I enjoyed a conversation with Craig Stewart, Executive Director of The Warehouse in Cape Town, South Africa, during his recent visit to Nashville.
He was sharing the numerous challenges that the South African people face in a post-apartheid world. In some cases, the poorest communities have been disenfranchised for so long that they have given up hope that tomorrow can be better. Although violence, death and other ravages may not directly impact each person, a sustained period of brutality in the community results in a type of community-wide post traumatic stress disorder where it is difficult to make decisions, show up places on time or engage in trying to make a better place for yourself and your neighbors.
It explains why it is so difficult to lift communities out of poverty in South Africa or the United States after they have been repeatedly traumatized by their surroundings.
But we asked Craig, “How can they remain so spiritual and joyful when their future is so uncertain and they have been through so much pain?”
Craig ventured that in some situations, entire communities can use religion as a cloak to hide their pain and sorrows. His remarks were not accusatory; the people do believe in God and Jesus, but until they deal with their pain and sorrow, they are not freely available to love like Christ loved. Until they have acknowledged their hurt, religion merely covers it up like a comfortable cloak, instead of being a vehicle to freedom.
I’ve thought a lot about this 5 minute conversation with Craig because I’ve had friends and family members who were very “committed Christians” in attending weekly services and professing Scripture as an answer to everything. But when things would get really hard, I’d see them swearing and slamming doors, unable or unwilling to deal with some deep-seated pain from their past. Was it a father or a mother who they never were able to please? Instead of admitting their pain, they’d stoically go to church each week thinking that magically, one week, their life would be changed and they would be whole again.
I will never know the answer with long-gone friends and family members, but I hope I can make a difference in communities here in the U.S. and in South Africa. I now know that I have to be willing to be involved enough to share their underlying pain or the healing will never begin.