Last night seven of us went into one of the local squatter camps to visit with some members of a church. It was a fantastic experience. Now for those of you outside of South Africa, Diepsloot is an informal settlement where sixty thousand people live together. Over the last few months I’ve become friends with Eddy. He is one of the pastors serving in Diepsloot. In South Africa most white people have an enormous fear of the squatter camps – people see it as a place where evil broods; and most will avoid it like the plague.
So anyway, last night we drove in two cars. When we arrived at Diepsloot I took a wrong turn and we found ourselves in a section of Diepsloot where there’s no electricity. Hundreds of people were walking in the streets and a lot of people were preparing food on fires that they made next to the road. As we drove deeper into the heart of the camp I realized that we were on the wrong road and I’ll lie if I don’t say that I was a bit scared. We turned around and arrived at the right place.
Eddie’s church meets in a tent and when we arrived we were welcomed with the sound of people singing and worshiping (there’s something unique about Africans singing). Eddie introduced us and then he gave a passionate sermon on John 8, the woman caught in the act of adultery. Eddie (talking through a translator) said some very funny things. The most humorous part was when he asked where the man was, the one that commited adultery with the woman. He then said that it’s very difficult to commit adultery by oneself and that the only thing that can do that is the earthworm, because it is bi-sexual. We all laughed as if the Toronto blessing came again.
Eddie talks through a translator because there are a lot of aliens in his church. There were people from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Nigeria.
After the sermon we divided into small groups and introduced ourselves. It was good to get to know some ‘other’ people by name. Lollie and I were in a group with four ladies. Three of them desperately needed jobs.
All of us (our church and Eddie’s church) decided that we were going to build friendships and that we were not going to allow ourselves to start with the traditional roles of givers and receivers. In other words we (the supposedly rich people) forced ourselves not to bring clothes and food and money – to just be there as ourselves. Our country has an extreme long history of the division between the so-called givers and receivers; and we want to break this mold. We believe that we have to enter in relationships as equals – people created in the image of God.
Bryant Myers talks about the journey of the poor and the non-poor. According to him the non-poor has to rid themselves of the notion that we’re gods. A notion that’s strengthened when one gives without the context of relationships.
The poor has to realize that they’re created in the image of God and has something to offer. This gets crushed when people are forced into a perpetual receiving role. Only when we can engage on our journeys together can we become the people of God. Rich and poor together.
It will take time.
It is scary.
It is what God calls us to do.
After the evening we gathered at our house and reflected together. The joys, the fears and the challenges were talked through. The plan is to do this kind of a trip on a monthly or bi-monthly basis and to invite them to join us in the suburbs on some evenings. We discussed the fear of having people in our space and how it can be dangerous. Then God reminded me of something he taught me at Lambano (an Aids house for orphans). I once asked the staff there if there are health dangers for people wanting to volunteer at Lambano. She said that there was hardly any and that the danger was usually the other way around. She explained that a well-meaning volunteer could bring a virus into the house that could be lethal for the kids.
We can also be a danger to them … this journey is only possible if God weaves us together. That is our prayer.