Thoughts from Brazil

For the last week, we have been in Brazil. Images of rain forest, waterfalls and wildlife fill our minds and the Valley of Blessing does not disappoint. Situated close to the city of São Paulo it is an oasis of beauty and calm. June is the beginning of Autumn in Brazil and the nights and early mornings very cold which took us by surprise. Later the sun came out and it warmed up sufficiently for Guy to spot many beautiful butterflies in bright blues, oranges and yellows.

The home of Antioch Mission was one of the first evangelical organisations in Brazil to train and send missionaries across the world. We were here to build on an existing relationship with Silas and Marcia Tostes, who oversee the training school but also a 500 strong church. Relationships with New Frontiers go back many years but more recently their eldest son Andre spent a year in Woking before returning to Brazil. It was a joy to meet with him and his pregnant wife Jessica. They spent a year in the much poorer and arid North East of Brazil they are keen to plant a church there. It is a heavily Catholic area with some similarities to Spain and Portugal. We are keen to work together with this young couple and believe God has brought us together again. You may be seeing them more in the future and certainly hearing more about them!

Silas and Marcia extended wonderful Brazilian hospitality during our stay and we were able to minister to many different groups whilst here- the church, the trainee missionaries and the Antioch staff as well as the local mayor. We also had the privilege of visiting all the social action projects where they focus on children and families. We enjoyed an energetic dance from the children at the Art and Life school they run for poorer children in the community. We were also introduced to two families who are settling here after leaving the nearby devastated Venezuela. Many people are pouring into Brazil at this terrible time and are finding welcome and a future here.  A highlight was visiting the foster home where about 20 young people ranging from 9 months to 19 years old live together. We had a hilarious time as they questioned us about life in England. They sung us a Brazilian song and then asked us to sing to them, a first for us! We left moved by their cheerfulness aware that behind the bright smiles were terribly sad stories of abuse and neglect.

It felt quite sad to leave this morning, this family has definitely taken us to heart and the feeling is mutual. We are thrilled that God has brought us together and wait in anticipation to see how God will lead us together, confident that this will be the case. Silas and Marcia will be at Westpoint this year so make sure you look out for them and show them that the English can give as warm a welcome as the Brazilians can!

Thoughts from London

Thoughts from London

 

I  am writing this blog from our rented flat in Battersea, on the hottest Easter weekend on record, and with the constant rumble of trains passing our window – making me feel like a goldfish in a bowl. Seven million passengers a year could wave hello as they complete the journey in and out of Victoria! We also overlook the four huge chimneys of Battersea Power Station, currently a monumental building scheme with 32 cranes on the skyline. Constant noise, crowds of people, dirt and pollution make me ask myself “Why, oh why am I sitting here breathing polluted air when I could be fishing and breathing salty sea air in sunny Bournemouth?”

The answer is found in the book of Jonah and I see God challenging every single part of my life through this reluctant disobedient prophet. What does Jonah really believe about the nature of God, what of his worldview, his prejudices and comforts?  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it.” This astonishing short story bores deep, like a dentist drill into a root canal, to really get on our spiritual nerves. It asks embarrassing questions; it flicks the light switch on our dark cellar of fears and emotions that personally I don’t want to even admit are there.

Let me be brutally honest and perhaps help and challenge you as you read this article: I like my comfort, I like people like me in looks and outlooks. I want my life to count but I am counting on God to not ask anything that a 58 year-old cannot accomplish with some finesse and ability! I enjoy preaching about “going not knowing” but the reality of London city life often sucks! I don’t want to be back at school, learning a new way to live in the hustle and bustle of London life. I don’t like crowds, or broken nights with sirens. I know God loves the world, but the world sure doesn’t seem to love God in Jesus: our multicultural capital city is full of militant faithlessness or many different faiths.

I want to believe the UK is a caring hospitable middle class society where everyone gets the same opportunities and freedoms, but walking the streets of London you are confronted by the vast chasm between rich and poor. The well-heeled super-rich Westminster residents tucked up at home with their G&T’s, whilst on the streets there are shadows of the many homeless bedding down in tents and doorways, flotsam and jetsam tossed aside by our capitalist society.

I also believe in my heart that the church is the answer, that Christians will step up to the City transformation challenge, but the sad reality is a mile from this hope.

Cities cost, they demand their pound of flesh, they squeeze the lemon of available time dry. Willy Wonka’s golden ticket to Tarshish(Spain)  is sadly most city-slickers’ dream. How many times do I hear people say, “London is for the young, single, looking to make a shed-load of money, then head for the ‘burbs to a small friendly village church and retire with your own allotment and fruit tree.”

So, back to Jonah and the unanswered questions in the text for me and for each of us reading this blog:

Will you hear God’s heart for the lost?  Cities are not some elitist calling, but they are full of millions of hurting, lost people crying.

Will you swim against the flow, determined to head in Western society’s opposite direction?

Will you embrace cost; be that finances, health, friendships?

This is a time in my life when I’m supposed to be thinking about security, mortgage, pension etc. and instead I’m being asked to risk all on the promise from God, “I have many people in this city.”

My bigger question is, will we encourage an army of people to join us (Heather and I) in building, planting, and long-term committing to establishing city centre churches that are lifeboat rescue centres within each city community? I guess only time will tell.

Thoughts from Newfrontiers Prayer Day

Thoughts from Newfrontiers Prayer Day

On cold blustery winters days in London, I sometimes seek the solitary comfort of the Westminster Chapel auditorium to pray. From the lofty heights of the top balcony, I try to tune my ears to listen to those ancient voices that resonate in these walls from a time gone by, Samuel Martin, Spurgeon, Campbell Morgan, Lloyd Jones, RT Kendall and my dear friend Greg Haslam. Moments of joy, sadness, breakthrough, glory, sickness, anointed preaching and worship expressed in multicolored forms through different generations. I always wonder just how many saints have prayed and hungered for the glory of God to be revealed in this place, a prayer God loves to answer again and again.

What a joy to see over 500 Newfrontiers leaders gathering to pray recently in this wonderful time machine we call Westminster Chapel. What a key time to be reminded of Nehemiah and the broken down walls of the UK before turning to prayer for the government, the Brexit stalemate, marriages failing, knife crime soaring, and any sense of truth or meta-narrative lost in the seas of relativity and individualism. What a joy to meet then around the Lord’s table and be reminded that “we who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ…..who has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility”.

The joy and faith released as we worshipped after this meal moved me to tears. A new first-time guest said to me after, that he had sung the same hymns and songs but not experienced this level of passion and joy as we sang. Simon Brading and band brilliantly led us in worship to the throne of grace, where we boldly asked our Father for his kingdom to come.

Newfrontiers together as one family with different spheres not jealous of one another but zealous for one another, so no surprise to hear prophecies for our togetherness. The prophetic gifts among us seeing bonfire beacons of revival prayer lit up and down the nation and into Europe, the clear call to go North. I had a real sense that these days of prayer were important for each sphere as bees gathering to a central hive, cross-pollinating and allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our flight paths to new orchards in the UK full of spring blossom.

It is no surprise I came back buzzing and excited by all God has called us in Commission and Newfrontiers to do in the coming year, and am looking forward to the next time we gather.

Thoughts from the Phillipines – Heather Miller

Thoughts from the Phillipines – Heather Miller

When I look back on our time with Open Doors Church, Cavite, Phillippines recently I am reminded of the words in Acts 2: “All the believers were together and had everything in common…they ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of the people.” As with the early church, there was a group of people who lived near to each other and were frequently in out of each other’s houses. They ministered together, attending the prison, school, youth and prayer times, as well as constantly preparing and eating food together. They did it with great cheerfulness and fun too. Vast tables were laden with fish, rice, vegetables, bread and fruit and we seemed to be constantly eating, feasting morning, noon and night!

Despite only being with them for four days we had a wonderful insight into the life of the church and its ministry. Being met at the airport we were greeted by a huge banner with ‘Welcome to Vinu and Julie, Guy and Heather’ printed brightly and hearty hugs and smiles. We quickly realised that we were part of this family too, not bystanders but each one of us joining in and playing our part.

The first morning we were taken to Bulihan jail where all four of us had the opportunity to speak to the 60+ male prisoners crowded into the hot rooms. Despite seeing photos from Andy’s previous trips we were still taken aback by the incredibly cramped conditions behind the steel bars and the quiet anticipation as row after row of men sitting cross-legged and waiting. The church has faithfully visited each week sharing worship songs, testimonies and food, earning the respect of the prisoners and the staff alike who have commented on how their presence brings peace and calm to the inmates, even if for a short time.

On the second day, we were taken to the local Burol Elementary school where each of us was expected to go and teach a class. It’s been a while since I’ve stood in front of a group of school kids but I thoroughly enjoyed my lesson about Samuel hearing the voice of God. I was amazed at the attentiveness of the children and their delight in the simple games and story I brought. The staff too although slightly more distracted, listening to Guy speak to them about leadership and we felt they really welcomed the input of this little church.

In the evening we all took part with our testimonies at the youth event where youngsters from 10-20 years old gathered for worship and teaching. The music seemed loud in the quiet neighbourhood where many of the church members live, but nobody seemed to mind and the youngsters were thrilled to receive prophetic words over their lives. Us older ones took
ourselves off to bed afterward but the young people stayed sitting out in the street, eating, chatting until gone one in the morning! Sunday was spent with the whole church with Guy and Vinu sharing the teaching together and Julie and I got a temporary rest and just listened! They spoke of the vision and values of the Commission family and then welcomed the elders and the church into that family. Guy likened it to a small branch on the bigger branch of Commission and the large tree of Newfrontiers. They were all very excited about this development. We then spent some time praying for the long queue of adults and children who patiently waited. Healing was anticipated as many had serious health challenges. It was a huge blessing to be able to partner with Vinu and Julie into this new nation. We shared stories, doubled up with the preaching and presented a helpful visual aid to the relationship and sense of family that works within our network of churches. Their perspective was very insightful too as the Indian and Phillipino culture has some overlap. I think we also challenged their perspective about hierarchical church leadership as they saw us laughing and teasing each other.

One woman admitted to being overwhelmed at being described as a sister and yet this is what we are, families together across the world, on a mission, each with their own unique call and culture, equal in our standing as brothers and sisters in Christ. We look forward with anticipation to seeing this relationship develop. Our prayer is for leaders to be raised and lives touched by the gospel among this warm and friendly community long into the future.

Stepping into the greatest story ever told

I love a good story. From my childhood reading the Famous Five, Treasure Island, the Hobbit, the Narnia stories and of course Lord of the Rings. Pages that transport the reader to magical shores, steaming forests, deepest Mordor or sailing to the edge of Narnia, what adventures from the written word. Books invite us to give up our small worlds and become intrepid explorers of another world.

Christmas rushes upon us like a grizzly bear, disturbing our normal routines with its demands of family, food and festivities. We can panic, run to and fro from shop to restaurant spending much more than we can afford and definitely eating way beyond our calorific needs. New year comes around and we return exhausted to the familiar.

My advice, pick up a book, buy a book for a friend, and enter another story that awakens your imagination to other worlds. Climb into the pages and enjoy. And above all read your bibles, enter into the greatest story ever told.

Christmas reminds us that God himself stepped into his book, the word became flesh, the mystery long hidden became unwrapped in a crib in Bethlehem. The God who held stars in their place veils himself in human flesh, baby hands held out to his mother in vulnerability and need. Incarnate Deity. No wonder the poets and carol writers have written some of the greatest theology to music exploring the incarnation.

So step into the story, join the shepherds or travel like wise men to behold the one born king of the Jews. Join with a million angels in praising God and let the light of this King shine into your darkness.

2018 has been a wonderful year for us in the Commission family. Heather and I are so grateful for every Commission family member, every prayer, every step of courageous faith, every pound given, every church or site started, every nation visited. What a wonderful story we are writing for the glory of God. My prayer for each of you this Christmas is to find time to rest and read, times to step into the greatest story ever told.

Welcoming our first Commission church in Serbia!

Welcoming our first Commission church in Serbia!

Together with Doug and Duncan from Christchurch, Guy and I have just come back from a trip to the Balkans. The aim of our visit was two-fold. The first was to speak at the annual Balkan leader’s conference in Croatia, and the second to welcome our first Serbian church into Commission. We have been working with the leaders Miro and his wife Sneza for a couple of years now, although Doug has been faithfully serving in Serbia for much longer.

It is a complex area, as the former Yugoslavia now consists of six different countries broken apart after the war some twenty-five years ago. It is hard for us to appreciate how difficult this must have been, although evidence of conflict is obvious in Croatia with roadside fields full of unexploded mines and buildings in the city of Osijek pocked with bullet holes. The history of conflict makes unity difficult, but Miro and Sneza have gathered together about seven churches with leaders who would have been unable to sit in the same room previously.

Life is tough here, salaries low, the distance between the churches considerable and Miro spends many hours driving hundreds of miles between Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, and Slovakia. Between them, Miro and his wife Sneza lead the church, publish Christian books in the local language, run a Christian television channel and preach tirelessly. Their energy is inspirational and together they make a formidable team!

The conference was a real joy and one of the highlights was seeing all the leaders at the front of the meeting with banners flying, the shofar blasting and the congregation cheering and dancing. Even without understanding the language it was a powerful and moving time. Another highlight was meeting a pastor from Bosnia and hearing his story of growing a church in a country with a Muslim majority, where there are only about 400 Christians in the whole of that nation. What a challenge!

 It was amazing to see Siloam church which Miro leads, coming into Commission. It was packed with people and the atmosphere was one of joy and celebration. People there have seen denominations and foreign Christian leaders come and go, but we know that we will be able to commit for the long haul and see churches drawn together for corporate strength and vision. We are praying that it will be the first of many throughout that region.