Christmas: A social justice story?

Picture the scene:

There’s a teenager who lives in poverty in a town with a terrible reputation, who suddenly gets pregnant outside of marriage. Alongside being poor, she’s now at risk of becoming a social outcast. However, the guy she’s engaged to for some reason decides to stay with her, leading to further social humiliation for him. Just when she’s about ready to have the baby, they need to travel hundreds of kilometres at the request of the oppressive regime they are under, to a small, lowly town that really has nothing going for it.

Once they get to this strange place, no guest rooms remain. The situation gets so desperate that they can’t even find somewhere proper to give birth. It ends up happening in what is likely to be the middle of some stranger’s house, and the baby is laid in what would normally be a feeding tray for animals.

Soon, a bunch of people arrive who have no place in civilised society. They are expected to stay out away from populated areas, as they are despised and marginalised. But, they seem to want to meet this baby.

Fast forward a year or two. The leader of this region orders a genocide of infants. The young parents are forced to flee to another country, just to escape the violence.

Poor. Homeless. Refugees. Happy Christmas…

The Christmas story has since been dressed up and sanitised. At best, it’s a beautiful coming of God to be with his people in a serene and peaceful stable, at worst it’s just an excuse for a celebration of positivity and human achievement. How much has been forgotten of the absurdity of how God chose to become human? The present danger that faced this young couple. The way that our God chose to become a victim of the same injustice that he later proclaimed an end to.

When we understand the Christmas story in these terms, for what it really was, we understand in a whole new way who Jesus Christ really is. And when we understand who the Son is, we get a clear idea of who the Father is, and where His priorities lie.

God could’ve brought about the incarnation through a Queen, living in the highest of society, attended to by many servants and in the most comfortable of settings. Surely, this would have been befitting of the birth of a King. However, He chose Mary, a poor virgin living as a part of a people under Roman oppression, in a town that has no prestige whatsoever. Jesus was born outside of wedlock, meaning the announcement of this pregnancy was no cause for celebration but instead a condemnation to public ridicule. To make matters worse, Mary and Joseph were called away from their home, to the lowest town of the tribe of Judah, where they likely knew no-one but some distant relatives. They must have presented an especially unattractive prospect to people thereAs Jesus was born, his earthly family lay rejected and extremely vulnerable.

Add to this the appearance of the shepherds, the lowest in society yet deemed worthy of an angelic visitation, who were among the first to meet the incarnate God and who became the first evangelists, and Herod’s genocidal tendencies which caused this young family to flee and become refugees in Egypt. This leaves a desperate situation, and that’s before you look to Jesus’ family history and see the many people who were themselves social outcasts, derided and ridiculed: these ancestors – much like every other character in this story – are not left out or overlooked but are championed as trophies of God’s ability to restore and work through anyone.

Before he even becomes a toddler, Jesus knows what it’s like to be poor. He knows what it’s like to be homeless. He knows what it’s like to be a refugee. He knows what it’s like to be oppressed, socially excluded, and marginalised. God chooses to be born and appear first to people exactly like this.

We need no clearer indication of God’s heart than the fact that His dramatic entrance into human history was done through such people.

The pivotal event in the history of the world was completed through poor social outcasts. And yet, in this, God reveals His glory.

So, what does it say about God that He brought about the incarnation of His Son in this way? It shows that He chooses, prioritises and loves these people. It shows that God is able to use anyone – even those we write off – to bring about His plan. And, in His very coming, it shows that God’s love works through a ridiculous and extravagant form of self-giving.

So, what does this mean for us? It means that we are called to choose and prioritise the same people that God does. It means that we don’t have the right to write off anyone from being used by God. And it means we get the opportunity to participate in the same self-giving love that God demonstrates in Jesus. To quote the Hillsong lyric, ‘If you gave your life to love them, so will I’.

However, there is one more important lesson to take from this Christmas story. We are not able, and have never been able, to do this by ourselves. Far from popular notions that Christmas celebrates all that is good about humanity, it actually reveals how thoroughly limited we are. God came in Jesus to bring about a salvation we could never have managed ourselves, to deliver us from sin that crushed us. In the same way, we are not able to love, choose, and prioritise those who are marginalised by society unless we are fuelled by God’s love for them. We can only see how God is able to work through people by getting His eyes for them.

And we are only able to get this self-giving love if we receive from the One who gave Himself away in the first place.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you rediscover the absolute craziness that God not only chose to become human but chose to enter fully into the midst of the worst injustice and vulnerability. I pray this shocks you, challenges you, and inspires you to do the same.

By Matt Jolley

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Fast Fashion; consumption considered

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth’.

1 Chronicles 29:16 ‘it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you’.

1 John 3:17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

A couple of years ago, I bought a pair of shoes for £6 from Primark that I never wore. I bought them because it was nearly Christmas, I wanted something new, and they were cheap and convenient. It never even occurred to me where they had come from, how they had been made, or who had made them. I had what I wanted at little inconvenience to myself. I think this is our general mindset when it comes to our consumption – is it easy to get? Does it make me feel good? We are often so focused on ourselves we don’t consider how God views our consumption. But in Genesis 1, God gives humans stewardship over the earth, and in 1 Chronicles the writer proclaims, ‘all of it belongs to you’. If God has given us a world to take care of, how can we be so careless in this role?

The environmental implications of our consumption of fashion are enormous. To grow the cotton for an average t-shirt it takes 2,700l of water, and so the rate of our consumption of fashion contributes to the growing problem of water scarcity. The pollution of water systems and soil in developing countries where cotton is grown is also a serious problem, affecting already disadvantaged communities. It is easy to ignore these environmental implications as we feel so far removed from them. Due to globalization it is possible for Western countries to outsource their production to developing countries such as Bangladesh where the production costs can be minimized through lack of labour laws and the lack of enforcement of those in place. This means it is even easier for us to remove ourselves from the problem, all we see is the finished product. The lack of transparency in the industry is also problematic as it takes effort to research into where our clothes have actually come from, and its more convenient not to think about. However, it is probable that the garment worker who made your t-shirt is not being paid enough to live on, or, as is widespread in the countries which make 64% of our textiles, is in forced or child labour.

As a consumers we have power in the choices we make, what we do with our resources shows God’s love for the world, as it says in 1 John 3:17, How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? In caring for the world, we must be conscious of the impact we have and how we can serve God through our everyday choices.

How can we bring glory to God’s kingdom when we are supporting the exploitation of people made in the image of God?

It can seem that these environmental and social problems are far removed from ourselves, but our expectations of being able to consume fashion at the current rate is unrealistic and our attitude is self-focused. It says a lot about what we value the most; ourselves and how little value we place on God’s creation. God’s kingdom is established in love for all people, and we have a choice in reflecting His glory greatly by valuing what He has given us – speed up or slow down, what will you choose?

By Kitty Hamilton

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‘Who Picked My Tea?’

Last Wednesday, a group of us from Just Love Durham travelled to Newcastle to Traidcraft Exchange’s ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign event. We heard first-hand from two tea activists what conditions are really like in the tea estates of Assam, and how together we can change things.

Tea. We love it. In fact, in the UK we drink 165 million cups of it every day (that’s 60.2 billion cups a year). It will be no surprise then that the six biggest tea brands in the UK that account for 70% of the UK tea market (PG Tips, Twinings, Tetley, Yorkshire, Typhoo and Clipper) have annual sales of £500 million. Many consider tea an absolute essential part of their day and yet how often do we think about how our favourite tea bags ended up on the supermarket shelf, and, ultimately ‘who picked my tea?”

Traidcraft Exchange, an organisation who promote justice and fairness in trade, went and found out.

Their journey took them to India, the second largest tea-producing nation in the world. Over half of the tea grown in India is produced in Assam, one of India’s poorest states, where ingredients used in UK blends originate. The tea is well known for its unique flavour and quality, however, the conditions in which it is picked are not so well publicised.

The vast majority of tea-pickers in Assam are women and they are required to work for eight hours a day starting work at 08:00. This means that they often have to get up in the early hours of the morning to wash, clean and cook before leaving for the tea fields. While at work, they are required to pick 24kg of tea leaves to ensure they get their full daily wage, which is 137 Indian rupees, or £1.51; less than half the Indian national minimum wage of 300 rupees a day for unskilled agricultural workers.

Tea estate managers are obliged to provide additional service benefits in order to ‘justify’ the tea-pickers low wage include housing, sanitation, health care facilities and primary schools, along with food rations. However, in many cases, these service benefits are non-existent, or are of a very poor standard, meaning teapickers have to put their own wages towards them. This often involves tea-pickers having to choose between schooling for their children, repairing their homes, accessing health care services, or eating properly. Tea managers have control over their workers and their families which makes it difficult for workers to protest against their situation, and inspectors and reporters are unable to ensure that conditions are of an adequate standard. UK tea brands, including the big six mentioned above, are aware of the conditions in Assam and have undertaken initiatives such as introducing safe drinking water to communities and have looked at improving living standards on tea estates. However, these projects are only dealing with the consequences of poor management and it is time that companies addressed the fundamental problems within the tea estates if real change is going to happen. Transparency on the issue is therefore key. By knowing which tea estates the tea companies buy from and the standards that tea companies expect their suppliers to adhere to, workers, local organisations and us, the consumers, are empowered to hold them to these standards. This is why it is crucial that we ask the question, ‘who picked my tea?’

In the face of this injustice, we are reminded in Micah 6:8 to ‘Act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’ To act justly requires action. In this case, it requires cooperation from multiple parties to work together to initiate change.

So, what can we do?

Don’t stop buying or drinking tea from Assam (this is likely to push women on the tea estates into further poverty) but ask the question! Contact the tea companies directly explaining why you feel this is important or visit here to get involved through Traidcraft. One of the biggest methods of support we can offer tea-pickers in to pressure the companies into change. You could also consider buying a Fairtrade tea which ensures that money is reinvested back into the local community. It sends out a message to companies and tea estates that Fairtrade standards are required and desired, encouraging more producers to adhere to these – you can find out more about Fairtrade standards here.

Raise awareness of this injustice. The more people who are aware of the issue and pressure companies in to do something about it, the more likely it is that change will happen.

So, next time you enjoy a brew, think about the work that goes into producing the ingredients, and ask yourself, ‘who picked my tea?’ Then, see if you can find out!

For more information on Traidcraft Exchange or the ‘Who picked my tea?’ campaign, here.

By Anna Bradley

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The Stigma of Homelessness

Homelessness and people in vulnerable situations are often used as examples in preaches – a clear-cut illustration of what it might look like to ‘love your neighbour’ (Mark 12:31). While this has inspired many incredible Christian homelessness projects, it has also led to a peculiar stigma in which homeless people have become symbols of pity and victimhood rather than individuals. With well-meaning hearts, we may walk past homeless people with a patronizing smile, perhaps subconsciously congratulating ourselves at being the “saviour” who treats them with respect. While it’s certainly hard to navigate the English rules of restraint and propriety alongside the Christian call to love people actively, I encourage us to begin with a change of heart about how we interact with homeless and vulnerable people. As Christians, I believe it is both our duty and privilege to shape our culture of tolerance into a culture of honour.

How does Jesus honour?


One day, as Jesus was sharing a meal with a pharisee, a sinful woman made an awkward encounter even more awkward. Yet, as she wept at Jesus’ feet and bathed him with a momentous amount of perfume, he honoured her by treating her with the same dignity and respect as his host, a pharisee, who – culturally – had more claim to it (Luke 7:36-50).  In Mark’s account, Jesus prophecies “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she had done will be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9). Jesus didn’t just tolerate this woman. He honoured her with praise, seeing her heart over her reputation.

When Jesus healed a demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-20, the townsmen found the man “dressed and in his right mind, and they were afraid”. Jesus had already healed him, transforming his life. Yet this passage implies that Jesus didn’t stop there but continued to tend to him by clothing him, too. Jesus didn’t just tolerate this man. He honoured him with dignity, attending to his practical needs.

I believe that honouring in our context involves fighting against the notion that we have everything to offer and nothing to gain from serving homeless people.

It’s easy to think this way because our culture often values material things over wisdom or character. Yet, Jesus himself – who has everything to offer the world – was, at times, homeless (Luke 9:58). In his footsteps, Jesus commanded his disciples to “[take] no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep” (Matthew 10:9). Their first ‘mission trip’ depended on strangers sharing their homes. So, what does this mean? I hope the last thing you take from this is that we should encourage the crisis of homelessness. However, if we are to take Jesus’ life seriously, we must recognize that homelessness, and the dependency it creates, is something that Jesus really wants to teach us about.

What homelessness teaches us about dependency

Recently, Melissa Helser, a worship leader, created a podcast that caught my attention. She says, “one of the most profound, maturing things is to realize you need help every day… and that is your honour, not your shame”. “Jesus”, she continues, modelled dependency at the height of his ministry”; Jesus claimed to “do nothing by himself, unless he sees the Father doing it. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does” (John 5:19). In the homeless community, we see an aspect of God’s face that we might have been blind to – dependency and vulnerability with others that God so beautifully models in the Trinity. Jesus practiced this way of living as a model for what the Church should look like – a network of reciprocal relationships with one another, relying on each other as part of a body. I believe this way of living is one of the bravest acts we can do and the fact that such a core aspect of the Godhead and the church is modelled within the homeless community should make us sit up and think, do we really have everything to offer and nothing to receive? Are we that assured of our superiority?

The face of God

As the Church (and, honestly, as humans) we have a tendency to see ourselves as acting on behalf of God to be His face to the broken, the marginalized, the poor. Yet, what would it look like to break out of these boxes – to be rooted in the knowledge that everyone carries the face of God within them, in different ways? What does it look like to recognise the courage of dependency and vulnerability that homelessness forces people into, which our culture so often deplores? While I hope that we already see the gospel soaked power of extending a home to the homeless (be it through conversation, encouragement, food or shelter), may it also be our honour to see God not just in our act of serving but in those we serve, recognizing that as we encounter people with love, we see the face of God.

By Kimberley Hermo

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Frequently Asked Questions

Hi there! If you’re reading this, you might have been following our blog posts over the Summer, or you may be on our blog for the first time after finally clicking on one of the many links shared by friends in Just Love. You may be new to Durham or may be returning to this wonderful city for your second or third year (you may even be reading from nowhere near Durham – shoutout to our readers in Bolivia, we see you). You may already consider yourself a member of the Just Love community or may simply be considering joining. Whatever stage you’re at, the chances are you probably have some questions about Just Love, and what it will look like this year.

Questions like ‘what actually is the point of Just Love?’, or ‘how can I get involved in what you guys are doing?’. If this is you (which it probably should be, since you clicked on a link to a blog post entitled ‘Just Love’s Frequently Asked Questions’), then look no further! Below are answers to some questions we think you might have, and questions we had when we first got involved in Just Love. Hopefully this clarifies who we are, what we do, and how you can get involved! If any questions you have aren’t answered here, please do get in touch!

WHO WE ARE

Q: What is Just Love?

A: Just Love’s mission statement is to equip and release every Christian student to pursue the Biblical call to social justice. Just Love Durham is a community of students within Durham University that seek to do exactly this.

Q: What does that mission statement actually mean though?

A: Good question! Firstly, Just Love seeks to equip and release every Christian student. This means that we learn together about what modern day injustices exist in the world and encourage every student in our community to have a vision for what it looks like for social justice to become a part of their own lives. Then, we seek to give every member of our community the ability to actively pursue this vision, whether that be through praying for the end of human trafficking or volunteering to see homelessness ended in our city.

We do this because we believe the call for every Christian to pursue social justice is fundamentally Biblical. We see time and again in the Bible that God’s heart burns passionately for the vulnerable and the marginalised and is broken when they are victimised and exploited. As Christians who seek to reflect our God, our hearts must burn where His burns and break where His breaks. We are called to defend the defenceless and build His kingdom – a kingdom where injustice has no place. This call is not optional, or only for the ‘social justice warriors’, but is for any Christian who is serious about seeking God’s heart and following what the Bible calls them to.

WHAT WE DO

Q: So that sounds great, but what does that look like on a weekly basis?

A: Just Love runs two main events each week, both of which we believe are equally important to our mission. On Monday lunchtimes, we run Just Lunch, in the Appleby Rooms at 1pm. Then, on Friday, we also have a prayer meeting called ‘Rhythms of Prayer’. Both events are vital: we can do nothing without prayer, but without action our prayers are empty. We pray as if it all depends on God and live as if it all depends on us.

Q: What happens at a Just Lunch, or a prayer meeting?

A: At Just Lunch, we eat soup together and build community with one another. We then hear a short talk from a student or organisation who is actively involved in pursuing social justice, often over a specific issue. We also think about how God is calling us to respond to that issue, whether that be through volunteering, prayer or petition. Our first Just Lunch will be on October 15th, where we will be hearing a theology of justice: why it matters, and why it is something every Christian is called to pursue.

At our weekly ‘Rhythms of Prayer’, we meet for a time of worship, before bringing issues of justice before God through intercession. The focus for the prayer meeting will be the same as the focus in the Just Lunch that week. Our first prayer meeting will be on October 19th, where we will consider a theology of prayer and why it is integral to our work in pursuing social justice.

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

Q: Say I come to a Just Lunch, or a prayer meeting, and I feel passionate about what I have heard? How do I get involved more?

A: This year, we have introduced ‘Streams’ for this very purpose! This is where issues that are introduced at our weekly events can be engaged with more deeply. There are currently 5 streams, focusing on anti-human trafficking, anti-poverty, homelessness and vulnerable people, ethical living, and a political thinktank. These streams will each meet several times a term to pray into their specific focus and consider practical responses. In short, they are where passion meets action.

Q: Great, but how do I sign up for a stream?

A: There will be an opportunity to sign up to each stream, as well as meet local organisations and charities who are pursuing justice within each issue, at our launch event on October 16th. Here, our vision for the year will also be cast in greater detail, and you can pose any other questions you have to us!

Q: So how do I get involved in local volunteering?

A: Streams can point you to local volunteering opportunities, and to organisations working on a more global scale. You can find out more about local volunteering at our launch event as well.

Hopefully, that clears up some major questions. If you have any others, come and find us at any of the events mentioned and say hello. We can’t wait to work with you to see kingdom justice pursued and realised in and through us this year.

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Environmental Activism: Why did this Christian student get involved?

Faddish. Unrelatable. Disorientating. Cute, but ineffective. Irrelevant?
Just over a year ago, these thoughts pretty much summarised mine towards anything relating to tree-hugger, vegan, eco lifestyles. Skip forward to now and I would say I am convinced hook, line and sinker that to be a Christian environmental activist in our current Western culture is a necessary aspect of biblical, Jesus-centred worship. I have a hunch that many Christians will identify with where I used to be but feel varying levels of alienated from the likes of where I am now. So, I thought I’d give a few of the real and genuine experiences that led this Christian student towards a more environmentally-aware lifestyle.

A Fish Out of Water

Fact no.1: after exams each year, King’s Church organise June Project – a week of community outreach which concentrates their regular, weekly mission and evangelism into six days.

Fact no.2: in my first year, I was a major evangelism eager beaver; I adored chatting to people about their lives, their beliefs and what they honestly thought of Christianity in contexts like Club Mission, college CU events and my theology seminars.

So, the concept of a week of these conversations excited me to bursting point. But when I walked in for our first day, I was told I would be partnered with the charity REfUSE, on a team responsible for putting on an event with a meal made entirely from food gone past its (overly cautious) best-before date. It was a classic plot twist moment and I remember being at an utter loss why this team and event existed in June Project. Obviously, I now see the error of my ways and celebrate all that REfUSE do, but my thoughts were, “If this week was about publicising the life-changing capability of pursuing Christ, then why are we making such a song and dance about an eco-friendly meal?!” I wasn’t in any way against saving food from being chucked out unnecessarily; it could certainly be an awareness I had whilst I loved my community and chatted with them about faith, just it shouldn’t replace these things.

The Awesomenesses of Buzzfeed and Nerding Out

After June Project 2017, I wasn’t zapped by the Lord with a green, eco lightning bolt but it did inspire some incredibly frustrating questions over how Christians could justify spending (in my opinion) excessive time and effort on preaching their eco-friendly ways. Was environmental activism a nonconsequential, optional add-on for Christians? Was there any theological, biblical link that supported these very intentional actions of eco-Christians? The questions didn’t shift over the summer break and it wasn’t until I came across a Buzzfeed video about a woman who attempted a zero-waste lifestyle for a month (inspiring my plastic-free diet fundraiser in early 2018) that I began to think seriously about environmentalism. I cannot tell you how much this fundraiser impacted me. I became SO aware of the amount of plastic in our lives, particularly single-use, non-recyclable plastic, and so did a good number of my close pals (because, yep, they made plastic-free meals pour moi when I came around – big shout out to those legends).
Meanwhile, half of one of my modules was dedicated to looking at global ethics – all things consumerism, economics, globalisation, climate change and ecological relationships. Basically, the history and current situation of our relationships with stuff and the resources of the world that go into that stuff. It’s phenomenal. Seriously. Environmental theology is *the bomb*. But it revealed some scary-as-flip insight into the spiritual nature of Western consumption. We have a culture of disposability in that we detach incredibly quickly from our purchases, growing dissatisfied with them, throwing them out and replacing them. By viewing our transactions as merely trades of money and goods, we also detach ourselves from (a) the community of humans who work to make the products we buy, (b) the natural resources that it takes to create those products, and (c) the subsequent waste that is transported away from our attention. All the while, we can grow (over)attached to brands, bringing us a few steps closer to allowing them to dictate our desire and identity. Our current consumerist culture means we have to be more tuned-in and switched-on about what we’re buying and why, if we’re going to hold God as our primary desire and source of identity.

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

This year-and-a-bit journey has led me to the conviction that if I am to holistically worship God, so many more things need to be examined under a gospel-toothed comb than I first thought. And whilst it is the beauty of the Christian reality that everything that we do can be harnessed to serve, glorify and point to our creator and restorer, it leaves us with the uncomfortable task of asking if our relationship to nature and our buying habits look like sacrifices worthy of being offered to God. By all means, this is a life-time journey; I’m still only beginning to put practices into place which I promised I would do six months ago! With that in mind, please feel free to come to Just Lunches and other events our Sustainability and Ethical Living stream will hold. Being confused over the ‘why’ of tree-hugging Christians is more than enough qualification to chip in to the conversation. So please come – you’re totally welcome.

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Another Thing You Should Know…

I’m a big fan of bullet points, so a selection of the things I’ve learned along the way is a great excuse to use some:
Give an eco-challenge a go; it wasn’t until I did my plastic-free experiment that I became acutely aware of our plastic-consuming habits. You don’t have to wait to feel passionate before you start; it’s okay to let the experience speak for itself, to continue asking questions, seeking answers and to pray a load throughout it. So maybe give up buying new clothes for a term, or only buy fruit/meat/cheese from the local market, or try the full monty and give living waste-free a go.
Be prepared to become intimately aware of our flawed relationship with nature and things we buy. Some of the facts are haunting.
Seek answers to your frank questions. If I could, I would go on for days, delighting you with some kick-ass theology that’s been passed on to me this year. However, time and blog space require me to resist. So, come Michaelmas term we’ll delve into the relevance of environmental activism for passionately missional Christians and other juicy questions as well. We’ll also look into some accessible and intentional lifestyle changes we can all make.
Overall, I’m hoping you can relate to at least some of this and that it will begin to decrease the distance you might feel exists between Christianity and the environmental activist’s headspace. If you’re not convinced just yet, no worries; come along to Just Lunch to do a bit of exploring, and Lucia and I (the stream leaders) will catch up with you there.

By Hannah Janes

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Justice in the Nations

At the start of the summer, a team of 8 students and 20’s from Emmanuel Church Durham travelled out to South Africa to work with local churches and their various outreach programmes based in Clarens, Free State, but also venturing into Lesotho for several days. We spent time in schools and an educational support centre, running a children’s holiday games club and teaching in churches, along with praying for the sick and (and anyone we came across really), and spending lots of time in dialogue with local young church leaders about their experiences of growing up and living in a poor and also incredibly unjust society.

A really great project we helped out with was to build a shack for a man from the church, who for several different reasons didn’t have any safe housing options, but the church stepped in with members providing building materials and labour to get back on his feet again. This was so great to see the church in action, being able to love and support its members (he has subsequently been able to find a job, praise God, but is actually struggling to adjust to his new life), but also heart-breaking for the thousands of people in similar situations that are being totally missed by the state, with such poor housing provision. The short-sightedness of the government’s approach is simply staggering – the only land available to build the shack was a former football pitch which is prone to flooding each wet season, with a single toilet and tap for several hundred inhabitants. They also aren’t given any legal right to the land, but instead basically have squatter’s rights. South Africa’s vast townships and slums, along with all the issues associated with them simply aren’t going to be solved unless there is sufficient provision of good quality housing, sanitation facilities and legal rights.

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We also had the privilege of being able to tutor and support some young people who showed great potential and get support from the Nnete Foundation in order to help them progress through education. The education system (as well as most other systems), are heavily weighted against those from poor township backgrounds – teaching is mostly in English, but very little time is spent checking the students understand the language, let alone what is actually being taught. It is therefore great to be able to see students really invested in.

It is these young people who are going to go on and change perceptions of whole communities and cultures, simply because more time and effort was given to develop themselves as people, and especially their learning.

Perhaps the most challenging part of the trip, however, was simply spending time with people from the church who’ve grown up through vast injustices, hearing their stories and hopes for South Africa. One particular guy was jailed and held without charge for a couple of months around the time of the previous elections, simply because he’d been outspoken against the government. After a fair while (enough for the elections to come and go…) and a decent fine, he was released. It is awful to think that such an unjust act would never be made against a wealthier white person, and that many think it possible to intimidate and scare people into silence. We also heard so many other stories from Basotho people (the local people group) growing up in the townships, feeling like second class citizens, with very little hope of ever achieving their dreams or seeing meaningful change. I felt so hopeless, that so many years after I (very naively) thought the racial issues and tensions in South Africa were solved, they still seem so ingrained into all areas of society.

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As with all things though, there is hope – the church is in so many areas standing up and being the tangible expression of the Father’s plan for justice and acceptance. While it is not perfect, it is leading the way in helping society to integrate more together, as Basotho, Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans, people of wealth and poverty, are all equal and invited in – some of the Basotho people we spoke to said church was the only place they felt valued and loved.

Being a group of foreigners there for only a couple of weeks, it felt so tough to know how we could best help this, but I believe that building relationships, sharing stories and showing people that they’re loved and valued, regardless of their race, culture or wealth has real impact – even by just staying in the township areas, helps to change perceptions.

This principal is widely applicable too – here are some ways we can respond to injustices all around us:
P R A Y – the most important thing we can do, our go to reaction should be to pray. Pray for unity in South Africa and beyond, between cultures, races, classes. Pray for the Church to continue to lead the way in showing love and value to all. Pray for opportunities to share life with those different from us…
S H A R E life with people – even here in the UK, it’s very challenging to think about what areas of society we are discriminating against, be that in politics, education or churches. How many immigrants from Europe, for example, really feel welcomed? How often do we actually associate with, let alone share stories and our lives with people who are actually different from us? We need to start by sharing life in a meaningful way with people who we wouldn’t otherwise associate with. We’ll never see large scale cultural changes unless we get to know people who are different to us, find out their stories and understand things from their point of view, one person at a time.
D O something practical – it might not be building a shack in South Africa, but it could be volunteering to tutor some children from different cultural backgrounds, helping support local charities – there are so many people out there we just overlook who are in need of practical support, let’s be an active people who get involved.

By Will Briggs

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Filed under Summer series 2018