On Thursday (17th Feb), since it had been Valentine's day just a few days ago, we decided to head down to Eastgate Street near the clock and do the 'free hugs' outreach. How often might it be since someone had been shown unconditional love, or the warmth of human contact in the midst of busy lives which can often be lacking in genuine connection....? It's a simple project and has been done by Glyn, Chris and others many times before; a great way-in which often goes straight to the central theme of the good news..... generous love, freely given.
Even though the streets are laced with roadworks at the moment, charity guys and buskers, this didn't seem to deter people from approaching strangers with brown Chaplaincy hoodies for a hug, and to ask why we were doing this. Even for those who were too busy to approach us, it raised a smile and thoughtful looks. One lady even said 'that's made my day!', as she was on her way to a difficult meeting concerning the custody of her child, and the hug and prayer seemed to give her courage.
We had the priviledge of chatting with a woman who works in a local shop who was trying, unsuccessfully to keep her brimming emotions down, as she asked for prayer for her parents. A heavily pregnant woman, although not a Christian, was keen to receive prayer for the safe and rather impending delivery of her little girl. We listened to 'M', a very bored older gentleman who was very lonely and probably had dementia... Jess listening to him seemed to give him honour and make him feel like a person who was 'seen' and 'heard', maybe for the first time in a long while. 'C' broke down in tears as we offered him prayer for his depression and a word of hope from scripture. 'K' was glad to receive a hug and prayer for her grandson who is having to be home-schooled following bullying and removal from mainstream education.
My most challenging chat was with a couple of lads who were well up for the free hug, and a chat about why we were doing this today. When I explained that we are Christians, he responded 'I think I'm a Christian!' and then he and his mate had a bit of a chat about it. He said he believes in God, but when I asked if he knows Jesus, he said 'no!'. I wonder how many people assume they're Christians, without knowing the most important person: Christ. After all, as I've heard it said - if you don't know Christ, what good can 'Ian' do you?! He went off with something important to think about.
So did I.
As I was challenged later on, what do we do for those who 'get it?' Are we then brokering for them an opportunity to respond to this God who they have just encountered?