People in Niddrie don’t beat about the bush. One of the lads who comes to our youth café very bluntly went up to a student, who is serving with us for a couple of weeks, whom he had never met before and asked: ‘Are you a virgin? What do you think about sex before marriage?’
The language people use in Niddrie is equally straight down the line. I have never heard so many expletives in my life apart from in the film Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. A person calling you a c**** could mean they are insulting you or it can be a term of endearment. Swear words are used as adjectives, verbs and nouns. Niddrie often has a very aggressive, confrontational culture and people working here need to know a couple of things.
Firstly, people in Niddrie want straight answers to straight questions. They don’t want an ambiguous response but upfront solutions to life’s big questions. Why am I here? Can I be gay and be a Christian? What happens after we die? Am I going to hell? If you don’t have answers they want to know why and if you beat about the bush then they will at some point nail you down to what you believe. This includes where people stand in relation to God. People in general soft-soap the gospel. There is a lack of people calling the gospel as it is. It is very clear in Romans what God thinks about humanity when Paul writes- “There is no one righteous not even one.” We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s majestic holiness and God’s wrath is therefore against sinner and sin. There is only one way to escape hell and to be at peace with God and that is through Jesus Christ’ atoning, propitiating sacrifice. This is what people need to hear and there is no hiding from it when you’re being bombarded by probing Niddrie guys.
Secondly, we need to be ready to challenge people’s sin. One of the problems that I perceive amongst wannabe workers in more deprived areas is that people like to go into these ‘poor’ estates and tell them how much they are loved by Jesus, but they don’t like challenging people’s lifestyle. We like to say all the nice stuff but we don’t like to tell people to change. We like to be polite with people but we don’t get real about people’s lives. We need to be more like the apostles and Jesus who called people to repent and then follow Christ. Every person in Niddrie wants to follow a Jesus where they don’t have to alter their lives. But a Christ saturated life demands repentance and faith.
Thirdly, we need to be more assertive. The estate culture is very aggressive and gladiatorial. We wouldn’t say a bad word to someone’s face in a middle class area. However, if someone has offended another in Niddrie then everybody tends to know about it because we work in a respect culture. I bumped into a guy a couple of weeks ago who had been fighting with another local lad. They had had a scrap the last night and he was going to show him who was boss. He said: “I don’t want to keep fighting the guy but I can’t back down. Once I have beaten him up then I will leave him alone.” Everybody was talking about these two guys and the fight they had been having. If the guy backs down then he is a wimp and if he stands up then he is respected. This kind of mentality is so different to where I was brought up, where the most someone’s scraps about is planning permission with the neighbour and we don’t do that face to face but through lawyers. The aggressiveness of the culture means there has to be a firmer approach to the way we handle people. I remember learning to do Bible studies at our recover group last year. I used to just let people take control of the conversation by asking stupid questions and trying to derail the conversation. I had to learn to tell people to shut up and listen otherwise you would end up with one of the recover guys leading the study and you wouldn’t get anywhere. People need to man up to work here and if they don’t they will get eaten up for breakfast.
I’m not saying that we have to fit into the culture by being really aggressive and go round swearing at people. But again if you want to work in estate-like cultures then you will have to toughen up. Jesus was not meek and mild but challenged sin, rebuked his disciples and used firm language at times. We need to be more like him in these areas if we are going to survive.