What a joy to be able to get out on the streets after lockdown and tell RealityBites stories to all kinds of non-Christian people. Working closely with my good friends Mark Yeadon and Mike Burkett we have now resumed our student ministry on the streets of Leeds.
So why would a 65 year old author and philosopher serve hot drinks to students in Leeds on Friday nights? Why would anyone shun the pleasures of Netflix, the company of his charming Canadian wife and a warm fire? Why stand in the cold serving hot drinks to passersby?
Many think that I am odd. I plead guilty as charged. Let me tell you about a conversation I had with a young Chinese student. I never found out her name but for ten minutes it was a joy to talk to her. I asked her where she came from. She told me: “Hong Kong”. I asked her what she was studying. She said: “Business Studies.” I asked her if she would like a cup of hot chocolate. She said: “Yes, please.” I grabbed some biscuits and offered her one as I handed her a hot drink. She started to sip her beverage and nibbled her Hobnob.
“Why are you doing this?” she murmured softly. I unpacked our RealityBites ministry.
“We are here to build community in this fine city of Leeds. We are here to challenge the consumerist faith that mugs so many and drives old codgers like me to spend Fridays curled up by a fire, slurping wine and scheming the next golfing holiday in Portugal. We are here to be good neighbours and to invite people to our little table of Christian hospitality. Would you like a Tuna Mayonnaise sandwich?”
She took the sandwich and I noticed that there were tears in her eyes. I stood there with my inane, default grin, my paunch protruding through my ridiculous shirt. I was flush with bonhomie and good will. What a joyful moment in my life. The student told me she had to go. I never saw her again.
Ten minutes later a woman in her mid-twenties approached our table of hospitality and I probed her with one of my spiels.
“So what brings you to the Library pub and this hotbed of student revelry?”
She told me that her name was Liz and she was a social worker by trade. I opined: “That can be a tough gig. Tell me about your work.”
She dived in and furnished solid evidence that her work was as she had divulged. I decided to launch my human trafficking patter. A silent, inner prayer.
“My wife, Anne used to be a social worker but now she works with traumatized refugees and asylum seekers. Just the other night she told me about a young woman from Albania who was trafficked into the sex trade. Apparently the trafficker stuck a gun in her mouth and told her she had to obey his every whim.”
Elizabeth nodded her head thoughtfully.
“Does your wife work with many victims of human trafficking?” she probed.
“Yes she does. Some of the stories are unbelievably tragic.”
“They certainly are.” she replied.
“To be honest I blame the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes for almost all the slavery going on in the world today.”
Liz looked startled. I had her attention. I unleashed my patter.
“Hobbes was the first clever boffin to really articulate the materialist faith. He said there is only physical stuff. Humans are just selfish, calculating machines. There is no right and wrong. Just human feelings and opinions that have no factual basis.”
Liz boldly asked me for another sandwich. I continued my assault on Hobbes as I handed her a cheese and pickle sarnie.
“For Hobbes you are worth only what the market will pay for you. Weak, vulnerable people are just commodities. You buy a pork pie. You buy a woman. Morality is just a human construct. This materialist mindset is the perfect worldview for anybody working in the human trafficking industry.”
Liz was both stunned and intrigued by this passionate tirade.
“Materialism and human trafficking. That’s intriguing.”
“Can I be frank? I loathe Hobbes and everything he stood for. I believe many western people have been mugged by Hobbes and aren’t even aware of it.”
Elizabeth had a question.
“So what do you believe if Hobbes is wrong?”
“Let’s go back to the story of the Albanian woman. Picture it. The trafficker is enslaved to materialism as he drives the pistol in the girl’s mouth. He has turned the girl into an economic thing. An instrument of his dirty profit. If that man repented of his foul deeds and looked at that girl in the light of the Christian faith, everything would change.”
Liz had demolished the sandwich in record time. Clearly she was hungry.
“Instead of looking at her as a piece of meat to gobble up, he would view her as a precious child of God. A woman made in the image and likeness of God. God loves that woman so much that He sent Jesus to die for her and the sins of the world. Imagine if that trafficker listened to Jesus, repented and turned away from his sordid crimes and dedicated his life to rescuing girls from slave traders. Wouldn’t that be great?”
Elizabeth looked at me and said soulfully: “That’s wonderful to hear.”
Moments later she left for a dinner date with her boyfriend. I never saw her again.
I love going out on the cold streets at night. I’m shunning Netflix, warm fires, red wine and golfing holidays in the sun. I’m sowing gospel seeds.
If you would like to know more about human trafficking and how understanding it can help us in mission and discipleship do consider taking our brand new RealityBites course Slave Chronicles and Dangerous Beliefs: Discipling Others through Creative Storytelling.