Open Air: Taking Turns

While the fine weather is still with us, we’ve been dividing up our time a little differently, both of us speaking twice, taking turns. It might not work as well on a wet day in winter, but for now…

Stephen - Part One

Some folk like to roam around the area where they’re tracting, others like to stand still and offer their wares to whoever happens to walk by. I stay near to the speaker, where I can keep an eye on things. Peter is over by McDonald’s as usual, Janette is in front of Superdrug, and Kieran is striding hither and yon, a rucksack full of tracts on his back.

Conversations - some short, some lengthy - seem to be the order of the day. At the moment, a small group is gathered around Peter, Janette has just finished talking to someone, and Kieran is on his second encounter only minutes after we’ve begun. It’s all very encouraging.

The only downside is the presence of a busker singing along to a backing track played on an inordinately large boombox. She’s on the corner by Debenhams (as was), and she can’t carry a tune at all. Oh, and the man with the megaphone on the opposite corner looks like he’s about to get going. I hope that he… 

- but here comes Jim, the blind gentleman with the white stick, the one who stands and listens for a while, smiling and raising his stick when he hears some gospel truth of which he approves. He’s being led by someone who looks just like him, except that he’s obviously sighted.

I stroll over to greet them. The other man is his brother, and we spend a few moments in cheerful conversation, mentioning the churches that we come from, and generally agreeing with each other - which makes a nice change. Then they have to go to keep an appointment, leaving me to wonder whether…

- but my musings are interrupted. Stephen is telling me that it’s my turn. As I walk over to take his place, he invites folk to come and collect a free bible if they so wish. I make a mental note to put in another order for tracts and booklets - we’re getting through them at a rate of knots at the moment. That’s good!

Me - Part One

I hold up a photocopy of the wrapper from a packet of chocolate biscuits that I found in the fridge this morning. The burden of the text that adorns this wrapper is that eating these biscuits is all part of keeping healthy and postponing the heat-death of the universe. They contain lots of natural ingredients, and the natural is always good, and so you can stuff yourself and save the planet at the same time.

Well, I beg to differ. “Is the natural always the good?” is my question for those within the sound of my voice. “No, not at all!” is my answer, and… but you can take it from there, I’m sure.

It gets a modicum of attention, despite the busker over the way turning up the volume, and the man with the megaphone shouting out incomprehensibly at intervals. As I develop my theme, I note that Brendan has arrived and is already in conversation with Vincent - as so often. A bearded, burly gent accosts Stephen and what seems to be an agreeable conversation follows.

I have a few listeners, and a young Asian lady films me for some minutes, and then a man in black perches himself on a bollard, facing away from me, but obviously listening. There are more conversations going on here and there, with various folks, and…

- and then my time is up, and it’s Stephen’s turn again.

Stephen - Part Two

Hardly has he begun when he is interrupted by a short lady in big, owl-eye glasses, her grey hair in a pageboy bob. She waves a finger at him. “Jesus is the love of my life!” “Pardon?” It’s nothing to do with what Stephen’s been saying. “Jesus is the love of my life!” she snaps. “Good!” he says. He carries on, and she heads in my direction.

I give her a tract, and ask her if I can help. No, she just wants to tell me something… “When my father died, I saw a vision!” “A vision?” Yes, he sat on her bed and he comforted her, he pointed to the heavens above and said that she had a home there where they would meet again, and I needed to understand that… Well, I’m not sure what else she said: it didn’t really make much sense to me, although it obviously mattered to her. Another big, burly, bearded man settles back against a nearby lamppost and listens to us; then, wisely, he turns his attention to Stephen.

Why is it that people who receive special revelations seem so angry about it all? Do they find that most people make fun of them when they try to tell them of their experiences? When she’s finished waving the tract in my face, she trots away. Never mind, my tracts are all gone, so I switch to my second envelope. The noises off subside for a time and Stephen gets a clear run at the rest of what he has to say. Brendan comes over for a chat, but then it’s my turn again.

Me - Part Two

I take out my photocopy of the biscuit wrapper and reprise my original introduction - in brief - and then it’s on to Repentance. As I warm to my theme, I find myself commenting on what’s happening around us, improvising on the natural behaviour of the flock of birds wheeling above us, and then on the motorised municipal street sweeper going by and failing utterly in the attempt to keep the pavements around us clean and free from litter. No, come on, surely you can take it from there!

A few folk give me their attention, with one couple discussing the tract that they’ve been given. I spot Kieran, back where I can see him again, and in conversation once more. Three young men in black sports outfits approach Stephen in quick succession and take tracts. A young Muslim sneers at me and cups his hands around his mouth and calls out contemptuously “Come to Islam!” I tell him where Islam will take him. For a moment, a wave of sadness washes over me as I watch him walk away. But as I move to my conclusion, the sheer goodness of God in salvation buoys me up again, and I end on a blessing for everyone who has been within the sound of our voices on that warm and eminently worthwhile Wednesday afternoon.

Back at the Bagel Factory, I ask everyone to take my Reporter’s Notebook and jot down a few words about the conversations that they’ve had. But some are tired out, and some just want to relax and enjoy fellowship for a while, and some don’t feel that their journalistic skills are up to the task. And since these good folk are all volunteers and not pressed men, we must leave it at that.

However, we can certainly pray that the many conversations had on that day might bear fruit, according to God’s will. Please pray also for the following folk…

From the previous week, the two young ladies who were gently admonished by me, who then went to Peter and Brendan and asked about the love of God.

Y., a Christian lady needing prayer.

J., not yet born again but seeking salvation.

The ex-soldier suffering from PTSD, seeking prayer.

The young man who found it difficult to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, that the scriptures shared with him might speak to his heart.

The lady who was taken up with her visions.

The young Muslim man who thought that Islam was the answer.

Many thanks to all those who encouraged us on that day - from Jim, our blind brother, to the folk from a Stockport church who stopped to talk for a while. We thank you, too, for all your prayers and encouragement. It looks like a wet one next week, so pray that this will not discourage folk who might otherwise want to stop and talk.

Every blessing!