I made a grown man cry today. No, I didn’t stand on his toes. Nor did I fold up a map the wrong way in front of him. Nor did I bump his car with mine. All I did was tell him a story…
Perhaps I should explain.
I’m currently at New Wine. No, it’s not a Bacchanalian celebration of the skills of the vintner, but a chance for people of faith – particularly Christian faith – to get themselves a spiritual recharge. For two weeks, the Royal Bath and West Showground near Shepton Mallet in Somerset becomes home to thousands of intrepid campers and caravanners, all searching for that one common purpose – to meet with God and his people and see where that takes them.
In the Market Place where I am, there are many charities, all telling stories of despair, hope, transformation, challenges and injustice. Each one has its supporters, each one is hoping to touch people’s hearts with what’s being done in the name of God.
It’s intriguing to watch how different people come into the Market Place. Many are more than happy to exchange pleasant greetings, small talk and banter – while others keep their heads down and refuse to catch your eye. Their fear? The possibility that you might jump out at them, grab them in a headlock and refuse to let them go until they’ve signed up to a massive direct debit.
The truth is much more complex. I would be lying if I said that we didn’t go to New Wine hoping to get financial support. Christians have an uncomfortable relationship with money – particularly when asking for money from others. It’s the ‘dirty’ side of charity work – explain you’re a fundraiser and people eye you with the same suspicion they eye the taxman. Or the Bond villain.
So we are hoping that Us, the charity I work for, will gain new supporters and that more people will sign up to donate to us. But it’s more than that. One of the reasons New Wine is so successful is that people who come to it have a real heart for understanding God’s calling.
That might mean the spiritual equivalent of a kick into the middle of next week, or it might mean some sacrificial giving, or chucking in a job to go and work overseas. Who knows? As CS Lewis points out in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ Aslan isn’t safe to be with, but he is the only King worth following.
The trouble is that we often put up barriers to listening to what’s going on around us. We can’t fail to be moved by what’s going on in Gaza, or the Ukraine or any of the other troubled parts of the world. And many of us will respond by giving generously to the emergency appeals that all too often grace our television screens. But giving in the quieter times? That’s more complicated.
As I have been walking around the Market Place, looking at other people’s stalls, I’ve been struck by the number that are offering incentives to give. In return for giving money, you get something in return.
I have to admit, I am a bit uncomfortable with that. But I also quite like the idea of getting a ‘free’ gift in return for something I’ve done or given. And yet, God calls on us to give without counting the cost. He calls us to be good stewards. And he calls us to look around us and care for those in need. He calls for us to care and give unconditionally, just as we have been loved and blessed by him.
It was a little girl who brought this home to me. She couldn’t have been more than about eight or nine years old. She was walking through the Market Place, when she stopped to look at the stand of the charity I work for, Us. She looked at the picture of the woman who’d survived domestic violence and she read the words, ‘Without your help, I would be dead.’ And as I watched her, she reached into her pocket, pulled out her purse and emptied the entire contents into the postbox which sits at the front of our exhibition space.
She didn’t want a free gift or incentive. This was just the girl who saw a need and wanted to help in whatever way she could. The lump in my throat wouldn’t go away. Childlike simplicity always brings me back down to earth with a bump.
When I told that story on New Wine FM – yes, they even have their own radio station – the presenter could hardly speak, he was so moved. I saw the tears come into his eyes and he swallowed hard before he could continue with his words. A grown man weeping for the heartfelt response to great need by a child.
It’s no wonder that Jesus told his disciples that unless they became as little children, they’d never see the kingdom of heaven. How right that is. I wonder sometimes whether we’re so busy trying to get our free gifts of spiritual maps and theological sat navs that we neglect to see the whacking great sign saying, ‘Kingdom of heaven. This way.’
Meanwhile, our children look up, see the sign and walk right in…
(Pic: Us postbox at New Wine, 2014)