I have already shared an article on my blog about Nigel and Trish before and how they moved into what is known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods with their family and how some of that has played out. Val and i managed to have a Skype call with Nigel a few weeks ago and it was truly inspiring hearing some of the story of how they got to where they are and how it has been playing out. Nigel takes some time here to share about some of the ways in which their decisions and actions have influenced their children in growing up as World Changers…
Reflections on parenting: Choosing to put God first
When my wife and I moved into Hillbrow, Johannesburg over a year and a half ago, the main concern expressed by many of our loving friends was for our children. People literally asked questions like “What if one of them is kidnapped, raped or murdered?”. Hillbrow is just one of those communities which seem to invoke fear.
We were however convinced that God had spoken to us about moving into the neighbourhood, about downward mobility, and about standing in solidarity with our urban poor neighbours. Trish and I had long discussions about the call of God on our lives, and in fact the potential suffering that following Jesus may cost any believer, and therefore also us. The question we had to answer was whose voice would be louder… the voice of God or the voice of fear.
We searched the Scriptures and were convinced that if Jesus were alive today, He would be spending his life not in comfort and convenience, but rather in places like Hillbrow as friends of prostitutes, drug dealers and the homeless. The more I studied Scriptures, the more I became aware of the dangers of greed, individualism and consumerism.
We drew courage from reframing the question as this: what is more dangerous for our children, given the realities of eternity – to grow up in a society and culture which teaches you to worship the unholy trinity of “me, myself and I” or to be in a potentially physically dangerous place where you can learn the values of Jesus of justice, compassion and love? Jesus said “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Matthew 16:26). An important reflection.
We started to dream of a new world, the kind of world we would want to leave to our children.
“We want to see a world in which the rich do not tolerate extreme poverty and inequality. We want to see many people actually laying down their lives of comfort and convenience for the sake of bettering the lives of others. Seeing people freed from poverty, inequality, racism and exploitation is more important than fulfilling our lust for more things! We want to be part of a society in which people are valued more than things. We want to see the god of consumerism in South Africa bowing its knee to a love motivated revolution which results in freedom from oppression and exploitation. We want to see this for all people, regardless of class, citizenship, race or religion. We dream of equality in every sector of society. We believe that if the education system is not OK for a rich kid, it is not OK for a poor kid. The same goes with healthcare, housing, security. The same goes for rural kids and inner city kids. The same for black kids and white kids. We are not more valuable than the least valued in our society. We are doing our lives in a new way. We are going to live our dream and see this reality briefly described above happening around us. We hope others will join us and this will happen around them too. Who knows, very soon, the world can be a different place!”
As we weighed up God’s Word, His call and his promises, we finally came to the decision to move regardless of the cost. As a side reflection, I have subsequently found that the time God gives you grace to do something often coincides with the moment of your decision to obey His Word to you. Grace comes through faith and faith comes from putting the Word of God into practice in your life.
So fast forward a few years from when we made this decision, and here we are living in what many describe as one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the world. As responsible parents, we do all we can to protect our children. They know the rules and the risks and we are always close by to protect them. What we have found is that rather than restrictions, we are now in the most spacious place in our lives and the move has in my opinion been the best thing we could have done for our children. So often we think doing radical things for Jesus will harm our children, when in fact the opposite happens – they grow and develop.
I am so often overwhelmed by the things my children do in response to the poverty they now see in the lives of their friends who they love. My son Jordan, aged 8, has spent very little of his pocket money on himself since we have lived here. A little while after we moved in he came to me with his savings and said “Dad, you give me everything I need, I don’t need this money, who do you think we should give it to?” Needless to say my chest swelled as I held back tears of gratitude at the work God was doing in my boy’s heart. He has since done this again and again. His little brother, Daniel, aged 6, also loves to give his pocket money away or to buy food for the homeless with it.
In our block of flats, one of our children’s friends is a little boy named Sipho. Sipho lives with his 4 year old brother, Thabo, and his two year old baby sister, Princess, (not their real names)and single mother in a single room that they sub-let as a family. The room is barely big enough to fit the double bed which they all share. His father is legally not allowed to see him after he tried about 2 years ago to poison the two little boys and himself in an attempted family suicide. Their mom works at night and so the boys are often chased out the flat during the day so she can sleep. They are often hungry and so our two older girls love making them food. Sipho recently turned 8 years old. It was obvious that his mom was not going to throw him a birthday party or buy him any presents. Enter my children! All by themselves they conspired to bless this boy with a birthday party. They all pooled their pocked money together. Hannah, our 12 year old and Rachel, our 10 year old baked the cake. Jordan bought the presents. It was an amazing event. Through these and other similar stories I have become convinced that you cannot teach your children how to love and show compassion through your words, you have to demonstrate it as a parent and create opportunities for them to take the initiative. Living among the urban poor and standing in solidarity with our neighbours constantly presents opportunities for acts of love.
I have so many more stories to tell, like how Hannah, our 12 year old has become a real advocate for the rights of the oppressed. Our children have had opportunities to speak on radio and television and to many journalists about how society should be helping their friends. Hannah often comes to me and asks me to help a friend get back into school or to get some form of assistance for someone, whether adult or child. We have often involved friends who are lawyers to help her friends and have even taken cases to the Constitutional Court (South Africa’s highest court) on behalf of Hannah’s friends. God is not only doing a work in their hearts, He is giving them a voice to the world.
Moving into Hillbrow has been the best thing we could have done for our children. When we put God first in our lives, He takes care of all the details of our lives. He really does love us and wants the best for us and we can trust Him with our children as we pursue Him and His call with all of our lives. We should never let our children set the agenda in our lives, as precious as they are. We believe they are more precious to God than to us and that He will work in their hearts and do things in them we could not even dream of if we allow Him to really be on the throne of our lives completely.
So in conclusion, let me quote Jesus who said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We have found this verse to be true in our new life and Hillbrow and know that Jesus can be trusted!