Living with her mother in a very poor area, Charlene Gates grew up with children surrounded by alcohol-fuelled violence and drug abuse. She would have been destroyed by anger as well if not for her grandmother’s prayers and love.
During treatment for asthma as an infant, Charlene had a blood transfusion which caused unintended brain damage.
“In Grade 2, I forgot everything I learned in Grade 1,” Charlene explains, “so I had to go to a special school for children with learning problems.”
In 2003, she started high school at a special school in a very poor area.
“It was a place of broken homes,” Charlene recalls. “The children were broken, lost and hopeless because they came from difficult and challenging circumstances. It was a devastating cycle.
“Most of these children’s parents were alcoholics. The men beat up and abused the women, who were unemployed and desperate. By age 16, many of the girls were pregnant and had two children before age 18.
“Angry, broken and needing hope, the boys used their fists to get what they wanted. When they finished school, most of the students took the lowest work available.”
Growing up among this, Charlene admits she too was depressed and “was a very bitter, angry and broken woman”, as her circumstances left her feeling lost and hopeless.
The only time Charlene was able escape this troubled neighbourhood was during school holidays spent with her grandmother. As she talked with her, Charlene learned about God’s love and forgiveness.
“My grandmother always read to me from my childhood Bible when I was a girl, and she prayed for me,” Charlene recalls fondly.
“At church with my grandmother, I learned who Jesus is and what he came to do. On holidays in 2006, I visited my aunt for one day and I asked her how I could belong to God.
“My aunty explained that we are born in sin, and are separated from God because we have missed God’s perfect standard completely. We are guilty and deserve His punishment of hell, as Jesus warned the Pharisees in Matthew 23, verse 33.
“But the good news is that the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ became a man to give us a perfect, sinless life that we cannot live and took God’s punishment for us. After that he rose from the dead and now sits at the Right Hand of God, as Hebrews 1, verse 3 says.”
On that day, Charlene recalls, “God opened my eyes, and rescued me from my deep hole of despair.”
Her whole life changed, she explains excitedly, because she was now forgiven of her sins and adopted into God’s spiritual family.
“As the daughter of God, I was now free, happy and joyful!
“For the first time, I felt there was hope, and it did not matter what the future held, because my Lord and I would take it day by day.”
In 2008, Charlene remembers that God directed her and her mother to a new town, with an excellent agricultural school and a welcoming church where Charlene was baptized to publicly declare her surrender to Jesus Christ.
After speaking with the church pastor about her desire to help people, Charlene joined the church’s seminary, where she completed a Practical Theology course and realised that God wanted her to become a counsellor.
“I grew in the knowledge of my Lord Jesus and I love Him now more than ever before. I know that He has called me to serve in Biblical Counselling so that I can help people, using His Word, the Bible as our guide for a godly life.”
In 2013, she began further studies at a highly regarded South African counselling school.
“I thank God for what He came to do for me,” Charlene enthuses. “He is a good Father and He gives us more than we could ever ask or think. His primary desire for us is not that we are rich, successful or even healthy. His greatest desire is that we must know Him and glorify Him in and through our lives.
“For me, to know Christ surpasses the value of everything.”