Three providences at Belladrum

We had a great night as Street Pastors at the Belladrum Tartan Heart Music festival, just outside Beauly, a family orientated event compared to Rockness festival at Dores two months earlier.

There were some remarkable providences. Not least, the weather was warm after a washout the night before. We had come prepared for muddy fields, and instead our main concern was how to keep cool.

The talk was good. We split into three groups of two Street Pastors in each team. The early part of the evening has fewer conversations because of the noise, which festival goers call music, drowning out serious chat and so we wander around checking that no-one is in trouble.

To save the legs, occasionally I sit down to chat with folks. The first two people I sat with had personal connections. The first one lived a quarter of a mile from where I used to live in Glasgow. Michael was a lapsed Roman Catholic and so I began with Michael the archangel and encouraged him to seek Jesus Who will not fail us the way that human institutions will. The second one was Adam, a lapsed Christian from a church in Cumnock that I knew, with mutual acquaintances, and we went over a lot of useful ground. He was sitting under a tree and I said to my teammate Clive: “I’m going to sit and chat with that fellow under the tree.” When the Lord spoke with Nathanael under the fig tree Jn 1:47-50, it was to demonstrate that He knew what was going on in his thoughts. This is the token that Adam needed and we spent an hour with an in-depth conversation as I showed him that the Lord is on his case. Then his family arrived and I encouraged them all to seek the Lord so that I could catch up on the rest of their story in heaven.

The third remarkable providence was later in the evening when a fellow came over to speak to us and in my usual barter I discovered that I had once stayed with his brother-in-law’s mother in Melvaig on the northern shore of Scotland. He said that “she did not like to work on Sunday”. She was a district nurse and needed to do so, so I told him that she preferred to go to church and worship God and learn about Christ with fellow Christians. So we got talking. He was a gamekeeper and his girlfriend was studying river environments, so I increased my knowledge of these subjects for Scottish Christian Party policy. So – south and north of Scotland – the Lord showed me that He was walking with us.

One of the policemen from Inverness headquarters came over to chat with me and to say how much they appreciated Street Pastors. There were 16,000 attendees at Belladrum with a good atmosphere and no major issues, and Rockness festival had been comparatively free of incidents. Later, one of the men from the ShowSec security firm, who lives and works in the centre of Glasgow, also came over to let us know their appreciation.

One young lassie had lost her mobile phone with all her details on it – reminding me of a previous Belladrum festival when a mother had just arrived with her children and then locked her car keys inside her car! She and her friend had tried the suggestions we offered, so we attempted to calm her distraught mind and went off to the Welfare tent to let them know about it.

We had two Street Pastors from Elgin with us for the first time. Elgin is one hour to the east of Inverness and Belladrum is half an hour to the west, so they broke their journey each way at my home in Inverness. It was such a good night that they hope to attend next year as well, and one of them went out with the Street Pastors the next night in Elgin. So the Christian church continues to spread the grace of Jesus Christ, and will do so till the end of time. Now it is time to end this post. There are further Street Pastor posts under the relevant category in the right hand margin of this blog.

PLUTO and the ANZACs

We had a very full evening on Street Pastors last night. It began with a brief chat with an athlete who slowed down her running for a chat about the constellation Orion, shining clearly in the sky, then we came across a veteran of the South Korean war who told us about Pluto. I suspected he was a Christian and it transpired that he and his wife voted for the Scottish Christian Party at the last election. He was a retired engineer who told us that he had worked for A.I. Welders of Inverness who constructed the automatic welding equipment of PLUTO – Pipe Line Under the Ocean.

I had never heard of this. After D-Day in WWII, our Allied vehicles landing on the Normandy beaches needed a continuous supply of fuel. This was supplied through a pipeline, which was constructed by welding sections of pipe together on board ships, and laying it on the seabed of the English Channel. The automatic welding equipment was designed and made in Inverness by A.I. Welders – and he proudly told us that none of the thousands of weldings had failed. This was a significant contribution by Inverness to the war effort.

What was the context of hearing about this story? Our veteran had been in the Korean War, and he attended an annual meeting held by the South Koreans in grateful acknowledgement of this, as well as having visited South Korea for similar memorials. North Korea is still a dangerous part of the world, and the sad part of my tale is that this old veteran was still receiving the respect of South Koreans fifty years after these events, while he witnessed and experienced the youth in his own area of Inverness failing to give respect to elderly citizens. We hope that a good dose of Christian cheer will help to change this.

To this end I will relate how our veteran finished our lengthy chat. He finished his tale with a funny story which I will share with you. 7000 of the US Marine Corp marched into Korea with brass bands and white gaiters. They built a camp on the west of Korea with a tarred road into it. There were not many tarred roads at that time. They built an arch over the entrance, with the words US 7th Marine Corp “Second to None”. A few miles up the road, the ANZACs built a smaller camp for their 700-800 men, with a smaller road and smaller arch. It had only one word on it: “None”!

This is some of the fun we have on Street Pastors. There is a rising and growing generation who do not know our history. I hope that parents may read this story to their children and grandchildren, so that youngsters begin to engage the older generation in conversation when they meet them on the bus and at bus stops. Young heads may learn and share some of the fun and wisdom in these older heads. Mutual respect born out of interesting fellowship may help to minimise the generation gap and build up community cohesion.

A I Welders

A part of this blogpost was printed as a letter in The Inverness Courier as an item of interest.

The night of the tumble

I had a bad tumble last night – the same day as Elizabeth took delivery of our new tumble drier at Ebenezer!  At least I was not hung out to dry.  During my next Street Pastor shift in Hilton, just as the night was finishing, we returned to base through a play area to engage with some noisy teenagers.

The entrance had a series of steps made out of concrete slabs.  My eye was on the youngsters as I strode up the steps.  The street light behind me cast my shadow on to the steps so that I did not see that there was a large piece missing from the edge of the concrete slab.  So my foot slipped through the hole and, losing my balance, I took a tumble.  I tried to turn to the side to land on the grass, but my right rear iliac crest (the big bone of the pelvis) caught the edge of a concrete slab and took the force of the fall.  I lay for a few seconds to determine if I had broken anything, fearing that I had hit my right kidney, but as the initial pain settled, I realised it was o.k.

By this time the teenagers had joined my four Street Pastor companions and were shouting supportive words of encouragement: “Get up, mister, you’re o.k.”  The wish was the father of the thought.  Thankfully, I was o.k. but badly bashed.  It is a strong bone which took the impact, for which I was thankful to God.

Then I became more concerned about the evident trauma and bruising developing on my right ring finger – one of my typing fingers – horror! no typing?  It will take six weeks for the hip bruising to settle completely – this is the time it takes for most things to completely repair.  This is one of the wonders of God’s creation that our bodies self-repair – and thankfully I can still type this with my ten fingers.  Most of the healing will be accomplished in three or four weeks so that it will be more or less back to normal by then, but it will still be sore to pressure for a few more weeks.  I hope it will not interfere with my putting election posters with Scripture texts on lampposts. The local council election campaigns are in full swing.

A few months ago I tripped on a kerb in the  darkness while putting out the wheelie bin, and I landed heavily on my left chest – it was the same story of 4-6 weeks of localised tenderness.

In our compensation culture, some people would sue the Council for damages.  It is true that there is evident culpability somewhere – who chipped away the step like that? why has it not been fixed before now? etc.  Street Pastors will put in a report to the Council for it to be repaired. Instead, we spent the time discussing the Lord’s providence which allowed such a thing to happen.  Bad providences are one of the modern reasons for agnosticism and atheism.  I noted that “pride comes before a fall” Pro 16:18.  We had a discussion on self-examination and how to interpret the Lord’s providence.  Almost back at base, I stepped off the kerb to let a man with his dog pass, and I almost twisted my ankle slipping off the kerb.  I am not as fit as I used to be, but I think the lesson is that we take too much for granted.  It is a while since I directly contacted my Prayer Partners about our Street Pastor work and so I will email them a link to this blog.

However it was a good night.  I met at least three atheists.  The first one was a middle-age woman who pretended that she was a physicist interested in astrophysics.  I pointed out that there are no scientists who speak more like theologians than astrophysicists – who speak of infinity, eternity, creation out of nothing (matter and antimatter), time and space.  When I pointed out that the superinflation of the Big Bang theory involved the invention or creation of super-natural laws of physics, it became apparent that she knew nothing of any worth about the subject – it was all bluff.  So I asked her why she had concluded that “physics explained everything for her”.  She couldn’t explain her own beliefs.  We parted on good terms, and she is evidently rebelling against the dogmatism of her Roman Catholic upbringing.  She had read about all the major religions but no longer believed in heaven – however, if there was a heaven she thought that one got there by “being good”.  This begs the question what is “being good”?  Her view was earning your way to heaven – no-one had explained grace to her.

The next two atheists were much younger – in fact they were young teenagers.  Rather like Yuri Gagarin who exclaimed when he went into space that he could not see God, these youngsters had not learned that an atheistic position can only be reached by examining all the evidence.  The older lad’s opening shot was that he could not believe anyone who listened to a bush that talked.  Knowing that he was referring to the burning bush, I agreed with him (it was not the bush which talked) and I asked him where he got this idea.  He was forced to admit that he had never read the story in the Bible (“I don’t have to”) and he was, of course, quoting other people.  So he went on the offensive: “Why did God create bad people?”  Answer: He didn’t.  He created man upright Ecc 7:29, but they have made themselves bad.  “Why do good people die?” chipped in the younger atheist.  “Because God is taking them somewhere better,” I responded.  After some more barter, with body language saying it all, our older atheist rallied with: “What I don’t understand is ….So why…?” I suggested that the reason he does not understand is because he will not read the Bible Lk 16:31.

There was a good crowd of youngsters listening to the exchange, and when I asked who wanted to read about the Gospel I was relieved of a few Gospels and a booklet about the existence of God – as well as a few lollipops, which seems to have become our trademark in the housing estates, just as flip-flops assume the same role in the town centre.

Let us pray that these young minds will open up to the reception of the Gospel of good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Update:

18 Apr 2017: Atheists believe in God – they just don’t believe in the devil

Latest Street Pastor initiative

Following today’s morning session with the trainee Tain Street Pastors, in the afternoon the Inverness Street Pastors prepared for a new initiative which is a first of its kind in the UK.

We have been asked by various bodies to begin day time shifts in Inverness. This is testimony to the good work and welcome reception of Street Pastors at many levels.

This is the fourth phase of Inverness Street Pastors.

The first phase was the work in the town centre on Friday and Saturday nights, each week of the year, supplemented at busy times in the winter and New Year holiday. From 10 p.m. till 4 a.m. Street Pastors help the vulnerable and needy in the town centre in Inverness. This work was a real eye-opener to me, and many good souls who get to their bed at the correct time are wholly unaware of how the city comes alive at the weekend with another clientelle after 10 p.m. It is called the night-time economy, which I think is false economy.

The second phase was to supplement this work by covering the Merkinch area of town, one of the most socially deprived areas in Scotland. Yet the people are friendly and have a pride in their own community. I can think of many happy hours and a few unique experiences during my shifts here.

The third phase was to expand into the Hilton area of town where I currently work and meet with many teenagers who spend their evenings on the street or in the Hilton Community Centre.

These three areas of service are running concurrently as more Street Pastors are recruited and trained.

The fourth phase is to commence city centre work during the day-time. There are needy people in daylight hours as well as in the night-time. This service is expected to begin on 14/2/2012 and I am looking forward to helping the small but dedicated team begin this new sphere of service.

Christian principles need to impact upon our society at all levels – from street level all the way up to the corridors of power in our Parliaments and the Queen upon the throne. “I will speak Thy Word to kings, and I will not be ashamed” Ps 119:46.

Street Pastors in Tain and early experiences

I have just the attended another Street Pastor training day today. In the morning we met with a group of new trainees who hope to launch Street Pastors in Tain shortly, and who had come to Inverness for training.

It may be of interest to note some questions that Street Pastors encounter in their first few sessions on the streets.

1. “Are you a Street Patrol?” is asked because people mis-read the label on the uniform. This leads naturally into a discussion about a Pastor and what it means.

2. “Are you paid?” “No; we are all volunteers”. This usually surprises them, and it usually leads to a neutralising of suspicion and an opening to genuine conversation, especially when they realise we are not the police. I remember one millionnaire saying on television: “I would do nothing without being paid for it.”

3. “Why do you do it?” “For the love of God” is my current response, although there are many responses to this one. Many Christians will go for years without being asked for “a reason of the hope” that is in them 1Pe 3:15, but a Street Pastor, showing a little Christian kindness on the streets, will not go far without being asked why he or she is doing what they do. It is time for every Christian to be taught and to learn this lesson.

4. “What is a Street Pastor?” “We are like good Samaritans taking care of people on the streets.”

5. “Which church are you from?” “We are from various churches in town.” It is amazing to see how pleased people are to think that churches are acting together. At least, that is how they perceive it; it is really Christians acting together, rather than churches acting together.

6. “Which church do you attend?” This is an attempt to talk about ‘church’. It is better to deflect this with: “We don’t talk about church. We introduce people to Jesus.”

7. “Where is Jesus?” “Jesus is in heaven. We are His body, His arms and legs, doing what He wants us to do. We show you His heart, His concern for you.”

8. “Are you trying to make people religious?” “No, we don’t talk about religion. We come from various churches to show people God’s love.”

The afternoon session and the latest Street Pastor initiative.

Salt on the streets

After the ‘storm of the decade’ on Thursday, which closed the Forth Road Bridge, the Tay and Erskine bridges, and left 150,000 homes without power, the calm on Friday brought down a layer of snow. It had a clear, full moon, suggesting a cold night for Street Pastors in Hilton.  In fact, later today there will be the last total lunar eclipse till 2014.

I set off for 7 p.m. and as I made my way down Culloden Road to the traffic lights, I hit my first piece of black ice. The freezing conditions had done their dastardly work and I found myself sliding towards the car in front with no escape route as cars were coming towards me. With a few yards to spare, the approaching cars passed and I pulled out to the opposite side of the road and slid slowly past one, then two cars, before the speeds matched sufficiently for me to pull back to my own side of the road, with the approaching cars still some distance away. I was very thankful to the Lord for His providential kindness, and the queue of cars proceeded down the hill at slower than walking pace, suitably spaced from each other.  This absence of gritting the main roads is one effect of local government cut backs.  However, the Lord does not slumber nor sleep and I am thankful for my prayer partners who remember the Street Pastors.

After relating this escapade to my fellow Street Pastors, we prayed as usual before going out on the streets. Mark prayed that “we would be much needed salt on the streets”. Stepping outside, the clouds had come over the moon and blanketed Inverness to keep the air warmer than it would be on a cloudless night which had caused the black ice. With snow lying thick on the ground, I had ‘double-layered’ and never felt cold through the whole shift.

Kevin and I took one route while Mark and Ellie went another.  It was alarming to watch cars turning corners too fast in the snow, one driver turning a corner while holding and speaking into a mobile phone.   Some were driving too close to the car in front, while some drivers had the wisdom to add the stopping distance of the following car into their own stopping distance, one of the best safety features that a driver can add to their repertoire. At the other end of this spectrum, one car driver decided to use the snowy conditions to do a 180 degree spin at a quiet junction.

After some street pounding, we arrived at the Hilton Community Centre to rendez vous with the others, only to discover a snowball fight among a large group of youths outside.  It was light-hearted, and the entrance to the Centre was peppered by poorly aimed snowballs.   The lads were putting more effort into power than accuracy, but one young lassie was so good, that I gave up counting after she scored nine hits out of nine on target!  I commended her on her accuracy, which she seemed to take for granted.  Human beings take so much for granted, without considering the wonder of our creation and of the God Who has given us our being.

However a rowdy group of youngsters soon turned their attention to the passing buses and vans which made good target practice, better than targetting non-combative Street Pastors.  Then they included passing cars, which eventually prompted the arrival of a police van.  At this, the crowd of braves showed their bravery by fleeing into the Community Centre, reminding me that “the wicked flee when no man pursues” Proverbs 28:1, because the police sat in their vans while Mark had a chat with them.  Our conscience-struck youngsters then wanted to know what transpired in the conversation.   Their God-given conscience was speaking to them although too many people will not listen to their conscience.  After some more banter, Mark suggested that they should stop targeting vehicles and people who were passing to and from the shops, which they seemed willing to accept – at least for a time anyway.  It was only afterwards that I realised that we should have channelled their energies into building a snowman.

While watching the snowball ‘fight’ I noted two features outside the Centre I had not noticed before.   One was a sculpture with a coloured glass feature on it.  The glass had been broken on both sides.  I thought of a new definition for David Cameron’s broken society.  A broken society is a society which breaks things.   By this definition a lot of people contribute to our broken society – humanists break our morality, bankers break our economy and politicians break the social fabric of society itself. White collar crime can be more devastating on a whole society than a small-time thief.

In the play park outside the Centre I noticed another feature – a diagram of a clown juggling with his balls above an outline map of Africa. I am not sure what it is meant to represent. It may represent Europe playing while Africa is empty and desolate. If so, I am not sure of the appropriateness of a political message in a children’s playpark. On the other hand, it may represent Europe juggling with the assets of Africa which lies empty. If it is the latter, it is not quite true because at present it is China that is stripping the mineral wealth of Africa. This led to a discussion on China, which hosts the largest underground Christian movement in the world. Just as the world’s economic centre of gravity is moving from the west to China, the Lord is a step ahead. Chinese Christians have a missionary programme called Back to Jerusalem which aims to evangelise the countries between China and Jerusalem. This involves interacting with most of the major world religions: Taoism, Confucianism, Bhuddhism, Hinduism, Islam and finally Judaism. This Chinese vision is commendable and wonderful to behold. With millions of Chinese Christians, what may yet be in store for this area of the world?

Just then, Cliff joined us, having come from his Street Pastor shift in the Merkinch area of town, an area I covered before volunteering for the new work in Hilton. Cliff thought a good night merited being finished off with a poke of chips from the Hilton chip shop.

When we debriefed back at base, we had a good chat about the importance of developing Christians by interaction with each other. “The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee” 1Cor 12:21 applies to individuals and to institutional churches.

Grace – Law and Gospel

After attending the Belladrum festival with Street Pastors, it was back to my regular monthly Street Pastor round in Hilton. It was a dreich night (Scots for drizzly rain – like drookit), but the rain was quite light, off and on, and it did not inhibit us walking about.  The evening began with a short interview on the street from two teenage schoolchildren who had chosen to do a school project on Street Pastors in Inverness.

We had a discussion with a mother and her children about the London riots. They thought the behaviour of the rioters and looters was because they had no hope in life.   We discussed the hope of the Gospel, which is always available no matter one’s circumstances in life.  Jeremiah had hope even in his dungeon (Lamentations 3:7,9,21,34).  Then we talked with about half a dozen drinkers having their smoke outside Dow’s Bar.

Law and Gospel

We moved on to the playpark where four teenagers were on the roundabout. Grace wanted to be a marine biologist or a lawyer. She had never heard the phrase “Law and Gospel”. I explained that 16,000 policeman on the streets of London stopped the riots after four nights, but they didn’t change hearts. The Gospel changes hearts. When she mentioned other religions being taught in school, I pointed out that these religions are about keeping laws or rules in the hope of getting to heaven, but Christianity changes hearts in order to get to heaven.

Grace

I explained what her name Grace meant – God’s love to those who do not deserve it.  Some people think that by keeping the rules of their religion that they deserve to get to heaven, but grace is God’s love to those who don’t deserve it.  She did not know this and it gave her food for thought.  It is a privilege to be able to explain the Gospel to those who have never heard it before.  They have heard the clichés and some Bible stories, but not the substance of the Gospel.  ‘Changing hearts’ is just another way of saying ‘born again’ and ‘grace’ is another way of dealing with self-righteousness and salvation by works or by rules.

Then four primary school boys arrived on their bicycles seeking ‘their lollipops’, which we ensured they would clear with their parents.  Three loved maths (a surprising percentage) but the fourth didn’t like school.  However he did like Design and Technology, so we worked on this and encouraged him to have a more positive ‘can-do’ attitude to his schooling.

We handed out a pile of leaflets advertising the Commissioning Service arranged with the civic dignitaries of Inverness for later in August.  We now have 51 active Street Pastors in Inverness, covering the city centre and Merkinch and Hilton communities at the weekend.  More people have been trained, but some have moved on to other places.   Street Pastors have a lot of “street cred” in Inverness, building on the good work done in many of the major cities of the land where there are now over 9,000 Street Pastors at work.  Our network enabled a national Street Pastor prayer initiative to be sent out last week for the riots in London and elsewhere.  Prayer Partners (those who pray for us on the streets) remain an important feature of Street Pastors.  We have sometimes managed to defuse some tricky situations, and we are thankful to the Lord that thus far there have been no injuries to a Street Pastor throughout the UK.

We made our rendez-vous with the other Street Pastor team at the Hilton Community Centre where our first aid kit was put to good use cleaning up the bleeding face of one of the lads outside.   It was another interesting night bringing the practical outworkings of the grace of the Gospel on to our streets.

Related Stories