No, this is not the start of a joke, just one part of my experience connecting with Newtonians on Monday.
“If you could do some things in Newtown that you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to, what would you do?” That was a little brief we all on team were presented with weeks ago when preparing for mission. For me, it’s meant seeking to find people where they are, joining them in what they’re doing, starting conversations and telling them the gospel. Or at least seeking to.
So at 4:50pm on Monday afternoon, I’m at Camperdown Park with a soccer ball, having been told, by a local minister, that this will get a game started in no time. I feel a bit ridiculous being here on my own, but having prayed beforehand, I’m hoping something will happen.
(By the way, I realise how this might seem perhaps presumptuous or lazy on my part, in not walking up to people but hoping something would happen. That might be a post for another time…)
After half an hour, a Frenchman, arriving at the park with his two friends, puts down his keys & coins so as to come over and join in with me. We get playing, trick skills and all, for about half an hour. I meet his friends, get invited to play cards with them, we then play some frisbee, then they invite me out with them that night to play bingo at a local pub.
They’re students & travellers, coming through Newtown before going off to other parts of the world in less than a month. They happened to come across a guy with a football (I’m told the Frenchman was “champing at the bit” to join me…). They asked me to join them later in the night, to continue our new-found friendship.
Without having this freed-up time, I never would’ve been able to introduce myself, be welcomed into their lives or be part of what they do, in this part of the world.
Now, during bingo my ability to take hold of God’s opportunity to tell them the gospel never took full advantage. I thought of things I should’ve said or asked them after I left the night. I don’t know if/when I’ll get the chance to see them again and maybe take the conversation further. But that’s what this week is teaching me: I need to be ready, but I need to connect with people where they are. I need to make real and lasting connections with people. And as I do that, the words of the gospel need to be on my lips, ready to go whenever God provides that opportunity. Because these people didn’t know the Lord Jesus and needed him desperately.
This is, ultimately, the story of a connection that didn’t quite reach what it could’ve and didn’t lead to a gospel presentation. It didn’t lead to changed lives or on-the-spot conversion (that I know of). But it has led me to look at Newtown anew, with more open eyes, seeing the people I meet as God’s creation who long for connection and who need the gospel, whether they know it or not. It has led me to keep my eyes open for making connections and seeking to direct these connections towards presenting the gospel to people.
Hopefully, this isn’t just a mission-week thing. God-willing, I’ll still take the time to connect and share what is people’s greatest need.