We have been connected with an SOS Children’s Villages http://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/pages/default.aspx for many years, specifically the one in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. A college friend of ours actually set the village up for SOS, and was it’s first Director. In 2006 we were fortunate enough to visit, and in fact were privileged to stay in the Guest House within the village complex.
We were therefore appalled this evening when our friend phoned from Johannesburg, with news that one of the houses in the village had been attacked, the ‘house mother’ robbed and beaten, and the eldest of the children in her care, gang-raped. We were later able to find coverage of the attack on the web – I’m sorry it doesn’t make for pleasant reading.
Two things strike me about this news:
Firstly, what can possibly motivate people to commit crimes like this? Surely, poverty can not be the only motivation, when burglary ends in these sorts of crimes? This is the sort of action that I can only regard as evil.
The second thing was my own reaction; having visited, I can visualise the village, the layout of the houses both inside the rooms and as a community of buildings. I see the guard at the gate, the holes in the fence at the rear (where cattle had got in when we visited), the presence of the health facility on site, which is not only for the village, but vital for the whole community on that side of Mthatha. I can even ‘see’ some of the house mothers and children we met. Were these among them?
And yet, I’m not in tears. Appalled as I am, I don’t hurt inside, as perhaps I should, and as I know some of you may be when you read this. Does that make me callous, or simply hardened to the images painted by them being similar to those we see on our TV screens weekly, if not daily?
I offer these people into God’s care, because I believe he knows them, loves them and will comfort them. Practically I wish I could mend the fence that I guess the men got through, replace the weekly groceries, and offer my arms in a hug. But why am I devoid of a more emotional response?
As a friend and I discussed earlier this evening, yes, perhaps my compassion has been numbed, and perhaps also our western characters don’t have the emotions that other cultures have. By not sharing in trauma and grief with more physical signs of compassion, have we in fact lost part of what makes us fully human? I am reminded of Desmond Tutu’s teaching about ‘ubuntu’, the African sense that as people we can only be fully human, by our connections (physical and emotional) with other people. I feel in this instance, that I am less than human, by not being able to share more fully in other people’s pain, and ask God to inspire in me a more compassionate heart.