I was in a café taking shelter from the sun in an ancient city called Nablus, in the West Bank of Palestine. To be honest, I was feeling a little uncomfortable. The room was covered with pictures of men holding guns. The owner was showing one of my friends how to make Turkish coffee, and someone else came round to offer us free drinks. Everyone was having a great time, apart from me. I wanted to leave. I had been on my guard all day, I watched as everyone I was with was having the most amazing time tasting local delicacies, hearing people’s stories, sharing their own, and I stood by, waiting for them to be ripped off. I didn’t want to be friendly I didn’t want to talk to this man with all these pictures of people holding guns staring at me, what did he have to say to me?
As we left that café, I overheard his story. His brother was killed during the uprising in 2002 leaving his wife and children unsupported. This man’s business supported not only his own family but his brother’s family too. And that huge picture on the wall that I didn’t want to look at was his brother.
It wasn’t as black and white as I thought.
Statistics, news bites, headlines make us feel like we understand. It’s black and white, clear-cut and laid out in a way in which we can make an ‘informed opinion’. But the uncomfortable truth is that nothing is clear cut, nothing is that simple. That ‘terrorist’ you heard about on the news; he’s a son, a brother, a friend. That woman who sells her body on the street; she’s a daughter, a mother, a sister.
All our well-intended research can so easily just end up becoming a barrier to connecting with the people that stand right in front of us. It doesn’t help that so often in our society, the only part we’re given to play in making a real change to injustice is by writing a cheque, but writing a cheque hands over the responsibility to someone else. It means we never have to deal with the fear of the unknown in ourselves; we never have to deal with the prejudices that lie dormant in our hearts. Jesus got his hands dirty, Jesus overcame that fear of ‘the other’ that all of us have and made friends with freedom fighters and prostitutes.
What if there’s more to charity, than giving money? It’s risky, it may mean we have to lay down our black and white opinions, it may mean we leave ourselves open to assault and betrayal – it didn’t always go well for Jesus. But we might discover the most beautiful people on the other side of the wall that fear helped to build; we might discover that in fact they might change us. And what would happen to our budgets if these statistics, these ‘problems’ became our brothers and sisters? Would we give a little of what’s left over at the end of the month, or would we share everything to see them free?
Photo taken by Paul Briggs.