Author: Peter Houston
Category: Evangelism Training
I like being shielded from harsh realities. Newspapers can be read selectively and later used to start a braai (barbecue). TV bulletins can be turned off. Yet there is a steady stream of humanity from across the Zimbabwe border that is impacting my world view.
Zimbabweans come with next to nothing to our city. They’ve survived getting across the border without being drowned in the Limpopo River or eaten by lions, if they’re using the illegal back-door route through the game reserves. Then there is the Department of Home Affairs in Musina to contend with in order to get asylum papers and while waiting, hiding out in the bush to avoid deportation or violence/rape. Once in Polokwane there is the vain hope of finding work to send food back to hungry families in Zimbabwe or getting enough money to move on to the massive city of Johannesburg.
Yet this may sound a bit general.
Let me introduce you to “Warren” (not his real name). Warren has a wife and three children. Before coming here he helped bury a friend’s wife, who had died of cholera (and was eight months pregnant). Warren slept outside for three weeks near Musina. The first day in Polokwane he approached me because he had heard that the Anglican Church helps refugees.
I said we weren’t much use, but we could give him some food. I know that people sleep down by the train station or the taxi rank and pointed him in the right direction. Warren arrived the next day having been mugged and stripped of everything except his trousers and shirt. Luckily he’d put his asylum papers (legal documents) in his pants.
“Chris” and “Fred” teamed up with Warren the next night and slept at a local garage, because it is well lit. The three of them fear the police. When they walk around town or wait on the side of the road for work, they get harassed or moved on. They’ve heard stories of our police tearing up asylum papers so they can be deported back across the border as illegals.
How does a church respond to this? We could put up automated gates and install an intercom system so we can keep humanity at arm’s length. Or we could seek to step into this stream and risk being washed away.
Jesus made things personal.
He reached out to the lepers, the bleeding woman, the marginalised and the down-and-outs. He was filled with compassion. God incarnate came to show the way to being truly human. He humanised humanity. He didn’t promise to raise up Teflon, triumphant, super-human Christians, impervious to the wind and the waves of life. He reaches out to the ones sinking in the face of the storm. He says to his followers, “your way also leads to the cross.” He says he comes to bring the Good News that the Kingdom of God is breaking into our realities.
Am I really prepared for this? The risk of being fed tall stories, lies and being ripped off, good intentions betrayed. The need to discern the true stories and appeals of those wanting their dehumanised humanity redeemed. Jesus did. And got nailed for it. Yet he made it possible for a redeemed humanity to have hope…