Dressed in dirty faded khaki pants with battered burgundy leather shoes, the man, a Zimbabwean, laboured with spade in hand, hacking away at an overgrown flower bed, edging it. He looked every part the gardener.
He smiled faintly when he saw me. Flickering in the back of my mind was a vague recollection. I thought might know him.
“Hi there,” I asked. “How you doing?”
“I’m fine thanks Mark,” came the reply.
mmm, I hate that: he knew my name and I didn’t know his.
We exchanged platitudes and I wondered off into the grounds a little irritated with myself.
Friends who had recently moved into the neighbourhood had invited us for lunch at their house. The plan was to eat outside under a lovely Silver Birch near a small fish pond. I made my way there and helped deck the table and fire up the electric braai.
While enjoying some good Vrystaat wors and an ice cold beer someone said, “Can you believe that the gardener is actually a primary school teacher.”
The country I live in neighbours Zimbabwe. Over the past few years politics has created a climate of economic instability in that country which has in turn created millions of economic refugees (5 million to be exactish). These men, woman and children have moved across to bordering countries like Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa. The South African government, although signees of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees has chosen, through the slowing of State organs, not to grant immunity or privileges to these destitute, improvised and vulnerable people further exacerbating their difficulties.
Turns out I had recognised the man because he had been attending the church where I worship for the last few weeks. Why he knew my name and I didn’t know his is something that I’ve been considering ever since.
Actually, if I were to be honest, it’s more than just the name thing that’s bothering me. A teacher having to work for a pittance as a domestic gardener because our government offers him little other choice – how degrading. The vast difference between the opportunities offered to Black and White people in Africa and the world – how unjust. The prejudiced distinctions which we still draw along social and economic class in South Africa (and sometimes even in our church) – how utterly disappointing.
As I’ve been unpacking these thoughts a few verses have helped me work through the ideas in my mind.
For starters, Paul, writing to the Galatians about equality and faith, chapter 3 verses 28 – 29, says:
So, as far as salvation is concerned, we’re all the same.
James, who appears to be speaking to a church which has some of the problems that I am thinking around says,
How do you relate to people that are different to you? Do you ever have the opportunity to relate to people that are different to you?
* I stick to either the King James Version or New American Standard Bible for quotations. In fact this is the first time that I’m aware of that I’ve used anything else so it’s worthy of a footnote. It’s 12pm and after reading a few different texts I decided that the Today’s New International Version was the easiest to understand. Have I broken a golden rule? Is it going to be a short slippery slop for me from here? Does anyone care?