Why did last summer’s riots happen and how should Christians respond? PATRICK REGAN, founder of the youth work charity XLP, puts forward his ideas
Over the last 18 years, I’ve listened to many young people, parents, teachers, policemen, politicians and academics discuss the drivers of gang culture and youth violence.
It seems to me that these drivers are complex and varied, ranging from family breakdown and educational failure, to poverty and a lack of meaningful employment.
More than a third of young people who were involved in last year’s riots had been excluded from school during 2009-10; 42% of 10-17 year olds charged claim free school meals and according to a BBC report, three-quarters of all those who appeared in court had a previous conviction or caution.
It is clear that a combination of these drivers often leads young people to become disconnected from the mainstream – to feel they have no place in their local community and no hope for the future.
In short, these young people lack love and a sense of belonging.
I know that nothing justifies or excuses the terrible events that took place last August and that justice needs to be done and be seen to be done. But, are these the kind of communities that Isaiah and Jesus are calling us to serve – and are we simply ignoring and neglecting them?
A few years ago, XLP began a mentoring project where local church members could volunteer to help a struggling young person and their family.
One of the most important things was for the mentor to help the young person stay in school and do well.
The stories of changed lives through this project are truly amazing. A young man who rarely attended school and was getting into increasingly serious trouble is now back in school, focused on the future and attaining qualifications.
A young woman with a very troubled background, and on the verge of exclusion, has now been nominated by her teachers for Head Girl as an example to the other students. And there are many, many more.
If we want to see lives changed and young people discovering the hope that is only found in the Kingdom of God, it will take real courage and grace from us.
We will need to step outside of the walls of our church buildings, get to know those who are hurting and share in their struggles. We need to love them even when it hurts – then love them some more. That’s the love and grace that God shows to us and we are called to show the world.
XLP works in seven boroughs of inner London. See www.xlp.org.uk for more information. Patrick Regan’s latest book is No Ceiling to Hope (Monarch, £7.99).
“What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad … If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.”
(Isaiah 58:8-11, The Message)
This passage is at the heart of XLP; it is the blood that gives life to all that we do. It is remarkable that hundreds of years before Jesus came, thousands of years before today, Isaiah witnessed many of the same life struggles for those who are the most vulnerable in society.
God continues to speak through Isaiah to us today; he sees their difficulties and encourages us to be part of bringing in a different kingdom – to have a different response.
God is still deeply saddened when we fail to help to the least, the last and the lost, and delighted when we do.
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