Many people are familiar with the concept of children moving out of familial homes and embarking on their journeys into the new wide world. There’s a bittersweet feeling as parents acknowledge that their little boy or girl has grown up and must forge their own path; must make their own decisions, separate from those their parents would choose to make for them; and create their own ideas of the world, not through the lens of their family, context or culture.
Not as many people are as familiar when the roles are reversed. What does one feel when they are to release their parents to journey into the big, wide world? Well, it’s definitely a bittersweet feeling: one of sadness, a sense of loss and not a small amount of pride.
We (my husband, daughter and I) have had the pleasure of joining my parents in their new home in Cape Town: a place they have laid their heads to rest, and come back to after a day’s work, for the past 10 months. It’s been an eye-opening, inspiring and joyful experience.
To begin with, Cape Town is a beautifully situated city. Curled around the arms of Table Mountain, it languishes between bays, mountains and sweeping nature reserves. In the short period of time we were there, we awoke beneath ever changing skies. We witnessed clouds cascading in a slow-motion avalanche over the crest of the mountains; we saw the night sky ignite into sudden daylight during an incredible lightning storm; we were wrenched from sleep with a clash of thunder so loud, we thought a bomb had gone off inside the flat.
But the most beautiful moments during our visit were found away from the beaten track of tourists and locals alike.
My parents have given up their jobs, incomes, home and social circles to move across the world – at God’s request – to work within some of the most incredible, and incredibly wronged, groups of people. The Cape Town that we came to see isn’t nestled within the bowl of the mountains, or tucked away behind a vineyard, or greeted by the powerful arms of the ocean; the Cape Town we came to see was planted in times of great division and adversity and grew from human endurance, ingenuity and resilience.
The townships and informal settlements where my parents have been called to are harrowing and brutal and altogether beautiful. The representation of human resilience in the face of unspeakable injustice struck me time and time again. Every sheet of wood and cardboard and metal were the makings of people’s homes – not houses: homes. I could not imagine ever needing to facilitate my own survival in such a way; and due to where I was born, and the colour of my skin, it is incredibly unlikely I will ever find myself in such a situation. Yet the communities that live like this manage. They carry on. They live their lives. And they shouldn’t have to. Not like that. No one should ever live like that. No one would choose to.
No one would choose to squeeze their home in the narrow space between two other shacks; or collect their water from a stand pipe surrounded by stagnant, litter-clogged puddles; or share a toilet with 40 other people; or pick their way across pot-holed roads covered in litter; or risk their lives trying to connect their electricity to live, low-hanging wires; or be instantly judged for the colour of their skin and their address due to the circumstances that were forced upon them.
And upon meeting some of the people that my parents work alongside, I felt like I was reuniting with old friends. Both parties had heard so much about each other through the conduit of my parents. Both parties had earnestly prayed for our arrival (which was only possible through some divine timing). It was a joy to see the people as kind, warm, generous people. Not the victims of their circumstances, but the enablers of change.
There are people who have seen the injustice of the townships and who wish to stand against the cultural tide of fight, flight or freeze. There are those who wish to fight off change: the current status quo benefits them and their way of life; there are those in denial: who would rather run away than face, or even acknowledge, the problems at hand; and there are those who are frozen in fear and horror at the scale of the problem, who look out at the great chasm and have no idea how to build any sort of bridge across it.
My parents started at one side of the chasm, but their side was all the way in Scotland. They gazed out to South Africa and questioned what purpose God could have for them there. And they still went. As time has crept by, they have paced the lip of the abyss and gathered relationships, resources and their own fair share of resilience to start to build bridges across, from both sides. They have entered into organisations that seek to bring restitution and healing into the broken parts of Cape Town: the townships with their zinc roofs and patchwork walls; and the suburbs behind their fear-fuelled barricades.
And so, I release my parents into Cape Town. I look at the way they have responded to the calling God has given them and marvel at their whole-hearted obedience, and their continual desire to listen to what God has in store for them day by day. I see the people they have connected with in the different communities they live and work in. I rejoice at the positive relationships they have made on both sides of the chasm. I mourn the time I do not get to spend with them, and the times they miss with their granddaughter. I accept the calling on their life and the sacrifices they have had to make. I feel bittersweet sending my parents off to the other side of the world to do whatever it is they can to bring hope, change and justice.
And I wonder, if God was to call me to give everything up, would I go?
“Good friend, follow your father’s good advice; don’t wander off from your mother’s teachings. Wrap yourself in them from head to foot; wear them like a scarf around your neck. Wherever you walk, they’ll guide you; whenever you rest, they’ll guard you; when you wake up, they’ll tell you what’s next. For sound advice is a beacon, good teaching is a light, moral discipline is a life path.”