Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Batman and Robin are wading through muddy flood water...  It’s the middle of the night and pitch black.  They are trying to pull up a drain cover.  They are working to release flood water and protect nearby homes.  The difference between Batman and Robin’s usual adventures* and this one is that this one is real.

The story begins with a gate.  When David (‘Batman’) started as the local Church of Ireland Minister he discovered that the main gate to the church was always shut and locked at night.  This was to keep out the local youth and was an understandable precaution.  The area had a bad reputation – it was in the worst 10% for anti-social behaviour in the east of the city of Belfast.  The local kids would hurl stones at the police.  But keeping youth out doesn’t fit with Jesus’ open-handed example.

The gate was kept open.  Many of the local youth wound up joining a vibrant church youth club.  The area now has some of the best behaviour in East Belfast and some of the lowest numbers of burglaries in the whole of the UK.  How did that happen?  Three things stand out to me:

Simple service.  The church’s attitude became ‘what can we do to help?’  This meant, for instance, assisting with sports activities at the local school, handing out bags of salt during a bad winter and lobbying for a new football pitch to replace the existing one that was covered in shattered glass.

'Batman' (right) and 'Robin' (left)
Faith.  John (‘Robin’), the churches’ community worker, says ‘pray for a vision from God and stick to that vision’ and ‘prayer has to be the centre of whatever you do’.  A local house of prayer approach was key.

Working with others.  The church worked with a nearby supermarket to help people with food and cleaning materials after the flood, met the local Water Authority to sort out the underlying flooding problems and helped set up a joint community forum to address local issues.  Here’s a film clip that captures a bit more of the story.

We can stay in our safe areas.  Perhaps literally gated in but perhaps not.  Maybe we tend to stay in the ‘nicer’ parts of our town or our city.  But what would happen if we stepped beyond our safe spaces?  Maybe God would take us on a scary but great adventure. 

*Batman and Robin are the names of American comic superheroes.

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