Life is Hard
(Chapter taken from “The Treasure Within – Searching beneath the surface” book by Kathy Gooch)
I’ll never forget that cold, Zimbabwe winter morning in 2005, when Laurie and I were on our way to an early Morning Prayer meeting across town. I was waiting for Laurie to close our driveway gate, and my eyes couldn’t help notice a young boy walking on the road in front of my car. He was wearing a local school uniform with a black shoe on one foot, and a sandal on the other, because of a thick bandage. I rolled down my car window and asked him where he was going, and he gave the name of a local primary school at least two to three kilometres away; so, I offered him a lift. After quickly introducing ourselves, we asked his name and he mumbled something in response. Neither one of us understood him, as he stammered and spoke softly, so we asked him to write his name and address on a piece of paper. He slowly spelled, “G a m u c h i r a i.” As he got out of the car, he couldn’t stop thanking us for the lift. I watched him hobble down the sidewalk, looking like a little old man in a little boy’s body.
I was working from home and didn’t see Gamu for a while, even though God would often bring him to mind. He had left quite an impression. A few months had passed, and “The Chronicles of Narnia” movie was playing at our local cinema, so Laurie and I decided to invite Gamu. We discovered he lived just around the corner from us, and we wanted to get his parents’ permission. His house was a modest, three-bedroom home, with a small garden and a cottage at the back. Gamu’s grandmother greeted us and invited us in for tea. After listening to us explain who we were and why we had come, she told us Gamu’s parents had passed away, and she had been caring for him ever since. She graciously gave her permission for the movie, and we took him, along with Charles, our gardener, and Trymore, a young man attending our weekly Bible Study.
When I picked Gamu up for the movie, I noticed sores on his lips and scalp. They were similar to the ones I’d seen on our former domestic worker’s 19 year-old stepdaughter that had died of HIV/AIDS the year before. Although I was living in a nation where 1 in 4 were HIV+, I certainly wasn’t an expert on diagnosing or treating it. Both Charles and Trymore saw the sores too, and mentioned he could very well have AIDS. On our next visit to see Gamu, we asked the grandmother or “Gogo,” as she was called, about Gamu’s sores. She confirmed his father had died of AIDS in 1999, his mother in 2001, and he was infected at birth in 1993.
Gamu was 12 years old when we first met him, and he had been taking ARVs (Anti-Retro Viral drugs) for some time. Gogo told us that he almost died a few years previous. The bandage on his foot was due to a recent operation. She was raising and providing for him, thankful that her late husband had left her the house. She was renting out the cottage at the back for extra income, and to help pay Gamu’s school fees. The lush garden at the side of the house was full of various vegetables she grew for their meals. Gogo loved gardening, and it was evident God had given her a “green thumb.” She was eager and generous to offer us her fresh corn, spinach and onions, as a “thank you” for taking a special interest in Gamu.
The next time I saw Gamu, he had a huge, deep cut on his forehead. When I asked, “What happened?” he replied, “A car hit me when I was crossing the street.” He nearly died, so after hearing this, I called him “a walking miracle.”
Slowly, I began to realize God had brought Gamu into my life for a reason, and I could see there was something very special about him. Because my time was being occupied with the pioneering and coordinating of the ECE programme, I didn’t know how involved I could be with Gamu. On the occasions I did visit him, I always left more encouraged and uplifted than when I arrived. He had an amazingly positive attitude, and a great sense of humour, if you could only figure out what he was saying through the mumbles and stutters. The more I got to know him he really was like a little old man in a young boy’s body.
One of my concerns was Gogo and Gamu would become dependent on me. I didn’t want them to think of me as their ‘saviour,’ but only wanted to do what God was asking of me. I would often ask myself, “What would a good missionary do?” On a few occasions, Gamu would come crying to my house after school, because some bullies had thrown rocks and teased him. I would do my best to console and encourage him, and he would often say, “Life is hard.” As I got to know his grandmother better, she confided that Gamu had failed several grades, due to long bouts of hospitalization. And when he returned to school, his teachers had pretty much given up on him, thinking he was going to die at any time. His grades were low, so every now and then, I would invite him over to my house to practise reading. No matter how often I was available, Gamu always remained upbeat and very grateful for whatever I did for him.
Gogo gave her permission to have him educationally assessed, and we found out his scores were very low for his age. There was a private school for developmentally delayed children just around the corner from his house, where he began to attend. Later we discovered, despite their promises of helping him catch up, he was lagging further behind. He returned to the government school. I found a good speech therapist, willing to help with his stuttering, but that was short-lived, as she left the country during the mass exodus of professionals. The HIV virus had severely affected the development of his teeth and some were rotten; so I took him to the dentist to have several extracted, in hopes his adult teeth would grow in properly. It seemed there was one obstacle after the other, and I often wondered if I was doing enough for him?
Another memorable incident was taking Gamu to ACTION, my church’s annual, citywide conference. When he saw the photo of my pastors in the foyer, he said he had seen them on TV. I told him he was going to see them in person and he got so excited. To him, they were like famous “celebrities” or “movie stars,” and he was determined to meet them. His boldness and innocence were uncanny. I remember at another church event, Gamu walked right up to my pastor and boldly tugged on his coat sleeve, and said, “Hi!” He desperately wanted to meet the family, so I later arranged a quick meeting after a Sunday evening service. I introduced Gamu, and shared briefly about his ongoing battle with HIV. Three of the pastor’s sons prayed for his healing, and the eldest one gave him his necklace. It was a very touching encounter and obviously God orchestrated. It was Gamu’s boldness and persistence that paid off in the end.
A few months later, I noticed Gamu was no longer wearing the necklace. I learned that a con man tricked Gamu into supposedly trading it for something else, and because Gamu was naïve and trusting, he gave it to him; watching the man walk away without any intent of honouring this agreement. Ironically, Gamuchirai means “welcome” in Shona. He was definitely living up to the meaning of his name, but maybe a little too much in this case!
I regularly took Gamu to church with me, and when he was around 14, as the two of us were driving home, he candidly said, “If it’s alright with you, I’d like to marry you!” I was surprised, of course, and had to quickly think how to graciously and wisely respond. I told him I was the age of his mother if she were alive, and encouraged him to think and love me like a mother. I told him that one day God would give him a very special wife about his age. Thankfully, his infatuation eventually wore off. Now, whenever I speak to him, he tells me he has been praying for a husband for me and asks, “Are you married yet?”
As Gamu continued to grow, I would ask him every now and then, “What do you want to do when you get older?” Without any hesitation, he would respond, “A pastor. I want to help people!” I encouraged him to read and speak the Word, believing it has the power to heal him and also to give him confidence to speak without mumbling or stuttering. He continued attending the government high school, still struggling with his studies and speech, so he became a constant bullying target for his classmates. Whenever I saw him, I would challenge him not to get angry or lose hope, but to pray for those who were maliciously teasing and hurting him.
When I was going to move out of his neighbourhood in 2007, and was planning to leave Zimbabwe for at least six months, I knew Gamu would now be on his own to get rides to church. He said, “I will trust God for lifts, and will hitchhike or walk the six kilometres, if I have to.” Happily, when I returned six months later, I heard he had faithfully made his way to church, allowing nothing to be an excuse. It was during this time he contracted TB and, again, was close to dying. I encouraged him to speak words of healing over himself, and I continued to pray for him, as well. Soon after, I remember taking him to the clinic to get medication, and then it was only a few months later, the TB was pronounced “all clear.”
One of my older brothers from Canada visited me in 2009 and I decided to take him and Gamu to a Wildlife Reserve, wanting to surprise Gamu for his 16th birthday. Neither Steve nor Gamu had ever been to one, so it was a special and memorable time for all of us. Another one of Gamu’s desires was to become a Children’s Church leader. He diligently fulfilled the required training and got a “certificate of completion,” just before I moved to South Africa. Although the academic world remained a big challenge for him, he continued to amaze me with his progress and persistence in so many other areas. It was obvious God had His eye on him.
During my visit to Zimbabwe in 2011, he told me he wanted to become an usher at our very large church. He didn’t have the black suit required for the usher training, so we went shopping and I bought him one. It was during this time that Gamu’s HIV/AIDS doctor informed me his body was developing a resistance to the 1st dose of ARV’s, and he had put him on the latest and final regime. If his body rejected this ARV protocol there were no other options. Gamu had not been taking the drugs as prescribed, so I explained to him what the doctor said, and how important it was for him to take his pills regularly. I also reminded him he was, indeed, “a walking miracle,” and God still needed him to help people. As I left his house that day, he said, with tears in his eyes, what I hadn’t heard him say in years, “Life is hard.”
The Sunday before I left, I attended the service at my old church. As I sat in my seat waiting for the service to begin, I spotted Gamu standing in the aisle ushering people to their seats. This brought tears to my eyes. They were the tears of a woman that, for six years of not knowing what she was meant to do or be in this special young man’s life, had been transformed into a mother. I was now witnessing one of my sons raised from the ash heap, having overcome through his courage, persistence and choices, sitting as a prince on God’s throne of honour. He was making this mother and his heavenly Father very proud. Indeed, the Father had opened my eyes to yet another one of His hidden treasures. I realized my own willingness and desire to dig deeper had led me to discover this precious treasure, in the form of a little boy, now transformed into a young man that was digging for his own treasures.
I visited Harare again in 2012, and when I saw Gamu he did not look well. His doctor told me Gamu hadn’t been taking his ARV tablets, and had nearly died the previous month. He asked if I could find out why. On questioning Gamu, he said they hurt his throat when he swallowed them. Tearfully, I shared with him how I didn’t want to receive a phone call, while I was in Cape Town, informing me he had died. I encouraged him to see the big tablets as one of God’s ways of healing his body. Thankfully, he has been taking them, and the last report from his doctor (2013) said his CD4 blood count was higher than it had ever been—meaning he was healthier than he had ever been.
As I shared previously, Gamu told me his dream in life was to become a pastor and to help people, by telling them about Jesus and praying for them. He has prayed for the physical healing of many, and on numerous occasions, has witnessed their restoration. I’m not surprised that now, at 20 years of age, he still says he wants to be a pastor. Since my departure from Zimbabwe, I am grateful for those the Lord provided to continue to champion Gamu on towards his amazing journey of overcoming all odds, and pursuing a life of love and good deeds.
I remember describing this son as my hero when sharing his story during a visit to Canada. He is a young man I admire for pushing through every conceivable obstacle. It reminds me of a story in Genesis 38 about Tamar’s sons. Verses 27-30 say,
“Now it came to pass, at the time for giving birth, that
behold, twins were in her womb. And so it was, when she
was giving birth, that the one put out his hand; and the
midwife took a scarlet thread and bound it on his hand,
saying, ‘This one came out first.’ Then it happened, as he
drew back his hand that his brother came out unexpectedly;
and she said, ‘How did you break through? This breach be
upon you!’ Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward
his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his
hand. And his name was called Zerah.”
It was important in those days to distinguish which twin was born first. The firstborn received a double portion of the inheritance and would become the leader of the tribe. Thus, when the twins were delivered the midwife would put a distinctive mark on whatever part of the baby’s body came out first. In this story, the hand of Zerah came out initially, and a scarlet thread was tied around it to distinguish him as the firstborn. But then something strange happened, and in verse 29 it says, “Then it happened, as he drew back his hand that his brother came out unexpectedly; and she said, ‘How did you break through?’” It was as if Perez knew he needed to seize this time, this chance, and this opportunity to overtake his twin. He wasn’t satisfied with the comfort of the womb, being in second position, and he needed to breakthrough and make a first impression.
From birth, he was ready to breakthrough in order to claim what would now rightfully be his, as the firstborn—a double portion of the inheritance and leadership of his tribe. Appropriately he was named Perez, which means “breakthrough.” In Ruth 4:18 we read, “Now this is the genealogy of Perez…” and it lists those who came after him, all the way to Boaz and David, and eventually ending with Jesus Christ.
We can observe a similar phenomenon in nature. Have you ever heard of the incredible migratory behaviours of salmon fish? Their migration begins from where they were hatched, in the rivers and streams, and as small fish they head to the vast ocean. There they mature and then return to the rivers and streams. The very place they were born is where they breed and hatch their eggs. What is so amazing is how they swim upstream against strong currents, even leaping up waterfalls, in order to return to where they were spawned. Some species migrate thousands of kilometres to get from the ocean to their original birthplace. Once they have reached this spot, they breed, lay their eggs and die within a week, fertilizing the stream and creating a nutrient-rich environment for the salmon eggs to hatch.
I find it fascinating how God has imprinted within people a desire, and within nature an instinct, to push past, to push through, and to push beyond the restraints and constraints of life. I’ve learned through the years, tension and resistance are actually catalysts that produce in us strength, perseverance, and so many other positive character qualities. God has used Gamu’s life, courage and persistence to inspire me not to make excuses and not to give up walking the road and journey God has marked out for me, even when “life is hard.” I hope his story will do the same for you.
Gogo passed away in March of 2014 at the age of 68. This was a great loss for Gamu, and between that and not consistently taking his ARV’s, Gamu’s health deteriorated and he passed away on April 29th, 2015. I was heartbroken when I received the news, as Gamu was a beloved son of mine for 10 years. My interactions with him changed my life, and I wasn’t the only one. I was told that when he went to the hospital for the last time, although he was bleeding from the nose and mouth, he allowed patients who he considered worse than him to be admitted first. He loved people, with the love he received from his Saviour, Jesus, and left behind that love to doctors, nurses, fellow patients, church members, neighbours, pastors, and so many. He always longed for a father, a sense of home and family. Now, in heaven, he has the best home, the best family, and the best Father. Gamu also wanted other orphans to have a home so the house Gogo left to him, he subsequently bequeathed to an orphanage. Gamu’s legacy lives on!