Festival Hope – that’s the title of one our most popular gospel tracts used at the Edinburgh International Festival in Scotland. For 30 years in August there has been a Christian witness in Princes Street by brothers and sisters in Churches of God bringing God’s message of hope to thousands from all over the world. Here is a typical day in the street work that is our festival. 6 a.m. – the alarm rings. It’s a Monday morning in August and three or four stalwarts make their way to the East End of Princes Street. The gazebo plus tables, chairs, signs, banners, weights, strengtheners and boxes of literature will be delivered on site at 7.30 precisely. Everything must be in place before the morning rush hour. The street cleaners have done their work and the wide pavement is looking quite smart. 9 a.m. – time for some to retire to the resting room nearby to get it ready for the day and to have an early cup of tea. They are ready for it, the work has been strenuous. 9.30 a.m. – prayer time in the resting room with some of the team who have appeared. A short Bible message will give courage for the day. As the week continues, experiences will be told and names of contacts offered up for prayer. Meantime, someone is left to look after the gazebo.
It can be a quiet period before the shoppers and the tourists appear, but can also provide time for a personal chat. A few years ago, a young woman cautiously approached the gazebo and, after fingering a few booklets, I asked if I could help her. She wanted to talk about her husband. Before their marriage, he was a heavy drinker, but being a Christian she tried to persuade him to stop and said she would only marry him if he gave it up, which he did. Now they were married he had reverted to his old ways and the marriage was falling apart. She was ashamed at her situation. I thought, “What can I do? How can I help?” I prayed and she prayed and we both felt comforted by the experience. I said the team would pray for her, but she didn’t want to give her name, such was the shame she felt. This was not untypical of the daily encounters experienced by the team.
10 a.m. – All the team has arrived and dispersed to different locations. Some prefer the entrance to the shopping precinct or railway station. Others like to be near the gazebo where there is more chance of a conversation. Those nearest the gazebo will distribute far fewer folders as folks see the texts and know what is being offered. “No thanks,” they say, but often it is a glower or stare straight ahead. Sometimes only 10% of tracts will be taken up. Lamentations 1:12 comes to mind, but this strengthens us as we treasure the comparison. It can be quite daunting, offering something that so few people want to take. It’s not a work that all feel comfortable doing, but it’s very rewarding for those who do participate.
Between 12 noon and 2 p.m. – It’s time for a break and an hour is spent in the resting room where sandwiches, tea, coffee, etc. are on offer. Fellowship is so important during the day and the labourer is worthy of his hire, even if his pay is only a sausage roll and a drink! 1 – 2 p.m. – another two or three hours of labour await us. We use Tel-it (Thematic Evangelical Literature) tracts to spread the word. They consist of eight pages on heavy paper with a themed message and a full presentation of the gospel and not many are thrown away. There are also foreign language leaflets to be given out. A young Chinese woman came to the gazebo with her parents who didn’t speak English, so she was delighted to take away a selection of Mandarin literature for them.
4 p.m. – Time to pack up, as everything must be loaded on to the van for the next day. For the workers, needed hospitality is provided by friends in Edinburgh and Musselburgh assemblies by way of a meal and a bed for the night and then to await the alarm at 6 a.m. and another day of service.