In the morning, we gave out delicious hot chai to complement the hot cross buns. A Dutch lady at the chai stall was telling the team members there that she had been practicing a new type of meditation, to which a team member responded, “We meditate on Jesus!” The lady was very open to learning about this idea, and walked away with a copy of the Gospel of Luke.
Over the course of Saturday, we got rid of a hundred hot cross buns and another hundred beef sausages, but, surprisingly, only three ‘sausages’ of the vegetarian variety. The event, which we’d been advertising all week, saw a couple of marquees, a bunch of lawn games and a jumping castle set up in Hollis Park, less than 300 m from the Broughton Knox Teaching Centre (a distance that feels further than that while carrying three tables). There was plenty of foot-traffic, particularly in the morning, aided by some comprehensive chalking of the surrounding streets, and probably also by election day. For many, though, this seemed to be part of their regular Saturday morning walk.
“I thought Moore College was bookstore,” said one lady. It wasn’t her kind of bookstore though, she said. She was an atheist. Her husband said he had a ‘Church of England background’ but hadn’t thought much about religion for many years. They didn’t stay long, but they were very pleased that there was an event going on in the park. “Often people run private birthday parties, but nothing like this. This is great. It’s so good you guys are doing this!”
One team member sat on a rug with a man who had been invited to the picnic when we’d been playing soccer earlier in the week. Having had a flat mate who was a Christian, the man asked, virtually out of the blue, “So why did God die for you?” He had some history with Buddhism, so was constantly trying to compare it with Christianity. He said that from his observations it seems that Buddhists care about themselves, but Christians care about everyone. He wants to discuss these things further with Christians, and we pray that his ongoing involvement with soccer will provide this opportunity.
Face painting was a hit with the kids, with a pink-nosed cat by far the most popular design. Though, admittedly, the jumping castle did, at one point, deflate on a group of bouncing kids, it provided a point of engagement and many conversations. It seemed that the experience of being slowly enveloped in a vinyl tomb didn’t have any long-lasting adverse psychological impact on the kids; with a freshly-fuelled generator the castle was soon back at its popular best.
And some of the discussions, too, were deflating. One student chatted to one man at the picnic for two and half hours. “He was trying to convince me that everything I believed about Jesus wasn’t real. He was saying words that sounded like the gospel but weren’t quite there… It was draining.” The man left the student there alone for a couple of minutes, at which point he was contemplating getting up and walking away. This didn’t feel like a fruitful discussion. It didn’t seem like he was getting anywhere. It felt like he was developing more doubts about his belief than the man was about his disbelief! But he caught himself in that moment, and decided that God must have put this man in his life for a reason. He prayed, “God, give me words to say to him.”
What started as some walk-up-style evangelism turned into some sit-down-style conversation when a couple of the team approached some people relaxing on the grass. “We’re from the college, we’re putting on this picnic because we’re keen to talk to people about Jesus and engage with them,” the students said. The guy they met was one of the most well thought-out atheists they ever had, and they proceeded to speak to him for an hour and a quarter. The discussion went everywhere: Creation. Heaven and Hell. Ethical decisions. Abortion. Is it ever right and wrong to kill someone? Why is Jesus the answer to all these?
These were local people, who live just next to the park. They were just sitting in the park. That was their space. They were really happy to engage in conversation about Jesus. One of the team members said, “It was great not to be trying to wrap up the conversation and get out of there. They loved having the picnic there, thought it was great that we were engaging with the world. They were so positive that we are trying to engage, not just sitting in our buildings, withdrawn.”
And that seemed to sum up the day, and in fact, the week. Conversations (both disappointing and exciting) happened, relationships (both new and existing) grew, and the name of Jesus was spoken all around Hollis Park, and all around Newtown: walking distance from where we listen to lectures and eat lunch together week to week and month to month. And some of these conversations and relationships are set to continue, week to week and month to month, as we’ve realised this week that we don’t ever want to find ourselves “just sitting in our buildings,” but bringing the gospel to our neighbours in Newtown.