Poppies In The Wasteland


Like a poppy growing in the middle of some waste ground, I love to find signs of life in unexpected places. The Joshua tree in the desert or the tender care of one vulnerable person towards another.

I’m writing these words whilst in Ukraine, a place I have visited on many occasions. I always go with the intentions of giving and serving, but always return feeling like I am the one who has been enriched by the community I have gone to serve.
Something happens when we deliberately choose to live on the margins, when life among the marginalised becomes the norm rather than the exception or the token gesture.

On one of my first visits to Ukraine many years ago, I sat with a fellow biker. His face was deeply scarred with a skin condition that was afflicted on him by the fallout of the Chernobyl disaster. We rode to the ruins of what once his orphanage home and he told me his story. All I did was listen, for maybe two hours. At the end of our time together he embraced me and thanked me for listening. This was the first time he had told his story to a foreigner. As far as he was concerned, he and his story, the plight of his community had been completely forgotten by his own government and the rest of the world.

To feel forgotten, to be left bereft of any sense that your voice is heard or even matters if it is heard, is a desperately lonely place to be.
Over the years, I have found great inspiration from the on the road stories of Jesus of Nazareth.

On one such occasion, he and his mates travelled across a lake to a graveyard, adjacent to a pig farm, that probably supplied the Roman garrison its food. The purpose of their journey was to meet a man that was caught in a trap of bizarre behaviour that manifested itself in many ways including self-harm, living naked among the graves and displays of almost supernatural strength that rendered him so unpredictable the community tried to chain him up.

As Jesus was a Jew, this man presented every reason under the sun why he shouldn’t be on Jesus’ radar for a conversation. An encounter with a naked, madman, living among the dead, next to a pig farm, would have ruffled more than a few feathers in the temple courtyard and effectively rendered Jesus untouchable.
There are many levels to this story found in the Gospels, but the thought I want to leave for reflection is this.

At the end of the encounter, the man was clothed and in his right mind. At the beginning of the encounter, we find Jesus, deliberately choosing to go out of his way, break some cultural taboos, put himself in a vulnerable position to demonstrate to this guy, he and his suffering was not forgotten.

If our concern for those who are marginalised, for whatever reason, moves us to act, let us be prepared to cross borders, be vulnerable ourselves and be surprised at the poppies we find growing in the wastelands.

Cheers and God bless.
Sean Stillman

A Lament From Zac’s Place

On Tuesday evenings as a ‘church for ragamuffins’ community we gather together to study, discuss and grapple with the Bible. They’re often very frank and refreshingly honest times of faith and struggle. Quite often we methodically work through a book of the bible. When Sean suggested we looked at the book of Lamentations there were a few raised eyebrows!

However at the end of the series, which demonstrated a language for pain and suffering and finding God in it, each was invited to contribute to writing our own Lament. Liz patiently and skilfully compiled everyone’s contributions into what you read below. Enjoy.


Zac’s Lament

God, I feel worn out, frustrated.
I am too busy being busy to notice what people need yet I judge them because I feel I am the one who has to do all the work.
I am a let-down, embarrassed at the state I sometimes find myself in and crushed when those close to me see me like that.
My heart is heavy because my words have caused hurt to others;
I have brought disharmony to my family.
My parents have seen their hopes fade and they – and I – have seen the effects of addiction on those we love.
I see those who suffer from illness and those who mourn with grief so deep at the loss of their parents.
And with eyes that can no longer cry I give the word for my beautiful dog to be put to sleep.
My stupidity, naivety, fear and anxiety get in the way
and stop me helping others.
I’ve been taking God for granted,
missing out on the freshness of his love.
I wish time could be reversed; what if I had done things differently?

The city has a heavy spirit of despair, where is hope?
It has never recovered from past hurts;
many great shops have closed down
and money has been wasted on foolish projects.
Greed and materialism have taken up residence.
We’ve given up on our dreams and our passions.
Nobody cares about our environment or government,
because we believe we are powerless to change anything.
We experience a lack of community, concern and love
where the homeless are treated like nobodies,
people are rejected instead of embraced
and a huge amount of food is wasted.
An offer of friendship is seen as weakness
and there is no appreciation for those who help others.
Only the gossips, who find pleasure in reminding us of our past failings, thrive.

The world is round like the lives people lead, always coming back to the same conclusion:
where is hope?
We have the society we deserve, a throwaway society where racism, violence and rubbish abound, where it’s every man for himself. Self, self, self.
Governments everywhere act out of selfish interests
instead of for the common good.
Migrants, child soldiers, Syria, cruelty to animals, torture, rape, degradation of women, Palestine, injustice, fear, refugees, hatred, sorrow.
We have lost our passion for justice; we have lost respect for all living creatures.
Where is hope?

All who hope make hope.
Hope is finding a purpose, putting an idea in place when there is nothing left to salvage – and believing that it will come to pass.
Hope is in places like Zac’s where people talk to each other and treat each other with respect.
Hope is in drug agencies and churches beginning to work together for people instead of preaching at them.
Hope is seen in surprising places, in street children who should have none.
Hope is in people who care, people like us, people who will work 100% for God.
I believe God has a wider plan,
one that will use people’s gifts to help put things right,
one that through prayer, community and action will produce fruit.
When we love each other, when we allow ourselves to be the wild sacred beings God created,
we are powerful beyond measure.
With God’s help
we can be the change we want to see in the world.
God’s love and grace are overwhelming,
his forgiveness never-ending.