More than a hundred young people in hoodies looking for excitement would put any community on the alert. But in Milton Keynes during the autumn half-term, local residents welcomed young people out for adventure. These young people were Christians taking part in Hope MK.
Well planned social action projects helped them to engage with a wide spectrum of people throughout the greater community. Their aim was to serve God and bless others.
Breaking away from stereotypes, these young Christians took part in activities which appealed to everyone from deprived children to the elderly. An All Age Drop-In and a Youth Café had art, crafts, games and light refreshments on offer.
A 'footie cage' for football enthusiasts and Drop and Play sports roamed widely. In care homes, drama and playing games with residents ensured interaction. Deprived children enjoyed free hot lunches and activities.
Other practical contributions included gardening, litter picking and painting as well as free car washes for some incredulous motorists who thought they should pay.
Friday night the 1 of November culminated with the BIG event. It drew together world record football freestyler Daniel Cutting, MOBO award winning rapper Guvna B and Gram Seed with enthusiasts, young and old alike.
Creative evangelism saw young people reaching out to others with everything from inspirational notes they had written to bus rides with people who were hurting emotionally. One person, on their way to plan a family funeral, was comforted by a team member praying.
"When our team wrote those inspirational messages on notes, we met some very interesting people," observed Anita Harrison.
"One middle-aged lady we met pointed to her new, padded black coat as she proudly informed us, 'You prayed for me earlier in the week in Bletchley to have a new coat and here it is!'"
One challenge still causes ripple effects throughout a wide circle of Christians and non-Christians alike. The challenge was to 'trade up' with items worth very little money for something of greater value. At the end of the day, trade-ups would be given away to bless others.
In the designated shopping area, team members Ashley and Rebekah noticed a bridal shop. "Let's see if anything happens," they decided. "We just prayed for God's will to be done."
Inside, they explained to the owner Michelle what they were doing. With just a frisbee and a dodgy looking jewellery box, they asked her, "Is there anything at all you could trade us for, maybe flowers or jewellery?"
"I need to think it over," Michelle answered. "If you come back after a while, I'll see what I can do to help you."
When Ashley and Rebekah returned, Michelle showed them three bridal gowns and said, 'Take your pick.' Stunned, both girls agreed on one as being the most fabulous. Michelle explained that their choice was the most expensive one at £1,119. However, she wanted to give it to them to bless someone. Their response was understandable.
"We were shocked, but really excited and happy."
When Ashley and Rebekah offered to pray for her, Michelle agreed. She also accepted the Bible they gave her.
But that's just part of their experience. Michelle wanted the bridal gown "to mean something special". After a few days of prayer, they learned of a local Christian whose brother Darren was critically ill. Due to his condition, he and his fiancée Lesley moved their wedding forward. That left them without many necessities, including a wedding dress. Lesley was taken aback with the beautiful gown and moved to tears when told how it was provided.
Countless people prayed for Darren's serious condition. Although he passed away a few weeks later, being able to enjoy their wedding and marriage proved a blessing to Darren and Lesley. Many reactions were that this incident of getting such an expensive wedding dress "just doesn't make sense". Yet everybody now agrees that it can only be God.
Some people might say that there is a lot about Hope MK that doesn't make sense. After all, most young people would not be willing to give up their half-term to do everything from litter picking to initially embarrassing ventures. But even before the half-term, team members in Hope MK hoodies alerted the public not just with words but also with deeds. They were out helping shoppers pack their groceries on a Saturday to call attention to the week of events to follow.
Now, get-togethers aim to increase the number of young people participating to more than two hundred. As Rosie Harriott of the Bridgebuilder Trust told them, "We want to say a massive thank you for all you did to make Hope MK a resounding success. We still can't quite believe that no matter what we challenged you with, you just got on with it, pushed through any discomfort, overcame any difficulties, and did it all so willingly and without moaning."
Throughout the greater Milton Keynes community, residents agree they will be on the alert in hopeful anticipation of engaging with these special young people.
Hope MK is a partnership of organisations and churches across Milton Keynes, coordinated by MK Bridgebuilder Trust, St Mary's Church, Bletchley, and Spurgeon Baptist Church.