Mission in our own community can be hard, especially in a nation like ours. It can be easy to think that mission is something you do in another country, that problems that matter to God – and should matter to us – like homelessness, a lack of food and poverty, is something that happens somewhere else.
Despite our country’s economic problems, the UK is still one of the wealthiest nations in the world – and it’s easy to dismiss these kind of problems, think they are too big for us and that they aren’t anywhere near our doorstep.
However, the reality is somewhat different.
For the last two years or so I have been heavily involved with a project called the Sutton Foodbank. It’s a project involving many of the churches in Sutton working together, with a desire to serve their community.
It’s part of a larger project run for several years nationwide by a charity called the Trussel Trust, a network of Foodbanks all across the country.
The aim is to provide three days worth of food for those who for whatever reason – benefit delays, homelessness or any other reason – don’t have any. It’s purpose is not to be a long-term supplement for people, to be an ongoing supply of food, but to stand in the gap when things get difficult.
The first few times I went to the Foodbank to help out, no one turned up. We had a whole load of food, and no one to give it to.
I began to think no one needed our help. Being completely honest, I was glad.
Not just because it appeared like there was no one out there in need, but because I simply didn’t know how I would react when faced with people in such dire circumstances.
But then it began. People started arriving. One, then eventually two, three and sometimes four people each week, as word started to spread.
There was one week in particular where it really hit home though.
A woman came in – for confidentiality purposes I won’t reveal her name. As we sat down and chatted to her about her circumstances, we found out that she was homeless, with mental health issues. She told us that she would be eating her meals in a hospital, because she had nowhere else to go.
‘She had nothing to eat with’
This was difficult enough to hear. But there was one more detail.
She didn’t even have any cutlery to eat her food with. No knife, fork or spoon. She couldn’t even eat the food we’d given her, because she had nothing to even eat it with.
I was taken aback.
Suddenly the reality of this whole project hit home.
A woman, from the local area – from one of the richer parts of the country – was not only homeless, not only had no food or money, but also had not even any cutlery to eat her food with.
It was truly shocking. I was deeply moved.
Suddenly I realised the importance of what we do at the Foodbank. I finally experienced at first hand the importance of local mission, and ultimately what it means to participate in serving God even in your own community.
All we could ultimately do at the time was give her a teaspoon to take away with her food – that’s all that was on the location at the time that we could give her – though it meant just as much to her as the food. To her, that spoon made all the difference in the world.
But the situation taught me a valuable and even bigger lesson.
I realised that no matter how prosperous or problem-free we may think our communities are, that there are real people, with real problems, in real need out there.
As people trying to follow the way of Jesus, it’s our responsibility to play our part in serving our local communities.
It might be with a local Foodbank, possibly serving on a local Street Pastor scheme, or something much smaller. If you investigate and have a look around, I’m sure you will find some project in you local community which allows you to play a part – and if there aren’t any, then why not look for a need and talk to other churches about maybe starting something?
It doesn’t have to be full time either – my involvement with the Foodbank takes up about two hours a month, as well as a few meetings dotted over the year. It’s not like you have to give up your job and all your time.
It only takes a couple of hours a month - and it can make a huge difference to your local community.
Like the spoon we gave this woman, it may only be a small thing – but it makes all the difference to the people whose needs it meets – and in the process, you might find that you change as well.
Simply serve. Sometimes it’s all we can do – and it’s all part of our journey of discipleship, making the kingdom of God more of a reality in this world.
As a consequence we ourselves end up becoming a little bit more like Jesus.
This mission story is one of a series of exciting posts about what God is doing up and down the country. Why not browse the archive or even tell me about your own story - I am always looking for new things to share. Mission stories are published each Wednesday.