Thursday, August 1, 2019

Jolted out of the comfort zone

The following real-life story comes from a book called “Kingdom Communities: Shining the Light of Christ through Faith, Hope and Love”, written by Andrew Menzies and Dean Phelan.

Andrew Menzies is the President of Stirling Theological College, the Federal Churches of Christ College in Melbourne, and Dean Phelan is an ex CEO of Churches of Christ Queensland. 

Across east, the middle ring of Melbourne’s eastern suburbs is about as close to a ‘bible-belt’ as you will find. Many of Melbourne’s large and megachurches are located within a twenty-minute drive in these suburbs. In one of the larger churches in this area, a newly retired couple, Jan and Graeme, expected their next years to be peaceful as they cared for grandchildren, travelled and helped around the church. Graeme was a recently retired senior executive from an ASX top 200 company and Jan was a retired nurse.

Graeme and Jan led a small group in their church and soon the leadership invited Graeme onto the church Board given his corporate experience and extra time available. Couples like Graeme and Jan are typically great blessings to churches and help underpin them. As is quite common, this couple found retirement action-packed with busy schedules unfolding for them both. Yet, as happy as they were, they were about to be jolted from the comfort of leading a church small group, serving on the Board and being a part of the busy social networks that underpin church life.

A strange experience happened to this couple. They had recently scaled down from their family home to a smaller and more manageable apartment. In doing so they changed phone numbers, however to their great distress the new phone number was the old number of a local brothel. Not only were they receiving calls from heavy-breathing unpleasant characters, but most calls came late in the evening and throughout the night. Initially, this became a simple dispute with the telephone company, which for various reasons could not be resolved. However, over time as the disturbances continued, Graeme and Jan felt that God was getting their attention.
 
"They felt that God was getting their attention!"

They both concluded that God was using this disturbance to draw their attention to the women who worked at the brothel. Jan, being a grandmother, decided to take around a basket of cupcakes! No one had ever done this for the women at the brothel before and they eagerly received the cupcakes from her. Most of the women were very young and often from Asia. Very few even had decent English language ability.

Jan started visiting the women regularly, each time with her fresh baked cupcakes. Over time she got to know some of the girls more closely. Being migrant workers, they had no family support and Jan quickly became a grandmother figure to them. She started helping them with reading tasks. She also started reflecting on the reality that their church, being very straight-laced and middle-class, was not really a suitable community to take the women to. As Graeme and Jan started talking about this situation, they realised that their extensive church involvement had a language of concern for mission but that rarely translated into action. The church activities and busyness were actually hindering them from fully engaging in mission. Everything was centred around and inside the church and not outside in the community. 
"A shining light in a dark place!"
They met with the pastor and discussed the situation. He was very understanding and naturally quite surprised about this new opportunity. Jan and Graeme were definitely not the sort of people you would expect this sort of initiative to come from. However, their pastor was a wise person and could see the importance of this connection into an area of the local community that their church programs had no hope of connecting with. He released and blessed them from their other leadership roles and enabled them to develop their small, quiet ministry to prostitutes under the supervision and support of the church. They recruited a few other women to join them in the ministry and today run a vital ministry of shining light and love into three local brothels. The kingdom of God is shining light in a dark place through Graeme and Jan’s bold and caring openness to start a Kingdom Community.

Published in Australia by Morning Star Publishing, copyright © Andrew Menzies and Dean Phelan 2018.