RealityBites is now working in one of the most deprived areas in Leeds. When my good friend and co-worker, Mark Yeadon invited me to bring my storytelling gift to the Welcome café in Burmantofts I was excited but also apprehensive. I knew that RB stories and questions work very well with educated, middle class students. But would they work in a completely different social context?
To be honest Burmantofts is a tough area to work in. We hear stories about teenagers who threaten people with machetes and annoying rats (not lovable cats) are often mentioned by local residents.
Working closely with Bridge Community Church and Teen Challenge Leeds we engage in building community by seeking to be good, warm-hearted neighbours to everyone we meet. The gospel of Christ’s kingdom speaks to the whole of life including work, rest and play. In the café we affirm the goodness of God’s creation by enjoying great coffee, lemon-drizzle cake and games of Snakes and Ladders. It’s all free. We engage in friendly, good-humoured chitchat. Conversations that sometimes lead to sharing the good news of the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The merciful King who loves and is rescuing this broken world from the darkness of machete attacks and all forms of evil, slavery and darkness.
The demographic in Burmantofts is worth noting. Muslim families pop in for a cuppa. Romanian people enjoy talking about their home land. Somali families tell us great stories. We learn a lot from Sudanese refugees. We also welcome British men and women who are struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Loneliness seems to stalk the lives of these vulnerable people who are broken on the wheels of an unnoticed and invisible secular faith. Secular materialism captivates and crushes so many lives. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.
Three vignettes to ponder. I was sharing the gospel with Mike, an alcoholic (not his real name) who told me that the folk at the café are so friendly and treat him so respectfully. He then added rather bitterly: “The people I know often abuse me and swear at me for being an alcoholic.”
I felt like crying with and for Mike. Romans 8:22 flashed before me: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Just then I noticed our friend and co-worker Matt Armstrong who was sharing the gospel with several guests by talking about the David Beckham temple in Bangkok. This Buddhist temple is adorned with images of Spiderman, Superman and other comic book characters. His listeners were transfixed and drinking in a gospel presentation. It was amazing.
Third vignette. I was talking to three British guests and the issue of organised crime came up. It’s not surprising given the location. I had something in the locker.
“In my work I have spent many hours researching and studying mafia hit-men.”
I had their attention.
“To be honest I love the nicknames. Jimmy ‘the Weasel’ Fratianno. We’re talking ‘the Pig’ and ‘the Beast’. What’s your favourite Mafia nickname?”
They were very responsive and enthusiastic.
“I think the most interesting mafia mobster was Toto ‘the Beast’ Raiina. His daughter, Lucia, said that her dad was a committed Christian. He used to read his children bedtime stories and then pray to Jesus for their safety. Little did they know that dad was really one of the most brutal ‘godfathers’ ever to have lived. He murdered countless people in savage fashion and ordered the deaths of hundreds of men, women and children.”
I was delighted that my listeners were chipping in to the discussion. Now came the gospel presentation.
“It’s fascinating because the Beast ordered the execution of many Sicilians while in prison. He was overheard declaring in Edith Piaf fashion: “I regret nothing.” The Beast died in 2017. Unfortunately he completely misunderstood the good news about Jesus. Forgiveness and salvation are for those who repent of their evil deeds and submit to Christ as Lord and Saviour. The Beast refused to repent and to be honest it will be a terrifying day for him when the Lord Jesus comes to judge the earth.”
You could hear a pin drop as I paused for dramatic effect.
“Did you know that even the Beast could have found forgiveness and peace with God just before he died? If he had truly repented of his evil deeds and put his faith in Jesus, he would be in heaven right now.”
There was a stunned silence. Just then one of the guests stood up and said: “I have to go now but you are a very inspiring and interesting person. Thanks for sharing your stories.”
It is wonderful that gospel seeds are being sown at the Welcome Café in Burmantofts. Please pray for this ministry.
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