I am driving out of the mall last Friday night, actually I am not driving, I am stopped, parked and waiting for the person in front of me to drive out of the mall. We are at a boom, they call them I think, where you put the ticket in or have someone put the ticket in for you, (that is actually a job here believe it or not, someone stands by the machine all day and takes tickets from people and puts them in the machine), and then the boom goes up and you are able to leave.
Only this time the boom doesn’t go up, for some reason it is not working and before I know it, the person in front of me has reversed into the front of my car.
He is young, trendy, one of these guys who spends a half hour working to get his hair to look like it did when he got out of bed in the morning and at this point, he is also angry.
Not at me fortunately.
It would have been hard to be angry at me since I was literally parked when he ran into me, but he is with his girlfriend and he’s just reversed into a parked car and he has to look for someone to blame it on, so he picks the guy whose job it is to stick the ticket into the machine.
He runs at him and pushes him back and starts cursing at him and saying that the young man was telling him he had to reverse and that’s why he just backed up without looking. When one of the other security guards comes up to help his friend, he starts yelling at him too. Before I know it, we are surrounded by security guards and other people who work at the mall and maybe because I am just standing there quietly, everybody is coming to me with their explanation of how the other guy is wrong and an idiot and it’s their fault for what’s happening. As I listen, I am watching the person who ran into me saying to the others that the young security guard is the instigator of all this and that he’s going to have his job.
By the end, as I am leaving the poor guy who sticks the ticket in the machine looks like he is about to cry, but he can’t cry because crying in front of all these other people would even be worse than being blamed for someone else driving into someone else’s car when you were just standing there.
The next day I go to the police station to file an incident report and as I sit down and begin talking to the police officer he asks what I do. I tell him I am a pastor. He says that is a great job. And I tell him that his job is very important as he is seeking to help people as well. He shakes his head and says that is the way you feel when you start as a policeman but then everything changes and he launches into a story of why working as a police officer is so difficult.
A homeless man comes in, he tells me, and he is drunk and what you are supposed to do is put him in a jail cell but you feel bad for the old man and so you decide to give him a place to sleep there and let him sleep it off before you let him go in the morning but he wakes up angry and starts yelling that you have stolen his cell phone and what do they do, they open up a police report and then just because they opened up a police report you are unable to get a promotion. He says he knows people who haven’t been able to advance for years because of things like that. Then he begins to talk about the miners who shot the police the other day and how they actually took the police’s own weapons and used them to shoot the police with because the police were crippled by certain policies and not able to defend themselves quickly enough.
After a while, I try to encourage him by telling him about Jesus and how he suffered for the people he was serving and how that is what leaders do and he shakes his head and says not everybody has Jesus in them.
Finally, I tell him about the incident at the mall and how I am concerned about the young man who worked at the ticket booth, and he told me that he’ll lose his job certainly, because that is how it works in this country with white people. White people he says to me are good at defending themselves, we aren’t good at that, these are his words basically and so even though that young man will be in the right, he won’t be able to prove it and everyone will just believe the white person and he’ll be fired for standing there watching the man drive into my car.
Well, I have to take my car into the panel-beater today and so I drive out of town a ways and pull into a plot, a piece of land where a man has a mechanic shop. He hears my accent and says so you are an American, the sue me culture, he said, oh great. I smile. Then he looks at me and says why in the world did you move here. I paraphrase so as to leave the curse words out. I tell him I am a pastor. He says I hate this country. I hate this country. I say wow, that’s interesting. He says they are ruining this country. I don’t ask him who they are. Then he says that his children will never be able to get a job here because they are white. Somehow he gets to the point where he says at some point the whites will have to stand up for themselves here. He says the only reason they haven’t stood up for themselves yet is because they are Christians. I say oh, well you know there are many strong black believers as well. He says, I haven’t met one. I say, well then you should come and visit our church. He says, I will never do that. We are different, he says, you will see, just be here another six years and you will see. We are just different. I tell him I know our cultures are different and then I begin to talk to him for a long time about the gospel and how part of what God is doing is the impossible, bringing people together and uniting people you never thought could be united and he just shakes his head and waits for me to finish. I just want to be left alone with my people, he says. It is my people that need my help most. I try to talk to him about heaven and about how now is his only opportunity to suffer and we talked about the way Jesus loved us and how he needs to love his enemies. He tells me he has no enemies. He just wants his children to be able to go to school where they can learn their language and he wants to protect his culture and how the whites have it worse in this country than everyone else.
I drive home, praying, realizing that once again that what God can do through the local church is AMAZING and really IMPOSSIBLE. You forget sometimes because you are living your life and seeing it happen and it seems fairly normal, then CRASH and you begin to see what it is really like out there in the world.
In a situation like this, with all of this happening, how can local churches in South Africa not make a major priority out of pursuing relationships with believers from different racial backgrounds and cultures. Each of the people I talked with would have claimed to be a Christian, I am almost a hundred percent certain, and yet so much hate, so much confusion, so much division. How do you cut through all the religious talk and help them see the gospel is something different than this false, cultural Christianity that they have been surrounded with all their life. You need POWER! What kind of power am I talking about? I am talking about the kind of power that brings people like those I have described together, not just sitting next to each other, but loving each other deeply and sacrificing for each other. What happens when people see that? They say, what? That’s not the Christianity I am used to and either they are going to persecute it or they are going to investigate more carefully to see what is causing this kind of radical transformation, but the point it is, the one thing they won’t be able to do is ignore it.