What was it like growing up?
“Wow, that is the part that I hate.”

Growing up presents its own challenges for everyone. However, when your childhood is prematurely taken away from you, it elevates the hurdles you need to jump in order to survive. For some, it would be easy to stay a victim your whole life; but not Lillian Gondwe.
Lillian is the firstborn in her family of four. She has 2 sisters and 1 brother. Her parents separated when she was just three years old and because of this, she doesn’t know her father. Her mother never completed school, only reaching the 9th grade, which made it very difficult for her to get a job. Without a formal education, her mother was unable to get a job that would earn enough income to support all her children, so Lillian was sent to live with her grandparents at a very young age.
When Lillian was six years old, she was brought to Livingstone, Zambia to live with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. That’s when the nightmares began. Each day her aunt would leave their house for work, and it left Lillian vulnerable to terrible evils. At the young age of six, her uncle preyed on her and raped her. This terrible cycle continued for the next 2 years.
“Almost every day, I was experiencing that.”

Being the victim of sexual assault at such a young age,
Lillian didn’t feel like she had a voice to speak out against it.
“I couldn’t talk.
Just because if I talk,
my aunt wouldn’t believe me.”

She felt hopeless and alone.
During this time, her mother got remarried in South Africa.
“Then, by then, my mom was married in South Africa. She was married to my stepdad. So, she was very far away from me. Even my aunt, we didn’t have that close relationship with her. So, things were just bad for me.”

When Lillian reached grade 8, she started mingling with the wrong crowd at school. After making some bad friends, poor decisions followed her. Aimlessly lost, Lillian started doing drugs and began sleeping around. By the time she was in the 9th grade, she was pregnant. The guy who impregnated her told her ‘I just don’t know if this is my child or not.’
“I got pregnant in that, and then the guy who impregnated me was like, ‘I just don’t know if this child is mine or not.'”

At 15 years old, Lillian, still a child herself, now had a baby girl. For the next 2 years, she didn’t go to school in order to stay home and take care of her baby.
Things at home got very, very difficult. Lillian was receiving no support of any kind from her daughter’s father and she had no one to give her money for food or clothes for her baby. Her mother still wasn’t working, and Lillian felt the full weight of responsibility for her daughter. She knew, “My child is my responsibility.” It was at this point that Lillian turned to what she felt like was her only option.
“So, it was very difficult for me. So, I had no choice then but to look for guys who are going to give me money if I give them what I have.”

Through the help of her mother’s half-brother, Lillian was able to go back to school. But, for the next 2 years, Lillian sold herself every day to different men in order to provide for her daughter. Until one day, she got sick.
Yellow with jaundice, Lillian went with her mother to the hospital to receive care. She had contracted Hepatitis B. The doctors asked her, ‘How did you get this disease? Because this disease can only come from a man.’

Again, Lillian felt voiceless.
Shame and guilt covered her like a heavy blanket.

“I couldn’t be open to my mom to tell her what was going on through me. I couldn’t tell my mom. So, I just had to remain quiet like that.”

It was around this time when we first met Lillian. It was 2015, and we were doing a Beat The Drum event at her high school in Livingstone. At this outreach, Lillian was able to hear other girls share similar stories to her own. She was moved by their testimonies but still a little too afraid to open up and share her own story.
She remembers thinking that
“things can change in my life.”

Throughout that week, Lillian found her voice and decided to open up to some of our leaders. She wanted to grow beyond all of her pain and heartbreak.
“The good thing is, Beat The Drum came in time before I destroyed my life. I thank God that these guys came to my rescue.”

When Lillian went in for a follow-up Hepatitis test the results came back negative. She was also tested for HIV/AIDS and those tests came back negative as well.
“God saw me through.
I was not put on medication,
it just went like that.”

From this point forward, we started walking in relationship with Lillian, and she started attending our weekly discipleship program for girls. It was during this time that she began to learn about her identity in Christ, the value of purity and other Godly principles. She was beginning to grow in new ways and even made a public commitment to remain pure until marriage.
“I had to commit myself to purity. To say, I was not living a life that pleased the Lord, but right now, I want to make it right. And, I want to be a girl in waiting. I want to be an example to my community by just seeking the Lord more. Not looking for comfort in other people, but, in the Lord.”

As Lillian continued to be transformed,
she chose to forgive her uncle
instead of harboring hatred in her heart.
“I don’t have any grudge against anyone. I prayed to God to forgive me of all the angers I had in my heart, all the grudges, and I forgave him. Although he doesn’t know. I feel relieved. I feel at peace.”

Lillian continued her education, and in November of 2017, she graduated from high school. During this time, she also grew in her role as an advocate and a mentor to other girls in her community.
“I’ve held a lot of meetings, large meetings with school girls. I had to open up to say this life, of engaging in sexual immorality and living a life that does not please the Lord, is not a good way to go.”

Lillian’s willingness to use her voice is giving hope to other girls in her community.
“I just begin to speak life. I begin to share how God has loved me and how He has cleansed me out of all of the messy places I have been to.”

By sharing her story, it has helped others begin their healing process. Many times Lillian simply listens as girls begin to share “bigger issues than I have ever been through.”
“I thought that what I passed through was huge, but what some of these girls have passed through is extremely huge.”
Sometimes, she says she just sits and cries together with them. The healing process takes on many forms and the simple act of grieving together is often more comforting than offering supportive words. She’s proud to be a beacon of hope to others and an example of someone who has been through the fire and emerged stronger.

Lillian’s desire to grow continues to burn bright.

In the summer of 2018, Lillian joined our Immersion Internship program (now called our School of Justice + Mission) in Choma. Living and learning in a multi-cultural environment stretched her in new ways.
“It was hard at first, but quickly I learned that it’s not about one culture over another,
but it’s about Kingdom culture.”
Lillian now has a new understanding of her identity and vocation in the Kingdom of God. She’s witnessed firsthand the miracles of God and the transformative love of the Father. Armed with the truth, Lillian has a strong desire to fight for justice in her community and to be a voice for the voiceless.

“What I mean about this, like, women and children they don’t have a louder voice to speak. So all the time, they are being oppressed by the men and we can’t talk about gender-based violence. That’s injustice. Most of the time, it’s not only about the men that are committing injustices, also the women they’re doing it. But, it’s about 90% of the men that are doing it, 10% the women. So, I want to speak for the voiceless. The kids that are being abused. They can say it, ‘who will listen to them?’ but I want to listen to them. I want to fight for the children. I want to fight for the people who are being raped, who are being abused, physically, emotionally. I want to stand for them.”

If you spend any amount of time with Lillian, you will quickly recognize her desire to grow. She’s a self-starter who is very driven to push herself to learn new things. She is FULL of potential. After she completed our internship, she applied for a position on our Choma base and won the job! This gives us the incredible opportunity to continue to pour into her life on a regular, daily basis and we LOVE watching her grow.
In the future, Lillian says she might like to study law or maybe even one day become a lawyer. But, she’s also an amazing artist and like many other 22-year-olds, she has a million different dreams about what her life might look like. Although she has already come so far, as she reflects, she recognizes that her journey of transformation isn’t over yet.
“I’m still growing.
I’m not there yet,
but I’m still growing.”

Regardless of what Lillian does with the rest of her life, one thing is for sure;
she WILL BE a voice for the Kingdom and she will fight for justice in her community.