An Open Letter to June Steenkamp

Subject: An Open Letter to June Steenkamp
From: Ellen B
Date: 5 Dec 2017

Reeva Steenkamp, your daughter was described extensively in the media since her death. There was Reeva the brunette teenager, the law graduate, linguist and feminist, then importantly also described being a devout Christian who was due to deliver a speech against gender violence on the day she died. Then there was Reeva the sexy blonde model, a cover girl, a girl who loved fast cars and who thrived in the lime light. On Twitter she described herself as “SA Model, Cover Girl, Tropika Island of Treasure Celeb Contestant, Law Graduate, Child of God”.

Mrs Steenkamp, you decided to hang onto Reeva the devout Christian girl who was blameless and pure, a young woman who did everything life offered her but still took her Christianity seriously. Quite the coincidence that Oscar agrees with you on that issue. During the trial, often fighting back emotions which threatened to overwhelm him, Oscar said about Reeva: "I always wanted a partner who was a Christian. She was a very strong Christian, she always prayed for me about my training.” There is no argument there, you and Oscar vouched for Reeva as a devout, sincere Christian. Oscar told the court that faith was crucial to their relationship. His Twitter feed, and those of his siblings Aimee and Carl, were replete with biblical quotations, so, we can agree that Oscar is also a Christian. A lot of other people who was never questioned, could vouch for him too. You see, there is one moot point. They both claimed to be Christians, but they were also simply human. They both made mistakes, grievous mistakes which cost them their lives. I know you disagree with me here, because Reeva is dead, and Oscar is breathing, that makes him alive you say and that is so unfair. You are so wrong. Oscar might be breathing but that’s all. He is nothing, he has nothing. Someone who has no hope only exist, they don’t live. The day Reeva died in his arms, she took Oscar’s life with her. Oscar the hero, the icon, ceased to exist. The mob dubbed him “Murderer” and you willingly joint the mob. I understand, I really, really understand your pain and your bitterness. I am a mother of three girls too.

I read an article where you featured, and you were described: She, too, is deeply religious, and it is impossible to understand either family’s handling of the tragedy outside this prism.” This gives me the authority to speak to you as one Christian to another and as one mother to another, woman to woman. The prism of Christianity was profound since that dreadful day. You confessed that your faith was keeping you going and Oscar also said: "It [his faith] is the thing that's got me through this last year. I've been struggling a lot. My God is my God of refuge".
When Oscar took the witness stand, he turned to you and your family and gave a faltering, tearful public apology. You shunned him publicly: “You’ve murdered my daughter,” you said to journalists, “Sorry is not good enough. Even if it was true he made a mistake, he made an unbelievably horrendous mistake. He can’t just say sorry. What does it mean? Nothing. It could be also tactics.” You also never had any sympathy for his sobs, his remorse, his begging for forgiveness. In fact, your words were quite harsh but your inner ‘mother’ and Christianity appeared and shone through somehow. You were cited in the media: “I think when he was crying, it was for himself because he realised that he may have to go to jail. I did feel sad when they made him take his legs off. It was distasteful to me. It was almost like humiliation for him and I did feel sorry for him then. I’ve got no vengeance in my body. I didn’t want him to be hurt in jail. That’s not me or Barry.” This gave me hope and urged me to write to you. I just couldn’t leave you without trying to make you understand something. Your own faith in God was tested by this tragedy. You were cited again saying: “Why did He take Reeva? She was good and kind to other people and doing good in the world. But He didn’t actually take her – Oscar took her. And then her injuries were so bad He couldn’t save her. Even her brain wasn’t in her body.” I understand your turmoil. Remember Lazarus? His sisters went through all your feelings and they told Jesus he was too late – four days too late. Jesus ignored them when they told him He was too late and He raised Lazarus from the dead. Our God is a miracle worker and if it was part of His plan, Reeva would have been revived and alive today. If God wished for it, He could save her. He would have been on time for her. God knows we don’t understand, but He gives us the grace and peace to understand that when your line is drawn, it’s done. He called Reeva home. If it wasn’t by Oscar’s hand, it could have been dreadful cancer or a horrific car accident. At least Reeva didn’t suffer, for that I’m very grateful for. That as such was just a blessing.

You also mentioned that Christianity has enabled you to forgive Oscar, at least intellectually. You were cited saying: “You have to move forward with forgiveness, otherwise you carry all that hate in your heart. So, I have forgiven. It’s got nothing to do with how I feel about the case, it’s just something I’m compelled to do.” Unfortunately, you also mentioned you will do what it takes to survive and keep your daughter’s name alive. Would Reeva agreed to be shrine? Would she wanted what you want? Or would Reeva embrace her Christianity and forgive Oscar? Would she wanted to be a memory that was warm in your heart and put a smile on your faces?

Getting to the forgiveness part. Forgiveness is the letting go of a grievance or judgment that you hold against someone else. When you forgive you also let go of feelings of bitterness, resentment, and vengeance. After the initial wave of emotion has passed, you're presented with a new challenge: Do you forgive the person? By forgiving, you let go of your grievances and judgments and allow yourself to heal. It’s more than four years now, don’t you think it’s time to take the next step. Most of us hold at least some misconceptions about forgiveness. Here are some things that forgiving someone doesn't mean: Forgiveness doesn't mean you are pardoning or excusing the other person's actions. Forgiveness doesn't mean you shouldn't have any more feelings about the situation or the pain. Forgiveness doesn't mean that everything is okay now. Forgiveness doesn't mean you should forget the incident ever happened. Most important... forgiveness isn't something you do for the other person, you do it for yourself.

By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it. This can be a gradual process—and it doesn't necessarily have to include the person you are forgiving, but it always makes it more liberating. Forgiveness isn't something you do for the person who wronged you; it's something you do for you. So, why is it so hard?

There are several reasons: You're filled with thoughts of revenge or retribution. Maybe you enjoy feeling superior, you keep the control in your hands. Maybe you don't know how to resolve the situation or maybe you're addicted to the adrenaline that this anger provides. You probably self-identify as a "victim" or you're afraid that by forgiving you must re-connect with the other person. Nobody would ask that of you, you can relax about that. Now that you know what forgiveness is not and why it's so hard to do, ask yourself: Do I want to forgive? Or am I going to embrace the dark, oppressing state where I am this past few years?

Forgiveness requires feeling willing to forgive. Sometimes you won't, because the hurt went too deep, or because you think the person or expressed no regret. We both know Oscar regretted Reeva’s death deeply. He showed his utter remorse from the first moment, he never stopped. He expressed it shamelessly. He begged for mercy and forgiveness. If you are brutally honest with yourself, go back and take a good look at that broken man. Oscar was shattered, after all this time, Oscar is still shattered. He never moved on, just like you didn’t. He is chained to his regret and self-loathing, just like you are chained to your unrelenting hatred and inexorable self-justification.

Many studies have shown that practicing forgiveness is good for your emotional and physical health. Anger, bitterness, hate—these emotions weigh heavily on your body and in your thoughts. When you don't process and release your emotions, they remain trapped inside you and can cause physical ailments like stomach-aches and high blood pressure and can worsen depression and anxiety. When you forgive and let go of a grievance, you are freeing your body and your mind. Forgiveness isn't the only way to let go of negative emotions, but it's one of the best.

The direction from God: Forgiving others may seem to be a choice, and in one sense it is a choice, but God has been very clear about forgiveness. He has given us specific direction in numerous Scriptures, all of which can be summed up in just one word -- forgive! God's Word says, "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25). "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).

God is saying without mincing words that it is in our own best interest to forgive! He is not talking about what is in the best interest of the person who needs to be forgiven, although we both know that will be his saving grace too. We are the ones who God is trying to protect. We are the ones who receive the most benefit from forgiveness, not the other person. A spirit of unforgiveness complicates and compromises our daily walk with God. Forgiving others releases us from anger and allows us to receive the healing we need. The whole reason God has given us specific direction is because He does not want anything to stand between us and Him. Your hatred and condemnation are building a wall between you and God and as time goes by, that wall gets more and more impenetrable. God's love for us is beyond our comprehension. Forgiving others spares us from the consequences of living out of an unforgiving heart. This is what I want for you and Barry, I want you to embrace a life free of bitterness and hatred. I want you to do what I’m pretty sure Reeva would want for you too; to move on, to be happy, to make the most of the days God blessed you with on earth.

Forgiving others does not carry with it a single decision that we need to ponder. God has not qualified one sin as being more grievous to Him than another and He has not qualified one sin committed against us as warranting forgiveness and another not. For example, God is not saying, "If a person lies to you or steals from you, you should forgive him, but if they abuse you or harm your child, you can hold them in unforgiveness." He is saying to forgive everyone, always, and do it immediately. This is the only key for you prison, this is the only way you can move forward and be free.

The Pistorius and Steenkamp families sat daily on either side of the public gallery during the trial. Interaction between you was obviously minimal, only surreptitious and anxious glances from the Pistorius family but openly hateful glances from you, your family and Reeva’s friends. You mentioned to a journalist: “The Pistoriuses all wanted to talk to me. His uncle Arnold was sitting next to me and he said: ‘I’m only trying to save a life.’ I didn’t answer, but I thought: the audacity of trying to save a life! My daughter’s life has gone now.” Have you ever really thought about this?

I want to tell you a story, it happened recently. Since I read this, I was conversing with you in my mind. The urge to share this was overwhelming. Johanica (34) was killed on 28 October 2017 in a hit-and-run incident in Nelspruit. The driver was arrested later that day, and identified after he appeared in the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court on charges of culpable homicide, leaving the scene of an accident and obstruction of justice. Scantly a week later this testimony was shared: “I would like to share a testimony of what God has done for us in the past week. After hearing the sad news that my sister has passed away in an accident when she was running, and the driver hit her, and then drove away but was caught later in the day, my husband and I drove through to Nelspruit.” She said they came to Johanica’s husband, Andre, and found out that he was shattered, but he had forgiven this man who caused the accident and killed his wife and the mother of their small little girl. He said he did not hold any grudges against him.
“On Saturday night I did not sleep very well. I woke up during the night a couple of times, just crying a lot with thoughts running through my head. I kept praying all the time. Then I woke up again and I felt that God had stirred such a compassion in my heart for the man that had caused the accident. My husband was awake, so we prayed for the man, as he must have been in a desperate place.” She said she told her husband that they must tell him the family has forgiven him. They decided to visit him in his holding cell.
“We sat in the corner and prayed in the police station while we waited. I was anxious as I didn’t know how it would play out, if I would be disappointed, but we kept praying for the man for his heart to be receptive.” Finally, a policeman took them through to the cells. “The police officer went into the cell and brought out the man. Initially I was not sure what or who he was, and then the police officer gestured it was him. I told him I was the sister of Johanica who was killed the previous morning. When I said that, he fell on his knees, holding onto the bars of the door. He could not face us and started crying, saying he was sorry and could not explain what happened.
“I went down to his level and I reached out to him through the bars and held onto his arm. I said to him my sister was a Christian, and believed in a God that died for us that we can have the liberty to forgive people. We want to come and tell him Andre, her husband, and the family had forgiven him. We just wanted him to come to know God and He would show His mercy to him. I started crying and was talking loudly and my husband was praying. We prayed that he would come to know God. When we were finished, I looked up and I saw the police officer in the cell with him was standing silently and crying. Then I saw there were a lot of people behind me and they were also crying. I just felt it was such an intense moment for God to reveal his compassion for people, and the forgiveness only God can give us.
“I was touched by God at that moment by his Holy Spirit. Even though from the beginning I felt I had forgiven him, there was just a deeper level of liberty I had experienced from then on. There was no place for any deep darkness to be.”
I've learned a lesson about forgiveness too while reading this. The freedom of forgiveness. The healing of forgiveness. The second chance of forgiveness. The mind-blowing difference forgiveness created. I wish I could show people how it can be done and then God told me to show it to you…

To those who curse and hate, screaming and shouting as if by doing it, it will take away the pain and bring acceptance to tragedy. They will never heal. All those fury doesn't make a difference, forgiveness does. This brought me to my knees. Through all that pain and agony of Johanica’s death... God smiled. Triumph, where I never thought I would find it.
Mrs Steenkamp, you said yourself after Oscar begged to be given a chance to speak to you: “He asked if he could see us, but at that stage we weren’t ready to speak to him. What can he say? Sorry is not enough. What can he say and what would we want to talk to him about? I don’t know. But one day that confrontation will come. Altercation? Maybe. Violence? No, I don’t think so. But that day has to come.” Don’t you think the time has come? Don’t you think it’s time to set both of you free?

Looking back on the months since it happened, were you happier when you shoved Oscar and his repentance into a dark corner? Did you gain any gratification from refusing to listen to him and denying him the forgiveness he sought? Did you realise that by denying him, it didn’t ease the ache in your heart and worse than that, it pushed you further away from God just because you didn’t believe him truly penitent. You judged him unworthy of forgiveness, but that wasn’t your call to make. As a Christian, how could you justify ignoring the words of Jesus when the Pharisees sought to stone the adulteress? “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” To forgive isn’t a suggestion, it’s an obligation. Jesus didn’t say to forgive only when it’s convenient or when wrong against you is of little significance. He said:” For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you”. Aren’t your own choices more likely the culprit of your state of unhappiness, the knot of resentment and pain lodged deep in your soul. Don’t you think that the solution to your continued discontent lay with you, not Oscar. He is fighting battles of his own. His own soul is at war about his grievous mistake that took the love of his life away from him. He is also tired of fighting a battle he cannot win, with himself and with you, Reeva’s parents. He might be breathing, but he is not alive. Only you have the power to unlock the prison the keep you all captive. A dark and lonely place. Only you can set all of you free.

Don’t you think it’s time to forgive him? You don’t want to live the rest of your life this way. Take God’s hand, He will help you to let go of your bitterness and anger. He will release you from painful memories that cloud your thoughts and keep you chained to the horrors of the past, those that keep you from moving forward, towards His light. Pray to God that He will give you eyes to see Oscar in the same light as He does and most importantly that you see that Oscar’s sins were not any worse than yours (and mine; I’m also only human). Don’t you think that “one day” is now?
Reeva was a child of God too, make her proud. She loved both of you. She would want you both free from the shackles of hatred and remorse. She would want you to have happy memories of her as a human being, not the representation of everything that is dark and ominous. She would want you to start enjoying life again, life at its fullest. She would want you to be happy.

From a mother to a mother, a woman to another, a child of God to one of my siblings, I beg you – take the step forward, unlock the prison.
God gave you a special role in His plan. You have been assigned this specific mountain to show others it can be moved…you can do it. Your moment has come! It’s time!
Kind regards