Category Archives: Marginalised

There has got to be a better way?

“There has got to be a better way for wealthy churches to partner with churches that are in deprived communities. You know a number of years ago I heard an African-American gentleman who is the head of a ministry that is in a deprived community and he was speaking to the leadership of a very white very wealthy church and this African-American leader said to this very wealthy church that was supporting his ministry I need to confess something to you. I’ve been lying to you for the last ten years. Because you folks want to send short-term teams into my church and into my community and I make up stuff for you to do. I’ve had you paint the walls of my office so many times that the paint is starting to chip off and you folks go out into the community and you do all kinds of crazy things that I spend weeks mopping up after you because of the chaos you’ve created and I keep on telling you that I want you to do this stuff because quite frankly I need your financial support.”

Watch the rest of this challenging video clip from Brian Fikkert below.

Brian is the co-author of the book When Helping Hurts. You can download a free e-book version here.

The Silence of Cheap Grace

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“If we communicate only that part of the gospel which corresponds to people’s “felt needs” and “personal problems” (‘Are you lonely? Do you feel that you have failed? Do you need a friend? Then come to Jesus!’), while remaining silent on their relationship to their fellow men, on racism, exploitation and blatant injustice, we do not proclaim the gospel. This is the quintessence of what Bonhoeffer has called ‘cheap grace’. After all, ‘(God) is especially moved to wrath when his own people engage in such practices. It makes them disgusting in His sight, an offence to His nostrils; and in the face of this evil-doing He cannot stand their religious posturing. He cannot bear to hear their prayers; hates their festivals; is weary of their hypocritical sacrificings; views their faithful attendance at His house with loathing, as nothing more than an uncouth trampling of its precincts: “I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly”‘

David Bosch: Witness to the World p206

Photo Credit: joybot via Photopin

A Morning in Prison

I spent the best part of one Wednesday morning trying to get into prison!

A friend had been arrested on drug possession and I had been trying to confirm her whereabouts for weeks.  Arrest and imprisonment are a fairly normal feature of life for her friends and family.  “She’s probably in Pollsmoor” was the rather cursory, not very concerned answer to my inquiry. I still had no definite answer when I arrived at the metal gates of Pollsmoor’s visitors centre.

Finding information about a possible inmate over the phone had also proven impossible. “Oh no, they never answer the phone.”  A lady visiting her husband in maximum security told me as we waited.  After a few vaguely directional pointing gestures I had found myself seated on the hard wooden benches of the visitors waiting area.  Rather than conduct a study of the faded lime green government issue wall paint I managed to strike up some conversations with the (mostly) ladies waiting with me.  Most of them it seemed were there to visit their husbands, brothers or sons on numerous drug related charges.

I could not help but notice the irony when the same lady who told me the prison officials never answer their phone, laughingly told me that after her husband was arrested she did not speak to him for six months.  She refused to take his phone calls or come visit. “Hy het al die neighbours gecall, en vir hulle gevra om met my to praat.  Maar ek will nie.” (He called all the neighbours and asked them to talk to me. But I didn’t want to)

Finally I managed to flag down a willing prison official, who sent me back the way I had come, using the obligatory vague hand gestures and mumbled directions.  The lady at the computer quickly located my friend, gave me a white scrap of paper with something illegible on it and sent me back to the hard wooden benches in the waiting area.  I made further conversation with the ladies waiting there. They knew all too well how the prison system worked.  “This is the kind of thing you don’t want to know about,” the first lady told me.  She reassured me that I should not have to wait too long.  They on the other hand could possibly wait another three or four hours before they got in.

She had come with a friend whose husband and two sons were all imprisoned at Pollsmoor. Another lady told me her husband was caught with 75 Mandrax tablets in his possession. The judge set bail at R50 000.  “Where am I supposed to come up with that kind of money?” she asked me.

The ladies tire of me and begin talking among themselves. “They all become so lovable when they are in jail.” they say, “But as soon as they are outside it is all the same k*k as before.”

“Except when you come visit, they all complain about the food you bring them,” “But I told him Pollsmoor is not a bladdy holiday.” a third lady speak up  “Lyk die soos a restaurant vir jou?” (Does this look like a restaurant to you?)

They were soon moved to another waiting station.

I bought a coke and stared out the window at the Constantiaberg mountains, struck by the contrast between the drab and oppressive environment of the prison and the breath-taking beauty of the Cape mountains.  I imagined the prisoners tortured by the beauty they were forced to endure every day knowing that for them it was off limits.  I knew it was not only the bars of the prison that kept them away.

“Female” an abrasive voice rouses me from my contemplations.  I swung around desperately seeking the disembodied voice that I was no longer convinced I had in fact heard. I frantically scuttled around; worried that after all this time I might miss my turn.  A few minutes later I managed to locate the body to go with the voice.  The voice having failed to secure an instantaneous response had understandably decided to resume her coffee drinking duties. She gave me that look of disdain that only underpaid government officials and Shoprite cashiers can give you, took my scrap of paper and told me to wait.

A few minutes later we were walking along the prison complex roads on our way to the female prison.  Pollsmoor actually consists of four prisons in one complex (Maximum Security, Awaiting Trial, Female and Juvenile prisons).  I was the only visitor for the female prison at this time.  As we walked along another warden joined her colleague. As I listened in I managed to catch up on all the prison gossip. Romance, it would seem, is not dead in khaki uniforms. Overtime pay, however, is slightly less forthcoming.

As we arrived at our destination I was directed with the usual vague hand gesture and the formless instruction “There.”  After waiting “there” for about 20 minutes I was noticed and wordlessly interrogated, with a sharp raised eyebrow gesture, as to my intent at a female prison. I managed to fumble my scrap of paper out of my pocket and stammer out my friend’s name. The warder enthusiastically (ok I made that part up) consulted a rather large printed out list and informed me she was not there.  I tentatively suggested that perhaps the list was incorrect as it contrasted with the computer records.

I assumed the crash position!

Cue another one of those underpaid government worker stares reserved for those who would dare disturb crucial research into the longevity of government issue chairs. I hastily scribbled my friends name on the piece of paper shoved below my nose.  As the warder moved off to eagerly correct the problem (ok I made that bit up too) of my missing friend, I resumed my long running study of the face brick wall.  A few other researchers present were also too deep in study to engage in much conversation.

At this point a large, scary looking white guy arrives.  The first white person I have seen this morning.  He likes to talk and he is here to bail someone out. A 19-year-old girl arrested on drug charges.  Large-scaring-looking-white-guy (LGLWG) finds it necessary to mention that she is a pretty white girl. The police captain who arrested her, it turns out is a friend of LSLWG’s mother and rather than see her sit in jail, the captain has decided to pay her bail on condition she goes to stay with LSLWG and his mom.  I could not help wondering if this had anything to do with her being a “pretty white girl”?

I am somewhat less than surprised to discover that LSLWG has himself spent some time as a guest of the state…. more than once…  “Nothing major” he shrugs, “just some GBH charges.” I decided that today I would be nice.  “The longest time I spent here,” LSLWG opens up, “was about four months, in awaiting trial.  Ja, and when my case finally got to court, it was thrown out the same day, because the oke who laid a charge never even bothered to show up.  Four months, hey boet.” I was very sympathetic to his pain but I decided not to risk a hug.

As it turns out there is a somewhat unusual philanthropic side to LSLWG’s world.  His girlfriend who runs a “massage parlour” has “rescued” a number of girls from Pollsmoor and given them a second chance and a place to stay. “They earn good money,” he admits.   I catch the assumption that earning good money and staying out of jail is the equivalent of a second chance. Perhaps for many it is all the second chance they can imagine.  I wish I could tell these girls that there is so much more that could be imagined than this. “Can’t your girlfriend find a place for this young girl” another lady asks. “I don’t want to get involved,” LSLWG says.

Eventually they have managed to locate my friend and I get in to see her.  We talk through the glass, just like in the movies, except we don’t have those funky old school telephones. Perhaps you only get those in Maximum Security?  She tells me what she thinks I want to hear.  I tell her we love her and care for her.  She cries when we talk about her children.  She promises me she is going to sort her life out this time. I, sadly, have low expectations and big prayers. “It is almost lunchtime,” she says. I get the hint.  I pray with her.  It took me almost three hours to get in for a 15-minute visit.

I have to rush; I am late for lunch with a friend. No phones allowed when you enter the prison. You feel the isolation once you are inside the prison.  Not even a simple phone call to let a friend know you are running late.  I imagined how isolated the man whose wife refused to speak to him felt. Although LSLWG assured me that he gets calls every night from friends on the inside asking him to send them air time or Shoprite vouchers.  “You will be surprised at how much money there is in here,” he told us with that knowing look.

Now I sit staring at the screen waiting for that final flow of words that lets me know my piece has ended. But there is nothing. I have no great lessons, no moral injunctions, no clever analogies.  I simply spent one extra-ordinary morning experiencing the cycle of ordinary life for thousands of families, thousands of wives, mothers, fathers, children and grandfathers across our beautiful, broken city.

And where is the church at large in all of this I wonder?  Busy, Silent, Sorry, Scared, Apathetic…

Stop Spiritualizing the Bible when it comes to Social Justice

Christopher Wright on the evangelical tendency to spiritualize the Bible when it comes social justice and economic exploitation.

“This spiritualizing way of interpreting the Bible, and the missiological implications that go with it, requires us to imagine that century after century, the God of the Bible was passionately concerned about social issues – political arrogance and abuse, economic exploitation, judicial corruption, the suffering of the poor and oppressed, the evils of brutality and bloodshed. So passionate indeed, that the laws he gave and the prophets he sent give more space to these matters than any other issue except idolatry, while the psalmists cry out in protest to the God they know cares deeply about such things. Somewhere, however between Malachi and Matthew, all that changed. Such matters no longer claim God’s attention or spark his anger.”

The Mission of God p280

Hip- Hop Tuesdays: For the City

I don’t know why but Tuesday just feels like the kind of day that you need some hip-hop to get you through.

Here is some more Propaganda with some challenging words on injustice, social inequality, gentrification and the Saviour who moved in.

I’ll fight to the very end

With the South African elections coming up tomorrow we are inundated with talk of this party fighting for this right or that right or this cause or another. Even Christians seem to be primarily concerned with standing up for and defending our rights or protecting our religious freedoms.  At best case Christians will stand up for one or two personal morality issues. As commendable as this is and as necessary as it is for Christian men and women, in all the various parties, to go to parliament and to conduct themselves with honour and integrity; what I really want to know is what we middle-class Christians will be doing to change the context in which many of our great injustices are given born. Or put another way, what will we do in order to fight for the rights of those who are not like us

Let me use the contentious issue of abortion as an example.  It is easy for me as a white middle class male to be anti-abortion (and in principle I am) but far harder for me to be about changing the context in which most abortions in this country occur.  It is easy to point fingers at the people getting abortions as lacking morality, and whilst not discounting the reality of our own sinful hearts, I think the truth is more nuanced than that.

There is a reality that in many communities life is cheap, sex is disposable and your worth is measured by your sexuality.  Rape is an ever-present shadow of possibility.  Sex can be used as a powerful tool to get out of poverty or abusive situations.  Young girls barely able to care for themselves get pregnant.  Get abandoned.  Possibly even ostracised by their family. Alone and desperate they face what seems to them to be the only option open to them.

But what if we as Christians spent less time protesting at abortion clinics or picketing parliament to change the laws but instead went to the source and got our hands dirty changing the context in which the need for most abortions in this country take place.   Abortion is not a problem, it is an inadequate solution to a far bigger problem.  What if we as Christians were more concerned with creating the kinds of communities where abortions were not necessary rather than kicking against what is, in some cases, the inevitable outcome of a broken society.

What if some of us moved into these communities bereft of role models and lived our lives there as signs of hope?  What if we intentionally chose to open our lives to young people, modelling family, worth, integrity and love?  What if we were more concerned with showing young women they had value and honour and did not have to use their sexuality to prove their worth? What if we taught the young men on our street to be men who stand up to their responsibilities?  What if we stood with them, when it was easier to run away?  What if we showed them that real men use their power not to dominate or possess but to love and serve the weak and the vulnerable?

What if we opened our homes to rape victims?  What if we took in young moms or soon to be moms who had nowhere to go except the abortion clinic?  What if we were prepared to adopt these “unwanted children”, to include them in our family, our homes?  To spend our finances and give up our plans so we could love the most vulnerable of society?  What if their problems became our problems?  What if their community became our community?  What if their brokenness became our brokenness?  What do you think Jesus said when he meant we are the light of the world?

Some Christians have a problem with me voting for a party that is pro-abortion and say that I am complicit in that act.  I say no, I would rather vote for a party that promotes dealing with the issues that underline the context out of which most abortions in this country occur.  I choose to fight not for my rights but for the rights and value of those who are forgotten or marginalized.

In the words of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army:  “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in an out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end.”

Light in the Asphalt Jungle

I
I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city that rose up out of the crust of the earth.
And it’s streets were paved with asphalt,
And a river of dirty water ran down along it’s curbs.
It was a city
And its people knew no hope.
They were chased and herded from place to place by the churning jaws of bulldozers.
They were closed up in the anonymous cubicles of great brick prisons called housing projects.
They were forced out of work by the fearsome machines and computers,
And by the sparseness of their learning.
They were torn into many pieces by the hostile angers of racial fears and guilt and prejudice.
Their workers were exploited.
Their children and teenagers had no parks to play in.
No pools to swim in,
No space in crowded rooms to learn in,
No hopes to dream in,
And the people knew no hope.
Their bosses underpaid them.
Their landlords overcharged them.
Their churches deserted them.
And all of life in the city seemed dark and wild, like a jungle,
A jungle lined with asphalt.
And the people sat in darkness

II
I had a dream,
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in neon-lighted darkness.
And I heard people talking.
And I looked at them.
Across their chests in large, golden letters-written by their own hands
Across their chests were written the words:
“I am a Christian.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said;
“How terrible…How terrible…How terrible.”
And the Christians looked at the city and said:
“That is no place to live,
But some of our people have wandered there,
And we must go and rescue them.
And we must go and gather them, like huddled sheep into a fold;
And we will call it a City Church.”
So they built their church.
And the people came,
And they walked past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying men who lined the city’s streets.
Year after year they walked past,
Wearing their signs: “I am a Christian.”
Then one day the people in the church said:
“This neighborhood is too bad for good Christians.
Let us go to the suburbs where God dwells, and build a church there.
And one by one they walked away, past all the weary, broken, exploited, dying people.
They walked fast.
And did not hear a voice that said:
“…the least of these…the least of these…”
And they walked by, and they went out, and they built a church.
The church was high and lifted up, and it even had a cross.
But the church was hollow,
And the people were hollow,
And their hearts were hard as the asphalt streets of the jungle.

III
I had a dream.
And I saw a city,
A city clothed in bright and gaudy darkness.
And I saw more people with signs across their chest.
And they were Christians too.
And I heard them say:
“How terrible…how terrible…how terrible.
The city is filled with sinners:
To save sinners,
To save sinners.
But they are so unlike us,
So bad,
So dark,
So poor,
So strange,
But we are supposed to save them…
To save them,
To save them.”
And one person said:
“Can’t we save them without going where they are?”
And they worked to find a way to save and be safe at the same time.
Meanwhile, I saw them build a church,
And they called it a Mission,
A City Mission:
And all the children came by to see what this was.
And the city missionaries who had been sent to save them gathered them in.
So easy to work with children, they said,
And they are so safe, so safe.
And week after week they saved the children
(Saved them from getting in their parent’s way on Sunday morning).
And in the dream the City Missionaries looked like Pied Pipers, with their long row of children stretched out behind them,
And the parents wondered in Christianity was only for children.
And when the missionaries finally came to see them, and refused to sit in their broken chair, and kept looking at the plaster falling, and used a thousand words that had no meaning, and talked about rescuing them from hell while they were freezing in the apartment, and asked them if they were saved, and walked out into their shiny care, and drove off to their nice, safe neighborhood-
When that happened, the parents knew;
This version of Christianity had no light for their jungle.
Then, soon, the children saw too; it was all a children’s game;
And when they became old enough they got horns of their own,
And blew them high and loud,
And marched off sneering, swearing, into the darkness.

IV
I had a dream,
And I saw the Christians in the dark city,
And I heard them say:
“We need a revival to save these kinds of people.”
And they rented the auditorium,
And they called in the expert revivalist,
And every night all the Christians came, and heard all the old, unintelligible, comfortable words, and sang all the old assuring songs, and went through all the old motions when the call was made.
Meanwhile, on the outside,
All the other people waited impatiently in the darkness for the Christians to come out, and let the basketball game begin.

V
I had a dream.
And I saw Christians with guilty consciences,
And I heard them say:
“What shall we do?
What shall we do?
What shall we do?
These people want to come to OUR church,
To OUR church.”
And someone said:
“Let’s build a church for THEM,
For THEM,
They like to be with each other anyway.”
And they started the church,
And the people walked in.
And for a while, as heads were bowed in prayer, they did not know.
But then, the prayers ended,
And they people looked up, and looked around,
And saw that every face was THEIR face,
THEIR face,
And every color was THEIR color,
THEIR color.
And they stood up, and shouted loudly within themselves:
“Let me out of this ghetto, this pious, guilt-built ghetto.”
And they walked out into the darkness,
And the darkness seemed darker than ever before,
And the good Christians looked, and said,
“These people just don’t appreciate what WE do for THEM.”

VI
And just as the night seemed darkest, I had another dream.
I dreamed that I saw young people walking,
Walking into the heart of the city, into the depths of the darkness.
They had no signs, except their lives.
And they walked into the heart of the darkness and said:
“Let us live here, and work for light.”
They said, “Let us live here and help the rootless find a root for their lives.
Let us live here, and help the nameless find their names.”
They said, “Let us live here and walk with the jobless until they find work.
Let us live here, and sit in the landlord’s office until he gives more heat and charges less rent.”
They said, “Let us live here, and throw open the doors of this deserted church to all the people of every race and class;
Let us work with them to find the reconciliation God has brought.”
And they said, “Let us walk the asphalt streets with the young people, sharing their lives, learning their language, playing their sidewalk, backyard games, knowing the agonies of their isolation.”
And they said, “Let us live here, and minister to as many men as God gives us grace,
Let us live here,
And die here, with out brothers of the jungle,
Sharing their apartments and their plans.”
And the people saw them,
And someone asked who they were,
A few really knew
They had no signs
But someone said he thought they might be Christians,
And this was hard to believe, but the people smiled;
And a little light began to shine in the heart of the asphalt jungle.

VII
Then in my dream I saw young people,
And I saw the young men and women
Those who worked in the city called Chicago,
Cleveland [Johannesburg],
Washington [Bangkok],
Atlanta [Nairobi],
And they were weary,
And the job was more than they could bear alone,
And I saw them turn, turn and look for help,
And I heard them call:
“Come and help us,
Come and share this joyful agony, joyful agony,
Come as brothers in the task,
Come and live and work with us,
Teachers for the crowded schools,
Doctors for the overflowing clinics,
Social workers for the fragmented families,
Nurses for the bulging wards,
Pastors for the yearning flocks,
Workers for the fighting gangs,
Christians.
Christians who will come and live here,
Here in the heart of the darkness,
Who will live here and love here that a light might shine for all.
Come.”
I heard them call,
And I saw the good Christians across the country,
And their answers tore out my heart.
Some said, “There isn’t enough money there.”
Some said, “It’s too bad there. I couldn’t raise children.”
Some said, “I’m going into foreign missions, where things don’t seem so dark.”
Some said, “The suburbs are so nice.”
Some said, “But I like it here on the farm.”
Some said,
Some said…
And one by one they turned their backs and began to walk away.
At this moment my dream was shattered by the sound of a great and mighty whisper, almost a pleading sound;
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am hungry in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am thirsty in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for I am a stranger in this asphalt jungle.”
And a voice said, “Come, help me, for I have been stripped naked, naked of all legal rights and protection of the law, simply because I am black in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, help me, for my heart is sick with hopelessness and fear in the darkness.”
And a voice said:
“Come, live with me in the prison of my segregated community, and we will break down the walls together.”
And the voices were many,
And the voice was one,
And the Christians knew whose Voice it was.
And they turned,
And their faces were etched with the agonies of decisions.
And the dream ended.
But the voice remains,
And the choice remain,
And the city still yearns for light.
And the King who lives with the least of his brothers and sisters in the asphalt jungle…
Yearns for us

Vincent Harding

 HT to Nigel for posting this first.