I just heard this morning that only 37% of children in South Africa live with both their father and mother. This means that over half of South African children are being raised by one parent, or aunties, or grandparents. On the one hand– wow, I am so thankful for all the grandparents and hard-working moms and aunties that are out there looking after South African children! I think we need to do all we can to encourage and support these carers, many of whom are very loving and sacrificial. On the other hand, since stats show in a one parent home children usually stay with their moms, my heart breaks that so many children won’t grow up knowing their fathers like I did.
Even when children know their fathers, it’s not always a positive relationship. In Life Skills classes a few weeks ago, the iThemba staff were teaching children about domestic violence, and many children explained they thought that it was the role of the father to beat his wives and children. Once an iThemba staff member noticed some regular attending children were absent from his Life Group. When he asked the other kids about it, they calmly told him, “Oh, they’re hiding from their alcoholic father who abuses them when he’s drunk, so they didn’t want to come today in case he found them. They’ll be back when it’s not so close to month-end (pay-day).”
I think because I had such a loving, caring father, stories like this are what make me so sad. When I pray the Lord’s Prayer and think of God as my father, I immediately associate him with my own loving, wise, and giving father. When I thought about dating and getting married, I had a pattern in my mind for how a good husband and father should treat women and children, and so I never even considered dating any creeps. I had the self-confidence that comes from knowing I had loving parents, and so I didn’t have a need to go out and prove my self-worth by being sexually active at a young age. By having a loving father I have been privileged compared to the majority of South Africans (especially the children in Sweetwaters).
I had the chance to share at my church’s Missions evening, and I shared a story that my co-worker Sizwe sometimes shares. He had made a visit to a new Life Group that Thulani was running, but the next week he wasn’t there. A child came up to Thulani and asked, “Where is my Father (Baba)?” Thulani didn’t know his father, and so was a little worried that maybe this boy’s father was missing, or maybe he should have remembered something from his home visit earlier in the week. But eventually it came out that the boy was talking about Sizwe, who had visited previously . Usually the term for someone Sizwe’s age would be uncle (malume). If a child was being very respectful, he would have called him “Baba Sizwe” (similar to “Mr. Sizwe”). But the fact he repeatedly referred to him just as Baba showed how desperate he was to have someone in his life he could call Dad.
I think it’s so cool that there are iThemba staff members like Sizwe, Thulani, Syv, Nathi and others that are walking life’s road with these kids on a daily basis, introducing them to our God the “Father of the Fatherless and defender of widows and orphans”, (Psalm 68:5) and giving them a living, breathing example of what a loving father can be like.
Join me by continuing to pray for these kids, and if you have been blessed by a father, or a “father figure” in your life, go give them a hug today!