My neighbour was undeniably surprised to find my legs poking out of the rubbish bin. I don’t know if she was reassured that I was entirely sane when I popped out with a cheery smile to say ‘Hello! Just doing a little cleaning in our back alley!’ When we arrived on Sutton Street a year ago, I looked out into our gated bin alley and was fascinated by what I saw.
Turning right, there was a beautiful work of redemption – my neighbours had swept the tarmac clean and planted flowers and vegetables in rubber tires, drawers, storage boxes, even a bathtub! Looking left, however, there was a mess of broken glass, abandoned bins, and, mysteriously, used teabags that seemed to fall like mucky manna from the sky. I ambitiously decided, then and there, that I would clean it up.
35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it. (Ezekiel 36:35-36)
There have been many moments over this past year that my enthusiastic get-up-and-go spirit nearly got up and went, such as the ridiculous catch-22 where the recycling lorries wouldn’t empty the abandoned bins because they were full of general waste, and the general waste lorries refused to do it (despite a handwritten sign on each bin) because they were recycling bins.
However, with the help of our local Liberal councillor (who happens to live on our street) and my neighbours who are becoming dear friends, our back alley is now a welcoming and beautiful community space. The kids would be out there from sunup to sundown with their friends, if we’d let them! We threw an ‘alley party’ for Isaac’s birthday. As we all sat in the sunshine, eating ice-cream cones and chocolate cake, blowing gigantic bubbles and writing LOVE JOY PEACE on the walls with chalk, I thought to myself, ‘this is a little slice of Heaven’.
And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying, 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son… Matthew 22:1-2
We decided to dream a little bigger with Anu’s birthday party, but there was one line we had impulsively printed on the invitation that was making me nervous: ‘Everyone’s invited! Bring a friend.’ We had liberally distributed these invitations to neighbours, parents at Isaac’s nursery, a random elderly lady I met on the street – just about anyone, really. And, half an hour before the party, my inner introvert was panicking.
‘You should share a testimony before cutting the cake,’ prompted the Holy Spirit, helpfully, ‘and maybe sing a song, too.’ ‘No, I shouldn’t! I should crawl under the bed and hide until it’s all over,’ I countered. An hour later, you guessed it: I was sharing my testimony with thirty people, adults and children (two of whom I’d never met before), in our kitchen. I shared simply about the love of Jesus and the eternal life that starts the moment we put our trust in Him, about how He drew near to me in the trauma of Isaac’s birth and the miracle of Anu’s birth, pouring healing into the parts of my heart that felt angry and broken.
Counter-intuitively, it turned out that the balm for my fear was to do the scariest thing of all. As Peter and I took a few minutes to share, no longer was the party about how neat our house was, how delicious the cake was, or even how gorgeous our little girl was. All of a sudden, this party was about Jesus, and so it was, undeniably, a success!
Some people’s eyes glistened with tears as they listened. One little girl tapped me on the arm afterwards and shared solemnly that her parents were divorced too. Two teenagers were eager to find a time to meet up with me and hear more. One family said they felt like they were in a desert season themselves, and could they come over for a meal and talk more? Our answer was a resounding ‘yes!’
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (Acts 16:30-31)
We all long for one of these Acts 16 moments, but I was not expecting it when it came! ‘It’s just an allegory, darling,’ the man said, as he walked past on his way to dropping his daughter at nursery. I was sitting on a nearby grassy knoll, musing moodily ‘I don’t think the other parents at Isaac’s nursery want to be friends - I guess they don’t know what to make of that weird Indian lady who keeps trying to smile and say hello.’ My inner evangelist wanted to quit, but my mouth hadn’t quite gotten the memo - before I knew it, I was calling out with a big smile, ‘Hello! So, what is it that’s just an allegory?’
The man walked over, knelt down beside me, and said in complete earnestness: ‘They told my little girl at nursery that Jesus died on a cross! She was really worried about him, so I told her it was just an allegory. What do you think of Jesus?’ ‘Me?’ I replied, inwardly leaping up and down, outwardly as cool as a cucumber, ‘I love Jesus. My whole life revolves around Him. I believe He is the Son of God, that He died and rose again to take the punishment for our sins, and that we can know Him right now through His Holy Spirit. What do you think of Jesus?’
‘I think he’s the most amazing man who ever lived. There’s no one in all of history who compares with him! I’ve been reading all sorts of books about him. He orchestrated his life and death as a perfect allegory. It’s all connected – Jesus had twelve disciples, which relates to the twelve tribes of Israel. It’s like the planets revolving around the Sun – basically, he is the sun, and the universe revolves around him! I get very excited talking about this stuff, but I hope I’m not boring you, going on about Jesus.’
I reassured him that there’s no one I would rather talk about! Although this dad wouldn’t call himself a Christian, he certainly seems fascinated by Jesus and eager to know more, and one of these days we hope he and his family will come join us for dinner.
“A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up… 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. (Matthew 13:3-8)
Peter and I are amused and inspired by this bumbling farmer – he really doesn’t seem to care where he sows! Our approach has been to scatter the seeds of the Kingdom with cheerful abandon, with unsurprisingly mixed results. Eager responses turn into weeks of comparing schedules and finding that families with two working parents are too busy or exhausted to come over for dinner. People who seemed open and hungry then forget, cancel, or ignore friendly messages.
On the other hand, Sutton Street will be represented by a contingent of seven children at our local church’s Holiday Bible Club this summer because I eagerly scanned application forms and put them through the doors of all the mums on the street! ‘Two steps forward, one step back’ is, I am discovering, a legitimate dance move. Dear friends, I pray that you would know the encouragement of the Holy Spirit as you love your neighbours – in your weakness, He is strong.
I pray that on the days you feel particularly ineffective or discouraged you would be pleasantly surprised to find the Kingdom at your fingertips as you reach out in love to whomever God has put in front of you.
Grace and peace, Peter & Taryn; Isaac + Anu