This phrase first came to me whilst living in the urban jungle of Ibrox and Govan in Glasgow’s South side back in the 1990s. I was leading a team of YWAMers committed to reaching the children, youth and families of one of Scotland’s most disadvantaged communities. We were consumed with how to be ‘good news’ in the midst of a lot of despair and hopelessness.
Our weekly energetic PlayPeace Church by then attracted 150-200 children aged 5-12years. For eight months out of the year PlayPeace Church took place in the open-air of a street or in a park. In the very coldest wettest months we retreated indoors to Govan Baptist Church and the kids were picked up in double decker buses.
One of our main values was to personally visit every child each week in their home. At one stage this amounted to almost 500 kids being visited weekly. It took a whole year of weekly visits before the local people began inviting us inside their houses instead of standing at the door.
We used to travel in every week from outside the neighbourhoods of Ibrox and Govan. We’d arrive in the minibus or cars or Teen Challenge Bus and then leave. Some called us ‘Bible bashers’ which I remember I didn’t like and really confused me. Travelling in and out accentuated the atmosphere change we’d taste and experience each week. It was something tangible. The ‘heavy’ spiritual sense one felt was quite real. However one day we all moved into the neighbourhood. It was like we re-enacted John 1 when the Message translation says that, “the Word became flesh and moved into the neighbourhood”. It wasn’t long before we realised the ‘Bible bashing ‘phrase had gone. But we did have to learn how to live under the cloud
of heaviness we had been able to enter and leave before.
Regular praise and worship as a team was priority. So was the sharing of meals! Helping each other deal with feelings of anger and frustration was vital; how to ‘live in the light’ with each other. Living in the opposite spirit became more than a famous YWAM teaching but a daily necessity. We lived next door to IRA members, to drug addicts. We witnessed knee-capping shooting incidents. One of my weirdest moments came one night just after mid-night when a frantic mother telephoned for us to come get rid of the poltergeist in her house across the street.
Half-way though our first Easter camp, a 10-year old birthday girl refused to cut or eat her cake after blowing out the candles. In fact she wouldn’t allow anyone to eat it, insisting it went home with her at the end of the week. She had not had a birthday cake before. This event was to trigger an initiative around blessing kids on their birthdays, treating them like kings and queens. We coined the phrase ‘raising the joy level’ as we developed this birthday blessing scheme.
We had some much life from doing it. None of us had too much spare cash to bless these kids. There was no budget for it. Kids were allowed to choose a best buddy and an experience they’d never done before. Some went swimming or a meal out at Glasgow Airport. VIP red carpets appeared in school playgrounds, kids sung to in classrooms. Kids had surprise early morning awakenings in their homes, blindfolded and taken abseiling. Eventually the local government officials noticed what we did and when we entered our official proposal for funding we won first prize and awarded £10,000.That was our first adventure into the rewarding world of raising the joy level.