I have been involved with a group of people living in an informal settlement (an area where people live and sleep in shacks, with no water or electricity and in the majority of cases very little food) on the fringes of a middle class suburb.
With the escalation of crime, some of it hi-jacking and people assaulted in their own homes, much fear and tension has been created in the nearby suburbs with the result that there has been pressure to try and re-locate the group. We have been trying to assist the group where possible specifically in the last year focussing on self-empowering them so that they can build a sense of pride and realise that they don’t always have to look to others to improve their own lives, even if it is a little bit.
One of these projects is to try and get the group to establish their own a small caring area for children where they can stay during the day and receive some stimulation. I felt that we were slowly making progress up until the previous week when I experienced a really confusing time. After much discussion we got the group to agree to set up their own sail and poles so that the children can have shade and protection against the elements, only to hear that in the same day the surrounding community threatened and forced them to take it down. The reason for their action was because of their fear that this will be the first of many structures to become permanent and therefore make re-location more difficult. I had two massive conflicting emotions challenging me: The one was total unbelief and the other guilt.
Unbelief because I know that not everyone living in these conditions are there by choice, that they only want a better life for themselves and their children and that there are only a small portion of the group that have criminal intentions. Human nature, though, does not easily allow for distinction and therefore it is sometimes just easier to assume a community is either good or bad without trying to make an effort to look at individuals in their own context. The result in this case is that this community are on their knees and even though they are trying to slowly stand up, their reputation and the surrounding communities are pushing them back down.
So where does my feeling of guilt come in? I have friends with children who have been hi-jacked and threatened at gunpoint. Seeing the emotional and psychological upheaval that they had to go through and the persistent fear that will never go away made me realise that if I have to be totally honest with myself I am not sure I wouldn’t also divert back to forcing this little group to take their sail down for fear, that if they stay, something similar can happen to myself and my family.
With these emotions struggling in me I have to ask myself what God would expect us to do?
I found my answer in Micah 6:6-8 which quite frankly may sound simple but is not easy to process and implement. In response to God’s accusation that Israel has broken covenant, Israel wants to know what they need to sacrifice so that they can come into God’s presence again
How can I stand up before GOD and show proper respect to the high God? Should I bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would GOD be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would he be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbour, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously (Micah 6:6-8) (Message)
Our fears and experiences can sometimes cloud our judgement so much that we forget what Jesus meant when he came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Even though God’s Kingdom will be fulfilled in the future, part of it is already with us here today and therefore require us to live a certain way of life. As difficult as it may practically be for us, we have to realise that we have no right to decide how far God’s justice and love can stretch, and when we act on our fears we are in fact standing in God’s way.
Here is the thing. We can go to church on a regular basis, we can be spiritually disciplined reading the Bible and praying and we can tithe as much as we want, but if we cannot consistently act justly towards all others and show love and kindness we have to know that our actions show a disrespect to God.
I have to learn to ask the Holy Spirit to help me overcome all my fears and uncertainties so that I can become one of those people GOD is looking for and behave in a way that He expects from me.