An Ironic Interruption

At church a couple of weeks ago, instead of a sermon, some people were invited to take part in a kind of interview about their lives, their involvement in the church and what God has been teaching them. I was one of those who got to join our pastor on the sofa before the congregation and attempt to condense into ten brief minutes simple questions about how my time the US has impacted me and what my hopes for the future of the church are.

Colin had sent me the questions he planned to ask earlier in the week so I had a rough idea what I would talk about. I wanted to attempt to explain that it was the people in San Francisco – the outcast, broken, lost and forgotten – who had transformed my understanding of so much, not least that we are all outcast, lost and broken but never forgotten by the Lord. I wanted to convey that the “us” and “them” attitude of the world was irrelevant and that breaking it down had brought freedom and new understanding. How ironic it would be, I thought, if one of “them” was to come to church that day. Wouldn’t it be just my luck.

I was the last person to be interviewed. Everyone else had done a fantastic job and shared wonderfully. It was all going very smoothly. But, in the thirty seconds that it took for me to walk from the sound desk at the back of the hall to the sofa on the stage at the front, a man came in and sat down in the back. I didn’t notice, I hadn’t seen him, not until I began to speak and he began to shout over me.

I was trying to explain the work I had been doing in San Francisco and he was trying to explain that “those people” lived real close by too. Some people from the congregation moved pretty quickly to try and get him to be quiet. I froze. I was torn between wanting to continue speaking and realising this as an opportunity to practice what I was talking about. I wanted to engage with him; I wanted to hear what he had to say and show him that someone was willing to listen. My pastor, sat beside me, said to keep going. So I did.

Afterwards, people kept coming to tell me that I had done well despite the heckling. I wanted to shout that this heckler had a name and a story and wan’t someone we should just try to quiet down.
I went and spoke to him. He actually apologised for interrupting me before going on to say that if “those” people were to come into the church there would be a divide, like the red sea, between “us” and “them”. He said that unless you had a degree in anthropology (his actual words, I promise) you couldn’t fit in at CCE. He said we were too comfortable and afraid of having that comfort disturbed.

The whole experience really got to me. A week and half later and I still can’t quite believe that he came in at that moment in that service. And I can’t shake off what he said either because I’m inclined to believe him.
Some of what I shared that morning were plans that we have in the pipeline to engage the church in more work with those in particularly difficult physical/practical circumstances near by. My dream, our dream, is that these practical measures will lead to discipleship relationships within the church community. I wonder if this encounter was a reminder that that is going to be no easy task, on either side. That it is going to be messy; that we’re going to get it wrong; and that it’s perhaps going to bring more change than we are currently okay with.





SF2011: Comfortable

Today was primarily spent in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, across the Golden Gate bridge. It’s fair to say that it’s an affluent area. And a beautiful one. The houses here are incredible: built up on the hillside, looking down over numerous bays, with double/triple garages and beautifully landscaped gardens. There are lots of little independent stores (translate: shops), selling everything from clothing to housewares. They’re a little health obsessed with a gym, an organic food store, a masseuse/chiropractor, or herbal medicine store on every other corner. Lots of nice cars (every other one is a Prius) and lots of running/cycling/dog walking.

It’s a really lovely place. A place you would want to raise a family. A place you would want to escape to after a hard day’s work in the city. A place to stay when on holiday if you don’t want to be too touristy.

I could stay here forever.

It’s perfect.





Today we also took a drive past the place where I’m going to be living and working for the next ten weeks. I’m not sure it could possibly be more different.
A place that sets you on edge as people queue around the block to get into the soup kitchen. Here we have liquor stores, “hotels” and “saunas” instead of health stores. The buildings are tired and a little run down looking. There’s not much your average person would want to stop for: you certainly wouldn’t want to raise a family or get away, and the only tourists are the ones who got lost when they stepped off the tram.

I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: right now, I’d much rather cling to my comforts and remain in Mill Valley.

I’m scared about moving into the city. I thought my experience of working with people on the streets of Edinburgh would stand me in good stead but it’s different in a city that you don’t know with far more vulnerable/volatile people out there.

I thought that the biggest risk, the furthest I would have to step out of my comfort zone, here would be meeting new people and working with a different team in a different environment. Turns out I’m probably not as experienced as I think and even that which I know I enjoy back home is going to be a big step here. If I wasn’t so sure that God was in all of this, that it is His will and calling, that He is going before me and walking beside me, I wouldn’t be doing it. But He is, so I will.

And I’ll maybe just come out to the Valley on weekends . . .

SF: Preparations Underway

It’s been a super busy week for San Francisco prep!

You may remember the list – well, we’re fair getting through it!!

At the start of the week my acceptance packet from YWAM arrived, giving me a much clearer idea of exactly what I’ll be doing when I’m out there: everything from prayer walking to sharing lunch with the homeless, soup kitchen stuff to sending the youth out to live homeless for a day. It all looks fantastic and I can already see where I’m going to be completely out of my comfort zone, but that’s half the fun right? I also have more of an idea about accommodation, meals, hours etc. which makes control-freaky-rach a little happier.

We decided last week that I don’t need a visa because I’ll be in the country less than 90 days. I may just have to be a little careful at immigration but they are all lovely, helpful, understanding . . . Yeh, prayers appreciated for border control!

I also went to get my first of three Hepatitis B vaccinations last week so that is underway and I should be all immune before I leave.

On Wednesday I bought me some travel insurance. Up to £5million for medical expenses, £1000 for my luggage and £25 a day if I get taken hostage, with £250 for counselling if I get out alive! Bargain!

And then yesterday I booked flights. No going back now. BA had better not strike. (Prayers for 11hours on a plane also requested – I might love flying but not small enclosed spaces or jet lag, it didn’t end well last time!)

There’s also been some ground made on the finances front. After retrieving my online banking number I was able to access my account to see how much money I have – it’s not looking too bad. I’ve discovered a couple of grants I can apply for and one of my most particularly amazing friends has started organising a fundraiser! Without me asking or anything, she’s just gone ahead and done it = wowzers.

So really, the only things left to do are getting some money, figuring out how I’ll access it in SF, looking into phones a little more and buying some new shoes. Oh, and praying. Lots and lots of praying.

That. Is. All.

But it makes it all very real and very scary.

I go from being ecstatically excited one moment to almost having a panic attack the next. It’s making life interesting to say the least.

But God is good. Bigger and better than it all. He’s made all this happen in a week and will make everything happen in the next few months too.


SF: Lists

I have a funny feeling that every time I call home now,  is going to result in a list of San Francisco related things to do.

Tonight’s conversation resulted in the following:

  • Phone consulate about visa
    • Research cost of going to London to get it vs. going to Belfast to get it
  • Get Hepatitis B vaccination
    • ask health professional if there are any other vaccinations I should get
  • Ask YWAM about specific dates/timetable
  • Book flights
  • Make fundraising plans

Less important but also weighing on my mind:

  • Money whilst I’m out there – possibly opening new, no currency/foreign exchange account
  • Phone whilst I’m out there – buy one there or get mine unlocked
  • Shoes – going to need a new pair of trainers
  • How does one survive without weetabix, blackcurrant squash or real chocolate for 2.5 months?

You and I might be thinking “there’s aaaaages!! Four months is pleeeenty of time”. My parents thinks otherwise so I should get on these asap!

Edit: I am also adding health and travel insurance to the list . . .

SF 2011

I’ve just received the very exciting news that I have been accepted to be a part of YWAM San Francisco’s Summer of Service programme!!

This is EXCITING!!!

(I’m excited, BTW)

This means that I will be spending two and a half months this summer working with the youth groups who come to YWAM SF for a week of mission in the inner city. The base is only a stone’s throw from the affluent shopping and civic districts, the street it is on intersects with the famous cable car road, but I’m unlikely to see much of this. We’ll be working in the Tenderloin – an area known for homelessness, illegal drug trading, prostitution etc.

It’s likely to be the hardest I’ve ever worked in all my life. I imagine it’s going to take more than the physical, mental or spiritual strength I can muster. I’ll see, hear and experience things I’m not going to be prepared for or know how to deal with. I’ll admit to being scared about it – 2 1/2 months on the other side of the world from all my friends and family is petrifying. AND I hate long haul flights!

As passionate as I am about Scotland and about serving the people who live here and are suffering, this is an excellent programme that will train and equip me to return to Scotland and work for change.

I’ve been speaking about doing a mission trip some summer for years. I’ve been talking about going to America for quite some time too. I don’t know that anyone really expected me to do it. I didn’t really expect me to do it! But here it is. And I can’t wait, because I’m certain that. whilst being possibly the toughest 10 weeks of my life, these could also be the best 10 weeks: when I have to truly rely totally on God and get to learn all kinds of incredible lessons from Him.

So now there’s lots of planning and preparing to do. Lots of reading and praying. Finances to gather. A visa to get. But I think I’ll revel in the excitement for a few days first!