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!
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.
… 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.