On Sunday I led a prayer walk through our neighbourhood for our expression (small group) at church. Our church is structured so that the expressions meet weekly for church and once a month come together for a big group celebration. Because we currently host one of the expressions in our flat, Rasmus and I get to both live and worship in the same neighbourhood, which is not always the case in cities as far as I can tell from other friends living around the world.
As we walked around the route that I had planned, visiting the psychedelic 70s cocktail bar our expression first started meeting in, and then pausing at various places to pray for asylum seekers, the Belgian church, the large expat community, people in business within our church – it felt doubly special to me because this is where I live. I believe that’s not by accident.
It’s an interesting place to live.
Walk one way out of the door and you are in an area of cute and posh boutiques selling artisan chocolates, designer clothes, expensive flowers, there are fancy seafood restaurants, trendy bars with all white furniture and crazy lights…
Walk the other way out of the door and you find yourself surrounded by Belgians and immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East, whole communities sitting together in the park in the late afternoon, two asylum processing centres within two blocks, a street where prostitutes wait.
I grew up in a small village where everyone knew who you were, probably heard your big news before you even did. I love the strong sense of community there. I love that for our wedding, one of my dad’s friend’s from the pub offered his vintage car to drive us to the church in exchange for a pint of beer. I love that people are always willing to help in an emergency, that there is always a neighbour keeping an eye on your kids playing tennis in the street, that the lady living next door can feel as much like your aunt as any of your blood-relatives.
I didn’t think I would find that in a city – it’s why I resisted for so long, going to university in the smallest town I could find!
But living here is beginning to challenge my assumptions about the city. Slowly we are meeting our neighbours in our block of flats (pipe bursts and watering cans falling onto your terrace from two floors above help!). We shop for our groceries across the street and recognise all the employees there. I volunteer teaching English at an asylum centre down the street and often bump into my students or other residents outside. I wave every morning through the window to Mario, the hairdresser.
My friend Marissa and I were talking recently over grilled veggies on her terrace about how our generation is often missing real relationships and real connectedness with other people. We spend so much time texting, facebooking, emailing rather than calling or meeting. And life moves so fast we can forget to stop and sit down with a friend over a cup of tea or smile at that frazzled mother on the metro.
Our prayer walk was inspiring to me because it reconfirmed how much I love this neighbourhood with all its eccentricities and paradoxes, even with all of its social issues and troubles. God is surprising me by giving relationships and connections with people when I least expect it. Which reminds me that God’s heart is for the people that live here too.