When I try to enter a church on a Sunday, people move away from me because they can smell that I’ve been smoking. I feel condemned by my family and by the church. In the Jungle, nobody will reject you. When I quit smoking, I asked the pastor three times whether I could be part of the church; three times he said he would consult with the elders: “we need to observe you for some time before we can accept you as part of the church community.” I am still waiting…
These were some of the many comments these young men – Margaret calls them “youth” – gave in response to Margaret’s question, “have you ever felt condemned?”
Margaret began working with drug-addicted youth on Christmas Day 2011 after being inspired and convicted at an MCC sponsored 3-week peace training in Ghana. She was aware of more than 100 youth who met regularly in an abandoned warehouse close to where she lived to smoke weed and anything else they could smoke to get high.
On that Christmas Day she walked into the rank warehouse, stepping over feces and stoned young men, carrying a Christmas feast for these 50 rejected souls. Three years later and the warehouse is again abandoned; the youth have gone back to school, started businesses or taken on jobs. Margaret loved them back to life after meeting with them weekly for three years.
Margaret says, “When I see these youth, I see that they have something in them that they need to share. When I go near them, they want to talk to me. They want to share what is inside them. They are not afraid and they are not ashamed. They cannot share what they have with their parents because of culture. Because of drugs they don’t trust people and people don’t trust them.”
Towards the end of 2014, Margaret started to think that she had to find more youth to love so she sent her assistant, Dola, into the community to find another set of drug-addicted youth. A week later Dola returned and announced that he had found a secluded sanctuary in the heart of Jos where up to 70 youth hang out to “drug” (do drugs). He had met these young men and told them that Margaret was coming to their “Jungle” to bring them dinner on Christmas Day.
Margaret prepared chicken, potatoes, yams, gravy, cake and drink for 70. She invited 4 of her Warehouse youth to join her and together with Dola they climbed down into the Jungle on paths that frequently brought Margaret (50) to her knees.
Sunday, one of the Jungle youth leaders commented, “We didn’t know you would come. Even though Dola said you would come, we did not expect it.”
Margaret’s message to the assembled youth sitting under a large tree which they called their “parlor” was simple: “I know you have Mommies, but I want to be another Mommy to you. I want to share your feelings of condemnation and understand your hurts. You are being condemned by the church, your families, and communities because you do drugs, but drugs make no difference to me.”
Margaret went on to invite them to her favorite time of the week at Home Makers – Youth Day which takes place every Wednesday. She told them that if they didn’t come, she would be coming back to meet them in their parlor!
Sunday spoke for the group when he said, “Thank you for coming to meet us in our place. If you invite us now, we will come. If you had invited us before you visited us we would not have come.” Other church groups will invite the youth to singing events or to share relief items as part of their “ministry”, but Margaret comes with a difference.
When asked why she, a widow of one year, would leave her two teen-aged daughters and spend a good part of Christmas Day with these youth, Margaret does not hesitate in her response: “We are together at home all the time. I need more of these youth because there are a lot of condemned youth out there. I was inspired to go into the Jungle because of the changed lives I saw in the youth from the Warehouse after working with them for three years.”
On the first Home Makers Youth Day after Christmas, 19 youth from the Jungle showed up, wearing the best clothes they had, not knowing what to expect. Sitting under a tree in a circle Margaret led them in a discussion around condemnation. All of these young men had experienced rejection so sharing from their personal experience was not difficult. After an hour of sharing, they took a break to prepare dough for making doughnuts then came back to continue the discussion while waiting for the dough to rise. Just before they started to roll out the dough, shape it and fry it into doughnuts, they were served a hearty meal of yam stew.
After demonstrating how each part of the doughnut making was done, the youth were eager to try their hands at rolling, cutting and frying the dough with a final taste test at the end.
Margaret says that she wants to build their capacity; to give them skills so that they can have an income. They need the capacity to help themselves. “Did you see how happy they were making the doughnuts? They felt really good about themselves!”
“These doughnuts,” Margaret says, “will match and surpass any doughnuts in the market. They are easy to make, have a good shelf life, so are an easy way to start a business and make an income. Next Wednesday I’ll teach them business skills!”
Margaret reflects on the two messages she received from the boys on their first Home Makers weekly Youth Day: 1) the government should engage us and give us jobs; if we have jobs, then we will be tired and won’t go to the Jungle again; and 2) to our parents, when they see us smoking they should tolerate and not discard us; they should try to know us.
As their first Youth Day ended, Margaret reminded them to come back next Wednesday and to “bring a friend….or two!”
Dave Klassen, January 2015