Recently my co-worker Sizwe went around and visited the different iThemba Life Groups to find out how things were going. Life Groups are the home groups of about 20 – 40 kids who come each week to play games, sing songs, learn about Jesus and discuss life. They support each other in making wise choices, and the discipleship fieldworkers (iThemba staff) build long-term relationships with them, reinforced by home visits.
Here are some things that the children shared with him:
“I have learned to trust.”
“People in this area didn’t know about God, but now they will start loving his words.”
“My family lets me come to Life Group and do my chores later.” (that’s great!!)
But this is the one that stood out to me:
“I’ve learned to never lose hope.”
The boy who said that went on to explain to Sizwe that the way he learned this was from the story of Blind Bartimaeus that they heard. For those of you who don’t know the story, it takes place during Jesus life.
There was a blind man who sat at the city gate day after day, begging for a living. He was probably poor. He had been blind for as long as he could remember. It probably felt like his life would be dark, poor, and lonely forever. “It will always be this way,” the dark voices whisper. “Nothing will ever change. You’ll always be poor, blind Bartimeaus.” It would have been easy to despair. But one day as he’s sitting at the city gate calling out “Alms, alms for the poor! Alms!” he hears that a man called Jesus is coming. Jesus is a teacher, he teaches like no one people have ever heard, and he can even heal people. Heal people? All of a sudden there is a glimpse of light for Bartimaeus, a possibility that things could change. Bartimaeus has hope.
When Jesus does come through Jericho, he’s surrounded by crowds of people. Bartimaeus can’t see, but he can hear, and he knows he has to cry loud enough for Jesus to take notice of him. “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”
And the crowd tries to shut him up. “Be quiet! Don’t bother him! You’re annoying us! It’s crazy old blind, Bartimaeus again!”
But he doesn’t care. Hope has taken hold of him. It’s so strong, he’s willing to push through any obstacles that come his way. He calls louder, “JESUS! SON OF DAVID! HAVE MERCY ON ME!”
And Jesus stopped. And he said, “Bring him over here.”
So the annoyed crowd helps the blind man up, and guides him to Jesus. I picture him walking with his hands outstretched, searching to touch the face of the one who has heard his cry.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks.
“Rabbi, teacher, I want to see,” he says, speaking the words that have been his secret heart’s desire for so long, but he never dared to believe could ever happen.
“Go. Your faith has healed you.” Jesus said. And immediately– Bartimeaus could see.
For all those years, nothing in Bartimeaus’ life ever changed. But one day, Jesus came in and changed it.
With Jesus, comes hope.
For many of the kids in Sweetwaters, life seems pretty dark. There’s poverty, there’s not a strong education system, there’s high HIV prevalence rates. Everything is the same day after day. Nothing ever changes. “Your mom didn’t finish school?” the dark voices whisper. “You won’t. This is your life. You’ll always be stuck in this.”
But Jesus is coming. He’s here. He’s here in the body of Christ, his church, and he hears the cries of these kids. The very fact that Sizwe (and the other staff) knows these kids and loves them is a sign that Jesus noticed them. Things can be different. Things will be different. The impossible can happen.
With Jesus, there’s hope.
I’m so thankful to be part of a team that’s bringing Jesus hope to the kids in Sweetwaters, helping kids see that there is more to their stories and things can be different!