So, one month into my adventure in London, and I have officially survived the Notting Hill Carnival, which for those of you who don’t know, is the second largest street carnival behind Rio. YWAM staff, students, interns and campers for Bones (an arts camp that ministers specifically to the carnival each year) all went out on the streets to evangelize, play drums, walk on stilts and more, and I–despite anything I would have believed had you told me so a month ago–was there doing some of the same.
There were three main revelations or observations I had during Bones and Carnival.
One, I was amazed to find myself doing these things. Covered in face paint and with a drum I’d only picked up a week ago, I was startled to find myself not only parading through the streets, sometimes through literal mobs of people, but also enjoying myself, banging out rhythms I’d only just learned with a confidence and joy I would never have imagined I could feel doing these things. Pretty much everything we did for Carnival was out of my comfort zone to some degree, and not only did I do it, but I had fun. It was awesome.
Two, I was surprised by God’s faithfulness throughout. The Carnival has a lot of roots in witchcraft and negative spiritual influences, and to be honest, as they prepared us for the two days of Carnival itself, I found myself dreading it coming. I’ve never really done well with spiritual things like that, never had the experience, been terrified of it, and this wasn’t much different. People had nightmares leading up to the camp and a lot of people said they could feel “heaviness” or “oppression” as they went out. I was so scared I was going to experience that, was going to have people with jet black eyes charging out at me from the crowd trying to kill me or put a spell on me, I really wanted nothing more than to go home before it started.
Then something changed. Sometime around Friday or Saturday, I started feeling excited. Seeing some of the floats we had made (you can check out bonescamp.tumblr.com for pictures and videos) of creatures from Revelations, I started getting pumped. “Yeah, these creatures have power,” I thought. “God has power. I have power.”
And throughout the entire Bones camp, I only had one minor sleeping problem that I wasn’t even sure was a spiritual thing. When we went out, I didn’t feel heavy or oppressed (to be fair, I felt fairly intimidated before going out in a lot of ways that I felt were spiritual attacks, though they stopped pretty much as soon as we’d go out), I felt fierce. I knew where our power came from, and I knew we had already won. In fact, I got righteously indignant, got angry at satan for even trying to have a foothold in that place, in our place. We had claimed those places and those people for Jesus, and he no longer had the right to be there, in places that God was moving, in places that God owned. This also was awesome.
Observation three was at first less encouraging. It was the second day of Carnival (the first day is family day, the second is not) and a smaller group of us had gone out to do some drumming. Then we heard more drumming and realized that people from the other spiritual side of things were having a parade. On one of our evangelism sessions we had had someone explain to us a bit about the Rastafarian side of Carnival, which at its deepest levels involves some pretty spiritually heavy and evil things, and this was (at least for some of the people in the parade) one of those things. Watching it pass, somewhat startled not to find myself feeling anything spiritual (which was awesome. Thank you for the protection Jesus!), I was struck by the physical difference between our drumming styles. A lot of their parade members had sunglasses on so you couldn’t see their eyes even if you wanted to. All of them looked straight ahead. They marched in complete sync, drumming the same parts, and none of them smiled. They looked like they were dead, and in some ways (as, to be fair, in some ways Christians also can be before Jesus reaches those places), I suspect they were.
We, on the other hand, encouraged each other to smile. We improvised, we marched out of order, we lifted each other up and engaged the crowd around us. We had joy, true joy. The difference was amazing.
It was a discouraging thing to see in some ways, to see waves of people blindly run to that parade, to watch them blindly follow, but in other ways, it encouraged me too. Because even when that parade was passing, we were there too. We were praying to break any spiritual darkness in the Carnival, that the darker elements of that parade would be broken, that people would be free, and once they were gone, we were able to play more. We were able to bring more light, and even when I was most discouraged, I knew that Jesus had already won, that the war is already decided with God coming out on top.
The other thing that amazed me about the time of Bones, besides finally seeing some of the fruit I’d been begging God for for the last month, was to see how much these people are becoming my family. I’ve known that they’re my friends and that I love them for a while now, but this made us feel like family. I realized for the first time that when this is over, I won’t just feel relief to get back to my “old friends” or family, though of course I’ll be happy to see them again in person, I’ll feel sadness and grief too, I’ll be sad to leave these other people I love behind. Who will I pick on in this or that way, who will share my digestives (biscuits), who will share my inside jokes or sleep in my room or know me in so many of the ways you can only get when you live with people like this?
It’s strange, really. I still don’t know what I’m supposed to do after my DTS, whether I should come back for an internship, go somewhere else, go home and get a new job. I have certain inclinations towards some things, certain thoughts that are starting to float, but honestly I’m not quite sure. All I know is if I go or stay, I’ll be missing family of some kind, and that’s entirely strange.
Lastly, unrelated to Carnival in some ways, is my step back. So, when we were trying to think of movies to watch during Carnival, one of my suggestions was Stardust, a movie based off a book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The idea was vetoed based on the fact that the movie involves witchcraft. I hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but since Carnival has roots in it, they explained that by not watching things like that during that period, we could “walk in the opposite spirit.” The staff and others don’t drink during Carnival (which has a lot of alcohol) for the same reason. I thought that sounded reasonable and let it drop.
Then this morning I realized I had some time to read. I had picked up some books from the library a few weeks ago, and thought I would finish some before heading to a museum. And what did I read?
Hellboy, which for those of you who don’t know, is a comic series revolving around a demon who was essentially raised by a mixture of the church and military and rejects his supposed fate as a fairly significant apocalyptic figure to work for the military fighting evil, most of which I had forgotten since watching the movie years ago.
Talk about not walking in the opposite spirit.
Now, to be fair, it is fiction, and I had forgotten a lot about some of the heavier stuff, as I usually do. On the other hand, I had just had this kind of conversation a few days earlier.
I felt terrible. What if I had opened doors in myself? The church? The other people on my team? I felt awful for not having stopped myself sooner. After just having such a powerful weekend, how could I have done something so stupid?
And yet, God is faithful, and to be honest, I’m a human. Most of my life is comprised of mistakes. This morning, I did feel heavy. I felt bad for finishing the book, I felt bad for having started it, and I felt bad for reading it where others could see that’s what I’d been doing. I felt worried, disappointed, and sad.
But, since then, I’ve told people about it. I’ve repented, I’ve asked God for forgiveness and to close any doors I may have inadvertently opened in me, the church or others. I’ve also forced myself to remember that when I repent for mistakes, God is faithful to forgive, and that when He has forgiven, our mistakes are washed clean. I still feel bad for making the mistake, and I wish that I hadn’t, but I am glad to know that God has forgiven me, that He still loves me and wants to encourage me not to fall back too hard when I take a step back. I have also learned a valuable lesson about being more careful about what I take in to my life, and know that I will do better in the future.
God has been so faithful during this time. Please pray for me that I will see more of what He sees in everything and what His will is, for our team that we will do the same and for our church that it will be safe and protected. I believe any doors I might have inadvertently opened this morning have been closed, but if you want to throw a few extra prayers in my or the church’s direction, feel free to do so as well.
Thanks everyone! Love and miss you!
P.S. What do you think about this post? Are there times you’ve walked in the opposite spirit or failed to do so? What do you think about that idea in the first place? What about other times you’ve failed and needed forgiveness? How has God been faithful in places where you’ve made mistakes? I would love to hear about them either in the comments or a private Facebook or Twitter message if you’d rather not publicly share. Let me know!