September 19, 2015

How a Street Kid Became a Pastor

, communication director, Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division

A few months ago, by God’s grace, I had the opportunity to successfully negotiate a special provision with South Africa’s education authorities for students who could not take examinations scheduled on Saturdays.

After the discussions and the resolution, the chief director of examinations asked me a polite question as we shook hands: “Where are you from?”

The question “Where are you from?” is usually an invitation to share a little about yourself. When asked about myself, I like to begin by telling people that I attended 13 different schools in 12 years.

People often guess that my parents must have been foreign ambassadors or held high-paying traveling jobs.

But then I tell them that my parents were alcoholics, and that my brothers, sister, and I were removed from our home by social workers and a five-minute court case that decided we should be sent to a place of safety and detention. Our new home ended up being more a place of detention than of safety.

Shocked at my forthrightness, people probe a little more and hear that I picked from trashcans to eat, slept in bus shelters, played in railroad stations, and yet hardly missed a day of school unless it was because of events beyond my control. I have eaten food thrown away by others, worn clothes that were well-worn and faded by others, and slept on floors, in sugar-cane fields, and in the beds of others. I have heard the ridicule of a thousand voices for being a burden and always in need. Born and raised in a crippling environment, it is nothing short of a miracle that I never repeated a grade at school.

At the age of 14, while living in a youth center and trying to maneuver between people, places, and things, a godly woman who thought that I needed something more than food to satisfy my unspoken requests and unmentioned questions gently placed the book Desire of Ages into my hands. She had a compassionate plea in her eyes that looked past the boy who stood in front of her.

After reading a second book, Steps to Christ, and while still in the middle of a third, Patriarchs and Prophets, she invited me to her church. We entered late but just in time to hear the preacher say, “A more important question is not who you are, but whose you are?”

From that moment, her church became my church and her God became my God.

Rookmoney Munisami, this woman who led me to Christ, looked into my eyes and while in the embrace of her arms pointed her finger at me and said: “God is calling you to be a pastor, and a pastor you will be.”

Mrs. Rookmoney died two years later at the same time that I was released from the care of the state.

The next three years were interesting because I lived in nine different places until I completed high school.

But I will never forget Mrs. Rookmoney from my very first encounter with her as we stepped out of the same taxi bus and began walking in the same direction toward the same destination. It was her first day of work at the youth center. It was the same day that I was admitted to the youth center.

During the next two years, God used her to encourage me to study the Bible and walk closer with Him. She assured me that God has a special plan for my life. She was first in line to greet me after I was baptized. She sat right in the front row of the church during my first sermon at the age of 15.

I believe God extended her life for two years just for me. And I believe God is extending my life for somebody else, too. There are many things that I am not sure about, but the one thing that I know is God is busy behind the scenes, orchestrating events in our favor. If only we would believe and live accordingly. If you are alive just as I am alive, it is because God has a plan to reach someone through you.

Dr. Paul Charles is serving the Seventh-day Adventist Church as communication director in the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. He is also author of many books including, Revolutionary Preaching … in a Secular World and The Wheelbarrow Kid.