Saturday in London I was on the tube (London Underground) on my way to visit a Servants of Asia’s Urban Poor missional community in Southall, an Indian immigrant community in West London. In the crowded metro I saw an African couple with young boy and girl in a baby carriage. The thought “give them £20.00 ($30.00)” suddenly dropped into my consciousness.
“Okay, if that’s you God tell me again in some way,” I thought, resisting the idea of giving that much money to a complete stranger. I got off the metro in one of downtown London’s busiest stations (Paddington) and made my way to the over-ground train to Southall, barely making the next train for another 25 minute ride. Towards the end of my journey I went to find a bathroom. I followed the signs, walking through the train from car to car—and then decided to stop as I realized we as were nearing my destination.
There in front of me was the African family I’d first seen in the underground! Rather than immediately giving them money, I briefly initiated conversation, focusing on the kids. Just then the train stopped and I figured they were likely going further. “If they get off here, then I’ll know for sure,” I thought. I got off the train and they did too. At that point I approached the man, handing him a £20 bill and said: “I think God is telling me to give this to you.”
The man immediately began telling me how he and his family were immigrants from Nigeria and had been homeless for the past week. “Last night we found a cheap B&B for £15, but we don’t know where we are staying tonight” he said. He told me how they had come to England seeking medical treatment for their three-year-old son, who suffered from what they’d thought was congestive heart disease. After some initial exams the British Social Services told them there was nothing they could do for them. “Can I pray for your son?” I asked. The father told me they had learned that exams that he has an enlarged heart that caused many health problems. They said they were Christians and would gladly receive prayer. Right there on the train platform I crouched before the boy and prayed for healing for his heart and a place to live for the family.
“Do you know anyone here in Southall that might know about housing?” the father asked. In fact I was on my way to visit Servants, a community committed to serving the urban poor (http://www.servantsasia.org/index.php/en/united-kingdom.html). I took his cell phone and email. There was joy in our faces as we parted company—and I was glad for the Spirit’s persistence with me in spite of my resistance. Later I called him with phone numbers of groups that offered services to homeless families.
It was inspiring to hear about the ministry of Servants that afternoon— whose community members and interns are each imbedded in different churches and existing ministries to the poor, helping with community gardens, children’s ministries and other social services and promoting Christian unity in the heart of some of England’s largest Sikh and Somalia communities.
Later that evening in a church near London Bridge I spoke to several hundred people gathered from five churches that form part of C4T, Christians for Transformation (http://c4t.org.uk). The title they had given me for my talk was “Your kingdom come in Bermondse & Rotherhithe as it is in heaven.” African immigrants joined English believers from different denominations—all longing to see Jesus’ Kingdom make a difference in traditionally working-class London neighborhoods marked by racism, alcoholism and spiritual indifference.
I had just completed two weeks of teaching my missions and Old Testament courses at Westminster Theological Centre in the UK. My objective is to prepare people to ministry outside the church, with a focus on the poor, immigrant groups, inmates and others on the margins. In the UK and Europe these days mainstream Christians are challenged by the rise of poverty, visible in homelessness, illegal immigration, human trafficking and other social problems. People are expecting increasing social unrest as European nations cut back on social benefits. My mission course includes sessions on Kingdom identity vs. national identity, with an emphasis on Jesus’ call for his followers to be differentiated from the dominant powers.
I am accustomed to some resistance when talking about Jesus’ way of combating evil (announcing the Kingdom of God, teaching, healing, deliverance, prophetic confrontation…the cross, forgiveness) in contrast to normal human approaches (law-enforcement, violence, war). Increasingly though I find people agreeing that our identity as sons and daughters of the Father in heaven must trump our visible identity markers (race, nationality, profession…), and even praying to be transferred from being under “the authority of darkness” (Col 1:13) into “stranger and alien” status. Our upgraded status in Christ includes being filled with and led by the Holy Spirit so as to carry the present reality of Jesus’ Kingdom more deliberately into our work places, cities and wherever we go.
The last two sessions of each of my three mission courses were on healing and prophetic evangelism. When demonstrating how to pray for healing in public we witnessed firsthand students being healed, including a woman from Zimbabwe who received healing from chronic ankle and knee pain from a car accident 11 years before www.youtube.com/watch?v=dp5kXHrMGj8&feature=youtu.be
As part of the course students actually went out into the cities of Cheltenham and later Litchfield in groups of three to pray for people the Spirit guided us to. People were often amazed that they would actually find specific individuals in places that the Holy Spirit revealed to them during the listening prayer time beforehand. Most had never stepped out of their comfort zone to publicly engage strangers in conversation—let alone with offers to bless them or pray for their healing. People were surprised and delighted by how many people welcomed their prayers (though there were some who refused). Highlights for me during these two weeks were the three debriefs after these mini missions—when students told stories of stepping over the lines from private to public faith in ways that brought visible blessing.
This past Sunday in the Gar du Nord just after getting train from London I said a prayer, giving the Spirit permission to use me then and there. While buying a metro ticket a young couple approached me, asking for money for a hotel. He was from Romania and she from France. Rather than giving them money I invited them to go with me to meet people in our church, and then offered to pray for them. Surprisingly they accepted, asking me to pray for her anxiety and pregnancy as she is three-months pregnant. I took their phone number and invited them to church that evening.
In the next three months we will be offering a course at Eglise Reformée du Marais on “diaconia prophétique” followed by three evening street outreaches in April, May and June in downtown Paris. Gracie and I travel to Belgium this weekend to speak to church leaders on how Christians can prepare for growing social unrest as Belgium is expected to soon cut back on social services.
A deeper, more holistic advocacy is needed today that combines respectful presence, concrete assistance and organizing for social change with prophetic proclamation of Jesus’ kingdom enhanced by the gifts of the Spirit. As we prepare for and actually practice stepping outside our comfort zone in keeping with Jesus’ teaching and example in the Gospels, guided by the Spirit, I am sure that we will be led into new adventures in effective social advocacy and evangelism.