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13 October 2011

Big Society: Good News for the community

"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do" (Apple advertising slogan)

In 2008, my world was suddenly turned upside down by a crisis for my two-year-old son. Suffering from severe breathing difficulties, he found himself in resuscitation, intubated and being transferred into an intensive care unit at St Thomas's in a critical condition. The prospect of losing him was real. An American couple I had recently met set up a prayer vigil; they are Christians, I was a Hindu. Five days later, my son sat bolt upright in bed, completely well. Within a couple of weeks I found myself in church to thank my friends only to find myself giving my life to Jesus shortly after. 

I had no intention of becoming a Christian. I wasn't searching. I only ended up in church to thank the couple who had prayed for my son. In fact, prior to that my perceptions of Christianity were very negative indeed. I had grown to view Christians as a weird bunch and the media didn't portray them well either! Yet when my friends prayed for my son, those negative perceptions came crashing down. Here were people who knew that my wife and I were in desperate need; they had shown us love.  It felt natural to go to their church to thank them. If only I had met Christians like this earlier in my life! Yet between my time in primary school and my child's healing, almost twenty years had passed and I had never been approached by a Christian wanting to share their faith or pray for me. 

I share my testimony because I believe there are lessons that we the Church can draw from this, and especially as we look forward to the Big Society and the opportunities this presents for the gospel. The sort of local community envisaged in the Big Society is one that Christians can relish. This is our opportunity to step out of the church building, roll up our sleeves and be good news to our neighbours. Being good news leads to sharing good news with integrity; our actions match our words. Under this new banner the Church, and that's all of us, can be salt and light in our locality; we can help people, and in the process of that converse with them, build real friendships, share God's word, and pray for people.  

Sadly, too many Christians live out the 'secular/ sacred divide'. Regretfully, I often find myself doing the Christian thing on a Sunday only to realise when I go back the next week that I have failed yet again to live as a Christian for the other 6 days. I believe that the Big Society is the jolt we need to step out and pray for our local businesses, listen to the person at the bus stop, share our faith with our work colleagues, welcome neighbours into our homes and invite the local shopkeepers to our churches. I am convinced that as we become trusted helpers in our communities, we will see negative perceptions of Christianity overturned and a greater openness to the gospel. 

Sometimes the church relies predominantly on mission raids. They certainly did in Indonesia and despite all their efforts it was Islam that captured most of the population. Whereas the Europeans acted like missionaries, and only left the mission compound to do evangelistic "raids", the Muslims were business people who lived among the nationals and in the course of their enterprise shared the "truth" of Islam. (From the Lausanne Organisation Business as Mission Manifesto) 

"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." We are called to be world-changers, starting in our local communities where God has placed us. In the crazy upside down kingdom that Jesus describes, if we want to lead them, we need to serve them first.