Over the past ten years I have lived on three continents, preaching the gospel in over 20 nations and loving some of the most marginalised communities on earth. AIDS-stricken townships and desert border towns within an earshot of a warzone have been my home, and garbage dumps, refugee camps and red-light districts have been my office.
At the beginning of 2015 I was sitting on a rooftop in Jordan drinking coffee, when I felt Jesus calling me back to the UK. After almost two years of living and working amongst Syrian refugees it was time to ‘help sow seeds of Oaks of Righteousness’ in the UK. At the time I had no idea what he meant by that. By that evening I had applied for an office-based job with The Message Trust, an organisation I knew very little about, but one whose vision I was willing to serve.
Two hours after landing back in Manchester I was sitting in an interview. A week later, I was signing a contract. And in just a few weeks’ time I shall be starting out on my next adventure – moving in to The Oaks.
A little while ago, just around the corner from The Oaks, I hugged a homeless guy farewell after I had spent some time sitting in the rain chatting with him about a life plagued by tragedy and addiction. My heart was aching for the lost, the lonely and the hurting in this nation. We don’t have to look far to find them if we really choose to see. As I walked away I realised that I stank of stale alcohol. Strangely enough, it made me feel at home, much as the smell of burning rubbish did in Africa, or the tear-induced make-up stains all over my clothes after a night in a red-light district, or the pungency of an afternoon sat on urine-soaked refugee mats. This is where I belong. With the hurting and the broken. It once again reminded me that if we want people to smell like us (and the One whose fragrance we carry), we need to be close enough that we walk away smelling like them. Their brokenness needs our presentness.
I have a substantial dream list for life. Number 22: Never let anyone feel invisible in my presence. So often, loving starts with choosing to see, and allowing ourselves to be inconvenienced for love’s sake. When Jesus commanded us to love, I believe he meant it. Much like our Eden teams, I have always taken a very incarnational approach to mission and ministry.
If you want to wage war on hopelessness you cannot just talk about the goodness of God, you have to demonstrate it. My ‘I love you’ needs to be more than just words. Love – like Jesus – comes alongside the broken and says ‘I am here’. That is my inspiration in moving in to The Oaks: to come alongside the hurting, and in turn teach them to do the same. Who better to train up to release in to the community than guys and girls who understand the pain, but also truly know the hope there is in Jesus.
I am a firm believer in family and community. It is the home of transformation. It is the place where ‘decisions’ for Jesus will become sold-out disciples for him. Families are places where we learn to love and be loved, where we learn to dream and feel safe enough to pursue those dreams without fear of failure or wont of compromise. We are wired for connection and in an atmosphere of love people flourish. We simply learn to be.
There is a beautiful paraphrase of Ephesians 4:15 in the Mirror Bible: ‘Love gives truth a voice and creates an atmosphere wherein growth is both spontaneous and inevitable.’
I truly believe The Oaks is a place where those previously branded the ‘burdens’ of society will become the nation’s blessings as they learn to truly live life with Jesus and for Jesus. I feel incredibly privileged that I get to play a part in their stories.
I don’t intend to call The Oaks work. I intend to call it home.