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Life in Community

Hope Breaks Through: Reflections on Urban Living

May 14, 2019 by

London: a cold, wet morning in the city. Traffic jammed in our street, a driver curses in the direction of a bus helplessly wedged between parked vehicles. Pedestrians stream past with tense faces, headphones blocking out the sound. Empty nitrous oxide canisters litter the pavement, pathetic remains of someone’s chemical high from last night. I brace myself and step out on an errand, coat tightly wrapped, mind insulated against the screaming billboards and police sirens. Suddenly, something pierces my mental fog: a bird singing in a tumbledown garden behind a fence.

flower blooming in an urban environment

Looking down, I see green shoots forcing their way through tarmac, and notice for the first time the delicate flowers that have taken hold in a vacant lot. At the road crossing, I notice a rough-looking man remove his earphones and bend down to help a young mother struggling with her toddler’s stroller – a smile of thanks breaks across her anxious face. A ray of sunshine pierces the clouds as a bearded father passes, sharing a moment of joy with his daughter skipping over a puddle in the road.

Why am I here? When my wife and I were sent to this small urban outpost, we were excited by the challenge. But as people who always loved the peace and beauty of rural life, we were also filled with a measure of dread. The city seemed loud, hard, and restless. I had been a student here many years ago, but even then I always escaped as quickly as I could, emerging with relief from a country-bound train to take deep breaths of fresh air. Now that I am in the city, those small acts of kindness and mercy I witness are the fresh air I breathe.

Above the converted garage in front of our house is a sign: Books of Hope and Inspiration. Looking out the window, I see inquisitive strangers browsing titles such as Seeking Peace and Why Forgive. Later, the doorbell rings and a young man enters who just wants to share over a cup of tea about his battle with hopelessness and addiction. But as he leaves, he seems encouraged to keep going.

NoteA note left in the book donation box a few days ago

Over dinner, the students living here share their struggles – teachers pushing amoral agendas, the pressures of pornography, fashion, technology, and the drive for career, money, success. We discuss the political struggles of Brexit, economic uncertainty, loneliness, violence, homelessness, abortion. But we also hear of connections made with people who care, who courageously defend Biblical values, or are simply able to have good clean fun together on the sports field. Later that night we release the day’s tensions with a vigorous game of four square, then share jokes and dreams by the fireplace.

Members of Peckham House, an intentional Christian community in London, UKPeckham House community

There is so much around us that can depress us politically, morally, economically – and this applies as much on the individual level as for the whole of society. In a large city, these forces can seem overwhelming. And yet, we are called to be people of hope. It reminds me of the analogy with childbirth that the apostle Paul uses: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:22).

As a doctor who has attended many mothers, I know that the pain of labor can be excruciating, with initially nothing to show for it. And yet hope carries the expectant one through, with the knowledge that the joy of the new birth will outshine all the suffering.

So we should remind ourselves and each other to have hope in all circumstances, and remember that this is why we are here – to give encouragement, ultimately for the hope of God’s redemption for all mankind. Let us never give up hope for the souls entrusted to us, those we meet, and for billions of people who struggle on in this broken world: “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:2–5). Even in the cold, even in the rain, even in the hardness of life’s dreary days, hope breaks through.


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