Signs for the times

This is the article about signs that I wrote for the Baptist Times this week…

It’s 10 am on sunday morning and I’m sitting in Café Nero in central Peterborough enjoying a strong americano and glancing at the headlines of my local paper. People are trickling in and some glance at the sign I’ve put on the table – ‘I will listen.’ I hoped that through this declaration of availability, people would talk and I would listen. Simple. Well, it kind of worked. People were certainly curious. One lady said that she was alright and didn’t need to talk, and then proceeded to pour out her worries for a few minutes. But that was it, all morning. If I had to measure its success in terms of the number of encounters, it just didn’t work that well. But at least this exercise helped to make me aware of those around me. It is very difficult to sit with a sign declaring ‘I will listen’ and then ignore everyone who entered the coffee shop. Matt, my friend, had sat in another part of the café and had some success. A couple sat near him. He listened to their stories of holiday travels, family and their 50th wedding anniversary next month . Afterwards the lady apologised for ‘bending his ear’. He replied that he wouldn’t accept her apology as her life and stories are valuable. The listening sign got me thinking about other signs I could use to communicate something of my heart. So I developed the idea. I sent the second year Light team students with the Light Project out to study the Bible in public, based on the Lyfe Bible society resource (see http://www.lyfe.org.uk). They chose to look at Philippines 4 and focused on the peace from God which guards our hearts and minds. They put a sign on their table in MacDonald’s that read ‘Need some peace?’ and people eavesdropped on their conversation. One lady asked whether she could hear them read the Bible and spoke with them about her need for peace. Another team took signs into a café that asked ‘Running on empty? Need some strength?’ some people asked what they were doing, but the treat for them was that they had a cracking Bible study and learnt so much, all in a public café. A few days earlier I had sat in a bench with a sign that asked, ‘Need a miracle?’ a young lady stopped her mum and dad in the street and said, ‘Look, mum, you need a miracle!’ We spoke for a while and I simply asked for a miracle for her court appearance later that day.

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One guy sat next to me and liked the gesture o f me asking whether people needed a miracle. He reflected on his own life and the things that he needs which could only be provided through a miracle and asked if I would pray. However, the most powerfully gospel-soaked sign that I have used recently declares ‘Free Hug.’ I hold it up high over my head as I stand in city centres. Through this I have hugged thousands upon thousands of people, and many have asked why. The explanation isn’t a pat answer or practised pitch, but I often find myself saying ‘God is closer than you may think, and he loves us.’ In what way can you allow others to share in what you have as a Christian through simple signs?

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