Written by Mpho Khoele
James 1:27 (ESV)
'Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.'
I was in a squatter camp. I don’t remember how old I was exactly or where I was. All I remember is walking on a dirt road, with streams of rubbish, filth, and sewage swirling around my ankles. As I passed the tin structures many call their home, I noticed the roofs dotted with yellow. It was some sort of a plastic that was put there to insulate the homes from rain and moisture. Young children, oblivious to the squalor, were running barefoot and playing with various home-made toys which for them, was their treasure. For me, being an innocent child, there was nothing wrong with the picture. I was just going to visit my friend.
My mother was a social advocate, a change agent. She knew and lived those things, even before they became buzzwords. She had never explained to me what this meant. She never spoke of them, not even once. But she was a living example of what these terms embody. She was social justice in action. Growing up, she gave me one of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child: Perspective.
She showed me that the world I knew, the one which I was accustomed to, was not the WHOLE world. So, with kids in tow, she visited friends and family in many different towns and locations. She would lending a helping hand wherever it was needed. The effect of this teaching was invaluable.
Many of us attend church regularly. Often times we donate to whichever cause the church supports, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Such endeavours are noble and enriching. I do however see a disconnect between the intended recipients of such aid and the donors involved. Church members are often told of the living conditions of the people in need, but they have not really encountered or lived the experience of these people in any real way. Many have not seen for themselves, the poverty, the squalor, the hopelessness.
That is unfortunate.
We encounter many people from all walks of life on a daily basis. If we do not know the reality they live in, how can we relate? How can our children learn that their lives are privileged? And for many people out there, the struggle is real!
For many, life is not a bed of roses or a box of chocolates. It is harsh, unforgiving, and a battle to survive. Therefore, we have a duty to understand the world we live in, not just to ourselves, but to our children as well. We have a duty to expand our horizons, acquire a broader worldview, and be more empathetic. Once we are stretched, and our hearts full – only then will we truly be the hands and feet of the needy and the downtrodden.
'A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions' (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr).
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