Rolling Hills Presentation: Justice Week
Good morning and happy first Sunday of Lent! The whole theme of lent this year at Rolling Hills is peace. What is God’s peace? How is it given to us? How are we supposed to use it as Christians? We are going to be discussing all sorts of very hard topics that I am not qualified to talk about whatsoever. But this week’s topic is justice, which I do know a little something about…we hope.
Every winter, the Northeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church sends a group of high school students along with a bishop and chaperones to a different part of the world. The trip is called the Mission of Peace. As you all know, I traveled to South Africa for almost three weeks in January with this program, and I am here today to talk about my experience with you as it relates to justice and peace.
But before I can get to all that important stuff, I want to take a moment to explain exactly what a Mission of Peace is. We are all very familiar here at Rolling Hills with Discovery Service Projects. Many of us, including myself, have volunteered on trips before. We know how there is usually a work site, and volunteers dedicate their time to building a school or an orphanage or a hurricane shelter or a church for the local people. Something physical is left behind that was not there before Discovery’s presence. This is a beautiful thing and a very gratifying thing, so it is not surprising that most mission trips are set up just like Discovery Service trips. But a long, long time ago in the eighties, a group of youth created the Mission of Peace because they wanted to try something different.
To be clear, I built nothing physical while in South Africa. I didn’t shovel any concrete, I didn’t lay any cinder blocks, and I certainly didn’t bend any rebar. All I really did was talk to people. But somehow in talking to people, I learned more about our society, our purpose as Christians, and our God than I have on any other experience.
Today’s theme is justice as it relates to peace. Justice is fairness and equality, and peace is harmony and tranquility. In my mind, I have always associated these two concepts. I have always believed that we need to create justice in the world, so that people can be at peace. That seems reasonable. Right? You can’t be at peace if your circumstances are unjust. This is what I always thought.
South Africa is one of the richest countries on the continent, and in some areas that wealth is very evident. One afternoon in Capetown, my group stopped at a mall food court for lunch as we were driving from the clinic we had visited that morning to the church we were visiting that evening. As we walked back to our vans after lunch, we saw an Aston Martin dealership. So of course, all the teenage boys and I had to go inside to ooh and aahh. Now everything I know about cars, I learned from my brother, and he taught me enough to know that one of these Aston Martins costs about $150,000 to $200,000. When I remembered this information while standing in that Aston Martin dealership, I froze. I suppose the people who work there thought that I really like cars or something bc I stood there entranced in front of this car. But I have seen expensive toys before. I froze up because that same morning I visited a clinic where hundreds of patients waited in line for treatment from one doctor. The ones who don’t get treated one day become the front of the line the next day. The clinic sees on average 10,000 people a month with only one doctor and eight nurses on staff every day. I spent the morning listening to the stories of the facility’s manager about how she wants to help more people but cannot because there just aren’t enough funds to buy medicines and equipment and pay doctors. And here was an Aston Martin dealership ten miles away. So I did a little math while I stood there. With the money it takes to buy one car at that dealership, you could pay the yearly salaries for four more doctors for that clinic. If that’s not a social justice issue, I don’t know what is.
So with all this injustice, I didn’t expect to encounter much peace while in South Africa. I certainly didn’t experience much peace. I was frustrated, almost angry even, that we were viewing so much injustice, but we were DOING nothing. I wanted a trip like Discovery Service. I wanted to put on some old jeans and go out there and get to work! It was uncomfortable to watch someone else’s suffering, discuss it in detail with him or her, and then walk away. I was itching for justice and thought that until I did something, I could not be at peace.
One of the biggest injustices in South Africa today has to do with HIV/AIDs. 18% of the adult population in South Africa is infected with HIV/AIDs. Just to give you a point of comparison, in the United States, about one half of one percent of adults are infected. This disease creates a huge drain on the people of South Africa not only because it kills adults, but also because it orphans an insane amount of children. Many of the missions that I visited on my trip, like the clinic in Capetown, are fighting to help both AIDs victims and AIDs orphans.
Another one of these missions, the Mosaic Housing Project focuses on providing stable lives for the mothers, neighbors, and relatives who take in AIDs orphans. For a very small amount of rent, Mosaic provides foster parents of AIDs orphans with a home with running water and separate rooms for the boys, the girls, and the parents. This may not seem like much, but a four room cinder block house with a sink is a major step above the slums from which these families came. Not only does Mosaic provide families with safe homes, but they also provide jobs through their for-profit business Made by Mosaic. Interestingly enough, Made by Mosaic is run by a young woman who is a missionary from Hopewell UMC in Downingtown named Jordan Ridge. It is through Jordan that I met one of my favorite women on earth.
Dorah is the mother of a whole community of children. In addition to her own four kids, she took in three orphans when her sister died of AIDs. Dorah welcomed me into her life like she welcomes everyone, with open arms and an open heart. She took me on a tour of her neighborhood, showing off the home that Mosaic built for her, taking pride over her children, and explaining her work. Dorah lives in a Mosaic home and is a knitter for Made by Mosaic. She made the scarf I am wearing today. She has a stable job and works hard to provide for her family in a town where the unemployment rate is 80%. And you can buy her work online.
Dorah’s life is by no means an example of justice. One of her own children and one of her adopted children have special needs. Her husband is an alcoholic, who doesn’t have a job. Her sister died of AIDs. And she has little to no education because she grew up under the apartheid system, which did not allow blacks to learn much of anything. But despite the injustice of her situation, Dorah is at peace. Tired as she is from her work, her smile is warm whenever anyone looks her way. Stressed as she is by her children, her voice is calm and patient when she addressed them. Tested as she is by life, she is happy.
When I visited Mosaic, I had the opportunity to meet Dorah’s family, including her eldest daughter. Eighteen years old and unmarried, she got pregnant and now has a six month old baby. The tradition in Dorah’s culture is to throw both the daughter and the illegitimate child out of the house and into the streets to fend for themselves. But Dorah could not do this. “God gave me a beautiful daughter,” Dorah told me. “And God gave me a beautiful job. And God gave me beautiful friends. And God gave me the chance to meet you. I do not throw away God’s gifts,” she explained. “We are a community, and we must watch out for each another. That is why I love living here. We care for each other.”
Dorah suffered some criticism from her peers for accepting her daughter into her home despite the unwanted pregnancy, but she took it all in stride. There is a tranquility about her demeanor that caught me off guard. I suppose I expected this woman to feel sorry for herself or hurt by her loss of a sister or angry at her unsupportive husband or upset with her pregnant daughter. But Dorah is none of these things. Dorah is at peace.
I met Dorah on my third full day in South Africa, and in the weeks that followed I met many more people who fell into the same pattern that she does: they live unjust lives but have peaceful hearts. As I met these people and talked to them, my assumption that justice and peace are linked began to crumble. Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” I always assumed that these peacemakers were creating peace in other people. I thought that was our purpose. But now I understand that to be true peacemakers, we must first create peace within ourselves.
Justice, equality, fairness, these are all important goals for Christians, yes. But our success or failure when it comes to creating justice for others does not change out ability to accept God’s peace for ourselves. “My peace I GIVE to you,” Jesus tells us in John. “I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
As Christians, we are called to create justice for others. When we think about the things that Jesus did while he was here on earth, we remember that he healed the sick, cared for the poor, ate with the sinners, and preached about how the weakest people will rise up and the most powerful people will fall down. Our Gospel lesson that was read earlier confirms this. But the main thing I learned while in Africa is that God doesn’t expect us to do this work on our own. Reverend Kim Alexander, who I met later on in my trip, told us that when she first entered ministry people kept asking her if she thought she could change the world. “No,” she told them. “I know I cannot change the world. But I also know that God can use me in some way for good.”
So with all this in mind, I ask you to join me in John Wesley’s covenant prayer. Yes, we are called to create justice in this world. Yes, we are called to dedicate our lives to the work of God, whether it is here at Rolling Hills or halfway across the world. But we do not need to do any of this on our own. God offers us His peace for free.
Please join me on page 607 in your hymnal
I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, You are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.