On a flight back to Africa I realized how un-holistic I’m living. It’s so easy to profess God and keep Him cordoned in the intellectual realm of my being. I read “The Awake Project” a book tackling the issue of Aids in Africa head-on. Somewhere between Frankfurt and Johannesburg the Spirit stirred within me, awakening me to the realization of my privileged situation and therefore also responsibility. It dawned on me that I never connected the dots between my “being blessed in Christ” with the poor and destitute in Africa and specifically; South Africa.
God used different prophets to speak to me; one of them was Tony Campolo:
“The Christ of Scripture refuses to be an abstraction in the sky. Instead, he chooses to be incarnated in the last, the least, and the lost of this world. I contend that he is especially present in those who suffer from AIDS. Sacramentally, the resurrected Jesus waits to be loved in each of them. Mother Teresa once said, “Whenever I look into the eyes of someone dying of AIDS, I have an eerie awareness that Jesus is staring back at me.” Indeed, that is the case. No one can say that he or she loves Jesus without embracing Jesus in those who have this torturous disease.” The Awake project, Introduction page xix.
I’ve been a Christian and church leader for many years and somehow the social responsibility of our Christian story never broke through the confines of my own defined boundaries.
Boundaries that included middle to rich white suburban people and pretty much excluded everyone else outside of my comfortable blind spot. I cried. And then I wrote a poem:
Statistics have the subtle power of seduction,
Infamous for reducing to the impersonal –
A precious child of God turned into a dollar amount,
A hungry soul reduced to an attendance figure in Excel!
I’ve lived that way far too long!
Raving and bragging about comparative statistics –
No reverence for the individual stories,
Lusting for bigger and more
Over time only …….
I want to live incarnate,
exchanging numbers for names,
Investing in the particulars not the abstract!
So you like statistics?
Here’s one that should break your heart :
Today 5000 Africans died of Aids –
If this tragedy leaves you unfazed then you are
repent…. if you have time.
When we started the Kleipot journey we decided that our being must enrich the community around us. We covenanted together and said that if our community can’t say that it’s a better place because of our being there, then we should consider shutting things down.
Our story is a continuation of the great blessing and responsibility entrusted to Abraham:
“I will bless you and make your name famous, and you will be a blessing to many others.” Genesis 12.
A popular worship song has us singing with gusto “Open the eyes of my heart Lord.” When we sing this song, we are asking God to give us His eyes for the down and out; those thrown away by our society – the people in and around our rich and privileged neighborhoods. May God open our eyes!
During the season of Epiphany we studied Jesus’ poignant words in Luke 6, words that challenges those who think they’re ‘in’ with the possibility that they may be ‘out’ and vice versa. We embarked on a journey to live in obedience to the opening of our eyes, what follows is an outline of the journey we’re undertaking:
The Christian journey consists of an inward and outward journey; a journey towards Christ and then a journey with Christ to others. For us to live in the rhythms of these two journeys we have to allow God’s grace and goodness to permeate every area of our lives, if we don’t synchronize the two journeys we move into dangerous ground.
We used Isaiah 58 as a basic text for the journey towards the opening of our eyes. Isaiah 58:11-12 is what I’ll call my commissioning verses, for the last twelve years I’ve written them down in the front of my journals:
The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
The verses paint a powerful picture of hope and expectation, a picture of adventure and new things, but these two verses find themselves in a larger context. Those two verses on their own claim the blessing and conveniently leave out the responsibility. In Isaiah 58 God challenges Israel because they claimed to live the inward journey. He shows them the folly of their actions and directs their attention to their negligence of the outward journey. Here’s a list of the people and groups they neglected, the very people God wanted to “open their eyes toward”.
(List compiled from the Message translation)
Break the chains of injustice
Get rid of the exploitation in the workplace
Free the oppressed
Sharing your food with the hungry
Inviting the homeless poor into your home
Putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad
Being available to your own families
Get rid of unfair practices
Quit blaming victims
Quit gossiping about other people’s sins
Be generous with the hungry
Give to the down-and-out
Now this list should not serve as a legalistic checklist or to-do list. But this list must inform our imagination and open the eyes of our heart to our own situation and rhythms. The list cannot be ignored and must be applied to our Monday to Sunday lives; it must intersect with the particularities of our lives as individuals and a community.
Our involvement can be shown as different circles of involvement. Even though this is a very static and limited representation – it can give us some pointers for the journey. The journey will involve our “personal” selves and is thus the starting point of our journey. Our first responsibility is to live with our families, friends and neighbors. It’s here where Paul challenges Timothy:
If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. 1 Timothy 5:8
The journey will also include those who are part of the Kleipot community. If someone has need in our immediate community, then we have the responsibility to help with what we have. This gives a practical expression to all the “one another” commands in the Bible. John’s words come to mind:
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 1 John 3:17
Our journey will also join forces with the local people of Berario and Johannesburg, and eventually South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world.
As a group we decided to live the personal journey with intensity in the next month and then regroup for a time of storytelling and to ask for God’s direction in the other dimensions.
Here are some principals we discussed for the personal journey:
– Isaiah 58 talks about “being available for our own families”
– We should rediscover the ancient discipline of “neighboring”; do we know our neighbors? In what ways can I get involved with their lives?
– As we conduct our daily affairs we should remember that every person has a story … Take time to listen to their story and ask God to give you His eyes for the person in front of you.
– Ask God to show you the “filters” that you’re using to decide whether someone is in or out.
– Give people what they “need” not what you want to give or think they need.
– Most people in South Africa have domestic workers. Respect them as equal in God. This should reflect in the way we talk to them, give them instructions and pay them. (Imagine what could happen if all Christians in South Africa would treat their workers with respect).
– Strategic consumerism. Instead of feeding a global movement wherein people are reduced to numbers let’s shop strategically. Instead of always going to the big stores where no one is known, let’s try to build relationships with the people at the grocery store and wherever we shop.
What are some of your ideas?
You can post them on our website: