Haven or Wilderness?

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Tables moved to the corner, beanbags lugged through the corridors and set out nicely, ten packs of information ready, calm music playing in the background, delicious-looking plates of cookies and cups of orange squash at the ready. Week 1 of the six week-long Haven course on stress and anxiety is about to begin.

It was now 1.45pm (our start time was five minutes ago) and nobody has turned up. In fact we wait half an hour - still nobody. After all the effort that has gone into recruitment and set up, I can’t help asking myself, “Did we do something wrong? What’s happening?”

Over the previous six weeks, we have had conversations with pastoral support, run five recruitment assemblies and had been given the names of six students who signed up (with the potential for more). We’ve had lots of prayer for this course and plenty of conversations about it.

All this but nobody comes! What a disappointment. Has God abandoned us? Are students just flaky? Was this a big waste of time? Should we bother to try it again?

It was hard to reconcile the tangible benefits which we know the Haven course offers, with the complete no-show from the students, especially as some had already taken the leap of faith to sign up to the course. Just beyond our reach we knew there were young people we could help with their anxiety, if only they’d come. We left feeling deflated, but having decided to give it another go the following Thursday.

Two weeks later and here we were again. 1.40pm and we had a comfortable room all set up. Suddenly the sound of an initial wave of tentative students arriving, followed closely by another three, then a couple more, and we soon had our small space filled with nine young people completing their initial questionnaire and preparing to engage with week one’s energetic programme. The rest of the session progressed smoothly, the students participating with enthusiasm.

Although it is usually applied to prayer, I am reminded of the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18, where the judge comments, “Because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice…”

How often do we give up on something because it doesn’t work out the first time? If we had stopped with our apparent lack of success on our first attempt, we may have assumed that it would not be worth trying again. Yet after spending time with those nine students who came the following week, I am convinced that it has all been worth it. Patience paid off and young people are on course to experience the freedom we hoped they would find. Bring on Week 2.