Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the month “July, 2013”

What does it really mean to live social justice?

Rigby Wallace shares five key pieces of wisdom he’s learnt after years of grappling. (We reckon this is worth printing and sticking on your fridge!)

1. It all begins with encountering the authentic Jesus:

For Jesus it was about being and bringing good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). Paul calls the Christ-follower to put off his/her old ‘self’ and put on the ‘new self’, which is our call to become more like the most compassionate and just person in the universe. Col 3:12 makes it clear that putting on compassionate hearts is a way to evidence our relationship with Christ.

The more we follow Christ and become like Him, the more we will have hearts that care for the least, the lost and the lowest in our city.

2. Make your home the first frontier:

The way we pay our domestic workers and gardeners needs to be evaluated. If you can’t pay any more, then reduce the work hours so they can work a bit more somewhere else. This is an area that God is clearly watching over.

James makes the point when he says, “The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you” (James 5:4).

Whenever you get a bonus, give your staff at least the same percentage. Help with school fees and extras wherever you can. Speak to your staff and all those who are economically disadvantaged in any way with great respect. The gospel calls us to guarantee all those we meet the dignity God created them with.

3. Learn the power of team:

Wherever we can operate from community, we will bring more to that moment than we could ever bring as an individual.

That’s why I am so excited about Common Good. This team of dedicated ‘social justice’ champions, stand ready to equip and mobilise us towards the poor and marginalised in our city. I love it that they can cater for the guys wanting to take baby steps to the seasoned campaigners who are ready to slay the giants.

For Sue and I we have seen the wisdom of giving some of our mercy giving towards their efforts, rather that indiscriminate acts of kindness at robots or when our doorbell rings. Whilst we still respond to these requests from time to time, we find it easier to look people in the eye and say ‘Sorry sir/madam, not today, we are helping through our local church in projects where we are helping people we know!’

If we all did this together, we could empower Common Good with some of their big initiatives. Doing it together in team keeps us wise, focused and encouraged.

4. Keep informed:

Practice noticing the challenges facing our city and church as we seek to follow Christ as an opportunity for gospel faithfulness. Their is no virtue in hiding our heads in the sand.

Read the Common Good blog. Sign up for their newsletter and read it! Read Tim Keller’s ‘Ministries of Mercy‘. Listen to the media as they report on the socio-economic challenges facing us in Cape Town specifically.

And don’t be intimidated, because we have Jesus as our heavenly champion ready to give grace and wisdom wherever He is calling us to respond.

5. Embrace an empowering economic philosophy of life:

I learned the following economic wisdom 15 years ago:

a. Earn more: Live in your full income generating potential (Study, develop skills continually)

b. Consume less: This tempers and helps draw a circle around our life-stage monthly budget . Sue and I need to revisit this periodically as our circumstances change.

c. Hoard nothing: This calls us to regularly get rid of stuff that may benefit others. When we buy new clothes we can give away some of our good-quality clothes. We moved house a couple of years ago and were amazed at how much stuff we had been hoarding.

d. Be generous: This includes more than financial generosity. It’s time. It’s hospitality. It’s growing your relational range by opening up your home. We have been doing this over the years.

A highlight for Sue and I is opening our home over most Christmases to displaced people that have made Common Ground their home. Having four or five of these amazing people in our home, seated with our family for a Christmas feast has been special. And listening to their incredible stories has enriched our lives wonderfully.

e. Celebrate life: This is a call to avoid the ascetic trap of doing all the right things but being miserable in the process.

Living social justice will have difficulties and bring serious challenges to our lives, but when we do it from gospel ravished hearts and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are going to experience mountains of joy.

And, finally, remember, it all begins with encountering and following Jesus…

– Rigby oversees the leadership team of Common Ground Church in Cape Town, together with his wife, Sue.

What from the above really stuck out to you? Do you have any wisdom you’ve learned you’d like to share with us?

EXPOSED: Stand Against Corruption

All you need to do is read the newspaper headlines to know that corruption is a very serious problem – but an exciting new campaign is giving us the chance to do something about it.

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Many of us can probably admit to having climbed atop a proverbial soapbox at least once to voice our frustrations about corruption in our country, right? 

After all, South Africa is mired in corruption from the small time bribery happening in shady alleyways to the gross mishandling of public funds taking place in the top rungs of government. It’s everywhere and we feel we have a right to complain.

But what if, rather than just complaining to our friends and family, our voices could be used to help improve the situation? What if we could actually become a part of the solution?

EXPOSED 2013 is a global call to Christ-followers around the world to take a stand against corruption and challenge those institutions which oppress the poor.

On a local level, its an opportunity for us as South Africans to learn more about how we can actively participate in our democracy and add our voice to governance and policy decision-making.

On a global scale, it’s a chance for us to petition G20 leaders to agree on anti-corruption action at the summit in Australia next year.

The problem of corruption is sadly not one that is unique to South Africa. Every year, over $1 trillion goes missing worldwide due to bad governance, tax evasions, mismanagement, and illegal business practices.

EXPOSED aims “to position Christians as advocates of justice and transformation in the nations we are called to serve” (EXPOSED) and is hosted by a group of Christian organisations including the World Evangelical AllianceBible Society (UK) and American Bible SocietyMicah Challenge International and others.

“We want to bring together millions of Christians from all denominations to take a stand and unite against corruption, fighting for the poor,” says Dr. Dion Forster, the International Coordinator of EXPOSED. “Corruption is one of the greatest obstacles to dealing with extreme poverty and the campaign aims to mobilise Christians to join with wider society in exposing the practices which oppress the poor.”

So what are your next steps?

1. Sign the global call to action here

2. Follow the campaign on Facebook and on Twitter

3. Sign up to receive email notifications here

For more info, visit the EXPOSED website!

We’re excited about the platform this campaign provides for us to discuss how we can all help fight corruption in our country.

Over the next few months, we’ll be posting articles and reflections on what this could look like. Join us in this conversation! We’d love to hear your thoughts 🙂

Video: What is biblical justice?

In under four minutes, Ken Wytsma, Founder of The Justice Conference, gives us his description of biblical justice. Four minutes? That’s about the same time it takes most of us to make a cup of tea.

Going a bit deeper…

In the Bible, God is called ‘a father to the fatherless, a defender of widows’ (Psalm 68:4-5) – always seeking to protect and provide for those who are vulnerable to exploitation.

He shows himself as a God who cares for the vulnerable and marginalised people in the world, and he frequently calls his people to be his agents in this care. ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: Administer justice, show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the immigrant or the poor.’ (Zechariah 7:10- 11)

These are just two of over 2000 verses in the Bible which refer to issues of poverty and injustice!

The Bible may be full of references to justice but the idea of biblical justice is one that has been greatly misunderstood and debated over the centuries. The number of varying opinions out there can overwhelm us to the point where we stop grappling with what our understanding of it is.

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone! A good place to begin is by reading what a few respected biblical commentators have to say about the topic.

Timothy Keller gives a great summary of his understanding of biblical justice here, in a short excerpt taken from his book, Generous Justice. A book we can highly recommend! For a list of some our other recommended reads, click here.

So what about biblical justice are you grappling with?

Would you forgive your hijacker?

It’s the kind of question most of us hope we’ll never have to ask ourselves but one which Colleen and Fanie Bantjes had to grapple with after their traumatic experience. Roger Wood reflects on their moving story and how forgiveness has the power to transform and heal.

Photo Credit: Charlotte90T via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Charlotte90T via Compfight cc

I recently challenged a post which had been made on Facebook. The writer had implied that all domestic workers would steal from their employers.  I challenged him on the this and in response the writer asked if I was “living in the real world”.  Sadly, I am and it’s not a very nice world; it’s a deeply divided one.  In many ways these divisions are a legacy of the entrenched attitudes from our past. These can be hard to change but Paul encourages us in Romans 12: 2 to, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” But how are we to do this when hurt and brokenness run so deep on both sides?

One story I read in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago really helped me understand what this could look like practically – and in the process somewhat restored my faith in people. The story referred to Colleen and Fanie Bantjes who relocated from Johannesburg to Yzerfontein in 2004 to escape the crime in that region.

In January 2005, they decided to visit the Fossil Park near Langebaan and just before entering the park they stopped at the side of the road to make a phone call.  Suddenly a man was standing on the driver’s side of the car, pointing a gun at Fanie.  He got out of the car to give the phone to the man but a scuffle ensued.

Colleen, a committed Christian, says, she never prayed so hard in all her life.  Somehow, Fanie managed to get back in the car but stalled it as he tried to pull away.  The man by this time had moved to Colleen’s side and was pointing the gun at her. He pulled the trigger and by some miracle the bullet missed her although she was covered in cuts from the broken glass. At that point a policeman coming off duty who had seen what had happened stopped his car and with Fanie’s help caught the man.

The hijacker, Brian Pienaar, then in his early 20’s was sentenced to 23 years in prison for attempted hijacking and attempted murder.  Colleen contacted Brian in prison and sent him a Bible.  They kept up the correspondence and she sent him items to help with his schooling and clothing, such as a pair of pyjamas.

In 2011, Brian wrote to Colleen and Fanie to say that his mother had died.  He said he cried for a week.  He had had no contact with her for two years and this experience made him realise the need “to make right the wrong that you did to other people, because you don’t know if you will ever get another chance to say sorry.”  He went on to say that he was sorry for what he had done to them in 2005.

Colleen had forgiven Brian long ago and, with her husband’s support, she continues to encourage him knowing that he is beginning to put his life back together and getting training whilst still in prison.

How do we build relationships with those who may have hurt us?  By living out those words which many of us pray regularly, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12)  It’s not easy, but once we realise how much it cost Jesus to forgive us, we begin to recognise that none of us are perfect.    Ephesians 4 : 32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Many of us have enjoyed the privileges of nice homes, caring parents, good schooling and many career opportunities.  Brian grew up on the Cape Flats, surrounded by alcoholism, abuse, gangs and crime.

In a poem “Who’s to blame”, Brian writes:

The kid is not the owner of the illegal shebeen

or the manufacturer of the deadly methamphetamine.

Nor is the kid the big drug dealer in town

who’s breaking our friends and families down.

So next time if you want someone to blame

first ask yourself, “Who’s running the game?”

– Roger Wood is a retired educator presently working as a volunteer with Common Good.  He is a member of Common Ground Constantiaberg AM.

To read the full article discussed in this post click here.

Can you think of a situation in your own life where forgiveness could lead to healing – or already has?

P.S. Other great posts to read on relationship building: Video: Bridge Walkers and Designed for Diversity

P.S.S. Have you been following the Trayvon Martin case in the US? Here are two articles that really stirred us: His name is Messiah and Lament from a White Father

The Hard Work Of Freedom

In honour of Mandela Day today, Craig Stewart, director of The Warehouse, reflects on how we as a country can enter the promised land.

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Every community enslaved by its context needs its Moses figures who confront the oppressive forces lined up against it and lead it out of slavery. As a nation, South Africa has been blessed with many of these kinds of men and women. None greater than Nelson Mandela who, as I write, is heading into the mountains at the end of his life. He was one of those who led us through the Red Sea of obstacles confronting our departure from Egypt, which could have so easily destroyed us twenty years ago.

But the desert on the other side of the Red Sea is never the promised land of freedom. In the Exodus-like journey of community transformation we often find ourselves stuck wandering in the desert between slavery and the fulfilled promise of our potential intended by God. For this, we need to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. The river is smaller than the sea, but the obstacles on the other side can seem bigger.

Sometimes we’re intimidated by that which needs to be done, or the opposition, as we take the promised land. There are giants in that land that need to be faced and in South Africa they continue to stand on the other side of transformation, seemingly mocking us. Our ongoing racial, cultural and economic separation and inequality, the legacy of the 1913 Land Act, and the inheritance of violence and trauma are just three of the giants that need to be faced. If we leave the desert, we will actually need to confront them. If we stay, we can pretend they don’t exist.

Similarly, in the desert we have daily provision of manna and quail.  But manna and quail are not the same as a land filled with milk and honey or bearing large harvests of fruit. The daily manna and quail, though provided by God, are not his ultimate plan for his people, and before entering the promised land they come to an end. Sometimes the predictability and dependency of this provision keeps us trapped in the desert between slavery and full transformation.

Every community undergoing transformation needs to reach a point where it decides to cross its Jordan River and enter the promised land. At the Red Sea, Moses – the leader – stretches out his staff and God makes the impassable passable. But at the Jordan it is the people, in particular the church, who enter the river first, and then God makes the impassable become passable.

If transformation is to happen, we need to be a new generation of bold and courageous leaders like Joshua willing to face the giants of the new land. If transformation is to happen, we need to be a church willing to be the first to step into the rivers blocking our way and the first to lead in taking on the Jericho strongholds blocking our progress. If transformation is to happen, we need to be communities of people willing to take responsibility for entering our own promised land and working to make it real.

Ultimately, Moses or Madiba or any other hero, can only get us to the edge of the promised land, the rest is up to us.

– Craig Stewart is the director of The Warehouse, a non-profit organisation which serves the church in it’s response to poverty and injustice.

This article was first published in The Warehouse Update for July 2013. Read the full newsletter here.

How do you think we, as the church and as individuals, can be part of transformation in South Africa? What role do you think we can play?

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