Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Model of Hope for Fathers Everywhere


Have you ever been stabbed in the back before? I think all of us would answer "yes" to that question ... but we would be speaking figuratively, not literally.

After we arrived in Bergville, South Africa ... a town where World Vision's "Okhahlamba Area Development Program" is headquartered ... we met a man who, quite literally, had been stabbed in the back. It happened during a train robbery that occurred when he was just a young man of 20-something. He left the hospital, after six months, in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. He now walks with the aid of crutches -- thanks to sheer determination -- and even drives a car with a manual transmission. Which is no small feat, as I have been trying hard to do the same thing here!

"Baba" Brian Xhala is now 55 years old and his life has undergone a remarkable transformation. (By the way, like "Mama," "Baba" is a term of respect and endearment here.)

He was raised in Durban but after his injury lived with his grandparents on their farm in the Okhahlamba area. Like most people he knew, he hated anyone whose skin was white because they represented the oppressive Apartheid regime. "We told ourselves that our hatred was merely political, but that wasn't what it was. It was simply hatred."

Thus his life, already quite complicated as a disabled person in a very impoverished place, became even more complicated when he learned that this organization called World Vision, led in Okhahlamba by a white-skinned Canadienne named Monika Holst, was moving into his neighborhood. "We were sure that they would soon move their fences and try to take over our land," he recalls.

He tried to avoid World Vision. But Xhala, a natural born leader and eloquent spokeman for his cause, soon found this to be daunting. He was serving on various civic committees representing the disabled, and World Vision soon began partnering with these organizations.

After several years of exposure to World Vision and its growing ministry among children in the area, Xhala says he gradually became convinced of the truth. "It was the love World Vision has for children. The way they helped them without reservation." He began attending meetings with World Vision. And in these meetings, something else happened. The Bible was opened. People prayed, and they worshipped.

Xhala was not a man of faith; like many around him, he believed "white man's religion" was just another tool of oppression. But what he read in the Bible startled him. The Bible proclaimed justice, and freedom from oppression for all people. Its hero, the Son of God, was crushed to bring freedom to the captives. Like Xhala's own back, Jesus' back was also scarred by human sin ... but he bared it willingly to the scourging so that others could be healed by His stripes.

Soon Xhala found that, just as he could not avoid World Vision, neither could he any longer avoid the Savior who loved him and gave His life for him.

Eventually Xhala became World Vision's director of disability ministries. He works specifically with a group of disabled sponsored children and others in the communities of Okhahlamba. His heart's desire, he says, is to teach and model for them a vision and a hope for a future bright with promise, even for those whose very disabilities tend to rob them of courage and hope.

"Training is the key," he proclaims. He has arranged computer skills training for many of the disabled students, and is very pleased at how well they have done. Some have already obtained very good jobs using their newfound knowledge; computer skills are very valuable in a society like South Africa's which is on the very verge of such technological advancements.

He is also working toward the startup, with microeconomic development funding from World Vision donors, of a casket-making business with mostly disabled staff. Casket-making is big business in South Africa, with its one-in-four prevalence of HIV.

And he finds that hope thrives in even the simplest achievements. While we were speaking, he produced a photo of a young woman in a wheelchair, who was tending a raised garden bed. "What her family really needed was food. When I suggested a garden, at first she scoffed. But together we came up with a plan on how it could work. Now she has one of the best gardens around."

Baba is a busy man, but he is well aware that he can't do it all. This knowledge gives rise to his focus on mentorship. He is pouring himself into the young people God brings into his life, and has already identified at least one that he can turn the reins of leadership over to when he retires.

Xhala, who is married and has two daughters of his own, now grown, is modeling hope for many in South Africa who were simply surviving before. I don't believe Father's Day is celebrated here in South Africa as it is at home in the U.S. (at least not on June 18), but I was sure Baba's story would be a great encouragement for the many fathers, like me, who want our lives to be an example of hope and faith to those around us.

1 comment:

Cal Kierum said...

Thanks for this message. Our church group that is seeking God's leading on our involvement in the AIDS crisis in Africa just was talking about issues that touch on much of what you shared. The connection between the compassion of Christ shared through World Vision, the salvation a man found through his experience of this compassion, and the fruit of his life serve as a great testimony to what He is doing through His children.