It’s easy to shut your eyes to the poverty in Britain. As the rector of an Anglican middle-class church for 18 years, I know all about that. To my shame, we’ve only recently started certain projects in our community that we’d previously turned a blind eye to.
The excuses are genuine, but they are still excuses. Sometimes the last thing I feel like doing on a Tuesday is sitting with adults who are unable to read. But I’m learning that in order to truly reach and impact people, I must be willing to pay a price and sacrifice.
So, what changed?
God did something in my heart, which has spilled into our church’s mission drive. A key moment for me came on a recent visit to Asia with GFA World, a charity that is sharing the good news and spreading God’s love in various ways across the continent.
I was exposed to a level of poverty I’d never seen before, and was inspired by a group of people who were willing to make great sacrifices to reach them. I saw a level of gratitude in people I’d never seen before.
We went to the city slums one day, where there was raw sewage running down the street. These folks were so poor that the gangs didn’t even bother with them because they had nothing worthy to steal. I can’t shake the image out of my mind of the pastor in a white robe, walking down the street with dirty animals alongside him and sewage all around. He stepped into that world to comfort a woman whose son had gone missing. He offered hope in the most heartbreaking and devastating of situations.
Then there was rural poverty – slightly different but still as striking – where the huts were built of sticks and mud. The church building and toilets installed by GFA World were the only ‘modern’ advancements within the village. Again, I witnessed pastors – trained and resourced by GFA World – coming alongside and serving those communities. When people were starving, they went to the pastor, who readily shared the little he had with them.
Visiting one school touched my heart, as a little girl gave me a doll she’d made out of clay as a gift. She had very little, but still wanted to show generosity. Meeting us meant so much to the locals, and they wanted to say Thank You. They had nothing to give us but their gratitude, which they did in volumes.
Returning to Britain was quite an eye-opener. I realised that those of us, who identify with our Christian status, were still very much consumers. We weren’t living truly sacrificial lives. I began to pray. I’d always spoken to the homeless and the disadvantaged and vulnerable, but what had I done about it?
In Cheadle, near Manchester, we pick and choose what we want. We assume education, healthcare, luxuries, and the right to decide which church we attend. In other parts of the world, people don’t have that option.
Our church is close to a large council estate, but we’d gone years without noticing some of the needs within that community. For instance, we’d never had people in our congregation who couldn’t read – yet now I am working with a group from the local estate where only one in four of them can read. There are many more like them who are often overlooked by wealthier Christians and churches. So we began to pray more intentionally for the entire estate. We went beyond a quick Hello and started having proper conversations. We started an Alpha Course and the folks started coming.
My trip to Asia taught me what real poverty looks like, and challenged me to do something about it. We are moving from conversations with people to taking action. I’m busy; I work long days and deal with a lot of people, but I’m determined that I’m going to give a few hours of my week to sit with these guys who will possibly never be able to contribute to the church. But that doesn’t matter. They’re people in need, and it takes personal sacrifice to reach them and share God’s love.
British Christians have become sacrifice-averse. We’re entitled, and believe we deserve the world. But what would Jesus do? What would His approach be like? It sounds a cliché, but He’d be right there in the thick of it. He’s the ultimate Servant King… What a privilege to follow His sacrificial example.
Rev Rob Munro has been Rector of St Mary’s Parish, Cheadle in Chester Diocese (C of E) for the last 18 years. He is actively involved in the Chester Diocese, particularly in Mission and Outreach and as Chair of Clergy and through the General Synod. He visited Asia with GFA World. Visit www.gfauk.org for more information.
Written by: Rev Rob Munro