“Excuse me, ma’am. Do you have something for me?” she murmured. “Sorry, I don’t have anything,” I replied without even thinking. Heart not thinking. Tony and I proceeded to walk into the video store. We'd planned to rent a movie after dinner. It had been a terribly long day, after all.
Earlier that morning, we woke to a newly-hatched population of maggots roaming our floors. Apparently, flies are a problem during Cape Town's summer. Lesson learned. Always empty the trashcan before leaving the house for an overnight stay elsewhere.
Horrified, we got to work. I swept and mopped every inch of our apartment while Tony was on critter patrol. We turned over every piece of furniture and washed every sheet, blanket, towel and rug. In total, we spent five hours cleaning. Then we set off a DOOM! bomb and left. The bug-killing concoction needed three hours to do its thing, and I needed a minute to retrieve my sanity.
Tony treated me to craft brews and malva pudding at one of our favorite local spots. We inhaled our first deep breath of the day then headed off to our respective coffee dates. Two and a half hours later, we were homeward bound. “Do you still want to grab a movie?” Tony asked. “Sure.” He made a quick U-turn and parked.
That’s when she asked me for help.
Of all my days in Cape Town, this one was it. I felt like I had a legitimate excuse to be over it. Over the day. Over this city that's not my own. Over flies. Pollution. Poverty. Violence. Need. The never-ending requests for help.
So I kept walking. “Sorry, I don’t have anything.” I ducked into the video store. Shame, quick like floodwater.
I've called you here to love.
A father's rebuke goes deep. I knew why I was called. If I didn’t have anything, couldn’t I at least give dignity?
I couldn’t look at movies. “I’m going to go buy that woman some bread,” I said to Tony. “No, you stay here,” he said. “I’ll go.”
He went. I grabbed a movie, paid for it and walked out of the store. I made it back to the woman before Tony did. Fiona is her name. She came to Simon’s Town a week prior in search of work. None to be found.
“Where are you staying?” I asked. “Outside,” she told me. “Do you have any warm clothes?” No, she didn’t. Her English was muffled by an Afrikaans accent, so I struggled to make sense of her words. The temperature was dropping. Soon, the night wind and cold would arrive.
Tony reappeared with a loaf of bread and a can of beans. She was thankful. She'd tried getting into a local shelter, but it cost R200 ($20) for a month's board. I looked at Tony. “Should we try to get her in?” I asked. We rang the place. They were full—already housing 65 people.
“Stay here," I told her. "We’ll be back in 20 minutes.”
Sleeping alone and outside. I didn’t want to consider the dangers that could be lying in wait for her. A change of clothes and a warm dinner—what else could we do? I wanted to do more. But what? So much need in one person.
I packed spaghetti, an apple, shampoo, gloves, a scarf, two shirts and a hoodie into a bag and walked out of the house. Into daylight fading. Heavyhearted, we drove back to Fiona.
I read a Bob Goff quote the other day. "God makes people, people make issues—people aren't issues. We'll figure it out; go love everybody." Go love everybody. How?
Tony and I encounter people in dire need all too often. How are we supposed to know when, where and who to help? It's a hard question that any Christian who's facing the reality of the situation has to, at some point, ask him or herself. Ignoring the issue is not a solution; it's the easy way out.
The best answer I've ever heard to the looming question of "how?" is this: Be Father-led, not needs-driven. It's a difficult practice and requires heaps of discernment and grace. Grace for people. Grace for yourself. Open lines with the Father.
Daily, reminding ourselves to submit ourselves to the Lord and respond obediently to His instruction. If we don't, we drown. Surrounding pressure caving in. Breath running out.
He's called us here, this we know. And He's casting the net long and wide.
Tony and I see a space. A space where we can respond to more need. The need for education, training, recovery, healing, growth. And patiently, we wait. If you feel led to partner, support or get involved, we'd love to hear from you. Come, together, we may dream and serve.