Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

Minding the Gap

Giving across the socio-economic divide is not always easy. We need to be conscious of the roles that we assume when building relationships with each other, and should aim for interaction based on equality. By Richard Lundie

Photo Credit: ChrisK4u via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ChrisK4u via Compfight cc

I while ago, I was challenged deeply by a story of a Cape Town church that was leading a trip to Madagascar.  In preparation, one of the Malagasy pastors said to the Cape Town pastor, “Please tell your team to remember that when they speak to us, we are not stupid – we just don’t speak English well.” This highlighted to me the predisposition of South Africans to take the role of paternalistic experts who roll into a place to make it all better for “those poor people”.

The Psychologist, Eric Berne, has developed a model to explain the way that humans interact with each other. In examining how people communicate, treat each other and expect to be treated, there are certain patterns that can be anticipated. If you can identify these patterns, then you can find more helpful ways of interacting, and can improve relationships with others.

Berne’s model is based on three “characters” that people assume when interacting with someone else: Parent, Adult and Child.  Depending on who you are relating to, you will assume one of these three roles and will treat the person that you are relating to according to one of the three roles. When in the Adult role, there is an objective view of the situation. You treat other people as they would like to be treated.  As the Child, you lack objectivity, demand things and avoid accountability.  People in the Parent role want to control, talk down to people and, in that context, believe that they know best.

The “role” that we assume when interacting with someone is going to influence how they respond to us. If we treat people like children, they will respond like children. If we treat people like adults, they will respond like adults. Think about your workplace –  if your boss is “talking down to you”, you might respond by being sulky, grumpy or talking behind the boss’ back. This is classic Parent-to-Child interaction. It is not very honouring is it? You don’t want to behave like a child, but in that instance it was the most obvious, natural thing to do because of the way that you were being treated.

Let me give an example in the context of social justice. You meet someone who is in need of food or clothing. Do you treat them with honour, like a responsible adult?  Or do you pat them on the shoulder, give them a smile and perhaps give some sage advice? Would you use the same tone, language and actions with a good friend? Perhaps, unwittingly, our frustrations and experiences of helping people across the socio-economic divide are because we are being the Parent, and therefore creating a Child response. What we want is adult-to-adult interaction in relationships. We want to be treated like adults, and treating others like adults is honouring to them.

So, how do we move towards adult-to-adult interactions with people from a different background and income bracket?

  • Recognise that all people are image bearers of God.
  • You always have something in common with someone else. Find it, and build on it.
  • Listen to people’s stories and don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume people want something from you.
  • You are not their hero.  They are not your pet project.
  • Ask questions – not to fill your head with knowledge, but to build respect.
  • Find or build situations where you can interact adult-to-adult. You might give someone a job for the day. Why not get alongside them and paint with them, garden with them, and so on.

Before you give, stop and think about how you can relate to the person that you are giving to in an adult-to-adult way. If you are not sure how to do this, perhaps inquire about giving through an organisation that gives things in an empowering adult-to-adult way.  Keep looking for ways to interact on an adult-to-adult basis.  It’s the way you would want to be treated, isn’t it?

Richard works for Common Good and serves on the Eldership Team of Common Ground Wynberg. Read more posts in our Warm Up Winter series hereFB_profile pic

Advertisements

Worthy of Dignity

This Warm Up Winter we’re challenged to not just give our cast-offs, but to give our best. By Roger Wood 

Photo Credit: 55Laney69 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: 55Laney69 via Compfight cc

I don’t believe that God wants us to live feeling guilty for the material things and the many blessings that He has given us.  His challenge to us in Micah 6: 8  is to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.  In order to do this we need to see that everything we have belongs to Him. We therefore hold it in trust to be used for building the Kingdom.

A friend of mine recently told me of how the Lord had been working in her life as well as in her husband’s.  When visiting one of their parents, they noticed someone begging from door to door.  Not wanting to give money, they still felt that the person had a need. Remembering that they had a bag of apples in the car, she suggested to her husband that they give some to him. Parking the car she went into the house and he went to give the apples.  On returning to the house she noticed that he was no longer wearing his jersey.  “What happened to your jersey?”  she inquired. “Well, I felt that the Lord wanted me to give it to the man. He looked so cold,” he replied. “I pleaded with God. I told Him it was my favourite jersey. But He simply replied  – ‘So what?  Are you going to let him stay cold just because it’s your favourite jersey?'”

So often when it comes to giving items for Warm up Winter, we’re willing to give of our surplus or the clothes that no longer fit us, or the items that we don’t want anymore. But sometimes God is going to prompt us to give of our best.  Whether we do or not will depend on how we see the things we possess, and the people to whom we are giving.

So what should we be giving?

In a previous article, I mentioned the people living under the subway in Rondebosh.  The one thing that touched me was the shoes neatly placed together by their make shift bed.  They were placed just as I placed my slippers at the end of every day.  People in need are made in the image of God, and in giving we need to respect that.

Caroline Powell, of The Warehouse says, “Some people think that those who have nothing can do with anything as long as it will keep them warm. But I believe that God’s heart for people is that those who have nothing, actually deserve the very best.”

With Warm Up Winter we are wanting to bless people through the items we give. In order to do this we need to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Is it clean?
  • Is it in good condition?
  • Would I be willing to give this item to my best friend?

What can I do with damaged clothes?

If you can restore the item (by fixing or mending it) so that it does not look tattered and worn, then feel free to give it. But if it is beyond fixing, and is something that you would no longer wear yourself, then rather find a different use for it. We strongly believe that no one (no matter what their situation) deserves to be given something that is damaged and unusable as this erodes dignity.

This blog post is part of our Warm Up Winter blog series. Read our previous WUW posts hereFB_profile pic

Confessions of an Amateur Giver

On the eve of our Warm Up Winter campaign, we begin to think about giving and what it means. Common Good Executive Director, Sarah Binos, shares some of her personal discoveries about giving in ways that don’t erode dignity. 

[Note: This video is a small excerpt taken from LifeChurch.tv. The full video can be found here: http://bit.ly/12ej6a4]

For the last few weeks something that a Common Grounder shared with me over a Sunday lunch has been ringing in my head. The thought was this: “The truth is that we are all equal in Christ, that at the foot of the cross we are united in Christ and through the gospel. The problem is that given our recent history, all South Africans will be tempted to erode this equality. White people will struggle with the temptation to feel superior to other races, and blacks in particular will feel tempted to feel inferior to whites. This will erode our dignity, and will cause our unity to crumble.”

We’re about to start our Warm Up Winter campaign, and this statement has put me in a state of deep reflection about how we give. Yes – I always give good quality items that reinforce that all people have worth, but in the process of giving there are many other ways that we can do harm.

If you watched the video clip above you would have seen that even the best intentions can lead to deeper divides and hurts. If I’m honest – I have been the Jo in that scenario. Instead of giving you a blueprint for giving (because there isn’t one!), I thought it might be helpful to share some of the mistakes that I have made in the area of giving – and hopefully this will equip others not to do the same! You may end up feeling like this call to be extravagant yet responsible stewards is just too hard, messy and complicated. But fear not – our next few blog posts will explore some really simple ways to rectify these mistakes. Our hope is that these posts don’t discourage you from giving but rather that they inspire you to give in a way that results in an increase of flourishing in our city.

Mistake #1: I have not prioritised building relationships enough as I try to live out Christ’s call to do justice.

There – I said it. Painful but true. While I have built friendships that cross the divides in our city, I have not taken enough time to truly understand my neighbours. To truly understand someone you need a level of honesty and trust to share deeply. In the context of friendship we listen to each other’s stories – stories that reveal past hurts, current needs, future hopes and aspirations. As we do life together we give to each other. Giving is safe when it’s a two-way affair. Giving is safe when a friend can tell you that your oversized jeans just don’t fit. When we are not in relationship with the people we are giving to they become our charity cases – which often results in the inferiority/superiority carrot being dangled.

A friend of mine is the daughter of a domestic worker whose employer paid for her schooling. As a result, she was afforded an opportunity she would never have had access to. However, the employer never connected with my friend. As a result, my friend grew up feeling inferior, and whilst she was grateful for the opportunities afforded to her, she felt like the charity case of a rich, successful donor. She accepted the gift, but deeply resents the way it made her feel. “Ungrateful”, you may be thinking. I think “grateful, but hurt” would be a better way of describing her response. My friend explained how much it would have meant if her donor had been more like a distant aunt – who checked in with her occasionally and saw her a person with hopes and dreams as opposed to a project.

Mistake #2: In my attempt to “fix things”, I have communicated that “I am the adult and you are the child”.

I think quickly. I speak quickly. When I give, I have at times attached a whole lot of unsolicited advice to my giving – without it having been requested. I hate it when people give me advice that I haven’t asked for! Instead of engaging, asking insightful questions and giving the person I hope to love the space to process and think through a way forward, I present a quick solution with a whole lot of uninvited advice. This can communicate the idea that I’m wiser, and that I know how to solve your problem better than you do.

Mistake #3: I have not listened and empathised enough.

Sometimes we see the broken things of this world, and then quickly think of ways to fix the brokenness. In our haste, we bypass the process of listening, understanding, and identifying with those in need, and instead jump straight to giving something that will hopefully fix the problem. A friend of mine replaced his domestic worker’s roof on her tin shack. The domestic worker asked my friend to use local members of the community to assist with the labour. However, my friend decided to cut costs and do it himself. Local community members retaliated by setting the shack on fire. In not listening attentively, I too have assumed to know people’s needs. Have you ever been given something you just really don’t need, but that the person giving it to you thinks it’s just what you need? It sucks. Because it communicates that they don’t know you very well.

Mistake #4: At times I have perpetuated cycles of dependency and bad habits.

Sometimes, the most loving thing we can do is to NOT give. I have given to street children where my giving perpetuates cycles of addiction and acts as a means for them to stay on the street. Bob Lupton in Toxic Charity says that ‘giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.’ Giving something material is often the easy way to help. Giving in a way that will move people from relief to development is much harder and more sacrificial. When I come across people in need I do not know (there are many in our city), I try to limit this one way giving to instances of relief only. When I feel burdened by an issue I give to organisations who have a track record of success in dealing with the issue.

I am still learning and will continue to do so as I better know and follow Christ. Some of these mistakes have been easy to rectify, but others are harder and require more thought and discussion. Connecting and building relationships with people across all the divides (race, class, culture) in Cape Town is perhaps the biggest challenge we face in this city. Thankfully we have Christ to lead and empower us – this has been my greatest lesson! Listen to the whispers of the Holy Spirit.

This is the second blog post in our Warm Up Winter blog series. If you missed the first one on why we should give, you can read it here. Follow our blog so you don’t miss out on the rest of the series! 

FB_profile pic

The State of the South African Mother

For the average South African mother-to-be, access to good quality prenatal healthcare is not a given. By Anneke Jagau

I would like to introduce you to Jenny. When I met her she was sitting in a hospital bed. She was looking down and her hand was stroking the little head that was peeking out of her hospital gown, as she was kangarooing her little daughter. Born too soon, too young and too fragile to survive the danger of the world outside of the safety of the womb on her own. The moment that she felt water dripping down her legs at 26 weeks, she knew that she would be on a different journey to the one she’d previously imagined.

Her daughter had proven to be a little fighter. As soon as she was strong enough she was tied skin-to-skin on her mother’s chest. There, close to her mother, was the safest place to be. Jenny’s warmth kept little Zoe warm, and her love kept little Zoe alive. That was what kept her going. But it was not easy. Back at home where her other three children, whom she had not seen in weeks. There was no money for them to come and visit her in the hospital. She was worried about them – she felt guilty for not being able to be the mother that they needed her to be. Her husband was a truck driver and he was often away, leaving the other children in the care of their neighbor. They had no other option. She felt grateful for the good care she was getting, but she was also lonely and prayed every day that God would make little Zoe grow stronger so that they could go home soon.

Photo Credit: Fabio Trifoni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Fabio Trifoni via Compfight cc

Every day in South Africa, more than 2700 babies are born – almost two babies born every minute. After most births, mom and baby are healthy and everybody is happy. However, that is not always the case. Jenny’s story is not uncommon in South Africa. According to United Nations estimates, every day in South Africa, 230 mothers are confronted with a story similar to Jenny’s – their baby is born prematurely. 23 of these mothers will see their babies die. Every day, 55 mothers lose their newborn babies; 62 families are confronted with a stillbirth; and in 2010, 250 mothers died while giving birth. These numbers, as well as numbers concerning income and education, make South Africa number 77 on a list of 176 countries in the Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report – a report that came out in the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

Our country is not the worst place to be for a mother, however, not everybody has access to the good quality of care that is available in South Africa. Many mothers don’t have the money to transport themselves to a place where they can get a high standard of care, and many hospitals and clinics are understaffed and insufficiently supplied. This leads to deaths that could have been avoided if the health system was more equally divided and efficiently managed.

After reading these statistics you may be feeling paralyzed. I certainly do feel that way whenever I hear information like this. The numbers are overwhelming and sobering. There are so many families being confronted with tragic losses. But there is hope, as most causes of maternal and neonatal death require fairly simple strategies and interventions to prevent. If the Ministry of Health coordinates these changes – like equal access to emergency care, infection prevention and timely treatment, as well as resuscitation training for everybody who works in a labour ward, the number of deaths could be substantially lowered.

But what can we do? First of all – pray. Pray for our government, and that they can make the right decisions. Pray for the doctors and nurses, that God will give them the strength needed to deal with very challenging circumstances they face on a daily basis. And lastly, pray for the mothers who are pregnant or taking care of their little ones – that they may have access to the kind of care they need so that they can see their child grow up to be healthy and happy. You can also join teams that visit hospitals and spend time with the moms like Jenny. You can knit hats and bring them to a labour wards, and your handiwork will keep the babies warm. If you are a breastfeeding mum, you can go to milkmatters.org and learn how your milk can help other moms and their babies. Like any other problem the numbers can be overwhelming, but giving the number a face will enable you to become part of the solution.

Anneke is involved with the Micah Challenge – a movement of passionate, yet ordinary Christians who are standing together to hold the world’s leaders accountable to their promises. Visit http://www.micahchallenge.org.za for more info.

A Light in Winter

By Emily Oppenheimer

As the coldness of winter sets in, I found a place that warms the hearts of the city. I ventured into a place with brightly coloured walls with a door that read “There’s a beautiful mess inside”. I assumed the sign was to let visitors know what to expect when entering these four walls, but I left realizing that sign was meant to be carried over each and every one of us. Life can feel overwhelming, chaotic, and simply messy at times, but God sees beautiful.

This haven is known as Beth Uriel, meaning “House of Light” in Hebrew. Beth Uriel, a residential facility, has become a light and a beacon of hope for the 26 young men between the ages of 18-24 that call it home. Beth Uriel envisions each and every young man being independent, self-suficient, and one step closer to obtaining their dreams.

Photo Credit: Stewart Harris via Flickr cc

Photo Credit: Stewart Harris via Flickr cc

Beth Uriel desires to give quality educational opportunities at both the secondary and tertiary levels to each individual in their program. Beth Uriel sees every young person just as that, an individual, with unique talents and skills. No two of God’s creations are the same, and Beth Uriel seeks to give each person the opportunity to discover their own passion and decide on a career they wish to pursue.

Wilson Johnson, a 24-year-old resident at Beth Uriel, is excited to pursue a career in Human Resources. Wilson said he has always been a people-person, but now has the excuse to dress professionally while doing what he loves. Another young man by the name of Sipho, has decided to become a pilot for South African Airways, and Beth Uriel gladly plans to encourage and equip him in his pursuit.

Beth Uriel doesn’t stop at meeting the basic needs of these young men. Instead, they ask how they can help develop their capabilities. How can we help these individuals become the men that God intends them to be? The greatest investment we can make in this life is into the lives of others.

If you are asking yourself how you can cross paths with these young men and help them along their journey? Beth Uriel is looking for tutors to help strengthen and sharpen their skill sets, whether it is in maths, Xhosa, or Afrikaans. Tutoring might seem small and inconsequential, but actually it can be the greatest gift given to another. It is one small gesture can change the direction of a life. It might be only thing needed for Wilson and Sipho to change a dream into a reality.

As a tutor, maybe you will meet Wilson or Sipho. Soon after, you might discover a new friend – somebody to partner and walk with on the road of life. Managing Director, Lindsay Henley, captured this truth as she pointed to a sign above our heads that read, “He who wants to bring about change, has to learn to be changed by those whom he wants to change first.” She said this would be her advice to potential volunteers. We must always listen and lay our assumptions aside when our paths cross with another one of God’s creations.

For more information on Beth Uriel or how to become involved with tutoring or mentoring, please email Info@commongood.org.za.

Post Navigation