“What’s the point in feeding someone and keeping them alive for 70 years on earth, when they’re just going to spend eternity in hell?”
So said the earnest looking 14 year old boy who was passing our stand at Soul Survivor. I was there as part of the Christian Aid Collective, doing my best to enthuse these thousands of teenagers walking past about social justice, and encouraging them to get involved with fighting to eradicate poverty. With 10,000 or so mostly Christian young people, I sort of assumed they’d get it. I assumed that most young people care about poverty, and that the ones who call themselves Christians would be jumping at the chance to put their faith into action.
But, as this budding young evangelist showed me, there were plenty who didn’t get it at all. Some were with big groups of friends, mostly concerned to keep up with the pack rather than stop to talk to anyone on a stand like ours. Some charged around looking for all the freebies they could find (presumably practising for Fresher’s Fair in a few years time), so grabbed our free chocolate and ran before I could say so much as “Would you like a magazine too?”. Others were blunt about their lack of interest in social justice.
It was this guy though, and the other handful who said similar things, which confused and disturbed me most. He was walking past the Collective stand when I stopped him and offered him a copy of our magazine, ‘Do Not Tiptoe’. I told him, cheerfully, “This issue is all about hunger, and how you can get involved in our campaigns to stamp out global hunger.”
“Alright,” he said, stepping out of the moving traffic of people and towards our stand, “can you tell me more about what you guys do? Is it just about feeding people and practical things, or do you combine it with evangelism?”
I’d asked a similar question at my interview, so I understood his concerns. What’s ‘Christian’ about Christian Aid? Is it about helping poor Christians over other people? Is there some kind of bait-and-switch where we give aid to people living in poverty and then baptise them too? Do we teach more efficient farming techniques alongside memory verses and the sinner’s prayer? Why should I work for a Christian development charity when there are so many others that don’t come with that baggage?
I told him not to worry, explaining that Christian Aid know how important it is not to mix up proselytising with development work. I assured him that we work through partner organisations in each country who also agree to this principle, who help people and communities of all faiths and none, and who never preach as part of their projects. So, that all dealt with, was he ready to sign up to our movement of young people passionate about ending poverty?
Turns out, no.
“I’m not sure it’s worth my time then”, Boy said, looking a little confused. “I understand feeding hungry people is a good thing, but surely you can combine it with the really important stuff of sharing the gospel? We’ve only got limited money and time to spend in our lives, we should be making sure we spend it on the right things. Ending poverty is good, but evangelism is God’s priority.”
I nearly choked on my tea (of which I had a constant supply, thanks to our kind neighbours on the Urban Saints stall next door). Did he really just say that? Ending poverty is good, but evangelism is God’s priority.
I wish I’d sat him down and handed him a Bible. I wish I’d taken him to the prophets, and shown him Micah 6:8, and read to him from Isaiah 58:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
I wish I’d got him to find Psalm 140:12, and Proverbs 31:8-9. I wish I’d opened with him the James:1:27 definition of true religion as “to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
I wish I’d sat down with him to read through one of the Gospels and to meet the Jesus who never once led someone through the sinner’s prayer, or asked them to become a Christian, much less used the 4 Points, Two Ways to Live or the Roman’s Road to Salvation. I wish we’d talked about the Jesus who instead healed the sick, had compassion on hungry crowds, and included the social outcasts.
I wish we’d looked at the one of the best evangelistic opportunities that Jesus missed out on, recorded in Matthew 19:16-22, where Jesus is asked how to gain eternal life (the question every evangelist longs to be asked.) Instead of giving him any kind of good evangelical answer, like Admit, Believe, Commit, Jesus ends up telling him to sell all his possessions and give to the poor.
I really wish I’d opened the Bible and showed him God’s priorities, but I didn’t.
Instead, I blinked at him. I stared at him. I pointed him back across the stream of people wandering past to the stall directly opposite ours, and said “Have you tried Alpha?”