An old friend from South Africa was recently given the Coca-Cola Business Woman of the Year Award.
Her name is Happiness. She is a social entrepreneur who spearheaded waste management and recycling systems in her community. She has also been heavily involved in the education and training of community members. She is a long-time volunteer of the Ekurhuleni Center for Orphans and Vulnerable Children, providing food security and skills development programs for local kids.
Happiness is from one of the most impoverished places in South Africa. I’ll never forget the first time I met her.
My mentors were hosting a leadership forum in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga. I was volunteering in the bordering province of Limpopo. There people were living without running water and women dared not walk the streets after sundown for the real risk of rape.
I was told that Acornhoek was rougher. I was apprehensive about visiting this place, but I knew the leadership training was revolutionary, and I did not want to miss this chance to learn, grow, and more effectively serve.
Living on a meager volunteer stipend, I did not have the money to stay in lodge or nearby resort. My mentors suggested that I offer to buy some groceries for a local family in exchange for lodging, and so this is what I did.
I rode a bus several hours from Makhado, Limpopo to Mpumalanga and got off at a stop in town. The bus could not make it into the Acornhoek village because of the poor condition of the dirt roads.
Happiness escorted me into her village. As I observed the non-existent infrastructure, I wondered how long it would take someone to get out of the village to a hospital in case of emergency. Nonetheless, I was grateful for a place to lay my head for the next few days.
Happiness lived in a house with a few rooms and about ten other people, including her daughter. There was no running water; just a hole outside in a shack used as a toilet. The same hole was used by all ten tenants.
Happiness kept a clean home and generously offered me the largest room with freshly washed linens, where I would sleep alone. During my stay, she would share a small bed with her daughter.
At night and in the morning, I entered a tiny room with no windows and bathed in a small bucket basin by candlelight. I nearly shrieked out loud when rats scurried by on the floor.
Happiness escorted me to the leadership forum, which was held at the local orphan center. She was a graduate of the forum, and would spend the day working on her community projects and fetch me at day’s end.
That night, I heard the most beautiful sound coming from a nearby bedroom. Happiness was singing a spiritual song in her native tribal tongue.
Gradually, the language of her song changed. The familiar sounds of the tribal language had been replaced by rapid incantations. Chills ran through my body and tears flooded my eyes.
Happiness was speaking in soul language, sending prayers and receiving immediate answers.
Some things in life you cannot understand with your mind, but simply feel and know in your heart. For even the Bible suggests that we cannot rely on our own (mental) understanding.
The next day, I told Happiness that I heard her having a conversation from her soul. She humbly affirmed that this was correct.
She took me to a nearby building, where she had been laboring for over a year to create space for education, training, and community development services.
She told me of the vision she had when she first attended the leadership forum, and she showed me the vision coming to fruition.
I asked her how she had so much success so quickly, and she said, “It is the Lord who look after me and answer.”