Saturday, 30 January 2010

street church ... inside or out? It's up to You, Father! Your adventure!

January 23, 2010

Normally the local street church meets for breakfast/coffee in the basement hall of a local church building, where the church there has generously donated use of their kitchen and dining space free of charge! But of course, they do have events of their own as well. On Friday, they were setting up for a dinner, and told us they would need the space. So we decided to meet anyway, outside, on the sidewalk. It was a chilly morning, a bit below freezing, lots of frost, slippery roads – and cold toes! At 7:15 am or so we were there with a big thermos of coffee, doughnuts and muffins from Tim Hortons, a couple dozen hard boiled eggs, and a bowl of orange slices. But only half a dozen people turned up (instead of the 30 or more that usually turn up on a Friday morning), and the food was quickly freezing!

Now as I mentioned the last time I blogged here, coffee time has been pretty on-again, off-again, due to a variety of factors like the hall being needed for other functions, Pastor P (the street pastor) being away on a very much-needed holiday/ rest, and so on. And we quickly noticed that numbers turning up for street church breakfasts/ coffee times, were falling off, because people would turn up to find the gates closed too often.

We had noticed that a nearby storefront was available to rent. We contacted the agent and explained we wanted a small mission site where we could serve breakfasts, have drop-in conversation/ community time, make sure people on the street have access to warm clothes and other basic needs, and overall share our love of Jesus with them. The agent was quite excited, and told us the building was set up in such a way that there were 4 sections; we could rent all or just as much as we need/can afford. One area had a kitchen area and an open area where people could sit, visit, etc. “Perfect!” we thought. He set up an appointment for Friday morning, right after our out-on-the-street-corner coffee time. Pastor P was so happy to think we might very well finally have a place to meet consistently, a base from which to go out into the streets (although of course he has been literally out on the streets for the past 4 to 5 years with no “base”).

But just minutes before the appointment, the agent called to say that the owner didn’t want to rent it out unless the whole building was rented – and there was no way the street church can afford that. Otherwise, the owner would rather just have it sit empty. Wow! What a letdown, right?

Or maybe not! Right then, the sun which had been slowly rising over the hill-top, yet muffled by a few clouds, suddenly was fully risen, and the clouds parted, and the warm bright glorious sunshine burst forth, warming us inside and out! It was awesome, uplifting, a gift from Creator God to a small group of cold, and momentarily kind of let-down people!

Now, instead of feeling sad, we cheerfully began to exclaim that God surely has a better plan, because this mission is His, after all. We also had already been expressing our feeling, even before the phone call and the sun-rise, that despite how chilly it was, and how few people turned up, that this was the best gathering we’d had since the decision had been made over a year ago to “borrow facilities” and meet indoors. For the past 4 or 5 years, Pastor P had faithfully provided breakfast to street people at “church in the park” all year round, no matter the weather or the numbers. Now, here we were outside again, on a chilly mid-January morning, with frozen breakfast, cold toes and fingers – and wonderful fellowship, awesome conversation, great sense of community – and a clear sense that this was truly “the church” even out here on a sidewalk corner – and that God was here in the midst of His people!

So instead of feeling sad and let-down, we were excitedly looking forward to whatever new adventure our Papa is leading us into!

We had found, more and more, that our “comfortable building” was somehow taking away from the close-knit togetherness that had existed when we were truly out on the streets where the people were, whom we knew Papa wants us to reach out to. And we had also found that there were people out there who hesitated to come inside a building that was so obviously a “church building.”

Where to go? We don’t know. Back to the grassy spot beside the courthouse on Sunday mornings? The open “square” on the main street in the heart of downtown Maybe one of the empty lots scattered here and there in the area? Or a front or back yard of a private residence or business in the area? Papa???

Later that day, Pastor P was talking to a business owner, whose shop is an old, former residence, in the downtown area. And she told him he is welcome to use her front or back yard, a washroom that has a direct entrance outdoors, and her electrical hookups for the coffee urn and toaster. Will this be our new “base”? We don’t know for sure… but we were reminded of Jesus who said to someone who wanted to follow Him, that foxes had dens and birds had nests, but He had no place to lay His head.

Are we willing to follow Him like that? His disciples did. The apostles and early believers often did as they went out into the world (often pushed out by persecution, even) to spread the good news. Surely they would approve of our outdoor mission! They, after all, turned the world upside-down! We want to reach out to those who may themselves have no house, no roof over their head, often no food and lack of clothing… We want to be family with them. We want to be the church together.

Perhaps Papa wants us to really “walk in their shoes” with them for a few miles along the journey. To follow Him, wherever, however, He leads. To be His church, according to His plans and purposes, not ours.

(Interesting… believers often pay huge amounts of money and resources to “go on mission” for a couple weeks to some “foreign land” to learn what poverty and pain is really about… when maybe we could be gaining that experience, that understanding, right here at home in our own streets, a few blocks from our own comfortable homes. And then maybe we’d be able to make better use of those resources, that money… hmmm?)

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