Category Archives: community

Poetry around the table

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Thursday nights are community dinner nights at my church, St Peter’s Mowbray in Cape Town.

Friends and strangers sit together around tables, those with beds to sleep in and those who sleep under bridges or by the train station. Strangers become friends. Community forms. And amidst the struggles and fights, people feel dignity and warmth. We hope.

One Thursday we decided to write poetry and draw with some of our friends and it went down surprisingly well.

I provided prompts for poems and paper and pens and people engaged and shared what they had written.

I am 

– by Maureen

I am a streetwise kid

I feel very sad because I sleep outside

I want a better life

I wonder what will happen to me

I fear death because I don’t know what will happen to my children

I hope to get a better life in the future

I try to become a better person

I believe I can come right

I dream real love will come my way

I am streetwise.

 

I am 

– by Tash

I am me

I feel like the world is my playground

I want peace for all

I wonder what life after death looks like

I fear loosing a loved one

I hope that God blesses all of mankind

I try to stay positive even when things and life seems impossible

I believe that I will reach my goal of making a difference in someone’s life for the better

I dream of a world without violence, hate, greed and destruction

I am someone who believes in change.

 

I am

– by Hassiem

I am lost in the world

I feel happy

I want a good life

I wonder what will happen to me this winter

I fear God, no one in the world

I hope for a better life

I try to get me a home

 

Homeless

– by anonymous

Cold and hungry,

Wet and tired,

Food, more food,

Will help,

Kind people,

Cruel people?

 

Wet Reality

– by Zach Stewart, Aged 14, member of St Peter’s Mowbray

I’ve always liked to believe that

Life is like a rain storm.

And you can stand in the middle,

Shivering, and getting sick from the cold,

Or you can be that “weird” person,

That, in the rain, takes off their jersey,

Accepting the cold

While running on the banks of rivers,

Shouting, “FREEDOM”.

Two options I thought, but,

A forgotten reality too.

That reality sits under the bridge, in the rain

While the swelling river bites at its feet.

It prays for an end

To the eternal cold, but

A gulp

Or a smoke from it’s cigarette,

Between. Each. Word.

It’s heart beats slower

Bum… Bum… Bum…

A banging in the back of it’s head,

Or a voice,

Hollow, and reassuring.

“Drink, drink, drink. The cold will go away…”

 

Overflowing love and infectious joy in a prison

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love behind bars

My friend in Cape Town is an inspiring example of intentional love: sacrificial and overflowing. She carries joy with her everywhere and tells a story in her new blog about taking that joy and love right into prison with her and the impact that had. I want to share her story with you here.

About a month ago I walked into a coffee shop and the barista asked me, ‘Where do you come from?’

I responded, ‘I’m from here, why?’

He smiled and said, “Because you’re smiling like a European on holiday. Locals don’t walk around looking that!” We both chuckled; I grabbed my coffee and moved on.

I didn’t have time to tell him why I was walking around with this look on my face. But I have time to tell you…

My friend Sarah proceeds to tell a wonderful story about visiting her friend in prison, encouraging him and speaking life over him to the point where their joy and life spilled over into those around them. You can read the rest of her story here… I highly recommend you take the time to read it, such an inspiring story and mental image that goes with it.

A thousand stories

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St Augustine says, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” But when we do travel, the pages fly. Each moment a new story, each day a new chapter. And without each one, the book is not complete. And so I soak up every word, every face, every name. Each pair of eyes I look into is another line written in my book and another way I will never be the same again.

Burundi was many things. It was Love in a glass of water. It was Peace in a litter of piglets. It was Hope in a marketplace being rebuilt.

Fiona Lynne

storyteller

I want to continue to share with you a few posts by friends who traveled with me in Uganda and Burundi. Mostly because they write so beautifully but also because I haven’t managed to write up as much as I had hoped yet and I don’t want you to have to wait too long before hearing about our experiences.

So here is a post by Fiona Lynne about the many people and stories we encountered in Burundi.

Holy Ground

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This poem is related to a previous post about simply being present with those who are suffering.

Blood

So much blood

And a precious bundle in carefully folded bright blue cloth

Through the mess

I see my friend

My sister

Who I love deeply

She smiles and says she’s so glad I’m there

She clings to me

A safe arm I guess

A privilege to stay with you, to not rush away

To hold your hand tight

To stand with you

Through the shock, weakness, questions, pain, tears, grief

Nowhere in the world I’d rather be than right here.

A holy moment

The three of us,

You, me

And this tiny tiny baby

Red and not yet fully formed

Yet with perfect little finger nails

As you name your baby

And release his spirit to God

As you weep and I hold you

I am humbled that I’m allowed in

To be this to you right now

To show you love, tenderness, care

To give what isn’t my own to give

Nothing draining from me

To be a channel

Simply a channel

To be available.

Holy ground

And we both know it

God is here, with us

I can feel it

Your bed attended by angels

I sing over you gently

Peace abounds

Strangely peaceful

Unnaturally peaceful

Supernatural peace, in fact

A gift from Him.

 

All poems and original writing on this blog are Copyright © Hilary Murdoch 2013

Simply being present

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“How about this? How about when someone is before us, a real, live person, suffering, we be a person?…in that moment, when they are feeling their humanity so acutely or they have shown themselves to be a regular person like the rest of us, how about we surround them with the grace of being seen, being heard, and simply being loved?”

comfort

This is a brilliant piece by Sarah Bessey, which expresses something I so strongly believe in. The art of simply being present and being human when someone is suffering. I also love this post by Kathy Escobar about being ‘with’ and alongside people.

This is so hard to do. Everything inside us feels we should give some answer, some wise words, but usually there is none to give and if we try we just sound insensitive and trite. But what the person often needs is just other people walking alongside them, being present and being themselves. Some companionship on a dark road even if few words are spoken.

When a close friend of mine’s mum died suddenly, I felt maybe I should go and be with her. But everything in me was fearful. I didn’t know how to be with someone in such suffering. What would I say? Persuaded by a few friends to take courage, I decided to simply jump on a train and turn up, just the day after the tragedy. I stayed with her for a few days and then returned for more time later that month. It was easier than I thought. Lighter than I’d thought. I was just coming to be with her, not to offer answers or solutions, as I had none to offer. But I could offer myself: a shoulder to cry on, a friend to walk with, a praying presence in the house and a helping hand for the practicalities of living that have to continue, even when you feel the world should have stopped. And it was received and appreciated. It made a big difference to her and her grieving. It was a huge lesson for me that just offering myself is enough. I learnt that I carry peace within me because the ‘Prince of Peace’ is in me and so I can walk into a situation and inject peace and hope into it, often without even trying. That may sound arrogant but in fact it’s the opposite. It’s the realization that I have both nothing to give from myself and yet everything to give because of who is inside me.

But I didn’t always know that was the thing to do. I learnt the hard way. Another close friend of mine lost her mum a few years before and I mistakenly thought she didn’t need me or want me around. I was wrong and hurt her deeply. That’s one significant regret in my life.

Another situation happened more recently when a friend of mine who lives on the streets near my home had a miscarriage. I went with her to the hospital and simply stayed with her, prayed with her, held her hand through the pain, grief and bloody mess. It felt a huge privilege. We both knew we were on holy ground. We could feel the presence of God, bringing peace. I wrote a poem about that experience which I wasn’t sure whether I would share on the web but maybe I will. Watch this space.

What is love?

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I found this beautiful video, I hope you like it as much as I do.

I really believe it’s true that perhaps we don’t really understand what love is. It’s an action not a feeling. It’s not about finding Mr or Mrs Right or even worse Mr or Mrs Perfect (because no-one, really no-one is perfect and we’ll just live with constantly growing disappointment) but about being the kind of person who could love, care for, affirm, build up and commit to another. It’s not about how we can be satisfied and happy ourselves but a decision to choose to give of ourselves to others and in that giving there is fulfillment and joy.

The Western culture, with no little help from Hollywood, has certainly put an interesting slant on what “love” is over the past few decades. We often see, and even experience, examples of relationships that start with all the good intentions in the world, that end up going crooked somewhere in the middle and simply finish with hurt and broken lives. If “all we need is Love” then perhaps we don’t really understand what love is. This short film tells a story of love that hasn’t simply blossomed in the sun but has flourished in the darkness of struggle and sickness. This story really shows us what love is and who the person is that has inspired that love in their lives.

See the video on it’s original site here.

 

Sweet Home Farm

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Sweet Home Farm is an informal settlement in Philipi, Cape Town. The Warehouse, the organisation I partner with, has been working with Sweet Home Farm for some time now. The article below was included in the Warehouse’s latest newsletter, reflecting on the challenges of working sensitively with a community and the transition from partnership to inter-dependence.

From partnership to inter-dependence

“Everyone should be quick to listen” – James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ

We, Siya James and Craig Stewart, have worked together for the last five years learning to navigate the different parts of our relationship as work colleagues and friends, as well as our respective roles as community leader of Sweet Home Farm and as leader of The Warehouse. We have worked hard to listen to each other in these respective roles, knowing that relationships like these can be fraught with assumptions. Recently we’ve dealt with some difficult issues together, which got us speaking of our own partnerhip as well as others that we’ve experienced together.

I, Siya, find it problematic when people arrive in my community wanting to “help us” rather than coming to work with the community.  When people arrive with this attitude it locks them into patterns of behaviour and attitudes that are very difficult to shift, and which require lots of work from me. I and my friends can feel like we are observers in our own community as our hopes, experience and learning of our own community is not required or requested. One way in which I have experienced this was when an external non-profit organisation used a photograph of my child in their marketing materials without my permission and took over 10 months to respond to my multiple requests for its removal.  This has left me wondering whether they are actually using us for their purposes rather than being genuinely interested in us as a community.

I, Craig, have had to reflect hard and honestly about our motivation for working with Siya’s community and how we have expressed that motivation over the years.  I have had to wrestle with the places where we have made mistakes and seek in humility to make right and continue to pursue relationship above all other things.  In conversation with Siya and other friends I am learning to reflect critically on my own practice in this work.  Some questions I find useful are:

  • Am I planning for or about the community rather than planning with the community?
  • Am I fundraising for our initiatives in a community without reference to them, which in turns leads to the funds being used as a control mechanism?
  • Am I using photographs of the community and its members as a form of self praise, showing my friends and constituency how cool or amazing I am?
  • Do I view disagreement and criticism from the community as rebellion or politics, or do I see it as a genuine desire for relationship and engagement?

If we know that we are inter-dependent and are working with each other then it should always begin with time to sit down together, to relate and learn. It is here that we can discover what is in the community and what is not there. It is here that we can build trust and relationship, and it is here where the leadership and decisions can be made by the community, and not by those from outside the community. It is also in these moments that we build trust and learn to disagree constructively, and the only way to truly engage in transformational development – work that comes from mutually respectful relationships

Craig Stewart and Siya James

For another interview with Siya James, take a look at the recent post on transformational advocacy by Micah Challenge.