These past few months, I’ve been spending less time in Sweetwaters/Mpumuza and more time in the comfy suburb of Hilton… and it’s been making me quite bitter. For some reason, it’s easier for me to hang on to hope in Sweetwaters. There’s poverty, there’s suffering, there are things that make me want to cry, but you can see the Kingdom pushing through. The fieldworkers are there every day loving those kids, there are stories of changes, and even when it’s two steps forward one step back, there’s this feeling that you’re going somewhere. A feeling that God is here and things will change.
But I’ve been hanging out more in the world of Hilton (due to scaling back my hours at iThemba to work on my masters), which is just as sick and just as in need of redemption, but here it’s been hard to hang on to hope. It wasn’t bad at first. I was all fired up, ready to be a part of building bridges, ready to intercede, ready to see God change… well… everything.
And then it was the lead up to the elections, and whitefear was choking people’s conversations, and everyone was still thinking about how to protect their own interests, moaning about the government and longing for the good-old-days, and tightening the bubble closer around themselves.
And the stuff I was reading for my masters showed story after story of how verbally white South Africa has said yes to democracy and unity and reconciliation, but actually is still trapped by fear and prejudice and is even passing that along to their children. I went on holiday to the coast and the very kind Christian people who were letting us stay in their self-catering accommodation made racist comments. Then I read a report that proved that over 1/3rd of the time, black South Africans will be refused holiday accommodation on the KZN coast, simply because they are black. And then all my readings were full of people throwing around big words like ‘transformation’ and ‘hegemony’ but after a while, they started to sound like they were just that—words—being used to publish papers, not to actually change anything.
And even the Christian community was stifling me with how dedicated it was to same-ness. How dedicated it was to being stuck in a rut, and being okay with that. How blind it is to how someone from another income bracket, another culture, another race, another family type, another sexual orientation might feel in their group. And I realized how entrenched all these things are, how stubborn, how deeply, deeply rooted. In Sweetwaters, I don’t have to have awkward conversations where someone assumes I agree with their view about how badly the blacks are running the country (usually veiled in nicer language than that, of course). What do you do in that moment? Sometimes I say nothing because I’m scared to rock the boat and I don’t want to offend them. But sometimes I say nothing because I literally do not know what to say—how can you let comments like that slide, but how can you address it when this poor person clearly just wanted to make small talk, and deconstructing the racism actually embedded in their comment will probably get nowhere. (And then sometimes I do say something, but come off holier-than-thou and alienate people even more, which is just completely the wrong way to engage people and I just make everything worse).
And so slowly paralysis set in. And prayers trickled off.
It wasn’t prayers for revival anymore. It wasn’t prayers that this insulated, inward-looking community would become a radical out-ward focusing light to their neighbours. It was just the occasional, “Oh Lord, help!” (And often in the form of a sarcastic muttering under the breath after something I heard or experienced). I was Elijah saying, “Enough of this, God. Just take my life and get it over with. That would be much easier than this. I’ve been working my heart out for you, and your people don’t give a rip and now they’re even trying to kill me.” (Okay, okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it feels like it sometimes).
But God quietly whispers to Elijah in the midst of his anger and bitterness, he whispers gently that he’s not alone (in fact, there are 7000 others who love God, too), and there is still work to do.
And I’ve heard God’s whispers lately (when I’ve stopped ranting enough to hear them).
I heard him whisper in the all-Hilton church prayer meeting before the elections, where the body of Christ came together and prayed not for ourselves, and for our lives to be comfortable, but for justice, and widows and orphans, and hungry people, and servant-leadership.
I heard him whisper in our church small group, as we’ve been discussing Generous Justice, by Tim Keller, and how our small group and church and our individual lives can express the generous grace and justice of God.
I heard him in a woman who came up to me after church one day and said, “When you sing, I can see that you really are worshipping. Thank you. It moves me to worship him, too.”
I heard him when our small group pitched in to sponsor a child for iThemba kids camp.
I heard him in the burn ward of the hospital.
I heard him most loudly in this statement, made by the leader at the all church prayer meeting:
Prayer is a subversive activity. By gathering to pray, we’re making a statement. We’re saying we believe we have a God who can change things. We’re not okay with the way things are, and we’re subverting the empire by coming before the true King and saying, “Your will be done.”
And the Holy Spirit slapped me upside the head and said,
“You don’t believe this anymore. You whiney Elijah, thinking you’re the only one left. You think this all depends on you. You think I’m sitting back and doing nothing. You think I don’t have power to change anything. You’re wrong. Join me, Steph. Get praying real prayers again, prayers that believe you’re talking to the one with ultimate power. Stop whining and subvert the empire with me.
This is MY people,
this is MY church,
and the gates of Hell
(and materialism, and self-centeredness, and prejudice and fear)
will NOT prevail against it. ”
So, what do you all do to rekindle your hope? What encourages you when hope runs dry?