Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the category “Letter”

How Can We Discern God’s Will?

A letter from Paul Maughan, leader of the Common Ground Bosch PM leadership team, to introduce our April newsletter.

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I am sitting in my office at UCT.  It is the last day of lectures for the students but as a lecturer I have test papers to set before they return from the Easter break.  An email arrives.  I am asked to introduce the April newsletter for Common Good and my first instinct is to reply with a brief, “I would be very keen to be involved in this but do not have the time at the moment to meet the deadline.”  Thankfully, before pressing “send” on the email, the irony dawns on me.  The April newsletter is asking this simple question: “How can we discern the will of God in the midst of the busyness of daily life?”

My first reaction when that email arrived was not to hear from God; my diary was really what was driving my decision-making.  Rather than ask for discernment, I was prepared to be defeated by the urgent rather than the important. The first step in discernment is making the time to listen to God speak.

Just this last weekend, at the BoschPM weekend away, I had watched Gary Haugen from the International Justice Mission on video.  He spoke from Matthew 14, about Jesus feeding the 5000. The disciples had seen the practicalities of the situation and wanted Jesus to tell everyone to go home.  Jesus on the other hand asked them to trust Him and give Him what they had.

The call is the same to me today.  I am not called to be so overwhelmed by the need around me that I ignore what is going on and neither am I called to respond to every situation.  I am called to trust Jesus to speak and guide me.

Trusting Jesus doesn’t mean that we can get away with a lazy one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to responding to those around us.  The situations we come into contact with are not all going to be the same and so we need to discern what God is asking us to do in that particular situation to help that person best. It may mean giving them something to eat, or it may mean not giving them anything but rather spending a few moments learning more about their life.

One helpful way to discern how to respond to a situation is to ask the advice of people you trust and respect, who are able to offer a sound biblical perspective and an understanding of the social implications of the situation. But this isn’t always possible and there will be times when we will have to trust something God has revealed to us through our past experience or the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit in that moment. As you will see from the stories in this newsletter, God guides us in many different ways, and as long as we are open to listening to him he can use us to respond.

May God use this newsletter to also cause you to pause and reflect on the discernment we all need to act in a way that is in line with God’s will, even when life gets busy.

– Paul is married to Leanne and has a small son, Patrick. He is a full-time lecturer at the University of Cape Town in the Accounting department. 

First, Let’s Do No Harm

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

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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.

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