It has been two weeks since we woke up to the news of the Grenfell Tower fire. I found out by receiving a text from a friend who wanted to know if I was safe - she knew that I was often in the Notting Hill area and that one of our team houses was there.
At first, we were shocked and didn’t know quite what to do. We have been investing in the Notting Hill community for years now, from attending church there to running Bones Camp at the Notting Hill Carnival to hosting a dinner club for the homeless and needy to many of our team members working in the cafes and shops in the area. We worked, celebrated, and made friends with the stall owners in Portobello Road Market, where we do weekly evangelism. So while we didn’t know what to do, we knew that we had to be there.
We went down to the site of the tower. Latymer Community Church, a church that we occasionally work with, is near the foot of the tower, and they became the centre for food donations. When we arrived on Wednesday afternoon, donations were flooding into the neighbourhood. We jumped in where we were needed, from receiving and sorting donations to serving the residents dinner to cleaning the tables from all of the ash in the air. But what was needed most was a listening ear.
As the days went on, I found myself by the tower every day. On Wednesday, the community pulled together to do whatever was needed to support those who had been displaced by the fire. However, by Thursday, tempers were raised, and answers were not forthcoming. I went into the area with my camera, but I ended up putting it away rather quickly, because it wasn’t the time to photograph people. It was the time to listen, to pray, to give hugs and compassion. To hear the people who were angry and weren’t being given a voice. You see, the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where the fire happened, has a massive gap between the richest and poorest people. It is dotted with celebrities and business tycoons, but it also has loads of council housing with people who are living below poverty levels. They literally live in the shadow of the rich and famous, but they are invisible. The very cladding that caught fire so quickly was put up because the rich of Notting Hill didn’t want an ugly tower block bringing down the value of their properties.
With all of this happening, it was tempting to try to go down to Grenfell Tower to win souls.
I know that it sounds like a controversial statement, because if there was ever a time when people were searching and hurting, it was in the wake of this fire. But we don’t love conditionally or give a listening ear transactionally. We can’t say, “Tell me what you are going through, but only if you will then listen to this Gospel presentation.” I am learning that loving your neighbour means choosing love over what I want for their lives. I want these people to know Jesus. It is why I am here in London. But I also know that to push the Gospel onto them when they are vulnerable could lead to conversions that aren’t true. It could lead to emotional decisions but unchanged hearts. And I want people to meet Jesus when it is the right time, when they truly want to give their lives to Him, and not just when they are scared and hurting for a few days.
As a team, we want to make disciples. That is why we are here: to make disciples of all nations. Not to make temporary converts who we can check off a list. Because people aren’t numbers; they are souls and spirits and bodies that are desperately loved by Jesus. If Jesus died for them, then they are worth more than a ten minute “quick save.”
We have to invest in these people. We went down to the tower site and prayed with other Christians. We went to the multi-faith vigil and cried out to our Father whom we know heals and saves and loves and sees what is happening. We listened to the hurting and served with our hands and feet. And we aren’t abandoning them now that the media has gone away. We are committed to Notting Hill, just as we have been. We are learning faithfulness and steadfastness, which are two qualities that are hard for our generation to learn. But we can be faithful in Notting Hill. And with God’s help, and through this tragedy, we are learning to be.