I’ve very much enjoyed the last few months of doing street outreach on Sunday evenings. The entrance to St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church provides an ideal setting for standing outside, smiling at and engaging with passers-by. For this month’s Messenger letter, I’d like to share a few reflections regarding what goes on and, I hope, encourage more folks to come and join me ‘on the steps’.
What is the essential kit?
I have a small plastic box of items that I have to hand throughout the evening. It contains the following: New Testaments – I like to use the New Living Translation as it’s a reliable and easy to read translation; John’s Gospels – a less imposing amount of reading and easily introduced by saying, “This is the essence of what Christians believe”; little cards that give details of our church services and a QR Code (Quick Response Code) for the technologically adept. The usual café session taking place inside the church allows for easy access to coffee and cakes. Plenty of people welcome a little ‘pick me up’ at the end of a day in the city.
Who stops to talk?
Visitors from abroad – especially countries where Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion – often walk straight into the building. They assume, quite rightly, that a place of Christian worship is open and welcoming to all. The conversations tend to be around the differences between a Baptist expression of Faith and a more Roman approach.
Seekers after Jesus. Many, many people want to know more about our Lord. On numerous occasions people have come into the church and stayed for the service. On some occasions, the service has finished and the conversations about Jesus have not. On one joyful evening, a group of visitors ended their sojourn by gathering around the organ, while one of them (a music scholar) played as much of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor as he could remember.
Individuals or small groups of homeless people will regularly come to drink a coffee and share a little bit about their personal circumstances. Some of the stories are heartbreakingly sad and demand immediate and ongoing prayer. A few weeks ago, a young man, who I’ll refer to as Simon, came and said that he’d just been released from prison. His sentence had been cut in half and he was, “out on licence.” Put simply, he would be immediately re-incarcerated for the remainder of his sentence if he did anything wrong. Simon slept in a shop doorway for six nights. The day before he came to see us at St A’s, he’d been beaten up by a man leaving one of the city’s pubs. Simon didn’t report the incident because he was afraid that a counter allegation would send him back to prison. The words of the Lord in the 82nd Psalm came to mind as he spoke:
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Simon had a couple of pieces of cake and coffee. He didn’t ask for money or accommodation. Simon simply wanted to share some of his story.
Christians are very visible on the streets on Sunday evenings. I regularly see brothers and sisters from other churches trying to serve the people of Cambridge. I’ve had plenty of encouraging chats with street evangelists, prayer healing teams and homeless supporting people. Only last Sunday, I watched a very joyful looking young lady bound along the street. She was carrying two enormous bags of food and she zigzagged back and forth across the road to distribute good things. She smiled and nodded as she went by. When her bags were empty, she stopped off at St A’s to talk a bit about her mission: sent out from Fisher House; happy to have completed a doctorate that very week; looking forward to more time spent in her Lord and Master’s service.
Why bother to stand outside?
If you know Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, you have an important story to tell. It’s likely that you will have experienced the grace, forgiveness and love of the Lord in many different ways. God brings people to hear the story of such things. As Ananias said to St Paul, in Acts 22, so he says to us, “…you will be a witness for Him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”
Come and stand outside.