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05 July 2010

Young people from churches in central Birmingham get to know their Muslim neighbours

Young people from churches in central Birmingham get to know their Muslim neighbours

Young people from churches in central Birmingham have been getting to know their Muslim neighbours, learning about other cultures and reaching out in social action in Balsall Heath, a multicultural area just a few miles south of Birmingham city centre.

 The three day cultural experience, HOPE Twenty10 - Bridging Cultures, took place in June and was designed to meet the needs of local people and begin to remove some of the barriers that exist between sectors of the community. One of the social action projects included clearing the grounds of the nearby Mosque.

Led jointly by Riverside Church and Church Central, in partnership with several other nearby churches, the pilot programme consisted of worship, teaching, co-ordinating sports, cultural awareness training and neighbourhood clean-ups. 

The churches worked alongside the Balsall Heath Forum, who have been working hard to tackle the problems of crime with an encouraging amount of success. In fact, news of regeneration work was heralded in Civic Streets: The Big Society in Action, a recent report as part of the Conservative policy of Big Society, which found people in Balsall Heath felt more safe and satisfied with their local area than residents of other areas in Birmingham.

One warden suggested clean-up work at Birmingham Central Mosque as one of the social action projects.

Roger Lynch, a Community Outreach worker from Riverside Church, said: "I confess I was slightly surprised when the suggestion was made but the results were amazing. Several Mosque-goers were asking questions of the team about why they were there, if they were paid and if they were from the council. One worshipper even went in and asked the Imam if the Muslim young people could get involved.

"We love with Christ's love and that love is unaffected by differences in culture, ethnic background and religious persuasion. The work really makes a difference, not just to the physical neighbourhood, but also in a much deeper way, it touches people's lives... it connects on a heart level!"

Riverside church has run 15 HOPE social action projects over the last three years, since HOPE 08. HOPE Twenty-10 was the first cross cultural training project and organisers hope it will continue and grow.

Part of the success of Hope Twenty10 was that it was across-church and Roger said: "We acknowledge that Christian unity is a very powerful part of the witness, and we have found that HOPE has provided us with the banner we need to form a more joined up approach to local mission."

HOPE Together is the national continuation of HOPE 08, encouraging unified mission in word and deed. It will launch on 23 July as part of the Festival of Life evening prayer gathering at the Excel Centre, London.

Roy Crowne, Executive Director of Hope Together, said: "This project is just one of hundreds that have continued all over the country under the HOPE banner for the past few years and it is so exciting to see churches working together sharing Jesus' love with their communities through word and deed. Let us embark on a new season when we do even more together and bring hope to each village, town and city."