I live on the first floor of a four storey block. From my kitchen I look out onto a brick and concrete box. The floor is a basketball court, a dilapidated playground and a sea of cracked walkways. Young men flock and laugh among their plumes of smoke. Housed travellers gather around tables. Crisp packets and fizzy drinks cans roll their way along the pavements. Decades of refugees and immigrant workers find their homes here.
The soundtrack is laughter, shouting, the opening and closing of doors, pigeons, seagulls, sirens, motorbikes and sometimes fireworks, sometimes the prayer of Muslims, sometimes the prayers of my Hindu neighbour in the flat above.
I live in a prayer room with 1000 other people. But they don’t all realise it yet.
The Estates, The Projects, Les Banlieues. They can be found all across the world. These are not the favelas or the slums but government provided, “affordable” housing.
These communities are all different, but share many of the same stories. Lurking in their foundations are the aspirations to give people caught in poverty a better home, and overcrowded communities the space to breathe, laugh and play. The dream of the architects were for good; but those dreams became a trap.
These blocks of flats, in all these places with all different names, are the places where poverty and diversity push most hard upon our people. Drugs, quick money and violence have thrived in the narrow walkways and concrete corridors. Those with the least choices and most precarious jobs get stuck and it’s easier to break in than break out. Race, religion and life is sometimes celebrated; sometimes contested.
But the story is not all bad. Creaking under division and the clash of cultures still communities blossom in the beauty of many nations. Out of this soil springs new urban music, innovation and provision. At the same time as some neighbours war and shout, others share their food, share their life; pray and hope together. Still others take these cold walls and make them a canvas for new art.
These closed communities open to become a prayer room for all nations.
My estate has become my prayer room. Its walls a display of the creativity housed despite the circumstances. Its flat numbers are the psalms and my neighbours the world at my doorstep. Multi-faith, multi-culture, multi-storey. Testimony upon testimony of pain, hope, defeat and getting back up again.
And I can see Jesus here amongst the tax-avoiders and sinners. I can hear Isaiah speaking to Israel: “rebuild the old ruins, raise a new city out of the wreckage”. And as I hear this soundtrack and watch the rain gather as puddles across the broken ground of my prayer-room-home; I know that I am not alone.
Across this city there are hundreds of estates and some of them are becoming prayer rooms. Across the continent there are thousands more. Across the world there is project after project that looks like it has failed…
…but the Kingdom of God is near. I live in a prayer room with 1000 other people. Where’s yours?
Article from Mark Bishop @revmarkbishop
This is a piece originally written in 2016 for 24-7 prayer which you can find here if you like! Let’s pray!