Tonight, while working late, my head finally acknowledges what my heart has known for some time: - this job is stealing every last remnant of my hope and joy.
Eight years have passed since I became the first female Editor of the “Eastern Cape Beacon.” I believed then that the weekly newspaper, with a circulation of almost sixty thousand, would forge change and I was proud to be at its helm.
Yet as I stare at this week’s layout, complete but for my editorial, I concede that we have failed. I have failed.
My predecessor had warned me how difficult this position would be. The Eastern Cape, birthplace of Nelson Mandela, is a place of contrasts. To a visitor, the province’s natural beauty may mask the problems of unemployment, poverty and HIV/Aids so prevalent amongst its people. Yet every week our newspaper reports on these hardships.
This edition’s headlines tell it all: Xenophobia threatens violence in squatter camps; Poachers kill mother rhino in Game Park; Farmers fight to survive devastating drought; Teachers charged with assault; Rail strike continues.
Every page is filled with bad news, devastation and defeat.
I try to clear my mind as I start working on my editorial, one that will once again highlight corruption and nepotism in the local government. Yet, the thought lingers that in eight years of reporting nothing has changed, except that the despair I see all around me has now sunk its icy talons into my life too.
As I rummage through my desk drawer for a pen, my hand grazes against cool leather - my Bible, forgotten and unread for months. There was a time when I could find God in its pages, but the darkness all around me has even obscured Him from my sight.
A photograph falls onto my desk as I open the Bible: six children crammed on a sofa, smiling for the camera. My friend, Lynne, had sent me the photo last Christmas with her newsletter, telling me about every child’s progress, with the pride and love of a true Grandmother. Except that these are not her grandchildren, but rather several of the children cared for by Agnes, their foster mother, in a poor Eastern Cape settlement. Lynne, as she supports Agnes’ work, has developed a deep love for each child.
I put the photo aside. More sad stories, I think. Children abused and neglected by their own parents – what is the world coming to?
My eyes are drawn to a passage in the open Bible: “…so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”*
I look again at the photo and a quiet understanding dawns on me. The children are cared for and loved. They have light in their lives.
Suddenly I know that this Editorial must be different.
It is easy to lose one’s way on a dark night, when the stars are obscured. I have lost my way recently, with the darkness of the world closing in on me as tangibly as a heavy blanket of cloud, settling a hopeless despair deep into my soul.
This darkness takes many forms here: poverty, corruption, violence and racism, to name but a few. Yet today I will not dwell in the gloom, instead I will point you to the light. For there are many among us who shine a light – beacons as bright and true as the Southern Cross that graces our sky.
One such star is a woman called Agnes, who cares for more than ten children in her small house in a dilapidated settlement outside East London. These children’s stories are dark ones: abusive and neglectful mothers, or parents who have died of AIDS. Some are HIV-positive themselves. Yet each one of them has found a home filled with light and love because this Godly woman, selfless and unafraid, lets her light shine in the world.
Another bright star is Lynne, the white woman who speaks fluent Xhosa. She has supported Agnes, sourcing financial and medical support and loving the children as if they were her own. On Sundays she comes to teach the settlement’s children about God and His love for them. And they believe her - for they see it shining through her eyes.
From them I learn: - do not let the darkness overcome you. Instead, shine to overcome the darkness.
Although the Editor and newspaper in this story are fictional, Agnes, Lynne and the children are not. This is my tribute to them. Thank you, my beautiful sisters-in-Christ, for so faithfully shining God’s light into the world. You are an inspiration.
* Philippians 2: 15-16 (NIV)
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