One day while out on a morning jog through the Cape Company Gardens I reached the far south end of the park and stopped to stretch, noticing a man huffing and puffing toward my same terminal end of the path where I stood. As he reached the end of the park and looked up, I gasped and realized it was none other than Pastor Christo himself!
Needless to say I was shocked. I thought Christo must have lived far from town and commuted in to lead the inner-city church every day. But this was not true. It turns out that Christo also lived in Bo-Kaap (very near to me in fact), and as one of the community's few Christians he was having daily interactions with Muslims - as a pastor and guide for CommonGround InnerCity, he was fully immersed in the community he pastored!
Though I have now fully moved in at my OTR apartment, I still have a lot of happy baggage around that I have been relishing and rolling around, hesitant to pack some of it away into drawers or cabinets to gather dust. One such article of happy baggage is my sermon notes from one of Christo's most impassioned teachings, which I have paraphrased below (OK, try imagine this spoken with an Afrikaans accent as thick as Mrs. H. S. Balls Chutney):
“I recently read about an incident in a national park in America where a devastating fire cause great damage and destruction. After the fire had settled, a group of game rangers walked up the mountain to assess the damage. They were surprised to find a skeleton of a big bird in one of the trees, almost completely covered with ash. Why did this bird not fly away from the flames, they wondered. Upon closer inspection they found three little chicks – alive under their mother’s wings, which protected them from the flames.
Psalm 91:2-4 read as follows:
‘I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.’
As a gospel centred community we are increasingly learning to find refuge under God’s wings and putting our trust in Him. Let our lives bear witness to this to our city, wherever we find ourselves.
So what can we take from this? As I look back at this teaching and think how Christo was just like that mother eagle taking any scorn and rejection from Muslim neighbors (although truthfully he loves them regardless of their faith). I think how Jesus, in the same way the mother eagle died to save its baby chicks, died on the cross for our sins. He gave his body as a shield for us against the world's evils and his cleansing blood set us free from the condemnation of our carnal sins.
Now how is this relevant to living in Cincinnati. This city is no more protected than Cape Town. The same evils and challenges facing Bo-Kaap threaten Over-the-Rhine as well. But our role. To be the vanguard of community. To not shrink from danger and personal and spiritual threat but to stand firm and boldly to love our neighbors as Christ called us to. To be the mother eagle for anyone helpless and innocent of the community, even if it means giving our life and the easiness of our own lifestyles. This is what it means to be in community.
I am not sure how to apply this, however, when the helpless victim is a man easily thirty years older than I am. My good friend and local watchdog-downstairs Tom Banks (who always hangs his head out of his window and hams up the news with any passers-by, asking if people are safe and shoo-ing along anyone with ill intentions) was just evicted yesterday. Tom is one of the greatest things about Over-the-Rhine. Everything about him radiates "humanity," from the cheerful way he looks out for everyone passing by to the humble disposition he shows for strangers and friends alike.
As Over-the-Rhine is being gentrified and rent fees began to increase up last year, Tom began to be unable to pay his own rent. Skyrocketing cost-of-living expenses have finally won the battle of gentrification, and as I write this two men are carrying Tom's mattress out to the kerb, leaving him with only one blanket and the clothes on his back. I've never witnessed anything like this, and I'm not sure what to do. Should I let him live in my apartment until the weather warms? Should I help him with means and shelter? Matthew 9:12 says "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." And as the building stock in OTR is either labeled unofficially as "abandoned" or "gentrified beyond all reason" people like Tom, who bring so much life and love to this neighborhood, are being evicted. I'm not sure how to act but I believe that Tom is going to go into shock without a home. I honestly don't know if he will make it through the year. For my part I will look out for him just as he has looked out for me...
Please pray for Tom and the people of Over-the-Rhine. I can't be their mother bird to lay my own life out and protect these guys from forces far beyond their and my own control, but I'm giving my time and willingness to God. Whatever happens down here, He in in control.
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" Matthew 25 40