Out of all the African countries, South Africa is the most developed country. When I heard that, I was like “Whoah. Seriously?” It’s a pretty intense statistic. With that being said, SA is still filled with poverty. I walk across the street and right down below me is a squatter camp, which is basically a small settlement of houses made out of mud, tin roofs, sticks, and rocks. They don’t have electricity or running water. I live next door to people in poverty.
Ever since apartheid, blacks, coloreds, and Indians were all divided into different townships. These townships still exist to this day. I live in an Indian township and I work in a Zulu township called Mphopomeni. Mphopomeni’s population is about 33,000 people (which is a huge amount for this small township.) and I would say that over half of those 33,000 people live in poverty. SA is a 1st and 3rd world country all in one. It took me a few months to understand, and it wasn’t easy. I live in the 1st world part and I go work in the 3rd world part. I wish I would be living in the 3rd world part too. I want to feel what they feel.
I was coming back from a run in Northdale (the Indian township where I live.) and as I was about to turn onto my street, I noticed 3 young girls and their granny carrying jugs up from the squatter camp. I paused for a second as I watched them. The granny looked really tired. So I walked over to them and asked them if I could help them in Zulu. They were floored. As they should be for many reasons, which ill touch on in a second. They looked at each other as if trying to make approval of me wanting to help, and then they said yes. So we made our way up to a house that gives these people water to fill their jugs. After all 4 jugs were filled, we started walking back down. We reached the entrance of the squatter camp, and I started to walk down. The young girls said “Wait! You’re going down there? With us?” For a second, I was shocked that they even asked that question. “Uh…yeah?” Was my reply. They laughed, and we helped each other carry the 4 jugs down the steep, grassy hill. As we reached the bottom, Apiwhe (one of the young girls.) asked me if I would help her carry the jugs of water into her house. Without hesitation, we started walking towards her home. I’m going to pause this story right here and say that before this incident, my greatest fear was happening to me. The fear that I would become numb to the racism and poverty around me was happening. And I had prayed the night before that God would break my heart for what breaks His; that He would knock down the walls that were allowing me to become numb to the things I see everyday. It happened. As I entered Apiwhe’s home, I was seeing firsthand the way people in poverty live. They don’t know where their next meal is going to come from…they don’t even know if they’ll eat that day. I saw things that break my heart to even talk about. I can’t explain exactly what I saw that day, but I wish I could. I remember just stopping at the entrance of her home and thinking “90% of the world lives like this. 90%. And we are turning a blind eye to it all.” I realized it was starting to get pretty dark, so I said goodbye to the young girls and walked back up the hill to my 1st world life. As I walked back home, I was just sobbing. That night, God broke my heart for what breaks His.
What I did that night defied everything I was taught. Squatter Camps are very dangerous places to be. I cannot stress that enough. You do not enter them, especially if you’re a white female. It’s almost like asking for trouble. I’m about to tell you another sad statistic: I’m white, so even though apartheid ended 15 years ago, the fact that the white person still holds superiority is fresh in a lot of people’s minds. White people don’t help the blacks or the Indians or the coloreds. White people don’t work alongside those types of people. White people just don’t do those things here. That night, I went against the normality of the system of South Africa. That’s why those girls were FLOORED when I offered to help them and then enter into the place where they lived. If we’re being honest here, they know their home is a dangerous place. And they knew I knew that. So they couldn’t wrap their mind around why I wanted to go down there and basically put my life on the line. But to be honest, I wasn’t scared that night. In fact, the danger of what I was about to do didn’t even cross my mind. I wanted to be on the same level as these people. I wanted to show them that yes, my skin may be white, but you guys are the kingdom come. And if we spend forever building the kingdom in places where it’s our comfort, we are missing out on the actual kingdom that is being built in poverty, in the places where people feel there is no hope. That is where we need to be building the kingdom. And a lot of Christians are not realizing that.
There is enough food in the world for everyone to have, so why are people still living in poverty? I believe there are 2 reasons for this.
1.) We’re doing an awful job at distributing food equally.
And 2.) We’re not moving.
There’s a verse in Matthew where it talks about how if God cares and looks after the sparrows and makes sure they are fed, He will surely look after you because you mean more to Him than the sparrows of the ground. But in a lot of cases, this doesn’t sound very true, does it. If that verse is all you read, I think you’d have a pretty good case to say that that verse is a lie. A flat out lie. But let’s take this one step further. Jesus was preaching to thousands of people. As lunch time approached, the disciples realize that the people are going to get hungry. They didn’t want them to leave, so they told Jesus that these people need fed. Jesus looked at them and said 3 words that changed the course of history: “You do it.” As you can expect, the disciples were baffled. They probably said things along the line of “But Jesus…we’re not you!” or “I can’t do miracles!” And that’s where the little boy comes in with his 5 loaves and 2 fish. But check out the meaning of this story: Jesus told his disciples to do it; to feed those people. So lets think about this for one second: if we go back to that verse in Matthew, maybe, just maybe, God is supposed to be using us to feed the poor, to give the homeless a home, to clothe the clothe-less. We get so wrapped up in thinking that poverty has nothing to do with us. (us being the people who have a house and drive a car.) poverty will NEVER be solved until we realize that that is where the kingdom is being built.
I want to make one thing clear. Americans have a tendency to pity those who have less than them when in reality, the people who are living simply are so happy…happier than we ever could be. We need to find that fine line between relative poverty and absolute poverty. It’s very undignified to put pity on people who don’t want pity. It’s degrading and disrespectful. I see relative poverty and absolute poverty everyday. Don’t go in with the mind set that you’re going to change the world, because you’re not. Go in with the mind set that the people who live in poverty are the world. We will never end poverty. But we can feed the ones who need fed. The choice is yours: stay put, or move.