make poverty personal: do Slum Survivor

(by Si Nicholls) 

Discipleship is something that everyone in Christian leadership worries about, isn’t it? Asking ourselves that age old question of “How do I get these people to look, smell, live, BE more like Jesus?”

A big part of my job is to try and encourage young people and young adults in their discipleship – and I’ve got an idea. I think it’s a good one – so much so that this summer I spent 20 days in a field in Somerset trying out something that I think works incredibly well… but more of that later. The idea first.

I want to suggest that the best way to become more like Jesus is – simply – to do what he did.

I know, right? Revelatory. I can’t believe no one’s thought… (oh, wait).
Anyway – back to it.

Why not just get out there, love people, serve them in their need, offer them hope – because God loves us, and we love him, and that kind of love can’t help but get out into the world around us. That’s what worship is, right?

Worship is the best form of discipleship. Jesus lived his life worshipping God, praying, praising, serving and offering hope to the people around him. It all went together.

Can’t we do the same?
Where would we start?

Well, obvious as it sounds, we start with loving God and knowing he loves us. We worship him – in prayer, and praise, and in showing his love to other people. We go to church, we spend time in small groups, and we look out for needs we can help to meet, people and places we can serve. We all have, right in front of us, opportunity to love like Jesus did.

But what about when needs we see and the people and places that need serving aren’t ‘right in front of us’? What about when they’re on the other side of the world – this massive, broken world in which we live.

How do we love and serve those who are in the poorest parts of the world there? Do we have to go and BE there?

Not personally, no. People like those who work with Tearfund are already out there, doing amazing things. But our hearts need to be with and for these places, and we can support the work other people do.

This is what I was doing in Somerset. I was running something called Slum Survivor. I know, I know, it sounds like a challenge that would come out on a Channel 4 reality show, but it is actually a brilliant discipleship tool. The premise is simple: “spend a few days the way a billion spend a lifetime”

photo 3Each week we took a group of young people who volunteered to do something different with their time at Soul Survivor.  We made them build their own slum-style settlement – giving them a pile of pallets, tarpaulin and cardboard that they had to turn into their very own huts for the week.

And then they lived there for a few days, so that they could experience something the reality of life for people living in informal settlements the world over. They ate small amounts of rice and lentils for meals; they walked to the top of the campsite to collect water to wash in and drink. Sometimes we had someone run over a part of their ‘home’ with a tractor – because that’s something that happens to people in slums.

And we got them to think how they would feel if this was their daily life: they learnt about real life. More than one of our Slum Dwellers commented that: “It has been an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life”.

Slum Survivor makes poverty personal. It helps young people experience something of what life is like for a billion people around the world, and it changes them.

I know, that’s a bold claim, but it does. No one comes out of Slum Survivor thinking about poverty, watch the news or think about mission in the same way that they used to.

As you experience God’s heart – in the middle of a cold night, in a hand-built informal settlement of your own making – you hear Him speak to you about how much He cares not just for you, or for those around you snoring, but for every person, in every situation. Including – especially – those in worse situations than this.

After that, no one wants to carry on living like they were before: they want to do something with all the things they’ve experienced and come to understand. They resolve to join in, to live a life of worship. To contribute to the change God is bringing.

To find out more, head to, or sign up to do Slum Survivor.