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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Alpha Hits the Streets

"Tia Jennifee, tia Jennifee!" shouts a small voice.  I look over the hot pan of beans I'm carrying from the Kombi to see little Emily running towards me, arms outstretched.  In the absence of her beloved 'tia Deanna' she seems to have taken a shine to me, and I am not complaining.
Emily (Eliete's daughter) and Ruan (Kita's son)

She's hands down adorable.

I put the pan of beans down on the blue satin cloth covering a table outside the house of another friend of ours, Kita and bend down to scoop Emily up in a big abraço (hug).  She chatters away to me about this and that and I nod but unfortunately since she's only three and I'm still learning Portuguese, she's hard to understand.  But we hang out anyway as we wait for the people we invited to attend our Alpha Na Rua (Alpha in the Street).

The tables are adorned with red and white checkered table clothes and set up right in the dusty street.  There are few cars in this neighbourhood so blocking off one area is not a problem.

The sun is starting to set at it's usual time, life near the equator means equal amounts of dark and light.  Unfortunately, in this neighbourhood there is more darkness than light, something we are hoping to change.

Seven o'clock comes, and as I do every week, I worry that no-one will turn up.  It's in that moment I have to remember that God will call those who he's working on, it's not a worry I need to have.  But, as it also happens every week the minute we lift the lids off the pans and start to serve the food, our guests arrive and soon our tables are over-flowing with people and children, and the bubble of conversation mixes with the chirping crickets, barking dogs and cicadas still buzzing in the night heat.

By doing this on the street, we hope to remove some of the barriers people have between them and 'the church'.  We've taken down the walls, invited them to our table to eat, talk and question life's biggest questions.  Alpha is a twelve week, non-denominational introduction to Christianity.  It allows people to ask questions, discuss and wrestle without judgment.

This weeks Alpha is an introduction to the Holy Spirit.  When the video ends instead of having our small group discussions, we gather everyone in a circle and pray for them.  As I'm praying for woman,  I notice a group that has gathered across the street, watching from a distance.  I ask my husband and one of our young adults to go and pray for them.  Our young adult is a bit reluctant, I'm nudging him to the edges of his comfort zone.  They offer, and only one accepts, it's the lady who lives in the house directly opposite to where we are and she has been watching every week, this week she's decided to take part.  I offer to pray for her and she accepts. After I pray her eyes are bright, and her smile is wide (the first time I've seen her smile) and she thanks me, says "I really needed that prayer".

As we finish for the night and pack up the chairs I notice, that sitting in the dark is a woman I've begun to know.  I ask our pastor's wife Monica to come with me to pray for her.  As we sit and chat with her two men who are sitting with us chat with us too.  We pray for the woman, and afterwards one of the men says something quietly, I can't hear him.  Monica asks if he would like us to pray for him.  He nods.

We rally the troops and surround him.  As the others are praying I see a picture in my head of this man in the dark, so dark he can't see the hand in front of his face.  Suddenly, there is a light so bright it illuminates everything around him, and there's path in front of him. I sense that there is some fear of this light.  I explain the image to him and tell him not to be afraid, that the light is good, the light is Jesus and he has a plan for his life.

We finish and he thanks us and heads home.  Monica asks 'Do you know what he said to me?'.
'No, I couldn't hear him' I respond.
'He said yesterday, he wanted to put a rope around his neck and kill himself', she says.

My eyes widen and I think of the image I had in my head, of him in the dark, and then in the light.  I say a silent prayer for him, I hope that something in his heart just changed, that the light is illuminating a path for him out of the darkness.
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There's a story about a child throwing starfish who've been beached, back into the ocean and someone asks why the child is bothering, there are thousands and thousands of starfish he can't save them all.  The child picks up another starfish and puts it back into the ocean saying, 'No, but I just saved that one'.

There are thousands and thousands of starfish in our neighbourhood, we can only pick up the ones God puts in front of us and put them back in the ocean.




Here is a 3 minute video about Alpha in the streets and how you can help.