On Tuesday the High Court reserved judgement until the 17th February in the matter of the City of Cape Town and Refugees.
So we all continue to wait. Please refer to my previous update on how we are called to wait – with eyes and hearts open.
The situation remains desperate. There is a precarious mix of vulnerability and violence.
On Wednesday 29th January in the evening, stun grenades were once again used to separate the two factions of refugees who were fighting. This volatility makes interventions potentially problematic.
As a Church we continue to consult and explore our options to find a peaceful way forward.
Thank you for your love and concern.
On Sunday the 29th December there was conflict among the refugees – effectively a fallout between the refugee leadership resulting in a split among the refugees into two hostile groups (leaving one group inside the church and the other outside). For about five hours we tried to get the two sides to end the standoff without success. Violence erupted between these two groups in the late afternoon. The police intervened to restore order and to keep the two groups apart. The police remained at the entrance of the Church for nearly a week. It was due to this violence and the continued threat of violence that we decided to cancel the worship service at Central Methodist Mission (CMM) on the 5th January 2020.
And it is due to this violence and continued hostility between groups of refugees that there cannot be a worship service at CMM this Sunday. Therefore, until further notice CMM’s Sunday services will be held at the Observatory Methodist Church at 10am. [Corner: Wesley and Milton Street, Observatory].
The ongoing health and safety risks that exist within the over-crowed sanctuary are exacerbated by the day. As I have repeatedly warned, the sanctuary is no longer a safe space and therefore, asked the people present to vacate. Now on top of these health and safety risks is the unpredictable volatility of the present hostile situation.
This has been a very difficult time and as a church we have struggled to find the balance between providing sanctuary to the refugees while they engage with international bodies and local authorities and take steps to prevent fire hazard and the spread of disease and basically keep people safe. You will know that we have asked the refugees to vacate the sanctuary numerous times. They have not done so. Sometimes simply reneging on their word and at other times due to circumstances beyond their control, like the tragic drowning of the four teenagers in Sea Point.
As the Church we have taken the long road of listening deeply and graciously. However, on the 29th December things changed. The sanctuary was turned into a battle ground by some and our welcoming space into a blockaded fortress. Hospitality was replaced with hostility. As a church we cannot provide sanctuary to violent groups, nor are we equipped to deal with them. It is within this context that as a church we will now pursue other avenues to address this situation.
This matter is not simple. There are layers within layers being played out. We must be able to hold more than one truth at a time and resist the temptation to simplify the situation to a soundbite. We have every right to feel angry and saddened and yet we must guard against our feelings having the final say of how we respond. When our desire for things to “return to normal” becomes greater than our desire for the wellbeing of people – especially the very vulnerable (there are between 50-100 children in the sanctuary) then we need to stop and check ourselves and hold each other accountable to another way, truth and life. A way that attempts to be faithful to Jesus’ call on our living.
As difficult and stressful as all this is I continue to invite you to seek out the gospel-ness of this moment. We must be especially mindful of what moves us: fear or love? May we be alert to complacency and cynicism. At all times let us resist the limiting binary of condoning and condemning and instead seek to honour compassion. Compassion that is ever-open to critique and growth.
This Sunday we break bread together reminding us that we are one body … one body yet broken. We will share the cup of forgiveness … a joyful celebration, yet also a gruesome reminder of blood shed world over. We will remember our Baptism and be thankful as we are invited to accept the good news that we are God’s beloved and to live out the good news for the world that everyone … everyone, is God’s beloved.
I was informed on Friday night that the three remaining funerals of the four young people who drowned would not take place yesterday as was hoped. Instead they will take place towards the end of this coming week. All this delay adds to the trauma for all the families, so please continue to hold them in your hearts.
As a result of the delay in the funerals, the agreed upon vacation of the refugees from the sanctuary, between Tuesday and Thursday this week, is no longer going to take place. I have asked that they provide me with a new date to vacate.
Every week that goes past makes me worry more about the children and the mothers. There are around 100 children, many of them are babies, who are in the church. They have spent a month outside and now another month cooped up in an overcrowded church. All this continues to point to the urgent need for a way forward to be found for everyone’s safety.
In the meantime, we must remember and not ever forget that all people everywhere are family. To forget this is to begin down the slippery path of dehumanising people. By family, I do not mean that all is “lovey-dovey”. For we know that it is in family that we can have the most truthful conversations and robust confrontations with each other, but we do so always in the knowledge that there is more that we have in common with each other than difference and that regardless of our differences with each other, our common fate is bound together forever. Truth and love must go together if either is to be authentic to itself.
A testing question we might want to ask ourselves: “Am I more angry at refugees than I am at the fact that there are refugees?” Similarly: “Am I more angry at the poor than I am at the fact that people live in poverty?” Am I more angry that people go to the toilet on the pavement than I am at the fact that there are so few public toilets available and almost zero open at night?” Where our anger is primarily directed tells us a great deal about ourselves and the positioning of our hearts. Let us not miss this time to check and realign our own hearts.