What changed my life is not what my father said, it’s what he did.
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.
12 thoughts on “A Life Changing Moment”
What an amazing life-changing moment.
I’ve always had a very strong memory of a moment from when I was in 4th grade. It wasn’t anything monumental and nothing really happened except God working inside my heart. But I feel like I got rewired that day and 25 years later I still am.
My dad was Air Force and we were stationed in Italy. We attended school on the base and I participated in the Girl Scouts. One day we went on a troupe field trip to Florence. I remember almost nothing about that day – a vague memory of the train and possibly of seeing a cathedral. But what is burned in my mind is the group of us walking down the street, looking for some place to eat lunch, and passing by beggars. There was a young boy, probably about my age at the time, shirtless and every rib showing. And a mother with a toddler asleep in her lap, crying out to passersby. The troupe leaders hustled us down the street without giving them a second look – and then rushed us into a cafe. And I couldn’t eat – couldn’t even fathom how any of them could want to eat – because of the desire to go back and give that boy or that woman my lunch. I was flabbergasted that so many people had so much but no one could spare those two a second glance. It was the first time in my life that I became aware there was real need in the world and it shattered everything I had known and I determined then not to be like everyone else.
James Mbewe says:
Wow! I can’t imagine the feeling you must have felt after seeing someone in need and not able to do anything about it. It’s moments like this that changes us for the better. There is sure a lot of need in the world today, but I think one act of kindness at a time is all it takes to make a difference.
Thanks for sharing!
FRANK CHEWE says:
I’m touched with your story James, I come from the same shanty compound and I know what you mean substantially. I have passed through the same things. It was that time when the late Mr.Kieth grimes was trying to better our lives through free education which was offered and the dream was shattered after his death.I have a story to tell. Right now I’m working with some white Christian family friends somewhere in the state of Missouri USA soon will be lunching PASSION FOR THE POOR ORGANIZATION INTL. Otherwise I have a story to tell because this is a Life Changing Moment.
James Mbewe says:
Thank you for sharing, Frank. Mr. Grimes was a life saver, a lot of lives were touched as a result of dedication to helping Zambian children. I am one of the many that was blessed through his generosity. I wish you well on your endeavor to helping the poor.
Josephine Muchimba Culver says:
What an incredible God we serve! Beautiful story James!
James Mbewe says:
Thank you for stopping by, Josephine. He is an awesome God indeed. Blessings!
Keith Hamusute says:
Great read and many of us that have lived through such hardships can relate. As a boy having lost my parents early in life, I too struggled with poverty and lived through some of the harshest parts of Lusaka, Mtendere, Mandevu, Ng’ombe and so forth. My life changed when we moved to Chalimbana college where my Aunt worked as a typist at Chalimbana basic school.
Then I would interact with lecturers’ children and would often go home crying and asking God why he decided to take my parents. My Aunt who had no children of her own would often tell me that I was just as good as those kids and would get me books to read. The books seemed to give me a new lease of life. It was not long before I shed off the victim mentality, delved deeper into books and began beating everyone in my class including those I supposed came from better homes. The rest as they say is history.
The point is, whatever we go through we should never lose our self-worth. At times it only takes some re-assuring words to set someone on the path of fulfilling their potential.
James Mbewe says:
Keith, what an inspiring story. Thank you for stopping by and sharing a little bit of your story.
Great piece. Visiting Bookworld along Cairo Road with my Dad to go and buy me a storybook as soon as I could read my first sentences. It was at that moment that I got lost in the world of Literature and I doubt if I would have been a writer if it was not for the visits to the bookstore that we shared. To this day we still discuss novels we have both read.
James Mbewe says:
Thank you for stopping by and sharing a little bit of your story, Peter. Reading is what help me excel in school. Be blessed!
Ferrell Winfree says:
The moment when I realized the path our Father had laid out for me came when I was 24 and was a Sunday School teacher at church. The USA was in terrible times with images of black children being attacked by dogs and people being brutalized by the police simply for attempting to eat in a café or their desire to vote. I was so touched by these things I was seeing. It was the early ’70s and the civil rights movement was underway. The lesson for Sunday School was the 10th chapter of Acts. This tells us of the vision Peter received from the Lord to teach him that the Gospel was for all people, both Jew and Gentile. I prayed and decided to teach the lesson to the young people in my class as black and white people. The Pastor’s son was in the class and he told his father what I had taught. The head of the board of deacons came to me (he was also my grandfather) and told me that I could not teach that and that I must tell the young people I had taught it incorrectly. He also shared with the policies that had been set up at the church if a person of color (that was not the term he used) came to the service. The policy was to dismiss the church and to force the person to leave. I prayed and I wept and I returned the next Sunday and I taught the same lesson again. This time, the Pastor, my grandfather and another deacon came to see me and told me that my name was being removed from the rolls of the church, that I was seeking to create trouble and would not be tolerated. It was at this moment that I realized the Lord had been preparing me for this work, the work of speaking truth in the arena of race relations. It is an arena, a fight against a society of abundance of some and depredation for many, a society that places more value on some because of the amount of or lack of color in their skin. It is not a path I would have chosen from a poster board of missions but it is my path and I walk it with my hand in His. Life changing? Yes, but never regretted.
James Mbewe says:
Thank you for standing up for the truth mom, the world needs more of you. If we truly understood what the scriptures teaches, and follow the teachings of Jesus’s, hate would have been a thing of the past. God is truth and love, anything other than this truth is not God’s.