The Privilege of Staying
As a teenager it never occurred to me that I would stay living in the town I grew up in.
God captured my heart early with his compassion for the vulnerable and disenfranchised, and though I threw myself in to social action locally, I had always assumed that serving him would take me to far-flung corners of the world (and it was with this in mind that I studied International Relations & Development at university).
Twenty years later, and following a clear call from God to stay, I’m still here in Eastbourne, and encountering one of the great joys of remaining: the firstfruits of a harvest worth waiting for.
In Genesis 26:4 Abraham is promised that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Each of our salvation stories is part of God’s promise-keeping to him, and yet, as we share the gospel, we also get to share in the delight of seeing new stars continue to appear one-by-one in the night sky.
I was reminded of this recently while reading Dave Smith’s inspiring reflections on his many years spent serving refugees in the Manchester area. As he asked himself a familiar question, ‘was it worth it?’ he was contacted by person after person who had benefitted years before from his advocacy and support skills.
When a life is transformed with gospel hope, that person in themselves is never the final destination. The ripple effects of an act of mercy reach generations after, communities, and even nations as that person themselves becomes what Paul calls ‘a vessel of mercy’.
Dave has been able to see generational blessing within the Manchester area; since the time of writing he has found out that the son of a refugee he supported is now running the local Foodbank. I’ve found something similar in my home town too.
Like many churches at the time we invested heavily twenty years ago in Kidz Klub (a kids outreach program pioneered in New York, and later Liverpool). Our outreach was accompanied by a weekly home visiting program, focussing on council estates on the margins of Eastbourne.
While we saw a handful of changed families at the time, there were times when we wondered if the seeds that were sown would bear fruit.
This week, I was contacted out of the blue by a girl I visited weekly for many years, who faced significant challenges at home. I’ve thought of her many times over the years, and wondered where life had taken her. She had reached out to say thank you for being at the beginning of her journey toward knowing God. That journey has been bumpy and included spells of homelessness and considerable personal difficulty, but a gospel seed was sown and now it is now bearing fruit across generations as she has become rooted and established in a local church (where she now serves as a youth leader).
My husband Andrew’s home visiting round was just a few streets away from mine; twenty years on he now runs a leadership training course, and on it this year is the first child he visited (now herself a gifted leader nearby, and mother of three).
In the past year I’ve had the privilege of encountering again (whether bumping into in-person, or online, paving the road outside my house, or in one case selling oven gloves door-to-door) many children (now adults) we prayed for week in, week out.
Watch and wait. One by one, new stars continue to appear in the night sky.
Written by Rachel Wilson, Kings Church Eastbourne