On the last but one night at New Wine 2016, I took a walk through the camp.
A normal stroll, an everyday thing. An achievement for me, certainly, but it turned out to be so much more, because the ordinary hurtled me headlong into the sacred.
It was a balmy evening, the last rays of sunshine bathing the showground in a gentle light, the only sign of a huge deluge a few hours before a few puddles where welly-clad toddlers jumped with joy. I walked past Stomping Ground where a crowd of 8-11 year olds were doing the Cha-Cha Slide, playing arcade games and getting their nails done. I walked on past Boulder Gang and Rock Solid to the Youth corner.
I felt old.
Vibe was very loud and Flava full of gangs of happy kids, and outside were crowds of teens doing that preening thing at one another. My daughter was highly embarassed by my very presence, so I walked on, recalling how earlier, me and a friend had been thrown out of Thirst (‘we don’t do adults here’) and were quite relieved, really. They didn’t have any chairs and it was a bit smelly.
I stopped for a second to breathe in the air, the atmosphere full of joy and shouts of laughter, of hope. That’s the word. Hope soaked the place, and I began to reflect that this might be something of what the Kingdom is like.
I walked past the Tearfund tent where a late night singer-songwriter strummed his guitar, his plaintive tones echoing out into the night. I watched as folk in the cafe relaxed to the music, and more crowds spilled out onto the pavement outside, chatting and drinking and laughing and singing. Smiling at me as I strolled past, taking it all in.
Then there was Hungry, where people were still utterly lost in worship, abandoned and glowing as they did what they are created for. This is the quieter venue and the sound was beautiful, violins singing on the breeze and husky vocals carrying the hope onwards.
In the food court opposite, long tables were packed with people enjoying a hot donut or a tray of chips. I wondered what the food sellers thought of this bunch of crazy Christians. I wonder if they saw anything different. If they saw Jesus at all. I hope so. I think so.
I ambled through to the Impact venue which was still rocking big time, the young band giving it their all with their techo-drums and beat-boxer, lights streaking though the tent and out into the night in rainbow colours, touching every corner and every heart. The more energetic worshippers among us were pounding the boards in there and the hope was tangible. The freedom more intense than can be described.
On past the Marketplace where dozens of organisations represented their tireless work for the poor, the persecuted, the vulnerable, and where art and creativity in many forms were celebrated. At the centre of it all the Flame International cafe buzzed with more laughter and even more hope.
Walking through past the now quiet Groundbreakers, the sounds of the Arena drifted up the avenue; the place where a little earlier I’d encountered God in profound intimacy. Now the Late Night Live band blasted out 80s covers in style and I jigged a (little) bit.
The sounds of a night alive with joy faded as I carried on and came to the Open Doors refugee camp, where people were gathered in the falling dusk with candles and prayers, interceding for refugees worldwide. Something in the juxtaposition of the fun and laughter with this tender and heartbreaking scene brought me to tears, reminding me of how God’s Kingdom will be a place where there is no more pain, no more mourning, no more tears. Where there is joy and life and laughter and peace, for all eternity. The glimpses of how this would look were paired with the bittersweet beauty of God’s people in prayer for those who are in the most desperate of circumstances.
Come soon, Lord.
As I walked on past the camp and into the more residential area of the showground, I passed the Pebbles marquee and stopped for a moment, my mind racing backwards to when my children were little. Toddling through Gems, running free and joy-filled through Pebbles then pelting into Groundbreakers, their little hearts so full of all they learned, their legs tired from jumping and playing and dancing. I reflected on how blessed we were to have New Wine as a home for so long now. This is the first year they are both out of the kids’ stuff and into the youth, and I was a little bit sad, but more than a little bit happy, too. And to see the girl go and work on the Pebbles team, giving something back, was the most amazing thing. She’s now New Wine team-hooked forever.
So then I walked through this mini-city of tents and caravans, pockets of laughter lighting up the night, and thought again of God’s Kingdom, of how everyone is here together to worship, to be united, and that is only the smallest glimpse of what it will one day be. I wonder if there will be so much mud?
I walked through the hope-soaked sacred that night, and it changed me, again.