It’s been a strange couple of weeks. Spiritually speaking, we seem to be in the middle of a battle ground. And I don’t say that lightly.
Violence is all around us. Out on the street we’ve seen muggings, attempted rapes, brawls, and more muggings. Usually by gangs. And when I say “seen” I mean “seen”, not “heard about”. And there have been the bombings.
So last week, in a moment of desperation, we decided to prayer walk. Prayer walking is not something I’ve done much. It’s a bit churchy and, for whatever reason, I’ve just not been much a part of that culture. But our cell group was doing it, so I didn’t really have a choice. We headed out and up the street, starting at our project (old Corps building converted into a youth club) and worked our way around the community to flats where we knew we had young people living. For most of the time it went very well and was surprisingly encouraging. I was truly getting motivated and some of my fears were beginning to subside. Then we decided to make one last stop at the projects right across the street from my house. An area where much violent crime takes place. So the four of us circled up and hadn’t been praying for more than a few seconds when a group of teenagers rounded the corner and started questioning our presence there. They assumed very quickly that we were Christians and made it very clear that we were on their turf and that they weren’t afraid to use force if necessary. They even claimed to be Muslims and celebrated and cheered on Al Quaida, all in an attempt to rattle us. We didn’t know what to do. After all, we were invading their turf, though that was not our intent. We went away gutted, down, and once again fearful for our own safety in this neighbourhood.
What do you do after that? Personally I contacted a security company to come out and give us an estimate on an upgrade of our system. I was thinking of something on the CCTV level. Jamie, however, was on a different level. As we stayed up late that night talking about it, she asked me if I thought we might have invaded some spiritual turf. Freaking charismatics! But, of course, she was right. The enemy has more than a foothold over there and it was no coincidence that those boys came around that corner within seconds of us beginning to pray.
I wasn’t sure where to go from there. It wasn’t my desire to make enemies of people in this neighbourhood. Not just for our safety, but also just because I don’t believe in it. I can deal with enemies in the church hierarchy. In fact, it sometimes feels very Jesus like. But being enemies with lost people is not something I’m interested in. Yet walking away from the situation didn’t seem like the answer either. So. What to do?
Tonight, as part of our cell group, we decided to dawn some Salvation Army badges and go and pick up trash at those apartments. We weren’t there for group prayer, and we certainly weren’t there to preach. We were just there to serve. I don’t share this out of pride. We are not geniuses and we are not evangelists. We’re just desperate and unclear as to what to say. Some people, when desperate enough, resort to praying. We were desperate enough, and at such a loss for the words to say, that we just began picking up trash. And we prayed as we went. Not out loud. Not even as a group. Just to ourselves individually. And sure enough, some boys came out. Different boys, but with the same attitude. They mocked us just as before, but this time they weren’t violent about it.
I continued to pick up trash, praying for our safety and our witness the whole time. Praying that God would use our actions to speak louder than words. Then, when I was nearing the end of the flats, a young man came walking across the street from the shop next door. He was carrying two Diet Cokes. One for me and one of the person I was with. He said that the manager of the shop had sent them over as “a thanks for cleaning up the neighbourhood.” And, as I reached for that Diet Coke, I realized that some of the most significant relationships we were praying for were actually growing. The people who run this shop are Turkish, and are not Christian. They’re probably also not really Muslim but, coming from a Muslim country, they’re sort of honorary Muslims. Kind of like Americans and Christianity. We’ve been praying for these people for some time now and have been intentional in our efforts to build relationships with them. And here they were, seeing us picking up trash and sending us a couple of Cokes. Jamie had gotten the chance to share with them, only two weeks ago, that we worked with The Salvation Army. And, after getting over the initial confusion that The Salvation Army was not the military (don’t even get me started), they were very surprised to find out that we worked with and for a church. I don’t think what they know about Christians is all that great.
This could easily get cheesy and I could go into some long boring dissertation on how all things work together for good. But I think I’ll simply say that God just keeps working. Even when we get distracted, and down, and scared to death, He just keeps working. And, gracious as He is, He keeps working with one hand and reaches over with the other and hands us a Coke. He’s good that way. He’s gracious that way.
I don’t know where we go from here, and I’m still not claiming that my fears have subsided. It’s funny what paranoia’s get stirred up when you’re about to become a new father. But I do want to at least say that I recognize God’s hand at work, very clearly, on my street. It’s evident and I thank him for that.
And thank you too “Jim” for reading this. You have no idea how that simple action is speaking to me.