Choosing where to sit

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It was a shock. No more running around barefoot. Outside was cold and wet. People kept their doors shut. Homes were not open in the way they were in Bangladesh. Nathaniel arrived in Oldham at the age of twelve. He found himself living in an area with many people from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, but it was very different to what he was used to. He himself was of mixed race and belonged to an international family; his father was American and he also had Jamaican grandparent.

Soon after he arrived Nathaniel started at the local Church of England secondary school. At that time, it was predominantly white with only about four children of colour in the entire school. Nathaniel experienced racism from other children which teachers didn’t always challenge. After GCSEs, Nathaniel went on to the local 6th Form College which was more mixed. However, when he walked into his first class, the white students were on one side of the room and the South Asians on the other.

Nathaniel had to choose where to sit. He joined the South Asian young people and that defined his friendships for the next two years. Looking back, he realised that his worldview was probably closer to that of the Asian students than the white students. They had at least a veneer of moral values. Family was important to them. Although he didn’t share their religion, he did know about their food and festivals and was positive about their culture. The white students’ conversation seemed to revolve around partying and drinking.

The church which Nathaniel’s family attended was quite traditional but very welcoming. Although it was a white church in a predominantly Asian neighbourhood, there were a number of people who had lived overseas and had chosen to live in that neighbourhood in order to relate to people from other nationalities, living alongside them. This created a lovely, warm, welcoming, bubble, encouraging people from other backgrounds to join, which was quite counter cultural at that time.

There was a regular monthly shared meal where people were invited to spend time together in different homes. At the heart of it was a group of Christians. Not all who came were of the same faith, but all were accepted as they were, without pressure to change. The Christians hoped to model Christ’s love in their words and actions. It felt like a slice of heaven with people of differing nationalities relating to and honouring each other. It wasn’t just one group of people serving others but all shared and brought something.

This was a community that was wider than the church. People came and went but at the heart of it were people who were there consistently. There were occasional times where Urdu or Bengali Christian songs were sung, and when one member of the group died, a South Asian lady who had attended the lunches and had become a Christian wanted to write to his wife reminding her that an Urdu/Hindi song that he had taught her was significant for her.

Nathaniel remembers that the adults in the group didn’t see people as a project but as people to live alongside, to be with through the ups and downs of life. Contact wasn’t restricted to the shared meals. People were very much included as family. This group supported each other and did life together. Nathaniel saw that modelled in the life of his family and others. He now wants his own home in Belfast to be similar – to be a place of welcome, and a place of belonging and cultural sharing, with Jesus at the centre. It is probable that adopting such a lifestyle is a bigger leap for people if they have aways lived in one place, but it is not impossible. Any of us might make changes to our lifestyles to be more welcoming.