By Agapé UK Staff - collated by Jerry Varghese
I asked a few of our staff members if they had any stories about connecting with people and talking about their faith with others during 2020-2021 (the season of lockdowns). Here is what they said:
Friendship with my neighbour
Over the past year, I have developed a friendship with my neighbour, Ron (not his real name). He started coming along to my church just before the first lockdown. He has had a turbulent history with crime and alcohol, and we were thrilled to be able to welcome him into our community.
Whilst the isolation caused by lockdown has proved very hard for him, he has really valued our friendship through it all. Ron and I have had many doorstep conversations, sometimes just talking about stories from his colourful life, other times talking with him about what he’s been reading in the Bible (he was gifted a Bible by one of the kids at church).
It has been really great to see Ron’s heart softening towards Jesus. He sometimes seems to think that churches are full of ‘good people,’ so we are praying that this assumption can be challenged and that he can realise that Jesus really came to know him, not just the Christians he has met!
Finally, my first real conversation
I was struggling to get past the polite greeting stage with my neighbours and have a real conversation, but I didn’t really know how to break the stalemate. I prayed a bit every now and then but didn’t have any good ideas.
I’d been learning a bit about Sabbath and my view of how to spend my time on Sunday changed from just resting from work to also celebrating God and receiving life from Him. I decided as part of my celebrations I would sand some planks, but I live in a flat and don’t have a garden, so I sanded them outside the building.
One of my neighbours stopped to ask what I was doing, and I finally had my first real conversation with him. Now when we see each other we don’t just say “Hi”, and keep walking but stop and ask each other about our day. This has led to me feeling able to talk about joining church Zoom calls and preaching about peace at advent.
Who knew that sanding some planks would lead to better connections with my neighbours!
Taking a difficult situation and using it for good
At the beginning of 2020, I was specifically praying that the Lord would open up doors for me to meet my neighbours. A few months later when lockdown started, a pastor who lives on my street started up a Whatsapp group for our road. This has opened up so many doors to communicating and offering support to each other. From that group, I have personally been able to develop more friendships with people.
One neighbour started selling Indian street food on Sundays, and she and I have started hanging out regularly since we both have a shared love of cooking.
I started scheduling a weekly coffee van to visit our street and I’ve been able to get to know a few people while we cue up to order coffee.
In December, one neighbour initiated a secret Santa which many people participated in.
And now I am in conversation with the pastor and his wife about ways we can begin to engage in some sort of online gathering with our street to explore faith!
I have also had several amazing conversations with my neighbour who I go for regular walks with about the good news of Jesus.
It’s been so cool to see how God has really answered that prayer in ways I could never have dreamed of – taking a difficult situation and using it for good! I have no doubt that the relationships that have started in this season will continue to go on after lockdown lifts.
Going a bit deeper
We’ve got to know several neighbours in our block of flats better over the past few years since having children. We’d had limited faith conversations with them, but had never gone very deep.
We decided to invite them along to church for a Christmas service, and were pleasantly surprised when both families said yes (but one family had to cancel because of a conflict that came up). The one family who came seemed to enjoy it, and while they didn’t divulge too much afterwards, they did say it had been the first church they’d been to since moving to the UK over 20 years ago.
I was participating in a Living & Telling course a few weeks later, and had the chance to ask them some questions about their beliefs via Whatsapp. I asked them about their purpose in life and about God, and it was interesting to hear their thoughts and go a bit deeper with them. I’m continuing to pray that we will enjoy more opportunities to speak about faith together.
Knowing God Personally
*Divya is one of my friends from university. She isn’t a Christian, but she believes that God is real and firmly believes that all religions are a path to God. We’ve had a lot of conversations about God and faith over the years, and in one of our recent conversations, I brought up our Christian belief that Jesus is the ONLY way to relationship with God, and that He freely gave His life to make that way for us all.
This was pretty scary for me and something I’d been avoiding all this time because I was afraid that saying something that I knew she’d strongly disagree with might cause an argument and a potential rift in our relationship.
However, I’d been realising over time that if I truly believed that Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation and relationship with God, and if I truly loved God and loved *Divya, then I needed to put aside my fear and step out in faith for her sake.
So I shared my belief with her and we talked about it. She told me that she doesn’t really believe in Jesus, but believes that she does have a relationship with God – so she asked me what Christians believe about how people can know God personally if they don’t believe in Jesus.
I told her that, funnily enough, I had a booklet called “Knowing God Personally”, and I asked her if she’d like to go through it together with me – and she said that she would!
Since then, we’ve had a video call where we went through the first section of the booklet, exploring the claim that God loves us and wants us to know Him personally. This week we’re planning to go through the second section, and discuss the belief that we are separated from God by our sin; and we plan to continue going through the booklet section-by-section.
*Name changed for data protection purposes
Just before Christmas, we decided to write cards for the neighbours on our floor and to bake cookies we could share with them too. As a result, we were able to get to know the couple living next door to us a bit better and now we both say hello whenever we see each other around the building. Small things, but we are hopeful that God will use these small beginnings and our intentionality to keep building into these relationships.
God was clearly moving
In November, during the second lockdown in London, I received a WhatsApp message from a student saying,
“Hey!! Today I was reading the Bible (opened to a random page and started reading). I read Habakkuk and wondered what your thoughts were on it. Hope you’re having a beautiful day.”
The student said she just had an interview she didn’t do well in, so she decided to open the Bible. I was able to explain some of Habakkuk’s story and the “wrestling match” Habakkuk has with God and of God changing Habakkuk’s perspective by the end of the book. We met for a video chat on Zoom a few days later and talked more about a very popular verse in that book “Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though the flocks disappear from the pen and there are no herds in the stalls, yet I will celebrate in the Lord; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!” Hab. 3:17-18
Since this student had previously talked to me about being open to all religions and didn’t want to claim just one as her own, I asked her what she thought about the bit where Habakkuk chose to rejoice in the God of his salvation. The student made up her own definition of salvation, but I was able to explain how salvation comes from Christ alone, and it’s a free gift from God which comes by grace through faith. I prayed for her at the end of our call, and the student was clearly expressing joy by the end of it. It was so encouraging and I was truly awe struck once the call was over at how God was clearly moving in the midst of a lockdown.
Jesus suddenly intrigued her
Part 1: While I was in my front garden with a friend from church this summer, a neighbour stopped by to say “Hi”. Ever since we did a street mulled wine and mince pie drop in a couple years ago, we’ve had a few friendly chats with her. In lockdown we connected even more over gardening and exchanging baking. She casually asked what we were up to the next day. Mentioning I was having a day to retreat and pray with Jesus suddenly intrigued her and she started sharing her experience of prayer and God too. At the end she was happy for us to pray for her and her family when we offered. Today I’m going to knock on her door and invite her to a Christianity Explored course over Zoom, on the basis that we’ve enjoyed chats like that already!
Part 2: Yeah! She said she wants to do it with me, and might invite her husband along too. She was worried at first that she didn’t have any church background, or answers to bring, but after I reassured her that neither of those were necessary she was up for coming.
The Holy Spirit surprised me that day
After talking with a student a few times over Zoom, I met up with him in person to grab lunch between his lectures. Being completely honest I wasn’t too excited about this because neither of us are very talkative and our previous conversations had felt quite dry as we hadn’t really found any common interests to connect with. I was actually fairly surprised he even wanted to meet up for lunch, but I went with pretty low expectations.
However, after a while, I began to ask some slightly deeper questions and it turned out we had some fairly similar experiences in terms of difficulties with family, social life as well as our spiritual journeys. Similar to me, he had been brought up a Christian but seemed to be in a place of doubting God’s presence in his life. This reminded me of myself in my first year at university. He began to ask me questions about my journey and invited me to share my story with him of how God brought me out of a dark place and showed me his love and presence in my life. The Holy Spirit surprised me that day and taught me to lift my expectations when talking to people, even if we don’t have common interests to keep the conversation flowing.
Siblings in Christ
When I took an Uber ride at Christmas, I asked the driver what his plans were and he said he was going to church. We started talking about church and I told him I was a Christian, too. We bonded over the course of the 45 minute drive, and he told me about a lot of suffering he’d been through, working so hard to support his family in Africa.
I encouraged him that his selfless love was storing up treasures in heaven, and he agreed. Then as we were parting ways we just marvelled at the fact that two Christians can meet only once and yet be siblings in Christ and one day see each other again. It was honestly such an encouraging chat!