Guest interview: Itu Leballo
Itu is one of those ladies you just want to be around. Her quiet calmness, ready smile and sense of joy make you feel settled and at home. If she were a literary character, she would be Piglet, in Winnie the Pooh – always ready with a thoughtful, positive perspective and a soft spoken generosity. A loyal friend with the biggest heart.
Please share a brief overview of your childhood.
I grew up in a village called Nokaneng, in Mpumalanga. The closest town is Hammanskraal.
I am the second child in a family of 4 children.
My siblings and I were raised and loved by both my mom and dad.
Though our parents loved us and tried hard to care for and nurture us, things were not always easy; we had good and bad times and I’m thankful that we had each other as a family.
A good childhood memory was coming home from school and wondering what we were going to eat and then we found mom’s homemade ‘fat cakes’ or steamed bread, which were so delicious and comforting. Our family loved to sing a lot and one of my favourite memories is sitting in our two-room house in the family room, singing church hymns with loud voices together as a family.
It is something we have continued in our family, although we now know and love the God we sing about.
What cultural or religious traditions stand out for you growing up?
The ‘Ubuntu community’ I was raised in is one of the things that stood out for me growing up. Our community had such a good relationship of looking after, caring for and sharing with one another. While some parents were working in town and left their children alone, there were others who were working around the village or stay-at-home moms who looked after those children.
As children in the community, we had a culture or norm of coming back from school, rushing home to eat and changing out of our school uniforms and heading out to play different kinds of creative games together. The wisdom of the African Proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ was my experience.
Growing up, did you have any exposure to Christianity, and if so, in what capacity?
Growing up I was not exposed to Christianity at all.
The only thing I knew and believed was that God existed and there were different ways of approaching Him. Our family believed that the way to approach God was through our church leader and our ancestors.
At the age of 16, there was a Christian Tent Crusade in our community which I attended. For the first time, I heard the Gospel and Good News of Jesus Christ preached.
Please share your testimony of how God saved you.
I was raised in a religious home where mom was a committed member of a Cult church. Both my parents were raised in that church, so it was our family church and it was highly regarded in the community.
During my teenage years, I started questioning what our family believed.
Prayer was a great challenge to me because we had to pray to our church leader and our ancestors who were believed to be taking our prayers to God. I didn't like the church at all as I was distressed about not understanding the reasons behind how things were practiced.
I started to rebel against my parents with regard to going to church and was disciplined many times.
I loved my friends and that’s where I felt a sense of belonging. I wanted to fit into my peers’ lives. All I wanted were my own sinful desires, to please myself and at times my friends and to not worry about disobeying my parents. If they set a curfew to be home by, I would lie and say I was studying with friends etc.
Ephesians 2:3 reminds me of my life before Christ and I’m grateful that He saved me! ‘Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’
One evening my friends and I decided to go out, but first we planned to pass by the Crusade tent; ‘just for fun.’
While we were sitting there, I heard the Word of God preached from John 17 and through it I was convicted of my sins.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit I realised my need of God. I repented from my sins and turned to Him for the forgiveness of my sins. I was 16 years old.
The Lord opened my eyes so that I could see the difference between a believer and an unbeliever.
He not only gave me the desire to live a godly life, He is also enabling me to live a life that honours Him. I am not living a perfect life, but I'm fighting sin daily and depending on Him for my sanctification and to become more Christlike.
Titus 2:11-13: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’
At the age of 22 the Lord brought Sammy, a godly man, into my life. We married in 2006 and we now have 4 children. We are grateful to be living this life together in Christ and to experience the blessings and joys that come with that.
Even today, the Lord is still growing me and moulding me into the likeness of His Son. I'm grateful for my salvation which is by grace through faith in Christ alone.
What was your response when you realised Sammy wanted to be involved in full- time ministry?
A year after we started dating, Sammy told me that he had a desire to be in full-time ministry. He wanted to be a Youth Pastor, so he told me I didn’t have to worry about being a Pastor’s wife.
In that same year, a church in a nearby village called him to come and serve as their Pastor while there was crisis which led to their pastor leaving the church with immediate effect. Sammy then agreed to serve in that church. During that year, his desire to study Theology grew so that he could be better equipped for the ministry.
It was at that time that the Lord started working in my heart, leading me to trust Him for what He had in-store for me.
I slowly started dreaming about my future with the Pastor (hehehe!)
Did you ever see yourself as a Pastor’s wife?
No, I had never seen myself as a Pastor’s wife before. I actually pictured a Pastor’s wife being the perfect woman with extraordinary strength, which I was not and am still not.
Early on in our relationship, I even asked Sammy about it before we could start dating, but he assured me at that stage that it was not going to happen. Little did I know!
It is amazing how God slowly changes out hearts and transforms our desires and callings.
What has been the biggest surprise or unexpected joy in being a Pastor’s wife?
The fact that the all-powerful God has forgiven us our sins and He is enabling forgiven sinners like us to serve His church and be part of His people’s growth in love and service to Him. A real and unexpected joy I have experienced is how God moves His people to serve and encourage us in times of need.
The Lord has allowed us to serve so many people and has also allowed so many people to serve us.
One example of this was when we were facing church conflicts and how the Lord used so many to encourage us, pray for us and with us. I remember one of our friends was even praying with us over the phone and it has been amazing to serve the great God who is always with us.
How has being a stay-at-home mom and home-schooler been received by your community?
Many people in our community were shocked by my decision to be a stay-at home mom and home-schooler. I was asked questions such as ‘When are you taking the kids to school so that you can go find a job etc.’
Some couldn’t even believe that it was legal for parents to home-school their children.
Most of the time when people realise that our children don’t go to public schools they react shockingly and ask lots of questions which reflect their curiosity.
Even though this is new to many in our community, they have come to respect our choice and decisions. We recently took our kids to join a Gymnastics club here in Soweto and the children were asking our girls about where they go to school and the girls told them that they are home-schooled.
Later on when I went to fetch the girls, a 10 year old boy was very keen to chat to me. He asked me if the girls were my children, and then he wanted to know what exactly what they were saying about schooling.
I then explained to him what home-schooling was. The stay-at-home mom and home-schooler life has definitely been a cultural shock to many. It was to me too at some stage as well.
How old are your 4 children? Briefly tell us about the new addition to your family. How has your church and community reacted to your adoption of him?
The Lord has graciously blessed us with 3 biological children, ages 8, 5 and 2 and we are in the process of adopting our fourth child, a 2 year old little boy who has been with us since December last year.
Sammy and I had a desire to adopt before we even had our first child but in God’s providence and timing it didn’t happen then. We wanted to respond to the great need of orphans in our county but had not thought a lot about our convictions. Around that time the Lord placed us in a church where about 5 families had adopted children.
Sammy and I were intimately involved in some of those adoptions and saw first-hand the pain and joy which accompany adoption.
We believed that the Lord was preparing us for such pain and joy. We realised that our conviction and desire to adopt had to come from the word of God. As we matured in our faith and became grounded in God’s word, we learnt that our salvation was an act of God adopting us into His Kingdom. Though we both had parents still together and alive, we recognized ourselves as spiritual orphans and appreciated God for reaching to us while we were still ungodly.
Now our identity and inheritance are grounded in our adoption in Christ.
Our adoption spurs us to join Christ in advocating for the poor, the vulnerable, the abandoned and the fatherless. I’m not going to lie and say that adoption is easy, it is hard but it is all worth it because of Christ.
I am learning to love and not depending on my feelings but on what God defines as love.
I have seen that I’m used to my other children’s sins and struggles and yet not accepting my new son’s struggles. However, the Lord is sanctifying me and reminding me of His unconditional love for me which really teaches me to love my son. I remember one day complaining to my friend on how my son decided to decorate his room with poo, and how upset I was with him.
My friend’s response was to remind me on how dirty we were before we came to Christ and how he cleaned us from all the dirt and stains of sin.
I’m learning to look at the pictures of the Gospel while I raise all my children and this is the continuous work of Christ in my life.
The church has really welcomed our son so well. He is loved and cared for by many of our church family members and we are thankful to God.
In the community, adoption is not foreign to Black people.
Though many are doing it among their relatives, at times there is no forever commitment. If things get tough, the child might be sent to another relative for care.
So many people are very positive toward it though shocked by the fact that we adopted a child outside our relatives. Many make comments which make us realise that they think that we have a special love for children or are patient with children.
Our adoption story gives us real opportunities to tell people about God’s adoption story.
Are there unique challenges and/or encouragements in being part of an ‘inner city’ church in Soweto and ministering to the local community?
One of the beautiful things about Soweto is that the community is open to hearing one out and they are always watching what’s happening around them, which makes it easy for the local church to evangelize through preaching and also with our lives.
During our first year in Soweto, while taking a walk to the nearby shop to buy bread with our kids, a man asked me why my children were not in school all the time. I then learned that our lives are being watched, which challenges me that it is very important to represent Christ well as a Christian.
Itu was born and raised in a small village called Nokaneng in Mpumalanga. She is a born again Christian. After marrying Sammy in 2006, they moved to Johannesburg.
Itu is a full time homemaker/stay-at-home mom and a home-schooler and she has a great passion for both.
She enjoys cooking, reading books to her children, singing and playing board games with friends but mostly spending time with her husband.
She has recently found a new love for sewing.