Youth Board Member Francesca Webster reflects on how she moved from charity work to political engagement: by pursuing her deepest desires, building relationships with the vulnerable, and confronting the reality of the world as it is.

Up until about a year ago my engagement with politics was fairly surface-level. I would vote in the general election, but showed little interest in local or national issues. Instead, much of my energy was taken up by charity work in my local area, or abroad on church mission trips. This always felt like where the real action was, where I could truly make a difference and serve the poor and the needy that the bible talked so much about. It wasn’t until my final year at university that my attitude to politics changed.

As part of a team of students at Just Love Bath with a vision to inspire others to stand against injustice, I felt a desire to go deeper into what it meant to pursue justice in my local area. I still didn't really know what this meant, but felt some guidance from Jeremiah 29:7 which highlights the call to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I [God] have carried you into exile”. 

Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I [God] have carried you into exile (Jeremiah 29:7)

As we began to invest in the city and build relationships with vulnerable members of our community, I became increasingly aware of how reliant many were on the kind of short-term solutions voluntary groups provided. An anger began to build inside of me as I heard countless stories of a lack of shelter and food, or the pain of those suffering from chronic loneliness or mental health issues. The considerable number of people we met who couldn’t escape homelessness due to the inadequate structure and administration of housing benefits, in response to which foodbanks and soup kitchens were set up. 

These were considered primary responses to poverty, but in reality only served as sticking plasters on the gaping wounds of the most vulnerable in society. Something in our national structure was creating a vicious, inescapable cycle of poverty, widening the gap between the rich and the poor - but could that really be changed? And how on earth could I be part of that change?


 


Thankfully, God had a plan (as he always does) and gave Just Love the opportunity to have Andy Flannagan come and speak, as part of Christians on the Left’s series of events on Faith in Politics. Andy talked about tribalism, the scandals in the media which make us feel unable to pick a party we can support, and all the other ugly stuff that makes most of us feel both intimidated by and detached from politics. 

He also talked about the difference between charity and justice, and that particular distinction really struck a chord with me, and here’s why. As Christians we often focus on the world as it should be – because we want to see God’s Kingdom on earth – but as a result we often inadvertently avoid living in the reality of the world as it is right now. We live in a broken world so it should be no surprise to us that our political system reflects that brokenness, but it’s how we respond to that brokenness that makes the difference. In view of a broken world, charity and volunteer work is vital – but there is yet more justice to be had. 

God is calling so many of us to pursue justice in the places where decisions are being made, to sit through the seemingly hopeless (and more often than not, boring) local party meetings, to be salt and light there. I think that if more of us chose to dedicate our time to live, work and love in the tension that lies between the broken world we live in, and the world as we think it should be, that within that tension we would begin to see more of God’s Kingdom come here on earth.

'God is calling so many of us to pursue justice in the places where decisions are being made'