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Hunter Street Baptist embraces London borough, partners with IMB to reach lost worldcomment (0)

March 24, 2011

By Ava Thomas

Dave’s been inflicting pain on people almost all day long — every day — for 12 years. But he likes them or else he wouldn’t do it.

Tattoo artists come a dime a dozen on Camden High Street in central London, and so do the crowds of punk youth snaking through street booths displaying Converse shoes, tights and body jewelry.

Plenty of business to be had.

So Dave’s not afraid to say “no” to using his handmade machines to ink your arm with My Little Pony, not because the pony is stupid but because you don’t like the way he approaches his art. Without blinking, he’ll turn you around and send you to the shop next door. Not because he’s insecure or hurt by your criticism, mind you.

“I’m not trying to be all noble. I am providing a service, like the guy fixing your sink or delivering your pizza,” he said. “It’s not a life-or-death matter. You don’t have to like me.”

But he has to like you.

“Potentially I could be spending 15–20 hours in a person’s company, smelling their sweat, their breath, having their blood on my hands — through gloves — but still. It’s very intimate, very personal. If I don’t like you, I don’t want your money and I don’t want to spend 15 hours with you, because we’ll probably kill each other.”

No pretense there.

Authenticity. That’s what Camden’s supposed to be about, and that’s why Dave said his employer opened the street’s first and longest-running tattoo studio in 1986.

But the area’s seen some change since then, he said. “I don’t think parents would’ve let their teenagers come here unaccompanied back then.”

Back then, it was a “scunge pit,” where punks used to stitch their own stuff and create their own look. Tattoo shops wouldn’t sit within miles of each other out of artistic courtesy, he said. Now they’re practically on top of each other and the area is drawing name-brand stores amid the grunge.

The neighborhood is “slightly going up, and I see it becoming more of a safe, packaged version of what we were. Same as tattooing, I guess,” Dave said. As a whole, it’s not as much about art as it used to be — it’s more about business. A few doors down at a shop just three months old, Lee agreed. He’ll ink pretty much whatever the customer asks for without much discussion, even though he likes it best when he can inject a little of his own creativity. It’s a business though — not much room for personal opinion.

But he and Dave, they still have the same mantra.

“There’s something about the permanence of being able to ink good art on someone’s skin — it’s like you’re making a lasting impact on them,” Lee said. “It’s a way to further my art. I’ve always been creative with everything, and if I don’t do that, I end up a shell of a man, you know?”

He doesn’t talk while he tats as Dave does, only while he’s rolling and smoking a cig out back in between appointments.

His cigarette dangles out of his mouth as he talks about the pleasure he gets from the craft and the challenge of overcoming difficult pieces.

But purpose — where does he find that?

“God, I have no idea.”

Folks at Hunter Street Baptist Church, Hoover, are hoping to show him.

In 2007, the Birmingham Baptist Association church, which is led by Pastor Buddy Gray, adopted Camden, one of London’s 32 boroughs, as part of the International Mission Board’s Adopt London project. All the world’s countries are represented in the city, and Adopt London aims to partner a church like Hunter Street Baptist with each borough and, in turn, reach the world.

“As evangelicals, we cannot afford to let this gathering of the world pass us by,” said Matt Fontenot, partnership coordinator for the project. “We must be involved in bringing the gospel to London.”

Spencer Knight, minister of ministries at Hunter Street, said the church sent its first team to serve in Camden in 2008 and has progressively sent more teams each year since.

“Right now, we are forming relationships, identifying needs and discovering barriers and bridges to a culturally appropriate gospel presentation,” Knight said. “We’re doing that so that we may be a part of a disciple-making movement of God in this area. Our desire is to meet and partner with local like-minded Christians to plant a church in the area.”

Adopting churches become their own strategists for reaching their borough, Fontenot said. Training and support is given, but churches are given the green light to use their own creativity in reaching their boroughs.

“Once a church is trained, it is pretty much up to that church to define how they will use the talents and gifts of their congregation to reach London,” he said. “This could be by joining groups in the borough based on hobbies and interests of the church’s people down to engaging people on the streets of London.”

The next two conferences for interested churches are May 1–6 and Sept. 18–23 in London. For more information on the project, visit adoptlondon.com.

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