I met Agnes Gwabile at St Anne’s, a shelter for abused and destitute women and their children, last year. Since then, she’s moved to the St Anne’s Second Stage Home, which has space for four women who have progressed from the first stage shelter and can afford to pay rent. In February this year, we launched a Connect Group – led by Nadia Sommer and Jackie Kabeta – at the second stage home, even though Agnes and a young woman named Therizia were the only residents. (The photos were all taken at Connect Group. Agnes’s little daughter Sima blinked every time the flash went off, and Nadia was unable to get a picture of her with her eyes open.) This is Agnes’s story, as she told it to me.
Last year, when I was pregnant with my daughter Sima, I had no one. The man who made me pregnant had left me, so I had no one next to me, no father of the child, no friends. My sons Sandiso and Asanda were in the Eastern Cape with my mother. I was not working and I didn’t have anything. I was looking after a house in the township that belonged to someone who was working in George. I was so stressed and I was always crying. At night, I was not even sleeping. I locked myself in the house and put a big lock on the door. I was too scared to go outside to fetch water because people were always looking at me, like they were laughing at me. When people came to knock, they thought there was no one home, but I was in the house. I just didn’t want people to see me.
When you’ve got a problem, the devil is the first one to come to you, telling you: ‘You see, you’ve got this problem, and the only way you can solve the problem is to kill yourself. If you killed yourself, you wouldn’t feel a thing anymore.’ And then he was always showing me how to kill myself, like I could make a fire under the bed, and then I could sleep on the bed and cover myself and then the house would burn down with me inside it.
During that time, when I was thinking of killing myself, God came to me and said: ‘What about those two children you’ve got in the Eastern Cape? Those children, they need you. You can’t do this.’ Those words gave me strength. I saw that God was with me. I didn’t know how to pray and I didn’t trust that if I prayed my prayer was going straight to God, but I was talking to God with song. There was one song I was always singing from a small book of Xhosa songs. The meaning of that song is: ‘To trust God and believe in Him is the right thing to do.’ So I was always singing that song.
After that, when I was seven months pregnant, I started to sell sweets and chips in front of the Labour Department in town. God showed me that I could go there. I found friends there, and people talked to me and they helped me. They even helped me with clothes for the baby. After I gave birth, when my baby was three weeks old, I went back to sell again, but I saw that I was only making small money. I knew about St Anne’s, and I went to speak to them about my situation, and they said that I could move in there. They helped me with a lot of things, milk, nappies, clothes, everything. I fetched my youngest son Asanda before I gave birth, and then my eldest son Sandiso came for the holidays in December and I decided that he should also stay with me.
When I was at St Anne’s, there was a lady named Nazley, from Hillsong, who came to fetch us for Church on a Sunday morning. I liked the Church and I liked to hear about God. (Now I come with the bus from the CTICC.) I also went to the COLOUR Conference in April. It was very nice. It helped me to be strong, and I learnt about how God loves me. But the ladies who opened my eyes and my heart are the two ladies, Nadia and Jackie, who lead the Connect Group every Wednesday in our house. Yes, I was going to Church before, but I was just going. I didn’t know anything about God, or that I must open my heart, or that I must forgive people. So they taught me to forgive people and to open my heart to let Jesus come into my heart. So I invited Jesus into my heart. That changed me. I wasn’t an angry person anymore. I used to shout at my children because of stress, but now I’ve stopped doing that. Inside, I feel like I’ve got hope.
After I opened my heart to Jesus I saw how my life changed. One day a man stole something from my stand that cost R60. I was angry, but then one of the customers said to me, ‘You must forgive him.’ So I forgave him. The next day, after I dropped the children at the crèche, I found R50 lying on the ground. And then I thanked God because I knew He was replacing what had been taken from me the day before. I realised God really is with me everywhere I go.
In May, things were not going well. I couldn’t make enough money to pay the rent and feed my children. I thought about giving them up for adoption. At the time I felt like I was in the dark. In Connect Group they talked with me. They said that God gave me these children and He would give me a plan and more money in my business to provide for them. They also helped me, and so I kept my children.
God is helping me to see what to do in my business. Before, I would take the grant I received for my children, which was R500, to buy stock for my stand. But instead of making a profit I was losing money. I wasn’t making anything. What changed was that I started to tithe. I learnt at Connect Group about tithing. It was difficult because my business was not making money, and I had only small money. But Nadia and Jackie read a Bible verse to me, where God says: ‘Try me’ [Malachi 3:10]. So I tried Him and then I saw that something changed.
In the past I was living from hand to mouth with nothing extra. I’d make small money and then I’d go to Shoprite to buy something for us at home to eat. But after I started tithing, I started making enough money to start saving. Now, I save the money I make from Monday to Thursday. I use Friday’s money to buy my weekly groceries. So I don’t have to go to Shoprite every day to buy something to eat. I go straight home, and I open the cupboard and I think about what I’m going to cook today. God has blessed my business. I now sell coffee, pies, donuts, samosas and biscuits. From this week, I’m also selling fruit and cool drinks. Yesterday, I was at Nedbank to open an account to save.
At the moment, I’m doing the Discovery Course at Church. When I started Discovery, I asked them how to pray and they taught me. I learnt how to ask God for everything I need, but also to say to Him: ‘God, what can I do for you? I’m here. You can use me.’ So now I want to work for God. I want to help people who are in the same situation as I was, people who have stress and don’t know about God or what to do. If I see a woman with a baby, who doesn’t have clothes, or nappies, or milk, I want to do for her what the Hillsong people did for me. And I want to bring people to Church. After I finish Discovery, I’m going to start volunteering on the Host Team.
I feel the Holy Spirit in my heart. I feel like praying, and singing, and talking about God all the time. Even there at my stand, we are always talking about the Bible and God. I spent many years busy with other things. The years that are coming now, I want to spend with God. I want to build my relationship with Him.
Please pray for Agnes. She needs a new location for her stand as she’s no longer allowed to sell at her current location.
Posted by Michelle Buchel-Kruger