I was born on Easter weekend, more than six weeks early. My mother was 35 years old, and I was her first child. She suffered from Preeclampsia, a pregnancy-induced hypertension that made her pregnancy extremely difficult. I was due on May 21st, two days before my father’s birthday, but God had different plans for me. After 26 hours of labor, my mother finally delivered me. We were both in critical condition and it was a miracle that we survived, but we did, together. I was so tiny that baby socks covered my knees, and I spent the first three weeks of my life in an incubator.
Because of my fragile state, my parents had to be extra careful with me when they took me home, panicked and cautious as they performed routine baby tasks like feeding and bathing me. Ten months later, my mother was pregnant again, with my sister Margaret. She was born at 9:15 in the morning on February 26th, and two years later, my brother Johnny arrived on the same date at the same exact time, 9:15 in the morning. What’s interesting is that Kim’s brother and sister, Barry and Shelley, also share a birthday, the 26th of November, and they are also two years apart.
My mother’s name is Gloria, the oldest of five children. Her father, my grandfather, William Benjamin Ladson, was a railroad worker by day, and by night, a fighter, a boxer named “Battlin’ Bill”. Short and stocky, like a bull, he was the picture of athleticism, sporting a tattoo of a tiger on his forearm. As he gained popularity, he was found more frequently at the local bars with his rugby buddies, gambling and playing pool. Soon, he wasn’t coming home until the early hours of the morning, sometimes not at all. The effect of his alcoholism had already taken its toll when he lost the house he had bought for the family years before. They moved to a rental house, and my grandmother had to sell glass bottles to feed the family, as my grandfather’s gambling debts increased.
My mother always told me stories about her little sister, Maureen Joy. She was a year younger than her, and they were very close. Her fondest memory, the one she’ll always tell you if you ask, is also one of the last memories she has of her sister. The two of them, dancing under a streetlight that stood alone on the sidewalk outside of their house that cast their shadows on the wall as they danced; and they laughed and sang, watching the shapes they made as they moved.
Later that night, Maureen took ill, she was only seven years old and came down with rheumatic fever. Within three days, she was dying, and they couldn’t find my grandfather. He had been on a gambling and drinking binge, and by the time he returned home, his little girl was clinging to life. He fell to his knees and wept, pleading to God, vowing to never drink again if his daughter could be saved. But again, God had different plans, and little Maureen died in her innocence.
Although one would expect my grandfather to fall back into his drinking ways and drown in his sorrows, the opposite happened. He quit drinking and gambling, and even quit boxing. Within a month, he gave his heart to the Lord, and became a Christian. His mother, my great-grandmother, had undergone much ridicule from her family when she became a Christian the previous year, but now her son had become a Christian too. She was a beautiful woman, and after her face was disfigured from a stroke, she went to church in hopes that a faith healer could ask God to make her beautiful again. Instead, she found something much more precious than physical beauty that fades with time; she found Christ and took Him into her heart. I believe that when she did this, she broke a generational curse that was a heavy burden on our family. There are numerous references to this in the Bible, but the verse that comes to mind is from Exodus 20:5: “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation…” A curse was broken when my great-grandmother had the stroke that led her to church, and shortly afterwards, the tragedy of Maureen’s death changed the course of many lives, including my own, through my mother. Her entire family got saved, and many are pastors and ministers of the gospel to this day. Kim and I helped to pioneer the church her brother-in-law Fred and sister (my aunt) Nellie started in South Africa.
My mother is a well-read and learned woman. She spent her youth traveling the world, backpacking through Europe, visiting the Pyramids in Egypt and touring Israel. She married late, and surprisingly, she married an unbeliever. This would seem to be a recipe for disaster, but again, God had different plans for us, and as unexpected as this may sound, it furnished me with a broad perspective growing up. It taught me to see both sides before making a judgment and never deterred me from becoming a Christian myself.
We grew up in the country, outside of the city of Durban, and our childhood was simple and stable. When we were young, my mother had stopped going to church. But she insisted that her children attend church every Sunday. Although she was struggling for a time, she knew that her children needed to know God. My father decided that the Methodist church up the road was acceptable. Because of this, I was aware of God from a very young age, and sensitive to His voice. By the time I was twelve years old, my mother had returned to God, and she returned with a passion to know Him and seek His will.
I grew up and married Kim, and from the earliest days of our ministry, my mother has always been there, helping us. Her and Kim can often be found discussing doctrine and religion late at night, usually in the kitchen over a cup of tea. This was, and continues to be, an irreplaceable aid to Kim because she knows the Bible so well, and is not afraid to challenge popular dogmas and ideas. She is a solid rock, an anchor in our lives and we would not be where we are today without her.
When Kim began to receive more and more invitations from all over the world, my mother was always there to help us, especially when we had to travel. She would take care of our children during the school year, and travel with us when we brought them with us. In the early years, we didn’t have much money and when we traveled it was difficult. We scarcely had money to rent vehicles and hotels, so we would rely on families to host us in the different cities, and my mother was always there to help us.
For as long as I can remember, the kitchen was her territory. She would prepare the entire meal herself and expected everyone to be at the dinner table on time. No snacking was allowed before the meal, for fear that the meal would not be fully appreciated if tainted with appetizers; this has not changed. Kim loves to snack before a meal, especially sausages from the grill. Every night, to this day, you will find Kim grilling sausages while my mother bakes and roasts in the kitchen. Because this upsets her so much, Kim has had to sneak his sausages, and I’ve even caught him having the children hand them to him through the kitchen window and distributing them to the hungry kids standing around before she catches on…but she always knows, and huffs and puffs around the kitchen, mumbling protests and glaring over her glasses in disapproval. Today she is 85 years old and full of life. She is actively involved in our ministry and continues to be a source of strength, stability and inspiration.
When I think back over my life, and remember my mother and the fight for my life, I recognize that I am responsible, as the child of the third generation, to continue what God began in our family so many years ago. In this month of August, on the 16th, we will be celebrating two birthdays. My daughter Elizabeth was born in 1996, on my mother’s birthday, and as it is with both mine and Kim’s siblings, who share their birthdays, I took it as a symbol of the broken curse that my daughter was born on my mom’s birthday. I pray that you too will receive the blessings that God has promised for you and your family, and that He will give you the strength and insight to break the curses and step into your destiny.