IF YOU want to sell a house in St Ann’s or are looking for a job you give the neighbouring, more up market district, Mapperley, as your postal address. The public’s perception of St Ann’s is, in fact, based on quite distorted impressions. Despite its reputation I love living in St Ann’s and working there as an adult literacy teacher.
For a year Winston spent an hour with me each week so I could help him with his spelling and reading. We had such fun together as we laughed our way through the sessions and his warm-hearted humour and toothy grin cheered me in a dark time of my life. Every now and again after he left I would bump into him on my way to work and experience again his cheerful grin and hearty greeting as he gripped my hand and exclaimed, “Hello, my teacher!”
Earlier this year I turned on Radio Nottingham to hear the morning news. I couldn’t believe it when I heard Winston’s name. He had been charged with shooting and wounding a man in a night club after a petty row and had been sent down for 30 years. I rushed out to buy a local paper. Was it was true? Sadly it was. A large picture was displayed of the most forlorn Winston I could have imagined, with his young, sad, black face and tortured eyes.
Grief came over me. I kept looking at the picture (I still have it up on my wall.) Winston, why did you do it?
I wrote to Winston. I didn’t condone him; it was a terrible thing he had done. I did encourage him to carry on with his spelling in prison. I told him I was praying for him. Winston wrote to me. He told me he had done a foolish thing. He was so grateful to hear from “his teacher”. He was doing “education” in prison. I wrote back. I told him that God is always, always the God of new starts (and encouraged him that I could see his spelling was really improving!)
I can’t forget Winston. One day, one day, I pray he will come to know Jesus and experience God’s new start for himself.
The message of Jesus must reach people like many who live in St Ann’s who have found themselves on the underside of life (the message which Jesus said was especially for the poor and the underprivileged.) Yet, words alone rarely communicate the gospel effectively. Paul spoke of the love of God that so filled him that he was “compelled” or “constrained” by it (2 Corinthians 5:14.) This is the key: love.
Love, God’s love poured through His people, is always relevant to people’s lives.
Love, God’s love poured through His people, is always relevant to people’s lives. Instinctively people know when they are loved.
I am a white middle-aged woman from a middle class background – a teacher at that! Yet, I love to talk to some of the young black hoodied youths that hang out around St Ann’s. At first some of them have looked at me a bit strange but after a while I have got a friendly greeting from them and a smile.
Love, the love that comes from God through us, crosses every human barrier of race, age, gender and social difference. Love is always “relevant”. It is not just the young who will reach the young; it is not just the old who will reach the old or the white the white or the black the black.
Tony first turned up at one of our church’s meetings with a friend. His friend was drunk and kept interrupting the speaker – making the meeting very “lively and interactive”! Tony sat attentive and after the meeting I went over to talk to him. He was living in a homeless hostel in the centre of town. Once he had known “better times,” being a drug runner to one of the biggest dealers in the town. Then he had had money in his pocket to spare. Now he was a helpless addict himself, not only to drugs but drink as well, and had known spells of prison, street begging, homelessness and living in squats in St Ann’s.
Tony kept coming and some friends of mine, Alan and Carol, took him into their home. He got baptised and on the advice of his key worker went away for 10 months to a drug rehab. He wasn’t allowed to contact us. I had my doubts. Would we ever see Tony again?
After 10 months Tony returned to Nottingham. Gone was the impetuous restlessness of a young man with no roots. He steered away from his old haunts and abandoned his life of crime and addiction. He found himself a steady girlfriend, Tracey, who in time joined us too and was baptised. Tony had returned as a disciple.
Love won Tony. But now his love wins others. At Firstfruits, our Christian community house in Nottingham, I am often greeted by this young man with a warm hug.
The gospel has to be lived out in love, and lived out in such a way that people can see it. Like Jesus, it has to be lived out on the street, in the park, on the precinct, in the shop, at work, outside, inside one’s neighbour’s house.
Love, just like Jesus, is always relevant.