; I will probably stay here a few months then go back to the children’s home.”
She ran away soon after she arrived because she said that was how she coped with stress.
But when Matthew came to look for her, putting his life in danger from gangsters who threatened to kill him if he came closer to her, it meant a lot to her.
“It takes a lot for someone to do that and that’s what my dad did and it opened up a lot. It broke down so many walls in me,” she said.
Commenting on the teenager’s testimony, Marion said: “That is a typical problem we face. She could not accept the love we were giving her. She could not fathom the idea of coming into a house where there’s a mom and dad who love her. No added agenda, the dad doesn’t want to touch her — just plain and simple affection, and she couldn’t cope with that.
“That’s the type of kids we have in our house as well as others who come in and hunger for that kind of love and affection. People just think of children who are abandoned, abused, and rape victims but don’t understand the inside struggles of children and their foster parents.”
She recalled how on her first day with them, the girl with the abusive aunt kept stealing food all day. Upset by what she first saw as theft, she spoke to the girl and discovered that previously she had to steal food to survive.
“I had to explain to her she did not need to steal food as “this house is blessed by God with abundant food, abundant toiletries, abundant clothing”.
“It [foster parenting] is a lot for both sides, We have to understand the kids so well, over and above the kids understanding us. We are both in it together and it’s a learning curve the whole way through.
“Sometimes its quite hard when you pour out yourself on a child and the child doesn’t grasp it or understand. So it gets quite emotional and it can feel like it’s a failure. But we have to understand that these kids have never experienced these things [being loved and accepted]. So fostering is quite a learning experience for both sides.”
In addition to welcoming foster children the Peake’s home also serves as a place of safety for the police and child protection unit over weekends while social services are closed.
“So if the cops raid a shebeen or tavern or drug house and there are kids there they are brought here for weekend,” she said.
Through their NPO, Helping Those In Need [see recent story on their Bowl of Hope project] they feed about 5 000 children a week in the East London area. Matthew said that sometimes when they see children in dire straits at some of their feeding locations they track down their parents and ask if their kids can stay with them for a week or two.
“We just want to give them that freedom to be a child again, you know. You can’t be a child in those places — its so dangerous and filthy,” he said.
To donate to Helping Those In Need or to find out more about this NPO, call 072 348 4528, email firstname.lastname@example.org , visit the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/helpingthoseinneed.co.za or the website https://helpingthoseinneed.co.za/