Tag Archives: Presence

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood, by Jenny Flannagan

11 Mar

Our final guest blog for this week’s challenge  comes from Jenny Flannagan who asks what being present in our neighbourhood means.

8000 miles from home and I’m in a conference workshop with twenty South Africans talking about why we live where we do.  It’s not a question many people ask in relation to our discipleship but I think it’s a big one. And it fits with our exploration of presence – the places we dwell, put down roots and raise our kids in, these are the places where we begin to understand why it mattered to God to come and live so close to us, why he ‘moved into the neighbourhood.’

It’s a big question for us.  We have friends who live in the biggest slum in Bangkok with their kids, and have done for more than a decade.  We also have friends who live in beautiful big country houses with enormous gardens.  The culture around us tells us which one to aspire to, and expects us to live in the nicest possible place we can afford.  But that doesn’t seem to be God’s priority.

The first time I deliberately moved onto an inner-city housing estate I felt pretty excited about following Jesus into the less pretty parts of town.  But in two years there I don’t think I got to know a single neighbour.  I slept there, and sometimes ate there, but to say I was present, that I had really moved into the neighbourhood, would be an exaggeration.

So in the past few years we’ve made some changes to help us be more present in the neighbourhood, to give us more chance of seeing what God is up to and working out how to join in.  We’ve given up full-time work in favour of part-time, flexible jobs (a luxury we’re grateful for) and adjusted our budgets accordingly.  We have rhythms in our week, like regular ‘neighbour nights’ when we eat dinner with different households in our ‘block’.  Being around in the daytime means we’re more likely to bump into our neighbours and get to know them. As we get to know them, and their different struggles, we work out how to help them, and how to receive help that we need from them.

Back to South Africa and the seminar, and a woman shares how she and her husband and daughter choose to live in the same chaotic township as she works in, doing community development.  I am remembering that a colleague told me that 70% of women in South African townships have been raped, and I realise the cost of this way of life, and how easy my choices have been in comparison.

I know it’s not a competition, but it put some things in perspective.  It makes me ask how willing I really am to ‘move into the neighbourhood’ and trust Jesus (rather than my middle-class values) with the ‘where’; it makes me ask how I can be more present in my neighbourhood, more willing to be distracted and disrupted by the people I live alongside, more willing to love and help.

Jenny Flannagan blogs at www.jennyfromtheblock.co.uk, is part of www.therubydolls.com and tweets at @jennyflannagan.

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Doing is inconvenient, by Joel Woodier

11 Mar

Joel WoodierThis week’s challenge has already provided some amazing stories of people meeting needs and bringing hope. This, from Joel Woodier, is no different and reminds us that all this ‘do-gooding’ comes with a cost…

Arriving home from holiday, I wasn’t surprised to find that a homeless man had taken up residence in our lounge; this had happened before. My flatmate Tim was a compulsive carer, addicted to meeting the needs of the forgotten. I mumbled and grumbled as our ‘neighbour’ ate my bread and drank my milk, while his stay subtly extended from weeks to months. Being a Good Samaritan was harder work than I expected.

Talking is easy: I love championing the cause of the needy, expressing sympathy and suggesting solutions. It makes me feel good to talk about how I could love my neighbour. This is what I excel at.

Doing is inconvenient: people don’t seem to organise their problems into my free time, and helping them costs more than my spare change.  Meeting someone’s needs truly does mean taking their burdens and carrying them on my shoulders.

This is a natural part of friendship and most of us don’t struggle to lend money to friends or take them for a coffee when they’re upset.  Often we are subconsciously optimistic that our friends will return the favour. However, meeting the needs of someone who will never pay you back, can feel like throwing your money away; is this sacrificial giving?

..If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. […] But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting anything back. (Luke 6:33, 35)

Let’s meet the needs of the good, the bad and the ugly, and give until it hurts, because then, we’ll start to lift the burden off their shoulders.

For Tim, every day was a day to help people; feeding the hungry, spending time with the lonely and doing chores for the elderly. I didn’t live with Jesus, but I lived with one of his best disciples. On 6th November 2012, aged 32, Tim died in a tragic accident. Just hours earlier, he left his colleagues with one last statement of the presence of Jesus. All 60 dirty cups, the cause of arguments and office feuds, were left washed, dried and arranged to spell the word ‘LOVE’. A random act of kindness that echoed profoundly through his workplace.

Dressed in my funeral suit, surrounded by thankful strangers, I made a vow. I promised to take up his mantle, meeting the needs of others, imitating Jesus.

Enough talking, time to start doing.

 In loving memory of Timothy W. Cunningham, who delighted in Christ.

Joel Woodier has lived in Otley, Edinburgh and Australia and is now the assistant pastor at Bethany City Church, Sunderland.

Showing love, one sandwich at a time, by Ruth McConnell

8 Mar

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Our latest guest blog is about something happening right now, as Ruth McConnell explains why she’s got blistered feet, smells and is living in a tent to try and meet a need that she’s seen.

This week’s God52 challenge stood out to me straight away. The practical love of Jesus has always been something that caught my attention, and inspired me for a large part of my walk with God. When Jesus loved people he really cared for them, the whole of them – their soul, body and mind. We see this with how he interacts with people; he challenged social conventions by spending time with women when her status told him he shouldn’t; he had long theological discussions with those who were questioning and he fed the 5000 when they were hungry. No one was too much trouble, or too unimportant for him to spend time with.

When I came to Bristol from a small town in Kent I was shocked at the amount of homeless people I saw who had absolutely nothing. I quickly saw that some of these people, specifically women, would sell themselves on the streets in order to get money. It broke my heart to see it but in this seemingly dark area of Bristol I soon found that I felt at home. The church I go to was heavily involved in a project called One25 and I started to find out more and how to volunteer.

One25 works with street based sex workers. It has an outreach van that goes out giving food, condoms, hot drinks and is the first port of call for many women. Here they get given love in a practical, respectful and non-judgemental way. The women trust the organisation enough, knowing that we will support them no matter where they are at. The streets are very dangerous places to work and these women are regularly attacked. They may see it is an occupational hazard but we show them the opposite.  We run a drop-in service that provides a hot meal, somewhere to have a shower, do their washing, engage in learning basic life skills, access health care and case work support for multitude of needs. Then when they are ready we can help them with rehab choices. (Most of our women are class A drug users and/or caught in abusive relationships or there are other chaotic elements to their lives that make engaging in services difficult without support.)

I once heard the founder of One25 talk about what inspired her to start the charity. She had not long become a Christian and when going along to her church in St. Paul’s (one of the areas in Bristol that is full of homeless people) she had to walk past so many people who were needing so much and had so little. This didn’t make sense to her. How could she spend time learning about a God who loved everyone and not do something about the person on her doorstep who hadn’t eaten for days.

There are times when I go on the outreach van when all I have to offer them is a sandwich and a few Durex. It doesn’t feel enough. They still have to go back out to work, making themselves vulnerable, hoping this guy will be OK, one who won’t beat them and will pay them.We don’t judge. We don’t say, sort your life out and then we’ll talk or even come to church and then we’ll look after you. Some volunteers are Christian and some aren’t. Some women ask us to pray for them and some don’t.  I know that by sitting on that van and giving these women my time, respect and homemade chocolate brownies that I’m being exactly where Jesus would have been. I can tell them Jesus loves them till I’m blue in the face, but if I ignore the fact they’re hungry then am I just showing them a Jesus who doesn’t care about their physical needs.

This week coincides with me raising money for the charity. We’ve been running a campaign that has asked people to give something up for 125 days or hours. I ran the half marathon on Sunday and am currently giving up the luxury of my house and car, and living on £1.25 per day. It’s been hard living in a tent in the ice and rain, and I have been reliant on the kindness of others to supplement my food and provide me with a place to shower. So why I am I doing this? I suppose I’m putting my money where my mouth is and saying, these women matter, they deserve practical love, the same way Jesus said that I matter when he showed his love for me by coming to earth and dying for me.

 

Ruth lives in Bristol and works as a health care assistant in a psychiatric unit for young people aged 13-18.  She is a live music addict who loves adventure, cooking, local ales, coffee and praying over her city from its various hills and parks. If you would like to sponsor her 125hours without the luxury of her car and house then please go to https://www.justgiving.com/Ruth-McConnell1/ 

 

 

Learning from the elders, by Tania Vaughan

6 Mar

Our latest guest blog comes from a wife, mum, writer and speaker who has learned a valuable lesson about not writing off the older generations. In response to this week’s need-meeting challenge, Tania suggests that we can help meet the needs of the older generation by helping them to understand the role they can still play in meeting the needs of others.

Tania VaughanIt can be in the strangest way that you see a need that needs to be met. I was challenged when I overhead two older ladies at a conference talking about the fact that at their age, they no longer thought God could use them; they felt they were past it. If women of a certain age were thinking this then I really felt God telling me I had to look at why that is not true!

I absolutely love Titus 2:3-5:

“Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine,but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.”

It’s the passage that keeps me teaching and speaking, although when I first read it I thought God meant He would bring me alongside someone older; I didn’t realise I’d become the older! Titus is instructed to have the older women teach the younger, not about Bible knowledge and theology but about living.

I learned how to manage my home because I have chatted with older women about life; in their day certain jobs were done on certain days and they stuck to this routine, so it never got out of hand. People didn’t run at the first sign of trouble in a marriage – they worked at it, and yes it’s supposed to be hard work, divorce was not the easy option.

It is so important that younger generations are reminded of what it was like to play outside, to play together, face to face not on the internet, to respect others and to value their own purity. All this wisdom resides within our elders.

The fact that you have lived and learned, played, cried, hurt and struggled means you are desperately needed by God. You don’t have to teach it! You just need to be able to talk.

By following Paul’s advice for the older women to teach the younger how to love their husbands and children and how to be busy at home, without it being a stress,  maybe we can make the lives of today’s women just a little bit easier. And the older women won’t be overhead wondering if they are still useful to God.

No matter your age go and find a friend with a 30 year age difference and start learning together. If you are older you need to know how valuable you are; if you’re younger, where better to get some life guidance than from someone who has done it? God placed us in community because we need each other and we can meet each other’s needs.

Tania Vaughan is a wife, a mother, a writer, a speaker and above all else a cherished child of God just trying to be faithful in a mixed up world to the call to share and encourage others in their walk. She blogs at:  www.tryingtobefaithful.blogspot.com

See a need, meet a need

5 Mar

Looks like it’s going to a busy week for guest blogs written in response to our need-meeting challenge, so we’re getting a head start. Here’s the first post – anonymous by request for obvious reasons, and with a little twist of extra challenge at the end… 

We were meeting at a kids’ play farm with our best friends and their little girl for an afternoon of catching up. We hadn’t seen too much of them recently and were really looking forward to a natter, however as the afternoon progressed it was clear all was not terribly well. Over tea and scones we asked what was wrong and a whole great tale came out, involving all manner of life issues from discovering she was pregnant again, to the fact that they had been asking God whether they should stay locally or move up the country to find work that was better paid, to some serious spiritual warfare stuff: it all came tumbling out.

My husband and I had just had a conversation about money earlier that week and realised we had more than we thought following his promotion and some other payments stopping. A happy realisation and a very prescient one as our friends shared real struggles with paying their bills that afternoon. After a meaningful glance at each other we offered to give them £100. Per month.  Until they didn’t need it anymore.

This was not a heroic ride to their rescue: although they had money worries these were really the least pressing of their needs. In fact as I offered the money I was deeply aware this didn’t seem to make enough difference. This was God’s timing, both my husband and I felt that, and as the conversation developed further I found myself saying ‘If you don’t agree to have the money put into your bank account monthly we’ll just find other ways to give it to you like stuffing £20’s down the side of your sofa each time we come round’ I was utterly convinced they should have the money!

I would generally classify myself as a generous person, but even so I feel this week’s challenge keenly; if we weren’t prepared to do this for our closest friends, what kind of friends does that make us? So what about the stranger or ‘alien’ in our midst? Would I be prepared to listen for a need and then fill it for someone I don’t know?  That really would be stepping out into the unknown.

If you’d like to write a guest post this week on putting faith into action or practicing ‘active presence’, please read our writing guidelines, then drop me an email.

God 52 – Week Ten (5/3/13)

5 Mar

knocking on doorWell, here we are in March. Seriously, who thought we’d see it through this long? So far we’ve seen God do some quite extraordinary things through God52 – from healing relationships to seeing miracles reported. We’re quite sure He’s nowhere near finished yet. This is a journey of inner transformation – of seeing Christ ‘formed’ in us as Paul suggests in Galatians 4 v 19. That takes time, so we’re in for the long haul – we hope you are too.

This week, we’re going to be attempting to live out an aspect of Christ’s character – his presence among people. Contrary to some Christmas cards, Jesus wasn’t born into poverty. His father had a trade and an income, and that trade was passed on to him. He didn’t have to mix with the people in his society who most obviously needed help; he made a decision to do so. He chose to be present among people in need. Not only that – the presence of Jesus invariably meant action. He answered searching questions; he healed sickness; he fed the hungry. Jesus’ presence was active, not passive.

This week then, we’re going to practice ‘active presence’. Or to put it into language that doesn’t sound like management jargon, we’re going to put love into action:

10: Find someone who has a need, and meet that need.

As always, you can interpret this challenge however you like. You could choose to help out a friend or family member in some way. You might study the words of your work colleagues or school friends, to see if there’s something in their lives that you could clearly help with. Maybe you know a couple who could really do with a free babysitter, allowing them to have a much-needed evening out; perhaps someone you know is struggling financially, and you have the resources to help them out.

Or you could push it further. You could knock on an elderly neighbour who can no longer tend their over-run garden, or go along to a local homeless project and offer to volunteer. The possibilities are limitless – the rules are painfully simple. Find a need, meet a need. It’s what Jesus did; it’s one practical way to see the Kingdom extended both in and through you this week.

So get ready to put your faith and your love for people into action. Be an unexpected present to someone, simply by being present. Who knows what God might choose to do through us when we step out for Him in this way? The world is full of needs. Let’s go.

We’re always on the look out for guest bloggers. If you’d like to write a guest post this week on putting faith into action or practicing ‘active presence’, please read our writing guidelines, then drop me an email.