“I believe in transformation, God can change the hearts of men” All across the land we see it; Saturday, we did… again!
We were surrounded by them - transformed people moving about us at Devonport House Lifehouse, Plymouth, with huge smiles on their faces conveying the deep satisfaction and joy which bubbled gloriously unrestrained to the surface whenever they were given a chance to talk about it – and sometimes, it bubbled over even when they “weren’t looking” but we were!
Transformation was, at first, a sound. As we entered the warmth – a literal warmth because we were still trying to get rid of the chill of exposing ourselves to the cold winds sweeping the plains at Stonehenge where, I am ashamed to say, we’d behaved like tourists – we could hear the sound of live music. A band, comprising service-users, staff and someone’s mate, were singing worship choruses. Music about the transforming love and power of Jesus has become part of the transforming process at the centre!
Transformation became a taste. Standing beside a table groaning with goodies – savoury and sweet – a service-user convincingly disguised as a grinning gourmet looked expectantly at the amount of “give” in our tunics (not much, I’m afraid!) as he tempted us with a variety of delicious treats prepared as part of the centre’s rehabilitation programme. He, in turn, introduced me to the one responsible for the sumptuous spread: The Chief. The Chief is a former service-user who has had his life turned right-side-up and who has become the centre’s chef, while also being heavily involved in the kitchen instruction programme. This not only provides good meals at the centre but enables the centre to provide a service to the local corps. The modest plate of good things I chose to eat (I was conscious of the need to appear diffident rather than desperate with so many watching!) was an apt illustration of the kind of transformation which can take place and, indeed, is taking place, when almost any combination of ingredients are placed in the right hands!
Transformation was the smile with which the receptionist met us on our way through the foyer. She testified to the amazing change brought about in her own life due to the ministry she received in the Lifehouse – as its very first female service-user! Her transformation prompted her to want to contribute to helping others and so she volunteers her services at the centre, warmly welcoming everyone with her broad smile.
Transformation then became a tactile experience – the smooth pieces of wood which had been transformed from pieces of waste to items of beauty. Here, the transformative metaphor was powerful. I asked the transformed workshop leader what formal training he had had as I watched him work on a complicated piece of furniture with my proverbial ten thumbs firmly dug into my pockets. He had had none – and, self-taught, he was transferring his skills about shaping wood and character to others who were treading a path he had trodden some years before.
Transformation was a declaration of independence “signed” in the bold colours of a favourite football team. On his way through the programme, he had progressed to a flat in Zion House, en route to independent living. He proudly showed us around the flat, keen to let us see that he had stamped it as his own – and not a bad choice of football team either, it has to be said! It affirmed for me the truth that, when Jesus transforms us, we can live out being who we really are.
Finally, transformation was a glorious sight - the sight of a garden which had replaced an overgrown plot of land belonging to an accommodating neighbour. Using containers made from recycled wood and used tyres, vegetables, berries and flowers are grown and enjoyed in the centre. The project has recently received an award from the authorities.
It was an inspirational visit and, as I listened to the enthusiastic staff, I understood why they are excited by what is being accomplished: They’re experiencing the fruit of the Army’s most fundamental focus – the transformation of people’s lives!
The following day, I met someone at Exeter Temple Corps who had been transformed from the grip of addiction to wanting to become involved in an initiative to help others who are still fettered.
A weekend really can’t get any better than when I get to meet the living walking-about proof of God’s continued transforming power. Sensational!