I was born and raised in a shanty compound east of the capital city of Zambia. Kalingalinga was one of the poorest communities in Lusaka. An average worker made about $30 a month. Poverty, crime, diseases, witchcraft, and prostitution were rampant; there were more bars than there were churches. The nearest schools were about four to five miles away. People called Kalingalinga the dark city because of all the crime.
Our house did not have running water or electricity. Mom had to go to the market every morning to buy fresh food. One Sunday morning, my mother was making her trip to the market and was stopped by a missionary. The missionary gave mom a Bible and other pamphlets. She politely accepted them. My mother did not know how to read or write; she never had a formal education. Both my parents did not attend church and did not know what to do with the materials. Thus my mother used the pages of the Bible to wrap roasted peanuts that she sold on the streets to supplement my dad’s $40 per month income.
The following year, I wanted to go to school with my older brother, but the school principal thought it would be dangerous for me to make the four and half mile trip through the corn fields. I had heard stories of kids who had been kidnapped and killed taking the same gravel road I would have to take, but that did not deter my ambition to go to school and become a doctor someday. After I learned that I couldn’t go to school until next year, I was crushed. I attempted to teach myself to read by using what was left of the Bible. I wanted to prove to my parents that I was ready for school. My determination paid off. I had learned how to read.
The first year of school was great. I was excited to finally start learning English and how to write. I had excelled through the third grade, but by the fourth grade, I had become a target for bullies. By then, I realized my family was very poor compared to most of the kids in the school. The kids would tease me, spat on me, and call me names. The fact that I was wearing old hand-me-down girl shoes and a patched up uniform, made the situation even worse. I started to resent school. I was afraid to tell my parents about the torture I was going through. Something had to change if I was going to make it.
I became the monster the kids were afraid of. I became mean and fearless to gain respect from the bullies. I started to physically hurt the students who teased or bullied me. I was at the principal’s office at least seven or eight times per week because of all the fights I had gotten into and was suspended from school numerous times. The principal told my parents at one point that if I didn’t change, they would have to expel me from school, but I felt respected and important, because the students feared me.
One afternoon I came home from school, I had lunch and set out to play with a friend, but a neighborhood kid started to tease and taunt us. I picked up a sizable rock and threw it at the boy as hard as I could. The rock hit the boy in the top left side of his head barely missing his eye. The boy fell to the ground and was unconscious for several minutes. He was rushed to a clinic at my dad’s work. I knew immediately that I had done something very bad and was afraid my dad was going to literally kill me. My dad gave me harsh punishments very often since I started to get in trouble, but none of the punishments would make me stop the destructive path I was taking. This incident was very different; I saw my life in a different light.
I fled and hid until evening. I had contemplated about spending the night in the nearby bushes, but the thought of poisonous snakes and spiders made me think twice. By the time I came home, I had hoped my dad, who was an alcoholic, would be gone to the bars, but he wasn’t. I came into the yard and heard him talking with my mom. My heart sunk. I had never been this scared for my life before. I made my way to the front door and stopped. Then I heard him call my name. I responded and made my way into the house. He asked me to get a stool and sit in front of him. He looked me in the eyes and told me that what I did was very bad and never to do it again. I got startled as he reached to grab something on the table next to him. I was expecting a devastating blow on my head to knock me unconscious; instead he grabbed a plate of food and handed it to me. He said bye to my mom and left for the bar.
I ate my food in silence. This was unlike my dad. I was afraid he would come home and still punish me severely. He came home three hours later that evening a little drunk and did not say a word about what I did.
For several weeks I lived in fear. I had stayed out of trouble, expecting my dad will come home one day and snap at me. I had all these unanswered questions of what made him act this way. I started to read the half Bible again. Three weeks had past, nothing.
One evening, I was sitting outside doing my homework. My dad came home and told me he had gotten something for me. He handed me a package and I opened it. It was a brand new Bible. Wow! My family did not have a lot of money and Bibles were very expensive. His simple gesture was a life changer to say the least. It was then that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that he had forgiven me. All my fears melted away.
If my father could forgive me, could I do no less for those who had wronged me? I forgave the students who bullied me, and I set out to right the wrongs. My goal was to make a difference and to be a friend to everyone, including the least popular kids. Mothers of my friends at home took notice of the drastic change and would use me as an example for their children. It’s amazing how something so simple, an act of love and grace, but yet so powerful would change my life forever.
What are some of the life changing moments you have experienced? How did some of the things you went through shaped who you are today? Maybe sharing them here can be a life changer for someone else — you never know.