You are the indispensable agent of change. You should not be daunted by the magnitude of the task before you. Your contribution can inspire others, embolden others who are timid, to stand up for the truth in the midst of a welter of distortion, propaganda, and deceit; stand up for human rights where these are being violated with impunity; stand up for justice, freedom, and love where they are trampled underfoot by injustice, oppression, hatred, and harsh cruelty; stand up for human dignity and decency at times when these are in desperately short supply.
– Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I was thrilled when my iPhone immediately responded to my attempt to get online. I posted my story, and then joined the others for a restful dinner and a brief reflection led by Reverend Leigh Spruill. We were a large group of twenty-six, and the first night we encouraged the “new pilgrims” to speak, telling us what their eyes, ears and hearts had felt in this new land. There were the inevitable stories about the incredible poverty, but there were also many about the joy of the people. There were comments
about how the work of St. Thomas glorified God. We were all amazed at how positive everyone was, even in the face of relentless poverty, illness and death. I tried hard not to think about Buti and what an awful life he was destined for, virtually abandoned by his mother, not going to school, and hanging around with the wrong friends. I hated to think that he had no hope of a better future. But I was reluctant to speak because I was confused. I knew that I was supposed to love Buti as a child of God, but
what if he was doing the terrible things they said? I seemed to be facing this conflict rather frequently of late.
When the reflection ended, a few people in the group wanted to go up the street to a little bar that we frequented each year, but I was tired and wanted to charge the battery in my camera to make sure that I was ready for the next day. We had a rule that no one ever walked alone on our mission trips, and as Leigh Spruill was also heading back for the night, I asked if I could walk back with him.
As we walked in the darkness together, Leigh asked, “I know you’ve been here before, but has this trip been different from the others? Has the newness of the poverty worn off now that you’ve been here four times?”
“That’s a good question. On my first trip, I felt an incredible love for the people, but a sadness of how they live. That first day, I was overwhelmed with the poverty and numb with despair. My thoughts were paralyzed when I couldn’t get the picture of those children in Soul City out of my mind. I remember the first night that I started to cry during our evening devotion saying, ‘But it’s hopeless. No matter what we do when we are here, there is too much that needs to be done. We can never make a difference.’
“Larry Trabue consoled me that night, saying, ‘God doesn’t ask you to eliminate all the poverty in South Africa. It would be an impossible task for one person, even if you were Bill Gates. But God does ask you to listen to His voice and do what He asks you to do. It may mean when you get back to Nashville that God asks you to send a note of encouragement to someone, or perhaps to read a book to a senior adult in a nursing home. Remember, you don’t have to do ‘great’ things in the world’s eye by seeking fame and notoriety. Instead, God asks us all to do small things every day. What’s important is listening for God’s voice and obeying Him, even if the task seems small. If it is what God wants you to do, it is huge in God’s eyes.’”
“A great piece of advice, particularly for your first trip, when you were overwhelmed by the conditions here. So, is this trip striking you differently?” Leigh asked again.
I started to answer but had to swallow hard as tears welled up in my eyes. I was tired from the day and struggling with my emotions.
“What’s wrong? What are you feeling?” Leigh asked.
“I’m crying for Buti, the seventeen-year-old boy at the house. Did you meet him?”
“I don’t think so. Is he the one that we heard the stories about, the father’s girlfriend’s son?”
“Yes, he’s the one. You were painting in the front room and he was helping in the other room. I’m crying because of the way everyone was judging him and treating him. I had been interviewing Mashadi for my blog and when I walked outside, I saw him sitting in the dirt. At first he wouldn’t look me in the eye, but when I said his name, his eyes met mine. I asked him why he wasn’t helping fix up the house and he said, ‘I’m not wanted’. It was the way that he said the word, ‘wanted’. He didn’t just mean
he wasn’t needed to help paint; he was saying he wasn’t wanted as a person, that he’s an outcast.
“I knew immediately he was the boy we’d heard about. But everyone was ignoring him, like he didn’t exist. They’d walk right by him and not even acknowledge him with any word, let alone a kind word. His mother is an alcoholic, he doesn’t have any place to live and he has no money for food. What an awful life for a young boy. I’m upset because I don’t know how to feel. Here we are, Christians, and we are treating him poorly. I know he shouldn’t do the things he’s been accused of, but isn’t he just trying to survive? He told me he wants to go back to school, that his favorite subjects are math and science, and he wants to be an engineer. I’m all for helping Mashadi and her family, but can’t we help him too? He’s a child of God, just like we are. And we are sinners, just like he is. How do we measure the difference in the sins? Is there no difference? I guess my tears are for everyone tonight, Mashadi, Buti and us. We are all sinners.”
“Yes, we are all sinners. It’s okay to cry for those who are being hurt by the world. And you’ve raised some great questions. Why do we choose to single out the people that we are going to love and care for? After all, Jesus said love thy neighbor and he meant everyone.”
“Thanks for listening, Leigh. I’ll keep everyone in my prayers tonight. Good night.” The tears were dripping silently as I placed the key in the gate of my house. “Thanks for walking me home.”
I couldn’t sleep. How could a seventeen-year-old with no parents and no education hope to survive? I was wrestling with the fate of both Mashadi and Buti, looking for answers when there were none.
To be continued in Chasing My Father..!
Praise for Chasing My Father
“Agatha Nolen knows that it’s life’s hard things that often open our eyes to the crucial things. As she recounts here her pursuit of meaning and faith, she shares without flinching the detours and discoveries of her compelling story.We see how even amid setbacks a divine Presence does not give up on bringing us into new possibilities.”
—The Very Reverend Timothy Jones, Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Columbia, South Carolina, and author of Art of Prayer: A Simple Guide to Conversation with God.
“Chasing my Father is a compellingly honest insight into Agatha Nolen’s personal journey of transformation through multiple challenging situations. Her story reminds us that the places wego in order to help others transform all too often become the places of our own transformation, if we are open to that possibility.Agatha is clearly open to it and this makes her story worth reading.”
—Craig Stewart, Director, The Warehouse, Cape Town, South Africa
“This book grabbed me from the first. It is very thought provoking and has caused me to stop reading and really think about the spiritual principles being presented. There are so many levels on which I can really identify with her journey to understanding, enlightenment and faith. Finding a church home and family to unconditionally accept her and lift her up as a fellow Christian is a powerful part of understanding what it means to be a child of God.”
“This book held my interest from beginning to end; in fact, I read it in a couple of days. Agatha’s story is an excellent example of how God uses everything in our lives to teach and help us. Thank you, Agatha, for sharing your sacred story and may you continue to grow in wisdom and strength each day of your life.”
“I truly enjoyed reading Chasing My Father. I felt your pain and heartaches as well as rejoiced in your blessings. I am thankful you shared your life’s journey. I know it wasn’t an easy task to put it to paper. It gives a little more insight to the wonderful person we already know professionally. May God continue to guide and bless your life.”
“This is a deeply personal account of the author’s journey through life’s most difficult challenges and the ability to rise above and beyond. This is a must read for anyone doubting how faith can give strength, bring peace and give meaning to life.”
About the Author
Dr. Agatha Nolan grew up in Geneseo, NY in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York, and now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Oklahoma and a Ph.D. degree from Tennessee State University. She played varsity Golf on the inaugural Women’s Golf team at OU, 1974-1976 and has practiced pharmacy in New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Tennessee. She works for HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) in the Corporate Offices located in Nashville, TN. She gives tours at the Frist Center for Visual Arts and serve on the Docent Advisory Group (2012-2014). She enjoys writing, art, photography, reading, golf, and conversation. At St. George’s Episcopal Church, she is a Healing Prayer Minister, teaches in the Inquirer’s Class, and travels to South Africa annually on mission trips.