“But I tell you, love your enemy …”
Every group that God sends for I Was Hungry training is absolutely unique, and Epworth were no exception. The first thing that struck a chord was their joy. Maybe it sprang from a specific element within this particular little band of people – a priceless thread which ran through many of their stories – forgiveness. The group is made up of victims of violence and abuse. And God, being God, added some of the perpetrators alongside them. One would wonder at such a dangerous blend, but He sees all and knows exactly each moment when hearts are ripe for His plans. These people had already begun a journey of reconciliation, but the two weeks at Clouds End would quietly and gently immerse them in a deeper pool of healing as the Holy Spirit continued His work.
They were a mixed bag. Elderly folk, young people, widows, fathers trying to sustain families, single mothers struggling to support their young and, as usual, a sprinkling of Gogos (Africa’s grandmothers). A cross section of the poorer class, trying desperately to survive this harsh economic climate. They have been hard hit. At times life has been almost unbearable. Yet they arrived joyful, and full of hope. Enthusiastic. Eager to learn, and excited about carrying precious, new-found knowledge back home to impact their communities.
Despite the diversity of their stories, each is streaked with anguish and hardship. Tembi’s impoverished background left her uneducated, but not without determination. She learned dressmaking and gardening to earn a living. Then later she was the victim of violence, leaving her with a badly damaged leg and hand which made her work very difficult. But she has persevered, and was elated about being chosen to come on the course.
Fungai is a woman of plain features, yet with soft, gentle eyes. Eyes that shine with a kind and temperate spirit, but looking into them, one has the sense that they have beheld much sorrow and pain. She admits to times when life has been almost unliveable, but never without God’s grace sufficient to carry her through.
The people within this group came from two different parts of Epworth, but soon worked happily alongside one another, singing their way through the practical teachings of composting and digging planting stations. Meantime the classrooms held way more than farming technology and as the Holy Spirit washed over open hearts, the Alpha Course uncovered meaningful truths, penetrating a new level of healing and forgiveness. And a fresh desire to go deeper with God. Ten people gave their lives to Christ, and thirteen were baptised.
Most had some sort of land to return to, whether a small patch, or a larger field – but all left eager to pay forward what they had been given. Some victims of violence actually share neighbourhood fences with those who perpetrated cruel acts against them, but God has a plan. He is working. The knowledge this group has been equipped with is for the empowerment of all, and as eyes are cast across dividing lines, responding a frank willingness to share knowledge, barriers are surely set crumble.
One young man wrote during the course: ‘What I am learning has touched my heart. I wasn’t expecting to hear the Word of God like this – it has convicted me. Previously I’d asked for forgiveness, but this was motivated by fear. Now I want to go back and ask from my heart – out of love – because I have seen what Jesus has done for me…’