I have struggled all along with Matthew 6:1 Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
However this deed needed doing in public or it would have failed and it wouldn’t have any impact? Christianity is never easy, is it.
It did however make me decide to stay focused and not deviate into politics, and make it about the simple human need. That stays a good decision in my head.
It kept me clear of a lot of negativity that was prevalent in the beginning.
So I was sat on my laptop reading the news when I saw (about three weeks before the little boy) the picture of a man crying, about (I thought) to get on a boat.
I knew I had to do something, on my own, before the papers had cottoned on, before that small boy mobilised the world. I sent a late night email to Jane, and said more or less that. I have to help, it has to be something direct!
I really felt and feel I was called to action, and had to respond, it was my turn to react to need as a Christian should with action, love and compassion.
“Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.…”
That’s pretty clear and unambiguous, which left me puzzled why a couple of Christians on social media did not feel compelled as well. I decided to behave as I had been called to do.
So I searched around and via Jane (our local deacon) found the diocese in Truro that was helping already by going to see what was going on in Calais. The church warden there was a real help and he gave me contacts that got me started. My first plan was to fill a van and go! But after speaking to the various agencies out there it was apparent this was NOT what was needed. Organised, Focussed relief of the stuff they need. Shoes, writing pads for the kids with PTSD (the kids have no words for what they have had done to them and those they love so they have to make pictures).
So it was shoes and drawing pads. Simple isn’t it, everyone would want that to happen? Nope not so, when I raised this on social media myself and Jo were met by quite a strident voice of anger at our actions, on Christian social media and even more so on secular local pages.
Then I found Calaid, which is how the catholic mission in Calais had chosen to reach out to a wider audience (still before the little lad on the beach).
With lots of encouragement from all our clergy, we pressed on. With a team that knew what it was doing (or seemed to, links into the mission and reacting to what THEY said they wanted I knew I had found our agency). Some of the other churches reacted well as well, Christchurch offered to send stuff over.
The list went up, cue a little more negativity. A freind called Margaret gave me some silly socks to take, as her husband Mick’s Christmas present wasn’t too impressive (she must love him).
I was happy at that point as someone had given something! Also I could fit that in my car.
Then it happened, that poor child face down on the beach, and as we know the dialogue changed. We were ready, organised (ish) and set up to go. Perfect timing as the lord knew it would be.
Calaid had put our name down as the pickup point in Essex, our Facebook page went a little mad, and grew about 100 in 24 hours. We had 80 on Monday and then it went whoosh!
I went to Men’s Breakfast and was asked to see if I could get a friend in the Gideons to speak for us. On the way home a day later he rang me and offered a 50 foot tarpaulin!
That’s God speaking to both of us, and yes, he is coming to our next men’s breakfast.
Meanwhile Facebook got busier and busier and busier, lots of promises or transport came and went, lots of promises of collections, encouragement. What little negativity was left was washed away by people losing their fear of being the one that spoke out. Now they felt like they had the voice and the right and the narrative changed.
I avoided the local press as I wanted this to stay focussed on the need and not get into a political debate. Action it seemed to me was the way to set an example.
Dialogue comes after success and we were a long way off that, Calaid were struggling with the level of response and it all got little wobbly when the last offer of a van gave way.
I went along to St Andrews to see a medium size pile in the choir vestry. Also I felt the deed was the response to the anger and not a word needed to be spoken. The narrative change, the growing pile of stuff. That was more powerful than anything I could say. It was also hard to argue with, as so many wanted to, these are shoes, and they are for people who have none.
Making sure it didn’t collide with the Gateway project, or the women’s refuge, answered the critics that said “need to look after ours at home”; my other work in Street Spirit proved my credentials as someone who saw and reacted to human need at home or abroad. Finally I got left alone to get on with the organising, the dissenting voices died down and St Andrews it seemed filled UP.
All our team kept our church open for the many promised donations (thank you to all of you who did so, including Father Jo, my Allie when it was a bit abusive in the early days, now keeping our church open).
Friday afternoon a medium size pile, Saturday afternoon, quite big. We filled my car. I was determined to squeeze a little more into my car so I decide to go for Saturday afternoon’s late drops on Sunday morning, hoping a little more came.
I really didn’t sleep well the night before, “what ifs” ran round my head, what if I can’t find the place, how I would move it etc. This stuff has to make it…
Sunday morning and Jane opened the vestry and her words were “I thought from my email inbox my church might look like this”.
I wasn’t expecting it however, IT WAS LOTS!
My wife made sure I didn’t have to do this bit alone and helped me pack, my car sagged a little and we were off. As I got close to Dalston I said a little prayer.
I needn’t have worried, the place was teeming with people, Lots of eager hands too all the stuff and placed it in orderly piles, lots of smiling faces all looking very pleased.
Calaid had started from a sister and a brother, going to Calais, just before I wanted to, we got woken up at the same time by him. They had lit a thing that was now all over the street in Dalston, filling two floors of a large office space and the place was called the “hive”. Well now a swarm of bees were moving this remarkably efficiently from cars into the building. White van man, old ladies in Fiestas, lots of cars, people walking. Orderly but just incredibly busy.
I got back to St Andrews by ten and the second load fitted precisely, not too little not too much, Exactly two cars worth.
A little tear when I got back to London the second time, the place was HEAVING…. It had got busier and the piles much larger, the workers on the floor were more numerous and more busy.
I was just one among very very many…..
What did learn?
I learnt the reality of Proverbs 3:6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart ,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Do not be wise in your own eyes
Every line of that came true, every single line (let me break it down line by line)
If you trust him
Even when it seems silly, or when people get angry
And just say “Ok it’s my turn today, I acknowledge that”
He WILL make your paths straight, change the world, and change the narrative, because you’re not alone he calls as many as he needs to set his will in motion.
Don’t be wise in your own eyes, be foolish and wing it, and just go with it and if you follow his will, and his will alone everything will change.
Everything DID change.
The narrative of the whole world, from immigrants after our jobs and benefits, to human beings in need.
From anger to happiness, the good people came forward.
All the things I needed got given
That week I went on training, passed an exam (my first in 40 years), had a busy week at work, went on a course and everything went smoothly beyond belief.
The thing I worried about which was detracting from other things also didn’t happen.
Gateway had a bumper crop, and all those people who wanted to do baby stuff for calaid are now going to help out for the womens refuge 🙂
Our church was advertised for a Christian act enough to be known by the local press, our town and lots of others in Essex got to hear about our work.
Bishops were made aware, and so many other people , learned from the contacts I made.
Calaid are probably going to be offered 4 7.5 tonne trucks to take the stuff to Calais, and the angry people saw so many of their arguments made weak just by reality.
That’s his work shown in the power it has, how the world works when we are a human race not a tribe holding on to our goods and chattels as tight as we can.
We all benefit, we have all benefited.
The next one is the 4th of October, we have transport
With our little town, our nation, Europe and our politicians behind it having done a 360 degree turn.
That is his power.