Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

First, Let’s Do No Harm

A letter from Common Good executive director, Sarah Binos, introducing our March newsletter. 


How do we make sure that our response to people that are in need is not doing more harm than good? As Christians our hearts are often in the right place but because we haven’t fully thought about the long-term consequences of our actions, or because we so often get involved based upon our own preconceived notions and ideas without having true knowledge of the person or situation involved, we can do harm.

Our March newsletter is all about how we can learn how to first do no harm. It’s a very helpful read with some useful principles around how we can make sure that our “doing social justice” isn’t toxic.

Recently, I’ve been grappling with the question of how we as Christians involved in social justice should be and act differently to those working in secular development agencies. I’ve been feeling sad about the fact that so much of the work that has been done in Africa and around the world in the name of development has failed. Surely as Christians there must be an approach that would result in more of God’s Kingdom coming?

The majority of us know that part of following Christ involves loving and serving vulnerable people, but we often get stuck when it comes to how we’re supposed to do this, especially in light of the fact that we so often get it wrong.

We need to begin by understanding the fundamental differences between what it means to be a Christian doing social justice in comparison to the world doing it. In Robert Lupton’s book “Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help”, he proposes a very sound “Oath for Compassionate Service” for the charity industry to adopt, much as the medical community has adopted the Hippocratic Oath.

Read more…

Toxic Charity: Lessons from The Field

What happens when our good intentions do more harm than good? We asked three Christian development practitioners to share what they’ve learnt about how we can help people without hurting them or ourselves.

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Lindsay Henley, Director of Beth Uriel, a home for previously disadvantaged young men

“Be constantly aware of what you are bringing into the relationship/acts of service in terms of your own expectations, needs and attitude. Giving can be ‘toxic’ on both ends.  Over helping to the point of ‘other reliance’ is toxic for the recipient.  It creates issues of dependency and perpetuates cycles of poverty.  While giving out of your own un-met needs and with unrealistic expectations of transformation is toxic to the giver and unfair to put on the recipient.  If the result of your service is not life-giving to yourself as well as the recipient, then hit the pause button and take some more time to think it through.”

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Colleen Saunders, core member of The Warehouse‘s Church Mobilisation team

“It’s easy for the well-resourced church to give of what they have to help ‘the poor’. But unless the recipients themselves recognise the possibility of change and acknowledge the need to change, that help will always be paternalistic and led by the giver – no matter how pure the heart behind the giving. Transformational development is a long, slow walk alongside another, helping them to recognise their own resources, worth and potential, and together with them seeking to restore what was lost.I value this scripture in realising how much this is on God’s heart … ‘The Son of man came to seek and save what was lost’ (Luke 19:10).”

Dave (centre back) and Liz (right) with their son Robin (left) and their grand daughter, Paige (centre front)

Dave (centre) with family

Dave Barnes, manager of Westlake United Church Trust

“Hand outs create dependency and usually don’t help people to move above their circumstances. The toxic spin off for the giver is that one can create a patronizing/paternalistic relationship with recipients where you see the person as someone always wanting something from you, not as a someone who is struggling but who could have some of their own idea(s) of how to try to improve their situation. Our help or charity can rob a person of their own initiative or enable them to maintain bad habits and remain in negative situations.

Read more…

A Day of Fun & Family-Building

Common Good intern Emily Oppenheimer shares her experience of  the Arise Family Fun Day, which took place on Saturday, 2 March.

A Common Good volunteer lends her hand to face painting

A Common Good volunteer lends her hand to face painting

Standing in the midst of gravel and sand in an old parking lot for the Arise Family Fun Day, I felt momentarily paralyzed by all the excitement. I was lost in the middle of food stalls and bouncing castles, until I felt a small hand squeeze mine. I looked down to see a little girl with big brown eyes that peaked through the butterfly painted across her face. I smiled and received one in return.

Arise is an organization that promotes adoption, but on that day in that moment I realized I was the one being adopted. This little girl decided to invite me into her world and see things from her view. Sometimes it takes getting on your knees, but mostly it starts with a connection. When smiles were exchanged and I realized sharing God’s love really is that simple.


More face painting in action

The Arise Family Fun Day is a day dedicated to the community of Heideveld. Families are invited to come and stock up on food, clothing, books, and other necessities. At this Fun Day over R12,000 was raised for Arise. All proceeds will ensure the children of Heideveld have the opportunity to attend camps centered on Christian education.

Read more…

TWD: 16 Days And Counting…

Fifteen projects, 61 activists, and over R45 000 donated. And that’s with 16 days still to go!

The countdown has begun...

The countdown has begun…

TWD is in full swing and we are loving all the creative and crazy ideas that are coming in. Feel like you’re missing out? It’s not too late to get in on the action… If you have an individual challenge idea, click here, or if you would like to join a TWD challenge, click here. Or if you’d like to support by donating some moola, click here.

And, because it’s Monday, we thought you’d appreciate this photo of TWD activists Kyle Peters and Howard James Fyvie prepping for their challenge, “The Boy Band Gig”, by dying their hair blonde this weekend. We salute your dedication, guys. (Visit their Facebook page for more info on how to support them)


Visit for more info on TWD. Or you can call the TWD helpline on 079 807 4383.

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