By Andy Constable
There can be a temptation when coming to work in schemes to simply see the social problems that many schemes face. People from the outside see the drugs, crime, dysfunctional families and young teenage mothers. These stereotypes fuel a superiority complex where the ‘well-meaning’ Christian thinks that they are coming to release these ‘poor people’ from their spiritual darkness! Many of these schemes do have a myriad of social issues however these things don’t exclusively define the culture. There are many positive things, as well as the difficult, that people don’t see if they come in with an attitude of superiority. Those who are working or thinking about working in estates must rethink how they approach the culture in these areas.
There is a danger for those who work in schemes to see people as ‘ministry projects’. New converts become currency for our newsletters home that boast our pride. When you come to any work, no less in schemes, it’s important that we come with the right attitude. I know this sounds dead simple but you won’t appreciate the people and the culture unless you come in self-sacrificing love. Our attitude must be the same as Christ Jesus – to care for people. I’m not saying that the gospel doesn’t challenge the culture – it definitely does. But I’m challenging the attitude of paternalism that can easily creep into our work. As Paul Tripp writes: “We cannot be part of Christ’s life-giving work without being willing to lay down our own.” We come to serve and lay down our lives in love for those we work with. This is crucial because we are coming not to force our middle-class culture on people but to see people transformed by the gospel.
When we come with an attitude of service we can then begin to see the culture that we bring to the table. All of us have a particular way of doing and seeing things. Nobody comes from a neutral vantage point. As we come into a different area we must be aware of our cultural prejudices. We must be aware of what we bring with us. This is important not only to challenge our culture but also so that we can contextualize the gospel in a way that people will understand. This was a weakness of many of the missionaries who went out to Africa in the early 18th century. They went with a cultural prejudice and saw the African’s as inferior. They preached the gospel passionately but also made the first converts wear suits and dress like the British. They did not contextualize the gospel and the church suffered. We are pursuing authentic, indigenous converts who experience God through the lens of their culture. Therefore, it’s important that those from the outside coming to plant know where they come from and appreciate the culture of those they come to share with. Jesus came not in power but in weakness and in the same way people who work in these areas are coming to serve not to be served.
As well as knowing the culture that we bring its important to see the redeemable aspects of the culture we are serving. God’s common grace to all humans means there are good things in the culture as well as bad. There are so many things that I’ve learned to appreciate about Niddrie. I love the family loyalty on the estate. Families look after each other through thick and thin all the way to death. While many families these days push their old folk to care homes and forget about them, families in Niddrie care for and visit their old folk regularly. I love the friendliness on the estate. People live in close proximity to each other and so people look out for one another. Our last neighbours in Niddrie still visit us and pop our post round that still gets delivered to our old address. I love the appreciation for art and music. There are so many talented dancers, singers and musicians on the estate. I love the community feel in general, which can sometimes be lost in middle class areas with the onslaught of individualism. You will never fully settle in unless you learn to appreciate things about the place where you work. You won’t be genuine in your friendships unless you love people and come to serve them. You will find it difficult to have a long term gospel impact unless you have indigenous converts who have been transformed by the gospel but still reach out to their culture.
We need to check our hearts as we come to serve in schemes. Do we come with a paternalistic view? Do we see our culture as superior? Do we appreciate the culture that we are coming into? There is the danger of swinging the other way and just ‘loving’ people and not challenging people’s sin. But if we are preaching the gospel faithfully from a place of service then our message will both challenge and redeem culture at the same time. Let us continue to pray for schemes to be transformed and indigenous converts raised who will change the face of this country!