I don’t know if you have seen the YouTube clip called ‘gap yah’. If you haven’t then you should definitely check out this clip: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKFjWR7X5dU). In it, a stereotypical upper-middle class guy calls his friend on his gap year (a year out taken by many in the UK between leaving school and going to university) and he talks about the life changing time he is having abroad. It’s making a joke of people who go to foreign countries and have a kind of spiritual life changing time gap yah (that’s how people say it) working with the ‘poor’ and then come back to the UK and can’t stop going on about it! People come back from these trips thinking that they have done some of the most amazing things to help innocent, helpless poor people. The person who has gone on their gap year is usually very nice, well-meaning and has an optimistic view of the world and people. I call this the Tarquin Syndrome after the guy who stars in the YouTube clip. This may sound great but the reality is that this view of working with the poor often leaves you open to being manipulated, lied to and stolen from. The naive, well meaning person who ‘loves on’ everyone often gets walked all over. And many Christians can ‘suffer’ from the Tarquin syndrome in various ways when they serve in more deprived areas. Christians can be very naïve. I was very naïve.
After finishing as a student I went to Cape Town to work in a highly impoverished township called Manenberg (a beautiful township with many good people but also struggling with gangsterism, drugs, violence and sexual abuse), with a friend. Our vision was biblical – we wanted to see the lost people of Manenberg won to Christ and to see their lives transformed by Jesus. We deeply believed that Jesus changed lives and I still most defiantly do! Romans 1:16 is clear when Paul writes that the gospel is the power of salvation for all who believe. But, boy, was I naïve. Throughout that year I ‘loved on’ a guy who was involved in gangs and was heavily addicted to drugs. I thought he wanted to be my friend and to hear the gospel but in his eyes I was a means to get money for drugs as he stole from me frequently. All the year I spent with him he was manipulative, he lied and he stole. I loved him, still count him as a friend and pray that the gospel would transform his life but I let this guy walk all over me. My concept of the innocent, helpless poor person who just needed Jesus was blown into bits.
That year was a huge learning curve for me. There are no limits on the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the preaching of the gospel to transform people’s lives but people working in more difficult areas socially, like Niddrie, need to be more savvy and I’ve been learning that the hard way.
I want to use this Friday slot to post about my experiences as a person from a middle class, ‘nicey-nice’ background working amongst people from a completely different culture to me here in Niddrie. I want to share what I’m learning and what I’m experiencing and how we can bring the gospel to bear in a Biblical way in these kind of areas. There a lack of gospel centred churches working in estate kind of areas in the UK and leaders need to be thinking about how we are going to reach more deprived areas for Christ without suffering from the Tarquin syndrome…