Dream-Catcher: Catching God’s dreams for our communities
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there” (Zechariah 8: 4-5)
What might our communities look like, should such a vision be fulfilled in our own neighbourhoods? This was the question asked of us by Glenn Jordan, speaker at the recent Neopolis day conference on 7th January 2017. Sharing a challenging and inspirational account of the transformational work of Skainos in East Belfast, he described an earlier situation where he had asked a group of students to dream what a piece of derelict land – belonging to the Methodist church of which he was the minister – could be used for. Their dreaming was to be based on this vision of Zechariah, a vision of safety, joy, and children at play, contented old age for both men and women, and of harmony between generations.
Although Zechariah’s vision speaks of the city of Jerusalem, which in turn was applied by Glenn to Belfast, his argument is that this is a picture of transformative restoration: God’s dream for our neighbourhoods, whether city, town or village. Furthermore, Zechariah’s vision – also reflected in many passages in Third Isaiah – is essentially holistic. God’s restoration, which begins amongst His people, extends to the neighbourhoods in which His people live. The restoration is social, economic, emotional and essentially spiritual. Such healthy transformations seem to be common-place these days in stories coming out of South America, Africa & Asia, where God’s people catch His grounded vision.
Some indigenous American cultures weave dream-catchers, handmade ornaments based on a willow hoop, on which is woven a loose net or web, which they hang in children’s rooms to filter out the bad dreams and allow the good ones through. I am not suggesting for a moment that we take up this practice; but I strongly suggest that we extend the scope of our awareness to scripturally and imaginatively consider the breadth of God’s dreams for His world.
This exercise is easier in places where the needs appear to be greatest and where, for a little money, children are educated, fields planted, crops grown, hospitals established, and micro-economies enabled. In such situations, transformations are visible, and are attributed to the work and generosity of the Christians (see the surprising article by Matthew Paris).[i] I suggest that missionary societies and indigenous Christian churches long ago abandoned the idea of such restorative projects as a sop for the ‘Gospel to be preached’. Rather, they are theologically and successfully bringing the full salvation of God to needy people.
Such imaginative enterprise may however seem more difficult in a place where most material needs are met and where the church has retreated from education and welfare, which are now being met by the state. However, I suggest there is now increasing opportunity, in a world of growing mendacity and fear, to place the missional people of God as purveyors of a peaceable Kingdom.
In a recent blog, one of our Pioneer Ministry students Adrienne Malcolm was featured as being involved in such an opportunity. Over Christmas the churches with which she is involved raised £8,000 to give away 86 bicycles to needy families in the community. The families had been identified by the local Women’s Aid group. Adrienne recounts with emotion the joy and amazement when the bikes were distributed to families who did not know that “church cared that much and did such things”. This project was a powerful witness to bicycle suppliers Halfords, to Women’s Aid and to the extended families of those who received the bikes.
What transformation do you dream of, for your community? Our CertHE in Theology (Pioneer Ministry) could be the means to help you discover and explore those dreams for yourself.
Dr Alistair Macindoe
Tutor in Pioneer Ministry