Christians need to be seriously considering this question as, thankfully, more and more Christians seem to be taking notice of the dire gospel needs of many of our cities housing schemes/council estates. Personal experience has shown me that many ‘outsiders’ will come and help out at midweek youth groups or children’s events even if they feel unable to move into an area. At Niddrie (and in Brasil) we often attracted short term mission groups both nationally and internationally (1-3 weeks), interns (1-3 years), short term placements (up to 6 months) and a variety of interested individuals looking for ideas/inspiration (1 day – 1 month). The motivations behind these people (pretty much 100% middle class) fascinates me.
I have discovered that some do it out of a need to be helpful. Others do it out of compassion. Others do it because it makes them feel good. We once had a team who, when questioned about what they hoped to realistically achieve during their time with us, proudly informed me that for the next 2 weeks with us they were going to (and I quote) ‘break down barriers and build friendships within the community as a pathway for ongoing gospel ministry.’ The tragic thing about that statement is that they, naively, believed it! Then, when I asked them if they believed that these people were going to hell, there was complete silence. When I asked them what they were going to say to a local who asked them that particular question, nobody had a response.
Hebrews 9v27 warns us: ‘..people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment’. The problem for many Christians is that whilst they may affirm that at an intellectual level they never really have to face it in their everyday lives. I am willing to wager that most Christians have never been asked this question or brought it up because it is not generally a topic for polite conversation. Yet, in a housing scheme, this is one of the top 3 questions asked. People here want a definitive answer to whether or not we believe that they go to hell when they die, and trust me when I tell you that they will pounce on any sign of weakness or prevarication on this. If the gospel is good news, then surely this is the bad news? So, surely a principle motivating factor for going to a housing scheme (or anywhere for that matter) is because we take this verse seriously? More than, we take it literally. We take the gospel because without it lost sinners are going to suffer for eternity. We serve them, we love them, we plead with them, we live with them, and we die with them all of the time being straight with them about who we are and what we are about. Yes God loves the residents of housing schemes/council estates, but let’s not assume that they’re some special class of people immune from sin – they will go to hell just like everybody else unless they repent. I’ve checked and having a crap life doesn’t qualify as a legitimate excuse for rebelling against a Holy God.
Now, if you haven’t got these basics right then you’re not going to last very long. Break down barriers and build relationships? Maybe. Schemes are enclaves and have been for generations. That stuff doesn’t get done overnight and certainly not on a short-term mission. Loving the ‘poor’ is not a good enough motivation because most of them will not love you back (not to mention the loaded nature of that term). Many people on schemes will try and use you, abuse you and take liberties with you. They will tell you what you want to hear, massage your ego, confess Christ, go to a few meetings, throw you a few bones and then leave you crushed in the gutter. They will break your heart. So, if your motivation is tied into that it will soon be pulled from under you. Many of them will be indifferent to you and the message you bring. Some of them will be called by God to repent of their sins and put their faith and trust in Christ alone.
Glorifying God, obeying the Great Commission and remembering what their eternal destiny is outside of Jesus Christ are why we are in this game. Of course this is not the final word on this matter. Topics like this are far too complex to be answered in a generalised blog posting. But it is something to be thinking about as we seek to serve Christ in this particularised context in our generation.