Jesus left the most exclusive gated community in the universe
I perched on the plastic stool and nodded towards the broad black sewer that runs along the edge of the slum where I live.
"Is that canal dangerous?" I asked innocently, simply meaning to make conversation.
The woman's eyes filled with tears and I realized I had asked the wrong thing.
She had a tiny stall there on the edge, covered by a broken umbrella. All day her children roamed and played beside the sewer as she eked out a meager living selling duck eggs.
"My son drowned in that sewer," she said "He was eight years old."
My own tears threatened to well up as I contemplated her loss. I have an eight year old daughter who also lives here. I felt her grief deep in my gut.
"I'm so, so sorry," I mumbled.
Little did she know, just 100 metres from where we sat that day there is another swimming place, where her son would have been safe.
The water in this pool is not black like tar, but clean and clear - carefully maintained by the hotel who built it for their guests. Trained staff oversee the pool and its inhabitants.
The children of the slum do not swim in this hotel pool. It is for those who can afford to stay in a hotel, mostly foreigners. And to ensure separation, it is surrounded by a concrete wall topped with barbed razor wire.
It strikes me that these two swimming places are a picture of our world.
The world my neighbours in this slum have access to is filthy and dangerous. They live by the refuse of the city: environmentally, economically and socially marginalized.
Meanwhile those of us fortunate enough to be born into affluence and privilege live within the pristine walls of places of order and security. Often we are unaware of the slums and inner city existence of the majority of the world.
Rarely do the two worlds meet.
But what if they did?
What if following Jesus took us outside the carefully manicured places of comfort that we inhabit? And what if following Jesus meant breaking down the walls that keep the poor marginalized, outside the walls?
Hebrews 13:12 speaks of Jesus suffering OUTSIDE the city gate in order to make us holy through his suffering. Then these powerful words invite us to follow him to the margins, "So let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore."
The implication is clear...
Jesus left the most exclusive gated community in the universe in order to reach us. Now we are invited to follow him, from comfort to solidarity.
Not long ago, friends came to visit us and they stayed in that hotel.
Each day they came out of the hotel and got to know the neighbourhood kids - teaching them some English and crafts.
Then on their final day in the city, they invited the children they had gotten to know in our slum to come and swim in the hotel swimming pool. Two worlds were about to collide!
To our surprise, the hotel guard was easily persuaded, and for a small fee let everyone in.
For the first time in their lives, those children swam in a swimming pool instead of a sewer. They immersed themselves in the crisp, beautiful water. They played and splashed and laughed and laughed, until it was time to go home.
Then it was over.
But what if it didn't have to be over?
What if we could tear down these walls that separate us and keep the poor on the outside?
What if some were willing to suffer with them outside the gate, in order to see those walls broken down. And what if some were willing to work in their own spheres of influence to make sure that no-one was denied entry?