Oppressing the Poor
We knew before we came here that there were no Starbucks in South Africa, but we came anyway—brave and sacrificial souls that we are! I am addicted to the Seattle coffee culture and I miss it every day! But I have to say, my desire for a strong cup of Sumatra is just a daily reminder of how overindulged my tastes have become in such a privileged country as America. So many of the people here desire basic sustenance, not the luxury of a certain kind of brew!
In a grocery store, I was looking for corn chips—hard to find. What I saw was row upon row of potato chips in flavors I had never seen in America—Thai Chili, Curry, Beef, Barbeque Beef, shrimp, Pork, etc. My host explained that the poor here cannot afford meat very often so they flavor the potato chips to simulate the flavor of the meat they long for. Can you imagine sitting down to a dinner where potato chips are the main course and maybe the only course?
“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.” Proverbs 14:31
Oppression of the poor takes many different forms in different cultures. It is hard for Americans, who see little of the extremes of poverty to understand what different levels of oppression can mean. Here, in South Africa, where pockets of third world poverty exist amid first world wealth, it is considered an oppression of the poor to refuse to hire household help if you can afford it, and it is very affordable: the equivalent of about $12 a day. There is greater respect in hiring someone to work for this amount than to hand it to them on a street corner. Thus, our hosts have a domestic helper, Amelia, who comes in one day a week and cleans and does laundry and any other task they have for her.
Amelia is a gentle and efficient soul. (I’ve changed her name and our hosts’ names for the sake of privacy). She supports herself and her three daughters with her wages. She smiles shyly when praised for the quality of her work. She lives in a tiny shanty walking distance away, and she shows up at 7:30am every Monday. Around 3pm she leaves to get her youngest daughter from preschool. Her daughter is perhaps even more quiet and shy than her Mom. She sits by Amelia patiently until all tasks are done and it is time for the walk home (as she most often declines the offer of a ride). Humility and contentment radiate from this woman who has so little. It is a convicting contrast to the discontent of so many Americans who have so much.
Amelia is a religious woman and spends every Sunday with her Christian church. Yet poverty and cultural influences have distorted views of morality here. Desperate circumstances have made even Bible-believers suffer a disconnect between righteous living and the realities of their daily lives. We had met Amelia for the first time when she came to our host at the end of her workday:
Amelia: “I have bad news. I am pregnant.”
Kris: “Who is the father? Will he help you with expenses?”
Amelia: “Yes, some. He is a good man.”
Kris: “Will he marry you?”
Amelia: “Oh, I can never marry! I have three daughters; he would rape them. Will you have to fire me?”
Kris: “Of course not! Why would you think we would fire you?”
Amelia: “You are Christians and you have many people in your home and I am a bad example. Do you want me to get an abortion?”
Kris: “Oh no! Amelia, what do you believe is God’s will? When do you think life begins?”
Amelia: “I know life has begun for this child. I know it is not what God wants, but I don’t know what I should do.”
Kris’s heart broke, as did mine, when she shared this story with us. Satan has his clutches on the culture of Africa in ways we can barely fathom. The epidemic of Aids here is testimony to that fact. Poverty can create a hopeless and dark lens through which to view the will of God. While this is not the story of every impoverished African, and no culture in the world is spared Satan’s wiles, there are tears to be shed, compassion to be extended and spiritual work to be done here of a scope that only God can comprehend. Every soul in every nation needs a clear view of a gospel powerful enough to change the world one life at a time!
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” II Tim 1:7