March 4, 2010
Today wrapped our time in Red Hill. Today was a good day. It was mostly marked by the usual suspects—a strange morning, although good time to do home visitation and meet people and hear their stories; construction delays only to be overcome by our triumphant and very capable team of Americans and locals; crafts and snacks for adults, with the occasional, “why aren’t you in school?” conversation with random children; kids’ club in what is, to us, a too-hot room with children who have to be uncomfortable but never mention it. It was over 100 yesterday, in the 90s today. In unventilated, non-insulated space…HOT.
Today ended with a community-wide celebration. It was really the culmination of a great week. I would expect there were around 200 people present, but it was difficult to count. We had the chance to tell the community of Red Hill why we come and how we pray for them between the times we visit them. We also had the chance to celebrate through song in the African style—loud, powerful, moving. It was an important time, and finally a few things began to come together for me.
In the same way that today was good, today was hard. I continue to come to terms with the disparity across the world. I hate it. I have not resolved not to understand it, and I think I am closer to it today than I was yesterday. As we all pray for God to bless this community, these families, and I remind myself that my “idea” of blessing is probably not exactly God’s idea, I confess that sometimes I feel it is an empty prayer. It’s totally my problem. I want God to want the same things for Red Hill that I do. Obviously He is not wrong. I am okay with being wrong. But I still hate it. Then I am confronted with people experiencing inescapable joy. It’s harder to tell in the U.S., at least initially, but when someone lives under the light of Christ, you can just tell. If they know Him, people in Red Hill wear Jesus well. Joy exudes! Joy doesn’t exude much in the U.S., and sadly, probably not from me all that much—at least not nearly enough.
I got to talk for a few minutes with one of my favorite Red Hill residents, Phillis, who also works for Living Hope as a support group leader for HIV+ people, while we (and by we, I mean she) made drinks for our community celebration. Phillis is one of the sweetest women. I have no idea how old she is…I am guessing close to 50…I hope African women are not offended by guesses at their age…and Phillis inspired me with her simple words. She speaks decent English. I met her young nephew, who is now living with her. His father, her brother, is positive. She is about to take in her sister’s child as well. Her sister is positive, too, and is sick. Phillis wants to bring her to Red Hill so she can receive adequate treatment, medication and care that she cannot get so easily where she currently lives in the Eastern Cape. Phillis’ other sibling died in June of HIV-related illness. She was relating all of this to me while she was using a teacup to pour water from a bucket into a 2-liter container half-filled with ice in order to chill it briefly, all just before pouring it into a 20-liter storage container to create this orangey drink. One teacup at a time. Slow. Spilling some from time to time. Just telling her story. To Phillis, it was just another part of her day. I kept thinking, “Surely, there is a way to do this better, faster, easier.” No doubt there was/is. But not to Phillis, and not to Red Hill. No complaints. No complaints either as their permanent port-a-johns that serve as the community’s restrooms were serviced today and the pungent smell wafted throughout the village all day. No complaints as the dogs nipped at people’s heels all day or fought under their feet. If you know me, you know how much I love dogs. I was done with a dog after today.
You need to know a brief history of Red Hill: Under Apartheid, non-whites were not allowed to be seen in the cities after dark. Due to many working in the city and trying to get out and get somewhere before dark, lest they be arrested, someone had to find a solution. A local farmer offered his land to the city as a temporary settlement for these non-whites, and somewhere around 1978, Red Hill was born. That temporary settlement still lives over 30 years later, working on its third generation of inhabitants. The number of homes in the settlement are fixed, so it can’t grow much except for people born into existing homes. Port-a-johns still serve as restrooms; electricity and water are available, although both are communal in nature. There are no permanent structures in Red Hill, and most homes are built of 2X4s, tin, some plastic, and newspaper. Yet there is joy.
1 Peter 2:9-12 (NLT): But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.” Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world.
Corrie ten Boom said a lot that I love. I never do quote mash-ups, but these are worth standing together today:
“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow; it empties today of its strength.”
I think and hope I have learned a lot from today and from Red Hill. I love my life, but I know my home is temporary. This is my temporary home (insert country music lyric here). Red Hill, for good or for bad, has figured this out. And I am thankful for that reminder today.
Tomorrow we contextualize. We’ll visit the District 6 Museum and Robben Island. To learn more about why these matter to us today and why they matter to Red Hill, Google. We’re also taking Phillis, et al, to dinner.