Thursday, January 21, 2016

Context and Relationships

 “Justice is an active attempt to create the necessary space for everyone and to repair harmony.” From Roads2Bridges by Leon Oosthuizen and Xola Skosana.

Working for justice means addressing the glaring income inequality issues around the globe. Justice is not justice while so many people have nothing. Poverty is not just a lack of material goods like food and clothing. It is about a lack of dignity and opportunity. These were some of the important things we heard in South Africa.

On Monday, January 11, we met with 15 pastors from the Township of Khayalethu, outside of Cape Town. We spent time talking about ministry concerns and about the church today - both in South Africa and in the US.

The population in Khayalethu is officially 1 million, but the reality is more like 2.5 million people in the township. Many live 8-10 in one bedroom homes. It was eye opening to say the least.

We shared who we are, our jobs, and what we love most about God as a way to begin to get to know one another. The answers were similar - just as you might expect.

A sampling of the answers about what we love most about God included: God’s love for all, grace, forgiveness, we are never alone, God meets us in our broken and messy places, bigger than we can possibly know, changed my life, is enough, is a graphic artist, loves me even when I don't love God, takes a side for those who are oppressed, God walks with us always, and is full of surprises.

The love for God and chance to share the faith led to breaking out in praise and prayer several times. It was powerful and profound. Beautiful music. Amazing spirit in that room.

We formed small groups and talked about the differences and similarities between our churches. Our South African brothers and sisters expressed concerns about the high level of frustration of pastors, having no buildings, receiving no stipends or salary, receiving no support from the government or authorities, and multiple communication issues.

We talked about the variety of gifts that pastors have and the ways the church is filling the gaps of the people - food, services, mental health, addiction, and children's ministry are important parts of their ministry. Many are bi-vocational. They wanted to talk about administration problems - it is more holistic than filling out ministry reports and more complicated without resources. This was an interesting conversation to me.

We shared about the struggles many people experience without basic human needs being met. “How do you minister to people who are hungry without feeding them?: asked Pastor Denny. “We feed them physical food and spiritual food.” It is often not enough but we come back each day and start again. They rely on each other’s ministry as well. They refer their members to ministry programs at other churches when possible.

We talked about our passion for ministry. Structure continues to be an issue - most have no buildings. Learning new things and having time for it all is tough. We shared that sometimes being stuck with an aging and decaying building can be crippling for a ministry as well.

Context and relationships. That is so important. And that is what our conversation kept coming back to. Context and relationships.

I was clear that we can't just talk about how tough things are in the midst of ministry in poverty plagued areas. We have to provide resources and training to offer a way out. Hope is great but if there is not something concrete that helps someone move out of poverty and acquire skills to get new jobs then it is pretty empty and false.

Conversations between the 14 of us and the 15 pastors was fascinating in that there were clear similarities. But the level of frustration for our South African ministry partners is not about upkeep of old buildings, but it is about having no resources but the hands and feet of the pastors on the ground.

The ways we face similar issues was astonishing. But I have never been in a church surrounded by razor wire to protect the facility from crime in the area.

The ways we love the Lord and serve by being present with the people is the most important thing I learned in this time together.

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