TRUE STORY: The girl who needed a phone — Mark Roberts

    PHOTO: Giles Lambert/

Amal came from a decent family, had a degree, a career and a little girl named Alia. She had everything to live for and her future appeared bright and full of countless opportunities. The only thing standing in her way was her addiction to crystal methamphetamine.

The moment I laid eyes on Amal, I knew she would be a handful. Her father enabled her, never wanting to hear or see any evidence that could distort the portrait of the princess he had so masterfully conjured up in his mind.

Amal kissed little Alia goodbye. As the little girl walked away to the car, I posed a simple question to Amal: “Do you love her?” I asked, in a very gentle tone.

“Of course I do! What sort of question is that?” she answered, with a look of disgust on her face.

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“Would you die for her?” I continued in a soft voice.

“Yes, I would die for her,” she said with a little more civility, realising the conversation was going somewhere.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “If you would die for her, why won’t you live for her?”

There was no reply. Slowly I led the way to the dormitory, but behind those beautiful dark eyes, I could see the cogs of the engine turning rapidly.

Amal was one of the most difficult addicts I attempted to help. She was in denial and operated with stubborn obstinacy and masterful manipulation. This was already evident on her first night. Amal had stolen my daughter’s cell phone and a witness had stepped forward and pointed her out. She instantly broke into tears, begging me not to call her father, promising that something like this would never happen again.

The rules were clear and cast in stone: “If you steal, you leave immediately”. I wasn’t fond of that rule, or most of the rules for that matter. Amal had done far worse things in her life while being high, some of which she couldn’t even remember. Now was not the time to condemn. I made no accusation, no criticism. Instead, I looked at her and said: “You have never heard of this word, but in time you will come to understand it. It’s called grace and it is a word that God Himself invented”.

“I don’t understand,” she whispered.

The time to discuss the meaning of grace was still months away. The groundwork needed to be done first, in order for her to fully understand and embrace the concept of grace. Instead, I left her with a simple mustard seed: “Grace is what I am doing right now. When I see you in the morning, there will be no record of this incident. It will never be mentioned again, it will be as though it never happened.” She frowned and searched my eyes, “Why would you do that?” she cried. “I guess grace is just a crazy, scandalous thing,” I answered with a carefree wink. With that I turned and left, praying that Amal would reach a point where the word would mean something to her.

The first few weeks were incredible. She made friends easily and it was evident that she had real leadership qualities. This was short-lived, though. As the weeks passed, she began to stare at the boundary fence beyond the beautiful gardens with a sense of longing in her eyes. I sensed trouble lurking; Eve was eyeing the “forbidden fruit” on the tree outside the demarcated area.

One night she broke a rule; one of the only rules I supported: she jumped over the fence. I made my way to her, but by the time I reached her, she was in the car of her dealer. She was taking a hit. Her dealer sneered at me.

My height — just shy of two meters — assisted me that night. I pulled out the baseball bat, ripped the door open and pulled Amal from the car. I challenged the dealer to get out of the car or drive away. Fortunately, he chose the latter. I never saw him again. The dealer, as with Amal, was someone’s child and had possibly never heard of grace. It saddened me that the dealer had found himself in the position he was. He had made terrible decisions and done unforgivable things to people. Despite this, the clear distant fact remained; he was handmade and fashioned in the image of God. The difference between us was that I had experienced grace while he had never heard of it. I prayed that our paths would cross under different circumstances because I had a message for him.

Amal’s defiance continued. Several times I caught her with drugs and countless times I showed her grace. The other addicts on the farm were at risk and I was no longer in a position to help her. She didn’t want to change. Just as God respects mankind’s decisions, so I had to respect hers. She chose the apple. It appeared beautiful and sensual, but was filled with devouring worms that were hastening her journey to self-destruction.

I phoned her father to report the events and my saddening course of action. Her father defended her. I emphasised that the day she truly wanted my help, she could return. All she needed to do was pick up the phone and call me.  As they left, she held tightly to her father’s arm, tears running down her face. I think she realised that her greatest fear had come true: her dad was beginning to see the truth and she had disappointed him. I heard a terrible crack. It was the sound of my heart breaking, or perhaps it was God’s heart. Amal was God’s daughter, after all.

I never heard from Amal again. I heard stories from people that knew her. The stories made my heart sink. Often, I found myself staring at my phone, waiting for a call, but it never came. The last I heard was that she had been beaten severely and she had been hospitalised for quite some time. I couldn’t stop wondering what might have happened if she had picked up the phone and dialled the “right” number instead of the “wrong” number. After all, she had my number.

Alexander Graham Bell (the man who invented the telephone) was walking down the main street in the town of Baddeck. Passing by the local newspaper office, he noticed the editor struggling with the wall-mounted telephone. He promptly walked in and unscrewed the earpiece. There was a fly lodged behind the earpiece. Bell took a deep breath and promptly blew the fly away. “How did you know how to fix it?” asked the editor with genuine interest. Casually Bell responded, “I am the inventor of the instrument.”

If Amal had only understood this analogy. She was the “phone”. She just needed to identify the One who had “invented” her; who had made her. Then she would understand herself better. Perhaps she would have understood that her earpiece was damaged and that all the problems and onslaughts of life were just irritating flies trapped in her life, affecting the relationship between her and the God who desperately wanted to know her. Only He could rid His invention of the curses of life and restore it to its ultimate design.

An interesting fact is that the woman who inspired Bell to invent the telephone was his wife Mable, who was stone deaf. On his desk stood a photo of her with a beautiful inscription: “The girl for whom the telephone was invented.”

Maybe God, like Bell, lived in the hope that someday Mable and Amal would be able to appreciate the “phone” He had “invented”. That they would appreciate the degree to which God had risen to restore the “phone”, because it wasn’t easy for Him and it didn’t come cheap: He paid the price in blood. All of His blood!

Did you know that as a wedding present, Alexander Bell gave Mable all his shares in the telephone company, keeping only 10 shares for himself? He gave her everything and she couldn’t even use a phone. Metaphorically speaking, I think God is like that: He invented and produced the “phone”, and, when it broke, he entered into this world of broken “telephones” as a “phone”, to restore us to the original blueprint of what a “phone” should be like and sound like. Like Bell, He then freely gives us all His shares, to a Company we had no part in building and no deserving reason to be a part of.

Yes, for a long time after Amal was gone, I would stare at the phone, hoping it would ring, that she would make the “right” call. What she needed was the number of the CEO of the “phone company”. Only He could relieve and remove the trapped flies of her life. I knew she had my number and she knew that I had the number of the “Inventor”, and all I so desperately wanted to do was put them in touch with each other. God had been leaving messages for her, her whole life, and all He really wanted to do, more than anything, was give her the shares that He had secured for her that had never been claimed. Today, I think God looks at the photo on His desk and sighs, because there written on the front of her photo is: “To Amal, the girl I did it all for”, and in His scarred hand He holds the share certificate made out in her name. I know what God is thinking as He stares at His phone: “If only Amal would call.”

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  1. Big thanks Mark, you a star

  2. Chloë Paige Timm

    So precious, so relevant.