There are a few questions that I get asked all the time: How can you live and work in such a difficult neighbourhood? Aren’t you afraid for your life? How could you raise children there? Are you not afraid that everything will get stolen?
These questions, and others like them, occupy the space between thinking about the needs of others and personal safety. But underneath this, the real issue is how do we view people? Are people a socio-economic problem to solve? Are they a health crisis to alleviate? Are they a ministry to engage in? Are they a mess to clean up? Are they a collection of issues to rehabilitate? Or are they just like you and me? Made in the image of God with hopes dreams and desires? With strengths and weaknesses, searching for the silver lining and reacting sometimes badly to situations when things don’t go as planned?
It’s one thing to live and work in a neighbourhood, but it’s quite another thing to love the neighbourhood and the people living there as Jesus loves.
There is a passage in Matthew chapter 9 that has gotten under my skin. Jesus is engaging with people across all levels of society and is proclaiming news of his kingdom – teaching people that freedom is in himself. He is healing sickness and alleviating affliction when we read in Matthew 9 verse 36 ‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.’
This text is a litmus test for me: How do I view people? And how do I react to, and feel about them? Do I see danger? Do I feel the need to protect myself? Or do I see people as Jesus sees them? People in need of love and care? Do I have compassion for them? Does that compassion motivate me to action?
Many times I look at the crowds and I don’t see people, let alone feel compassion. So in order to transition from just living and working, to loving areas with real and present issues, we must see people as Jesus sees people. We must have compassion as Jesus has compassion. And this is only possible when we recognize that we are part of the crowd needing to be seen – we are also in need of Jesus’ compassion.
When we are changed by Jesus, our focus will not be primarily on ourselves or on our personal safety but rather the care and love or others It’s not easy, but it’s the better path.
Through the lens of the gospel, I can love my neighbourhood. I can see individuals of worth, of value, people I can learn and receive from. A community to grow with rather than problems to solve to mitigate my safety.
This is the ethos behind Eden teams; living your life for the benefit of others.
By Heath Meikle