Loving your neighbour is one way to fulfil the Great Commission, but sometimes this involves stepping outside your comfort zone, says Justin Agnes, who served with SIM in South Sudan from 2009 to 2015.
‘Do you know that feeling of letting go of the river bank and being taken with the current – the panic of realising you are not in control, but then relaxing into it and enjoying the feeling of being carried along?
That’s a bit how it’s felt for me since I started the Living Room in April 2019.
I was introduced to Les by a mutual friend at church on our return from South Sudan in the summer of 2015. When I first met Les for coffee, he told me it was the first time he had been out of his flat for five days and his eyes were bloodshot and his hands shaky.
I was well out of my comfort zone, but with each encounter, we got to know each other better. Behind the rough exterior was an intelligent, compassionate and humorous man and Les has become one of my most valued friends.
Over the next few years, we settled into a pattern of shopping together on Mondays; housework on Thursdays and a visit on Sunday to read a few Bible verses and pray. Les said he wanted to start following Jesus some time in 2017.
At his 58th birthday, he introduced me to several of his friends and my eyes were opened to the hidden masses in our city, who live alone and struggle daily with the torment of poor mental health.
At the same time, I learned about the imminent closure of a mental health drop-in centre where Les went two days a week. I couldn’t help thinking, surely it wouldn’t be too hard to organise a day of activities for Les and others like him?
Fast forward a year, and the Living Room is a thriving group of 12-15 people, who meet each week in a local church to enjoy board games, discussion, an art activity and an obligatory homemade soup lunch!
A highlight for everyone is exhibiting their work at the end of each term – more than 40 people came last Christmas and the group were rightly proud of what they’d achieved.
At the end of our meetings, we have an optional devotion and prayer time. Each week, more people are staying and their growth in interest and faith is evident – even those who have previously declared themselves to be ‘anti-religion’. It’s such a thrill when someone prays for the first time or shows the first glimmers of understanding.
I feel every bit as much a missionary now as I did when working in South Sudan. It is just that in this instance, the unreached are right on our doorstep – so close, in fact, that most people don’t even notice they are there. ‘
A passage that has been important to Justin in this work: “What do you think? If a man owns 100 sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the 99 on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.” Matthew 18:12-14
- Give thanks for the way members of the Living Room were able to stay connected through the coronavirus lockdown.
- For Justin to build connections with local churches and help them to better serve this neglected part of their community.
- Give thanks that each group member appreciates being part of a caring family and is being encouraged in their journey of faith.