Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the tag “poverty”

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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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.

Hope In An Age Of Hunger

Are we conforming to a culture of comfort at the expense of those in need in our City? Roger Wood shares what he’s personally grappling with post-Live Under The Line.
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“So what happens now? Another suitcase in another hall…” These are the lyrics from the chorus of the song sung by Eva, in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, “Don’t cry for me Argentina”.  These words sprang into my mind, as we came to the end of another attempt at Living Under The Line.

At our first attempt three years ago, my wife and I just about managed to keep to the R60 budget but the second year we failed!  This year I’m afraid we modified our target restricting ourselves to a modest breakfast and evening meal only and reflecting on how others cope when they have to manage on this amount daily.  But is it really about surviving the three day target?  If we are thinking this way we’re missing the point.

Prior to Living Under The Line, I had been helping a local NGO evaluate bursary application forms.  One of the requirements was that the applicants must be from a rural area and one of the points to consider was financial need.  Many of the applicants stated that they were living with Grandmother, as their parents had died. In addition there were often a couple of aunts and uncles living in the house as well as the additional siblings.

Grandmother was able to get a state pension of R1260 and child support subsidy for two children. That amounts to a total income of R1860.  If you do the maths, that works out to R10 per person per day.  These stories brought home to me the reality faced daily by so many in our country.

At the same time I had been re-reading the book, “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger”, written by Ron Sider back in 1978. For me, the challenge of Living Under The Line was more of an opportunity to examine our own lifestyle.  I began to recognise that my wife and I have adopted a lifestyle similar to those in our community. We spend our money on: our home, food, clothes, possessions, entertainment, cars and holidays.

We have a greater affinity with the affluent rather than with the downtrodden and the oppressed. We have accepted a middle-class culture and have ignored Jesus’ radical teaching with regards to money and possessions. We have not even chosen to live simply, so that others may simply live.

People with money can always buy food. Hunger affects only the poor and as they usually live a long way from where we live, we are not always aware of their need.  What a tragic picture! Affluent Christian communities amassing wealth while millions of people hover on the edge of starvation.

Ron Sider sums up the first chapter of his book with these words:

“But if the Christ of the Scripture is our Lord, then we will refuse to be squeezed into the mould of our affluent, sinful culture.  In an Age of Hunger, Christians of necessity must be radical nonconformists.  But nonconformity is painful.  Only if we are thoroughly grounded in the scriptural view of possessions, wealth and poverty will we be capable of living an obedient lifestyle.”

What do you think?

-Roger Wood is a retired educator presently working as a volunteer with Common Good.  He and his wife, Jane, are members of the Common Ground Constantiaberg AM congregation.

P.S. Did you know yesterday was World Food Day? Here are some other interesting reads: “Beyond The Hunger Pangs” and “13 Million Reasons To Do Social Justice”

Beyond The Hunger Pangs

During the Live Under The Line challenge, the Common Ground Church base was buzzing with conversation as staff members traded recipes and shared their experiences. But what about a month later? Here are some post-LUTL staff reflections…

I’m trying to be more generous

156098_10151343760646281_797515950_n-001“After doing LUTL, I’m more aware of how I spend money on a daily basis. It’s incredible how all the little things we buy here and there add up and are often unnecessary luxuries—luxuries that most living in poverty cannot afford to have. I’ve tried to cut back on unnecessary spending and also limit my electricity usage to have more on hand for blessing others. During LUTL, I became quite grumpy and moody when I didn’t have enough to eat for the day. Now when I see someone begging who is quite aggressive or desperate, I understands that it might be just because they haven’t had enough to eat. It’s given me a greater heart of compassion and grace for people living in challenging situations.” – Lindsay Sherring, Common Good fundraising coordinator

I’m thinking, what else?

73017_457583527711_6000657_n-001“This year was my second time doing LUTL, and whilst the first time was about initial exposure and counting the rands and cents, this time was more about the unbelievable reality that 13 million South Africans live on R10 a day for ALL things. It made me realise how easy it is for me to pay R40 or R50 for a simple lunch – when that represents the entire amount one person living below the breadline has to live on for five days. The hard part is the next step. Contracting budgets is one response – but what else? It will be different for everyone, but there must be some kind of response.  But guilt cannot be the driving factor, otherwise our motives will be misplaced. It must start with seeing others the way God does – made in His image, and therefore deserving of dignity.” – Tim Hoffman, Common Good mobilise and equip programme manager

I have more compassion

901939_611366308891932_516021097_o-001“Around the office we chatted that it was almost impossible to live on R10 a day and remain healthy, both mentally and physically. I’m far more aware of people who are living on the street and I have more compassion for them and their situation. Now I take the time to talk to them, to be friendly and engage them in a conversation, rather than just giving them a nod or smile or ignoring them completely. I have tremendous respect for those who struggle on a daily basis to cope with life without adequate resources. I am truly blessed to have what I have and be in the situation I am, but I am also aware that anyone can end up in a desperate situation and that it is often not of their own making but because of life circumstances beyond their control.” – Moira Richards, Common Ground Church hospitality and redemption group coordinator

What about you? Has the Live Under The Line challenge impacted you in anyway?

P.S. Other great post-LUTL reads: “13 Million Reasons To Do Social Justice” and “Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow”

Have you heard of lutling?

Probably not, but if you’re intrigued, read on. Christine Martin van Wyk explains her experience of ‘lutling’ and why she and her husband are going to do it again.

Christine and her husband Simon took part in the three-day Live Under The Line challenge

Christine and her husband Simon took part in the three-day Live Under The Line challenge

lutl·ing [lah-ti-ling]

verb 1. the act of a person or thing that eats food to the value of ZAR10 or less per day with the express purpose of identifying with the 13 million people in South Africa who live below the poverty line. Usage: “Would you like a granola bar?” “A granola bar is R7.50 and I’m lutling. That’s three quarters of my daily allowance.’’

Did you ‘lutl’ last week?

Congratulations are not necessarily in order, for the simple reason that living under the line for three days is not really a triumph. I spent a large proportion of my three days dreaming about my meal at midnight on Wednesday. My hunger pangs mingled with the uncomfortable reality that the 13 million people who live under the line every day of the year, and who I was trying to empathize with, didn’t have that meal to look forward to.

A self-confessed foodie, I am far from bashful in declaring that food brings me a lot of joy. I love everything about it. I love buying food, I love baking wedding cakes. I love putting a meal down on the table and I especially love watching people bond over food. I spend the better part of Sunday planning a weekly menu for my husband and I. Ask my friends, ask my family. Ask my Weigh-less coach. I love food.

To give you a good idea of our Live Under The Line (LUTL) experience, I’m going to be interspersing this post with Tweets  from by husband’s Twitter account during the challenge. Here’s the first one:

“Tonight I ate an ungodly amount of pasta to try make up for the next 3 days. It’s all the fun of carbo loading but without the race. #lutl” ‏@simonstreep

The usual preparation went into lutling this year (third year running): the tears, the denial, the bargaining. The soya mince. And yet God had new things for me to learn.

Small things:

Packets are an unnecessary expense. As my husband and I clocked in an early shop at Checkers, with calculator in hand, we forgot to factor in the price of a plastic shopping bag, never mind the eco-friendly brown paper ones I usually use. We carried our instant noodles, tomatoes and bread in our arms. That was a first.

“Wife and I heading to Checkers for our #lutl shopping. Holding thumbs for some unrealistic specials. Whole chicken for R2.99? Can only hope.” ‏@simonstreep

When you have little, it means a lot. As we packed our boot with the groceries, I worried about the eggs. I mean, I usually give them a second thought, but never before have I actually been concerned for their well-being. But when those six medium non-free range eggs represent three breakfasts for two people, I worried.

Carelessness is a luxury. I cooked some butternut soup in advance and I left it out over night, because the pot was hot. It wasn’t ready for the fridge, and I often do this. But this time of all times, the milk I added (for the creaminess that is normally provided by my unaffordable yogurt) must have soured. My final LUTL dinner was a slice of bread with margarine and some sweet potatoes that a friend spared for me.

“Wife just phoned to say our butternut soup has fermented. But I had already finished a bowl. #fail #supper #lutl” ‏@simonstreep

My husband really does need me. That is all.

“I might need lessons in frying eggs again… #eggfail #breakfast #lutl” ‏@simonstreep

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“I spoke too soon. Tomorrow, my wife shall be on frying duty… #breakfast #fail #lutl” @simonstreep

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“My wife fried my egg this morning, hence why it actually ended up resembling an egg. #breakfast #win #lutl” ‏@simonstreep

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Big things:

Assuming others needs is dangerous. On Mondays, our church meets to pray. In light of LUTL, we had a few representatives from some of our Common Good partner organisations share with us the ways we could partner with them in prayer. I was struck by the common thread in their requests. They need people. They asked us to pray for people – for more volunteers to join their ranks and for existing volunteers who are working under challenging circumstances. An example, they asked us to pray for the teachers at a school where funding for a feeding programme has been lost. These teachers now have to choose seven children from their class of 45 who will receive a meal.

This really struck me.

My assumption has always been that organisations are under-funded, and while they certainly are, the request was for people to join their ranks. People are needed, our TIME is needed.

Moreover, giving financially to these organisations doesn’t exempt us from giving our time to them. Nor does giving our time let us off the hook of giving of our finances to organisations that are in need.

Being in need makes us vulnerable. Vulnerable to cold weather. Vulnerable to sin. It’s easy to be ungracious, impatient and downright grumpy when we’re hungry, when we’ve shared our slice of bread with a ‘starving’ spouse. It doesn’t excuse us for rudeness, or excuse genuine malice, but it explains and contextualizes the genuine struggle that a quarter of our country experiences.

When we see faces that look genuinely surly or disgruntled, we can be aware that it may be rooted in genuine vulnerability. Not hunger. Not a headache that cannot be medicated. Vulnerability. And our grace goes a long way for these faces and people.

God gives us more (grace). James 4:6. We are not above new lessons from our Heavenly Father. Having lived under the line twice before, I wondered what I would have to write about. Now I’m struggling to keep quiet. Just as a piece of scripture on different days will speak to us in varied ways, the same experience can yield brand new fruit. Fresh grace and tears for those who experience this struggle everyday of every month.

I’ll be lutling next year. Prepare yourself in advance, @simonstreep.

– Christine is the coordinator for the Common Ground Rondebosch AM congregation and embarked on the LUTL challenge with her husband, musician and writer, Simon van Wyk, who provided a running commentary of the LUTL challenge via his Twitter account.

So how did you find lutling this year?

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