Over the weekend Kleipot’s stewardship team had a meeting. When they arrived at our house I took them on a surprise outing. A fifteen minute drive from our house takes you into the heart of one of Johannesburg’s informal settlements. This settlement is a shanty town where 45 000 people live on a 3km square. In South Africa it is called a township.

One of my friends took us through the settlement and it was an eye-opening experience for all. On a Saturday afternoon there’s a lot of vibe in Zandspruit. Unfortunately some of it is alcohol induced. Because there are no shopping malls, televisions and other distractions people are enmeshed into each others lives and neighbors and friends gather everywhere to share in community.

The one thing that struck me again was the number of children in the town. They run everywhere and play with anything they can lay their hands on – even the local dumpster. In Zandspruit 40% of the people are unemployed; a lot of the people moved from the country to the city in the hope that they’ll get a good job.

Our host took us to his mother-in-law’s house and we all crammed into the little house. As we sat down she asked us if we would be able to live in it. We all evaded her questions with some muffled responses. “Pray for me, so that I can get a better house” was her farewell words to us.

We were introduced to some of the local delicatessens – roasted peanuts and fried chicken legs – called “runaway”. Then we went into one of the local cafes and our host asked us what beer we would like. I immediately assumed he would buy us six beers and did the math in my head. As he ordered my friends gestured that we should make sure that we’ll pay him back. I told them that we shouldn’t do it because it would offend him. I only knew this because I made that precise mistake a few weeks ago when I was treated to two meals and wanted to repay my host. He explained to me, in a very gracious way, that he gave me a gift and that I should just receive it.

It’s hard for us to receive. It leaves us vulnerable when someone poor gives us something – especially if it involves money. When we receive from a poor person we are bereft from one of the things we think we can help with – money. With money out of the equation we feel stripped, weak. How often we use money to ‘help’ people and then it only succeeds in inflating our egos and poisons us with pride? It’s so much harder to give of ourselves!

Our host came back with the order and to our surprise he came back with one big beer and a fried fish. He explained to us that we will share it between the six of us – it turned out to be seven. In the corner sat a guy and he joined us. The bottle was passed around twice, everyone doing their best not to backwash. While we drank together and broke the fish we shared stories, laughed and immersed ourselves in the experience.

As we left the settlement our team asked our host what they needed. He answered by saying that they didn’t want our silver and gold but that we would remember them and pray for them. We formed a circle and prayed.

As we drove back, we reflected on the experience and here are some of the team’s thoughts:

– It was surprisingly safe and jolly in the camp and not so evil and somber as I expected.
– The friendliness of the people surprised me.
– I was challenged by the fact that there’s no quick fix or formula – it takes relationship to make a difference.
– In our rich suburbs we live in total isolation and individualism there’s poverty and community.
– Our host was very gracious in the way he challenged us.
– Will this really change me? How do I move from the theoretical to the practical?
– To see all the children and think of the difference between the way in which I lavish my child in gifts and these children’s poverty really made me think.
– A lot of the people are really proud of the Zandspruit community but others want to move out.

We did this excersice ro remind ourselves that the money (tithes) people give to the church belongs to people like this (the least of these).

“Healing the divide between the poor and non-poor is critical to significant long-term change. This means that the poor need help to recover their true identity and vocation while the non-poor need help to deal with the god-complexes that he or she has accepted to justify their privileged position in relationship to the poor. The divide between the poor and the non-poor is exacerbated by the fact that, even though they share a common language, culture and place, the poor have become “other” to the non-poor and vice versa.”

Bryant Myers; Walking with the Poor