I first read Urban Halo before coming to South Africa. I remember at the time being inspired and encouraged about our decision to pack up our belongings and live on the other side of the world. I was idealistic about what life would look like but when the reality struck, I found myself appreciating Craig Greenfield’s honesty as he reflected on slum-life in Cambodia.
“During the worst days, we began to wonder whether the cost of living incarnationally…was simply too high. I personally needed to go back and re-examine the theological and missiological reasons for what we were doing.”
“…mission is all about relationships, but living alongside these people in this place and being a friend and neighbour really sucks sometimes. Especially for an introverted wimp like me!”
“In the midst of this craziness, finding a life cycle that included a time of rest every day, every week and every season, became crucial to our wellbeing and balance, not to mention our sanity.”
These are just a few of the quotes that I highlighted but you get the sense of the challenges in leaving your home comforts and culture to dwell in a place so very different.
As I re-read the book recently, I found myself nodding my head and continually highlighting. I felt a sense of companionship as I read how Craig and his wife worked through issues; comparing themselves to others, having grace with themselves, the importance of team, and what a simple life looks like.
However, these were branches from the core of the book: care of orphans. Craig explains his journey to seeing the need and possibility for community care of orphans rather than institutional care. He argues that children need an ongoing nurturing relationship with an adult as much as they need other basic essentials like food and shelter. He suggests that in orphanages, children don’t get enough one to one time with the workers which affects their development. Other problems include children developing a “deep-rooted sense of dependency”, and lacking opportunities to learn traditional roles and skills. Craig’s research resulted in him starting a fostering programme called Project Halo. They aim to support single parents and to help children who have lost both parents to remain with another family or community member instead of going to an orphanage.
In my work with the local orphanage here, I see many parallels with Craig’s work. There are kids who have family who could potentially be caring for them with some extra support. There is also a lack of opportunities for these young people to be developing healthy independence. Orphanages aren’t the worst places in the world, there is food, shelter and clothes there, and I see some of our young people who are motivated to do their best. I also know a couple of young men here who spent some of their childhood in an orphanage and are flourishing now. As Craig himself says “By God’s grace, children emerge from the most difficult circumstances and make something of themselves”.
I think about all the governments, charities and good-hearted people that aim to set up orphanages to help children. When Craig quotes John Bowlby, I found myself in agreement: “Nothing is more characteristic of the shameful attitudes towards this problem than the willingness to spend large sums of money looking after children away from their homes, in stark contrast with a haggling stinginess in giving aid to the [family] home itself.”
I look out of my window and see grandmothers who care for their orphaned grandchildren. I second Craig’s thought when he says that “Sometimes we can be fooled into thinking that a child who has lost their parents has lost everything and everyone important. But in the non-Western world there is a much greater importance placed on extended family, even distant relatives, and the surrounding community.” I also agree that there is an ongoing need to support family and community members who are standing in the gap. However, rather than outside help, the most meaningful support comes from the community. As Craig says “It is important to help communities recognize and mobilize their own resources, and the greatest resource of a community is its people.” For me, this means investing in young people. I hope to be developing tomorrow’s leaders as I encourage them in their skills and walk beside them as they navigate life. I hope that they can see their potential to change things for the better in this community.
Near the end of the book Craig points out that:
“Jesus said the poor you will always have with you, and I believe that this is because as followers of Jesus we are called to follow him into those places of poverty. To be friends with the poor, to go where Jesus would go and do what Jesus would do. Some he will call to follow him to the poorest countries of the world. But our richest nations also have dark corners to which Jesus would go: inner city poverty and sadness, addiction, homelessness, prostitution and brokenness.”
Craig wrote about the context of Cambodia in Urban Halo but many of this thoughts and suggestions are applicable all over the world. In your community what are the needs of your neighbours? How can the community support itself? How can you use your skills and assets to help those who are struggling?
If you are interested in reading more of Craig Greenfield’s thoughts, check out his blog (and also, for limited time, to get a free copy of Urban Halo!)