Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the tag “christmas”

Give your Christmas shopping a twist – Give Hope!

We think you’re going to like the sound of this…

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver via Compfight cc

Every year millions are spent on Christmas presents as we all try to find the perfect gift for our friends and loved ones. The tragic part? These gifts, which we often sacrifice hours in crowded malls to buy, are often forgotten by Boxing Day or, gulp, unwanted and sent to the back of a cupboard. Yes, it’s the harsh truth. But what if instead of spending our money on socks, soap and chocolate boxes, we spent it on gifts that will make a real difference in the lives of those in need?

Not being huge fans of shopping mall madness – and having re-gifted our fair share of Christmas presents in the past (not yours Auntie Betty!) – we’re really excited about the concept behind Give Hope cards.

There are six beautifully illustrated cards to choose from and the money used to purchase each one will go directly towards supporting a specific Common Good initiative, like buying a book for a literacy programme, sponsoring a food parcel for a family or creche, or enabling someone who is unemployed to attend a beginners computer course.

Here’s an example of how it works: You stop by the Common Ground cafe during the week, or the Common Good involvement desk after a Common Ground Church meeting, and purchase a card (prices range from R50 to R200). Inside the card is space for you to write a personal message, as well as a blurb on how the money used to purchase the card will be meeting a real need. You then give the card to your Uncle George, for example, but the real gift will be going where it’s needed most!

Sound like a grand shopping plan? We think so. Click here to download the Give Hope 2013 catalogue.

And here are some great articles giving more info on some of the initiatives the cards support:

Give Hope through Paradigm Shift

Give Hope with Izandla Zethemba Fun Days

Give Hope with NETwork computer courses

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3 Leadership Couples on Christmas

What does the festive season mean to you? We asked three couples to share how they’re celebrating.

269691_2000666748313_6566034_nAndre and Sabrina Ntambwe – from Common Ground Church Wynberg

How and where are you spending Christmas this year?

We will celebrate this Christmas in Lusaka, Zambia, with my (Andre’s) mom and other siblings. It’s the first Christmas with my mom and other siblings in many years, so it’s going to be very emotional. We celebrate Christmas by exchanging gifts and we invite those without family to join us for lunch because we believe that Christmas is a good opportunity for us to show love to those who desperately need it. Traditionally, I remember as a young boy that my parents would use Christmas as an opportunity for family reunion and reconciliation. Lots of people in my country view Christmas as the opportunity to reconcile with friends or family and show love to those who have no parents.

What does Christmas mean to you?

Whenever we hear the word Christmas what comes to mind is God’s provision, generosity and His unconditional love. Why provision? Because there was no other way for humankind to reconcile with God after the fall if not through the birth of Christ – His life, death and resurrection. Why generosity? Because God gave us Jesus as a free gift that we did not deserve. Why unconditional love? Because we bring nothing to the table but our sins. So for us whenever the word Christmas is mentioned we don’t just see a baby being born, we see God’s generosity and His free gift of salvation.

Do you have anything planned to make this Christmas more meaningful?

Yes! We bought a couple of Give Hope cards from Common Good for our friends in Lusaka. We have also bought gifts for three kids we know who have no parents. We will have lunch with them at my mom’s place and celebrate with them.

Andre and Sabrina serve on the leadership team of Common Ground Church Wynberg. They have two young sons.

George and Bev-001George and Bev Draper – from Common Ground Church Bosch AM

How would you sum up the meaning of Christmas?

The basis on which we approach Christmas is epitomised in Isaiah 9:6 – ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. This helps to explain God as we have experienced him as Spirit, Father and Saviour. While as family we may worship in separate communities and in different ways, as Christ-followers we stand agreed on this truth that Christmas is a time for spiritual affirmation and celebration.

Are there any traditions you follow at Christmas time?

We spend Christmas Eve together as a family because we are all involved in church on Christmas day in our various places of worship. We take time to go around the table taking turns to affirm one another. The Christmas season is also a time of a break for us when we can catch up and spend time with friends. We have in the past, and plan to this year, open our home on Christmas day to others who may not have family to eat and hang out with.

George and Bev serve on the leadership team of Common Ground Church Bosch AM. They are both medical doctors.

945890_10151360259466829_1277224157_nIan and Tammy Teague – from Common Ground Church Bosch PM

What is at the heart of Christmas day for you?

To us, Christmas is a time to celebrate the greatest gift – Jesus coming to the world to save us. This is something we are constantly grateful for but at this time of the year it’s wonderful to celebrate this with our family and community. It’s also a time to reflect on our other blessings like our family and friends, and make an effort to show them how much they mean to us.

How are you planning to spend Christmas this year as newlyweds?

We’ll be spending our first Christmas together in our home in Cape Town and we’ll have Ian’s family staying with us. We love this time of the year and will be doing the usual Christmas activities – putting up our first Christmas tree, baking mince pies and spending time with family and friends. We want to make sure that Christmas becomes a time of reflection, rest and fun in our family.

We’re looking forward to doing some reading together on Christmas Eve. We’ll look at the Scriptures that point towards Jesus’ coming and the story of His arrival. Sometimes we need reminding of how absolutely amazing that night was. We can’t wait for the Christmas morning service at Common Ground Church and our present-opening and Christmas lunch that will follow.

Ian and Tammy serve on the leadership team of Common Ground Bosch PM. They got married earlier this year. 

What does Christmas mean to you? Do you have any ideas of how to make it more meaningful?

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Show loveFind out more about our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign for ideas on how you can make a difference this Christmas.

 

How my loneliest Christmas changed the way I celebrate

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Nina Matthews Photography via Compfight cc

By Nathalie Koenig

My name, Nathalie, means ‘born at Christmas’ – something which I found to be pretty random, since I was born in March. That changed on 25 December 2008.

I’ve always loved Christmas – the thrills, the frills, the gammon and gravy… the family time, the presents, the carols and the Midnight Mass. And throughout my memory, it had been a happy and celebratory time. But not Christmas 2008. That was a different Christmas.

I had been in a dark and confusing place for months, and couldn’t see any way out. My life had shrunk, and I felt alone, misunderstood and hopeless. And it was Christmas. So all around me was joy and cheer, family occasions that demanded joy and cheer – and… just all this joy! And cheer! Which just made me feel even more pathetic, and alone… and a little Grinch-like.

But then on Christmas night, close to midnight, God spoke to me. He touched me as I grappled in sadness, and filled me with a feeling I couldn’t decipher at first. Then I realized I was filled with consuming fear – I was confused, and wondered what it was that’d suddenly begun to paralysingly terrify me. Then I just knew. I was terrified of my capabilities. My capabilities?! This made absolutely no sense to someone who was convinced that they were, and always would be, a failure. But it was the first time in months that I experienced hope. And this hope multiplied in the days to come, and my life began to turn around. I realised that there was a God who would meet me where I was at, and remind me that He had faith in me. A couple of days later, I remembered the date that this realisation happened, and the meaning of my name. It was no longer random.

While this particular Christmas became an unforgettable season of rebirth for me, it was also the Christmas that helped me begin to understand that Christmas really isn’t the ‘festive season’ for everyone. But evidence of other people’s festivity is EVERYWHERE. I was better able to relate to those people who found this season to be the most difficult, loneliest time of year.

I’m part of a ministry at Sisters Incorporated, a home for abused women and their children, where we have a Bible study with the ladies every Monday. As is common, over the Christmas period, we ‘shut down’ – as people go away, and the holiday season fills up with all things Christmas. And Sisters’ residents, who can’t go to their families, or who do spend time with their families and get reminded of all the things they needed to get away from – can be left feeling the pinch of loneliness, and the absence of those support networks that re-activate in mid-January. Some ladies may relapse into old habits – some even crossing the line to the point of having to leave Sisters Incorporated. It’s a season where a lot of steps forward can be quickly doubled back on, with tragic implications.

So for the past couple of years, we’ve tried to keep some kind of presence at Sisters, and we’ve had ‘prayer-buddy’ systems going… We’ve been real in our sessions leading up to Christmas about how it is a tough time, and tried to share tools that could help ladies cope.

But there’s definitely room for more.

If Jesus was here this Christmas, I have no doubt that He would place himself with the vulnerable. He would give hope to the hopeless, stand in the pain of the lonely, and bring comfort to those who mourn. I’m not sure what it would look like, but I love to dream of what it would look like if His Church would do the same. Because I know that He has faith for His Church to be His hands and feet to those in need at Christmas time – and all year round.

There are many different ways to show the love of Christ this Christmas. There may be people in your family who have been sidelined, and could use some love and encouragement; there are people who will spend the season in hospital, potentially with very few visitors; there are shelters for the homeless, and children to be hosted for the holidays. If your Christmas time is too full and stretched, there are organisations that you can support with donations and encouragement.

So how will you show love this Christmas?

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

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Show loveLooking for ways you can make a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need this Christmas? Download our Christmas Plug-In Sheet here for some ideas, or click here for more on our Christmas campaign.

What Down syndrome taught me about Faith, People and Christmas

Dion with his wife, Vanessa, and his older son, Zachary, and Olivia

Dion with his wife, Vanessa, and his older son, Zachary, and Olivia

By Dion Govender

“We suspect that Olivia might have Down syndrome,” explained the pediatrician clearly trying his best to break the news to us empathetically while attempting to conceal his own discomfort at the situation. I suspect it never gets easy for doctors breaking bad news to families. He had to reiterate himself a few times before it even registered with me. I was dumbstruck. I felt claustrophobic, in a bad dream where time seemed to have slowed down to heart shattering seconds. Down syndrome? Our perfect little girl? Tears.

We recently celebrated Olivia’s first birthday – a little person who has not only impacted our lives, but also the lives of many around us; a little person who helped redefine and put into perspective so much of life, faith, success and a myriad of other important factors that make up who we are…

The last twelve months have been a beautiful journey. We have learned, been challenged and are grateful for so much over this year. And because of this, I believe that we’ll be looking at this Christmas so much more differently than previous years. We’ve been conditioned into believing that “stuff equals love” more so over Christmas and the festive season. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a joy to give gifts and I love receiving the iWhatever as much as the next guy, but in Christmas’s passed I have to admit that it became more about excesses than the true ‘reason for the season’ – Jesus.

In many ways, Down syndrome has illuminated the real and true values of Christmas for us:

Be thankful. My wife always shares a little quote that she once read which we’ve adopted for our family: “We wouldn’t choose it [Down syndrome] but we’d never change it.” We’re thankful for this journey we’re on, it’s brought into clear perspective all those people and comforts we are so grateful for and we’re excited about letting them know how we feel this Christmas. This year we’re making “Thank you’s” a part of gift giving. What or who are you thankful for? Pen a hand written note, or better yet tell them how you feel. In our case: over 50% of children born with Down syndrome have Congenial Heart Disease, but Olivia doesn’t. Boom!

Be tolerant. Down syndrome has taught us to be patient with people – and I’m not just referring to people with special needs but ‘normal’ people. I’ve learned that most people’s misconceptions with Down syndrome and other disabilities are based on fear and ignorance. We were ignorant, and because we didn’t have any facts our fears were based on myths. Life’s too short to sweat the small stuff. I’m more gracious with folks and treat them with gentleness when correcting them. Christmas is a great opportunity to be gracious with folks: no cynicism just grace. Isn’t that what Jesus would want us to do?

Dream big. One of the first thoughts I had when we received the news was, ‘I’m never going to walk my daughter down the aisle.’ I was broken. This last year has taught me that we can still dream for our daughter and we should teach her to pursue with passion the dreams that she has for her own life. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that dictate that our dreams are lost. Old dreams can be replaced with new dreams but we should never stop dreaming.

Christmas is my favourite time of year because there’s a tangible sense of hope in the air. This is an opportune time to reach out to people who find themselves in hopeless situations with shattered dreams. We’re planning on inviting a few specific people over for a meal and to hopefully encourage them to hold on to their dreams. Also, as the year winds to a close it’s a practical opportunity to plan, dream and stir optimism for the New Year.

See the world as Jesus does. Down syndrome has taught us to see people through Christ’s eyes. We can easily label people based on what we see on the outside, what they have done in the past or where they find themselves presently. Down syndrome doesn’t define my precious little girl – it’s very much a part of her life but it’s not who she is. Look at people beyond what you see on the outside or the label that society places on them.

This Christmas my family and I are praying specifically for opportunities to engage and connect with people we might have looked passed over previous Christmas’s. Uncomfortable? You betcha! But here’s the thing, not many lessons are learned in comfortable situations.

I guess the strongest point I’m trying to drive home is that beyond all the great stuff that Christmas brings, people are the ones that matter most. The fact of the matter is that we live in a day and age where we’re bombarded constantly with a message that we don’t need real life connections and the more stuff we get the more satisfied we’ll be. Of course this is a fallacy as we quickly find we’re never satisfied. There’ll always be something better, faster, or shinier before you can even spell A-N-D-R-O-I-D.

So, my hope this Christmas is that I seize every opportunity to engage with real people. There’s a hurting world out there and everyone has a story to tell. I want to encourage you to, just like me, push through your comfort, fears or misconceptions and extend the hand of friendship and spread some Christmas cheer.

Dion is a fashion trend caster, husband to Vanessa and dad to Zachary and Olivia. He is a member of the Common Ground Durbanville congregation. 

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Show loveLooking for ideas how you can make a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need this Christmas? For more information on our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign and how you can get involved, click here.

How Do You Celebrate Christmas?

The tinsel and trees are up and carols are ringing through shopping centres. With Christmas just a few weeks away, we asked a few Common Grounders to share what the day means to them and how they celebrate it.  

PeliswaIn New Cross Roads, Cape Town

“Christmas is for family – it’s a family gathering. Some of us live in different places so it’s when we can spend time together. Christmas is when we bond. In my family, we all meet – aunties, cousins – at my mom’s place. Early in the morning we sit around and drink coffee together then we open presents. Each person’s buys a present for one person. Cheap stuff – not expensive things. In my point of view, Christmas is a time for giving. Even if we don’t have a lot, we all eat together and spend time together. It’s a special day.” Pheliswa

423209_751980315312_367089462_nIn Stuttgart, Germany

“We have a big Christmas Eve celebration. We usually go to church at  3pm and then the whole family – about 10 to 15 of us – gathers afterwards. My parents or one of my siblings will decorate the room so that no one sees the Christmas tree before dinner. Germany isn’t very family orientated so we invite people who don’t have anywhere to go for Christmas. The kids get to open one gift and then we read the Christmas story from the Bible. My dad usually says something really meaningful and then we pray and eat together.” Sarah

TerenceIn Grassy Park, Cape Town

“Growing up Christmas was always an exciting time because you’d get the one thing you wanted and we’d hang lights outside the house. I could never sleep the night before. But then Christmas was just about Father Christmas; now I understand that Christmas is the day that Jesus was born and that is the main reason why we should celebrate. I’m more aware of those who don’t have. I always try to give them something if I can afford it so that at least they have something. I do feel a little bit sad at Christmas time because it reminds me of my mom who passed away, but thankfully I have my sister, so she makes up for it.”  Terence

FreddyIn Kinshasa, Congo

“Where I’m from in the Congo, my parents are elders in their extended family so Christmas is a huge event. We normally invite all our uncles, aunts, and cousins. For the elders, they kill a chicken and they have traditional food, but for the kids we have French fries! We spend the whole day together until late. My dad, as the eldest, reads a story about Jesus from the Bible. He encourages those who’ve been through difficult times during the year to remain strong because Jesus came for our salvation. From 10pm to 3am, those who are Christian, have overnight prayer at church. During that prayer meeting, it’s not about preaching – it’s about praising God and dancing. It’s a very joyful event.” Freddie

156098_10151343760646281_797515950_n-001In St Louis, America 

“In America, Christmas is all about family traditions. In my family, we start the morning off by reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke with the sounds of our favourite old school Stephen Curtis Chapman Christmas album wafting through the air (it generally plays five times on repeat).  We then open gifts one at a time starting with the oldest and break halfway through for my mom’s famous egg casserole, homemade cranberry coffee cake and chocolate Lindt balls. The rest of the day is spent with extended family where the dads try to relive their childhood by putting together the little boys’ legos.” Lindsay

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Show loveChristmas isn’t a festive season for everyone. But you can make this year different by showing love to and making a real difference in the lives of those who are vulnerable and in need. For more information on our ‘Show Love This Christmas’ campaign and how you can get involved, click here.

 

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