How the Church Can Respond?Common Good
Xenophobia in South Africa is a phenomenon synonymous with violence and hatred towards foreigners. African foreign nationals in South Africa, including refugees and asylum-seekers, continue to face xenophobic violence and threats of violence even today. Below are a handful of stats that hint at the horror and violence experienced by thousands of people.
- May 2008 – 342 shops looted, 213 burnt down, hundreds of people injured, thousands chased away and 56 people killed across South Africa.
- November 2009 – 3000 Zimbabwean citizens displaced from the rural community of De Doorns.
- February 2013 – a 27-year-old Mozambican man, Mido Macia, died from the injuries he sustained after eight South African police officers tied him to the back of a police van and dragged him down the road.
- March 2015 – Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made comments that foreigners should go back to their home countries because they are changing the nature of South African society with their goods and enjoying wealth that should have been for local people.
- April 2015 – Attacks on foreign nationals continued in KwaZulu-Natal. Almost 2,000 foreign nationals from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Burundi have been displaced as a result of the violence. Five people were killed.
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These are horrific accounts of violence which most would agree are clearly human rights issues that we should all care about. If you’ve read this article (what does the bible have to say about the foreigner) you should be convinced by now that there is a specific biblical mandate for Christ-followers and The Church to get involved and intervene in this grave injustice. The question we’re going to explore today springboards off of that conviction, towards action, to present some ideas on how Christ-followers and The Church can respond.
But before we jump straight to solutions (as most of us love to do), there is a very important question we should be asking before that one, because before we can even talk about how we can respond, surely we should have a picture in mind of what we’re aiming for?
So, what does a world without all this injustice, violence, and death look like? As Christians (“little Christs”), we have been taught by Jesus to pray “on earth as it is in heaven”. But do any of us really know what heaven is like? How can we even start to imagine what peace on earth could look like if we have no imagination for what it will be like in heaven. And if we are citizens of that Kingdom of heaven, how are we representing that Kingdom on earth now?
Many Old Testament prophets shared their imagination for what heaven (or the ‘restored earth’) would be like. Isaiah said that heaven would be filled with peace (2:4); rich food for all people, and would contain no tears and no more death (25:6-8). Ezekiel said that people will be given grain, fruit, crops, and both new hearts and new spirits (Ch 36). Amos promised that everything will be repaired, restored, and rebuilt (Ch 9). – In their imaginations is a renewed world full of human flourishing. In this renewed world, there simply is no possibility for greed, injustice, violence, exploitation, discrimination, and death.
How we think about heaven directly affects how we live on earth now. In the new testament, Jesus teaches us how to live now so that what we do and how we spend our time will endure in the new world. So, taking heaven seriously, then, means taking suffering seriously now.
You’re probably thinking, “But I’m just one person and this is a huge problem. What could I do that would make any difference?” That is a great question and is such a good place to start.
When we think about huge and overwhelming situations, like crises or disasters, there is a very helpful framework we can use to consider how we can respond, as individuals and as groups (like church communities). This framework is used widely across development agencies and can also be found in the book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett.
The first stage of intervention is typically called “Relief”. According to Steve Corbett, this is “the urgent provision of emergency aid to reduce suffering resulting from a natural and/or man-made crisis”. A good question to ask yourself before providing relief to an individual is “If I don’t intervene, will things keep getting worse by tomorrow?” Relief is required, more often than not, when it is a life-or-death situation. It is temporary, immediate, and short-term. Another good question to ask yourself before offering relief of any kind is “Am I doing something for this person that they could do for themselves?”.
Offering relief is most often the easiest form of intervention. It rarely involves relationships or an investment of time. Except in cases of acute disaster and violence, most refugees, in our context, are not in need of relief. There are many NGOs and organisations in Cape Town and around South Africa that are equipped to co-ordinate relief efforts for refugees (and other vulnerable people) when disaster happens. The best advice we can offer if you want to participate in this level of intervention is to co-ordinate with your church and offer your resources and goods to one of these organisations.
The second stage of intervention is typically called “Rehabilitation”. Corbett describes this as “the restoration of people and their communities to their pre-crisis state and minimisation of future vulnerabilities.” Building relationships is the most powerful tool in this stage. If you choose to engage in this stage, and as you get to know people, you will probably discover the systemic issues of why people are stuck in the circumstances they’re in. And, more often than not, it’s why well-meaning Christians don’t like leaving the “ease” of the relief phase. Rehabilitation requires relationships and relationships require time.
So how could you, in your day-to-day life, get involved in this stage? Perhaps you’re in a position to offer your services or skills to organisations that engage in rehabilitation. Maybe you could offer to join a Board of, or volunteer with, an NGO in your City working in this area. Could you help a family apply for schools by connecting them to contact information? Or maybe you can simply invest your time in building a relationship with someone you know who isn’t from South Africa and who is perhaps experiencing systemic discrimination or marginalisation. Offer friendship. Offer connection.
Development and Advocacy
Thirdly, there are people and organisations who work in the 3rd stage of “Development and Advocacy.” Again, Corbett describes this as “the process of on-going change; moving from a state of crisis and dependency to one of self-sufficiency”. Here the aim is to raise production, develop self-reliance, provide skills and build capacity. This typically includes programmes focusing on education, training, income generation, and participation. Development is not done to people or for people but with people.
So how could you, in your day-to-day life, be involved in Development and Advocacy? Engaging and contributing in this context will require an understanding of the law in our country. Do some research and find out what NGOs who are involved in this area are saying. Listen to experts and understand the problem. Start with the places you have influence over. Perhaps you are in a position to look at the policies in your workplace and ask whether they are exclusionary to Foreign Nationals?
Finally, we come to a place that seems closest to what “heaven on earth” may look like – “Transformation.” Transformation takes a community beyond adequacy and sufficiency to a place of abundance, where the factors that caused the crisis are no longer in existence; where systems and structures are such that life is celebrated, people are valued, development is sustained and people’s human needs are met. The aim of Transformation is moral regeneration; to create new value systems, to develop new economic, political, legal, and educational systems.
If you have read this far and are feeling overwhelmed, that’s ok. This problem exists all over the world, in every country. Charles Mackesy, perhaps has a wise word for us when we feel overwhelmed: