As a regular traveller on the London Underground, I often see the words 'Mind the Gap' displayed along the platforms. This bright yellow message warns passengers to be careful as they board and alight the Tube.
Yesterday, Oxfam issued a similar warning in its Reward Work, Not Wealth report. The gap, however, was not to prevent accidents on the London Underground, but the inequality present in our world.
According to the charity, the 42 wealthiest people in the world hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.7 billion poorest; half of the world's population. The report also stated that 82 per cent of the global wealth generated last year went to the wealthiest one per cent. The inequality gap is massive.
As Christians are we minding the gap, or do we step over it just as we casually step over the warnings to board public transport?
For many years, I was the community pastor at my local church. As part of my role I ran a nursery, schools work, ESOL college, indoor play centre, rehab facilities and a food bank.
I met many vulnerable people over the years. One, however, stands out. I received a phone call which at the time seemed ordinary but in fact turned my life upside down. A community midwife rang to ask for a food parcel for one of her clients who did not have enough food for her next meal. Sensing the urgency of the situation, I immediately took action.
I was heavily pregnant at the time so I asked my colleague Lisa to carry the box of food. We shortly arrived at a very large house in the suburbs of Sheffield. As the small Asian woman answered the door, two things became very apparent. Number one, she couldn't speak a word of English, and number two, she was doubled over in pain.
Aware that we couldn't just hand over the heavy box, we gestured that we would take the box inside. We followed the lady up two flights of stairs to her tiny attic bedroom. Inside the room was a camping stove, a black bin bag containing her belongings, and a single bed. We put the box on the floor and said our goodbyes. As I turned to leave the room I noticed that something was moving on the bed. My initial reaction was that it was a rat. On my second look, I realised that it was in fact a newborn baby. As soon as we left the house, Lisa and I began to cry. We were so shocked by the levels of poverty we had witnessed, we didn't know what to do.
Looking back, I recognise that moment was my political wake-up call. I loved being a minister and working in the community, but I knew that providing food was not enough. Instead of dealing with the symptoms of poverty, I needed to get to the root of it.
Just this week, I read again the Martin Luther King quote from his 'A Time to Break Silence' sermon at Riverside Church.
'On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.'
The Church is very good at feeding the poor, looking after the elderly and seeing to the needs of the community but there are times when we have to change the system itself.
The Oxfam report reveals that there is the hunger to change the status quo of this inequality gap. A recent survey discovered that 72 per cent of people in the UK want the government to address the gap here. Could we as the Christians in this country lead this charge?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Pray for our political leaders at they meet at the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. Would God stir their hearts to for the poor?
- Write to your MP and explain that you are concerned about the statistics in the Oxfam report. Ask for them to take a stand in parliament.
- Read about co-operatives and how they can transform economies.
- Get involved in a campaign to introduce the Living Wage. This is a key area to narrow the gap.
- Get involved in a campaign to tackle tax evasions. A lot of Christian international development agencies are campaigning on this issue. Should you join them?
- Shop ethically. Are you buying products from companies that treat their employees well?
- Join a political party and help shape policy.
- If you are an employer, review your working practices and pay grades for your employees.
Research shows that fairer societies are good for all that live in them, not just the poor. We are called to transform our Jericho Roads; our communities. Now is not the time to mind our own business, it is the time to mind the gap.
Louise Davies is the Director of Christians on the Left and is a member of the leadership team at Hope City Church in Sheffield