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And what does the Lord require of you? 

Millennials are overwhelmingly dedicated to social justice, a generation inspired to make the world more just and equitable. Amy Wearing reflects on harnessing their passion

What does the Lord require
 

Last year our young people encountered first-hand the struggles of those living in challenging circumstances when they served in local projects like the night shelter, care homes and a hostel as part of a city-wide youth mission. It had a huge impact on them, and out of it emerged a real heart for reaching people who are homeless within our city. Consequently, when they became aware of the possible launch of a FareShare food distribution scheme, they saw an opportunity.
 
Our church building sits right next to a Tesco Superstore with food galore. Following a pilot scheme last year, Tesco announced a new partnership to be rolled out in all its stores with FareShare, which takes good food destined for waste and instead sends it to community groups who transform it into meals for vulnerable. Our young people, with infectious enthusiasm and a sincere heart to help those they had met locally who were hungry, asked to set up a food distribution depot in their Youth Room.
 
This very real sense of injustice is not a new phenomenon. In the latter part of the Old Testament, there was an increasing expectation that God would send the Messiah who would bring fairness, justice and equality. Isaiah 65:20-23 foretells such a messianic age. This theme of fairness and justice for all then continues in the New Testament. Luke is in no doubt that Jesus is the fulfillment of the messianic expectation. Right from the onset of his gospel Mary sings how he has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:46-55). In Jesus’ first sermon he announces that he has come to preach good news to the poor with this message continuing throughout the beatitudes (Luke 6:20-21).
 
There is absolutely no doubt that as followers of Jesus we are called to care for and seek to improve the lives of the poor and hungry in our society. It’s a call that involves thinking how best to go about it. The Children’s Society warns “long-term processes of transformation are often undermined by the clamour for immediate action.” The young people’s desire to address a need through food distribution was Christ-like, but was it the most fitting response? The immediate response to take the food and give it to those in need would literally feed the hungry, but could it hinder the long-term processes of transformation so desperately needed? More broadly, how can we harness our millennials’ passion to bring about long-term sustainable change?
 

What does the Lord require500

As I reflected, I wondered if we are in fact often responsible for teaching a sacrificial style of living to young people while continuing to practise a lifestyle of consumerism? Have we encouraged young people to live generously and bless others without the challenge to consider how our consumeristic culture shapes us, shapes society’s structures and ultimately contributes to injustices such as food poverty? Do millennials feel challenged, enabled and equipped to tackle the underlying causes of food poverty in their communities and wider society?

I concluded that one of the most important roles, when considering faith and justice issues in youth ministry, is to help young people develop the critical thinking, collaboration and self-reflection skills necessary to foster a better community.
 
The bottom line is that an occasional Sunday session focussing on ‘justice’ isn't going to foster the Micah 6:8 faith we desire in our young people. Instead justice needs to be a value that is integrated through the commitment from youth leaders to work for the well-being of all. We need to create a space that respects the unique value and dignity of each and every human being and that nurtures the active involvement of young people in real issues that affect their lives.
 
So when young people’s hearts break for the hungry in your community, cheer them on for wanting to roll up their sleeves and get stuck into practical service, but also encourage them to consider the bigger picture:
 

  • Who is making decisions about the left over food?

  • Who is left out of decision making?

  • Who benefits from the current practice and who suffers?

  • Why is a food distribution scheme fair? Why is it unfair?

  • What is required to create long term change?

  • What alternatives can we dare to imagine? 

  • So did we set up a distribution depot? 

 
Well, we came to a decision with the young people that bringing the food to church was neither practical nor necessary. Instead, we identified local organisations who could use the food effectively to help those who needed it most and made sure they were aware of the scheme. We also enabled young people to serve in practical ways like at the soup kitchen on Friday evenings and preparing meals in the local hostel.
 
For food poverty, like all issues of justice, needs a both-and response. Enable opportunities for young people to serve practically and make a difference in the lives of those in need, but also encourage them to explore the organisational and cultural issues that are causing the injustice in the first place.
 
Tackling injustice needs both responses.

 

Photos feature Matt and Ellie of the youth group, taken by Amy Wearing

 
Amy Wearing is a Youth Minister at St Peter’s Baptist Church Worcester, a CYM graduate with a background in Family Support. This article was adapted from an academic paper submitted for a module on Faith and Justice.

 

This article appears in the Autumn 2016 edition of Baptists Together magazine

 

 

 

Baptists Together, 09/09/2016
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