When You See an InjusticeCommon Good
We asked Josh Cox to share this story because we hope it will challenge us all to open our eyes and see the needs around us. Josh’s attention to those who are often overlooked speaks volumes about his faith. Josh is just one man, but he used his social capital and conviction to do justice in our city through a project called Mothers in Need. We hope you’re encouraged by his actions during the recent COVID19 lock-down and prompted to find ways to do the same.
Josh Cox is a husband and father living in the Western Cape of South Africa. He founded a business, Fix Forward, that supports local building contractors and connects them to work opportunities.
COVID19 and Foreign Nationals
In May of 2020, South Africans were being flooded with stories of how the COVID19 pandemic was causing devastation in the poorer areas of the country. Like many of us, I felt overwhelmed as I saw photos of thousands of people queuing daily for a simple meal. The numbers were hard to comprehend. It was difficult to even begin to think of where to get involved – how to help, whom to help. And then I heard a story about one person.
My friend was involved in a food relief programme through her church. She shared with me how on one particular day they had to turn away a lady who was 7 months pregnant. She hadn’t eaten in 4 days. My heart broke. I thought of that mom and the anguish she must have gone through. Not only struggling to care for herself for her own sake but the sake of her unborn child.
I am a parent myself and feel that weight of responsibility to provide and care for my children. If my sister or a friend was pregnant and in the same desperate situation, would I sit by and do nothing? That heartache I felt so deeply for this mom, and the thousands like her stirred me to action.
I have the privilege of leading an NGO, Fix Forward, which creates opportunities for people in low-income communities. Over the years we have built a great community of supporters who love what we do and are able to give. I knew that simply getting the word out would stir people to get involved and contribute.
About two weeks after hearing the story of this mother we launched a campaign called Mothers in Need. The campaign was aimed at raising funding to support refugee mothers (undocumented migrants and asylum seekers). Moms who were either pregnant or with very young children. The support the mothers received came in the form of a R400 shopping voucher, every month for six months.
In about 2 months we raised almost R750 000 to support over 300 families for six months. We worked with The Zoe Project to identify the moms. They are a remarkable organisation that provides counselling and birthing support to mothers in communities around Cape Town.
We chose specifically to support mothers who were undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, as we saw this as the most vulnerable group of people in the community. As mothers, they are caring not only for themselves but for young children. They have no access to state support because of their status in this country. I started tracking the situation of foreign nationals in particular, largely through the advocacy work being done by the Scalabrini Centre. They took up the fight for foreign nationals to receive the Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant and won. The court ruled that asylum-seekers and some special-permit holders can apply for the SRD grant.
As we rolled out Mothers in Need, I learned a few things:
We should not let our humanity be guided by the rules of the state
It is easy to take the initial government position that, ‘These people are not citizens and should not be considered for support from the state, which would take resources away from our own people’. The law is the law. The issue at hand is not whether these laws should be broken or not. When we hear of the suffering of others, no matter their legal status, our hearts should be broken. Our humanity should guide our response. The Word calls us to do so. In Zechariah 6:9-10 it says, “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’”
Heartache is the fuel that drives action
When a close friend suffers a tragedy or a loss, it doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to take action to support them. We feel their pain and so we act.
How many of us open ourselves up to feel the pain of the mother from Malawi who, day in and day out, distributes flyers at the robots, in the hopes that one of them will land her a day or two of cleaning work? I suspect that many of us close ourselves off to feeling the pain of people outside our friends or family. When we do so, we remove the urgency to take action on any issue of social justice. Justice is a big part of God’s call to us to ‘love thy neighbour’. The mother from Malawi at the robots is our neighbour.
Perhaps for many of us, opening ourselves up to feeling that pain just makes us feel guilty, right? Avoiding the pain is not the solution; it’s how we direct it that matters. When we feel the pain of others, it should be directed to growing our love for people. God’s call to us is to act out of love, not out of guilt.
I am constantly searching for the pain in strangers I see around me, because I know that this is what fuels my conviction and energy to help create change. Shared pain builds love which compels us to take action. We can only muster the strength and commitment needed to consistently make the world better if we are confronted by the pain of the world around us, and if that pain breaks our heart.
Who is in the shade of your tree?
With so much need around us, particularly in a country like South Africa, how do we not become paralysed by it? We don’t necessarily need to have the big solution that is going to change the lives of hundreds, or even ten people.
An easy way to get started is to look around for the one or two people we are already connected to. If you have had help on the domestic front, then the easiest place to start might be with the person who helps to clean your house or works in the garden. Firstly, there is an existing relationship there, so you don’t need to go out and find someone to support. Secondly, and more importantly, there is value exchange there. Paying your cleaner or gardener more is not an act of charity. It is giving them a fair reward for the value they give to you. It’s an act of love and a justice issue.
More than economics
Justice is not only an issue of material needs. It is also about respect, dignity, and love. There is much we can do in these areas that needn’t cost a cent. It can be something as simple as acknowledging and greeting the person asking for money at the traffic lights; not necessarily giving them money, but giving them the message of ‘I see you’. It could also be mentoring someone who is struggling at school or at work.
Where to from here?
Why not get together with a group of friends or family members and have an intentional discussion on this issue of social justice? What breaks your heart? What do you have in your hands that could make someone’s life better? It could be money to pay the cleaner in your home more. It could be time and expertise you could give someone as a mentor. In my experience, if you find something you can give to another with a glad heart, you end up getting far more back in return. When we work to restore communities according to God’s purpose, we in turn are also restoring our own humanity.
Feel the pain of others. Grow your love for people. Take action to make a change for one person, to change their world.