Not long after getting back to Cambridge from Guildford (which Taryn has blogged a little about here — http://blog.tarynleiaprescott.com/2011/08/stand-on-one-foot-raise-your-hat.html) I was off to Newquay. That’s right, back to Cornwall, barely a fortnight since going there on the Prescott family tour of Britain. We passed a sign to Castle Drogo as we drove. ‘We’ being myself and Sean Kinsella, primary school teacher, CPC deacon and associate of the Open Air Mission. And Sean had invited me along to be part of the street evangelism he does each year in Newquay.
The church in Newquay is pastored by the father of Sean’s best friend, an eighty-three year old preacher who is perhaps a little old-fashioned but still gives a good message. The church is quite small, though I wasn’t there for the Sunday service so my judgement is only based on the few who turned up for the midweek prayer meeting. In some ways it was quite opposite from the Guildford Boiler Room where we had been serving just before: most of the people involved in the Love:Guildford week were in their twenties, in Newquay most of the people involved in the Open Air work were well past middle age; in Guildford we were doing very inoffensive relationship-building stuff like free cafés and kiddy events, and you needed to at least scratch beneath the surface to find even a faint Christian challenge, in Newquay we were unashamedly preaching on the high street and had a man come out of his shop to complain that we were disturbing his business (I don’t think we actually were though); in Guildford we began each morning with a a devotional thought from a different member of the group each morning, and a little liturgy; in Newquay we began with a brief sermon from the minister.
On the streets we were doing some street-preaching, some giving away of tracts (if in doubt of the power of tracts, then you should watch this about a man in sidney — http://tumblr.merehuman.org/post/9410477004), and then talking to people when they stopped. We we were out from midday till four each afternoon, and again in the evenings from about 7 till 9. We had the whole range of responses: those rushing past, of which some would take a tract, some would darkly mutter their disapproval, and some would just keep their head down and get out of earshot as quickly as possible; those who paused, some briefly and some at greater length, some looking for a debate and some just curious, occasional Christians stopping to give encouragement and a older Christian lady who suddenly appeared in tears because she was afraid God has rejected her. Most encouraging is when you stop someone and they are willing to listen, and you have the chance to explain the gospel, and the penny drops, and you see that he understands how simple it is — «believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved» — and he considers it and decides that it is too easy, there must be a catch. This happened on my final evening, and the man was persuaded to take a gospel of John. And apparently he returned the next evening to ask questions and take some more literature.
But by that time I was on my way back to Cambridge, a couple of days before Sean so that I could return home to Taryn. Now Sean was eager that I hitch-hiked back to Cambridge. Now that his own hitch-hiking days are over he wanted I think to pass on the mantle. So after taking in as much of his wisdom as possible, I was dropped off on the side of the A30 with a sign saying M5 and the encouragement that «God’s in control, you’ll be alright». For the first half-hour or so, I smiled enthusiastically at every car that drove past, wobbling my thumb slightly in what I hoped was a signal that I was a trustworthy hitch-hiker who should be welcomed on board. Finally someone stopped.
But he was only going as far as Bodmin, 15 minutes down the road, and Sean had deliberately said that I shouldn’t bother taking such lifts. So I thanked him and refused: «No thanks». Another hour passed. My enthusiastic smile withered. Another half hour passed. It started to rain. Finally another person stopped: «I’m only going to Bodmin but you’re welcome to come that far…»
Well, this time I didn’t feel I could refuse. And so I had my first ever hitch-hiked lift, and was told that no-one really picks up hitch-hikers anymore, they’re too afraid that they might be axe-murderers. With that encouragement I was dropped off at a roundabout just before Bodmin, the driver telling me that I’d do better getting a lift here.
Some time passed. Would I really do better getting a lift here? A text from Sean: «U gotta lift yet?» I replied to tell him No. «U might struggle a bit from there…»
I was stuggling a bit from there. I walked away from the roundabout back onto the side of the A30. Cars were rushing past too quickly to stop even if they wanted to. I walked back to the roundabout. Time passed. Another text from Sean: «Where are u now?» // «Still Bodmin :(» // «Why did u take a lift to there! Donut!»
Some more time passed. Looking back toward the A30, the traffic had slowed almost to a halt. My opportunity!
After standing at the side of the A30 and watching the various expressions on people’s faces as the traffic crawled past, finally someone stopped, and beckoned me to get in. I did so eagerly. He was a Christian, a doctor, and we talked easily. I played him some of Taryn’s music. He was complimentary.
The traffic was painfully slow. Half the day was past and I hadn’t even reached Bristol.
And suddenly something happened, totally unexpectedly — he pulled off the motorway and said, «That’s it, I’m putting you on a train to Cambridge. You’ll never get home today otherwise».
So the rest of the journey was easy and I was home in time to have beef vindaloo for dinner.