Faith to Finish: The Start


Mthwa and me

My story is one of faith.  It centers on listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and trusting in God for provision.  Many people have asked about how my fiancé Mthwa and I started our relationship, and the first thought that rushes through my head is: Do you have the time?  See, my story is not a short one.  In fact, it is still being written, but I feel like now is an appropriate time to sit down and document how I got to this place in my life, and how faith is an important factor in keeping me going.

Many Christians have made the declaration to God that they surrender their lives to His will and calling, but when we make that profession, how many of us really think about what surrender looks like?  Here starts my story.

It was August 2, 2012 and I was in the airport waiting to be called for a seat on the plane going from Atlanta, Georgia to Johannesburg, South Africa.  I was headed to visit my friend Chante, who had been in the Peace Corps for 2 years and was at the end of her service there.  In December 2011 my mother told me that she would be sending me on a trip to visit Chante, because she was proud that I had finished undergraduate school, and was now working on my Masters degree in Counseling.  The funny thing about this journey to South Africa was that from the start, it was a challenge.  I was actually flying on a standby ticket, and for three days I could not make it out of Detroit, Michigan to catch my connecting flight to Atlanta.  I was supposed to arrive in South Africa on the 1st of August, but it was now the 2nd, and I was so nervous about making the flight to ATL.  I finally made it out of DTW airport, but missed my connecting flight.  See Delta has only one flight to Johannesburg out of ATL each day, so I had to stay overnight in a hotel to try to see if I would make it on the plane the next evening.  The next day I had to check-out of the hotel by noon.  So, I checked-out and took the shuttle to the airport.  I waited almost 7 hours at the gate awaiting the call of my name for the only flight to Johannesburg.  I was so nervous.  They were now boarding the plane, and I was eagerly watching the screen to see my standby status.  Then I finally heard one of the attendants call my name.  I jumped up with all my bags in hand, went up to the counter, and showed her my passport.  Finally, I got on.  Not only did I make this flight, but I was able to fly first class from ATL to JNB airport, an experience I could only dream to have.  I was on my way to meet my friend, and little did I know my future fiancé.

On August 3rd I arrived in Johannesburg and was to be picked up by a missionary pastor, whom Chante and I knew through our church.  His name is Pastor, now Bishop Vincent Mathews.  He greeted me and was excited that I made it safely.  We journeyed through the dark streets of Johannesburg to his home in Tembisa, where I was to connect with Chante’s friend Ashley, another Peace Corps volunteer.  We took a taxi from there to Lesotho, a small landlocked country within South Africa to meet up with Chante.  I did not know what to expect reaching the border of Lesotho at Ficksburg, but I can say that the experience was somewhat overwhelming for me.  There were lots of people, all speaking in their native tongue.  Most, if not all, thought I was from Lesotho or South Africa.  They tried to talk to me in Sesotho, the language of Lesotho, but I did not know the language so Ashley stepped in and spoke up for me.  I felt like she was my protector, because I was really scared at that moment.  We had men grabbing at our bags trying to get us to take their taxi.  Now I know that that is common, and the way they hustle to make money for themselves and their families.  Ashley, remained calm and kept repeating, “No, ntate!”  That in English is simply “no sir.” We walked for a while before reaching another taxi rank to take us to Teyateyaneng (TY), where Chante worked.

When we finally arrived, I was exhausted.  I had spent a total of two days traveling non-stop and I was beat.  I had completely forgotten Chante wanted me to sing at a Woman’s Day event they were hosting at the youth center across from the only Hotel located in TY.  I asked her if she really wanted me to sing at this event, because I was exhausted, but if anybody knows anything about Chante, they know she is a go-getter often sacrificing rest.  So the answer to my question was, yes.  We had breakfast then proceeded over to the Youth Center, which does not look like a regular youth center you would see in America.  It was an empty building with a large yard in the front of it.  She instructed me to go inside and set my two huge bags of luggage down. Note: never take that much luggage to a place that does not have paved roads, where you are traveling over rocks and have to walk everywhere you go.  I walked inside and I saw this young guy sitting in a chair with a computer, walked past him with my bags, and exhaled.  I did not say anything to him; however, when Chante came in, she introduced us.  “Shannon, this is my brother Mthwa.  Mthwa, this is my friend Shannon I told you was coming.”  I looked at him, reached out my hand to shake his, and said hello, and he did the same.  I have to say that I did think him to be a handsome fellow, but my mind was not focused on that.  I was tired.  I paid him little attention that day. He did catch my attention every now and then, but I did not know why.  As the event drew to a close, and we were about to leave, I really needed to use the restroom.  So instead of taking me herself, Chante asked Mthwa to take me across the street to Blue Mountain Inn (BMI), the hotel to use the toilet.  They never call the bathroom a bathroom; they call it the toilet or the loo.  He took me over, and tried to spark conversation with me, but he seemed a bit nervous.  I guess I was being a little short with him, unintentionally, but I just answered his questions with short answers.  He noticed, and began to get quiet.  I went to the loo, came out and did not see him at first.  Then, I spotted him with my bags loading them onto one of the other guy’s truck to take us back to Chante’s house.

The next morning was Sunday, so of course we went to church.  It was interesting for me to go to church with Chante, and I was unsure of what kind of church it was, but I knew if Chante was a part of the church it could not be too bad.  For worship, they played songs from the computer and sang along with them.  Most of the songs were in Sesotho, but they sang a couple of English songs as well. Then I noticed Mthwa go up there with the man who took us home and translate the announcements.  After the announcements were given he stayed up there while the pastor came up to preach the message.  Mthwa was an interpreter.  Sometimes the pastor would switch back and forth between English and Sesotho, but Mthwa stayed with him.  For some reason, I could not take my eyes off of him.  It was as though things began to move in slow motion.  I blinked a few times to snap myself out of it, and looked over at Chante to see if she noticed I was staring at this guy.  Now I’m sure she would not have noticed, because he was translating, and it is common to look at someone who is translating for you.  Yet, for me, it was deeper than that.  It was as if God was opening my eyes, and letting me see something new, something that I was blinded to.  In any case, I could not make out what was happening to me so I kept quiet.

After church, we were invited to stay at the hotel with the people from the Youth Center, because they were going to go up to the mountains on Monday, and they invited us.  After we got settled in the hotel, we went to eat dinner.  We got our food, but I noticed Mthwa was sitting alone.  I asked, “Chante, why is he sitting by himself?”  She told me that sometimes he likes to sit alone, she said, “That’s just the way he is.”  I shrugged it off, though I really didn’t understand why Mthwa would want to just sit alone.  As Chante and I were eating, Mthwa came over and asked if he could join us.  We said sure.  He then sparked up conversation and joined us in discussing life and our plans while I would be in South Africa.  All of a sudden, we got to the subject of food, perhaps because we were eating, but then Mthwa began to tease me.  It was harmless really, but I was confused as to how he got so comfortable with me to tease me so. The two of them were done with their food, and I was still working on my plate, because I eat slowly.  Chante got a phone call and left me with Mthwa, and asked him to walk me back to the room for her.  I think it is funny how I felt pawned on him by Chante, because she is, as I said before, a go-getter.  She is always moving around and doing something. I was not upset that she was busy, because I knew she had to finish tying up loose ends and saying goodbye to those she had been working with these past two years. In any case, Mthwa began to walk me back, but I felt awkward.  I did not know what to say to him.  I felt like I was beginning to feel a certain way about him, but it did not make any sense, so I kept shutting it down.  We kept walking, but the other girl Chante and I were rooming with, Chili Sauce, saw me and came and joined us.  I felt relief.  When we got back to the room, we talked for a bit, Chante even managed to come back, but that was short lived.  Next thing I know, both Chante and Chili Sauce left the room, because they had to go talk to some people, and again, Mthwa and I were alone.  Of course, it was awkward, and silence filled the air for about a minute and a half.  Then I tried to start the conversation, but he was being a little short with me this time.  We were in there about a half hour, before our failed attempts at sparking a conversation ended.

The next day, we found out the trip was canceled due to the snow in the mountains.  I was a bit sad about that, but mainly because I really wanted to get to the bottom of what was happening in my heart.  The leaders had prepared the lunches for the trip already so we were able to have lunch with everyone outside the Youth Center.  I was sitting next to Chante, when Mthwa came over and asked if he could sit next to me.  I began to wonder if he too liked me, but he was just so hard to read.  We were talking the whole time, and conversation finally just came naturally.  I started to sense that familiar feeling of God opening my eyes more, but I still didn’t get why.  After a while, I noticed that I hadn’t really been talking to Chante since he came over, so I decided to tell him that I really needed to talk to her about some things.  As I looked him in the eyes, it was like we made a connection, I felt like I had known him for a long time though it had only been a few days.  I started to let myself feel what was happening inside my heart, but I came to my senses and shut down my feelings, telling myself that I was being irrational.

So, I turned to Chante and began to talk to her about what we will do now that the trip is canceled.  We decided to stay in Lesotho to finish out my week here before traveling to Cape Town.  Over the next few days I did not see Mthwa and it was torture.  We ended up having what we called the Four Sisters Camp for two nights at Chante’s house with Chili Sauce and Itumelang (Itu).  Itu and Chili were like Chante and me in personality.  It was so interesting getting to know those girls, and I will forever seek to keep our friendship going.  We had so much fun over those few days, and had great discussions about the similarities between The States and South Africa, as far as history is concerned.  It was great to have rich dialogue and solidarity among these two young women who live in a completely different continent than Chante and me. Yet, Mthwa was not far from my mind, and it was like a battle to keep him out.  Chante nudged me on that first night and told me that Mthwa told her to tell me hello.  Something inside me leaped for joy, but outwardly I had to keep my feelings inside.  That Wednesday, we decided to stay at Itu’s house and watch movies.  I really wanted to talk to someone about what I had been feeling, and praying about, but I did not know who to turn to.  The next morning, I knew we were going to be seeing Mthwa again to hang out at the Youth Center, so I decided to talk to Itu.  Itu is such a funny girl, and in many ways is like me.  So I told her, “Itu, I need to tell you something.”  She looked and me and told me that I can tell her anything.  I said, “Itu, I think I like Mthwa, but I don’t know what to do about it.”  She said in her upbeat cheerful spirit, “Oh it’s ok, he loves you too.”  I am utterly confused, because I did not know how she would know that.  So I asked her.  She told me, “No, I know these things.  People don’t believe me when I say these things, but then they find out I was right.  But anyway, it’s okay.  He loves you, and you can talk to him today.”  I was so scared to talk to him; after all, I had only known him a couple of days.  This did not make any sense.  I kept praying about it that day, and thinking things through.  I knew what God was telling me concerning him, but I was scared.  My logic was just too much for this.

We left Itu’s heading for the Youth Center, and I was determined to get my chance to talk to Mthwa privately about what was going on with me.  I did not know what to expect, and I did not know if he even felt the same way.  It seems like every time I decide to be obedient to God something crosses my path to deter or inhibit me from doing so.  I think most Christians can attest to that feeling, the feeling of things trying to stop them from pursuing the will of God.  When we arrived, I was determined to talk to Mthwa; yet, I was hindered by someone else who wanted to talk to me.  That person proceeded to talk to me for a long time, occupying much of it, and I was beginning to get agitated and short with my words.  Finally, Chante rescued me, and I excused myself from the conversation.  After that I had my chance.  I saw Mthwa standing alone, and went over to talk to him.  I might have gone over to talk to him, but when I approached him, and it came time to speak, I had no words.  I just looked at him.  Nothing came out of my mouth; it was as if I were mute those first few seconds.  He said, “Did you want to tell me something?”  I replied, “No, I can’t.”  “You can’t or you won’t?” I replied, “Both.”   I could not do it.  I just could not talk to him about what I felt like God was saying to me.  So I didn’t say a word.

Chante and I had to go back to her house to gather our things for our trip the next day, but we were going to meet Itu and Mthwa back at the Youth Center to pick up Itu. We were going to stay the night at her house and head out for Cape Town in the morning.  When we got back to the Youth Center, it was dark. Everyone else had just about cleared out.  I did not see Mthwa or Itu, but knowing that it was cold outside, I figured that they went inside of the Youth Center to keep warm.  I found them talking and laughing, and then noticed that Mthwa gave me a look.  I was slightly confused by the look, but it was a look that he had given me once before.  I thought to myself, “Does he like me too?”  I wrestled with the thought for a little bit, but it was now time for us to say goodbye.  We were leaving TY the next day, and I would never see him again.  That didn’t settle well with me though.  Mthwa said goodbye to Chante, gave her a hug and parted ways.  Then he walked over to me, and gave me a long hug, and whispered to me that he was really going to miss me, and that he feels like he has known me for a very long time.  I felt the same way, but all I could mutter was “uhuh.”  He said that he would keep in touch with me and Facebook me when I got back to The States.  We said goodbye and parted ways.

As I got into the car I felt a rush of sadness come over me, but something else was taking place.  God was speaking to me.  He said to me, “What are you doing?  I showed you something, but you refuse to pay attention.  You are being disobedient.”  I felt so bad.  I knew what God was showing me, but I was letting my rational thinking get in the way. As I sat in the car next to Chante, I was devastated.  I lost my chance to talk to Mthwa.  I lost my chance to see if he too was feeling what I was feeling.  Just then, I heard someone asking Mthwa what he was going to do for the rest of the night.  Mthwa answered, “You know what, I think I’m going to go and hang out with the girls more, since it’s their last day here.”  I was elated.  My heart was doing cartwheels.  I had to maintain my composure, because Chante still had no idea of what was happening.  I felt like God was giving me a second chance, a chance I would not miss again.

Like I said before, Itu is an interesting and funny person.  When we all got to her house, we went into her room to hang out.  She strategically placed Mthwa in front of me, telling him not to sit where he was about to, but moving him in front of me.  There goes that awkward feeling again.  So I just looked at him, staring into his eyes.  He says, “What?”  I say, “What?”  Silence.  Then we finally began to talk, but it was more like arguing over something.  Chante looked over and said, “What are you two going through?” I just looked at Mthwa and replied, “Nothing.”  After a while one of the guys had to leave so everyone got up to say goodbye to him, except for Mthwa and I. Itu insisted that we stay in the room and talk.  So, now was our moment.  I looked at him, and he asked, “Do you want to say something?”  I did not know how to say what I wanted to say.  I was so nervous.  So he asked, “Do you want to say what I think you want to say, but are afraid to say, so you won’t say it?” I said, “Yes…I like you.”  His head dropped down, and so did my heart.  I thought for sure I had read him wrong, and he did not like me.  When he lifted up his head and looked at me, I could see tears in his eyes.  I asked him, “What’s going on?  How do you feel?”  He told me that he felt the same way but that he too was afraid to approach me. He said, “After all, I’m African.  I figured, what do I look like, an African man liking an American woman.  I thought you would think I was crazy.”  Honestly, I thought this whole situation was crazy, but I knew what God was saying to me, and after talking to him, I learned that God had spoken to him first, and that he prayed that God would reveal it to me.  We did not know what to do next or what this meant.  I was so overwhelmed with emotion in that moment that I asked him if we could pray.  As I was closing the prayer, Chante walked into the room and saw us holding hands finishing up our prayer.  I looked up and her face was in shock. I could sense she felt a bit awkward by what she saw.  She gave us some time before coming back into the room, and by that time, Mthwa and I decided that we were going to pursue a relationship with each other.  We had no clue how it would work, but we knew that God had established our relationship, and if He was our foundation, He would direct us.

As it was getting later, it was time for us to part ways.  Chante, Itu, and I walked him out.  He again said goodbye to Chante, turned to me and gave me a hug, and said, “I love you.”  Before I could think about what he said, I said, “I love you too.”  Itu told me to walk him out over to the direction he would take to walk home, so I did.  There we stood under the starlit night sky for about an hour.  I had never seen so many stars in my life, not even in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, where there is no light to block the starlight.  I had seen so many shooting stars that night.  As we were holding each other and talking during that time, I felt so much peace about our decision to pursue a relationship.  We discussed our families, what we want to do in life, if we want children, our dreams, and so much more.  It was so cold outside, but being with him during this moment made me warm.  As we were enjoying this moment, Itu called, and said that it was getting late, and he needed to go out of a respect for her mother’s house.  We realized that we needed to say goodbye, but it was so hard.  I was not going to see him for at least another year.  In that moment of saying goodbye, I thought to myself, “Lord, I pray he doesn’t kiss me, because I am not ready for that right now.”  Yes, I was 23 years old and had never had a first kiss.  Yet, in this moment I felt like it would have been too soon.  He hugs me again, tells me that he loves me, kisses my forehead, and said goodbye.  We parted ways, not to see each other again for another year.

We say that we want God to direct our lives.  We say that we want his will, and not our own to be done, but do we really mean it when it is tested? Entering into a long distance relationship when I went to South Africa was the furthest thing from my mind, but it was in the mind of God.  His ways are not my ways, and his thoughts are not my thoughts.  Though this would have never been something I envisioned for myself, I am happy that God placed Mthwa in my life, and gave me a second chance that August 9th day.  I will cherish that day where I began to really learn what faith is.  Faith is not easy, but I have faith to finish.