Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime February 16, 2024

I’ve watched Trevor Noah a fair bit on TV and on You Tube. He is indeed a funny guy, but while his life story has some hilarious moments in it, it was far more often tragic– full of racism, poverty, brutality, and the saving grace was a mother who was a very devout, church every Sunday Christian.  More on that in a bit.  Trevor was born to a white Swiss father, and a black South African mother, and was born during apartheid, a time when race mixing, and having children as a mixed race couple was an absolute crime.  Trevor was born in February 1984, and it would be a long time before apartheid would fall apart and Mandela would finally be freed from prison and a new era would begin.  The tales Trevor tells of growing up in racist South Africa are horrific, with the Afrikaner rulers not only separating blacks from whites in terms of laws, but mixed race persons from blacks and white, and they were also segregated into separate communities, with Soweto being the most famous and largest of the black communities.  Even then, there were so many black tribes with different languages that the blacks were separated from other blacks by tribes and language.  There were at least 15 different languages spoken in South Africa, with only common one being English because before the Dutch took over South Africa, it had been ruled by the British. It is a tale of colonialism at its worst.  Nor does Trevor sugar coat the fact that even when apartheid was officially done and dusted, there was still plenty of racism going on.  Watch the Matt Damon Invictus and you’ll get a sense of things.  In some respects, South Africa was and is the most Christian country in all of Africa, with many different black groups as well as whites being Christian.  I have lectured in various of the formerly Afrikaans universities and spent time with black Christians in their own meetings, and while the situation is in some ways improving, it is still a very divided country— much more so than say America.

The problem for Trevor with being ‘colored’ or of mixed race, is as a minority group with whom could he identify with— blacks or whites?  He largely chose blacks, but had something of a white education thanks to his mother’s sacrifices.  Raised in poverty, Trevor survived by his wits, which included selling CDs and DVDs that were bootlegs, having ripped off the originals and sold his copies much more cheaply.  It was like my experience of going to the Moscow flea market where I found all sorts of rock CDs I’d never seen before– including some compilations of an artist’s whole catalog in one box set— like the Doors, the Beatles etc.  It was amazing.  Trevor was raised in church, learned how to pray, seems to have believed in Jesus, but his whole social ethos led him to doubt that there really was a God who would allow so much bad stuff to happen to him and his mother.  She was divorced several times, and had finally married a man named Abel who turned out to be not merely a mean drunk, but a violent one who finally in a drunken rage shot his wife including two shots to the head.   And miraculously she survived.   The doctor came out of surgery after her son Andrew raced her to the hospital and said the following to Trevor:

“I don’t like to use this word…because I’m a man of science and I don’t believe in it. But what happened to your mother today was a miracle. I never say that, because I hate it when people say it, but I don’t have any other way to explain this.”  Trevor then picks up the story: “The bullet that hit my mother in the butt went through and through. It came out and do any really damage. The other bullet went through the back of her head, entered below the skull at the top of her neck. It missed the spinal cord by a hair, missed the medulla oblongata, and traveled through heard just underneath the brain, missing every major vein, artery, and nerve. With the trajectory the bullet was on, it was headed straight for her left eye socket  and would have blown out her eye, but at the last second it slowed down, hit her cheekbone instead, shattered her cheekbone, ricocheted off  and came out through her left nostril…..The bullet off only a tiny flap of skin on the side of her nostril, and it came out clean, with no bullet fragments left inside. She didn’t even need surgery. They stopped the bleeding, stitched her up in back, stitched her up in front, and let her heal.”   And heal she did.   The doctor finally said “There’s nothing we can do, because there’s nothing we need to do.”  (p. 280).  Trevor adds “my mother was out of the hospital in four days. She was back at work in seven.

This was a shattering experience for Trevor because his mother was truly his only living loving relative at the time, and his world was crumbling because she almost died, indeed probably should have died considering being shot in the head point blank by her former husband.   When she awoke in the hospital and saw her son crying his eyes out, she told him don’t cry. “I wasn’t going to die….My child, you must look on the bright side.”  He retorted “Mom you were shot in the face. There is no bright side.”  She replied, “of course there is. Now you are the best looking person in the family” [n.b. she had been a very beautiful woman before being shot].   Trevor told her ‘you are lucky to be alive….I still can’t believe you didn’t have any health insurance” [she had canceled it some time in the past].   She retorted “Oh but I do have insurance…Jesus”.  Trevor asked “Jesus is your health insurance?” She then quoted “If God is with me, who can be against me.”   Trevor conceded that her prayers to survive when she faced the gun were answered, but then he asked “But where was your Jesus to pay your hospital bill hmm” I know for a fact that he didn’t pay that”. [because Trevor had paid it].  She smiled and said “You’re right. He didn’t. But he blessed me with a son who did.”  (pp. 281-83, excerpts).

Amen to all that.  This book which is only a partial autobiography up to the time of Trevor’s mom being shot and is 288 pages is a great,and soul stirring read.  And yes, miracles do still happen. I have a friend  whose daughter had a similar escape from death after being hit by a car and her mom was told she was going to be brain dead.  Until…. she woke up, was healed, and then they both went with me on a trip to the lands of the Bible.

Life is a mystery. We don’t know why sometimes miracles happen for some folks, and not for others, even if the latter are devout Christians.   It reminds me of a famous saying attributed to many people including Ansel Adams and more recently John Piper. It reads:

“We look at life from the back side of the tapestry. And most of the time, what we see is loose threads, tangled knots and the like. But occasionally, God’s light shines through the tapestry, and we get a glimpse of the larger design with God weaving together the darks and lights of existence.”

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