My new friend, Portal Pete [as i call him, or Pete Portal to his other friends], shares some thoughts as to why he and his wife Sarah decided to intentionally move into Manenberg:
“Why would you move to Manenberg?”
“Christianity is an invitation to be part of an alien people who make a difference because they see something that cannot otherwise be seen without Christ. Right living is more the challenge than right thinking.” This means that “what makes the church ‘radical’ and forever ‘new’ is not that the church tends to lean toward the left on most social issues, but rather that the church knows Jesus whereas the world does not. In the church’s view, the political left is not noticeably more interesting than the political right; both sides tend towards solutions that act as if the world has not ended and begun in Jesus. These ‘solutions’ are only mirror images of the status quo.” (Stanley Hauerwas: ‘Resident Aliens’)
I believe that there are simply no economic or political solutions to the economic and political problems the world faces and itself generates. If the assertion that God (and not capitalists or terrorists) rules the world, then it logically follows that only through Jesus’ sacrificial love ethic will the transformation of communities, societies and nations be possible.
Let’s get personal. Last October, my wife Sarah and I felt God ask us if we would move into Manenberg. We had recently arrived back in Cape Town from a year studying in London, and were initially looking for a sweet little Victorian cottage in Observatory. But we couldn’t let go of the deep-set feeling that commuting from the suburbs into Manenberg each day would just perpetuate the unhealthy prevailing narrative of whites going to ‘help’ those living in townships. The fact is, ‘being with’ is a lot more meaningful and generative than ‘doing for’.
And so – in April this year we moved in. Best decision ever, because it has allowed us to listen to, learn from, and be friends with, those whom we would never have otherwise met. Put slightly differently – when you are neighbours with someone, you develop an equal relationship based on familiarity and friendship. When you visit somewhere to ‘help’, ‘minister’ or ‘serve’, you develop a skewed relationship based on providing something. (Sidenote – I once heard someone say ‘the poor [whoever you think they are] don’t need soup and shoes – they need a place at your table for the next twenty years.’ I couldn’t agree more. Though, it’s those the world views as rich who would really benefit from eating with those seen as poor – not vice versa.)
I believe that if Jesus was alive in human form today and moved to Cape Town, he would live in Manenberg – or somewhere like it. And so, if the Christian life is about trying to follow Jesus, and be like him in everything, it seems quite clear that more of us should be living amongst the poor, traumatized, disempowered, violent and addicted.
Here’s my reasoning:
Jesus came from an accursed and belittled place. (John 1:46)
He himself was financially poor. (Luke 2:24 – his parents offered two doves rather than a lamb – a sign of their financial poverty.)
He seemed to spend more time amongst the poor and marginalized than the influential. (Mark 2:15)
And he was misunderstood for doing so. (Matthew 11:19)
Might Manenberg be a contemporary equivalent of Nazareth – accursed and marginalized? Guess so, based on newspaper headlines and conversations I’ve had with Capetonians:
“Manenberg?! No man, those people aren’t right.”
[Middle class coloured friend]
Or… “Listen, what you’re trying to do is noble, but those people will never change, they’ll just take advantage of you. Look, you don’t understand them like we do. There’s a reason people don’t go into those areas.”
[Middle class white friend]
Or… “You mustn’t go there – it’s too dangerous, the people are evil.”
[Black lady I met in a taxi].
Are Christians commissioned to walk as Jesus walked? Yup.
Is discipleship about ‘being Jesus’ to the world? For sure.
Might this mean exposing the first world myths of ‘quality of life’, ‘security’ and ‘comfort’? I reckon.
What about the apartheid mindset of fear and division? That too.
Does it not then follow that to move into Manenberg actually makes more sense than not?
Ah – hmmm – about that…