Tag Archives: East City

East City Images: Mr Jassien’s Car

Most Fridays I will be inviting you to “see” my world, the East City. To enjoy with me a snapshot of a moment in time which collectively I hope will reflect both the beauty and the brokenness of my community

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This is Mr Jassien’s car, made in 1954.  For 37 years of its long life Mr Jassien has been it’s proud owner. He gets offers for it all the time, he told me, but he is not interested in selling her.

Corner Shop Christianity

In my community there is a corner shop on… well every corner.  If not quite every corner at least at the top or bottom of most streets there is a corner shop.  They stay open late.  They know your name.  You know where to get your bread, milk, cigarettes or 2 litre coke.  For some of them they have been in the area for generations, like the famous Mr Parkers on Roodebloem Road.  For us, though, Mrs Cassiem’s house shop is our local.  She knows my boys and they will run from our door all the way to her house before I have even gotten half way there.  We normally chat about the weather, her plans to extend her shop, how big the boys are getting and lately she has even given us some good health care advice.

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I cannot help but wonder if the church was more like a corner shop than the large franchise store in the main street.  What if on every street there was a place where people knew Jesus followers lived?  A place where they could find rest, help or prayer.  A place where people laughed, cried, ate together and shared life.  A place where kids were welcome.  A place where people knew they were loved.  A place where people knew they could go when they were desperate, when they had blown it or when they needed help.  What if throughout the east city area there existed scattered communities of light and of life and of hope?  What if on every street a home like this existed?  What if more of us intentionally chose to be move in and to share our lives in order to be these kind of people?

East City Beauty

I love to walk around my neighbourhood.  There is so much beauty in the people, the colour. the buildings, the life. And the glimpses of hope that spring up from between all the grime, the brokenness and the hurt remind me of what God is doing in this world.  In the midst of all the brokenness and pain, God is busy with his work of restoration, hope and reconciliation.  Sometimes you have to look really hard too see it but there in the middle of all the death is the tiny hint of green.  I love to walk as much as I can because it slows me down long enough to see what can only be seen at a slower pace.  Beauty it seems revels in the unhurried pace of the walker.

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A beautiful piece from the master Freddy Sam

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London based street artist David Shillinglaw (aka Dodie Boy) did this piece in Woodstock

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What makes this even more amazing is that it done on a stippled wall!

Telling the story of the King with the local voices of the street

I am increasingly aware that many people in our area are non-literate people.  Not illiterate, but non-literate.  They can read, but they do not read.  They primarily get their information and ideas from non-literate sources.  Music is one of these key non-literate sources.  Music and literature are two totally different types of source materials.  As a result the way they are taken up and inform the cultural stories told in our neighbourhoods are vastly different.

While never replacing the Bible as a source document I think we need to recover some of these other forms of communication so that people might hear the gospel in their own language and cultural form.  Just as Bible translation (hearing the Bible in their own language) is a key component of mission work everywhere, so perhaps we need to reconsider supplementary modes of communicating that truth.   Hearing the gospel in their own cultural forms of communication.  Cultures throughout history have shaped their culture and understanding of the world through story-telling, music, artwork and drama.  As evangelicals we have often been too shy to seriously and robustly engage in other, non-literate, modes of communication lest we downplay the centrality and significance of the Scriptures. We must resist the temptation to reduce this to an either-or shoot out between faithfulness to Scripture and appropriating new cultural forms.  The reality I suspect is a far more dynamic and integrated process.

One surprising mode of alternative communication that is gaining ground in reformed circles is hip-hop and spoken word.  As a young man this was (and I still is in many ways) my meat and drink.  I resonated deeply with the rhythms, the lyrics, the substance and the edginess of hip-hop and more particularly of late spoken word.

“In the early 1970s a musical genre was born in the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of the South Bronx. Gifted teenagers with plenty of imagination but little cash began to forge a new style from spare parts. Hip-hop, as it was then known, was a product of pure streetwise ingenuity; extracting rhythms and melodies from existing records and mixing them up with searing poetry chronicling life in the ‘hood.” (Kurtis Blow: The History of Rap)

Hip-hop became the  voice of a generation that refused to be silenced by urban poverty, injustice or lack of access to the resources of the music industry.  Instead it became the voice of the streets.  Young black men and women who had no voice for their social and political concerns in a society still ravaged by racism and injustice, created their own voice.

Hip-hop became the voice of the disenfranchised streets.  Using complex wordplay and socio-political commentary it spoke to the fears, the anger and the world of the marginalised youth.  It gave young people a voice, a sound that belonged to them and began a movement that spoke to their harsh, edgy and yet hopeful, world.  While most of the history of rap and hip-hop will reference the DJ’s, the clubs and the records produced, perhaps the true impact was in the thousands of crews that grew up all over neighbourhoods of New York (and then spreading to other cities and countries), finding their voice and forging local communities gathered to celebrate the sharing of their stories through their unique mode of communication.  A mode of communication that  embodied their language, their joy, their pain… their story.

While the world has moved on… dramatically so.  The internet for one has dramatically changed how we receive, tell and hear the stories of our world.  But for all the good of globalisation I wonder if we have lost something significant when we lose our local stories and our local story-tellers.  Hip-hop as a vehicle for our stories and our hopes and our frustrations has not died in my neighbourhood, despite what the superstars have done to it. But too often we no longer tell our local stories, we no longer have our local MC’s, our local crews or B-boys that tell our stories.  Its far too easy to plug in your iPod and download other stories, slick, well-produced and mostly insipid stories.  But what if we dreamed of our local stories again?  What if we dreamed of finding ways to tell our local stories  again?  What if we rediscovered these modes of telling our stories and infused them not only with our small stories but the greater bigger and altogether more glorious gospel story?

What if among other cultural forms hip-hop and spoken word could become a powerful tool to reclaim place as a powerful component of our stories?  And what if we recovered place as a powerful component of telling the gospel story?  Not merely the gospel as some esoteric disembodied set of principles but as the true gospel, the good news for these people in this place.  The God of all the earth wishes to bring good news to this people in this place through his “new-life people” as they tell his story through all available means, making sense of the one true and great story, by translating it into the language and communication modes of this people in this place.

I know it is not local but I love the work these guys are doing in using appropriate cultural modes in order to retell God’s story.  Perhaps this can inspire some of us to dream about what it could look like to tell our story of His Story here in the East City…

Will you take a risk?

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We are in somewhat tricky stage of ministry.  While we find that God increasingly is giving us more to do, in terms of people and discipleship and ways to better connect with our community.  In a strange twist of God’s sovereign sense of irony we are have the most forward movement in ministry than at any time over the last few years… and yet we have the most backward movement financially.

Over the last year we have steadily lost a number of our supporters, through changing life circumstances as well as the rising cost of living.  Currently we are at about 65% support from donations.  Our baking business The Cake Faerie takes us up to about 77% of what we need.  However, it does take a lot of time and energy.  Next year we are aware that we will lose another major financial supporter, which will take our base support to around 52% support

While we continue to explore different ways to finance our work.  Including getting a “regular” job of some sort we are also somewhat hesitant to do that.  Because as with all choices there is always a trade-off, and in this case it limits the time that we have to invest in people and discipleship, just at a time when we feel like God is opening doors… All a bit confusing really.  First prize for us is still that we can get a substantial or all of our support from those who resonate with it is that we are trying to do.

But we are not naive enough to think that this does not involve a risk on your behalf?

The gospel calls us to adventure, risk and innovation in taking the unchanging, beautiful and true gospel to the whole world. What would it look like to take the gospel to those not being reached? To the dark, broken and forgotten places of our cities? There are no simple strategies or answers to those questions, but there is a call to risk, to pioneer, to venture beyond where we are comfortable and what we currently know.

In many ways this is something that we figure out and learn on the road. We adjust, change course and risk failure, but in the midst of all that we can take heart that God is at work. And we pray that his glorious gospel will shine in all its beauty and splendour in the dark and forgotten places of our cities.

We invite you to join with us in this gospel risk, by considering financially partnering with us. We realise that we are asking you to take a risk on us, on something that is hard to define, messy, not clearly mapped out and open to failure. But is this not the life of risk that God calls us to? We do not fear failure, only the failure that comes from the unwillingness to risk and try new things for the sake of the gospel.

Would you or your church community consider committing to taking a one, two or three-year “risk” on this gospel endeavour? Or perhaps you might consider a once off gift if you feel you cannot commit to monthly giving. We would love to meet with you, speak to your community, pray together, dream together and talk over how we may partner together for the fame and glory of the Lord Jesus.

If this is you… contact details here

Photo Credit: Derek Gavey via Photo Pin

A Picture of Good News

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Last week we threw a birthday party for our friend J, who has never had a birthday party or even a birthday cake. Friends who are a part of our wider Four Three One community drove through from the other side of Cape Town. We ate together, gave presents, prayed for her, took a bunch of photos, ate cake, laughed and, of course, sang happy birthday. J and her family are a real part of our community even though she is not sure she want to “be converted” as she says. We talk about Jesus a lot with her but on that night we just wanted her to see that the gospel is good news. We wanted to show her that our God is a good king and to follow him is taste life, hope and joy now in part and one day in full.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part six

So now you know how we got here.  Confused, yes me too. I am not sure really where here is either, except we are not there anymore.

One last thought, if you are part of a church, which you love, then you probably will not understand the need for what we are doing.  You could not imagine that anyone would not be loved and feel welcome at your church.  Without breaking down something that is obviously good in your life, trust me on this… they will not love it, they might hate it, they might be offended, they most probably will just not care! Your exegesis may leave them cold, your worship may freak them out, your liturgy may confuse them and the fact that you smile a lot, only sing happy songs, don’t swear and all seem ok, will probably confirm what they already knew when they walked in… they don’t belong!

Having to nip out the back for a sneaky smoke will confirm it.

They have problems, questions, doubts and bills to pay.  We have seen too much and felt too little.  They hear everything and yet often know nothing.  How might they possibly justify their existence when they’re broke and stuck in a dead-end job?  Or perhaps we are living their dream but don’t know how to pay the rent or perhaps they are unemployed (unemployable?), homeless, cold and hungry.  You probably don’t know what it like to live just for today or what it’s like to go to bed hungry?  You have forgotten what it is like to be all alone in a crowded room?  We long for the simplicity of good friends, a place to belong, a place to kick your shoes off, put your feet up, a place of honesty, a place to breathe…

As the community of God’s people we are set free to once again discover what it is to be truly human.  And it is this life of the Trinity, this life of Creation that we are busy discovering.  It is into this life together that we invite others to come and join with us, journey with.  It is a life of peace, of joy, of hope and of rest!

Vincent Donovan once said about mission work, “… do not try to call them back to where they were, and do not try to call them to where you are, as beautiful as that place might seem to you.  You must have the courage to go with them to a place that neither you nor they have ever been before.”

You may also like to read part one, part two, part three, part four and part five of these ramblings.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part four

Don’t forget we where still homeless, we were not a part of a church network or a denomination… not even a book club really! So what were we to do? The guys we loved theologically were a bit hesitant about what we were up to… really no Sunday service (although I did hear someone refer to The Story as a Sunday service… epic fail!), no preaching (more correctly no monologue but shall we save that for another day?). Basically it felt like we love you and you have good intentions but you are going too far… Why are you trying to do church differently. After all it has been working fine all these years. Look at all the people just like me that have been saved.

The guys who do get what we were trying to do, are the guys who are a bit trickier theologically, very broad, a bit slippery on some key questions and just a little bit fruity (love you guys!). Mostly they longed for church to be different not for the sake of mission but for the sake of their (and their tribes) preferences or desire to see more social action, more authentic worship (by this they normally mean singing), better community or less autocratic authority.

Honestly I can relate to a lot of this – sometimes the happy Hillsong crowd drives me balmy. And if I hear one more vision about the new building I might just vomit. But yet all of this is pretty much just about me. What would me and my friends prefer? What are my pet peeves, well let’s create a new community that does worship/social justice/ teaching / community better?

What we are trying to do is to not make church all about us. I could quite happily (so I think) be plugged back into the matrix and just become a “church guy” again. Lock me in my study with my books, preach some moderately interesting sermons, be a part of a loving community (except when it’s not), send my kids to Sunday school and enjoy being a part of a bigger group of men and women who are working to keep churches running faithfully and hopefully see a couple of people come to Christ. Sounds quite nice actually… But I feel like I took the red pill and now I know too much to ever go back

Our community must be shaped by mission. It is not our preferences or ways of doing things that are considered firstly, but those who we are trying to reach. Our community life and community rhythms must be shaped around the life and rhythms of those we are trying to connect with. It may be that Sunday morning is a terrible time to connect with your community? So why then do we persist on Sunday as the only day that the church can meet…

What if Monday night was the best time to get together as a community… would you really give up Survivor? What if the time that you could best connect with the people you are trying to reach is not a convenient time for you… would you do it anyway? If the answer is no, then who is your church community really for anyway? You and your tribe? Or those who are lost, broken and without hope in the world? Seems like Jesus told a few stories about those who were lost… But then he did get nailed for it, so probably not the best plan right?

You may also want to read part one, part two and part three of these ramblings.

It seems like a lifetime ago… part three

We soon realised that as God began bringing people to us, (Honestly I am not even sure where they all came from?) The Story was not going to be enough for us as a community here in the East City, if we were going to grow in the gospel and be a community on mission together.

Discipleship is always in the simple, ordinary bits of life together – a once a week story was never going to cut it. We needed to consciously reshape ourselves from a group of people who gathered for a once off event on a Sunday to becoming a gospel community. A group of people who have committed to sharing their lives together, and being on mission together in this place.

Discipleship is also always contextual, so we needed something that our friends who drive through from the Northern Suburbs were not a part of. We love them and they have been an incredible blessing to us. But they are not here- their struggles may not be our struggles… their questions may not be our questions… their community is not our community. To follow Jesus is not to impose a cookie-cutter church model wherever we go. Rather it is to wrestle together, as together we ask “what would it look like to follow Jesus here, in this place and among this people?”

To help us start thinking through how we do that we started to meet together on a Thursday evening. Studying Scripture, sharing our stories, dreaming and planning for mission, eating together, praying together and sharing communion. My favourite parts are always when those who by their own self-designation are not Christ-follower yet ask us to pray for their friends who they have invited. It has not been mainstream, it has not been ordinary but someone said to me last night while we watched the dishes… “I cannot shake the feeling that God is doing some amazing here!” And I thought it was only the idealistic dreamer that thought that!

You may also want to read part one and part two of these ramblings.