Why should we serve in inner city housing schemes?

Why should we serve in inner city housing schemes?

This is a big question and one I get asked often. Another way to ask it is, ‘What is our motivation for service in inner city housing schemes?’ The simple answer is simply this, ‘For the glory and honour of God Almighty.’ There are many reasons WHY we should serve people in these schemes and there is much discussion on HOW we should best serve them as well.

Firstly, though, how exactly should we refer to people on schemes like Niddrie: ‘the urban poor’. Well what do we mean by that exactly? Are we talking about poor in the financial sense? Most of them have money in their pocket and wear the latest designer clothes, so surely they don’t qualify by that criteria in the same way as a street child in Calcutta for example? What about the ‘urban deprived’? Deprived of what exactly? Opportunities? Parenting? Certainly it is true that many of the schools in these areas suffer from a lack of investment but the teachers I have met do a fantastic job in difficult circumstances. It is true that parenting skills here are questionable, particularly the lack of a strong father role model in the home. So, maybe it is true that they are deprived in that sense. But this is not true for every person in Niddrie. Some individuals work 2 or 3 jobs to support their families. Also, more professionals are moving in and importing their middle class values with them (not always a good thing). Under what criteria do they fall?

I think that if we are going to throw around words like ‘poor’ and deprived’ we need to understand what they mean. More importantly, as Christians what does the Bible teach us about the poor and the deprived?

1. There is certainly a financial element to being poor. Looking after orphans and widows is a big thing in Scripture (Exodus 22:22; James 1:27). God is clear that we are to care for such as these even though the Lord warned that they would always be with us. Where there is true physical hardship we have a responsibility to address it.

2. However, the main emphasis in the Bible is on spiritual poverty. After all Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost not those who were short of a few quid. Well what about healing the sick? Jesus did more of that than anything else? That was taking care of people physically, wasn’t it? Yes is was. But, bear in mind that even when Jesus healed people physically he constantly pointed to a far greater need of spiritual healing. We see an example of this when Jesus was teaching in Capernaum in Luke 4. Even though we read that he healed many people of diseases there, he had to move on to go and preach the good news of the kingdom in the surrounding towns and villages. Even the feeding of the 5000 in John 6 wasn’t actually about the act itself (which was good) but about the more important spiritual truth concerning the bread of eternal life.

So, where does this leave us? Well, I would say that we must work with all of our might to relieve the suffering of any and all truly ‘physically poor’ people who we meet in Niddrie and beyond. We do that in a number of ways here with various loan shemes, training intiaitves, counselling courses and providing supported accommodation. Now not everybody falls into that criteria and we are careful and seek to be wise about who we help in this way. For example, we will often refer people to the doctor’s, a debt advisory service, a drug unit, or somewhere we feel they would get better and more specialist care than we currently provide. Obviously, not everybody qualifies for our help in this way and therefore I would say this ministry is limited in what we are able to do.

On the other hand everybody qualifies for our help as we address the needs of the ‘spiritually poor’. All people are in need of salvation regardless of their physical circumstances. So, we preach Christ to all boldly and without fear. In that sense, our ministry of proclamation is unlimited in what we are able to do. That is our sacred duty as followers of Jesus.

I believe that as we meet the needs of the the spiritual and physical poor as prescribed by the Scripture we are acting in a way that brings honour and glory to God. Now I want to be clear that we are not doing it because ‘we love people and can’t bear to see them suffer’ (a phrase I often hear when I ask people why they want to come and help us) but rather we do it because we love God and want to serve Him wholeheartedly. We are not doing it because they deserve it or because we feel guilty about their situation in life. We do it primarily to honour him as we pour out grace into the lives of all who live here as a sign of our deep gratitude for his great salvation in our lives. We believe in justice and mercy because he believes in justice and mercy. we love the poor in all their forms because he loves the poor in all their forms.

The issue of whether we should be involved in fighting injustices on behalf of the poor I will leave for another time.