Yesterday, I commented on the idea of comfort and sacrifice. I noted that we can often get support for our work amongst Muslims but struggle when trying to get support for our work among indigenous working class Oldhammers. Others had noticed that many middle class believers would happily consider moving abroad to reach other cultures but couldn’t bear the thought of moving within the UK to reach people from a working class culture. I suggested much of this stemmed from the middle class belief that celebrating foreign culture is fundamentally good whilst working class culture is something to be saved from. You can read that article in full here.
I wanted to dig further into this idea of comfort and sacrifice. One of the first things that someone – now one of our elders – said to me when I arrived in Oldham was this:
If we want people to be saved, we are going to have to get a bit uncomfortable.
In our case, the discomfort being alluded to was the prospect of having asylum seekers come and stay with us. Within weeks of becoming the pastor, my wife and I had a guy living our home. The man who said this to me had an asylum seeker living with them for months.
For some, such things represent zero sacrifice. They are extroverts who enjoy having people with them 24/7. Moreover, they are middle class and revel in the thought of being seen as liberal, caring types who open their home to foreigners. The proof that such is true can be seen in a feature run by the Guardian newspapers, documenting various people who had chosen to take asylum seekers into their homes following our involvement in the Syrian crisis. The tone of the articles was clear: this is the liberal and loving thing to do and you will get middle class kudos for doing it. For many, that is a genuine draw to such things.
I, on the other hand, am not an extrovert. Nor am I particularly middle class. I have no interest in being lauded for my liberal credentials and I certainly don’t enjoy having people in my face all day long. Neither am I bothered about anybody looking on and thinking I’m nice. If anything, that’s just bad PR for me and – worse – would lead to more people wanting to stay! For me, having someone in my house 24/7 did not thrill me. But we did it because, otherwise, my friend would have been homeless and his already fragile mental state was unlikely to take that without serious consequences.
My point here isn’t, ‘look at what I did’. In fact, I am saying the opposite. The brutal reality is, I didn’t really want to do it. My ‘sacrifice’ only went so far. We knew that it would only be for a matter of weeks and so it was a relatively soft thing to do. I can’t say what I would have done if the issue would have gone on for months or, as in some cases, years.
Most of us, I suspect, function similarly. We are happy to make sacrifices of some sort. The best kind are those that aren’t really sacrifices for us – we actually enjoy whatever it is – but everyone else thinks it sacrificial so we run with the ‘it’s a sacrifice’ line. The next are those that are a sacrifice, but it’s a relatively small thing to us. Then there are big sacrifices but on stuff that we can bear. Finally, there are the huge sacrifices that we really don’t want to do and under any other circumstances definitely wouldn’t.
I don’t quite know where moving to a deprived community fits in. For us, it really wasn’t that big a sacrifice. A church asked us to come, our own church thought it was a good idea (or were happy to be rid of us), and so we came. I can’t really bill being here as a sacrifice because, for us, it wasn’t. And, now we are here, it still isn’t. I love it and genuinely wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
But for others, moving to a place like Oldham is a big sacrifice. They will be wrenched from their friends, their home, their family, their job and surround themselves with people who aren’t like them, who think differently to them and who approach life in an altogether different way. It may even register, for many, as one of those big sacrifices that I really, really do not want to make.
If that is you, then you are in good company. It seems Jesus felt similarly about going to the cross. In Matthew 26:39 he says, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ It seems, if circumstances could be different, Jesus would have taken the option not to go to the cross. That’s not to say he didn’t go willingly. He willingly went, knowing it was the only way. But if there was another way, it seems he would have taken it. And, frankly, who could blame him?!
But Jesus also said, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it’ (Matthew 16:24f). Jesus calls us to that same sacrificial life that he lived. He calls us to lose our lives for his sake, just as he lost his life for us.
When we think about deprived communities, we first need to think – really deeply – about the fate awaiting those who do not ever hear of Christ. Just as Jesus went to the cross to save us from the reality of eternal punishment in Hell, we must seriously consider the end awaiting the lost in deprived communities. We need to recognise that our sacrifice for Christ is not vain. We go because Christ commands us to go and we live in, love and serve deprived communities because we love him and we are called to lay down our lives just as he did for us.
Let’s be honest, a sacrifice is only a sacrifice if it actually costs us something. But Christ calls us to lay down our lives for him and he calls us to go to a lost and dying world with the gospel. That necessarily includes deprived communities. For you, moving to a deprived community may be a huge sacrifice that really costs you. But we need to take seriously the words of Jesus and ask ourselves, is he worth it?