Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas for Camden (Part II)

"Was this Your dream all along?"

Sometimes I think that we're so scared to take a step because we think that, if we make the wrong decision, or if we don't hear God say, "Thou shalt do this," we will be out of His will and screw everything up. So we don't move at all, and we stay in the same place, which is rarely (I think) what He intends.

So we moved. We dreamed big for how to touch all of London for Jesus' birthday, and we assembled 10,000 gifts of small anchor badges to give out to Londoners, and we passed them out in the council estates and supermarkets around Camden and invited people to Christmas dinner. The Christmas dinner wasn't our original plan, but in the end, through closed doors and rethinking and more closed doors, I think that we made it to what God dreamed for Camden. And the heart was the same - a safe place for the people of Camden to come spend Christmas together. A place where the material pressures of the season were set aside, where class and social divides were torn down, where we could all be together.

In the middle of the busyness (I would say chaos, but it wasn't. Everybody did their different roles diligently and with love), I stood in the back corner by the kitchen and looked across the room. Our neighbours were engaged in conversation with each other and with our church family. Some of them listened to the worship music with uncharacteristic stillness. Hymn, a chalk graffiti artist whose poems decorate the pavements and buildings of Camden, tried to leave to finish his shopping, but came back and sat completely silently through the worship and carols. I've never seen him so quiet before. There was a woman spilling her heart to Carrie, a mum and daughter sat talking to Ina, several homeless men that have become our mates talking with the guys, and more, and more.

"Was this Your dream all along?" I asked God.

And I knew that it was. To have us all together, worshipping Him, loving each other in a practical way. While God is complex, I don't think that He is complicated. To me, it sounds like the type of birthday party He wanted all along. 

And that's all we wanted, isn't it? To give Him glory and praise and honour, on His birthday, but also today. He's worth it. Christmas for Camden was for Camden, yes. But it was also for more of Him.

The boys barbecuing the meat outside

The tables set and ready for friends!

The choir practising carols

Some of our mates (Hymn is on the left) enjoying the worship

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Christmas for Camden

There was a moment on Friday night, as four of my Radiant mates and I knocked on doors of the council estate nearest Hope and Anchor Community Church, that I forgot about the cold and dark and genuinely just enjoyed getting to be God's hands and feet in Camden. When we knocked on the doors, we never knew the reception that we would get. Some women refused to answer, even when they pushed back the curtain and saw Victoria and me smiling back at them with gifts in our hands. One man opened the door in nothing but his underpants. In London in December. His heating must work very well. And there was one man who opened the door ready to knock our living daylights out. But then we gave him the gifts for his family, and he nearly cried.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me explain why it was that we were on an estate after dark handing out mysterious gifts.

Back in early November, after a weekend of paperwork and interviews and inspections, we were drained and decided to think of a way that we could bring Christmas to London on a big scale. One thing led to another, and before our week officially even began, we had ordered 10,000 anchor pins to distribute to the people of London. But just giving them a pin wasn't good enough. We wanted to give them gifts. So we ordered straw and boxes and stickers, and last week, our Radiant offices became an assembly line as we constructed boxes and packed pins to take to the people of London.

This Christmas season has seemed especially dismal in London. Maybe it has something to do with the Brexit chaos that our Parliament is sorting, or the fact that we nearly lost our Prime Minister last week. Or maybe it's that 2018 was a rough year. And the holidays are always rough. It's a time of hope, but the emphasis on hope seems to also highlight what we don't have. We originally wanted to have a street party for the people of Camden, so that we could come together as a community in a time of loneliness. It would be full of free food and live music, a camel, gifts for everyone. It would celebrate the true Christmas spirit, that God fulfilled His greatest promise to the people that He loves. But the permits didn't come through, and we planned instead a Christmas dinner for anyone who will come.

Back to knocking on doors. It's the first time we've gone door-to-door in Camden. People in London aren't necessarily warm and friendly (as I'm sure you've gathered). They don't take kindly to having their dinner or telly time interrupted by strangers. But Friday night found us laden with boxes of gifts and numb fingers that made it a comedy sketch every time we fumbled for boxes and Christmas dinner invitations. In the midst of it all, as I watched Federico cajole passersby into taking a gift from a stranger, or as Victoria, Sara, and Elin chased down strangers at bus stops, or as Sergio pulled the gifts out three at a time, I was struck by the privilege of it. This is something that God dreamt of. I truly believe that it thrills Him to see His children chase down others with a little box of hope.

And we have at least 9,000 gifts left to give out this week. The best is yet to come!

The process of creating the gifts:

The final product:

A happy recipient!