I will never forget hearing Andy Hawthorne first explain the vision for the Eden project:
“We’re not just talking about a gap year here, or a project for a couple of years. We’re calling you to commit to a minimum of FIVE years!”
Wow. Five years seemed like an awfully long time to me, in my early twenties. I couldn’t imagine what I’d be doing in one year, let alone five. Looking back now, eighteen years on, five years is a tiny amount of time. It seemed such a huge commitment to make, such a sacrifice for the Lord!
Stability works itself out and has the greatest effect in genuine relationships, rather than just geographical proximity and ‘being available’.
When we launched our community centre (LifeCentre Salford) in 2000, we were told that it would be burned down in six months, and one or two locals made a more telling prediction… “You’ll only last for two or three years, like all the projects that come here”. This is the experience of countless inner-city communities across the country. Some funding is obtained for a project, it makes a big splash for a year or two, then the funding runs out and all the relationships and networks are lost.
One of the greatest gifts that a church can give to its local community is the gift of stability. Stability works itself out and has the greatest effect in genuine relationships, rather than just geographical proximity and ‘being available’, as important as these things are. You could live in a community for your whole life, but have very little impact. It all depends on how you love people and choose to serve and listen.
Our team are still present in Langworthy, working away like we have always done, trying to love people as Jesus does.
Let me tell you about Kane… Kane grew up in Langworthy, living with his mum and sister. Life at home was often difficult, and Kane describes it as ‘dysfunctional with a spectrum of issues’. One of our team, Liz, first met him when he sat on the wall of her back yard, throwing stones. Liz decided not to push the eight-year-old off the wall but to get to know him, and soon she was giving him piano lessons and getting to know his family. Kane gradually found belonging, family, and above all, acceptance.
Years later, we baptised Kane in a freezing cold children’s paddling pool amidst much shrieking due to the cold, and an awkward moment when we realised there wasn’t enough water to fully immerse him, so we used a bucket to finish the job! Kane’s testimony that day was a revelation to me:
“I first met youse lot when I was sitting on Liz’s wall throwing stones. Then I met Greg and Andrew, who had moved into the next street. Then I met Sarah and Natalie. Then we moved away so I didn’t see anyone for a while.” (Note: he only moved to another part of Salford.) “Then we moved back into Langworthy and Sandra told me there was a new church she was going to, and they had food and free trips out. Liz, Natalie, Andrew, Greg and everyone were still there, and I got to know Chris, Esther, Rachel and others. I liked everyone at church so started going along. Then I went to Soul Survivor and became a Christian.”
I loved Kane’s story that day because it showed the vital importance of stability. While he went through years of wrestling with his identity, and having issues with addiction and mental health, in the church he discovered the love, grace and mercy of God. He told me that:
“Had LCC people not taught me and shown me love and acceptance, I can say with confidence that my life would not be different, but non-existent. I have faced suicidal thoughts a few times in the last eight years… God is the reason I am alive… that doesn’t mean everything is great all the time, but it does mean God is with me all the time.”
Kane’s story is not finished. But our team are still present in Langworthy, working away like we have always done, trying to love people as Jesus does. That is a great gift that we can give. I hope we can play a part in the next chapter of Kane’s story, but wherever he ends up, he knows where to find us. This is the vital role of the gift of stability in our evangelism, discipleship and mission.
(This article was adapted for Great Commission from Chris Lane’s book, Ordinary Miracles)