In contrast to the grinding cycle of set-backs that seemed to epitomize Cru62 life, mid-2016, was the emerging story of Maruwaan. By now he had been clean from heroin for 15 months, had become a full-time Cru62 staff member and was headed to Johannesburg with Jonathan to raise awareness for a project they were starting to address the failing education system in Manenberg. They planned to do this by walking the 1592kms back home over 60 days, assisted by Jaryd their support driver, stopping off in communities and churches along the way and advocating for Manenberg’s high school students. It was the most high-profile initiative we had ever attempted to pull off and, midst the questions – will they make it? Will they raise the money they need? What might go wrong? Where will they sleep? – there was much excitement and strong support. Maruwaan and Jonathan had got to Johannesburg two weeks before the walk began to share their backstory with churches around the city. They had appeared on radio shows, spoken to newspaper reporters, launched a website and crowdfunding page, and received an impressive amount of donated equipment they would need along the way. The weekend before they set off was Maruwaan’s 21st birthday. He had never been so far from home in his life and was understandably upset not to be able to celebrate with friends and family back in Cape Town. So Jonathan organized a party, Sarah flew up and surprised him, and our church community gave money towards his first smartphone enabling him to stay in touch throughout the walk.
From time to time, Jonathan sent through videos of Maruwaan preaching, the two of them training together, and even a few prophetic words people had given them as they prepared to embark. One of the words Maruwaan received was that God had anointed his feet for the walk and would look after his family whilst he was gone – and that he needn’t worry about them as they were in God’s hands. This was apt, as Maruwaan’s mother was in hospital, two of his siblings had pretty serious mental health issues stemming from substance abuse, and there was a daily struggle to put food on the table.
The day of the walk came, and they set off from Hillbrow at 4.30am, anxious to make the minimum of 38 kilometres a day to reach Cape Town as planned sixty days later. Beyond the inevitable blisters and aching limbs, there were no significant complications. Jaryd had driven ahead and prepared meals and rest stops at various intervals. By early evening they arrived at Emthonjeni, a community with whom they were to stay the night, near Sebokeng in the South West of Johannesburg, and got an early night.
The next day, accompanied by some of the community members, they started walking again bright and early. Mid-morning I received a what’s app message from Maruwaan.
‘Can I ask you a favour?’
‘Sure – what?’
‘Could you send me a bible passage every morning so I can lead devotions with whoever is walking with us?’
He was adamant that this walk would change lives – not just in Manenberg, but along the road. He was determined that all he encountered should hear about the phenomenal story of how he had met Jesus and been transformed. I sent him Isaiah 35, having prayed it over him and Jonno the day before. I was especially drawn to verses 8 to 10:
And a highway will be there;
It will be called the Way of Holiness.
The unclean will not journey on it;
It will be for those who walk in that way;
Wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
Nor will any ferocious beast get up on it;
They will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
And the ransomed of the Lord will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
Everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Having sent him his bible passage and said a few words of prayer for him and Jonno, I got on with my day – building a wooden fence in the boys’ house front garden with Waydin and Preswin.
At that point I was blissfully unaware it was about to become the worst day of my life.
About an hour later Sarah called me.
She was sitting in the car in the driveway looking white as a sheet.
“Hi love, what’s wrong?” She was obviously agitated and was breathing heavily.
“There’s been an accident.”
“An accident where? What do you mean?”
“With the walk.”
“What?” My heart started to race and my mind immediately started imagining various hypothetical scenarios.
“I just got a call from one of the friends they’re with. A car ran into the group as they were walking. I don’t know the exact details – but…”
Sarah paused. Silence.
Then, in a whisper,
“…they said there’s a body.”
We both sat there, panicking and trembling. None of the scenarios I’d imagined had involved a body. I began to think of all the different people I knew were walking with Jonathan and Maruwaan that day. Friends from Hillbrow, community members from Enthonjeni – many of whom I didn’t know.
The phone rang again. A deafening hush filled the car. Sarah picked up, and put the phone on loudspeaker so I could hear.
“Sarah? Are you there?”
“Yes, I’m here with Pete. What’s going on?”
“Guys, I’m so sorry…” the voiced trailed off.
“What? Sorry about what?”
“I’m so sorry. The body is Maruwaan.”
A long, piercing scream of a mother who had lost a child. I sat in silence, stunned, unable to speak or let out a sound. The friend at the other end of the phone repeated over and over ‘I’m just so sorry.’ Sitting in our car parked in our driveway, neither of us could comprehend the news. In desperation we demanded a doctor officially declare Maruwaan dead. But for our friends at the accident scene it was obvious. He had taken the full force of a car hurtling into him at 120kmph whilst standing on the hard shoulder. Killed instantly. A bright light snuffed out on the spot. One of the most promising lives we’d ever encountered, gone. Just like that. Finished. Over. Dead. Not only that, but Jonathan and Jaryd were both in critical condition – the crash had catapulted the parked car into them and sent them flying. Jaryd had severe head trauma and Jonathan had sustained multiple internal injuries. It was touch and go as to whether they would survive.
That day it felt like my hope died. No words of comfort, no theological explanations (and boy there were many – well meant, but entirely misguided), no meditating on scripture or time of prayer, made any dent in the the total and utter hopelessness I felt. And the guilt.
Guilt fuelled from never having lost anyone before their time, and not knowing how to deal with it. Guilt from holding to warped subconscious theological assumptions that anything other than external optimism and inner joy was prohibited. Ultimately, a naïve refusal to acknowledge the feelings of nihilism and numbness that can surround, swamp and slowly suffocate you in a time of trauma and grief. An accusing voice repeatedly condemned me for my despair. You say Jesus is hope in all circumstances – what about now then? How can God honestly be good if he allowed this? Where’s your faith you spineless fraud – the one time your faith is meant to make a difference, you fall to pieces. What would people think if they knew what you’re really like?
The next day I found myself on a ‘plane to Johannesburg. Officially, we were going to identify Maruwaan’s body and make arrangements to bring it home. But really we were going to pray for him to rise from the dead. We weren’t sure how to do it, but were convinced that it is as theologically orthodox to raise the dead as it is to love your neighbor. After all, at least nine people are clearly raised from the dead in the Bible. In the New Testament alone, Jesus raised a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17), a religious leader’s daughter (Mark 5:35-43), and his friend Lazarus (John 11: 38-44), and then empowered us to do even greater works than he had done (John 14:12). Accordingly, Peter and Paul each raised a dead person (Acts 9:36-42 and 20:9-12), and Jesus himself rose after being crucified. In direct contradiction to those who counselled me that it was ‘obviously Maruwaan’s time to go home’, we had pages of prophecies over his life that he was only just beginning to step into. Promises from the mouth of the Father wrapped up in embodied, earthly adventures for his son to discover. Maruwaan carried so much of the light, love and power of Jesus that Satan took him out, pure and simple. It was a robbery. Manenberg, South Africa and the world were robbed of the hope he exuded.
So Sarah and I, Leon, Maruwaan’s mum and cousin, Jonathan’s sister, and two of Jaryd’s sisters got into the huge rental car and drove to Emthonjeni, the community where Maruwaan had stayed for his final night before the accident. I was on my phone nonstop, making arrangements in a city I didn’t know, booking cars, thanking people I’d never met for letting us max out their credit card on flights – I felt like a traumatized tour manager arranging a holiday from hell, full of distraught, weeping people. It was the absolute worst experience I’ve ever been through.
And then, late in the evening, we got to Emthonjeni. We were hours late as I had botched the arrival arrangements but Trevor Nthlola, the inimitable leader of the community, had arranged a most tenderhearted welcome for us. We were each met at the door by a personal hugger, mamas with their arms wide open, and were enveloped and held as we each wept like babies. Singing began, accompanied by djembe and piano and we joined in with our brothers and sisters whom we had never met, but whose embrace was helping soak up our grief, in the most spine-tinglingly beautiful time of worship of which I’d ever been part.
As if the evening couldn’t get both sadder and more epic, people began to share stories of Maruwaan’s effect on their community in the short time they had known him. Each shared testimony of the ways in which Maruwaan had touched their heart. “He was such a gentle spirit.” “He had a father’s heart.” “When I heard his past, I couldn’t believe the man standing in front of me.” “He was a walking miracle.” And so the stories went on. His last words were a joyful affirmation of the word he’d been given before the walk began – ‘My feet are anointed!’ I turned to look at Shanaaz, Maruwaan’s mother. She was sitting in the corner of the room, deeply affected and crying silently.
We prayed for resurrection for five days straight. Tree of Life met in Manenberg for hours on end, worshipping and speaking life into Maruwaan, whilst declaring the prophetic words spoken over his life. It just seemed like the most reasonable thing to do. Yes we were desperate, but we figured it was humanly impossible one way or the other to raise Maruwaan – and it didn’t become less likely the more time wore on. But by the fifth day we needed to let go. Sarah anointed his feet with oil, and we left, distraught and finally coming to terms with the fact we’d never see him again.
Back in Cape Town, there was a funeral to organize. Newspapers had picked up on the accident and were writing up the story with various degrees of inaccuracy. We decided to allow news cameras at the funeral, as ever since Maruwaan was a young boy he had wanted to be famous. Now he would be – and for all the right reasons. A significant issue arose that some of his family wanted to bury him in accordance with Muslim rites. An aunt was offering to cover the entire funeral costs as long as his mother agreed to bury him a Muslim. This would have been a travesty, and completely against Maruwaan’s own wishes. And having heard so many testimonies whilst we were in Johannesburg of Maruwaan’s transformation, Shanaaz recognized that, however embarrassing Maruwaan’s conversion may have been to some in the family, his new found faith in Jesus was both profound and authentic.
Common sense prevailed, and arrangements for a Christian service began. Never before had I seen so many Muslims and gangsters in a church. The place was jam-packed, with not even standing room left. The press behaved badly and thrust cameras in mourners’ faces. At the graveside, four of Maruwaan’s Cru62 brothers lowered his coffin into the ground as the rest of us sang his song through distraught tears. ‘From my mother’s womb you have chosen me, love has called my name. I’ve been born again into a family, your blood flows through my veins. I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.’
The day Maruwaan was killed I prayed ‘Lord, I demand souls and more souls for this man’s life.’ Tertullian’s famous adage that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church was front and centre in my mind. A few short months after that, members of his family asked to receive this same Jesus that Maruwaan had come to love into their own lives. We baptized his mother and two younger siblings in the ocean at Muizenberg. A proportion of the money given towards the healing journey of the families affected by the accident was put towards the same two siblings’ school fees, and his family are now part of Tree of Life – all in line with the prophetic word Maruwaan had been given days before the accident, that God would look after his family whilst he was gone.