Open Air: From Chinatown To The Gates Of Heaven

Here are Stephen’s recollections from last Wednesday.

I didn't manage any conversations with unbelievers. One lady believer shared some words of encouragement. I also spoke for quite a while with a Presbyterian Pastor/Missionary from South Korea. He posed with me for his friend to take a photo of us together.

The distressed young lady from last week passed by while I was preaching. She was holding hands with a man, so perhaps she has made up with her boyfriend. The young man I mentioned a few weeks ago was present for part of my preaching, leaning against his favourite bollard, well out of the way.

I gave out 74 tracts which is a bit more than in recent weeks, though we did have a slightly longer session which perhaps explains that. Despite some rain en route, it remained dry for the duration of the open air, which also helps of course.

Stephen pauses to collect his thoughts. I’m off to his right, my hand holding out a tract folded around a Chapel leaflet. Peter is between Superdrug and McDonald’s. It’s fine, but the air is cool. A scattering of autumn leaves lies over the pavement. Stephen begins, as a well-dressed woman pushes a man in wheelchair towards me. Another woman follows at a distance. Does she want one of the bibles Stephen is advertising, or will she want me to pray for the man in the wheelchair? No, she only wants to know the way to Chinatown…

As I watch her go, I note several groups of foreign football fans wearing green and white scarves, all headed down Market Street. Otherwise, it’s pretty quiet out here on the edge of Piccadilly Gardens.

Soon, a fine rain begins to fall, and the umbrellas go up. Oddly enough, the tracts are going out in a steady stream at last. Stephen has an audience of five - at a distance. One young lady who looks like a student stops in mid bite of her lunchtime burger at something he says. I offer her a tract, and she smiles sweetly and takes it, but then she’s off.

Never mind, here comes a young man from the direction of McDonald’s. He walks slowly, so I have time to note his appearance: a somewhat swarthy complexion, dark hair and a neatly-trimmed black beard - and he’s wearing a blue anorak and tan trousers.

He smiles freely as we talk, but he has the look of a man who has not slept well in quite a while. won’t go into detail, but he tells me that he’s from Saudi Arabia, and he’s no longer a Muslim so he doesn’t feel safe there any more. He likes Christians, he says, because they are loving. Normally, I’d be expecting him to ask for a handout at this point, but no, he seems entirely sincere. He takes a selfie with our poster in the background, then we shake hands and he goes away with a bible, a Blanchard booklet, and the names of a couple of local churches. I’m happy with that.

Stephen pauses to confer with me for a moment, then he carries on. The drizzling rain eases off, and a breeze begins to stir the leaves that have stuck to the pavement. “How quiet it is today!” I say to myself once more, and so it is - for a city centre at lunchtime, anyway…

Stephen comes to a close, and we change over. I note that Brendan has arrived, and is standing with Peter. A small crowd of folk with foreign accents is gathering on my left, but they’re gone by the time I’ve prayed and made a few emollient remarks about the weather. And then: “Tomorrow, I will be at a funeral service at the crematorium in Skipton…” Well, it’s been on my mind. And on we go with “Seven Things You Need To See Before You Die.”

Time passes, and suddenly I realise that I’m on to my fifth point! Wonders will never cease! I might actually get all the way through, today… Stephen is shaking hands with a bespectacled gent of vaguely eastern appearance, and having his photograph taken. More football fans stroll by as I comment on the recent alarming rise in drug overdoses, particularly from fentanyl and its analogues, and how it relates to that sense of the utter futility of life that oppresses so many people in the Western World today.

And here comes a man who seems to be as high as the proverbial kite. He marches up, a long, lanky loudmouth, a golf umbrella clutched in one hand, a milkshake in the other, his head shaven and his jaw jutting out. “You believe in God, then why did I get robbed?” It’s an easy one to answer, but I can’t get a word in as he shouts out the same question over and over again. As soon as he stops, I answer him, but he’s already waltzing away. I call him back, but as soon as… Well, you get the idea. He’s sweary and shouty, but he keeps his distance, and soon he’s wandering off to wherever people like that spend their days.

Meanwhile, a man with a white stick has been over by the tramlines, listening carefully to our exchange. As I work my way through the last section of what I have to say, he nods along with my words, now and then raising his stick, as if affirming that I’m on the right track. I finish with the “Gates of Heaven” illustration. It’s in picture language, but it’s effective, even if I do say so myself. As I take off the mic, the man with the white stick raises it one more time, and walks on his way. I’ve appreciated his quiet encouragement.

I look around as I’m packing the equipment away. There are even fewer folk about now, and those passing by look doleful and dejected - and who can blame them, with this country in as sad a state as ever I can remember? And that, of course, is why we will be out again next Wednesday. Please join us if the Lord puts it on your heart to do so, and please pray for us if you can’t stand with us. Please pray also for those mentioned above, and especially for the following.

[Specific prayer requests omitted, since they sometimes contain personal/sensitive information. If you would like to receive the full newsletter via email, in order to pray for us, then please let our pastor have your email address, and he will arrange it.]

Meanwhile - every blessing, as Stephen Holland so often said!