My dad has been a bricklayer for over 40 years. Snow, rain or shine, he leaves at the crack of dawn, puts in a full shift ‘on the trowel’ and gets back for tea.
A lifetime of this has left him with cracked hands and in need of a replacement ball for his shoulder joint. It’s a hard life.
In Brazil, we worked with children as young as 5 years old who sold chewing gum to make ends meet and, when that failed, and it did, were pushed into prostitution by unscrupulous adults. It was a horrendous life, and still is for untold millions.
I have been spending some time on the road recently promoting the work and ministry of 20schemes. We seemed to have gained an audience and it appears that God is using our ministry to fire up interest around the globe in what we are seeking to do for His glory.
One thing, however, picks away at me as I travel and speak to church planters, pastors, leaders and lay people. It is simply this. The misconception that somehow what we are doing here in the schemes of Scotland is particularly brave or difficult and requires some sort of superhuman faith and character. Like it is actually hard graft.
There seems to be some sort of (urban?) myth that working with the poor is especially ‘hard.’
As if somehow in the pantheon of Christian ministry, ours is out on its own as the difficult one.
That somehow our kind of ministry needs your prayers more than other kinds of ministries.
That our workers are ‘hardier’ than any others.
That to live and work in a poor area is a larger sacrifice than to live and work in a more upmarket area.
I don’t know if it is because of how we communicate the needs. I don’t know if it’s because of the stories we sometimes tell of individuals saved out of frightening circumstances.
For some reason, I noticed it more on my latest travels when (almost) person after person, particularly pastors, would pat me on the back and say something like, “Well done mate. I couldn’t do what you do.” Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the sentiment and it’s nice to get a pat on the back once in a while.
But here’s my dilemma. It’s not really all that hard. It’s not even all that difficult.
Embarrassingly, it is very easy to live and work in a housing scheme. In fact, it’s a bit of a doddle. So, I feel like I need to officially come out as a pastoral fraud. As I say to my friends in nonscheme areas: “Well done to you mate. In many ways, yours is actually the harder ministry.”
When I listen to men battling away around Europe (and the states) in well off areas, it makes me break out in a cold sweat.
How the heck do you evangelize in an area where everybody has a decent paid job, a nice place to live and possibly a car (or two) on the drive?
How do you break through the intellectual pride of a worldview that thinks religion is beneath them and that science has all the answers?
How do you witness in an area where the average house price is over £250k? How do you talk to a guy who feels no need for Christ because he is distracted by his materialism?
How do you make it work in an area filled with nice, law abiding citizens, who don’t cheat on their wives, beat their kids and spend their days stoned on the sofa watching reality TV?
Now that’s hard.
That’s more than hard. That, my friends, is brutal.