By Kat Pendlebury
Earlier in the month a team of 16 students from the Sydney University Evangelical Union visited Berkeley for five days to partner with the Berkeley Life Centre. For the team this was an opportunity to “see the church, serve the church and be the church”; essentially, a chance to have our eyes opened to what God is doing in and through the people of Berkeley, and to offer ourselves in service by being involved in local ministry. Whilst five days may not sound like a long time, there was lots we were able to see and do during our stay, including doing several sessions of Adopt-a-Block, visiting the Berkeley Neighbourhood Centre and hearing a bit more about the area, running kids activities and an outreach stall at the community carols and participating in the Sunday gathering.
As the ministry staff worker on the team, I was responsible, along with my student co-leader, for pastoral care of the team as well as sorting out the schedule for the week and other logistics, and at times it was easy to let these details become the focus. Yet across the five days, as schedules changed and new solutions had to be found for various difficulties, it became clear to me that at the Berkeley Life Centre, people matter most. Because people matter to Jesus most. This was evident on our very first evening together where, despite the torrential rain outside, I arrived at the Green Shed to see team members and church members chatting away over a BBQ dinner, regardless of not knowing each other or having vastly different lives. To see the unity we have in Christ with our brothers and sisters because of what Jesus has done for us expressed so tangibly was beautiful.
And as the week continued, more and more was I able to see the way that God has gifted his people in such a way so that together we can do great things for his kingdom and in his name. The Berkeley community carols event on the Saturday was not only a highlight of the mission, but another opportunity to see this unity reflected, as well as the deep desire the Berkeley Life Centre has to reach their community with the gospel of Jesus. In the morning we all pitched in to set-up for the event – putting up marquees, assembling the stage, organising the kids’ tent and so on – and it was so great to see 400 or so members of the community turn up for a fantastic day. The face-painting line seemed to never have less than ten kids, the evangelistic puppet show was a great hit and several students were able to have good conversations with people as they interacted with the church’s outreach stall. Although the day was long, we heard from several sources that it was the best carols event the community has had!
Another area of ministry we got to be involved in, which was a highlight for many of the students on the team, was doing a few sessions of Adopt-a-Block. Whilst some of the team had had experience in door-knocking before, for many others this would be the first time they had done cold-contact evangelism, and although we helpfully had bread and a carols flyer to offer people, we didn’t really know what to expect! One of my favourite moments on mission though was when we came together afterwards as a team to debrief Adopt-a-Block, and the encouraging stories came flooding in. It was amazing to hear the students share their experiences of having great, and in many cases long, conversations with the people they met, many of whom it seems were just happy to have someone to chat to. One pair of students chatted to an elderly couple for over an hour, and ended up having afternoon tea on their porch as they discussed many things, including church. The girls were excited to share that the couple were thinking they might come visit the church after all. Another pair of students shared how they had met a woman experiencing significant relationship breakdown, and how thankful she was for someone to talk to amidst her pain. The students were able to share about the eternal love we have from God in Christ, and the hope we have in him even when we’re in the darkest of places. As we sat in a circle sharing stories and praying, it was another moment where I was convicted once again of the importance of relationship and that ministry is about people. Having the opportunity just to meet people, and to meet them where they’re at with the good news of Jesus was an immense privilege, and we pray that even the smallest of those conversations would have eternal significance.
There are many more moments I could share of our time in Berkeley that touched my heart, and the team’s heart: hearing Jono, one of the students, preaching on the new life we have in Jesus during the Sunday gathering, watching the members of the church sing praises to God with such joy, giving yellow roses to the wonderful lady from the church that myself and another student stayed with and seeing her being overcome with emotion for they hold such special memories for her.
For each of us on the team, I’m sure there are small moments that will stay with us – moments where we saw God’s love and power expressed in new ways, moments of joy and thankfulness, moments of challenge and conviction – and so I think it’s safe to say our time in Berkeley was probably more life-changing than we might have thought beforehand. Not because we got to do a bunch of ministry activities, but because we got to spend time with real people, being reminded that God is in the business of transforming lives, and that by his grace and mercy, and as his people, we get to be involved in that. Although we only partnered with the faithful saints of Berkeley for five days in person, it is my hope that we may continue to be partners in the gospel with them as we pray in eager expectation and with great confidence that the Lord would continue to do a mighty work in the hearts and lives of the people in this place.
We are so thankful, Berkeley Life Centre, for receiving us so warmly into your community, for opening your lives so generously, for demonstrating your love for Jesus so faithfully. As Paul writes in Colossians, we pray that you “may be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” (Colossians 1:11-12)