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Life and Death on our Doorstep

On Sunday afternoon we received news that one of the children in our Rays of Hope projects had been hurt at home and was being rushed to the clinic. A few minutes later Bertha (who works for Rays of Hope) informed us that Sifiso had died. It turned out that Sifiso (an 18 month old baby) was accidentally burned when, while his mother was not looking, he reached for water which was in a pot over a fire outside the shack . While he was being rushed to the clinic his skin turned from caramel to charcoal and started peeling. The doctors said he had suffered third degree burns on over 80% of his little body. They tried to save him, but in vain.

Sifiso’s mom is Martha, her sister Ethel and brother Lucky were one of the first families in the Child-Headed Households project. Although they were released from the programme, they are still very much part of the wider CHH family. Fortunately, Bertha and other members of the team arrived quickly at the clinic to support them.

Bertha and I went to visit the family first thing on Monday morning. Nothing had prepared me for what I was about to see. I had to squeeze myself through various shacks to get to their house (maybe I should lose some weight?). When we got there I noticed the ashes from the fire that was used to heat the water. It was cold and raining but we had to meet outside the shack to talk about what happened and the way forward. I looked into the dark shack to see why we could not meet inside, but I saw that all their clothes, bedding and furniture was soaked because of the rain and there were pools of water on the floor. I hugged each of them and noticed that they were all wet. The two children present (both looked under six years old) were wet from the rain and Martha, who had also been burned herself when she tried to save the baby, was also wet.

You could see that they were all severely traumatised because they had just seen the most fragile member of their family die a very painful death in their arms, and now the mother was facing possible charges and arrest for murder or negligence. On top of this, it was up to them to bury the child, but among them they had less than R300 in the bank. The whole place was overshadowed by a dark and heavy cloud of hopelessness and death.

What shocked me the most was that all three of the people we were speaking to were children. In our culture and in my family when such tragedy strikes all the relatives and neighbours descend on the scene immediately. The elders among them play a central role in supporting and giving direction to those who are grieving. The elders literally take over but these young people had no one! I quickly realized that we were all they had. With nothing in hand we started making plans for the funeral (in faith).

As we finished I felt a strong urge to pray out of sheer desperation. As we stood holding hands in the rain we called upon the name of the Lord out of a desperation I had rarely experienced before. Our prayers centred around the ‘God of all comfort who is able to comfort us in all our afflictions’’ ( 2 Cor1:3). We cried out that HE would bring HIS comfort , provision and presence … that Christ, the manifestation of God’s goodness, would be revealed to all those involved in this tragedy.

When we finished praying, I promise you, it was like a dark cloud had lifted, you could see this in all the faces of the gathered. It was now as if rays of hope broke in and there was a sense of expectation and boldness about what was ahead.

Two hours later the grave, casket, hearse and undertaker and more were paid for through a gift from Lucky’s employers (RUC). Most things were already organised for the funeral. Late that afternoon after driving to police stations, mortuary, undertakers, home affairs etc. we dropped off the mother and his brother at their home. Before she went out of the car she said something that I noted. She said, “In the morning I was sure that I wanted to kill myself, I never thought that I would be laughing and joking like we have been all day... and it all started during that prayer”.
We are all filled with awe and wonder at what God has been doing among us the last few days. We are grieving but our hearts are overflowing. Indeed “He is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble” (Ps 46:1). It seems that His glory shines even brighter the deeper the darkness.