Grace, mercy, justice and endless regulations

“For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever” (Ps. 9: 18)

I still remember some sermons of my childhood pastor when I was growing up on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. They are sermons that targeted the principle feature of any social gathering among the Wachaga: pombe, a local brew made from bananas and millet. Drinking pombe is a tradition that transcends ages. There are any number of reasons, and none, why people got together to drink.

As one would expect there were adverse consequences from this social enterprise, especially economically. For some people drinking was their main – if not the only occupation. But then, there were also some who had complete control over their drinking habits. For this reason, those with no control were morally weak.

So, it was incumbent upon the weak to straighten up. That became the theme of many of my pastor’s sermons I still remember. From the pulpit he bellowed: “There is no house, with starving children, skinny cows, skinny dogs and skinny cats, like a house governed by alcohol. There is no house where husband and wife live in more misery than a house governed by alcohol”.

We heard these sermons again and again, but nothing changed. Even those who wanted to change, they could not. Why? Because they were morally weak.
Even on a national level, I still remember president Julius Nyerere chastising “”walevi na wazururaji” – drunkards and loiterers. I am saying drunkards because that was the term we knew; the designation of alcoholics was unknown. In other words, they were people who drank too much and it was up to them to change.

There are certain common societal mindsets about different groups or categories of people. In fact specific terms have evolved and become acceptable in defining others. Some examples are, the homeless, the poor, addicts, disabled, and so on. These are stereotypes and as with all stereotypes, they provide a distorted view of the people they are meant to define. As a principle, definitions are not at all helpful or even appropriate.

City Gospel Mission gave me the opportunity to interact with those society has labeled the homeless, the poor, and addicts. Through the recovery program I learned what it means to struggle with addiction of any kind. There are tears shed and attempted suicides. Some even succeed in suicide.

I saw mothers struggle to see their sons through the process to recovery. I’ll use pseudonyms here to illustrate a real life example of the anguish that individuals, families and any who are driven by love go through.

Ernest came to the program from the intensive care unit where he lay for three days following a near death experience due to drug overdose. For a Christian, the near death experience was pretty sobering. He had no doubt in his mind that God rescued him from certain death and since everything happens for a purpose, he was resolved to live for that purpose.

At 30, Ernest had a four year old son who he loved dearly. Because of his struggles with drugs, his relationship with his son’s mother – they were not married – was so broken it was non-existent. Consequently, Ernest’s mother, Eileen, had custody of the little boy. Eileen was a loving mother who wanted the best for her son and grandson. She in fact brought Ernest to the program following his discharge from the hospital.

Ernest believed that God gave him a second chance so that he could live for his son.
Eileen supported Ernest in every possible means towards his recovery. Every weekend, along with her grandson, she came to visit Ernest. The only weekends she missed were due conflicting scheduling with her work or the program. She volunteered for the marathon race so that she, along with other volunteers, could practice and participate in the race to support Ernest and everyone in the recovery program.

After several weeks, while seemingly making progress in the program, Ernest relapsed, for the first time. Relapse is part of the recovery process, so it was not so surprising to those running the program. It was a disappointing experience though for Eileen as it would be for any parent or loved on

To some Christians though, and given Ernest’s divine gift of a second chance, the relapse demonstrated lack of commitment

After the requisite program requirements following the relapse, Ernest was back on course through recovery. Again, after some weeks he relapsed again. This time, he was ready to throw in the towel. But Eileen’s love would not give up. There was a scene on the streets in Over the Rhine as Ernest tried to run away and Eileen chased after him.
“Get back to the program”, she called. “You must get back to the program, or you will never see your son again”. The scene continued for what must have been a couple of hours. Eventually she caught up with him and through sheer determination – and threats, of course – Ernest was back in the program.

There is still more to come.