Here's a small bit about where I live.
It's really amazing how different this place is from anything else I've known. It reminds me a little bit of parts of New York I've seen, but when it comes down to it, this place is completely unique. The first few days here, I was asking questions non-stop, trying to understand why things are the way they are.
Here is a little bit of what I've learned about this place: The neighborhood I am living in is East Ham in the Newham Borough (which is also known as the Olympic Borough, and the Olympic Stadium is only about a 15 minute drive north). This is the poorest borough in all of London, because it's made up mostly of immigrants and the working class. When people start earning money, they move somewhere nicer, so the borough remains populated by the poorest people in London. For the most part, the only people with college educations who live here are Christians or other social activists who want to see improvement in the borough.
Because this is the Olympic borough, however, a lot of money, time, and thought are being invested here, which is helping to generate local interest in and care for this place. The Olympic committee is hoping that the Olympics will be a catalyst for revitalization and long-term social changes in this borough. The Christian communities are praying for a huge spiritual revival as well, and it's really just an amazing time to be here...it's like we're on the threshold of something huge.
As I mentioned above, this borough is filled with immigrants, and I can walk down a crowded street and not see a single white person, hear ten different languages and accents as people pass me by, and pass droves of women dressed in saris. My neighborhood is mostly populated by Asians, which is confusing because that means Indian, South Indian, Indonesian, Saudi Arabian, etc., but also means alot of excellent food for very cheap (as well as a lot of really disgusting fried fast food). What we call Asian (i.e. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean), British people call Oriental.
The main religions here are Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism, and it's not rare at all to see women walking down the street wearing burkas, so nothing shows except their eyes. I've also heard stories of men who refuse to shake hands with women because their religion won't allow them to.
What I've seen already about the Christian church here (particularly with the church I am working with--Plaistow Christian Fellowship) is that it seems to have more purpose and is a lot more missional than churches back home, probably because the Christians here know that they're a minority and can see in real ways every day how legalistic and destructive other religions can be. My church in particular is like a little family--they all take care of each other and know everyone's business and have all known each other for years and years. One new and really exciting and beautiful thing that is happening here is that four of the main churches in this area are seeking unity by having joint services every few weeks, and encouraging the people to pool resources in our work towards transforming Newham.