I only met Jacob for a few brief moments, but I think I’ll remember him for a very long time.
It was the week before Christmas. My husband, Noel, and I were visiting one evening at his brother’s house, about three kilometres from our home. Our son, Kyle (you read about him in Part 1 of this blog), had also joined us.
Kyle left for home later that evening about twenty minutes before we did, so I was a little perturbed when we got home to find he wasn’t there yet. In a country and city that is fraught with hijackings, one always gets fearful when someone is not where they should be when they should be. And when Kyle’s phone kept going to voicemail, my panic level rose. I tried to quell my fears, maintain calm, as I searched for a rational explanation for his MIA status.
After my third attempt at calling, Kyle answered his phone.
Trying not to sound like an overprotective mother – he was, after all, twenty years old – I nonchalantly asked, “Hey, where are you?”
“I’m here with Jacob.”
Now I know all Kyle’s friends, and Jacob wasn’t one of them. “Who is Jacob? And where are you?”
“I’m just up the road at the garage. I can’t talk now, Mom. I’ll be home soon,” and he hung up the phone.
Okay, I sighed, thinking how weird that call was. I’d hardly put my cell phone down, when it rang. It was Kyle.
“Mom, do you still have that missionary box for the church with your and dad’s old clothes?”
“Yes … Why?”
“Can you put a parcel of clothes together for Jacob?”
“Who is Jacob, Kyle? What size clothes? How old is he?” Now it was all good and well for Kyle to ask me to put a parcel together, but of what? I didn’t know Jacob … didn’t know if my husband’s clothes would fit. The only thing I did know was that my clothes wouldn’t be suitable for him.
“He’s thirteen, Mom.”
“Kyle, I don’t have clothes for a thirteen-year-old in this box. You’ll have to check through your cupboards.”
“Okay, Mom … but just see if there’s anything in the box. Oh, and can you put a food parcel together as well. See you soon. Love you, Mom,” and with that the phone went dead again.
A few minutes later, Kyle’s car pulled up in the driveway, our front door opened and Kyle strolled inside.
“Mom,” he said, moving out of the doorway, “this is Jacob.” Trailing close behind Kyle was a young, homeless black boy.
Unfortunately we never got a photo of Jacob, so this isn’t him above … but it could have been.
The skinniest pair of legs I’ve seen shuffled inside, accompanied by a thin, hunched body. I soon discovered that Jacob wasn’t hunched over because he was shy, or scared –although he probably was those things too. Jacob was deformed. Jacob was a hunchback.
“Hello, Mama,” he said in a quiet voice.
Now before I get carried away, I’d like to share this story further in Kyle’s words.
As you drive to work or home, ask yourself: “Who is deserving of my help today?” What about the young child standing alone in the black of night …begging … crying. Is he worthy of the few loose coins in your wallet? No. Sometimes we forget that there is more to helping someone than just tossing a few worthless coins into their hands. How do we really know who to help? Simple … we don’t! We allow God to lead us.
This is a lesson I learnt through Jacob one December evening in 2010. His story is one I won’t forget because, sadly, it’s an all too common story in this world.
Shortly after my encounter with Jacob I read an article my dad sent me titled: “Are you Jesus?” The moral of this story was: In the pursuit of a life like Christ, shouldn’t we hope people will mistake us for Jesus? I pray that Jacob experienced some of God’s love through me that night.
The first time I saw Jacob begging at the intersection, I felt God leading me to help him. You know that feeling ... it’s like an itch in the core of your being.
I drove on, stopping outside my complex gate where I paused. I had two options.
#1. The selfish option ... the easy option. I could open the gate, discard those feelings, and go watch some TV.
#2. Plainly, simply … the hard option. I could take action upon a calling direct from Almighty God.
To be honest, it took a lot of willpower to force my car into reverse and make my way back up the street. I stopped at the familiar intersection where he slowly shuffled to my window – barefoot, bent, tears wetting his face. “Please help me ... I need to get home,” he said.
My first thought was, “Pfff, I’ve seen this act before. Fake tears … Fake disability …” Oh, how wrong I was!
I rolled down the window and asked if he had eaten.
“No,” he replied.
I drove to the local supermarket. It was closed. Now what? I had acted upon God’s call and was now tempted to give up. This just seemed like too much effort.
On the way back I stopped by the homeless boy again. My selfish human nature really wanted to say, “Sorry, they’re closed”, and be done with this. But how would that honor God? How dull our lives would be if God gave up that easily!
Acting on impulse I told him to climb in my car so I could get him some food. Have you ever invited a stranger, moreover a beggar, into your comfort zone? It’s hard. It’s scary.
I pulled into the nearby petrol station, took him into the store, and opened my wallet. “Take whatever you want.” I was shocked when all he took was a muffin, a small pastry, and a coldrink ... and it was hard enough to get him to take just that. I walked around the shop saying, “Here, don’t you want chocolate, or chips?” He just shook his head. In the end I managed to get him to spend a whopping R20 (not even $3).
We returned to my car where he ate while I asked him to tell me about himself, which he did in broken English. We tend to forget that sometimes people just need someone to talk to. It was when I asked about his parents that I realised his tears weren’t fake as he began to weep. “My parents are gone,” he replied through heartwrenching sobs.
In the minutes that followed, I learnt that Jacob was just a boy of thirteen, sent to Pretoria to find work to take money home to his gran and nine-year-old sister.
We sat in my car for a while and talked, and I taught him about Jesus. Then we prayed.
As we left the petrol station, I told him, “Jacob, I’m going to help you, because that’s what Jesus would do, and that’s what he wants us to do.”
He turned to me, and again in his broken English told me that he had prayed that very morning for God to help him get home.
“Now don’t forget to thank God for answering your prayers,” I replied as we drove to my house.
My parents had filled some bags with food, clothes, shoes and a blanket for Jacob. When my mom gave him one of our old illustrated children’s bibles – a rather cumbersome book but certainly the best choice for someone who most likely could not read – he clutched it tightly to his chest.
As I lifted the clothing bag over his deformed back I realised why he walked bent over. The reason was far from any act to put passersby on a guilt trip.
When I dropped him off, I gave him money to get home.
I later realised what God was teaching me through this encounter, and I’d like to share this lesson with you. God uses us to answer prayer. What an honor! Prayers get answered by us being obedient to God’s guidance.
Are you answering prayers?
We haven’t seen Jacob since that night. I pray he made it home safely to his gran and little sister. I love to imagine him curled up in his gran’s lap beside a fire in their rural hut, looking at pictures of Jesus in his new children’s bible. I’m certain God hid the pocket bible I had intended to give Jacob from my sight till long after he had left, forcing me to give away my sons’ childhood bible. After all, a picture paints a thousand words and I know God will reveal himself to Jacob and his family through his visual Word.
A few weeks later, Kyle came home late one night from work. As he walked into the house with only his socks covering his feet, my husband asked where his shoes were.
“I gave them to Patrick,” he proudly announced.
“Who’s Patrick?” I asked.
“Patrick’s the homeless guy I took a photograph of the other night. I stopped to ask him if I could use the photo and gave him money for that, when I noticed he needed better shoes … so I gave him mine. I also told him about Jesus!”
Before any of us could say anything to Kyle, he reminded us that the bible teaches if someone asks for your shirt, you must give him your cloak too.
I chuckled. “Well then, Kyle, why didn’t you give him your socks?”
“Mom, that’s just gross! There are two things in life you don’t share – your socks and your jocks.”
We all burst out laughing.
I continue to stand amazed at the work God is doing through my son’s life, and often wonder who Kyle will introduce us to next.
MARION UECKERMANN’s writing passion was sparked in 2001 when she moved to
with her husband and two sons. Since then Ireland has been honing her skills and has published some devotional articles in Winners at Work as well as inspirational poetry online and in a poetry journal. She has written her first Christian Women’s novel (unpublished) and is currently completing the sequel. Marion Marion now lives in Pretoria East, with her husband, sons and a crazy black ‘Scottie’. A member and moderator of the South African Christian Writers Group, Marion can be contacted via email on marionu(at)telkomsa(dot)net. South Africa