Issue 4: Tearfund
If you’ve seen the Matrix, you’ll remember the pivotal moment when Neo has to choose: does he take the blue pill and return to normal life – forgetting everything and opting for comfortable ignorance? Or does he take the red pill, spoil the façade and wake up to life as it really is?
Ten years ago this month, I took the red pill. And it changed my life. It took me, and 11 others, to Africa’s most southerly point.
We stayed in Kew Town, one of Cape Town’s many townships. We rolled our sleeves up, knocked down walls, worked with street children, played football with local youths, served the elderly and visited local churches.
It was a life-changing seven weeks.
Distant and detached
The problem, I’d realised, with seeing poverty from a distance – through the columns of a newspaper for example – is that you feel detached.
I decided to sign up for Transform because I wanted to see for myself. What I didn’t realise is that it would also burst my cosy bubble.
Bursting my bubble
Our team included a healthy mix of idealism, experience and passion. A solid Irishman; a dancer from the Royal Ballet School; a fiery Scot and a jovial English lad.
We were working with Tearfund partner, Cape Town City Mission. Our first assignment involved wielding hammers, felling walls as we built a centre for street children.
Off the streets
The Mission’s work weaned children off the streets and helped them get to grips with responsibility. It organised their education, provided support and gave them hope of a different future.
A group of boys took us to their home. It was a dip in between two small, sandy hills, with boarding over the top. Dark and musty, it was where they stayed.
Nearby was a large poster supporting the country’s Olympic bid. It declared: ‘If Cape Town win – we all win’ with a picture of a small boy. The boy was a street child known to the Mission staff. He had been selected and photographed for the campaign – and was now back on the streets.
Sadly for Cape Town – and its poorer inhabitants – they didn't win.
So what did I learn and why did I change on my return to the UK?
I saw things differently. I began to realise, as I sat eating my cheese-on-toast in student digs and made plans for the future, that children were still living in a hole in the ground, surviving on begged or stolen food, in South Africa.
And here’s the crunch: I knew, having seen this, that it was real. That it didn’t cease to be real once my plane lifted off. The injustice of their plight gnawed at me. As did the words of Jesus about doing for him by doing for the least. Jesus was in that hole in the ground with those children, waiting for his disciples to come by.
And so I did two things: I became a church representative for Tearfund and I joined a team working with homeless people in London one night a week.
It was hardly selling all I had and moving to South Africa, but I had changed and God had helped me to see that he was with the poor, waiting for me to stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
For details of Transform teams and trips visit www.tearfund.org/transform call 0208 943 7777 (ROI: 0044 845 355 8355) or email email@example.com Visits can be arranged for church or youth groups who wish to travel as a ready-made team
If you would like to know more about volunteering for Tearfund visit www.tearfund.org/Volunteering or call our enquiry team on 0845 3558355.