Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the month “June, 2013”

Your Thoughts on Simplicity

We’re currently exploring what it means to live simpler in today’s “give me more” culture. Here’s what some of you had to say…

Living Simpler Helped Me Display God’s Love

401301_10151545617250535_302571359_n“At the beginning of this year, I was given the privilege to lead a street ministry in Wynberg. Once a week, we make sandwiches, share the gospel and build friendships with people living on the street. A few weeks ago, as we were about to begin our Bible study on the theme of generosity, a lady approached me from a business situated opposite to where we regularly meet, and offered to contribute towards the costs of making the food for the ministry. I was amazed but that wasn’t the end! The lady’s colleague then started asking me why we would give our time and money to help street people, and I was humbly able to tell him about a God who does the same for us. This incident showed me how when we live simply, and give freely of our time and money, it displays God’s love through us.” – Tessa Brown (P.S. This donation was made on the same day that the ministry’s budget had increased to employ two new people!)

Simplifying Helped Save My Company

263036_10151905376356978_500378962_n-001“In 2012, our company closed down a division that had been running for 15 years and was struggling financially. It contributed 20% of our company’s turnover but consumed 80% of its time and resources. When the division was closed, turnover dropped and jobs were lost. However, within a year, the group had regained the 20% turnover initially lost and had re-employed even more employees than we’d previously had to retrench. This has taught me that as hard as it can often be to simplify – whether it’s a strategic business change or cutting back on personal commitments – it can lead to a level of focus and clarity that God can use to do new and exciting things.” – Roger Warr

I’ve Realised It’s A Lifelong Grapple

556256_10151552833700556_1165619309_n“The question that I struggle with most when it comes to living a life of material simplicity is one of degree: how simple is simple enough? In the Gospel of Luke we are told to sell our possessions and give to those in need. Is it all of our possessions, or just some of our possessions? Is it just enough to feel like we’ve done our bit, but not enough to make our own lives less comfortable? There is always one more thing you can cut back on, one more expense you can do without. A less expensive coat that you can buy this winter, or a dinner at a fancy restaurant that you can cancel. The question is something that I am still exploring for myself, and am not even close to finding an answer to. I do believe that everyone is on his or her own journey, and we cannot judge someone for making a lifestyle choice different to our own. My prayer is that the Spirit will nudge me in the right direction.” – Megan Jackson

What does living a lifestyle of simplicity mean to you? What are some of the questions you’re grappling with?

P.S. For more, read The Not So Simple Life

The Not So Simple Life

How can we live simpler in a world that is demanding that we consume and do so much more? Mother and freelance copywriter, Julie Williams gives us an honest glimpse into how she is grappling with this in her own life.

A funny thing happened as I settled down to write this piece. I was going to fill it with inspiring thoughts on the art of living simply. But then I got blind-sided. By the giant log in my own eye.

You see, my story of living simply is not as simple as I’d like to admit. Let me let you in on some of my struggles, in the hope that we’ll find real simplicity on the other side of complexity…

A few months ago, our beloved domestic help, child minder, kitchen whisperer and general wonder woman of grace, Fez, was diagnosed with cancer. Amidst all the thoughts I have grappled with in response, the one that I have felt most frequently and acutely is this: “Life sucks for me right now.”

Yes. I did just write that. And I’ve thought it a hundred times.

Life sucks. For me. Right now.

As a mother with 3 small kids, and a freelancing career that I juggle between nappy changes, school runs and church meetings, I depend on Fez to keep all the plates spinning. Without her, the plates don’t spin. They just pile up and risk breeding new forms of bacteria that could wipe out half of the human race.

Life does suck when she is not around. But when did my life, and the idea that it should run according to plan, overtake my humanity? When did my (trivial in comparison) needs eclipse her own?

As I’ve wrestled with this question, I’ve begun to see just how entitled I am. And if simplicity is a superpower, entitlement is its cryptonite.

You see, simplicity is about living with others in mind whilst entitlement is all about me.

Entitlement tells us we deserve all the good things we have, and none of the bad. It helps us to constantly justify our insatiable desire for more – and to expect the best of everything as if it were our ‘right’. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that the more we have, the more entitled we can become. I’ve come to this conclusion after witnessing one too many hostile encounters between luxury sedans in the Constantia Village parking lot. In essence, entitlement is the opposite of simplicity – which is rooted in the idea that your needs are not more important than those around you. And hence, you have enough (yes, even you).

Below are three points I want to remember as I attempt to gouge entitlement out of my own life. I suspect, like pulling weeds, it’s going to be a life-long exercise.

1. I have enough. I already have all that I need. I don’t like to admit this but it’s true. Of course, there are tons of things that I would like, but I will never be happier than I choose to be right now, right here – with our siff brown couch, our chipped plates and the oldest car on our road. Replacing these things will feel momentarily wonderful, but that euphoric feeling will wear off quicker than cheap perfume, and in no time, there’ll be other things I feel I should, no, must have in order to be truly happy. Let me be clear here, there’s nothing wrong with getting nice stuff, but in acquiring that stuff, have you cut off your ability to be generous toward others? Get comfortable with the space between what you have and what you want. Settle in there, and don’t try to make it go away too quickly. Remind yourself that the purpose of this life is not to have all your desires met. He who has the most toys at the end of his life is not the winner! This is not being complacent. It’s learning the forgotten art of contentment.

2. People matter most. They matter more than stuff. Much more. And in a country with one of the biggest disparities between rich and poor, it’s inexcusable for me to be overly concerned about a new couch, and not attempt to narrow the gap at some level. How? That’s up to each of us to work out. But work it out, we must. We must aim to simplify our lives so that we can have the means to be generous and let others less fortunate than ourselves share in our good fortune. Does that hurt to think about – let alone do? Good. It should hurt a little when you punch mammon in the face. It will hurt each of us in different ways and to different degrees. Remember that this life is not all there is. And that all that will remain amidst the dust and the bones, the gold teeth fillings and the bronze belt buckles… will be the memories of who and how we loved

3. God simplified. It’s really not about me in the end. Ouch. Again. I am part of a much bigger story. One in which the true hero gave up everything to come and find me. Talk about simplifying life! Christ stepped away from everything he was ‘entitled’ to. Because of love. It’s not because of my hard work that I have, it’s because of God’s kindness toward me. I want to remember a man giving up far more than a latte – but his last breath. For me. I want to lock eyes with that man more often. And in so doing, let the things of this world grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.

– Julie Williams is a part-time freelance copywriter, mother of three and pastor’s wife. She serves on the Common Ground Church leadership team together with her husband, Terran. 

P.S For more on the topic of generosity, read “How I Learnt to Give” and “Confessions of an Amateur Giver

WUW Prayer Pointers

As you gather and deliver your clothing for Warm Up Winter, here are some things to keep praying for…

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That we would freshly see vulnerable people the way that Christ sees them – as image bearers of God. 

Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

The clothes people give often reveal how they see vulnerable people. Ask that God reveals any prejudices or wrong thinking you might have about vulnerable people. Pray that we would see all people as image bearers of God and treat others with dignity.

We would more deeply understand what it means to be stewards of our things – not owners. 

Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein.” When we more deeply understand the sacrifice Christ made for us, and when we more fully grasp His deep love for us, it becomes easier to give with gratitude. Ask God to keep deepening your understanding of the sacrifice He made for you. Ask God to give you some new revelation about the stewardship of your life for His glory.

Ask God what role you play in His redemption and restoration plans for vulnerable people in our city. 

John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

We want to be the kind of people that are constantly hearing from and responding obediently to God. In the Bible, it is clear that God has a special concern for vulnerable people. Ask God to reveal his heart for vulnerable people in our city. Ask him to show you how to respond, not just once a year, but every day in the way you steward your influence, time, money, relationships, choices and things.

Ask God to give you a fresh revelation of His grace towards you. 

2 Corinthians 8: 1 – 3 says, “We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord.”

The churches of Macedonia gave in response to God’s grace – because they understood and loved the God they served. When you understand grace, circumstances take a back seat. Your giving is not determined by your debt-to-income ratios, financial indexes, leading economic indicators, or tax code. No – your giving is motivated by God’s grace!

Thank you for journeying with us this year! We’d love to hear your thoughts about this year’s Warm Up Winter campaign. Email us photos and reflections to info@commongood.org.za. If you missed any of our WUW blog posts you can read them here. FB_profile pic

 

A Friend in Need

Have you ever tried to build a friendship with someone from a different background to your own? In today’s post, Christine Martin Van Wyk shares the story of her friendship with Janvier – and shows why pushing past the difficulties is so worth it. By Christine Martin Van Wyk 

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Meeting Janvier

I met a homeless man online. My job means that I start my day with over 100 emails waiting for me in my inbox. Then the back-and-forth begins. In all these mails, I receive a lot of spam and sign-up’s. God used one sign-up in particular, I believe, to gently shift my perspective, and not so gently grip my heart:

“Hi Christine 
I’m so glad to receive from you a detailed program of DNA course and I 
take this opportunity to confirm my attendance to BOTH sessions (Monday 
28 January and Monday 4 February). If any change occur from you, please
 let me know via e-mail as I do not have a cell phone at moment. I have 
access to the City Libraries Internet for one hour every day from Monday
to Saturday! Concerning if I’m a vegetarian or not, I can say that I’m
not because I eat any kind of food! Once again I thank you so much and
may God bless you abundantly!  C u soon!
 Janvier Ntahomvukiye”

That was it. The simplicity of asking me to email rather than call; the blunt explanation of his gut wrenching situation; the resourcefulness of using a library; and the fact that he wasn’t a vegetarian.

Building a relationship

Over the next three months, Janvier joined my flying squad of back-and-forth emails. I found out that he speaks English, French, Russian, Swahili, Kirundi and a little bit of Spanish. I learnt that he’d been working as a chauffeur before being retrenched, and that he had lived in a shelter until he could no longer afford it. He wrote of how “the street life was not for him”.

That was how I got to know him, and build a relationship with him. I told him about NETwork, and organised to meet him after church services. We met to check in, to have coffee, and for me to give him the train tickets that my small group had sponsored. He was also able to take part in the Job Readiness Programme at NETwork. Through this he was able to renew his driver’s license (also sponsored by some ever-so-loving small group members), find work (currently as a driver for a cab company), and even meet a roommate.

More than just a “charity-case”

The important part of this story is that it is not a success story – it’s a relationship. Janvier is my friend. And it hasn’t been easy. Amid planning my wedding, I was challenged about how I stewarded my finances (flower budgets could have paid room rental). Janvier also had a run-in with the police, and there was a domestic upheaval which saw Janvier back on the streets.

When the impulse to give up becomes strong, I remember the first time I almost gave up on my friend. The time when I noticed that he hadn’t attended church two Sundays in a row. In all honesty, I thought he’d given up on church and given up on God – that the gravity of his situation (he was still sleeping in a park at that stage) had taken over and that he had decided to throw in the towel. I teetered on the edge of feeling like I had been taken advantage of – thinking that maybe once Janvier had realised that I wasn’t going to pay his way out of poverty, he’d moved along.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. After emailing him, he replied days later saying that he’d been beaten and mugged, and had had to be hospitalized. To top it off, he spoke words that thawed my heart. “I was too embarrassed to come to church C,” he wrote. “They also took my shoes. I can’t come to church without shoes,” he added.

There was a genuine necessity to build a friendship with Janvier, in order for me to be able to help him. Simply meeting his material needs wouldn’t have been helpful. When I met him, I thought that money and a steady job were what he needs. But those were things that would have met his foremost needs, but not his innermost needs. What he needs is for someone to walk with him, to hear him, to be his friend. And step in when he needs help, like I would for anyone else who I call my friend.

Christine is a member of Common Ground and is the Rondebosch AM Administrator. To read more posts in our Warm Up Winter blog series click hereFB_profile pic

How I’ve Learnt to Give

Sometimes, the simplest way to determine how to give is to ask ourselves how we would like to receive. By Tim Hoffman

generous-logo

How do I channel my desire to give so that it doesn’t make the receiver feel awkward, or worse, come across as arrogant and belittling? I’m sure many of us are pondering this and similar questions as we take part in Warm Up Winter. Here are some of my reflections based on what I’ve learnt from being on the receiving end.

The importance of relationship

My father is one of the most generous people I know. When I’d go home for university holidays, he’d never let me leave without giving me some cash for fuel for the drive back to campus. Even a decade later, he continues to give to me in so many ways – often unexpectedly and sometimes lavishly.

So does his giving make me feel awkward? No – because he’s my dad! We have a well-established, 35-year-old relationship where no matter what is said or what is done, there is an unspoken and profound basis of understanding regarding our actions. I know that my dad expresses his love through acts of giving. It’s not that he loves me any less than those fathers who do more talking and hugging, but his primary way of showing me his love is through his giving.

But if it wasn’t for the fact that I have a deep personal bond and relationship with my dad, I would probably have felt incredibly awkward about the untold expenses that he’s made on my behalf. The presence of relationship makes a massive difference in the transaction, both in the giving and receiving. Those in relationship can know each other’s needs and respond meaningfully and appropriately, even without ever being explicitly asked for help.

The importance of how a gift is given

A while ago, my wife and I were on the receiving end of an extremely gracious act of generosity. A couple, whom we hadn’t seen in several years, offered to pay a significant debt of ours. They may not have been close friends, but we were comfortable with receiving their generosity because of the way they gave it.

The offer came after a wonderful evening of sharing what God had been doing and was doing in our lives – in other words, relationship building! We casually, and unintentionally, mentioned that we’d recently incurred some debt through life circumstance. The next morning as we were saying good-bye, one of them told me that they’d been struck by something we had said the night before and that they wanted to pay our debt.

We hadn’t asked for help and we hadn’t even specified how much money it was! In fact, I’d mentioned that we’d figured out an affordable payment plan that would allow us to pay it off in the next two years. When I asked him why he wanted to help us, he replied that as they were now free from their own financial debts they’d felt the Holy Spirit prompting them to help us do the same.  Within the next few weeks, we received a check in the mail that covered our debt in full.

I’m still in awe of their generosity. What a blessing! Did it feel awkward? At first, as we weren’t yet the deepest of friends. But does it still feel awkward or make me feel dependent or inferior to them now? No! In many ways it’s improved our friendship, because of the way the giving was done.

They were so humble about it, which in turn humbled us. They didn’t seek recognition. They didn’t proclaim their act of generosity from the mountaintops of Facebook. They wanted to help quietly because they’d felt God prompt them to do so. How we give radically changes when we give out of a revelation of what God has done for us and not out of a sense of guilt.

Generosity is about more than just material giving

Around the same time, we had some other friends who weren’t able to help us financially but who were still extremely generous to us.  Having a lot of experience in personal finance, they graciously made time to give us insight and advice over several phone conversations and emails, even though they were both very busy.

Thanks to them, our budget is now more realistic and better balanced, and this has helped us avoid getting into debt again. Out of love, they gave us something worth just as much as the check in the mail– their time and talents. There are so many different ways to give! Even if we aren’t able to give financially, we can still bless people with our time, talents, and resources.

In what ways has Warm Up Winter challenged you to think about how we give?

Do you have any similar experiences of giving when you’ve been on the receiving end?

How could this experience change how you give?

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

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