What We’ve Heard

Conversations here have really run the gamut of human emotion. Blaringly sad, brutally honest, downright strange: we’ve had them all. Here are a few of the sound bites I have experienced this week from all kinds of different people. Try to imagine what you would say after these if you would like to identify with the humorous/overwhelmed/appreciative/confused/panic-inducing state of mind we have been in while we are here.

“I’m 83 and just waiting to die.”
“Sure I pray but it doesn’t give me any hope. Its all just in my head anyway.”
“I saw a bright light and a voice told me that He was the true God. I then began reading the Bible and following Jesus.”
“This world is so hard. It’s hard to find any hope here.”
“Jesus never said He was God.”
“I believe that Jesus is alive in Heaven. He is coming back one day to point people to Muhammed.”
“I’m Roman Catholic but I never go to church. I guess I’m a backslider.”
“America has 11 million drunkards and 44 million people who are heavy drinkers. Why do they think they can fix the rest of the world?”
“I had rashes all over my skin. A Christian woman was the only person who was willing to hug me. I’ll never forget that hug.”
“I can’t see why God would need a sacrifice of a person to make things right. Can you explain it?”

These are just a small sampling of the things we have heard. There have been a lot of moments of honesty here in a way that is sometimes hard to find in America.

It’s also been interesting to see how books and covers don’t always match. The stereotyper in me has had to go on vacation this week. I’ve seen scary-looking guys get the most innocent and sheepish smile when I talk with them. Men whom I was sure were coming to get angry with me came to thank me. I’ve learned that I can’t call what is about to happen.

We have changed gears here a bit and are now staying with K & J whom many of you at The Kirk would have met this past April. They are working in a different part of London. Last night we got the privilege of taking part in a men’s discussion group, which is an open event where men from the community come out to talk about any topic they like as a group. Never before have I been a part of a four hour conversation (we eventually had to kick them out because they could have kept going) that ranged topics from the necessity of atonement in Jesus, to the ingredients of cigarettes, to the ethics of invading Syria, the cost of their water bill, and back to atonement again. It’s really quite a ride.

We fly home tomorrow. I’m sure we’ll discuss on the plane our thoughts from being here so come back at least once more. Thank you again for being a part of this journey with us.

Those We’re With

I said I’d write about the people we are with out here. One of the most encouraging parts of the trip has been getting to know the pastors here and getting to see what makes them get up in the morning. (Preface: For reasons of policy I have to be intentionally vague in describing them and so won’t name any people or groups. But talk to me if you would like to find out more.)

I’ve been really impressed to see the way the staff approaches ministry. Everyone here is a part of a team. There are no solo workers left to take on the world. There are multiple teams throughout the city, each with people playing different parts. Many teams have also begun their own businesses in order to bring in revenue as well as to provide jobs for people they know that need them. Their vision is for restoring broken life, not just broken spiritual life.

Individually each pastor is very different from the next. Each has a specific neighborhood and people group they are working with. At one point during the week I looked at Ben and said “It kind of seems like these guys are ministry cowboys.” We were trying pretty hard to think of a similar environment at home that felt so much like a wild frontier. Very few residents here have ever met an actual Christian. Last night we were talking with one team leader about how whenever we use the words “pastor” or “seminary” at home when meeting new people things typically get weird because they assume you to be the moral police. His response was “Here it’s easy because no one knows what a pastor is.”

One other thing that sets them apart is that everyone throughout the teams is involved in street ministry. There isn’t one guy responsible for meeting people while everyone else emails from home. They all devote days to going door to door, or meeting people on the streets. It’s a way of life.

Tonight we had a joint worship service with two churches. We sang songs in English and Hindi as the musicians sat on the floor up front. It’s a part of ingrafting South Asian culture. We also worshipped with our shoes off. We are told in Revelation that in the new heavens and earth, the kings of the earth will “bring their glory in”. God is the God of Asians and Anglos alike.

After worship we all shared an Indian meal that the church provides weekly. We got to meet believers from around the world. We also got to meet some who would not yet call themselves believers. Ben talked with one guy after church who identified himself as an atheist. But I’ll save more from our conversations for next time. Here’s an over-the-shoulder shot from worship.
-Kent

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Stay Tuned

We’re still doing great, though with a full schedule, haven’t had time to post. I’ll write more later. Until then, here are a few photos from our day off in Oxford.
-Kent

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Street Work

London’s story now is one of massive immigration. Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs from South Asia (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), the Middle East, and Africa have come to London in the hundreds of thousands. In the neighborhoods we have been visiting we have passed perhaps less than twenty traditional white British citizens, but hundreds if not thousands of South Asians. The demographics here are quickly changing.

Our God isn’t changing though and for the past two days we have been with church planters who are building local multi-ethnic congregations. In the States a church plant often grows through Christians changing churches. Here many if not most of these people have never met a Christian. So how does the Lord build a church here? It often looks like street ministry.

We have been working with teams doing three primary means of evangelism: setting up free book tables on the sidewalks, surveying people passing by about their religious beliefs, and going door to door. To most of us Americans let’s be honest that this sounds terrible. Here, amazingly enough, it is welcomed.

I’m not actually making this up. As a pastor here said, one of the biggest hurdles here is our own secularism. In America one of the ways the gospel has been undermined is by teaching that “religion” is a separate compartment from the rest of life and, similar to visits to the doctor or polling booth, not to be talked about in public. Easterners don’t share this struggle though. They are usually glad to talk religion, even with strangers. (That goes for politics too. Ben got an ear full about how America needs to change from a man on the street yesterday.) So we have found some eager participants to engage us about Jesus as we hand out free books and ask questions. Some others from our bigger group went door-to-door and were invited in to sit around dining room tables and talk very personally. So it’s been an interesting learning session.

Probably the most interesting for me has been engaging the fear and awkwardness I have felt in my own heart as I go to talk with strangers about the gospel. It sometimes feels really difficult to smile at someone who is staring at a book table in front of you and ask “Have you heard of Jesus?” So again I ask, Why do it? Three reasons come to mind.

First most of the people in these neighborhoods have no other way of hearing. There aren’t many other Christians to walk with them through life and let Christ show through your actions and through long conversations. It’s just the other Muslims and Hindus here trying not to step on each other.

Second, as the pastors here say, these things are just tools to use to get to people’s hearts. This isn’t my preferred toolset. I would much rather spend a long meal, or a movie, or a few year’s worth of activities involving both of those things, with someone asking questions and living alongside them. But I also have a habit of turning tools into idols such that I only define friendship and ministry by whatever makes me most comfortable. And by cutting off other means of engaging people, I cut off my own means of growth.

Third, this is hard work. It was worth it for us to come to give encouragement to the pastors and ministry staff that do this every day. I’m really impressed with the team that is in place here. I’ll write more about them later but some of my favorite moments thus far have been engaging with them.

This somehow got long. To the two of you that made it reading thus far, thanks for reading. Thank you for encouraging us. It’s going a long way here.
-Kent

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The Day in Photos

This morning brought a few hours worth of training (basically it was Bible study). Then In order to understand those to whom we are ministering, we went to a Hindu temple, a Sikh temple, and a mosque. Our organizers did a good job setting up times with the religious leaders at each site so that we could ask questions and hear from them directly what it is they believe. A lot of differences. And some similarities too. The most meaningful time of the day though was this evening when we got to hear testimonies of 5+ people who all had met Jesus out of these backgrounds and how their lives have been changed as a result. Here are a few pictures from today.
-Kent

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Why We Came

It’s the end of day two in London. I thought I would frame our trip a little to help you see a bit of why we came.

The short of it is that we came to London because the Lord is at work here. Of course that answer alone can never narrow down anyone’s travel destinations. But we were moved to experience his work work here in particular through Ben meeting one of the pastors here who is a part of the World Harvest team and encouraged him to come.

Two parts that I have often found accompanying the Lord’s leading are desire and ability. Ben, and consequently the other three of us, all experienced through varying ways both of these things coming together. I had been to London once, though never to see it through the lenses of the Gospel. It looked like the time was right to do so.

We purposely planned our trip so that we would be in London almost two days before we were to start working with the neighborhood churches here. This gave us the chance to worship at two places of note on Sunday, morning and evening: All Souls, formerly pastored by the late John Stott, and St. Paul’s cathedral, a significant congregation within the Anglican Church. It was good to get two very different pictures of what the Church looks like here. Both of them also made me thankful for The Kirk. (Now if only we could lay claim to an 11th century building…) It was helpful to see how the Church here is currently engaging the city around it.

Today we had just enough time to see one other place of note before we moved outside the city center into the outer multi-ethnic neighborhoods. We went to Westminster Abbey. Many know it simply as the place of the recent royal wedding. There’s much more though. Many kings and queens are buried there (in the church, that is; you walk over the giant markers going down the aisles. It’s a strange feeling), as are poets (Lord Byron), scientists (Isaac Newton), and unknown soldiers. But for our purposes today, we wanted to see an earlier chapter of the Lord’s working through this country so we asked to see the Jerusalem Chamber. The Jerusalem Chamber was where the documents we in the PCA most revere were begun. The Westminster Confession of Faith, shorter and longer catechisms, and multiple versions of the Bible (King James included) were all written here. It is now a forgotten room in the eyes of the world, and off limits to visitors, but thankfully we found a priest who was willing to show us. So much that we are thankful for happened there. It was an honor to get to see it.

Next we arrived outside of the city to engage in multi-ethnic ministry the rest of the week. What that will look like I’m not exactly sure but I know it will be focused on new groups of people that call this place home. Im sure the next 1000 years here will look very different than the last. It will for America too. The four of us are hoping to learn how to better build bridges with people who don’t look or talk like us and to see how the Lord might use us individually and as a church to move into the new world economy, whether that is in London or Ladue.

I’ll be eager to report more later. Tonight we are all exhausted.

We’re Here

After a seven hour flight and an hour of barely making consecutive last-trains-of-the-night, we made it to our hotel. Today is for exploring. Cheers.

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