There's a vast gap of understanding and experience between the typical church member and many young people growing up in and around London's estates. Missionary Alidor Gaspar talks about his own formative experiences, which have helped him in his work with youth in Dagenham and Bermondsey.
We had a group discussion with a group of young people, based on the question, ‘what do you struggle with?’ Everyone was open about their struggles and one lad spoke very honestly about the struggles he had with his family members, his stepdad in particular.
We told him: ‘You know Jesus is able to forgive you of your sins. Would you like to be in a relationship with him?’ And he said yes. He repented of his sins and surrendered his life to the Lord and told me that he wants to come to church with me.
It comes down to trust. If they feel like they have someone they can trust and look up to, then they’re down to have a conversation, and you’d be surprised how many stories – good and bad – we hear from young people.
For me, growing up having close friends who’ve been stabbed, close friends who’ve gone to jail for life – it caused real emotional trauma. Once I nearly lost my life due to being attacked by 20 boys. As I grew up, I’d sometimes think, ‘Man, I’ve actually seen war today’.
Violence was just the norm, growing up in a single-parent home was the norm, and not doing well in schools was the norm. Having to be angry all the time – that was the norm for us.
Because of that, as a missionary, I can say to young people with honesty: ‘I understand the pressures you’re dealing with.’ Most of the time the things they’re doing and how they’re reacting is out of fear, not out of anger or boredom.
Young people want to be understood. And if they can’t be understood they at least want to be listened to.
Enter Church Culture
So, when someone who fits the typical profile of a churchgoer looks at someone who comes from a background where he’s lived in a single-parent home, involved in crime, and violence is around him 24/7 – there’s such a gap between them. And the only thing that can keep them at a place where they can both come to the middle is to learn to listen.
If we’re willing to listen to these young people and say, ‘What is it that you’re going through, and how can we truly and genuinely help you?’ then there could be a difference.
Young people want – and need – to be heard: their needs are important. Each one of us can just be a bit more careful and more thoughtful about other people’s experience. As believers, being understanding is one of the great things we can do for young people.
As soon as you’ve gained a young person’s trust you’ve gained their life. It’s amazing when you get to speak to a young person and for him to be open about his life and for you to know about his life. You can’t go back from there – it’s only forward.
All this is with the aim to preach the gospel and to see people come to the Lord and to build and disciple young people who will be leaders of others.