A wonderful thing happens every Monday evening in Durham. There’s a Georgian building just down from the Cathedral where two legends will be cooking dinner. Another few legends will be driving around the county arranging lifts for people from homes, hostels, and rehabs, sometimes driving silly long loops to make sure everyone who wants to come, can. Some of Durham’s rough sleepers wander in for the promise of a meal. And every now and then a student discovers the group and stumbles in. That was me. And I could not believe how quickly I was welcomed. (At the end of week one I was invited to the birthday party of a guy I’d only chatted to for five minutes (it was a top night, thanks to a very talented musician from Darlington).)
The Monday Night Group felt like a really special glimpse of God’s kingdom. People with very different stories and backgrounds gathered together to eat, read and discuss the bible, pray, and sing. I remember being very taken aback by people’s honesty with me. People shared about their struggles with trying to come off substances, or social services taking their kids away, or bereavement. And they shared those things with me, a young person they barely knew, asking me to pray for them. Monday nights were almost always the highlight of my week at university. I was so challenged by the faith of the friends I made at the group, and I so frequently felt God at work. I didn’t want to leave them behind. So, I didn’t.
My call to the North is as simple as that. I could try dressing it up in some grand ideological robe; say that Christ calls us to places of hurt and poverty, and so here I am as a wonderful educated saviour in this outpost of unemployment and gravy. It might be nice for my ego if I did. The reality was, and is, much simpler. I found my people and I didn’t want to say goodbye.
I’ve found great comfort in the book of Ruth. The most significant moment for me happens in the first chapter, when Naomi, widowed and hopeless, sacrifices the last thing she has: her daughters-in-law. She knew that as old widow in that society she had nothing to offer them and that it would be better for them to leave, so she sent them away. But Ruth refused to go – she clung to Naomi. And so, they stayed together. There’s something nourishing about the simplicity of it. There’s no mighty miracle, just incredible acts of faithfulness between two friends who love each other very much.
Since graduating two years’ ago, I spend a lot less time wondering what my life will be like in 30 years’ time. I spend a lot more time now thinking about what my life will be like tomorrow. There is a place for dreaming, but a lot of the time God is concerned with the here and now. That’s how I’ve found it to be. I now have the privilege of working every day with some of the inspirational people who come to Monday Night Group, through a charity called Handcrafted, and it’s about faithfully walking with one another, acting in love day by day.
It’s true that you will have far more fun on the terraces of rugby league than the seats of Twickenham. It’s true that rent and a pint are much cheaper up here. And it’s true that in the North you get to use words like ‘bairn’, ‘canny’, ‘radge’, ‘gadgy’ and ‘radgy’. I love all those things. It’s also true there is great social need within northern communities, with many people feeling forgotten or that their community does not have much of a future, and so I’ve found a place I can serve God and try to bring hope. But really, I’m here because my team are here.
Wherever you’re reading this I hope you’ve found, or are finding, your team and working out what it means to love them. The God of Naomi and Ruth is the God of you and your people. He rejoices in you participating in a similar walk of faithfulness and love. Ultimately, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learnt since graduating is a simple one: our God loves us as we try to work out what it means to love the people around us day by day, in the here and now.