Speak your mind
Faithworks has compiled a range of informative and inspirational articles on a variety of issues facing Christians, churches and organisations involved in serving those around them.
- Multiculturalism & interculturalism – are they any different & does it matter? (Joy Madeiros)
- Imago Dei ‘in the image of God’ (Nancy Doyle)
- Trust (Steve Chalke)
- Seize the Day (Steve Chalke)
- Faith to change the world (Jim Wallis)
- Faith into Action: Working in Partnership (Malcolm Duncan)
- Remember? (Malcolm Duncan)
The Upsidedown Kingdom (Shane Claibourne)
Shane Claibourne speaking at a Faithworks event in September 2011
Recently, in the media, there has been, once again, a debate around multiculturalism with many leaders, not just in this country, stating that it has failed people and society at large.
Multiculturalism's founding assumption is that all cultures should live equally with one another and should be able to live peaceably together. So why is this a problem? Because this way of looking at society tends to promote cultural difference – that we are all different and should be accepted as such – at the expense of cultural identity. David Cameron has criticised "state multiculturalism" in his first speech as prime minister on radicalisation and the causes of terrorism. At a security conference in Munich, he argued that the UK needed a stronger national identity to prevent people turning to all kinds of extremism.
In Canada, at the moment, there is a debate about interculturalism. As I understand it, interculturalism is being branded as a new model for integration and a solution to some of the anti-immigrant backlash that has accompanied the debate in Quebec, and in many places across the world, over the accommodation of minorities.
Interculturalism takes for granted the centrality of the dominant, in this case francophone, culture. From there it works to integrate other minorities into a common public culture, all while respecting their diversity.
Multiculturalism, Interculturalism - are they really any different? I don’t know. I am far from being an expert in these areas. Plus, there is a stack more to say about both – but there is not space to do that here. And then there are some commentators who regard this simply as a war of words.
However, what I do know is this: identity makes diversity possible. It is only when you understand your own identity that you can begin to acknowledge the difference of another. If we don’t know who we are we will simply become like the other. You see this in a marriage. When one of the pair dominates the other, the other invariably begins to be like (some would even look like!) the other.
Jesus knew who he was, why he was here and where he was going. He could then mix with and relate to anyone. He was never at risk of losing his identity, even though he engaged with those whom the disciples very often thought would taint him, but he never imposed it. He walked with faith, confidently (con fido for those of you who are Latin scholars). He knew that his purpose was to bring life in all its fullness, in abundance. He rarely resorted to complicated explanations. Instead, in order to make his purpose known, he worked out ways of doing this that would have maximum impact and understanding.
This debate around identity – cultural, racial, ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, age, disability - is a global one. I have just returned from South Africa and it is clear to me that apartheid, now outlawed as a political system, can still be recognised in terms of social wellbeing. Identity has been at the heart of many wars and will inevitably become the big issue in the Middle East as freedom from dictatorship is achieved.
This is a big discussion but for now let me simply say this: because it is our responsibility as Christians to influence a troubled world for the good, it is therefore of central importance that our lives, as well as our words, tell the story of our identity in Christ, who we are and what matters to us, for the benefit of all.
Joy Madeiros is Group CEO of Oasis UK
Imago Dei ‘(being made) in the image of God’ is one of my favourite biblical concepts. It is rich. Rich in meaning, rich in promise, rich in purpose. Imago Dei tells us that every human has inherent worth and dignity because there is a reflection of God within them; Imago Dei tells us that we were created carefully, deliberately and with immense potential; Imago Dei tells us that we too are created to be creators, created with worth, dignity, promise and purpose to be those who plant worth, dignity, promise and purpose in the people, communities and situations around us.
This is our work. This is our role. All of our roles.
I have been thinking recently about my sense of calling to a particular role, considering what I will be leaving in stepping down from my role as leader of Faithworks and taking up a new role in Newcastle as CEO of Aquila Way. On paper it’s a big change, Faithworks resources churches to be a presence at the heart of their community, and amplify the voices of the churches towards Government to call for whole communities, and offer the church as a resource in building thriving communities. Aquila works directly with those in a place of emergency, supporting them to transition to independence. I am excited about moving to the North, I’m energised by the prospect of working directly with those who need support and who too often slip through the net - I want to be part of the solution in a tangible way - , and I am delighted to be joining an organisation that I have the upmost respect for, but really I have realised that my role does not change. Whether working with churches or with individuals my role, as yours, is to reveal the Imageo Dei within those we meet, and to bring dignity, worth, promise and purpose to those we meet on our journey. Its time to remove the dichotomies. There is no work 9 – 5 and then life. There is just life.
I will miss Faithworks, and miss hearing of the work each of you are doing, keep going deeper and further to build communities that tell of Gods goodness….
May God the creator who took us as clay in his hands and formed us as an image of himself, show you how to reveal his presence in those you meet.
May God, the creator, who rested on the seventh day after the work was done, show you how to balance the slow and the fast, the work and the rest.
May God the commissioner ,who sends us out into this world give you hands that offer friendship, words that bring life, grace that lights a candle in the depths of darkness and courage to live without the limitations of time, or the dichotomies of human understanding.
Go into this world and infuse it with deep promises .
‘Our distrust is very expensive.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Trust – it’s a little word but a big concept. Trust was once in abundant supply; generously given and freely received. Politicians, policemen, doctors, journalists and vicars, all were seen as pillars of the community who could and should, by virtue of their office, rely on being invested with great trust and respect.
Today things are different. The government, the media, the royal family, the church, the police, the law lords, and many more have tumbled from their pedestals. Politicians, we reckon, are probably lying to us – covering up the truth in order to serve their own ends. Policemen are likely to be corrupt, brutal, racists. Journalists are hooked on sales and sensation rather than truth and integrity. And vicars! Vicars are either rather wet simpletons who don’t even really believe the message they earn a living from, or sexual deviants preying on the more vulnerable members of their flock.
It is small wonder, therefore, that trust, or the lack of it, is now the focus of countless column inches, news reports, chat shows and documentaries, not to mention pub conversations. The problem is that much of what is said is nothing more than a pointless commentary on the fact of its disappearance; bemoaning the situation we find ourselves in and expressing a yearning for things to be different – a kind of ‘if only we could turn the clock back’ mentality. However, as a wise man once explained, ‘Stupidity is doing tomorrow what you did yesterday and expecting a different result.’ Trust won’t just reappear out of thin air – we need to adopt a more constructive approach to our problem.
‘I think we may safely trust a good deal more than we do.’ Henry David Thoreau
We would all like to live a world filled with trust, but we don’t. The important question, therefore, is what are we going to do about it? We have a stark choice. Trust won’t just happen because we want it to. Therefore, we can either keep behaving as we are now and get used to the way things are, or take some action designed to reverse our plight. And if action is going to be taken then it’s high time to take the first steps.
For the Church, at least, much of this journey is about what it means to live out our faith in the new context in which we find ourselves at the start of 21st century – a minority group in a post-modern, post-Christendom culture. The challenge of this is to learn to live (as many Old Testament biblical characters, such as Daniel in Babylon, had to do) with the shift from a culture where we had power, to one in which we need to work hard to find influence.
In the end, to say that our society no longer trusts its big institutions is simply another way of recognising that it has lost faith in them. The Church can no longer demand that society automatically believes it to be faith-worthy. Instead it must learn how to work hard to win favour as it demonstrates a faith that works.
Except the book 'Faithworks' 2001
‘There are three things I don’t like about you.’
The then head of the Council Housing Department wasn’t a man to mince his words. I’d just outlined our plan to set up a small, referred-access hostel for homeless young people in his borough, and he was somewhat underwhelmed by our proposal, to say the least.
‘First,’ he explained, sneering at me as I sat in his office, ‘you’re a Christian. Second, you’re an Evangelical Christian.’ After these two I wondered what would come next.
‘Third’, he announced, ‘you’re a minister. We don’t need any hostels run by your type around here. If you open, it’ll be over my dead body!’
I don’t know what happened to him, but we did open. It took over four years to turn our vision into a reality, but we managed it. And Oasis, the charity I started over fifteen years ago with the specific aim of opening that one hostel, now runs a range of different facilities for homeless people in London’s inner city.
And our approach works: figures from that first hostel show that around 80 percent of the young people who’ve stayed there and then been ‘resettled’ by us have held down a job and stayed in housing for at least three years after leaving us. They’re making a contribution to the community around them rather than remaining the ‘victims’ of society.
What’s more, in spite of the vehement protests of that Head of Housing over a decade ago, the local council is now in absolutely no doubt just how good a job we do. A senior representative of that same London borough council admitted to me recently that our resettlement figures were impressive – in fact, they were ones he wished other hostels on his patch could emulate.
Yet amazingly, we still find ourselves constantly facing religious discrimination. Sometimes the element of faith gets deliberately left out of the equation, shunted carefully out of the limelight like an embarrassing relative. Many of our projects have been praised by local statutory bodies, but always in terms that take no account whatsoever of the fact that we’re a faith-based charity. Just as often, however, we’ve found that our faith has positively counted against us. All of our homeless facilities struggle to find enough money to meet their modest running costs, for example, and yet bureaucracy has blocked statutory funding to us time and again simply because we’re a specifically Christian agency.
And we’re far from alone. Faith-based agencies of all kinds, especially Christian ones, tend to find themselves being effectively discriminated against purely on the grounds of their religious convictions. For a whole host of reasons – from the groundless suspicion that all Christian care is really just a covert attempt at church ‘recruitment’ to straightforward anti-Christian prejudice – a great many churches and Christian charities find themselves constantly having to ‘hide their light under a bushel’ in their dealings with local statutory bodies. In effect, they’re forced to choose between either massively downplaying their religious core and commitment or missing out on taking a vital stake in local community action. They risk losing both opportunities for partnership and vital funds and resources from local authorities.
We’ve never engaged in any underhanded attempts at proselytism, nor have we in any way foisted our beliefs on our residents or clients – though, by the same token, we’ve never tried to conceal them. But to our staff of committed Christians, faith has always been a very powerful source of both motivation and inspiration. If you asked any of them why they were prepared to work long hours for comparatively little pay – and why their job gave them such enjoyment – their faith would come at the very top of their list of reasons.
Why, then, should one of the key things that makes us so effective, and has helped us establish such a good track record as a care provider, be an embarrassment or an impediment when it comes to getting recognition, respect and vital resources? Why are local councils, and some other governmental organizations, still suspicious of the role that our faith plays in our work? Why should we have to de-emphasize our Christian ethos and vision when it’s such an integral part of who we are?
New York Times best-selling author Jim Wallis launched his new book, Seven Ways to Change the World, at a Faithworks event in London recently. We caught up with him to find out more about his new book and his views on politics, the church and Faithworks.
FW: What is the main message of Seven Ways to change the World?
JW: We have these big challenges we always talk about like global poverty, half of God’s children living on less than $2 a day, trafficking, degradation of the environment. They’re like huge mountains and seem too much beyond our capacity and scope. I say isn’t that why we call it faith? Because the Bible says that with faith the size of a grain of mustard seed you can move mountains.
The book is about times in our history where faith comes alive, revival breaks out and it changes big things, and moves the mountains that seem impossible to change. It’s about the abolition of slavery, child labour laws, and civil rights. It’s about Wilberforce, Martin King, Desmond Tutu. It’s about these movements that really change history.
I’ve learned in my research for it that until spiritual activity changes something big, it doesn’t get to be called revival. It can be renewal, evangelism, conversion, all those things which are wonderful, but it’s not revival until it changes society.
So I call for commitments – personal, communal or congregational – and then for policy where in the faith community we can become the tipping point on these big questions, where they just tip from being a problem to being a solution. I think we’re really on the edge of something I haven’t seen in four decades – a new generation is coming of age. I find it all over the world; young people are coming alive and seeing their faith make a difference. And I think we’re on the edge of what could be another great awakening, what could be a time of revival.
FW: Seven Ways is written in an American political context. The UK appears to be a very different place for faith to the US, so what message can we take away from the book?
Oh yes. We’ve got people coming to all our events who aren’t Christians at all, they’re not church people. Some would say I’m spiritual but not religious, that’s a big movement in the US. But also here in the UK I find a lot of young people who say they’re spiritual but not religious. So this is for them too. I’ve got people who say I’m agnostic, I’m secular, even atheist, and yet they’re drawn to all this.
The two great hungers in the world are the hunger for spirituality and the hunger for social justice. The relationship between the two is the one the world is waiting for, and that’s what this book is about.
FW: We are often faced with the assertion that faith should be personal and be kept separate from people’s politics. Do you really think we are moving back to a place where faith is being seen as a positive force for social change?
When I was 14 I got kicked out of my little church over the issue of race. There I was told that Christianity has nothing to say about race, that Christianity should be personal and race is political. What I learned from that, and what I say in the book is that God is personal but never private. Because God wants a relationship with us, to enlist us for God’s purposes in the world. That’s the whole purpose.
Faith breaks into the world. The Kingdom of God was meant to change our lives. Is God too small to change our neighbourhoods? Our nations? Our world? The Kingdom of God is meant to change everything, and us with it.
FW: How have the American political context and faith agenda changed since you wrote God’s politics?
It’s dramatically different now, because the Religious Right’s era is over, and they’re no longer the dominant force. What’s more visible now is this new movement, which is young people taking on trafficking, taking on poverty, the environment. We’re even working with people from the Religious Right who now have a much broader and deeper agenda than before. Now, it’s no longer thought that God is a Republican, or a Democrat.
I think people of faith should be in no party’s political pocket. We should be the ultimate swing vote. So I know all the candidates running for President, we’re talking to them all, they’re all making commitments to our agenda now on poverty, they’re committing to cutting poverty by half in the US, to work for that in 10 years, and to hit the Millennium Development Goals. So I think there’s this tremendous movement now in the US on these questions.
FW: American politics is big news in the UK at the moment – how are you advising Christians to approach their voting?
By evaluating both sides by their own moral compass. And so you look at Barack Obama or maybe Hillary Clinton, or McCain. I know them all, and we’ve got to really hold them accountable to our values. There aren’t just two moral values. In the past, when I came over here people would say, “My, an American Christian who doesn’t think God is an American, or only a Republican who just cares about abortion or gay marriage.” And they were amazed.
Well now I think that it’s really become clear, that it’s a much broader conversation now. The agenda is way broader than just two issues. So, Christians will vote against climate change, and poverty, and trafficking, and Darfur and HIV/AIDS. These are all big issues.
FW: We’re at the site of the new Oasis Centre – which will be dedicated to promoting debate and partnership between church, government and media. Does anything similar exist in the US?
It’s an exciting notion. Steve Chalke says it’s designed to do what you call changing the wind. I think we’ve really got to help change the dialogue and conversations, so back home we’re trying to do the same thing. Many people are coming together and saying let’s try to change the context, let’s change what we call reality. I think we’re closer to that than before. It’s a very exciting time – so many things are happening.
FW: Do you think this kind of ‘parliament’ or congress can work in the UK?
I like the idea because it’s like what we’re trying to do back home, which is that we create the agenda. We don’t just fit into the government’s agenda, but we try to say how things ought to be, and the more faith groups who are together in that agenda, the more success we’re going to have. They should be coming to us saying ‘how can we be a part of this movement?’ Whoever wins the election in the US won’t be able to change any big things unless there are social movements pressing and pushing from the outside.
FW: What is your advice for Christians who want to engage with government but aren’t sure how?
We get involved by joining movements to change politics. Individual commitments are fine, but what moves mountains and changes history are movements. They really change things. All the best ones have always had spiritual foundations. So I want everybody to join movements, to say take care of your faith, take care of each other, and think movement.
FW: It seems vital that any political leader has to have a faith advisor these days. Do we run the risk of falling ‘into government’s pocket’ if we do this? Or does it bring benefits?
The Religious Right is an example of how it can go wrong, how it can go sour, how they became part of a political party, how they really in some ways sold their souls. So we have to maintain our prophetic independence. We are not a voting bloc, but we are a constituency who wants to live by the values of Jesus and the Kingdom of God. And we’re happy to work with politicians, but only out of being part of that Kingdom of God.
FW: Faithworks is a movement of thousands of Christians from across the UK who are committed to building a better world, motivated by their faith. Do you have any words of encouragement for them?
I’ve been to two of your conferences and I’ve had a great time at both. It just feels so much like home. I love seeing such a diverse range of Christians in church. I always kid that I did a lot of work with gangs, and some of us act like gangs – our church, our turf, our territory, our grievances, our paraphernalia, and now I see the churches in movements like Faithworks dropping their gang colours and coming together around the ones that Jesus called the least of these. That’s what’s going to bring us together.
You find the common ground. Where you agree is the important point. You don’t say let’s find all of our disagreements and focus there – that’s the backwards way of doing it. I think poverty is going to be the new altar call for a new revival, and I love the phrase Make Poverty History. It’s a wonderful altar call.
‘Too many cooks spoil the broth!’ That’s the cry of many church leaders and Christians when it comes to partnership and working with others. The thoughts of having to go to meetings and do everything by committee drives overworked and underpaid Christians crazy a lot of the time. Yet there are also many Christian leaders who cry ‘many hands make light work!’ They have discovered a depth of fellowship, achievement and purpose in working with others that has transformed the way they think about working with other people. The two seem to be completely contradictory – but which does the bible encourage?
Theology of Partnership
Well the straightforward answer is partnership! Without it, Adam and Eve ran into a great deal of trouble! The twelve tribes of Israel worked best when they worked together. The commands for the building of the temple and its function, the transporting of the tabernacle and the construction of the ark – all of these demanded detailed and demanding partnership. Add to these examples the fact that Jesus commissioned disciples to work in teams, called twelve people to be the pillars of His church and that the Apostle Paul always worked in teams and you have pretty strong biblical support for partnership. The church is built on body ministry – and Scriptures like Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 and Peter’s letters all make it really clear that working together is vital to the success of the church. And of course, God himself is a partnership of three personalities working in perfect harmony. Perhaps the most poignant example of Scriptural encouragement to partnership is the deeply emotional and moving prayer of Jesus himself in John 17 – that the world might know that we are one. The evidence is pretty overwhelming theologically! There are lots of other, more pragmatic reasons for working in partnership, though.
Opportunities and Benefits
When churches work together they share resources, avoid duplication and give one another mutual support. The lonely youth worker suddenly finds another lonely youth worker and the two support and encourage one another! You also discover a strengthened vision when working with others – after all two sets of eyes can see the same thing very differently – and one compliments the other. You also increase the chances of meeting the right people at the right time when you work with others because you open up more contacts from two address books than you do from one. The very fact that one church has a certain tradition and set of contacts whilst another moves in different spheres of influence is a goof reason for working together.
Not only that, but when you work with other churches, you can suddenly claim to represent much more of your community and your voice is strengthened by working with others. One person can shout, but 100 people can roar! This kind of joint working leads to strengthend credibility and a much more reliable reputation. Would you rather be known as someone who people can work with or someone who can’t work with others? How do you think Jesus would be described today?
Perhaps the most obvious benefit of partnership is the fact that you can each benefit from one another. Mistakes don’t have to be repeated and good lessons are always worth learning. Partnership gives you an opportunity to avoid the pitfalls others have fallen into and take the right decision at the right time.
Despite the theological and pragmatic benefits of partnership, it would be naïve to suggest that there are not a number of obstacles to working together. The biggest obstacle is pride. We can fool ourselves into thinking that we are the only ones who know the answers, that God can only use our church, or that our theology is tighter and better than anyone elses. Of course, none of these are true, but ego is a powerful thing! We can dress it up as much as we like, but if we think that we always know best then there is a problem deep within our hearts or our church that we need to address.
It can also be really hard to build trust with people that we have been distanced from for years. You don’t overcome that kind of distance with one call and a coffee – but you can at least make a start. Sometimes initial contact with others can be a challenge, but we shouldn’t let that initial difficulty put us off. The challenges of committees, and teams and bureaucracy can also get in the way of partnering – but only if we let them.
The biggest obstacle to partnering is the fear that we will have a clash of culture or identity. But we need to learn that we do not need to agree with everything someone does to partner with them. I don’t need to weaken my Christian identity to work with non-Christian organisations. Instead I need to be sure of my identity and certain about when I can partner and when I cannot. Sometimes yo9u have to make it really clear what you can do and what you cannot do. There are things we can support and things we cannot support as Christians. But perhaps if we discover and live out our clear Christian faith and identity the only exclusion that will take place is when others decide they cannot accept who we are or what we stand for? That is a challenge that many of us need to learn to understand and live out.
You do not need to compromise to partner, but you do need to be open to learning, growing and changing through the input of others. Christians face discrimination because of our distinctives, but we should be the champions of distinctive faith and partnership meeting the diverse needs of our communities. Partnership challenges us to think through who we are, what we really believe and what is essential and what is not. We need to learn different language and customs and activities. But that is exactly what we ask people to do every time we invite new people to come to our church services!
Quick Guide to Partnership
Here is a quick guide to help you work out how you can partner effectively. It is by no means exhaustive, but it will start your thinking – all the best!
1. Work out who you are and what you have to offer.
Churches have vision, experience, understanding of the community, commitment to long-term solutions, buildings and strong local knowledge. You need to work out what this means for you and your congregation and the community where God has placed you. Why has God placed you there? Who are the other people at work in your community? Ask yourself which of those groups you can work with and how you could help them. What are the non-negotiables for you as a church. Be careful not to enshrine your preferences here – what are the essential and the non-essential things for you and your faith? Let them shape who you work with.
You can bring a holistic approach to your community. You can be more relational than some other groups. You can offer more in depth and focussed support to individuals. You can reach people that others cannot – the traditionally under-represented and excluded people in your community. Also, don’t forget that you can bring the hope of a fresh strat, true transformation and real purpose and hope through what you do. All of those are pretty strong and unique contributions of the church to a community or a project. David Blunkett has said this:
“Faith groups are a resource available to all areas of the country, even the most deprived, the least active and the most likely to be disengaged from the political process. This is a resource that every government regeneration programme cannot match.”
2. Focus on your strengths and areas of common interest.
Partner on the issues you feel strongly about! Decide what resources you have, then target them in a thought through ands effective way. A small church cannot partner in hundreds of projects, but your contribution could make a real difference in one. So work out what you are really passionate about in your community and then make every effort to get involved in something that will make a difference in that area.
One of the key elements of partnership is recognising that you do not have to do everything yourself! Learn the art of referring people to others in your area. You may not be able to help a young teenage mum with a flat and food and clothes. But by partnering with others in your town, you can become part of a wide network of people who have a broad spread of resources. If you aren’t at the table, you don’t share in the feast.
4. Find mutual benefit.
Partnership should be beneficial to you and to others – so find the common ground and the common benefit. But be careful! Always be ready to give yourself away. Partner because it is right, not just because it is good for you. Every now and then God challenges us to give away the best of ourselves in partnership – after all that is what he did.
Where to from here?
Well, the whistle stop tour of partnership has ended. Just one last encouragement – speak the right language! Learn to articulate hope in words that non-Christians understand. We talk about the ‘poor’, the government talks about the ‘excluded. We talk about having a heart for our communities, the government talks about community cohesion. We talk about a prophetic role, the government talks about empowering others. We talk about loving our neighbour and the government talks about mutual support and social capital. We talk about helping people fulfil their potential in Christ, the government talks about supporting people!
Whatever you do as you think about partnering, in your head and in your heart, do it for Jesus.
July 2nd – anyone remember it?
That was the date of the Live 8 concerts around the world that challenged the world to Make Poverty History. The following week saw marches and campaigns and rallies in Edinburgh as the G8 flew in. It all seems such a long time ago…
Since then we have had two terrorist attacks on London, the first anniversary of the Beslan tragedy and the devastating impact of a couple of hurricanes in the US. We’ve all watched aghast at the impact of Hurricane Katrina in the Southern US. The damage done was more than just physical – that fateful storm also blew open the deep divide in American society and the impoverished underclass that seems to exist within the world’s wealthiest and most powerful economic force. A force not able to stop the wind, or provide a poor person with the buss fare to get out of town.
Behind the scenes, the new American Ambassador to the UN has also ripped up much of what made up the Millennium Development Goals. The goals have drawn support for over 200 nations around the world. Ironically, these eight objectives, which are aimed at halving world poverty by 2015, have been heavily criticised by the wind of American foreign policy. Even a small commitment like committing 0.7% of national income to relief and development has criticised as ‘unrealistic’ by the Bush administration.
Around the world, the poor are still poor, the hungry are still hungry and the destitute are still destitute. So should we just give up? Should the church keep quiet about injustice and get on with the ‘real’ business of preaching and filling our buildings?
You’ll not be surprised to read that I think we should not give up! The church of Christ has a biblical responsibility to live and proclaim the Gospel. If your local congregation is not engaged in overcoming poverty and injustice then it is not reflecting the biblical call to be God’s people. However, let me take that thought just a little further.
After the Tsunami, the UK, including the Christians in the UK, gave hundreds of millions of pounds to help. Hurricane Katrina will also illicit a deep response from many Christians. The MPH campaign did the same thing. We mustn’t forget those commitments.
Remember our commitments to those overseas
The commitments to give, to pray, to support are as important now as they were then. The urgency is not abated by the passing of time. The need is as great now as it was then. The responsibility does not diminish because the clock ticks – in fact the responsibility to care and help and do something increases as the days go by. We must honour the commitments we make. As the UN is forced to consider ditching its commitments, we as the church must not ditch ours. If we believe something we believe it. If we commit to something, we should do it.
There is an even deeper challenge here. It is one thing to see poverty etched on the faces of poor Americans in New Orleans and to wonder why the black community is the underclass in the Big Easy. It is quite another to wonder why black people in our community are still on the edge of our communities. It is interesting that we engage in mission by giving, working, serving, helping and going when that mission is in Banda Aceh or Ethiopia or India, but we often ignore the poverty, exclusion and hopelessness in our own communities. How come we can weep as we watch the news of tragedy abroad, but drive past tragedy at home to get to the meeting in the church building?
It’s important for us to remember that we have a responsibility to serve the poor and the excluded – both at home and abroad. God is not swayed by geography. He has no favourites. Even though we might be more broken by the pain in 200,000 people made homeless in New Orleans, He has the capacity to care as deeply about each of them as He does about the homeless people in our street, our town and our community.
Remember our own communities
As well as doing something about what we see in other parts of the world, here’s what I think we should remember about ‘home’.
On average, 10000 people live within walking distance of a UK church building. Of those 10,000:
•1200 people living alone, of whom 580 will be of pensionable age
•1500 people who talk to their neighbours less than once a week
•50 people who have been divorced in the last year
•375 people who are single parents
•18 teenage girls who are pregnant
•150 women who have contemplated or had an abortion recently
•250 people who are unemployed
•1700 people living in a low income household
•1100 people living with mental illness
•100 people who were bereaved in the last year
•2700 people with no car
•60 people who live in residential care
•1280 people caring for a sick, elderly or disabled friend of relative
•2800 people who have been victims of crime
•40 people who are homeless or living in temporary accommodation
•15 people who are asylum seekers
Remember this question: What is the Good News to them?
Remember God’s grace to us
By definition, a Christian community must take seriously the commands and the calling of Christ. It is sobering to realise that the devastated area of the US is also strongly associated with the ‘Bible Belt’. I am sure that many, many churches and Christians, have opened their doors to the poor and the excluded that have flown from Mississippi. Indeed, many news reports have told stories of Christians showing their care and compassion by sharing their homes and their resources with those affected. They are to be admired for their actions. Let’s not wait until a disaster hits before we make a difference though. Let’s remember now that we have an obligation to the poor and the excluded. Perhaps we can learn from the parable of Jesus in Luke 14. We can go into the communities where we live and invite people to the banquet of God’s grace and care! Not force them to believe, but show them the compassion of God. We are the only hands that God will use in some situations. We are the voice He chooses to speak through in some communities. We have been privileged to experience His grace. We must remember to share it.
Remember - the poor, we will always have with us.