Open Air: What I Was Thinking

I was sitting here wondering how to begin this week’s newsletter when Stephen’s summary of events appeared in my emails.

Last Wednesday's outreach seemed to me to be a little subdued. I don't know why. Maybe it was because the weather was somewhat colder and a little windy, but it remained dry. Tracts were accepted but this was rather patchy, more so than usual. There would be long spells with very few takers then short bursts of many. I didn't manage any conversations on this occasion. Sadly the young man in the blue body warmer didn't appear this time.

Well, that’s just what I was thinking. Perhaps we’re developing a telepathic link. “Subdued” sums it up nicely. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Let me go back to last Wednesday and fill in a few details.

It’s overcast at the moment, and quite cool, and we’re dressed accordingly, Stephen in a fetching blue waterproof, while I’m in a winter weight combat jacket - black, of course. What, you don’t need to know that? And you aren’t interested in today’s fragrance, which I’m road-testing for the first time? Even if I tell you that it’s “Passion For Men” by Elizabeth Taylor? Ah, so little time, so many jokes; and yet, as the poet puts it, "Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,/ And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

Stephen is on first, I’m on his right, and Peter is in his usual place by McDonald’s. He’s visited two towns on his way here, he tells me! What a man! Stephen starts with “God’s Love For His Stubborn People”, taking it at a fast pace today.

Here comes a young man wearing an olive windcheater, pale blue jeans and blue trainers. He’s tall, dark, with close-cropped hair and an open, smiling face. He’s soon in serious mode, telling me how disappointed he’s been to find that most of the churches he’s visited have little to say to a genuine bible believer, and even less thought for the lost. We talk for quite a while, and I recommend a couple of reliable churches in the area. His name is King, he tells me, as we shake hands; and he goes on his way.

The sun breaks through, and illuminates Peter - and Brendan, who has arrived while I’ve been talking. Stephen and I are in the shadows cast by the buildings and tall trees behind us. There is a hint of autumn in the air. Somewhere down on Market Street a band is playing, over-amped and under-rehearsed by the sound of things. “What’s the point of having a drummer with no natural sense of rhythm?” I say to myself.

My tract envelope is empty! I hadn’t noticed how quickly they were going out. I step over to the junction box for another envelope, musing on how many of the folk taking them have at least the outward appearance of Muslims, and how many of them are women.

The sunshine comes and goes, wheels squeal as trams round the bends in dry tracks, and travellers trail bulky baggage over the pavements. Children cry out from their prams as parents push through the throngs to the shops. Cycles, scooters and skateboards flash past, the queues for the food stalls grow even longer, and a conclave of Deliveroo riders convenes on my right.

The band on Market Street turns the volume up another notch. Nevertheless, as Stephen advertises our free bibles, he can still be heard quite clearly, thanks to our excellent Roland Mobile Cube. (There you go: an unsolicited testimonial - though if the manufacturers come across this newsletter and want to show their appreciation…)

He comes to a close. “Thank-you for listening. Now, my friend is going to say a few words - well, perhaps more than a few!” “Quite possibly,” I think, “ - but that’s because speakers who are on the OCD spectrum just don’t want to stop at some arbitrary point along the way: they need the closure of a proper conclusion.”

We exchange a few pleasantries about the band as a backing group, and decide not to employ them. I zip up my jacket, ease the amp up a little, and, after a brief prayer, I begin.

It’s an obvious opening: the thoughts of our own mortality that might come to us as we consider the death of our late Queen. I point folk to our poster advertising free copies of Ray Comfort’s “How To Be Free From The Fear Of Death”, which I highly recommend. There are the usual listeners at a distance, just as there were when Stephen was speaking, but no one ventures any nearer. A police van goes by at a crawl, but they have no interest in us. We’re familiar figures by now, I suppose.

Today’s title is “Seven Steps To Heaven”, as it was last week, because I didn’t do it justice then. I’ll have another go. There are a few cheery waves and a thumbs-up as I make my first point. Two young Asian ladies begin to film me on a phone, but their view is obscured by several youths high-fiving and embracing each other. Then the girl with the phone turns it to the heavens, as a flight of birds wheels overhead. The youths disperse, and I focus on the girls, though I’m aware of an older man in a maroon sweater listening on my left. They keep filming until I get on to the attitude of other religions to our Lord - and they’re off. Hmm.

And yet, a minute later, the one with the phone returns. Two minutes later, and her friend is back. They listen until I get to sin and repentance, and then they’re off again, this time not to return, alas.

Meanwhile the skies are greying over, as the casual listeners come and go. There’s more of a chill in the air, and the crowds thin, and there is indeed a subdued air to the rest of the afternoon.

Stephen is looking around for a gent from the Open-Air Mission, who is supposed to be meeting us this afternoon. I wonder where he’s got to? Perhaps he’s been watching us at a distance, and he’s given it up as a bad job because we haven’t brought a Fuzzy Felt Board with us…

On I go, speeding up as I approach the last lap. There are a few frivolous responses from passersby, but nothing at all malicious, and I bat them back with ease. The band down the street starts up again, louder than ever, so I turn our amp up - but only by a little. A gospel summary, and then Psalm 51.7: “a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” - and we’re done. We pack up and pray, then it’s off to the Arndale for refreshments.

Did we come away disappointed? No, of course not. What matters is that the gospel went out, in the preaching, in the conversations, and in the literature that folk accepted from us. I’ve just taken delivery of another couple of big boxes of tracts and booklets from Living Waters and 10 of Those. We certainly seem to get through plenty of material between us, even on days when the atmosphere is subdued.

Please pray, if you will, for any or all of those mentioned above, and for Janet, who spent some time talking with Brendan. She is a Christian woman who has been living in this country for twenty-one years. She has been forced to give up her job as a cleaner because of trouble - including a murder - in the place where she worked. Here legally on a visa, she can’t help wondering why those who enter the country illegally are immediately allowed many benefits that are unavailable to her.

If you would like to lend a hand, we’ll be there next week, God willing, at 12.30pm, on the edge of the Gardens, opposite Superdrug. You can’t miss us - even if the man from the OAM managed it! Stephen tells me he’s been in touch to say that he just forgot. Well, nobody’s perfect, despite what Kelvin keeps saying about himself…

Every blessing!