As we were heading out to dinner last night, our host told us in a simple and loving voice “oh, just take enough money with you for dinner, you never know.. we might get held up.” A gentle smile and we followed him out the door of a high rise structure that can be called “an apartment complex” where the tenants that live here have to go through thumb print clearance in order to just get into the building through the thick gates and security guards with batons. Such a statement is simple for Nigel Branken to say because he probably thinks this every time he leaves his apartment knowing that several times he was held up by men with guns and robbed just around the block where he, his wife Trish and six children (including a new born) live. This in an area of Johannesburg known as Hillbrow.
Waking up this morning (after an amazing meal last night) but in the midst of what is recognized as the one of the most violent areas in South Africa (the sounds throughout the night were a testimony to that), where extreme poverty, violence, drug use, prostitution, gangsterism are how and who people are, the only thought coming to mind is Jesus’s call to his followers to be light in the midst of darkness. I reflected on how so many “Christians” (including myself) come up with the most convincing and logical responses and arguments to counter what Jesus calls us to do when he calls us to be a light in the darkness, when he calls us to sell all our positions and follow him, when he calls us to live with, work with, heal and touch those who society has given up on and has even labeled as “untouchable.”
“It can not be done…” ”It is too difficult…” ”It will not make a difference…” “No one else is doing it…” “I might lose my life…” ”It is too dangerous…” etc. etc. etc.
Then in the midst of this darkness you meet the living example of this light. A family that decided, after deep struggles and doubts for many years, to simply do it… to be a light of love in the midst of darkness. Getting rid of all their position and moving into Hillbrow; following the call in full trust and deciding to suffer with those who suffer and stand “with” them, not “for” them, in the struggle for rights and equality because, as Nigel said “I am not better than them and if they can’t have it, i don’t deserve it.”
Nigel and his family have become fully part of the community and by doing that they are being a light from within, not a spotlight from without that only seeks to expose the bad, judge, condemn, etc. They love and are loved by everyone around.
Simply said, Nigel and his family have broken in me the myth of saying that it can not be done, that it is impossible. They stand as a light not only in the darkness of extreme poverty, desperation and violence; they stand as a light in the midst of the darkness of heart and spirit that many “Christians” live in and are not even aware of.
They are my new heroes…