A few Saturdays ago, a load of us went to the Jubilee plus annual conference entitled ‘Churches that change communities’. I hadn’t been to the conferences that had been held in previous years but as this one was just down the road in Darlington, it seemed the ideal time to go.
The conference focuses on how churches engage with the communities around them and how they can best respond to poverty issues in their neighbourhoods. There was a range of excellent speakers, including our very own Sue Kearney, speaking about how we can help people develop skills for life.
It was also great to see Steve Whittington on the speaker list too. For the benefit of those who have only been part of Jubilee in more recent years, Steve, served as an Elder at Jubilee from around 2001 to 2006. In 2006, Steve and his wife, Jo, and their son Caleb followed God’s call to move to Hull and start a new church there.
What I didn’t realise however was that Steve went to school with the keynote speaker for the event, Krish Kandiah. Krish, the founder of the fostering and adoption organisation Home For Good, told a story about how both Steve and he came to faith in Jesus at a similar time during their school years and that they devised a plan whereby they divided their class in half in order for Steve to pray for one-half and Krish the other. They then took every opportunity to share Jesus with these people and saw some of them become Christians.
I was surprised that I hadn’t heard this story from Steve during our friendship in Teesside; after all, I’m sure there were plenty of other stories he told me at least more than once!
Yet amazingly, a week later I read this same story in a Christian magazine which had interviewed Steve and Krish. Twice in a matter of days!
Clearly, this experience had a significant shaping influence on who these men are today. It really reminded me that as we come into a personal, dynamic friendship with the living God through Jesus Christ, we get caught up in God’s mission and purpose and as that happens, it shapes how we grow.
In the New Testament Paul writes a letter to a guy called Philemon and says to him, ‘I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.’ Paul is suggesting that Philemon’s growth in understanding his faith in Christ will be strengthened by how he shares it with others. Nicky Gumbel (from the Alpha Course) says of this verse, ‘I have often noticed on Alpha how quickly people grow in their understanding as they become small group helpers and hosts on the course. The way to grow is to be active in sharing your faith’.
So from two teenagers at school that decide to pray and talk to their friends about Jesus, to people helping this term on Alpha, to those serving in numerous activities that show God’s love in practical ways, to those sharing their faith in the workplace or the school gates or the local coffee shop or pub; know that as you do these things in faith, Jesus is bringing you into deeper understanding of every good thing we have in him.
I hope like me, you’re both thankful and excited that our October gift day raised over £20,000. I’m praying that it will enable more people to live in the reality of what Paul prayed for Philemon and that people both in Teesside and in some of the nations we’re involved with, will have increasing experiences like this. Let’s pray that more people come to know Jesus and find a home in a local church, more leaders are grown, more people from all ages and backgrounds go on this adventure of faith and more churches in other nations are equipped.
It sounds too good to be true, but this has happened throughout history since the first church in Jerusalem was persecuted. Those scattered believers planted new churches in the places where they settled.
The age old question of whether Christmas gets earlier each year. Perhaps it points to something deeper than we think.