Living Social Justice

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

Archive for the tag “Refugee”

Designed For Diversity

Andre Ntambwe shares how God placed him in a strange land surrounded by people from a different culture for a far greater purpose than he could have imagined.

In 2002, after I had moved from the DRC to Zambia, I received a prophesy from a man while praying on a rural mountain. He told me that God was going to take me out of the country and put me among people of another colour, and that I should never damage those relationships as they would ultimately be used for His glory.

At the time I didn’t fully understand what this prophesy meant, but now being a part of the leadership team of Common Ground Church Wynberg, a multi-cultural congregation in Cape Town, I can see the fulfilment of this prophesy as God uses me to minister to people of different nationalities and cultures every day. When I meet someone I don’t see their colour, or their culture, or their background. I see a fellow person created in God’s image. This is one thing we all have in common.

My own story reflects just how powerfully God can use friendships with people of a different colour and culture to impact and shape us. One of the friendships that had the deepest impact on me was when I met Steve and Sarah Binos. At the time, I  was really struggling to settle down in Cape Town and find a job that could cover my rent and food.They invited me to their home for lunch and we continued to stay in touch. I remember being struck by how interested they were in my life. I felt I could really share my story with them. Their hospitality and warmth meant more to me than they could ever have known.

It was also Steve and Sarah who first introduced me to the church that is now my spiritual home and community, which was then called Friends First and is now Common Ground Church. I wasn’t familiar with the area and I was surrounded by people who weren’t from my culture but as I walked through the building’s doors for the first time I felt God say, “You are finally where I want you to be.”

But it wasn’t always easy. At first I battled with some of the cultural differences. For example, I remember frequently being asked what I did for a living. This seemed like such an odd question to me as it wasn’t one we ever asked in my culture. I never really knew how to respond. I also felt sometimes that people would talk to me as though I knew nothing, or would make assumptions about the country I was from which I found offensive.

My wife also struggled to understand jokes which didn’t make sense to her. She would get offended by a comment someone would make about her clothes and I would have to explain to her that they were just joking.

What I realised is that it takes time. I joined a small group and became very good friends with a couple, Mickey and Jo Beley. By spending so much time together, I had the freedom to ask them questions or challenge them when I was unhappy about something. We could be completely honest with each other. This helped bridge any misunderstandings caused by our different backgrounds or upbringings.

Now I get so excited when I see the increased diversity in our congregation as I truly believe we can all help each other understand the scriptures better. There is no reason I can’t connect with someone from another culture, because we can all lay claim to a unified culture centred around Christ and not on our own upbringing. After all, Christ didn’t let culture or social status prevent him from befriending and loving people from all walks of life, and neither should we. God didn’t create such diversity for nothing. It’s shaping us on all sides.

Pic-30 – Andre is the founder of NETwork, a non-profit organisation which helps train and connect job-seekers to employment opportunities. He also serves on the leadership team of Common Ground Church Wynberg. He is married to Sabrina and has two young sons.

For a full account of Andre’s story, click here.

P.S. For more on this topic, read How I came to marry my ‘umlungu’ and Love across the colour line

World Refugee Day: Why Should We Care?

Photo Credit: ChadCooperPhotos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: ChadCooperPhotos via Compfight cc

Every year on June 20th, millions around the world celebrate World Refugee Day. Let’s take a moment to consider what this day really means. By Sam Rawson

It seems that every day is an international day for something or other, but when I saw that today was World Refugee Day I just couldn’t carry on with my regular work. If I’m honest, usually when I see that it’s “World Water Day” or “World Health Day” I take all of three seconds to think about it before moving on to the next thing. The reason is that it’s often hard to comprehend the magnitude of what some of these days are calling our attention to. The world water or food crises are difficult to wrap your mind around when you’re not seeing the effects of it in your daily life. So what made today so different?

Well, for starters, I could put names and faces to this “international UN-observed event”. It made me remember the men and women I’ve met over the years whose stories of fleeing war-torn countries have left me feeling shocked and deeply moved.

The courage of the friend who shared how he’d hitchhiked as a teenager on trucks all the way from the DRC only to have all his money stolen from him by a taxi driver in Joburg. The heartbreaking story of a mother who having grown up in a refugee camp was now unable to provide for her children in SA as she waited months for paperwork from the Department of Home Affairs.

These stories and the thousand others like them make me realise that this is a day celebrating many of the people we live and work with. The woman in front of you in the bank queue, for example, or the man who makes your morning cappuccino. We are surrounded by stories of extraordinary courage and bravery.

The statistics tell us that there are over 45 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world, and that in South Africa alone there are over 295 000 refugees and asylum seekers (UNHCR). These numbers can seem overwhelming but behind them are the stories of women, men and children forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.

So in honour of World Refugee Day today, let’s take the time to hear some of these stories and let our hearts be moved by compassion to reach out in love to those who’ve had to leave their homes and families due to violence and war.

Here are two stories that have really moved us:

No Place Like Home – Mary’s Story

What Is It Really Like To Be A Foreigner In SA? – Billy’s Story

If you’d like to get involved in helping foreign nationals and refugees in SA, visit NETwork or the Scalabrini Centre.

No Place Like Home – Mary’s Story

When Di Forrester first met Mary, a refugee from Burundi, she heard a heartbreaking story of pain and loss that to the eyes of the world appeared hopeless. But despite her circumstances, Mary never gave up hope in Christ. Here, Di shares her remarkable story.

I met Mary* during the xenophobic attacks in May 2008 at Chrysalis Academy where the organization I worked for, Westlake United Church Trust, had set up an unofficial refugee camp with the help of other churches, including Common Ground Church. Mary was one of the many foreigners who had fled to the US Consulate in Tokai seeking refuge during the attacks.

The police brought her and about 60 others to Chrysalis but unfortunately there was no more accommodation available. We finally managed to find a safe house for her and her two children belonging to St Martin’s church in Bergvliet.

When members of St Martin’s church chatted to Mary they realized the full horror of her story. She told them how her husband had left to attend a funeral in Joburg a few days before the xenophobic violence had broken out. While in Joburg, his cellphone and money had been stolen and he had been unable to return to Cape Town in the midst of the xenophobic chaos.

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