A film commissioned by YFC’s ‘Ethos’ project – a series of short films for young adults.
A few years ago, a friend and I decided to make proper use of a mid-week day off, and travel to a nearby beach town. Because of the timing of our visit and the fact that it was mid-week, everywhere we went was eerily quiet. Walking down the main street we were greeted by the flashing lights and electronic sounds of games arcades, and we decided to visit one, to spend some of our hard earned two pence coins! As I walked into our chosen arcade, a big neon sign caught my eye, with the word ‘redemption’ on it. This was the cash desk where vouchers or tokens won on certain machines could be redeemed for cash. As I looked around a sadness hit me, as I saw many people playing on slot machines, people of all different ages, at about 11am in the morning. You could tell that for some this was a daily hobby, spending hours of time and lots of money in the hope that they would hit the jackpot and be able to make the journey to the redemption desk to exchange their winnings for something greater.
It made me think about how we all search for redemption in one way or another.
That sign has been on my mind again recently as I’ve explored what redemption might mean, a word we use a lot in ‘Christian-land’. We talk about God redeeming us, redeeming things, his redemption plan for the world. I’ve always thought about redemption in terms of being saved by God, that God has redeemed me, which I believe is true. But there is another meaning of redemption which I’ve perhaps neglected, one that takes me back to that slightly sad games arcade in that quiet beach town on my day off.
The second meaning of redemption is about gaining or regaining possession of something, normally in exchange for something else. So in that games arcade, you win tokens which you then exchange for real money. You give in what you have (or what you have is taken from you) and you receive something much better in exchange, something of a higher value. Something better than what you had before.
When I’ve lost things in my life or things have been taken from me – friendships, jobs, projects, whatever…it at times has felt unfair. People have often told me that God will, in time, redeem that situation, that I will get back whatever I’ve lost if I trust Him and wait. But what I’ve come to realise is that it’s so much better than that, and it goes right back to the very core of who God is; a massively creative creator, who is always pioneering new and amazing ways to restore, heal and bring people back to Himself.
Sometimes we don’t get back what was taken from us…we get something even better.
Take the story of Joseph (from the book of Genesis in the bible) as an example. I often imagine what Joseph must have felt like, being ripped away from his father, broken relationships with all his family, sold into slavery and thrown into prison. I wonder about those months and years that he spent in prison, with everything that had happened going round and round his mind. What did he think the redemption plan was? If it was me I would have probably imagined my brothers repenting, me being allowed to go back and live with my family, doing what I was doing before. What was God’s plan? Joseph became one of the most powerful men in Egypt, he saved the lives of thousands of people preventing them from being killed by famine, and in the end his relationship with his family was restored. Wow. Do you think he ever even imagined that as he sat in prison, alone, with his life in shreds? At the end of the story when being reconciled Joseph says this to his brothers; “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” – Genesis 50:20
Or Job. Job literally had everything taken away from him apart from his life. Through all his pain and questioning he never lost faith in God. At the end of his story we are told that ‘the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before’ – Job 42:10.
Or Moses. Because of a stupid mistake Moses went from being the son of a Pharaoh to a shepherd tending sheep in the wilderness. He lost everything. But it was Moses that God used to set the Israelites free from slavery. That’s kind of a big deal.
The bible seems to be full of people who in their loss, in their mistakes, in their grief, trusted God and waited, and out of that came a redemption plan that reached so far beyond their own imaginations. Greater purposes came from those messy situations, where what was taken or lost got replaced with something so much greater, something that stretched so far beyond meeting their own needs into meeting the needs of others.
When things are broken we can try to fix them so that they become exactly what they were before. We can see redemption as getting back what we had before and nothing else. But sometimes we need to just put the broken pieces in the hands of God, trusting that He, as the ultimate and most incredible creator we know, will take those pieces and make the most beautiful mosaic, something that will reach out and bring purpose, destiny, healing and redemption not only to our own lives, but to the lives of many other people.
I love this so much about God. That His creativity is not limited to the earth and the things He has made or done in the past. He is endlessly creative in the ways He engages with us; His provision, His interaction with us, the way He brings healing and restoration, all done differently for each individual, a masterpiece He paints differently for each of us. Even His redemption is creative beyond our comprehension, beyond anything we could ask or imagine in our wildest dreams.
“When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body” – 1 Corinthians 15:37-38
We can be like seeds that get crushed. But it would be ridiculous to try and gather all the tiny parts of a seed and try to put it back together again, as it was before. We would know that this brokenness, the crushing of the seed, put in the right hands and given the right care, can grow into the most incredible tree, that brings life, fruit and shelter to many others for years to come.
I want to be able to trust that God, the first and ultimate artist, is the one who determines what kind of plant the crushed seeds of my life will become. What a relief, because every time I have had a plan in my head and I’ve finally let it go and let God take control, what grows is mind-blowing, overwhelming, something I never could have predicted or created.
It actually makes my own plans look ridiculous.
That is creative redemption, and day by day I am absolutely loving seeing it happen in my own life, and in the lives of others.
When I used to skate, my friends and I would occasionally travel to Storm Skate Park in Derby, a massive indoor skate park. Nothing like this existed where we lived; it had some of the biggest ramps I had ever seen, and I would always come back with bruises and cuts!
One day we arrived, and this was going to be the day I ‘dropped in’. This means literally ‘dropping in’ to a half pipe or quarter pipe from the top. The skater usually starts in a tail stall position on the coping and from there tips the skateboard down and into the ramp. In skateboarding this is one of the easiest and hardest things to do. It doesn’t take a lot of technical ability, it just takes guts.
So there I was; my helmet, elbow pads, knee pads and wrist guards all velcroed on as tight as they would go. My hands were shaking, sweat beginning to make its presence known inside my helmet. I watched all the other boys gliding up and down each ramp, making it looking as simple as brushing your teeth, or turning on a light. Words echoed round my mind about what I was about to attempt. Bend your knees, lean forward, just go for it I thought.
I edged closer to the ramp, the no bigger than 5 foot ramp seeming twice as big from the top. I positioned my board on the farthest point I could stay stationary, counted to three several times, closed my eyes, tightened my muscles and I dropped in.
I soon realised that closing my eyes wasn’t the best of ideas, also because I was so worried about everything else I had forgotten to lean forward and so I slipped backwards, knocking my head on the tough and unforgiving wood surface. I was stunned and hurt by the fall, but more by the laughter I heard echoing from what seemed to be the whole skate park. I skated away, sat down and took off my helmet. Maybe I would learn to ‘drop in’ another day. I didn’t have the guts to try again, and the time came to leave as an announcement came over the PA system that the park was closing in ten minutes. I ran over to another area of the park to grab my helmet, and looked to the top of the vert ramp, the highest ramp in the park. A small boy, no older than primary school age was standing at the top with his skateboard ready to drop in for the first time. I watched him as he tried and fell, cutting his elbow. I then watched in absolute amazement as I saw the boy get up, pick up his skateboard and try again. And again and again. Fourteen times in total! I almost shouted out loud when he dropped in successfully, driving his fist through the air, thinking no one was watching.
Ten years later…
Thanks to some lovely changes in the law, my age means I cannot legally drive a car and a trailer, without taking a separate ‘B&E’ trailer test. So we had to get me some trailer driving lessons, and book a test.
Now, let’s just say that there may have been a few times I had accidentally driven the car and trailer together before realising it was illegal, so I was quietly confident that the lessons and trailer test weren’t going to be that hard.
I was wrong. So very wrong.
First, comes the manoeuvre, where you have to reverse the trailer around a cone, and then make sure the back of the trailer is in a 400 mm box. If it is slightly out of the box, you fail. If you get out to check it, you fail. Just like real life.
You had to take the test in an unloaded trailer, so this meant unloading almost a ton in weight of ramps out of the trailer, into a storage unit, then driving for 45 minutes to the test centre.
The lessons went well, and I was happy I was going to pass the test. I wanted to, as it costs almost £100 every time you take it, as well as it being major hassle to unload all of the ramps and load them back up again two hours later.
The day of the test arrived and we drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the first test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
The second test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the second test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
The third test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the third test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
The fourth test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I failed the fourth test. We drove back, loaded the ramps back into the trailer, returned the trailer to its parking space and booked another test.
At this point I wanted to give up. We could just rely on volunteers to tow the trailer, couldn’t we? I felt humiliated and exhausted by it, I had cried over every single HGV test examiner at the test centre and now they even recognised me. My back ached from carrying those stupid ramps. Our bank account was hurting from the cost of the tests. Every emotion in me told me to run away and never look back. I had tried my best and it just wasn’t happening. Nothing in me wanted to go back and take that test. Nothing.
Which is why I booked the fifth test.
The fifth test day arrived. We drove the car to the storage place, hooked up the trailer, drove it around the corner to the storage unit, unloaded the ramps and drove to the test centre.
I passed the fifth test. And did a very silly dance.
Sometimes when you feel like giving up, your next attempt is the one that will succeed.
Our biggest battle with One Eighty was always venues. We started off with the perfect city centre venue, a massive hall that was already used for rollerskating. Unfortunately due to lots of different reasons, we were kicked out of this venue after just a few months. I struggled to find a venue that even came close to our first one, but eventually found a youth centre which had a small hall we could use. It didn’t even have enough space for all of our ramps, but at that time we were only attracting around ten young people a week and I thought this venue would be a temporary solution that would allow us to build up the project.
Then, the project exploded. After a few months at the youth centre, our numbers had tripled, the hall was getting dangerous and we needed somewhere bigger. I tried everything. Schools, universities, garages, car parks, warehouses, churches. No one wanted us in their space. We prayed, prayed some more, and did everything we could possibly think of to find a better venue. Nothing, for months, nothing.
Then we found out about a church, half a mile from the city centre, which had no regular congregation. It was a massive church, complete with storage space, kitchens, toilets, access and basically everything we wanted. The only thing it needed was a new floor. We suggested the idea to the church, and they seemed interested. Within weeks we had found an architect who said he would help us through the process, the approval of the church PCC and diocese as well as a floor company managed by a Christian who agreed to build us a new floor at cost price.
It moved so fast, it was ridiculous. It seemed to fit, it seemed to make sense. The doors were opening, the right people were coming forward to help. There seemed to be something so incredible about holding One Eighty in a church, about destroying young people’s stereotypes of what church is. It seemed right to reclaim the church for the mission of God, to breathe life back into a dead building… everything just slotted into place!
We would have to raise around £12,000, but in my mind that was only half a big black truck, we could do that. We were all ready to go, all we had to do was find the money and then we could finally get our dream venue.
Then, the phone rang.
It was the PCC. They had had a meeting. They had decided it was a bad idea. They were putting a stop to it. The answer was final, the answer was no. I was stunned, gutted, so disappointed. I thought this was it, everything had fitted so perfectly into place, why had this happened? I didn’t understand it.
I had to start all over again. All those meetings, all those plans, all that time I had spent on proposals and research…for nothing.
Within two weeks another option appeared, totally out of the blue. A school had asked us to come and do a skate event for them, at their sports hall. It was like the hall had been built for us. The access was perfect, the floor was amazing, the location was good. We asked the school. They said yes. They offered us weekly slots on a Friday night. We couldn’t believe it! Maybe all the hassle of the previous potential venue had been to lead us to this one.
They were slightly concerned about us marking the floor, and we were also not able to move our sessions to a Friday night. We decided to hold five monthly events there over the winter to test the format of the venue. This would reveal any potential problems to us, get the location known by the young people and reassure the school that we would not damage the floor.
We made a big deal out of the events, we called them ‘Fight the Elements’, we paid for flyers to be designed and printed, we organised a date to have a massive competition in partnership with the local skate shop. We were excited, the young people were excited, the buzz around the events spread, and when the day of the first event arrived, we were more than ready. The team were all in the office, about an hour before we were due to leave to pick up the trailer and head across town to the school.
Then, the phone rang.
It was the bursar of the school. I felt the room start to spin slightly, as I heard the words ‘too worried about the floor’, ‘the teacher you dealt with didn’t get my permission’, ‘cancelling all five events’, ‘no possibility of you using the hall for skateboarding ever again’.
I couldn’t believe it. I was fuming. For a few seconds I sat there thinking about it. The young people had been so excited about these events, they would be devastated. I had no way of telling them in time that it was cancelled. We needed that venue.
The event was not going to be cancelled.
I told my team to pray, and I phoned the school and asked to speak to the bursar. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. She wasn’t at her desk.
I felt like I was going to explode. I went into another room in our offices where people wouldn’t be able to hear me shout. I texted everyone I could think of and asked them to pray, I told them what the venue meant to me, what it meant to us, what it meant to those lads. And I shouted and screamed and stomped at God, because I was not going to lose another venue.
I went back upstairs and phoned the school, asking to speak to the bursar. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. She wasn’t at her desk. I waited five minutes and tried again. This time they stopped answering the phone.
I had half an hour before I was supposed to leave with my colleagues and pick up the trailer. There was only one thing for it. I needed to go to the school.
By now, rush hour traffic had hit Bath, and the roads outside our city centre offices were gridlocked. To get to the school we would have to go right through the city centre. With a massive four by four truck, it would probably take us over 45 minutes to reach the school.
My colleague had a smaller car, parked on a back street near another longer route which would avoid the traffic. We rushed to it, and I made him drive like a total maniac. Sorry Luke. Also sorry to that lady walking her dog that we nearly killed.
We arrived at the school, swerving into the car park like the A team. I ran into the reception but no one was there. I went into the staff room but no one was there. Eventually I bumped into a teacher who was holding a glass of champagne. It was the end of the Ofsted inspection, of course she wasn’t at her desk. I explained the situation in a frenzied waffle, and the teacher said she would take me to her. She was new, and forgot how to get to the room everyone was in. The clock was ticking. I had fifteen minutes to find this bursar, persuade her to let us hold the event, get back to the office, pick up the truck and my staff, pick up the trailer, then get back to the school and set up the skate ramps.
We reached a set of double doors, to which the teacher said ‘ooh there she is’, she tried the door but it was locked. I could see the bursar pick up her handbag and put down a glass was holding…she was about to leave and I couldn’t get to her because the door was locked. This was my last chance to save the event and possibly the venue. I decided I couldn’t take any more of this, and under my breath I commanded the doors to open in Jesus’ name! I’m not sure who was more surprised when the doors opened.
As I walked towards the bursar, I tried to calm down, take some deep breaths, remind myself that she would probably get a restraining order against me unless I handled this properly. I needed to be passionate, but not psychotic. Sometimes this can be a fine line with me.
Hello Bursar, I’m blah blah from blah blah, how’s Ofsted gone, blah blah oh great that’s nice blah blah blah. My turn. In 60 seconds I told her everything. I told her about the project, the events, the flyers, the boys. With tears in my eyes I told her things I didn’t even know I felt, I had no idea what was coming out of my mouth but I just went with it. I told her she couldn’t cancel my event. I begged her to let us go ahead.
I thanked her and bolted for the car, telling Luke to step on it! As soon as we got near the centre of town again the traffic hit gridlock, and I got out of the car and ran.
I jumped into the truck, drove like a total psychopath, went through two red lights, picked up the trailer and made it on time.
The event went ahead, despite many more battles that night, including the hall being double booked.
I told them that we would never give up.
I told them that we will always fight for the things that are important to them.
I told them that God would never give up.
I told them that God will always fight for the things that are important to them.
I told them they needed to write lots of letters to the school.
Despite a successful event, the school wouldn’t budge, and we lost the venue.
And that’s it. We fought, we battled, and we lost.
One Eighty never moved out of the youth centre.
Some locked doors open, and some don’t.