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I remember well one of the first times I walked around Phumzile and saw out of the corner of my eye a young man rooting in a dumpster. Bare torso, dirty, scrawny, shoes worn to the last seam.

Later I found out his name was Simon. Somewhat later, he became a visitor to my Bible class for addicts. Because he had heard that visitors to this class stood a chance of going to rehab. With the huge number of drug addicts here in South Africa, procedures are slow and waiting lists long. And, once you’re in one of those clinics, you’re released from it after three weeks. Three weeks... Barely recovered from the intense withdrawal symptoms, a few theory lessons under your belt, and back on the streets. It’s that simple and painful.

Near Phumzile there is a so-called ‘restoration center.’ They use a different method; most of the time people stay there for at least a year. They expressly do not call it ‘rehab,’ like so many here. It is all about restoration. ‘Restore' is a word that also occurs frequently in the English Bible. It then means something like bring back, repair or revive. 

Simon really wanted to quit. ‘I am tired, pastor, I am so tired of this life.’ Begging for your meal every day and for the rather large amount you need to buy crystal and nyaope (heroin). Despised by people every day, chased away. After I brought away his cousin Thomas (who died the very next day), it was Simon’s turn. It shouldn’t have taken much longer for Simon either, I think. He started fighting the battle, as happy as a child, but sad because of ‘my brother’ Thomas.

Six months later, Simon was ready for his first outing. During those months, he changed from a scrawny boy to a healthy-looking young man. The outside seems beautiful, but I’m not so sure about the inside. Many times he had reminded me: Thomas was buried without him being there. This was a burden to him; he had to go to Thomas’ grave. That was the most important thing. But, where others had already escaped from this center well within six months, Simon had faithfully persevered. One Friday morning he was already waiting for me. First the Bible class, followed by some conversations here and there, and then finally he got to go.

And then, just like that, a thought occurs to me. As if this is a shadow of what is happening now and what is to come one day. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father (Luke 9:42). I see an addict, a child. His family. A mother or a father. And I may bring him to them. It is but a very dim and broken image which I see before me now. But still. What will it be on that day! When once enslaved sinners are brought back to their Father, by the Lord Jesus Himself (1 Cor. 15:24). Restored! Completely, truly completely restored from all their addictions and wanderings.

But let the righteous be glad;

let them rejoice before God: yea,

let them exceedingly rejoice (Ps. 68:3).

That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:26-27). If already all heaven rejoices over the conversion of a sinner, what joy it will be, there on that new earth! He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. (…) And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. (…) and I will be his God, and he shall be my son (Rev. 21:3-7).

More than a week later, I get a phone call. Simon has run off.  

Yes, all flesh is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades. It was really just a broken image, a glimpse, a faint glow, a brief glimmer. But it contains a certain reality. His straying sheep will be brought home after all. Because it is His will. For the Word of our God shall stand forever!

Job Bolier

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