Imagine yourself a seven year old with a younger brother and baby sister. You live in a township outside a major African city. Your mother brought you three into the unfamiliar city on a busy afternoon. Then, telling you she had to use the toilet, handed you the baby and told you to hold your little brother’s hand. And left. Sorry about the spoiler, but that is what Out of the Black Shadows is about: aloneness.
Some twelve years later, a violent, confused, self-hating teen with a bag of petrol bombs sets off with his gang to attack a bank in Salisbury (now Harare, Zimbabwe). He and his buddies see an evangelistic tent meeting on the township’s edge and decide it would be a much better target with many more casualties than a solid concrete bank. After reorganizing their game plan and countdown, they duck into the tent to blend in with the crowd.
But the Holy Spirit had other plans, and Stephen Lungu’s life changed irreversibly that night. Out of the Black Shadows (co-authored by Stephen Lungu and Anne Coomes) is described as a “spiritual thriller” by Michael Cassidy, founder of African Enterprise. But it is much more than that: it is the spiritual autobiography of a self-described loser, a young man who carried the weight of abandonment and rejection within his soul to such an extent that death often seemed his best option.
The Black Shadows was the name of the gang Stephen led, the only family he had, and the ragtag mob of boys he slept under a bridge with. It derived from a wild west movie and the fantasies they lived on to supplement their diet of digging through white people’s garbage cans and tips from chasing tennis balls.
Stephen lived under much blacker shadows than the name of his gang. Abandoned so young, Stephen carried the weight of responsibility, self-hate and bitterness. But this amazing account, after focusing on the impossibility of redemption or humanisation of this street boy gone “terrorist”, reveals a most unusual story of hope and grace.
The vehicle for this grace was the South African based Dorothea Mission. These missionaries came with their own apartheid issues, but God was greater and used their desire instead of their faults. The “coincidental” finding of Stephen by Hannes Joubert after his conversion and Joubert’s loving discipline cover us like a soft warm blanket after the chilly hard ground of Stephen’s grave-bed under the bridge. Although Stephen was from Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and abhorred the apartheid mentality from the south, he was not as scarred by it as those directly under its domination. His resentment focused on his own family who betrayed him and let him down.
Most heart-warming is the delightful friendship and sparring partnership that Stephen developed with (now world famous) Patrick Johnstone. Stephen knew him before “Operation World” and Johnstone is a model for many who wish to lead and challenge others to reach beyond what they think they can achieve. Much of the credit for the man Stephen Lungu became he gratefully credits to Patrick and Patrick’s nurturing of him and confidence in him.
This book reads like a simple story told by a simple man, but the undeniable power which changed him makes it a rich story, complex in life, relationships and grace. It can be compared to Mark Mathabane’s Kaffir Boy, story of a young street boy who makes good and arrives in America to escape apartheid’s oppression. Their experiences of hunger, abuse, cold, and self-hate are similar. But while Mark gained the privilege of education and leaving, Stephen was burdened to share his wonderful gift with anyone who would listen and Africa became his mission field as well as his home.
This book reminds us of the difference we can make, one person at a time, when we are willing to step out in faith and let God do what He will do.
(Unlike Mathabane’s book, this one can be read to younger listeners.)