This coming Saturday (13/12) my church is planning a Christmas Street Outreach. In one sense it is a culmination of the past few weeks which began with a small team who participated in the YWAM (Youth With A Mission) organised Hear + Go Celebrate Victoria mission event, held over the period 3 – 14 November. The following YouTube clip was one of their main marketing artefacts:
This YouTube clip was my contribution to capturing the night of sharing, testimonies and stories from the team, held on Wednesday 19 November. Note: this clip is unlisted and the quality of it was somewhat compromised by the limited lighting and camera angle.
Whilst I did not directly participate in Hear + Go, I was definitely there in spirit, praying and supporting each of my brothers and sister in Christ who were stepping out in faith. Through the involvement of our church’s director charged with the outward focused ministries, there has been a concerted effort to maintain the momentum from this initial effort and keep the flame burning.
Every Sunday since then we have been holding smaller versions of the same outreach in the local Clayton community. Unfortunately, I have only had the chance to join the first week of outreach since the subsequent week’s required me to focus attention and effort on Operation Christmas Child (page updated). As part of building momentum it was agreed that we would commence a new initiative whereby each week after the Sunday morning services, volunteers could put their faith into action and practice. The alignment of this application was very timely given that all the Surge/Young Adult cell groups had spent October/November being trained in connecting and hearing from God, where the practical application was to pray and bear witness to each other.
The “rules of engagement” for the street outreach were simple enough – we would seek God’s direction for who to engage and the message we were to share with them. The agreement was that we were not out to evangelise and tell people they needed to convert, or come to our church. Instead, we simply sharing the love of God with the community – telling people that God loves them for who they are. Only where people were interested in learning and hearing more would we then expand the conversation to mention church. Unlike the Hear + Go event, since ours was the local church, the continual follow-up is just as important if not more so than the one-off encounters with people that we would establish.
Before heading out into the streets, we had a briefing session where we each spent time connecting to God and seeking His direction in terms of an individual who He had a specific message for. He gave me the following details which were more non-specific than specific – In a cafe area, I would meet and connect with people of a similar age group (20/30s) who had the need for family relationship healing and to soften their hearts to Him and each other. I felt that God’s direction for me was not for a specific person but that He would simply use me to touch and bless people throughout our afternoon.
1. Malaysia Garden / Waiter
We first separated the larger group of 16 individuals into four teams of four individuals. Our team went to have lunch at Malaysia Garden where we first practiced interacting with the young waiter. I stepped into help break the initial awkwardness to make the conversation more natural. Instead of my friend’s introduction where he explained that we were from Clayton Church I simply redirected the conversation to getting to know the waiter, who he is an international student at Holmesglen TAFE studying hospitality. With his family interstate and overseas, the waiter works two part-time jobs, one being the Malaysia Garden waiter role. In blessing and encouraging him one of the girls in the team shared about her own experience working as a waitress and how she understood the challenges of balancing expectations of bosses versus customers. The waiter was surprised but appreciative of the encouragement we gave him. There remains a strong likelihood that we will meet again since Malaysia Garden is a popular eatery for church people on a Sunday.
2. Initial Attempts
The first few attempts we made as we journeyed from the restaurant through the lane way to Coles are worth a brief mention: I attempted to use the “treasure hunt” conversation Icebreaker with one young Asian guy in a red top on a bicycle – he excused himself to get to a lunch appointment. Another older Asian couple sitting on a bench outside the Priceline pharmacy kept saying “no thanks” to even the slightest interaction (Hello, can we simply encourage you?). The natural reaction of people is to be suspicious of what we could be selling and what we wanted of them. It was interesting to hear that other groups reported similar reactions. In one case there was even the misunderstanding of prayer – in that one person thought we were asking them to pray for us, and not the other way round!
3. Chinese & Greek – a multicultural Clayton
During the earlier segment of the afternoon’s outreach, our group of four were positioned in the walkway of the new Hong Kong Supermarket complex. The girls were speaking to a Chinese lady where their Mandarin language capability was a huge asset. Being able to bridge the language barrier was a huge asset and advantage for breaking down the natural walls that people form when encountering things unknown and unfamiliar. The Chinese lady was already a believer but she did ask for prayers afterwards – she recognised and supported what we were doing and did not want us to focus too much attention on her, which was very generous and gracious. We got together as a group of four and prayer a blessing for her as well as a healing touch for her hip.
In the same vicinity and whilst the girls were connecting with the Chinese lady, us guys approached a Greek guy who used to be a local connected with some of the businesses. He had moved away from the Clayton area to the northern suburbs but he still visited regularly to keep in touch. He was very open and familiar with our church (he initiated that line of conversation by asking what church we attended). It also emerged that he was familiar with the Christian faith and was interested in a bible. We had limited supplies of a New Testament resource, but we felt it was appropriate to pass it on to this man.
4. Korean Catholic (Jealous of our Faith)
Our group of four split up further into pairs and together with my partner, we did a lap of Clayton Rd down to Centre Rd. Near Nandos, we met a Korean Catholic biotech student who was returning to Korea the following week. He was concerned about seeing his family after a long time since he had been studying here in Melbourne (self-funded) for the last six years. We prayed, blessed & encouraged him. His initial unfamiliarity with prayer led me to reword our effort as simply “giving him words of encouragement”. I think that the technique of keeping our eyes open whilst praying to God to bless him may have slightly confused his understanding of what “prayer” meant since the traditional/normal practice is to close ones eyes when praying. His reaction was “wow – I’m impressed and jealous of your faith” that we could be so bold in our effort to live out our faith. It definitely has made him go away to consider more about what we were doing and his own faith journey – whether it is here or back in Korea!
5. Muslim family
Near the green grocer/discount shop we decided to approach a family who were relaxing on the bench. Initially we were unsure since the direction my partner had received from God was to find a person of African origin. It turned out that this family are from Baghdad and have only been here in Melbourne for a month. The husband/father was the only one who would talk to us. (This was my first opportunity to apply all the books/learnings of Islam) the 3-year-old daughter in her pram sat quite contentedly as the conversation flowed. The husband is here on scholarship from the Iraqi government studying mechanical engineering – a year-long post-graduate course.
My partner was quite interested in learning the Islamic understanding of Heaven & hell, whereas I focused on bridging the gap to find and emphasis our areas of common belief/understanding. We still were able to encourage the family as they settle in Melbourne/Clayton. The guy (he told us his name which escapes me now…) was quite excited when I could demonstrate an understanding of the Koran/Hadith (sayings of Muhammad) as their sacred texts equivalent to Jesus/NT. Whereas we believe Jesus to be God revealed to us, Muslims believe this to be the Koran. I have probably self-read and learnt a great portion of what Bernie Power teaches. To answer my partner’s question which the guy didn’t end up explaining – the Islamic teaching is that when we are born, an angel marks and decides our destination – heaven or hell. Deeds, sin and the need for salvation are irrelevant to a Muslim – they themselves have no confidence, knowledge or certainty of reaching heaven except for the rule that if a Muslim dies whilst fighting against an unbeliever (we think/understand this as suicide bombers) then they are guaranteed paradise with the 40 virgins… This last part was not brought up in our conversation but more so explained here in more detail.
In all these conversations promoting our Christian belief, visiting the church, or even Christmas are our lowest priorities. We generally ask very little if anything at all from the people we engage with. All we have asked is for their time in connecting with them. Hearing their stories, sharing our stories – all in all, we simply seek to show them God’s love – love for them as individuals, and that He cares for their various life experiences and challenges. It is our hope and trust in God that He will continue to work and stir in the hearts of those we touch – that we have simply sown and planted a seed of hope within fertile soil which God will then water and nurture. Through our weekly ongoing ministry, we can simply be God’s hands and feet – helping to create a conducive environment where these seeds can grow and not get discouraged by the thorns and weeds of the world.
As part of preparing for the street outreach event on Saturday 13/12, we have organised to have calendars available for us to distribute freely to the members of the local community we connect with. Having such a resource creates an easy entry point for conversations and connections – we have something tangible to offer. These calendars are not Clayton Church branded, but are more generic. It was generally agreed during our debrief that having a business/contact card would be beneficial for ensuring follow-up.
Stay tuned for the next instalment of this mini-series on Street Outreach! We look forward to sharing more of our stories on how God uses us and moves through us.