Four months ago I moved into a vicarage that sits at the centre of an estate in Norwich. After committing to a year’s internship with my church, the leadership got in touch and asked if I would be interested in moving onto the estate with three other young people and exploring what it looks like to live as family. The idea was to live missionally and radically seek to love our neighbours. My heart immediately knew that I wanted to give God my ‘yes’ and step out.
I have loved having this opportunity to learn to love people like Jesus and actively pursue justice on this estate. It’s still early days and though I am definitely still learning and adapting, here are the 3 biggest lessons I have learnt so far:
What are you seeking?
‘Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.’ (Matthew 7:33)
In our first week of living here, the simple phrase we felt God speak was ‘seek me first’. Like many of us who are passionate about justice, my tendency is to do and charge at things desperate to make a change. But this was a humble reminder that if I did this without the God of justice, then there was really no point. The pandemic has forced us into a position where we are limited in what we can practically do. At times, this has been difficult – patience is not always easy! But what it has produced in me is a deep hunger to see God’s will done on this estate above my own.
The greatest joy has been doing this as a family. When we moved in the four of us were friends, but multiple lockdowns have given more space to be vulnerable and to share in fellowship together. Seeking Jesus together has knitted us together and we’ve learnt that when we are strong as a family, the way we love others outside of the house is way more effective. Intimacy with Jesus has to be the priority, otherwise everything else crumbles.
‘May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.’ (Psalm 20:5)
Breakthroughs don’t always look like big changes. I have learnt to rejoice in the seemingly ‘small’ victories because they are all part of how God is moving. I help at a food project in the church next to our house. For our team, victory has looked like seeing people come back week after week because they know they can pick up food and toiletries without judgement and also feel able to open up about things they’re struggling with.
Victory has looked like a lady, who barely made eye contact the first few weeks she came, smiling back and initiating conversation because that is the beginning of a longer term relationship. Victory has looked like delivering lunches to the elderly sheltered community at the end of our road each Friday and seeing the joy they get from having social interaction in a very isolating time. Victory has looked like delivering brownies to our neighbours as a house, having chats on the doorstep and even receiving some scones in return! Seemingly insignificant in the eyes of the world, but incredibly significant in the eyes of the kingdom. So, we thank God for each one of them.
‘We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey His commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.’ (1 John 5:2-3)
Obedience isn’t always a popular word in our culture. But I believe that as we step out and into the will of God, we can do it joyfully for His plans are always good. This verse from 1 John has massively challenged me not to see the things God asks of me as burdensome, even if they don’t always feel easy. The longer I live in this area, the more I see the need for people not to parachute in and out – this doesn’t help. I studied international development at uni and the biggest thing they taught us was the power of sustainability and long term investment. But this isn’t exclusive to other countries. Deep rooted justice issues cannot be fixed overnight. Mission isn’t always easy. But we must treat people with dignity, not seeing them through the eyes of projects, but through God’s eyes, recognising their inherent value.
Learning this has led to a call of ‘long obedience’ and the more I process this with God, the more I see it as not chasing the adrenaline rush results or quick fixes, but being obedient to investing in the lives of people on this estate even when results aren’t coming thick and fast. The simple act of loving them and showing them that they have value has to be the priority.
So there are a few thoughts, with I’m sure many more to come! This way of life is not always easy, and there are days when it can feel tricky. But I am continually convinced that the gospel at its core is one of justice. It speaks of a God who loves people unconditionally and who brings freedom in the most difficult of situations. My prayer is that as Christians, we would make it our priority to seek a life that reflects this call.