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The first time I encountered Sanelisiwe, she was engaged in a fiery conversation about HIV in a Life Skills course about 30 miles from the World Changers’ campus. In a little rural chapel, she was challenging her peers in a discussion about how the virus is transmitted.
“That is a lie!” she piped up, interrupting a classmate. “I’m sorry, but you cannot get the virus that way. That’s not true.”
I didn’t have to be in the room with her for long to see this is a woman who is an influencer and a change agent. So I wasn’t surprised to run into Sanelisiwe on campus a few weeks later when the newest round of residential leadership students arrived at World Changers. She is a natural leader, confident and outspoken.
She impressed me again at one of World Changers’ weekly talent shows. I was sipping tea and laughing with my friends over funny skits and energetic dancing. Suddenly Sanelisiwe captured my attention with a beautifully insightful poem she wrote called “Thank You.” Written to the people of World Changers, it reads, in part:
For all the “tell me about it” times and the hugs I get for free
For not having to be anything but dear, imperfect me
At 20 years old, she is still a young woman, and yet she has already experienced a good bit of life. She is the mother of a 15-month old son. She says she’s done some things and been through some hardships she doesn’t even want to mention now.
But when she stands up to speak, people listen. Dear, imperfect Sanelisiwe had something to teach me.
Sanelisiwe first heard about World Changers from her sister, who took a Life Skills course earlier this year. Her sister encouraged her to attend the next time the course came to town.
Busy drinking and hanging out with guys in her township, Sanelisiwe wasn’t sure she was interested in what the course had to offer. But she was eager to learn and growing weary of the life she had settled for.
“I was highly impressed with what I learned in Life Skills, but I didn’t know if I would finish the course because of the lifestyle I was living then,” Sanelisiwe remembered. “Finally there was something in me that said, ‘Stop. Change your life now, do whatever it takes, or you are going to destroy it. You deserve better than this.’”
Sanelisiwe devoted herself to the course and committed to be open to change. She recently returned to her township for the weekend to visit her family. Her mom told her she couldn’t believe the changed person who was before her eyes, helping out around the house and staying in to read the Bible instead of going out to drink with friends.
“I told her, ‘Mom, this is what I’m about now!’ World Changers has done wonders in my life. My old friends, my family, they notice. I’m not the same person I used to be.”
As I looked at this changed woman, I wondered what I would have thought of her if we’d met six months ago, before her encounter with World Changers.
Because I think there is a part of me that doesn’t really believe people are capable of change, that doesn’t really believe God is powerful enough to transform.
The AIDS Antithesis
Before we arrived in South Africa, we did some research about AIDS. One of the things I learned is that for the first six months after a person is infected with HIV, virus levels are extremely high in the infected person’s body, but symptoms have not yet appeared.
In fact, it can sometimes take up to six months for an HIV test to even reveal a positive status after the time of infection. As a result, the virus is often transmitted easily and unknowingly during this window of time.
What a nightmarish image—a deadly virus silently spreading through a seemingly healthy population.
I have walked through townships ravaged by the after-effects of those quiet months of rapid, unknowing transmission. Years later, all those seemingly healthy people are gone, leaving spouses and children grieving in their wake.
It’s enough to break your heart, until you meet a woman like Sanelisiwe.
Because when I sat across the couch from her and heard her tell me about the change happening in her life, I realized I was looking at the AIDS antithesis.
A Different Kind of Virus
World Changers is spreading a different kind of virus through the townships of KwaZulu-Natal, one that is just as quick to spread and even more potent.
Sanelisiwe’s sister’s life was changed by a Life Skills course, and she ran to tell her sister about it. Sanelisiwe’s life has now been changed, and she’s telling everybody she meets about it too.
Hope is spreading through this population, swiftly and forcefully. But like HIV, sometimes the symptoms don’t show up right away. Occasionally, it takes time for change to work its way through the system.
The thought of this kind of virus spreading silently through a seemingly hopeless population brings me such joy.
When I get overwhelmed by the cyclical nature of HIV or poverty or abuse, I want to remember dear, imperfect Sanelisiwe. I want to remember that the cycle can be broken, that the darkness will not win, that a virus stronger than HIV is at work in this world.
The next time I meet someone in a rotten place, I want to remember that, like Sanelisiwe, this person doesn’t need my judgment or my doubt. That dear, imperfect person might just be on the brink of radical life change.
Maybe it doesn’t look like it. Maybe it doesn’t feel like it. Maybe everything rational says it’s impossible. But I’ve seen God do a miracle work of transformation here in South Africa, and I know now it is possible.
I’ve walked through townships renewed by Loving South Africa’s partner ministries, and I can tell you that the hope virus is alive and well and multiplying through this population, leaving changed people in its wake.
- Do you believe people are really capable of change? Do you believe God is powerful enough to transform? If not, ask your friends and relatives for stories of change they have experienced and be encouraged!
- Pray for students like Sanelisiwe in World Changers programs who are at the very beginning of a path toward new life. Pray that they would not lose heart and that God would provide for them as they go through the tough road of transformation.
- Want to be a part of a team of world changers? Take the first step and contact Nick for ways you can get involved with LSA to raise awareness for World Changers and the other LSA ministries.
About the Author: Jen Gunnels is a 2012 summer intern. She graduated in 2005 from Indiana University, where she studied journalism, political science and IU basketball. She loves sports, country music and the state fair and after feeling a stirring in her heart to leave her cubicle and go write, she is doing just that!