Read John 4:7-15 – Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman beside a well, so breaking a whole bunch of taboos, but also having an interesting conversation, operating at a bunch of levels and with a fair degree of misunderstanding.
My sixth encounter story is about Joe (not his real name). My first encounter with Joe was when I, literally, threw him out of the church service, I think the only time I have ejected somebody in such circumstances. However, a young lady in our congregation was conducting her first ever service and a shouted interruption from the back needed to be addressed. I told him to come back later, which he did, and got to know him over the coming weeks, months and (probably – I can’t quite remember the timescale) years. If things could go wrong, they went wrong for Joe. It just happened. Eventually he got a new flat and we gathered some furniture which we took round in a van. It was a first floor flat and we carried the sofa upstairs, only to discover it was just too wide to go through the front door. ‘Let’s take the door off,’ I suggested. Rather nervously Joe asked if I would be able to put the door back on. With a confidence I didn’t really feel, D-I-Y not being amongst my skills, I assured him I would, and so we proceeded. Happily, we both got the sofa into the flat and the front door safely back on!
Read Luke 7:37-39 – Jesus allows a “sinful” woman to anoint his feet. How do we treat others? How do we respond to others?
My seventh encounter story is about Arif (again not his real name). Arif was an asylum seeker being held in Winson Green prison, where I used to go and visit him. Originally from Angola, he was in trouble because he had claimed to be Portuguese and had used false paper – but without that claim and those papers would never have got to the point of being able to claim the asylum he needed. Happily, in time, he was released and supported by friends of mine.
Read Luke 8:42b-48 – In the middle of an engagement with synagogue-leader Jairus, whose daughter is dangerously ill and dies, Jesus encounters a woman who needs healing and has the confidence to touch his coat in order to receive it. ‘She only touched the hem of his garment’.
My eighth encounter is really a series of encounters. During my first trip to Zimbabwe we visited a number of projects that Christian Aid then supported. On one particular day we went to a Roman Catholic organisation that gave all sorts of help to the community. A lorry loaded with masses of aid arrived just as we did. We went off with a small group to a rather dilapidated hall where they were running a clinic. They set up a table for registration, a second table as a consulting room area to see the nurse and a third table as a pharmacy. They invited the few of us to sit in a fourth corner and just be available for conversation with anyone who wanted to talk to us. It was interesting that nearly everybody came to speak to us and that the one of our group who, having medical experience, was with the nurse commented on how valuable that listening opportunity was. Not all, but most, of the patients were women – and it was so moving to hear the frequently-told story: “My husband died, and then I went and got tested, and discovered I was HIV positive.