A month ago or so, 24-7 Prayer asked our leadership team to write a blog about our latest outreach to the Westman Islands. I was nominated and so undertook the slightly intimidating process of writing a blog that I knew would be read by hundreds of people. (A little scary). The link below is the blog that was shared with the 24-7 Prayer community all around the world and on their website.
But I also wanted to share with you the full version of what I wrote, because so much had to be cut for length. If feel like this reflects so much more of what I actually wanted to say. Think of it as the extended version. Enjoy…
[[[A few years ago, they started calling us the Coffee Angels. And the name stuck.
With expectant hearts, we show up with canisters of coffee as they come rolling out of their tents in the late morning. Offering free coffee, we walk through the debris from their parties the previous night and dodge ill-placed tether lines from tents staked into the ground. The air contains the lingering stench of booze mingling with other things that are perhaps better unmentioned. While grateful and groggy Icelanders receive the steaming cups, another hand is thrust out from a neighboring tent to collect one for themselves. “You guys are life savers!” But, whether they know it or not, they are receiving more than coffee.
It seems to be God’s plan to use small, unlikely things to bring big, long-term changes. And that is what we do in Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland (The Westman Islands in English) during the outreach. The Þjóðhátíð festival is held every year in an ancient volcanic crater. What began as a way to commemorate Iceland becoming a nation, has been deluded into a huge drinking party with bad music. But some of the roots still persist. For many people, it is tradition and they come for the fun and community. However, a dark side of the festival has only been addressed in recent years. Even among Icelanders, the festival has a bad reputation for violence and sexual assaults. The situation seemed hopeless, but that is where we come in.
People come from all over the world to the little island in the south of Iceland to serve at the festival. Some are friends and some are strangers, but we are all family by the end. The plan is simple. It begins with prayer and then love flows out in the form of coffee. It is amazing how thankful people are for free coffee when the wind is cold, and the hangover is brutal. It is the definition of love to meet people where they are with no strings or expectations attached. They shoot us suspicious looks as if waiting for the catch. But, we are only there to give coffee and conversation if they want it. “Why would you do this?”; “You have come all the way here just to give me coffee?”; “You really are angels.” But, through this simple gesture, seeds of God’s love are planted.
Last year’s outreach was a time of open doors. It was year seven, and while we have seen God move and gradually soften the hearts of the people we encountered at the festival, it has been a slow process. Every year, the festival-goers are more receptive to what we have to say and are more willing to talk about their lives. We are building relationships and trust. Every year, the heavy, dark spiritual atmosphere grows lighter. Last year was the start of another shift. God showed us ground that He wanted us to move forward into. To claim. Things that were not possible before were opening up.
This year, He confirmed it all. Now there was even more space for us to move. This year we pioneered a new expression of our ministry at the festival: a night team. As is our routine, the whole team went to the festival site in the evening to watch the crater lit by bonfire, flares, and fireworks. But this time, some of us stayed out until the sun peeked over the horizon again at 3 or 4am. After midnight are the peak party hours. We weren’t sure what to expect, but God used us to help the festival staff watch out for people in vulnerable situations. But also, to offer help where the staff would not. From walking stumbling people back to their tents or homes to helping someone to find their lost cellphone, it was a new way of making connections and to build on what God did through our encounters during the day. Some even recognized us from when we gave them coffee that morning! It turned out the new night team naturally flowed out from what we did during the day. There was no doubt that this was a new direction for the outreach.
It makes me wonder: if we are seeing these improvements just for a weekend at the festival, what is God doing in Vestmannaeyjar the rest of the year? On top of that, people come from all over Iceland to join the festivities. What is God doing in all the other small places in this nation? Could it be that this festival is not only a measure of God working in Vestmannaeyjar, but a litmus of Him moving in the hearts of all Icelanders? And maybe the cycle keeps moving upward. What if Icelanders come to the festival with the seeds of whatever God is doing in their life during the year to have those seeds watered by free coffee in Vestmannaeyjar?
It may seem like very small things happening here. But for those of us who live here in Iceland, we know that it is to those little victories that we need to cling. Throughout history, God has a track-record of using the small places and unlikely people to show His glory. To use a tiny island off the south coast of an obscure island country near the arctic circle seems to fit the profile.
I have always imagined that we are on seed-planting duty in Vestmannaeyjar, but what if God is now exchanging our seed packets for watering cans? And perhaps this hope is premature. There are still many rocks to dig out of the soil and seeds to be planted. We will still need our rakes and seed packets. But I would like to fill my watering can just in case.]]]