Every Person Has a Story: But Not Like Mirriam

A couple days ago HH, the Bear and I were on the road to visit an orphanage near Paarl to explore a potential partnership. In my mind I’d imagined being greeted by a quaint little building, lots of bunk beds, and smiling faces that might look a lot disheveled, a little hungry.

I didn’t get the greeting I bargained for.

Through one of our friends at Paarl Family Church, we were being introduced to a woman named Mirriam. I’d heard the words “The Mirriam Project” mentioned, which made me picture fancy lettering on brochures, marketing, and a team of dedicated people taking care of orphans in need.

I was way off.

We drove into a township just outside Paarl, passing gates and fences, grassless front yards and cinderblock homes, tiny puppies and kittens roaming dirt roads. These scenes have become familiar to me… shacks and fruit stands, surprising ingenuity and abject poverty sitting side by side. A vintage Coca-Cola sign closes a gap to make the wall of a small shack complete.

We turned onto a side street and pulled Potato to a grumbly diesel stop halfway off the road on a patch of gravel. Through the gate of a tiny lot, perhaps not much bigger than some of your living rooms, stood a six foot container, decorated and being used as a home, and next to it a reasonably sized shack constructed of split pole walls and corrugated tin roofing.

Inside the kitchen stood a small stove, a large, deep freezer chest, a creatively constructed centre island workstation that also provided storage, a dividing wall with cupboards, separating the living area from the kitchen. I’ve lived in homes with bigger bathrooms than the living area of the home, but it was tidy and well kept. A small table skirt neatly laid over the armchair where the Bear and I took a seat.

And then we were introduced to Mirriam.*

Inside the walls of this tiny shack, two back rooms with bunk beds, another room with a double bed, Mirriam is a mother for twenty-five children. Ranging in age from 1 or 2 to twenty, she is a living testimony to James 1:27:

Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit widows and orphans in distress and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

She has taken in children with nowhere else to go. Children on their death beds. Children who have been counted worthless by the world and abandoned.

A tiny little one, even younger than the Bear toddled in with a helping hand. She had a heart-tugging smile. Her name was Virginia.**

She was left in a trash bag, and some people called me to come. I went and opened the bag and she was purple from the heat. No one thought she would live. When I brought her home everyone said “You bring death to this house.” But I prayed and fasted and worshipped God. I am a worshipper and when I worship, people are healed. At the hospital they said there was no hope, but they took her and cared for her and then I got a call to come. I was afraid she had died, but I said to the Lord, “Lord, if you do love me, You won’t bring this to me. Please, if You are the God You say You are, it will be well.” When I arrived at the hospital, she was well, and the nurses told me I could bring her home.

I watched as another little boy named Joseph stood by Mirriam’s chair. Also younger than the Bear, his head was at just the right height to rest on her lap. As she continued to share her life and the stories of the children with us, Joseph’s eyes softly closed and I expected him to soon fall asleep standing up. He’d been found in an empty house. His mother had left him alone there. I’m not sure if they knew for how long.

Mirriam also shared the story of another boy who had just come to live with them. Isaac had been left on Miriam’s doorstep. His mother came to ask for help, and while they were still talking, she left him there and ran away. They ran out of the house to try to find her, but no one knew who she was or where the baby had come from.

Mirriam’s sister lives in the container on the lot with some of the children, others are in the bunk beds in the two rooms off to one side. Mirriam sleeps in another room in a double bed with the smallest of the children.

You might expect a zoo from a tiny shack with 25 children, but the place was filled with incredible peace. Before we closed our time together with prayer, Mirriam and her sister, and some of the older children joined in singing for us. It was beautiful and humbling and I was ashamed at the things that I struggle with in this life.

The Grape Community, a non-profit organisation birthed by a table grape exporting company called The Grape Company, has been supporting Mirriam and the children. We work on what I had previously considered a tight grocery budget. But on a grocery budget even smaller than mine she manages to make sure the children have food and even meat to eat that lasts throughout the month. I imagine the miracle of the fishes and the loaves happening inside that chest freezer every month. With financial support and partnership from The Grape Community here, a generous gift there, they manage to make ends meet and keep tummies supplied, and hopefully pay the electricity.

The Grape Community has pulled together the finances to buy a plot of land where they hope to build several homes for the children. The ratio demanded by the government is four or five children to one house mother. They haven’t found the land and they don’t yet have the funds to begin building.

Invisible strings from HH’s and my heart have been pulled and tied to Mirriam’s ministry. Beyond blessing the children with shoes. Beyond giving when we are able. We don’t yet know how, but we want to be more involved.

I’m looking forward to extending the invitation for you to be involved, too.

“I give them love, I give them education, I give them God,” says Mirriam.

Pure and undefiled religion before God. Lord, help your whole Church to shine like this for You.


*Pictured above: Pastor Michael (a pastor from Mirriam’s area we thought we should introduce to her), Annemarie, our friend from the Grape Community, Mirriam, Virginia (with a yawn!), Me & the Bear. (I am not sure what the little one in the front’s name is!)

** I’ve changed names and a few details to protect the children in this story.

Every Person Has a Story :: It’s Not About The Shoes

Last week HH and I were sitting in a meeting with volunteers and staff from a ministry we’ve been partnering with here in the Western Cape called Living Hope. A friend of ours is helping us evaluate our ministry’s effectiveness, and we were asking about the volunteers’ and staff’s experiences of the Shoes of Hope distributions we’d hosted together. Where could we stand to improve? What success stories were there? Have any kids been put in danger because they received shoes? We want to take the time to reflect on our work to make sure unintended consequences are avoided whenever possible, and to look at ways we can potentially improve our work.

We began to discuss positives from our recent distributions and one particular story came up, which is a story that needs to be told.

At our Shoes of Hope distributions, there is a special one-on-one moment, when a volunteer washes a child (or adult’s) feet and fits them with a new pair of shoes. We see that moment as an opportunity to connect with the person personally, and we usually ask two simple questions:

1. What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
2. What is your greatest dream?

During our meeting, a volunteer shared that one little boy was impacted in that moment in a significant way. Usually the most disruptive of the kids in their after-school club, after he’d had his one-on-one moment with a volunteer who washed his feet, at least for a day, he was a completely different little boy.


When he was asked What’s the worst thing that has ever happened to you? he decided to open up and share, with a complete stranger who’d only been volunteering at Living Hope for a week. He shared the worst thing that had ever happened to him: he’d been raped.

I can scarcely imagine the horrible, soul-destroying, terrifying experience of being raped as an adult, and it brings me to tears and breaks my heart to know that it is a common part of the story of children in poverty. It’s estimated that the average young girl growing up in a township in South Africa has a better chance of being raped than of learning to read. Substance abuse, child abuse, and poverty seem to walk hand in hand.

But for a brief and shining moment, this boy was heard. He shared his pain, and it impacted him. The volunteers at Living Hope will follow up with him, in hopes of helping him work through the pain of his experience. They now have a better understanding of why he has been the most disruptive of the club’s participants all along.

In a perfect world, this would never, ever, ever happen to a child. The unfortunate truth is that in our world, it is happening every day.

As we train volunteers in preparation for a Shoes of Hope distribution, we try to make it a point of saying It’s not about the shoes. The truth is, these Shoes of Hope are shoes of opportunity. They create a moment for someone who is in need, who may be hurting, who might be crying out just to be heard, to be prayed for, to be honoured as a fellow human being, worthy of love and dignity.

Every person has a story. We just need to take the time to ask, and to listen.


*I’ve also shared this story today on the blog at Samaritan’s Feet South Africa. Many thanks to those of you who through prayer, giving, sharing and encouragement are helping make our work possible.