“Have I not commanded you, be strong and Courageous, do not be terrified or discouraged
For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”. Joshua 1:9
I remember my very first night as a Street Chaplain in Northbridge. During the day the cafe scene of this district is harmless, families come together to enjoy the cultural diversity of the local cuisines. You can sample genuine Italian fare right through to a Korean barbeque. The atmosphere is friendly and casual. On a Friday and Saturday night that all changes. Drunkenness, violence, drug overdoses and cultural tension often surfaces.
Prior to salvation, I 'partied' in the area for nearly seventeen years. By the end I loathed even the mention of the place. I had witnessed brutal beatings at the apply named "The Bog", saw drug induced stupors outside Connections and walked home (drunk and alone at 4 am) on numerous occasions. Northbridge has a dark side that only emerges at night. Every sin is indulged. From Strip clubs to brothels, sleazy nightclubs or pornography shops. Gay venues promoting lesbian wrestling, you name it, depravity is up for sale.
When selected to be the first Street Chaplain to 'hit the streets', I was somewhat anxious. For seventeen years I was oblivious to darkness - I was submerged in it myself. When you are blind you cant see - darkness is the normal state of being. Now that my eyes were fully open, evil seemed magnified and all to real. I knew of the many different characters that frequented Northbridge. However, I was no longer on their side of the fence. The prospect of walking around the streets with STREET CHAPLAIN plastered across my back worried me. I remember thinking "I am going to get hammered tonight". I expected abuse, even confrontation. Northbridge had never seen a Street Chaplain before. No one had paved the way. There was no experienced 'old hand' at my side. I was alone. My fellow chaplains that night were from church backgrounds. Nice lads that knew little of what actually went on. No doubt we will be the laughing stock of the whole seedy place. I kept these thoughts to myself.
Need to be strong.
All day I prayed. Over and over I thought of how powerful God truly is. How He can hold the entire universe in His hands. How nothing eludes his gaze (including a few little Street Chaplains in Northbridge). Alternate doubts competed for my attention. The Police carry tazors, bullet proof vests, Gloch 9 mm pistols, batons, hand cuffs and even ride trained riot horses. Modern day Centurions. I was armed with a water bottle and a purple t-shirt.
God led me to one of my favourite verses of the Bible. As an ex soldier I always admired Joshua. Facing insurmountable odds, armed with an ill trained rag tag army of ex slaves he was to fight the 'Goliaths' of Canaan.
Boasting the towering fortress of Jericho. Armed to the teeth with iron chariots and the latest military advancements. The Canaanites were the super power of the region. Initially the Israelites would have appeared the underdog. Everyone was dismayed. Everyone that is except Joshua.
God's spoken words to him were far from timid. Nor were they gentle or poetic. Have I Not commanded you? Be Strong. Be Courageous. Do not be terrified. I AM with you. For Joshua these words were the very breath of the Almighty God. He fought like a lion, feared nothing, and conquered everything. No one, other than the Christ, so followed God's commandments as obediently and fearlessly as Joshua. The Greek version of his name is Jesus. The child born of Mary shared the same name. It means “The Lord Gives Victory”. Joshua has been likened to a striking OT type (foreshadowing) of Christ (Barker, 2002).
I committed the verse to memory. Repeating it over and over. I started to truly believe. What harm can man do to me? Didn't Christ tell us not to fear those that kill the body (Mt 10:28)? I resigned to the fact that nobody was actually going to kill me tonight in Northbridge. Maybe a few insults and at worst a shoulder bump. But probably not homicide. When i stepped out I was prepared for death. After facing three AK47's shooting at me (UNTAC, 1993, Cambodia). Jumping out of perfectly good aeroplanes (at 800 feet) and surviving. Once being king-hit at the Paramount nightclub by a six foot five indigenous man, I realised God had protected me thus far. Maybe God could continue to protect me as a Street Chaplain?
That night people blessed us. The complete opposite occurred to what I had expected. People encouraged us for what we were doing. Not once but numerous times. Fear faded away to be replaced with joy. We started to enjoy the mission rather than fearing it. Three years on and the same scripture given so long ago to Joshua still serves me well. It often pops into my head when things heat up. Through broken jaws, knife fights, bleeding eye sockets and drug overdoses God has always been there. Following God (in Jesus) is not always safe. In fact it often feels downright dangerous.
The same words given to Joshua always bring encouragement.
"Don't be afraid. Be brave. I AM with you. And... I AM GOD"