Sean Stillman was able to host BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday morning celebration programme on 6 Sep 2020. It is available here on iPlayer for 30 days. It features contributions from Rick Elias, Rich Mullins, Jayne Stillman, Phil James and Sammy Horner as well as reflections from Sean.
Broadcast from home via telephone this time, rather than in the studio due to the Covid-19 emergency, here’s a slightly edited version of Sean’s transcript from 25.3.20 on Eleri Sion’s Show.
Everyone’s life and routines have been turned upside down in recent days and our house is no exception. There’s skateboards sitting idle. There’s a drum kit that won’t be going in and out for gigs. There’s a school prom that won’t be happening, but to my daughter’s relief, no exams to take either. Like many others in the same boat, my wife and one of our son’s work has dried up.
Many of us are worried at the moment – and that’s understandable. But, do you know what? … even in the early stages of this crisis, I’ve seen some signs of hope.
As you know, at Zac’s Place we do lot of work in Swansea with people who are vulnerable and often live on the streets. Last week I had a call from the NHS homeless outreach team, wanting to talk. I was desperate for advice to know what to do for the best in these days, but to my surprise, they wanted our help. Ahead of the game as always, they recognised the need to see every homeless or vulnerably housed person, not just quickly accommodated but also fed.
In a matter of days, volunteers have jumped to action alongside the council and welfare agencies. Already, this week in our area, around 160 vulnerable people have been safely fed each day from a community kitchen, with food delivered to their hostel or B&B. Of course, there’s huge challenges – how do you encourage people to isolate that don’t want to be? But we can try our best.
And there are surprises too. Some individuals who usually refuse support, are seeing the seriousness of what’s happening. They’re reaching out to take the help because they trust us, as we plead with them. And they in turn are reaching out to their mates and persuading them to take refuge.
And here’s the hope. In our communities, people are already working together to make sure others aren’t forgotten. And of course, it’s not just the homeless who are vulnerable. If we ourselves are not vulnerable, then within a very short distance from us, in our street someone will be.
As a Christian, I believe that none of us escapes God’s love. With his mates alongside, Christ reached out to those who would often have been ignored. And that’s how each of us can make a difference today. Who in our street, our community is in danger of being overlooked? Have a think – who are they?
None of us knows how long this pandemic will last.
But knowing you’re not forgotten, might be one of the most precious gifts, we can bring anyone in the coming days.
Sean Stillman. This a slightly edited version of the script from his ‘Wednesday Word’ for BBC Radio Wales, 25.3.20. (Weds Word producer Lisa Hawkins). The original is on BBC Sounds at approximately 1.47 in.
From an original post written by Sean Stillman for the SPCK blog.
After having ridden, what is fast approaching, half a million miles by motorcycle, the road has become more than just a means of getting from one place to another as quickly as possible. The road has become both a friend and an enemy. It has provided the necessary space to think in isolation, uninterrupted by the demands of gadgets. It has created the lens through which to marvel at the natural world and also the challenge to battle against its elements. The heightened risks that come with riding a motorcycle are never far away though – there’s an edginess that keeps things real and keeps your focus sharp.
The road has also become a place of learning to welcome unexpected interruptions along the way. Moments that could so easily be missed, stories so easily untold if it is all about getting somewhere as quick as you can. Over the decades, I have learned to welcome the interruptions. Far from being inconveniences, they have become milestones of significant insight, often from the most surprising sources.
Sometimes I’ve literally been sat in the gutter sharing soup with a homeless friend, who pointed out something that everyone else was missing. On other occasions, it may be a chance conversation that uncovers a captivating story of marginalised indigenous people, being prepared to risk their lives to save their oppressors. It could be the easy to miss grave of a twelve-year-old girl, whose death brought peace to an entire nation of warrior tribes or, it could be the guy who grabbed the opportunity to tell his story of growing up in the shadow of Chernobyl, because he thought the world had forgotten him and his community.
So often the perfect journey, is thought to be the one without interruptions, wrong turns and side-tracks. As I reflect back over the years and miles, some of the most valuable experiences of my life have been exactly at these moments. Ambushed by disaster, frustrated by delays and disappointed in my own stupidity. Often my own broader journey has been far from perfect – yet somehow amid the chaos, the questions and the heartache, it has become a beautiful adventure.
We live in a climate when the perfect selfie is sought and with an obsession for filters to enhance the image, we strive for perfection. We are fearful of our own imperfections, blemishes, fractures and flaws amid the brokenness of our lives. There’s a tendency to fall apart when we realise we cannot place a sunny warm-up filter over every blemish, every stain, every missed opportunity or every mistake. I am reminded of U2’s lyric concerning grace making beauty out of ugly things and this concept has become a significant part of my own story. I have come to discover that moment of liberating surrender; letting go of putting on a perfect performance, and finding, and embracing beauty in broken places.
Next time someone asks, ‘How was your journey?’ – wouldn’t it be great to say, ‘You wouldn’t believe what happened on the way!’
Originally written for and published by SPCK here.
We are pleased to announce that Sean Stillman’s book ‘God’s Biker: Motorcycles and Misfits’ is being published by SPCK and due for release on 20 Sep, 2018. It is now available for pre-order in local bookshops or via all the usual online book stores internationally.
‘Sean has shown me constantly what lies at the heart of the Christian community.’
– Lord Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, in his Foreword.
For more information please go HERE.
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.