“Heya girls, come and find a seat… no don’t stay at the back, look this front row has your name on it, come and join me down here!”
As the student girls snuck in during the start of my talk, I felt it was an informal enough scenario get them joining the rest of the group rather than staying anonymous on the back row. In hindsight that’s probably an introverts nightmare. Sorry about that.
After speaking about sharing our faith at uni, telling each other stories of this, and praying for our mates who don’t yet know Jesus, the gathering drew to a close. At this point, two of the front-row-girls came up to me, one was wide-eyed and to be honest looked a bit shellshocked.
“This is my first time ever in church” she said, voice slightly shaking with nerves. I think my immediate reaction was of surprise; “oh wow, hello, welcome! You alright? This is quite a night to come along to!” At this point her mate Hannah, a student from one of the host churches who’d bought her along piped up, “Yeah I’ve been inviting her every week and she’s never said yes before but for some reason tonight she said yes to come to church with me!”
I was blown away. As I sat with the girls and listened to their story, what struck me was how incredibly faithful and persevering Hannah’s friendship had been, to keep inviting her housemate to know more of Jesus and come and meet her church family. And surprisingly, the day she said yes and accepted Hannah’s habitual invitation, was in fact on her birthday. Hannah had absolutely no expectation her housemate would come to an evening about student mission before they headed out for a birthday night out in town. Yet that was the time, that was the moment of “yes”. Happy birthday.
Hannah’s friend said “I’ve been given a lot to think about. I’ve got lots more to ask Hannah about now!” She’d been utterly chucked in the deep end but this had simply led to a reality check about how real and powerful and active God is. Amusingly, she even said it was really significant for her that I called the girls forward to sit on the front row. She said if I hadn’t done that she would have sat at the back, played on her phone and not listened to the talk. Instead she drank the whole thing in and was leaving in an utterly different place than when she arrived.
I had the privilege of praying for Hannah’s friend and got to tell her how much God loves her and has known her for far longer than she’s been aware of. We also both agreed Hannah was a pretty amazing friend to just keep faithfully inviting and encouraging and praying for her.
It’s funny that I was speaking about being the invitation of God, 2 Corinthians 5, us being God’s message of reconciliation to the world. Just as, sat right in front of me, there was a hand-made human, for the first time realising how real God is, because someone bothered to keep inviting.
The girls left for their night out with the friend declaring “I’m going to do a sober night out and wear flats!” Why? Because I’d told a story about that being possible and freeing and so now she knew another way to live might be available to her too.
I pray Hannah’s friend discovers more and more of Jesus and I also pray that each of us takes this story as encouragement to just keep inviting our mates to come along with us, as we all walk towards Jesus together. The invitation of God is always open.