I had a dear friend ask me last night, “Why don’t you just go into the inner city and work with kids there? They need hope also.”
She’s right, they do need hope and love and attention. We had the privilege of helping at a church-sponsored sports camp for kids just off 5th Avenue in Columbus. There was about 130 kids running, kicking, yelling, singing, dunking and having a good time. The camp was free, as was lunch. They heard about Jesus and God, and hopefully felt love from his followers who were there running the camp.
At a certain age, when you look into their eyes, especially the girls, you can see hope diminish. Abuse, poverty, hatred. They all start crushing their world at a young age.
This is what is looks like in the townships we visited in South Africa. Except:
-TAKE AWAY RUNNING WATER. Having a sink, faucet or refrigerator in your apartment would be a luxury.
-TAKE AWAY INDOOR PLUMBING. Add a port-a-john. But not one for each family. Add one for the block. And don’t count on it being clean.
-TAKE AWAY HOUSES. Take out the kitchen and the bathroom and the bedroom. In fact, take away the houses. Add cardboard and tin, maybe some barbed wire. Add one room, for everyone to share. Lock your house to keep out criminals? Ha!
-ADD AN 80% UNEMPLOYMENT RATE. Take away all government sponsored assistance. There are no food stamps. There is no free medical care. In fact, medical clinics at all will be hard to come by. But that’s ok, you won’t be able to afford it anyway.
-TAKE AWAY EDUCATION. Right next to the park where the sports camp was being held in Columbus, was a brand new elementary school. Stained glass window, LED display on the grounds, modern layout, huge playground with trees and green grass. In some townships, kids walk to school for miles, others don’t bother going at all. That’s ok, there’s too many kids and too few teachers. The teachers are underpaid and exhausted. There are no levies to pass or government funds to help those schools. “You get what you pay for” is the motto. And if parents can’t pay than you’re out of luck.
-ADD APARTHEID, HATE and RACISM. The townships are an eyesore on a beautiful city. The haves and the have nots are blatantly obvious. Painful. Palpable. The wealth is impressive; the gold and diamond industry has been good to some in this country.
-ADD CRIME. Yes, the urban environment is rough. We saw some 9 millimeter shell casings scattered on the ground at the corner store. But, Cape Town was recently labeled as the 5th most dangerous city in the world to live in. If you know 1000 people in your area, expect 17 of them to be murdered this year. There is a saying that in Johannesburg, a “girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.” Murder, rape, assault. It’s life.
-ADD HIV/AIDS. South Africa leads the world in HIV/AIDS victims. In the township we visited, AIDS claimed over 20% of the community. For every 10 of your friends, choose 2 to have AIDS. Because AIDS has ravaged the country, there are millions of orphaned children.
Take the population of New York City and Los Angeles. Combine them and make them all children. There are no adults. That is roughly how many children are orphaned in southern Africa because of AIDS. Now make the 9 year old the head of the house. Have the younger kids work for food. Watch out for gangs and sex traffickers, who will only be yet another avenue for the spread of AIDS. Don’t forget to do your homework.
-Now pretend these are YOUR children.
That is exactly what Jesus says to us. Except He says, “These are MY children. Feed them, clothe them, love them. Please do this for Me.”
Sure, it would be easier and more convenient to drive down to Columbus a couple of days a week. It would be cheaper, that’s for sure. But, we don’t feel called to do that.
The orphans and widows across the world in a hard to reach place called South Africa is what breaks our heart. The work there is daunting, the path there is overwhelming.
But when God says, “Let me show you what needs to be done.” Who are we to say they are not worth it?”
*Aaron Tally photo