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A Very Different Mothers’ Day

A Very Different Mothers’ Day


I spent this past Mothers’ Day just outside a township in Western Cape, South Africa. I was asked to speak at a church and give “a Mothers’ Day message”. All good, not a problem … until the pastor told me that there were three mothers in the congregation who’d lost their sons – killed in gang violence – since last Mothers’ Day.


Shaken to the Core

This year, I found myself on the road (again) … and missed spending Mothers’ Day with my mother and my wife. It’s the price you pay I guess. But it does leave you with a heavy heart.

So I arrived at this church early on Mothers’ Day morning, feeling, I must confess, sad that my 88-year-old mother was spending her Mothers’ Day alone. Yes I’d managed to spend a day with her (in lieu) before I left for South Africa, but it’s not the same is it. Her heart was heavy too … I could tell, when I called and spoke to her on the phone.

As is often the case when I’m asked to speak at a church, I had no idea what I was walking into. Yes, I had my message prepared. Yes, I met the pastor – a great guy – before the service. But it’s what he said to me over a cup of tea as the people were arriving downstairs, that shook me to the core.

On average I get called to one gang killing a month. I stand next to the body of a young man with multiple bullet holes, holding his weeping mother. I take the funeral and bury her son … and then, life goes on. So today, we will have several mothers in the congregation who have lost their sons since last Mothers’ Day.

He was right. He asked for a show of hands of mothers who had lost their sons in the last twelve months, and three hands went up.

It shook me to the core, as did the number of motherless children and teenagers at the service. Some of these kids were orphaned. Others, well, mum was in prison … or she just didn’t bother to show up.

Most of us, I’m guessing, live in very different circumstances to these. But for this pastor, for these people, this is life. This is how it is.


A Lonely Boy

It put a whole different slant on the Mothers’ Day message I shared. This wasn’t one of those soft pink fluffy slippers and dressing gowns type of Mothers’ Day experiences that you see in the TV ads. This was a gritty and for many, a deeply painful Mothers’ Day … mothers remembering children they could never hold in their arms again; children yearning for mothers that just weren’t there.

Before the service a young boy – he was ten or eleven years old I’m guessing, completely alone in the world – remarked to the pastor that I looked a lot like his dad. I have no idea where his dad was, but the boy was living with the youth pastor and his wife. He was a great kid, full of beans.

During the service, he left his friends, and came and sat in the empty seat next to me and held onto my arm. It was hard for me to hold it together at that point!


Palpable Love

With all this going on, I was struck by the palpable love in this community. At the end of the service, the pastor invited all the people whose mothers were in the congregation come to forward, he handed out a framed poem about mothers for each to give to their mums … which they did, young and old.

Then, he invited all the children without mothers (and there were a lot of them) to come forward, to take a framed poem and give it to the mothers who had lost a child.

Finally, he invited all the mothers forward, prayed for them and encouraged them, with their mothers’ hearts, to reach out over the coming year, to all these kids who had no mothers.

At that point, I’m pretty safe in saying, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

I’m just telling it to you the way it happened.

I’ve deliberately not told you the place, the name of the church or the name of the pastor. I just don’t think that that’s what these people would want me to do.


So …

… what do we take away from all that? What do those of us who are blessed with families that are largely together, by and large functional and loving, do with all of that?

I’d like to leave you with three things to reflect on, if I may:

Be Grateful. If your mother is still around, go and give her a big hug. You’re truly blessed. Truly.

Be Mindful. Those of us who have loving families are by no means the norm. Many, many families have been torn apart. Many are dysfunctional. Many mothers and children are alone. It’s just the way it is. Okay, perhaps your family ain’t perfect. But you have a family. You’re not that little boy who clung to my arm. Don’t forget those who don’t have all that you do.

Be Compassionate. The smallest act of kindness, the smallest act of love, can change lives. Compassion isn’t just what we feel in our hearts. It’s what we do with our lives.

Learn to do good. Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.
(Isaiah 1:17)


  1. We moved to South Africa almost 30 yrs ago, to continue our mission work. All that you experienced has escalated since we have been here. It is truly heart-breaking to see these families being torn apart by Satan. My husband meets with pastors from an area where this is almost a daily occurrence, and they are truly weary. I am glad you were there for this church.

  2. I am 37 now, but this has just reminded me the kind of life I led having lost my parents early in life. Through it all I have witnessed the Word of God manifest in my life and that of my siblings so tangibly. God has all along been our Father and has always made a way for us. It is not at all an easy journey, but with God’s care and guidance we emerge victorious. Thank you for sharing Berni.

  3. Hi Berni
    I hope you don’t mind. I am the pastor of the church in Cape Town where you preached on Mother’s day. The reason why I am responding is because you had me in tears as I read your blog. Most of the time through faith and obedience we just get caught up in what we believe we’ve been called to do and we don’t even realize the significance and impact of our ministry on people’s live’s until we have the opportunity to see our ministry through the eyes of someone like you. So ya’ your blog and comments from others has been used by the Holy Spirit to make my heart more passionate for the desolate and broken people of our community.
    Thanks again for your ministry visit with us. God bless! .

    • Bruce, thank you for the privilege of worshipping with you. Know that the Lord is using you in an amazing way to bind up the broken-hearted. Your brother in Christ, Berni

  4. Wow, powerful stuff. Didn’t get to the end of the blog without having tears at several points. What bondness on the part of this 10 y.o. kid to sit with you away from his friends and reach out for connection as you reminded him of his father! He has such courage and guts. What a moving gesture the pastor organised at the end of the service to bless all mum those with and without children who had died, such a great heart for people and those that are hurting. God bless this pastor and his congregation in the most appropriate ways to meet their needs and that they truly connect with God their heavenly maker. Thanks for sharing Berni.

  5. It touched me so that you shared this with us Berni, thank you, these very real lives, and how the pastor called forth each and everyone to all those without and with to be there for each other. It made me think of the importance of staying in touch by being there with those we see in need…but really doing it. It touched me how that young lad sat next to you and held your arm.
    Such tender mercies, how the Lord speaks through us all in so many different ways. Thank you for sharing this. I praise God for that pastor and his congregation example to me.

  6. Wow what ,just literal breaking in tears,God blessed and heal their broken soul ,give them hope ,take away bitterness,anger .

  7. I lost my mum at age 15 and didn’t see my daughter on Mother’s Day as she was working – so it felt lonely but at least I am a Mum. And I was able to enjoy lunch with my girl a few days before Sunday. I often open up emails prior to Mother’s Day that are competitions “Win your Mum a night out”… “Win your Mum this necklace” and I’m not qualified to enter.. I know it’s just a competition but it’s still painful that I can’t do these things. Those Mums who face Mother’s Day with grieving hearts for lost children – my heart hurts for them. And for the children who have no Mum or parents. May God comfort them and fill their lives with love and his tender mercies.

  8. No words can express . We don’t know till it happens to us. But it will be unbearable. Life won’t be worth living if I lost my grandson. So precious to me. Yes . So many sad mums on Mother’s Day. I’m one of the lucky ones. Thank you Jesus. I’m so blest.

  9. At the end of reading this my eyes are wet..May GOD be with them, the mothers and children and comfort them…
    Thanks a lot for sharing this, Berni..

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