Yesterday I was travelling back to York after spending a couple of days in Devon.
A few minutes after the train had pulled away from the station a young guy walked past, beer can in hand, directing a conversation towards his partner making it clear that she knew he wasn’t happy about her alleged sexual indiscretions.
What this guy was saying was colourful to put it mildly and he clearly took great pride in having an audience with everyone able to hear his opinions on those most intimate parts of her body.
I was sat listening to music so was well shielded from what he was saying and I assumed that once he had sat himself down he would shut up. He didn’t. I could have turned up my music and carried on ignoring what he was saying but instead, prayerfully taking my life into my own hands, I went and asked him if he wouldn’t mind putting a lid on it.
He wasn’t keen on the idea and he was even less keen on “someone posh like you” telling him what to do. Instead he took great pride in telling me that he was a very dangerous person, asking me whether I knew who he was (unfortunately I’m no expert on the criminals of Devon) before letting me know that he dealt heroin and crack. As though that would make me either fear or respect him. It did neither. Asking where I was going, York, he said that he was off to Bristol, although to hear his description of the place you would think it to be the embodiment of Gomorrah.
Having never really confronted a drunk and clearly violent drug dealer you don’t know how it’s going to play but his behaviour wasn’t acceptable for me so I told him that. On the condition that I never spoke to him again, he did agree to move carriages. Whether he shut up once he had moved I don’t know but by the end of his journey he had made his way back down to where he started the journey and got off the train with his other half and their daughter in tow. Some happy family.
And that’s why I’m telling you this. Throughout the whole exchange this guy had his little daughter with him. She must be three at the most as she sits there surrounded by darkness. Her father is effing and blinding (and then some) at the top of his voice with no regard for who might hear; but worse, far worse, is the lack of respect that he has for her mother, or even that her mother has for her father.
There was definitely venom, and there was definitely anger but love?
The reality for that little girl is bleak. Where is her knowledge of love going to come from? Her parents are criminals. If they never get caught then that means a lifestyle outside societal norms. But if they do then she’s alone, hoping against hope that her experience of social services will not result in the outcomes that have been, and are, all too prevelant in terms of homelessness, criminality or lack of skills.
How does the cycle of deprivation, of poverty, of pain, of fear, of anger, of suffering get broken in that context? I don’t know. This is the stuff of miracles. Without a fundamental reconstruction of the hearts of her parents the future experiences of that girl aren’t filled with hope. But that’s Jesus’ promise, that all our future experiences will be full of hope.
That’s not a guarantee against pain or suffering or anything else negative but it’s a promise of hope. Hope against hope, that’s what I prayed for that little girl. If you’re reading this, would you do that too?
I pray that in Exeter and in Bristol God’s hands and feet are active in working alongside drug addicts and drug dealers, that the prisons and the police are infected by the viral, guerrilla values of the kingdom, that those providing care for children caught up in these most awful of situations know no limits on their love and compassion.
Would you ask that God would do something for the lives of all three? Challenge him. Beg him. Implore him.
God show us as the church, as your body, as your instruments of grace how we can shine your light into this darkness.
I have absolutely no idea what the future of that girl, her mummy and her daddy will be. I trust that God does.
I hope against hope that she hears and knows Jeremiah 29:11.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Thank you Father that you do.