Charity or solidarity?

By Sandra Van Opstal, Worship Director

Have you ever had the experience of serving at a soup kitchen or a homes shelter?  You know - where you stand behind a line or a serving window and you give people food, a smile, and a “Jesus loves you”? Or maybe it’s been a holiday outreach in which you hand people presents and shake their hands and the parent awkwardly looks at you and you wonder if they are thankful or embarrassed or both?  It’s so confusing because we are taught to give help to people (CHARITY), but often not taught how to stand with people (SOLIDARITY).

Tonight we were invited to stand WITH people. We were invited by my friend Shortie to participate with her in her mission to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel to those sick and hurting from HIV. Shortie and other caregivers are not objects of our charity, they are family with whom we stand in solidarity.  They obviously benefit from our supplies, resources, and labor, but we benefit because they invited us first.  We can’t force ourselves into the lives of other and “help” them if we are not invited to do so. 

We worshipped by standing and singing songs in Kiswati and Zulu- songs taught to me by Swazi children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. 

We worshipped standing in joy because they taught us and invited us to express our love to God in their heart language.  We received the gift of melodies and motions created by African Christians. 

We worshipped by standing in prayer and lament alongside the devastating affects of exploitation and joblessness and it’s affects on health issues and lifestyles.  We cried out to God to hear the cry of the poor and we asked him to help us see with the eyes of our hearts. 

This evening was not about charity- we were not packing up supplies to go and “help those people over there”.  This evening was about solidarity- we were invited to stand in the joy, pain and worship of others - worship that moves beyond song and proclamation into action and demonstration.

Sandra and Shortie in Swaziland

(Sandra and Shortie in Swaziland)

Sandra and Shortie's Granddaughter

(Sandra and Shortie’s Granddaughter in Swaziland)