Unemployed in Cape Town - preparation for the General Annual Conference of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa
This post comes from the promised land - Cape Town! I am very fortunate to fly into this place of blessing and grace every few weeks. It is one of the great blessings of my vocation. If you are short of time could I ask you simply to skip the next few paragraphs and read the quote below? It is moving, wortwhile, and a poignant reminder of the task that lies before us as a Church that seeks to match our personal piety with acts of Kingdom Building social holiness? Of course if you have more time you are welcome to read my other personal reflections below!
As many would know I spent 6 very happy years as a circuit minister in Somerset West, and in fact our first child, Courtney, was born there. Sadly, she is the only one in the family who has defected and become a 'Bluebull' supporter since our move to Pretoria 4 years ago - there you go Joch Seeliger!
Each time that I return to Cape Town I feel a ache deep down in my heart. My time here truly was one of the most blessed and wonderful times in my life! The Church we served was vibrant, growing, and alive with possibility. I had a wonderful colleagueship and ministry with my good friend Philip Buckland, our lay leaders were a 'dream team' - I remember many blessed days with Richard Steele, Beulah Durheim, Nicolene van Vuuren, Hester Pike, Wendy Coles, and Debbie Lown! We are very fortunate still to own a little piece of heaven - a two bedroom apartment on the side of the Helderberg Mountain. The ache that I feel is a result of my longing for the friends, fellowship, and great blessing that we experienced during those happy years.
However, as I returned to the Cape last night I felt an ache of a very different kind. The occasion was a joyous one - we had gathered in Somerset West with the student ministers who are about to be Ordained this coming Sunday. From our meeting we made our way to the Elgin Country club for dinner with the Ordinands and the Bishops - a start to the Ordinands retreat. The dinner itself was wonderful! I sat at the table with my friends Juan Smith and Bonginkosi Mathenjwa (both of whom were students at John Wesley College in my first year there in 2004), as well as Bishops Paul Verryn, Brian Jennings, Andrew Hefkie, and Professor Richardson. As part of the dinner our Presiding Bishop reminded us all that we have a great responsibility before us in the week that lies ahead. Many of us (the EMMU staff and Bishops) are permanent members of the General Conference that meets annually. It is our task to direct and guide the Church in its policy, mission and decision making.
Among the items on the Agenda are the all important resolutions on the same-sex matter. However, Bishop Ivan Abrahams reminded us that there are many other very important issues, that often seem to get silenced by the more glamorous issues. Bishop Ivan read a real life account of a woman who is a Methodist, in fact a member of the Church in which he had served as a younger pastor. The story served to remind us of our responsibility and the importance of the work that lies before us.
As he read the story my longing turned to sorrow - my only prayer is that the energy of this emotion would be transferred into action, loving action that would in some way change the plight of so many in our poverty ravaged land. This story is called "Unemployed in Cape Town" and comes from the book "Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge. Report for the second Carnegie inquiry into poverty and development in Southern Africa" by Wilson, F and Mamphela, R (Cape Town: David Philip Publishers).
My husband lost his job about give months ago. It was big shock but we though we could cope. I was earning a reasonably good wage. We had to cut a few corners thought. We had to eat less meat. We had to save on all kinds of things. I had to now catch the train to work, 'cause it was cheaper than the bus even though it took a lot longer even though it took longer. I also took in other people's washing. There are a few people here who pay you a little bit to wash their clothes. I used to wash clothes every Sunday.
Then two months ago I lost my job. We were desperate. There was no money coming in now.
We had to spend everything we had in the time my husband was without a job. Now they've cut off the electricity and we're two months in arrears with rent. They're going to evict us I'm sure, we just can't pay though. My husband decided to go to Jo'burg. he went a month ago. He said he would get a job there. He sent some money the first week. But I haven't had any more money since. I don't know where he is. I haven't been able to get hold of him. I would like to go to Jo'burg to look for him but what can I do with the children?
Before he left we used to take turns to look for work because the children can't go to creche because there's no money.
Sometimes they lie awake at night crying. I know they are crying because they are hungry. I feel like feedin them Rattex [a rat poison]. When your children cry hunger-crying, your heart wants to break. It will be better if they were dead. When I think things like that I feel worse. It's terrible when a mother wants to kill her own children. But what can I do, I'm not a mother worth having.
I worry about my husband. I think he might have run away with someone else. Maybe he's got a job and just doesn't want to come home. But why isn't he sending any money? I'm sick I'm sick because of the cold. I can't take my children to the doctor when they're sick because there's no money. My mother and father said they would try to help. But they've got very little money and my brother and sister to support. It's a hard time for all of us. We're just not cared to find jobs. What can one do? You must start looking.
You can also pray to God that he will keep you from killing your children.
Last night I lay awake and I prayed. I prayed that God would make me courageous enough to make a difference. Perhaps we can do something to help people like this. I know that's what Jesus would do. I thank God for reminding me why we are meeting this week - not to make new policy and amend unnecessary laws, but to find ways to feed the hungry and bring hope to the hopeless. To find a way of helping a desperate mother so that she doesn't have to kill her children.