Readings: Acts 8: 26-40; Psalm 22: 25-32; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8
I speak in the name of our Lord, our sustainer, redeemer and healer. Amen.
My heart is sore.
The last 2 weeks in Johannesburg have seen xenophobic and criminal murders as well as fatal bus and train crashes.
Emmanuel Josias was stabbed to death 2 weeks ago in Alexandra, a few blocks from where I work. They say 7 people officially died in the Xenophobic attacks in the country but there are rumours that the figure is much higher. Many were injured. Thousands have fled their homes, and even left the country. Many more have no choice but to stay and fear for their lives.
Yes, there have since been hundreds of arrests including the 4 suspected of killing Emmanuel due to assistance by the Alex community. There have been marches, prayers, vigils, adverts, speeches and various campaigns against xenophobia. In support of our Bishop Steve’s appeal, St Andrew’s even marched this morning along Langermann Drive to say no to xenophobia. Tomorrow we begin a daily prayer vigil until Pentecost.
But is this having any impact? Are we simply blaming others or are we reflecting on our role in all this?
It is helpful to go to our Bible for some answers. Today’s New Testament and Gospel readings are both from John. John’s letter encourages us to believe that God is love and God loves us, and “if we love one another, God lives in us” (1 John 4:12b) This goes to the very heart of Christianity and our Jewish roots with the two great commandments to Love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love your neighbor as yourself. John’s Gospel reading is about Jesus being the vine, God being the gardener and we are the branches. One can see that all our lives – and all creatures and plants – are interconnected. God’s love flows throughout the Tree of Life and God started the love by loving us first. When one part of the tree or vine is diseased it must be cut off or pruned so that the tree or vine can grow in a healthy way and produce much fruit, positivity and disciples. When we are not loving God or our neighbours, we become sick and, we in turn spread negativity and poisonous hate.
We could debate for days as to the possible causes of our hateful cancer. Many of the wounds of our painful history did not heal and became septic. Maybe our nationalism to unite people after 1994 has gone too far and has unleashed the dark side of superiority. Maybe we focused too much on us as South Africans and not enough as Africans. Maybe the brainwashing under apartheid that South Africans are better off than the rest of Africa has been internalized. What are our own attitudes at home about people from cultures and countries we don’t know? The challenges we face in South Africa are a wake-up call. They are symptoms of world-wide cancer of hate, which is very scary. Some say it starts with oneself, loving instead of hating oneself. Loving instead of hating our neighbor. Loving instead of hating our enemy.
My heart is sore.
All of a sudden people are noticing fellow shoppers, neighbours, classmates, colleagues and teammates who are not born in South Africa. That includes me, who came here in 1991 to support the ending of apartheid and the birth of a new democratic country. I found a new home and family, stayed and became a citizen in 2003. Why is no one chasing me from my home?
History has been corrupted to be a pecking order of who arrived first. But we are all people who migrated from somewhere to somewhere, for various reasons, whether it was generations ago, or days ago, from across the world, or across the province. Fleeing war or poverty, or searching for a better life.
Since humankind originated in Africa, aren’t we all originally from Africa and therefore all Africans? Are we not all of the same vine – all one race, the human race? So then there is no such thing as a foreigner.
My heart is sore.
But I am hopeful in faith that God’s love and grace will guide us in finding our way through these challenges. Here are some suggestions:
- Pray not only for an end to xenophobia and all forms of injustice, but pray FOR peace, harmony, justice and unity as God’s family.
- In any conversations at home and work, challenge people who say and act in a xenophobic way. This includes saying you don’t agree with jokes or stereotypes.
- Avoid using labels like “foreigner”, “immigrant”, “migrant”. We are people. Try to be inclusive and welcoming in words and actions. Instead of asking: “Where are you from?” ask “How are you?”
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: “God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.”*