Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the category “Personal Stories”

What’s Mine is Not Mine

What should we do with the treasures with which we’ve been blessed? Sindiso Mnisi Weeks shares how she’s grappling to let go in a culture holding on.
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Psychologists describe how a significant milestone in child development is when the child begins to understand herself as a separate entity from her mother and the rest of the world. What follows shortly thereafter is the realisation that she can possess things. “Mine!” she says, “… mine, mine, Mine, MINE!”

Perhaps one of the most radical – counter-cultural … even, perhaps, counter-evolutionary! – lessons the Gospel calls us to embrace as adults is the lesson that, though we can possess things, what we possess is actually not ours.

How often does the Bible call us to:

“[N]ot lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-21)

And our hearts should be in God alone.

So, what should we do with those treasures with which we have been so blessed – and for which we might have worked very hard – in this world?

“Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” (Luke 3: 11)

Or, in the words of the Old Testament:

“‘The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. … [T]he land that you hold as a possession … will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.”… “‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.'” (Leviticus 25: 23-24, 28, 35)

In this vein it continues.

If the Bible takes such a radical approach to material possessions, why is it so hard to persuade our own hearts of this attitude?

Some would say it’s evolution – the survival of the fittest instinct that has kept us from extinction so far. Some would say it’s our fallen nature – the sinfulness within us that resists all things godly and pursues self-interest at every turn.

Maybe it’s both.

Yet the truth remains that, for most people, the child within who first awoke to the realisation that at least some things could be “mine!” refuses to let go. Very much like Adam and Eve when their eyes were opened to selfishness and greed and they lost their ability to fully trust in God’s provision for them, even as they lost their place in God’s immediate company in Eden.

I can give you the experiential background on why it’s hard for me, personally, to take this radical, Biblical approach to material possessions. I grew up in a family where financial security was rarely experienced. Now, I’m one of few people in my family who has achieved financial security and it’s hard for me not to worry about “having enough”. It’s also easy to tell myself that it’s not just for my sake but also for that of the people who depend on me for support.

Yet, in the moments in which I am able to be entirely honest with myself, I admit to God that what is really at issue is that – despite my ten years of following Him – I remain one “of little faith”.

This is what makes me desperate to possess the things that He has given us all to enjoy in the world and to do so even against the backdrop of deprivation and suffering experienced both near and far. I am pathologically attached to “my hard-earned belongings”. And, because I don’t earnestly trust that I’ll be taken care of if I do let go of them, “my assets” are where my “real, daily functional salvation” lies (to quote Revd. Tim Keller).

More than that, I don’t trust the people to whom the things I would so painfully let go of might be given to use them “well” (whatever that means), which is why it’s often hard to give to those in need.

Just recently, in my quiet time, I returned to the parable of the rich man dining at his table while Lazarus lay at his gate covered in sores that were licked by the rich man’s well-fed dogs (Luke 16: 19-31). The rich man died and went to hell while, when Lazarus died, he went to heaven. And, when the rich man inquired into why this was so, “Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” (Luke 16: 25) At essence, the cause was not the man’s wealth but what the way in which he used his wealth revealed about his heart. After all, “faith apart from works is dead.” (James 2: 17, 26)

When I sat at a restaurant later that week, there was no poor person at the door. Yet, nonetheless, the mothers watching their children die from starvation were briefly revealed to my mind’s eye and I knew it was the Holy Spirit tugging at my heart to say that I am that rich man. And, indeed, according to the “global rich list”, I am.

The only question remaining is whether, when I meet my Maker, He will say “‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom … [for] as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”” (Matthew 25: 34, 40) God help my heart to let go of the things I so unwisely hold onto and recognise that the present shall pass like the night while eternity is long …

In the Apostle Paul’s words, “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on … those who buy something [should live] as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7: 29-31)

How are you feeling challenged to be generous?

– Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is a senior researcher at the Centre for Law and Society at UCT. She and her husband, Daniel, were members of the Common Ground Church Rondebosch AM congregation until recently relocating to the USA. 

P.S. Other recommended reads: “Hope In An Age Of Hunger” by Roger Wood and “What Is Urban Gleaning?” by Caroline Powell

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

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.

What Does God’s Mission Mean to Me?

We asked three people at different stages in their journey to share their thoughts with us.

Kevin with his wife, Claire, and their daughter, Sierra.

Kevin with his wife, Claire, and their daughter Sierra

Displaying His Infinite Glory

By Kevin Murphy

“It means, chiefly, to prioritize what Christ prioritizes, which is the maximal display of his infinite worth (his glory). We don’t always get it right, but we’re trying to have that as the motivating factor for everything we do. That shapes the way that we interact with our community, as we want them to see the infinite worth of Christ and thereby come to know him. But it also shapes the way we live out our everyday lives, for God is glorified when we steward his creation, and when our hard work and diligence in the market-place is fruitful. But God is especially glorified when we live out his heart for those who are hurting , the broken or on the outskirts of society’s priority list, and make ourselves available to be used by God to heal that which is hurting.

“So we’re trying to treat each person we meet with equal dignity, we’re aiming to teach our children (and ourselves!) the value of human life. That it is not the rich or poor, educated or simple who are to be esteemed but that each person has been made in the likeness of God; and therefore while each and everyone of us is in need of Christ’s gracious disposition towards us, every individual also carries the dignity of being image-bearers of God. Just as the gospel compels us to go-and-tell, so it compels us to go-and-love.”

– Kevin is a pastor at Common Ground Church and leads the leadership team of the InnerCity congregation.

IMG_1234Out of an Overflow of His Goodness

By Nathalie Koenig

“For me, living in the fullness of God’s mission means nothing less than being in the centre of God’s will – and exactly where He allows me to thrive. I remember the day that I started volunteering with Arise, an NGO in Heideveld, and was filled with the joy of knowing that I would get to do a lot of the things that I most loved doing. Being with people, being challenged, telling stories, and helping children get excited about themselves, the world, and all that’s in it. That the hope of Christ would be shared and some of creation’s brokenness restored in the process were simply natural overflows of God’s goodness to me in providing that opportunity. I didn’t go out to evangelise, or do justice, I was just put somewhere by my Father because He loves me, and loves the world. God’s mission is such a beautiful thing, because it’s what every single person on the planet needs to live as He created them to live. We are all participants in and beneficiaries of His mission.”

– Nathalie is a programme coordinator at Common Good and a member of Common Ground Church‘s Wynberg congregation

169134_10150359827155543_5654958_oTo Make Him Known

By Craig Stewart

“As a follower of Jesus, I love, but often struggle to make real in my life, the idea that God wants to make himself known to others through me.  Love and justice are core parts of who God is, and as I seek to make him known I find myself wrestling with how I am representing his character.  How I treat others, the way in which I cooperate with or subvert the systems of this world, the wages I pay, how and how much I consume, the products I sell, and how I love my neighbour in this global world – all either proclaim (with the rest of creation) the reality of a loving and just God who wants to be known, or they don’t!”

“God’s desire to be known as just and loving is sometimes best declared through words, projects or events that I participate in or give my money and time too.  But if I’m not always seeking to have my life reflect the full character of God then I lack integrity and my efforts are simply a clanging gong. I particularly identify with and like this quote by Chris Wright in The Mission of God:”That God’s will to be known precedes and undergirds all of the efforts of God’s people in their mission of making Him known.”

Craig is the director of The Warehouse, a non-profit organisation that exists to serve the church in its response to poverty and injustice

How God Guides…

Every day we’re called upon to love our neighbour but how do we do this best when every person and situation is so different? Thankfully, God hasn’t left us to figure this out on our own. Here are some examples of how we can discern his will. 

… Through Relationship

“My friendship with Lawrence started when he came into my office one day to ask me why I never got irritated or angry at people. He’d worked for me for 13 years but it took this simple question to open up a door through which I could talk to him about my faith and find out more about his life. I learnt that he lived with eight members of his family in a small shack in Khayelitsha and that he was the only breadwinner. Through getting to know him, I’ve been able to help him in a number of small ways. When he was having financial difficulties I helped him put together a budget. And, recently, when his younger brother was kicked out of school for violence I offered to help him find a rehabilitation centre. I feel comfortable helping Lawrence in this way because I have a relationship with him. There are times where I feel God nudging me to do something for someone that is a once-off act, like buying them a meal, but these are the exceptions as they don’t often lead to long-term fruitfulness. I feel God uses relationship to help me discern wisely.” – Roger Warr is a business owner and a member of the Common Ground Bosch PM congregation.

Read more…

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