Friday, May 28, 2010

The Face of Injustice

Today has been a very, very difficult day.

Shortly after our work day ended I entered into a difficult conversation. A man who lives nearby had entered into a struggle with his boss, also the owner of the land on which he and his family live. I will spare the long, complicated, difficult struggle he shared. What I will share is the basic, difficult facts: he and his wife live and work on this property. They earn their keep by working on the property. She works in the house twice/week (she has another job) and he maintains the whole (big!) property in conjunction to their house, including a full garden, feeding the animals, taking care of the yard, functioning as a full time security guard, etc - he works 7 days a week. In exchange, he should be receiving a humble monthly stipend on which they can live, feed their small family, etc.

The problem has been boiling up for a while, but today a line was crossed. Today, this man went to his boss and asked for his salary. He hasn’t been paid in two months, and he can’t wait any longer. His family, like any, has needs - and needs cost money. A seemingly reasonable request, this conversation turned into him getting yelled at, which turned into him being fired and told to leave the property immediately. While witnesses (neighbors, etc) will attest to his consistent hard work day in and day out, his boss insists that this is not the case. His boss even went as far as to say that while at his own place of employment, he watches the property with a pair of binoculars to see if anyone is outside working, and he therefore refuses to pay based on not seeing him while spying…

The result of this conversation led to my friend being asked to leave without any pay from the last few months. Not just to quit working, but to leave the property altogether. Told (dared?) to take what belongings he can carry and move one, then. Obviously, he is angry and scared. He desperately needs this salary promised to him. Obviously, as winter comes in, he needs a shelter to sleep in, a place his family (including a young daughter) can call home.

There are so many layers to this story, if only I could get into it… but in the end, I come to one question: how can this situation be understood as anything but slavery.

I can’t believe I’m typing these words. I can’t believe this situation is so real. Or so personal. Or right in front of my face.

This family has been working for their landowner for two years. She works for free, in exchange for rent and utilities. He works seven days a week, and most of the time (not all) he gets paid a very, very humble salary their family struggles to live on. He reports that he rarely gets the full promised stipend, but often gets paid "slowly, slowly." Now imagine that this already humble salary hasn’t been paid - at all - in months. So he’s working full time for free. and being told what? That at least he has a place to stay.

Come to think of it, slaves even got food to eat. It may not have been much, it may not have been great, but at least they weren’t typically expected to go hungry altogether.

The thing is, I’m not even sure if this man is even in the country legally. I didn’t ask. If he’s not, he can’t go to the police. If he is, the police may not help him anyway. This is a small town. People are friends here. Friends help their friends, even at the cost of such great injustice.

What can I do? How can I help? How can this injustice exist so openly in my own backyard?

I am so angry. I am so sad. I am so frustrated. I am confused and bitter and I have so many questions. I hardly know where to begin.

I live in South Africa. The history of Apartheid is not distant here. The reality of Apartheid is not forgotten and has certainly not gone away. I know many great white people who have contributed to the greater good of South Africa on behalf of justice even when it cost them something. Today, I am trying to remember these people, because otherwise, it would be really easy to be angry and bitter toward my own race as I watch a wealthy white man treat a black man this way because - it seems - he can. (and yet he CAN'T!)

This is not the end. I am sure I will post more. I hope this story will bring a good ending, an ending of wrongs made right, and ending of injustices coming to bring justice. An ending that gives evidence to God’s grace and love and faithfulness. I know all of these things are present, and I look forward to the day I can bring forth these messages. To the day I can tell you all about how God was with us through it all.

Until that day, I pray for all modern-day slaves all over the world. I have been told they’re out there. I’ve heard stories and read statistics. About a month ago I told my roommate it has become a new(?) interest of mine, something I have been reading and praying a lot about. Something I feel God calling me to learn more about. I want to learn more and get involved.

Now I’m involved, and I don't know where to turn. Now I’m learning through first-hand experience and I miss my "safe" news articles. Wanting to help feels very different when its third-party. But then… Jesus was never a third-party to those he came to help. If I am called to be the hands and feet of Christ as a missionary in South Africa, I pray for God’s guidance and strength and courage and knowledge in the days that come. I pray I can use my voice for a greater good. I know that had I not been in that exact place at that exact time tonight, even this story would not have been heard. This man would not have been able to share with us, or to walk away from the conversation as he did, telling us, “now I have hope. Thank you."

Thank you, friend, for being strong, courageous and honest, and for letting me be a part of your story.

Thank you, reader, for reading through my unfiltered blog post as I try to make sense of senselessness, to find the grace amidst chaos, and seek ways to bring hope to the abused, forgotten, or neglected.

Pray for us all.


Anonymous said...

You are in our prayers Jen. I admire you for your amazing dedication to such difficult work. God's peace to you my friend. God's mercy to those with whom you work.

Peace and Good,

Anonymous said...

God's peace and grace be with you Jen as you minister in this difficult situation. I have no doubt that God's love radiates from you. Blessings, friend. Much love from up in the states.

Ashley N