Living Social Justice

A blog about responding to poverty and injustice, everyday and in all sorts of ways

5 Questions To Ask Before Volunteering

It’s the beginning of the year, your schedule is still relatively empty and you’d love to sign up as a volunteer before things get busy. Sound familiar? Read this to help you get going.

Volunteers teaching maths during Winter School last year.

Volunteers teaching maths during Winter School 2013. Not a maths bof? There are loads of other ways to volunteer!

Volunteering is a great way to give of your time and talents, get to know people from diverse backgrounds, and learn about some of the issues impacting our city. But when it comes to choosing what to do, it can be overwhelming, daunting and sometimes downright scary. Where do you even start?

First up, it’s good to realise that volunteer opportunities are not one size fits all. What your best friend enjoys to do might completely drain you, whereas something else might become the best part of your week.

God has wired each of us differently so a good place to start is by taking the time to figure out what’s a good fit for us. Thankfully, there are so many opportunities available that there is something for everyone – even if it takes a bit of digging to discover!

Here are our top 5 key questions to ask yourself before you sign up:

1. What kind of person are you?

Are you a people’s person? A behind-the-scenes person? A kid person? A definitely-not-a-kid person? Knowing what you like and what you don’t like is a good first step in helping you narrow your options.

2. What causes interest you?

Is there a specific cause that is close to your heart? Maybe you’ve always wanted to care for vulnerable children? Or maybe you’re passionate about improving education? Or have a desire to serve those living on the streets?  If your heart feels tugged in a certain direction this is often a helpful indication of where you’d best be suited.

3. What skills do you have?

Whether its maintenance know-how, legal expertise, or a talent for sewing, there’s a good chance that you have a skill that could be just what an organisation needs. Skilled volunteers are always highly sought after so why not list some of your skills and then look for an opportunity where you might be able to use one of them.

4. How much time do you have?

Think carefully about your time availability and when it would be best for you to serve. Are you only free weekends? Or week day nights? Are you available once a week or once a month? Are you looking for a once-off commitment or a long-term opportunity? Knowing when you’re available and for how long will help clarify which options are open to you.

5. Do you want to volunteer alone or in a group?

There are a number of opportunities like tutoring literacy or reading bedtime stories where you will be facilitating one or a few children, for the most part, on your own. These are great if you prefer smaller groups but if you’re more of a people’s person, then you might enjoy getting a group of friends or your small group to do something together like a fun day or maintenance event. Think about which scenario would best suit your personality.

What next?

Once you think you have a good idea of what you’re looking for, why not browse the opportunities available on our website? You can browse by congregation or by partner/initiative.

Have any more questions? Email us and we’d be happy to help you.

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We’ll be back in 2014!

Photo Credit: Navy Blue Stripes via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Navy Blue Stripes via Compfight cc

The Common Good team wishes all of our blog readers a blessed and restful Christmas!

We’re going to be taking a break from blogging for a while (to put our feet up and enjoy the sunshine) but we will be back with fresh and inspiring content to kick off the New Year!

See you then 🙂

Christ, Madiba and Reconciliation

How far are we from realising Madiba’s dream of a reconciled nation? According to the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, we’re further from it than we may think. Sindiso Mnisi Weeks shares her heartbreak and her hope.

Last week I cried numerous times. It started on Thursday morning when news of the latest Institute for Justice and Reconciliation‘s (IJR) reconciliation survey results were publicised reflecting devastating findings amidst some hopeful ones.

What really got me was the finding that, of the white people surveyed, 40% disagreed with the declaration that “The Apartheid government wrongly oppressed the majority of South Africans.”

I wept.

I wept just as I weep through every movie about slavery, colonialism and apartheid, wondering how it is possible for the humanity of black people to have ever been worth so little to some and when the suffering of people of colour in this world will end.

Though I’ve seen many distressingly ahistorical comments made by (white) people on News24 and other such sites, I’ve tried to comfort myself that, firstly, it’s people with radically unfavourable views who are more likely to comment on any news site and, secondly, they’re really the minority. This survey says that they are likely a significant minority and that’s scary and extremely sad to me. How, almost 20 years after the sheer brutality of apartheid officially ended, could some South Africans still think that it was not wrong?

While my heart was still bleeding from this news, I learned with shock that Nelson Mandela had died … uTata was gone! I could not suppress the uncontrollable tears as my mind registered the irony in Madiba – who had suffered and defied some of apartheid’s worst injustices – dying on the same day that the IJR reported that some among us thought it wasn’t a bad thing.

Madiba was dead. And the IJR reported that reconciliation in South Africa was, in some ways, a failure. After all, as the IJR reported, at this time, more South Africans have little or no contact with people of different races in their day-to-day lives than do have such contact on a regular or constant basis.

With most black South Africans still being poor and confined to impoverished townships and rural areas and more than 73% of white people living in the two highest economic brackets (according to the living standards measure), there isn’t much intermingling. Therefore, the ability of improvements in class to simultaneously increase interracial interaction is unable to work its necessary magic.

And, as if that weren’t bad enough, tragically, only 27% of white people (compared with much higher proportions of other race groups) reported that they were interested in learning more about the cultures of other groups, and only 11.7% of white people (again, the lowest of all race groups) said they desired more interaction with people of other races.

So, you see, connecting the IJR report and Madiba’s death, I could not help but weep. Madiba was our primary, national symbol of reconciliation. Did that mean that South Africa’s hope of succeeding at this evidently near-impossible task was dead?

Previously, I blogged about how I came to marry my ‘umlungu’. What is glaringly absent from that account as we remember Nelson Mandela is the fact that Madiba and his comrades were a large part of making that happen. Were it not for Madiba’s unrelenting commitment to my freedom as a black person in South Africa, I could not have matriculated from a good enough school to enable me to then later study in the UK where I met my ‘mlungu’, Dan and I could not have been married in South Africa and we certainly could not have lived there together, freely, and openly these last two years. The Immorality Act would have rendered our love a crime.

Regardless of how grateful I am to uTata, however, our hope as South Africans is not in Madiba – not by a long shot. Though he lived a life that reflected God’s forgiveness, grace, commitment to justice and love, as his many, self-professed mistakes and death at the ripe old age of 95 remind us, he too was a mortal man.

As Christians – and the whole world – our hope is in Christ. He is ultimately the only one who can reconcile us. And he is committed to doing so, if only we will allow Him.

As Ephesians 2: 14-16 tells us, “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”

Galatians 3: 26-28 also says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

A silver lining can be pointed to in that, as the IJR survey reports, over 67% of South Africans of all creeds place great confidence in religious institutions. Thus, though the Church is made up of fallible human beings, it is God’s primary, chosen vehicle for delivering hope to an otherwise hopeless world and there is room for it to do so in South Africa.

The IJR concludes that what is needed to remedy our ‘unreconciledness’ is ‘radical reconciliation’. What can be more radical than this message of reconciliation in the Bible?!

We desperately need Christ’s reconciliation to come to South Africa, a place that needs it in many ways more than any other. Particularly during this period of remembering Madiba’s sacrifice, which coincides with the season in which we remember Christ’s even greater sacrifice, I think that South African Christ followers need to speak that message loud and clear – in words and in deeds.

– Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is a senior researcher at the Centre for Law and Society at UCT. She and her husband, Daniel, were members of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation until recently relocating to the USA. 

P.S. Related read: A Man Who Wasn’t Afraid to Shake Things Up

A Man Who Wasn’t Afraid To Shake Things Up

How will we remember Madiba when the media is no longer reminding us? By Sam Rawson
Nelson-Mandela’s-Top-Five-Contributions-to-Humanity

It’s been a sad couple of days as we’ve mourned the passing of one of the greatest gifts God has given us as a nation – Nelson Mandela – a man who exemplified Christ-likeness in his servant-hearted leadership, his unprecedented forgiveness and his humility. But as we pay tribute to these rare qualities, we may be at risk of forgetting the revolutionary, the rebel, the man who shook things up.

In so many ways Mandela resisted the status quo, holding up a different vision of the future – a future he wasn’t afraid to overturn a few proverbial tables to fight for. This version of Mandela is maybe one we’re not so comfortable with. We’re much more at ease with the image of him gently swaying side-to-side in a Springbok jersey, just as we often prefer a view of Jesus as the ‘meek and mild’ shepherd, as opposed to the revolutionary who went up against an evil system to fight for our eternal freedom.

The aim of this post isn’t to compare Madiba with Jesus – how could we even try to do that? – but rather to show that the man we’re honouring today and the Saviour we serve as Christ-followers were both ultimately committed to justice and were even willing to suffer and die for it.

Yes, Madiba was a champion for peace, yes, he was a great leader, yes, he showed immense forgiveness – all of these are important things to remember about him, but we should never forget that his goal was not peace and harmony for its own sake.  No, his goal was always justice.

One story which sticks out as an example of this is when, in 1985, P.W. Botha offered to release Mandela if he ‘unconditionally rejected violence as a political weapon’. Mandela responded in a statement saying, “Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts. I cannot, and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated.” He wasn’t willing to negotiate conditions for a freedom which should be his (and all South Africans’) as a matter of justice, even if those conditions would guarantee his immediate release.

The justice Mandela stood for was a big picture justice. It was bigger than political freedom.  It resembled a biblical view of justice, which includes not only the righting of wrongs, but also “generosity and social concern, especially toward the poor and vulnerable.” (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice)

After gaining the things he’d fought so hard for, and becoming South Africa’s first democratically-elected president, you would’ve almost excused Madiba if, after 27 years in prison, he’d decided to live out the rest of his days comfortably afloat this legacy. After all, hadn’t he earned some time out? No, Madiba’s life’s mission was big picture justice – and on that score, there was so much more to be done. His view of justice was small enough to show compassion to an orphaned child, but big enough to change policies to ensure effective treatment for all with HIV/Aids.

In Mark Gevisser’s obituary for Mandela in the Mail & Guardian, he tells the story of when, as heritage curator at Constitution Hill, he was responsible for showing Mandela the Old Fort prison cell in which he was held. He describes how Mandela looked a bit bored – and that he only lit up and started asking questions when someone mentioned that there was a new treatment and research centre for Aids across the road.  Big picture justice.

On Sunday, 15 December, Madiba’s body will finally be laid to rest after 10 days of public mourning. And in the days, weeks, and months that follow the media tributes, the TV shows and the adoring Facebook updates dedicated to our Tata will start to turn to other world events and news of other public figures. We will forget – even while he was alive we forgot – exactly what it was he fought so hard to see realised in his lifetime.

We will forget that justice was his mission.  Big picture justice.  And that big picture justice should be part of our life’s mission too – not because Madiba cared about it, but because Christ does.  We give thanks for Madiba, but we need not look beyond ourselves to see what God has entrusted to us and the many ways we can bring His kind of big picture justice to the people around us.

It might mean paying generous wages or building friendships across comfort zones.  It could be as small as a visit to someone in need or as big as a campaign for a cause you care about. Our opportunities to bring God’s justice into the world come in all shapes and sizes.  The only constant is that they rely on us.

Our country still has a long way to go on its path towards justice for all, social reconciliation and equality. The work is not yet done. Jesus wants to use us, as he used Madiba, to be part of restoring the world. So are we prepared to shake things up, in honour of Madiba, in the name of justice and, ultimately, in the name of Jesus?

Rest in peace Tata. Thank you for your example. We are so incredibly grateful.

Give your Christmas shopping a twist – Give Hope!

We think you’re going to like the sound of this…

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Every year millions are spent on Christmas presents as we all try to find the perfect gift for our friends and loved ones. The tragic part? These gifts, which we often sacrifice hours in crowded malls to buy, are often forgotten by Boxing Day or, gulp, unwanted and sent to the back of a cupboard. Yes, it’s the harsh truth. But what if instead of spending our money on socks, soap and chocolate boxes, we spent it on gifts that will make a real difference in the lives of those in need?

Not being huge fans of shopping mall madness – and having re-gifted our fair share of Christmas presents in the past (not yours Auntie Betty!) – we’re really excited about the concept behind Give Hope cards.

There are six beautifully illustrated cards to choose from and the money used to purchase each one will go directly towards supporting a specific Common Good initiative, like buying a book for a literacy programme, sponsoring a food parcel for a family or creche, or enabling someone who is unemployed to attend a beginners computer course.

Here’s an example of how it works: You stop by the Common Ground cafe during the week, or the Common Good involvement desk after a Common Ground Church meeting, and purchase a card (prices range from R50 to R200). Inside the card is space for you to write a personal message, as well as a blurb on how the money used to purchase the card will be meeting a real need. You then give the card to your Uncle George, for example, but the real gift will be going where it’s needed most!

Sound like a grand shopping plan? We think so. Click here to download the Give Hope 2013 catalogue.

And here are some great articles giving more info on some of the initiatives the cards support:

Give Hope through Paradigm Shift

Give Hope with Izandla Zethemba Fun Days

Give Hope with NETwork computer courses

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