Farzin Mirshahi - The Good Shepherd Mission, Bethnal Green
Yet again, I found the level of organisation, resource and energy in the second Christian establishment I had been placed in nothing short of amazing. The Good Shepherd Mission in Bethnal Green is a rather isolated Christian church and youth-club set amidst a strong Bangladeshi contingent living on the Collingwood Estate. Its aims when undergoing charity work, therefore, are quite simple: to establish links between the differing cultures of the community while propelling the messages of Christianity in general and of Jesus Christ in particular. One would think that such a mixture of preaching and youth club activity should not work in a community which has a strong Islamic identity, but The Good Shepherd Mission achieves the balance seamlessly, and the periods of specific religious devotional teaching are both successful and often have a receptive audience.
The project that I participated in, Fun in the Sun (FITS), is a strong manifestation of the Mission's principles. FITS is a week-long summer camp of different activities held by the Church specifically for the predominantly Bangladeshi youth community in the nearby Collingwood Estate. FITS has a perhaps less strong religious element to it than the Church's weekly youth clubs; the aim is for the Bangladeshi community to mix and unite with the enormous volunteer-team of the Church in doing fun activities, and the emphasis is more on spreading Christianity through conversation rather than through actual teaching. As one would expect in a summer camp, the religious motives of FITS are hampered by the insistence of kids to play sport and have fun, and therefore the message of Christianity isn't perhaps promulgated to the extent that one would hope. But should this matter? As I read in an excerpt from the bible stuck on the fridge of the Good Shepherd Mission's kitchen, the aim of charity is not necessarily to preach the Christian message, but to help and unite those who are more needy and to share rather than spread Christian ethics and principles. And in this the Mission excels.
I can honestly say I am both proud and delighted by the work undergone during FITS by the volunteers. The uniting of different cultures and religions, of different creeds and colours, is never easy, yet the FITS initiative is a shining example of how fun, warmth, patience and mutual tolerance can create a separate culture of respect and community. If only this example could extend itself elsewhere.