End of a Streetwork Era

Since the middle of my first year at university I’ve been involved in a ministry of the campus Christian Union called Streetwork (not to be confused with a charity in the city that goes by the same name). Almost every Friday night a team of students would go out with hot chocolate and biscuits to meet with those begging on the streets and show them the love of God through a simple conversation and listening ear.

It’s been a pretty major part of my life ever since and for the past two years I’ve been one of those responsible for its week to week running. However, after some careful consideration, the decision was made a couple of weeks ago that we would not continue with Streetwork in the new academic year and last night we ventured out one last time.

It’s been an odd ministry to run. It doesn’t really fit with the CU’s vision or come under their remit so we’ve pretty much had free reign at their expense. While this does have some advantages it means that there’s little driving force behind the whole thing. We’ve been fortunate to have a small group of very committed volunteers but outwith that small circle there’s been little vocal enthusiasm. Also, it has been difficult at times to discern our purpose or motivation. Our hope is to share something of God with those in need by meeting a relational and spiritual need often not met in soup kitchens or food lines but it sometimes feels that we as volunteers may be getting more from it that those we are supposed to be serving. Maybe that’s okay? Maybe it’s not? There is also little to no way to build on what we do: we can’t plug them in to other more practical programs and there’s only so much of a relationship you can build on a chance meeting every couple of weeks.

A friend once told me that if you’re going to finish something, you’ve got to finish it well. So, rather than just let streetwork peter out as the semester came to an end as we tried to scrape by, we gathered as much of the team as possible last night and went out in style. It was surreal but wonderful to gather for orientation, to go out together, to debrief and pray together one last time. There is pain in it but also joy because God has been so faithful throughout it all and done such work in and through us all.

There are so many nights I won’t forget quickly. Like meeting L, she was thin and pale, couldn’t have been more than 21. She was very quiet and conversation wasn’t easy but someone else on my team ended up doing press-ups on the pavement beside her and when we joked with her her smile could have lit up any room. Or one night when we were on North Bridge speaking to G and his huge boxer dog. All was peaceful and we were having great chat when next thing we know we’re surrounded by about six guys, all looking for hot chocolate and some attention. Some people were praying, some were talking, all in this big guddle on one of Edinburgh’s busiest roads. Or J, sat outside a store one night, so high and out of it, telling us his plans to move to Barbados. I saw him a few months later, selling the Big Issue and getting his life sorted. Only last semester I was able to get to know T over a few months and the last night I saw him, the day before his court date, we discussed issues of God and faith and he shared his real name with us. Or my friends S and S who’s attitude towards us has transformed completely in 6 months so that now we can sit with them for thirty minutes each while they pour out their hearts.

We have been in positions of incredible privilege these past few years. I know that our hearts have been transformed, that God has not once let us go home unchallenged or without revealing more of Himself to us. And, as I look to careers in housing and homelessness, my life has been irrevocably changed by all of it.

Praise be to God!


Walk of Witness

I did something I’d never done before this morning.

On Monday evening the members of the Christian Union small group which I lead came to me and said they wanted to do a walk of witness. They weren’t sure how to conduct it or how they would get enough people together to do it. Once I had figured out what a walk of witness was, we made plans: utilise our church, CU and facebook contacts and keep it all as simple as possible.

This morning we gathered outside the refectory of Pollock Halls of Residence – where 2000 first year students live – and read out from the Scripture the truth of Christ nailed to a cross. We declared before them all that God, through Christ, has reconciled us to himself, that our trespasses may no longer be held against us. We awoke them from their beds with singing, “See, from his head, his hands, his feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down”.

Then, carrying a cross – about 5ft tall – we walked from Pollock, down Nicolson Street, past buses of people, early shoppers, students and workers, to the central university area and around to the meadows in front of the library. I carried the cross for less than five minutes but the pain in my shoulder has lasted the day. How much heavier was the burden which my Saviour carried?

And then, before a library full of students studying for impending exams, we sang and prayed and read and shared in bread and wine.

11 of us.

11 faithful disciples walking for their crucified King.

We got messages later from people who had been in the library and heard us singing “Till on the cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied”. And that cross was seen by many more.

An act of faithfulness, an act of worship, an act of witness.

For a God who is already well pleased. And uses the meek and meagre to do mighty things.

“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
(Isaiah 55:12 ESV)

Events Week

So I’m very behind on everything that has been going on around here but a few weeks ago was the Edinburgh Uni Christian Union Events Week.

This is a week where the CU puts on a heap of evangelistic events in order to share the gospel with as many people on campus as possible. This year there were lunch bars galore, an acoustic night in one of the clubs, a sports quiz in the student union, a black tie dinner in a posh hotel and, of course, we mustn’t forget the messy olympics in the meadows. Every event includes a gospel presentation of some sort and this year we even had the “professionals” in as teams from Christians in Sport and UCCF joined in the fun.

As well as all this, the accommodation small groups were encouraged to host a few events to invite people in halls to. We had a dinner, a pancake evening and held small group in my room one night in order to make it a little more accessible.

In the weeks running up to events week there were lots of challenging discussions at CU about how to share your faith and the immensity of the message which God has given us to share. At small group we each committed to praying for three of our friends every day and were continually encouraging one another to have the, sometimes difficult and daunting, Jesus conversations with our friends.

This was a very exciting time and God answered so many prayers.

It stupidly bemused me when he did so but we all know I’m a little slow on the uptake with these things. I found that God would come up in conversation a whole lot more, that friends were suddenly asking bold questions completely out of the blue, one friend ended up at an event and heard the gospel completely by accident and on the friday everyone from my group of friends in halls came to the dinner and heard the Good News of Jesus.

I realised, however, more accutely than before perhaps,  that inviting my friends to an event isn’t witness enough, nor is it going to introduce them to Jesus. Instead, it probably just gets rather irritating. I came away from the week challenged that the times my friends learn the most about Jesus is when we’re having a conversation about him. Its when I’m with them in the pub and he comes up in conversation and I’m not too chicken to talk about it. Inviting them to things has a time and a place but there’s a lot of ground work to do before that.

I think the week was a great success, though we may never know its full impact until we stand in Heaven and meet people for whom it was just the first step.

Praise God, that he answers prayers and equips his people when he sends them out!

Praying for the city

seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare Jeremiah 29:7

I spent this evening along the path you can see in the picture above, with members of all the CU small groups from the various halls of residence, praying for the city of Edinburgh.

It was really great. I don’t have much more to say, other than I really enjoyed it.

I was challenged that this is my city now, that I need to pray more in general but particularly for it, the people and my friends who live here. It may not mean as much to me yet as Aberdeen did/does but God’s got me here for a reason.

I hope we’ll be able to go up again some time.