GOD’S PEOPLE IN THE GHETTO

ERROL MILLER

We have just celebrated another Christmas. Beyond the exchange of gifts, family get-togethers and eating lay the heart of Christmas, God speaking to humankind as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In our sentimental celebration of the Babe in the Manger, we often miss the point that Jesus was born in a period of great turmoil, dissension and division in Israel. Murder was rife, sectarianism was rampant and the imperial control of Rome was everywhere. God spoke his most powerful Word to humankind in a period marked by strife, not peace, colonial domination not equality among the nations and confusion not a consensus among the people. 

Significantly Jesus was born in an obscure place called Bethlehem and not in an imperial city of great importance. The Word became flesh in a stable, the modern equivalent would be a garage or bus depot. Clearly the physical setting of the birth of the Saviour lacked class.

Reflecting on these circumstances I wondered if, today, we are to emulate the Wise men, where and to who should we go to hear the Word of God. Following the precedent of the birth of Jesus, we would be ill-advised to go to the palaces, parliaments and financial centres of the great cities of the world. Places of power and class are among the least likely places. Marginality, not centrality marked the site of the birth of Christ.

Consistent with the circumstances of the birth of Jesus we would be well advised to look in the marginal places of our present world. In this regard there are no more marginal places than the slums of the cities of the so-called Third World, Kingston being one of them. These ghettos certainly lack class as this is perceived in the modern world.

But this only brings us to the neighbourhood in which we should start our search. Put another way it brings us to Bethlehem and not to the manger. The question arises, where within these so-called inner city areas are we most likely to hear the Word of God? In conducting this search several candidates suggest themselves:

 

  • Those people in the ghetto who despite the frequent murders still treasure life as a sacred gift from God and therefore have obey the commandment “Thou salt not kill”. Also despite the easy available of hard drugs these people still regard their bodies as the temple of God and therefore have refrained from joining the drug sub-culture.
  • Those mothers and grandmothers who have lost their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters in the gang wars, and who therefore have known the excruciating pain of burying their offspring, but have not descended into hate, revenge and vengeance.
  • Those women who have lost their fathers, brothers and baby-fathers and therefore are without protection from rape and other forms of physical violence and who depend only on God for their protection on a daily basis.
  • Those young men who have refused to take up the gun but instead have taken to the book and the school and although they have been successful in obtaining CXC, GCE and other respected credentials they have been discriminated against because of their address. Further, they have been repeatedly picked up by the police in raids and locked up for days in jails without having committed any crime. Yet despite discrimination, frustration and wrongful accusations these young men are still seeking honest work and continue to reject criminal activity as a means of making ends meet.
  • The Rastafarians who on a daily basis condemn not only Babylon but also the gunmen, the drug dons and the political bosses in their area and by their words and deeds challenge the people around them to live moral and upright lives.

These are not the people interviewed on television. Their stories are seldom told in the newspapers. The headlines, the sound bites and video-clips are not about them. They are the invisible and voiceless people who live out good and God-fearing lives in the midst of crime, murder and drugs. Ironically it is the crime, drug abuse and violence that get the press and the coverage. The righteousness of these godly people goes unnoticed. To add insult to injury, these godly people are lumped together with the criminals, the drug dons, and the gunmen and labelled as wicked people.

Yet, if we follow and believe the teaching of the Bible and of Jesus the Word of God is more likely to be heard from the lips and lives of these invisible, voiceless and maligned people living righteous lives in the ghettos of the Third World, than anywhere else. For it was among such that Jesus the Saviour was born in Bethlehem of Judea nearly two thousand years about. It is about people like them that Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Ye are the salt of the earth. Ye are the light of the world.”

January 1997