Travelling for a Beach Mission Team

Approach someone to talk with them about Jesus, on the street in the city that I live in, and you’ll get rejection after rejection. Everyone has places to be, things to do, and people to meet. But approach them when they’re chilled out and sitting about on holiday, and most people are up for chatting! Or so the founders of one organisation saw.

And so every year I travel to do United Beach Missions, to reach out to people who are on their holidays. Here’s one sample of them in action:

“Beach Team” (as often affectionately called by the locals), has done 3 things in my experience:

  1. Beach Team trains.
    UBM has trained me in personal evangelism better than any organisation, church or experience. From the age of 15 on Beach Team, I was encouraged to have God’s heart for lost people. Whether through building up friendships with 5 year old children and their parents on the beaches, giving short evangelistic talks at events, helping run literature tables, speaking, singing and interacting on the street or on the beaches, or facilitating others to have these opportunities – Beach Team has given me training, let me have opportunity after opportunity to make mistakes and improve, and given me feedback to help me in that.

    Beach Team has given me great experience of Biblical evangelism, which is word-centred, relational and focused on proclaiming the person of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection and second coming. It is partly Beach Team that got me first thinking about Unreached People Groups and coming to live in Ireland and be part of the small evangelical church scene here.
  2. Beach Team shapes unreached countries/areas
    UBM has reached places in Ireland where there was no evangelical church, and in some cases, has helped partner to establish churches there. Whether that be the decades that UBM were in Ballybunion before Listowel Christian Fellowship started, or the decades of outreach in Tramore before Tramore Bible Church came into existence. Or simply playing a significant role in strengthening churches like Youghal Methodist that were in a very different place to where they are now. The impact of decades of prayer and witness to the same people, in similar places, should never be taken away, and has left a visible impact. One church planter in north Dublin said this to me, after I told him of the disproportionate numbers of people who’d I’d found in Cork who’d come to faith from the tiny village of Ardmore. “I’d be surprised if there wasn’t correlation between the decades with thousands of people praying, and the people who come to faith in the same places. Prayer works, and we so rarely persist in it. There seems to be correlation with Ballybunion anyway.” (paraphrased from memory)
  3. Beach Team reaches thousands with the gospel year on year Through proclamation, evangelistic literature, friendships developed over years with holiday-makers, and one-off encounters, Beach Team has seen fruit each year of people coming to faith and joining churches back home where they are from. Although its focus is one faithful seed-sowing to thousands, there always has been an eager question from leaders and team members of how best we can follow this up relationally. One Ardmore mother told me that she’d been up to the Shankill Road in Belfast for 3 weeks of her summer after she professed faith! Another who remained part of her local Catholic Church in east Cork said that a team member wrote to her and sent her Biblical booklets for twenty years after she came to faith.

United Beach Missions does have its weaknesses and flaws, just as I do, as a leader of UBM, but ultimately it is one of the best ways to spend a week of your summer, regardless of your age (from 15 – 95!).

  • it takes all sorts of personalities and gifts to help run a team – you don’t need to be the world’s best evangelist! There are behind-the-scene roles too. Cooks, musicians, kids workers, grannies to chat to grannies etc.
  • The accommodation has got better and better (for insurance reasons) and now most centres have normal beds, showers and great facilities. So if you’re older, or even have a family of your own, why not still come?
  • This year, it is half price to join a team! 30 euros will pay your team fee for your first team, and 25 euros for the team after that – BARGAIN! (There is a minimal annual registration fee on top of that)

Join me: Ballybunion 27th July – 3rd August

Do go onto their YouTube channel for more testimonies from the likes of UCCF Director Richard Cunningham, who give similar stories of how it shaped their early evangelistic experience.

How your Christian Union can make the most of travel

I told one church leader what the seminars were at the Christian Union (student-led, interdenominational mission team on the university campus) Weekend Away:

Travel,
Conversational evangelism,
Community and Hospitality.

“I hope the students choose the one on evangelism – it’s far more relevant to mission on campus than the others” replied the church leader.

But is it?  Should we just cancel the other seminars and have everyone narrow their focus to evangelism?  Asides from the dualism of his assumptions, here’s 5 evangelistic reasons I think he’s missing out:

  1. Most people explicitly mentioned in the book of Acts that come to faith, do so while away from home.  There are thousands of International Students on our campuses from some of the most unreached places in the world.  If we understand travel, we’ll understand them and be able to prioritise getting alongside them with open arms and warm hearts.
  2. God is a God of all peoples.  He desires that an international band of followers congregate round his throne one day.  It’s bizarre if our churches and CUs don’t mirror that by welcoming in, and even prioritising the “outsider”.  How can we do this?  Well, one way is by knowing and experiencing what it is to be an outsider ourselves, in other cultures, in other lands or even where other religions are practised.
  3. The CU who travels together on mission, often not only benefits the culture who has invited them to visit, but learns things they can put back into practice in their home culture far more effectively.  Perspective is an incredible thing that can shape every day – why not get your CU thinking through this travel option?
  4. Everyone has questions on our minds and yearnings on our hearts.  That’s what it is to be made human.  But we don’t always express them with our lips, unless experiences in life force those questions to the forefront of our minds/hearts, and unless we have those we trust beside us who we can share deep things with.  Travel allows us to share hours of the day together, to be vulnerable with each other, in a way that little else does.  Why not travel with our non-Christian mates?
  5. Travel dominates conversations, fills Instagram feeds and echoes longings on many student hearts.  Know how to relate the gospel to travel?  You’ll know how to relate so much of our culture to the gospel too, in ways that students will be able to relate to and understand.

So what does a CU that loves travel look like?  Here’s 5 further top tips of practical things you can do to help that involve travel, or understanding it:

To welcome the traveller:

  • A welcome week!  Whether it’s international students arriving at a far off place, or just Irish students from 20 miles down the road, it’s amazing to be welcomed by a warm community of people.  Speak to your staffworker or Friends International worker about running some basic welcome activities/events or having a welcome pack from the CU/local churches for every overseas student.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the first person that every first year student met was a Christian, offering a warm smile, help with their luggage and a welcome pack?  Could you even offer the university that there’ll be Christians to pick students up from the airport?  Don’t just duplicate what’s already on offer!
  • A homestay program.  The college holidays hit and all local students go home to be with family.  But what about the international students?  They’re left alone and often with days that they aren’t away travelling.  Could you work with your staffworker to link them to local Christian families who’ll offer a warm home to visit around Christmas and Easter?  Often those friendships go far beyond the day that they visit!  And it’s really easy to organise – all you need to do is get word out there – even a 2 person CU can do that!
  • An International Cafe community space.  Once a week pick a cultural theme or activity, hang a few flags up, play some music and voila, you’ll have an international cafe!  The purpose of it isn’t to entertain people or to get huge numbers, but to build deep relationships with the local helpers, who are all Christians.  Sometimes a Bible study might run concurrently to it, for the many who want to find out more and are naturally curious.
A homestay program just needs a flyer (even a culturally insensitive one like this one worked fine!!) and a staffworker who can liaise with local churches who can host.
A more-fancy-than-usual event when we partnered with the local Chinese Christian Fellowship for Chinese New Year – they did all the hard work!

To travel with the local student:

  • The CUs across Europe that are most effective, are generally those that have community groups with leaders who live in the halls of residence.  Why is this?  Well, because of what we said earlier: people who journey alongside each other are vulnerable with each other too.  And even if that travel is only a twenty minute walk to lectures every day, or a trip to the shop together – the depth of friendship adds up quickly, particularly when people eat together in community too!  So why not start Bible study groups in your halls?  University College Cork CU even had a “3,2,1, GO!” rhythm in place, where they do a Bible study each week for 3 weeks, and then reach out with the good news of Jesus in small ways in their hall of residence on the fourth week (eg: Text-a-toastie and a question about God).
  • Don’t have halls of residence in your college?  Some colleges where most students commute in, have car-sharing arrangements or public transport where many of the people are students.  One student in Carlow offered a lift to a lady every day of term, and she became a Christian before the end of the year!  Another deliberately didn’t put her earphones in immediately every day, leaving chance for conversations with people to develop at the bus stop and as time went on.
Some of my first ever smallgroup/hall group, before a once-a-term formal meal which the whole hall of residence went to.

And so we could go on.  Have you seen good ways that we can all be integrating our faith with our travels as mission teams on Irish universities and campuses?  Let me know!

And in the meantime, please don’t just denigrate travel to the thing you’ll never think about, because it’s not as important.  God can use travel to revolutionise your CU and cause ripples across the nations: will you let Him?

Travelling the world to share…

“I shared the gospel with someone tonight as I travelled through China”

Ah, good, I guess.  Well done!

There are a few reasons why I’m never generally jumping up and down at such statements evangelism while travelling.

Why?

Well by “sharing the gospel” people from my circles generally mean this:

“whatever short summary of the good news they have rote-learnt from memory and just divulged over someone in six sentence summary format”

For everyone that will have limitations:

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  1. Cultural

For many westerners, they come from cultures which delight in direct communication.  Does my bum look big in this?  Well, yes, yes it does (ok, that’s an extreme but…).  “Telling it straight” to someone will evoke a sense of truth and in many, pride.

But to those who do not come from a “direct” culture, they are often deeply offended at such directness and pressing them to respond individualistically to a set of western-orientated presuppositions.  Particularly when it is in front of a group – the honour of their intelligence, worldview, friendships and whole way of thinking could be at stake.  It makes them recoil from even considering what the person is talking about, because the means embodying it is so shameful.

2. Theological

Many protestant cultures also are shaped by a guilt/innocence worldview where we describe our short summary in terms of God creating us, us doing wrong, feeling guilty, Jesus being innocent, Him taking our punishment, dying on a cross to make us forgiven and legally right before God, and Him coming back again for those who how have His righteousness.  Other western ways of sharing things might be along the lines of “Two ways to live” or “Four Spiritual Laws” or others such thinking.

But what about someone who has never thought too much about guilt or innocence, but is steeped everyday in the shame of not living up to familial, social, and cultural expectations or is craving the honour of the elder person they really respect?  That guilt/innocence presentation will have completely not connected with them, most likely.  In fact, it might take them one step closer to thinking God has little to do with their life and problems.

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TRAPPED!  In our cultural way of thinking.

Despite both of these, I would want to make two push back points:

Don’t let these negative experiences of short pithy gospel presentations push you into silence.  So often I can be so judgemental of how others do things, that I never speak, or never thank God that He uses (and has used) me even in my frailest of moments and stupid actions, to work for His glory.  Surely that is the Bible’s emphasis and should be our emphasis.

Gospel summaries are fab!  And I encourage all my students to learn one or more, so that they can snappily summarise what they think and believe.  It helped me spiritually, more than I’ve ever been able to share it!  But like anything in life, they’re not the golden bullet.  They all have weaknesses, all fail to convey lots, and depending on who you’re standing before can be (my old supervisor used to say,) like:

Frodo in the Lord of the Rings coming into an Ethiopian café when the football is on TV.  He shouts “Come Celebrate with me!!  The ring that was lost is now found and we are on our way again to Mount Doom where it can be destroyed and we can all be free!  Join us on our journey.”  To the Ethiopians, they have either no concept (or twisted ones) of all of those words/phrases, haven’t a clue what weird creature is excitedly speaking to them about this strange thing, and wouldn’t know what the journey looks like anyway.  And so they go back to watching football on the TV.

You see, Christ’s Lordship cannot be communicated in six sentences!  The everlasting and infinite God has chosen (in His wisdom) to reveal Himself using the frailty of human words, spoken into a particular culture at a particular time.  He has done it at that length and meant to do it so, because He knows best.

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And it’s wonderful.  The fact that He is Lord means that regardless of what I am talking about or doing, that a gospel of His Lordship is hovering over it.  I am as close to His Lordship as I am talking about brushing my teeth, as I am when I share my six sentence gospel summary.  Because ultimately He is Lord over teeth-brushing!  I am either doing it for His glory, or I am doing it from duty (good or bad) or legalistically doing it out of service to another god.  He is returning to bring us to a land where no decay or tooth-brushing will be needed!  Cheesey, but an example of how close things are to everyday situations that people can relate to!

So what does this look like in reality?

Well, let’s get this straight.  I don’t want to say that we must learn every culture and their way of speaking and acting, so that we become experts to all cultures.  Some gifted evangelists may think that’s what being “all things to all men” (2 Cor 9) is about but I think I disagree.  It’s impossible.  You can’t expect everyone to have cultural awareness of every culture.  Perhaps to specialise in knowing one cultural background, maybe.  But not that everyone will master everything.  Why do I say this?

Well, in me moving to Cork, I was moving from a British guilt/innocence culture to an Irish shame/honour culture (not to the same extent as Middle Eastern, but still massively moreso than British).  Now I have one of two choices: stay living in guilt/innocence culture, or try and get used to shame/honour culture.  And whichever I choose, I will alienate others and resonate more deeply with some.  It’s a choice that take a lot of time normally.  But I can’t live out both worldviews, unless I segregate relationships and all of my life.  I can be culturally aware of the clashes, but I cannot live both.

I am naturally inculturated.

I cannot sit above culture.

I am human.

Christian traveller, this is what you miss: glory

(NB: as with all my thinking, it tends to be flowing from the seminars I attend, the books I read and the minds of others.  Ultimately it’s “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (Kepler).  So in this I acknowledge Mark Stirling of The Chalmers Institute and my homegroup, who put up with my studies on Ephesians, despite them having far better ones in years past)

Glory.

What does glory look like if you were to draw it?  Or for folk more like myself, what would the Biblical definition of it be? (please don’t look up the dictionary – I’m not sure we’re on a wavelength)  Perhaps a movie soundtrack would be easier to put to it.

It’s the question that comes into my mind when I read three or four times in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (chapter 1) that everything that happens in the Godhead and flowing from the Godhead (Father, Son, Spirit) through all eternity is “to the praise of His glory” or some equivalent phrases in other English versions.

What on earth is “to the praise of His glory”.  Can glory be praised?

Well, in brief, the reason I think such phrases could be better summed up in a movie soundtrack is because in the Bible they aren’t really defined that much.  But instances throughout the Bible tell us all what it’s about.

God’s glory is manifested quite often in the Holy of Holies in the temple: the part of the temple where no-one could enter, apart from a High priest, once a year.  Even then when he entered, he did so in fear and trembling, recognising his unworthiness, and need to make sacrifices for sin, for himself and for the people.

So often when God’s glory came down, nobody could go near.  It was often manifested by fire, by cloud (and mystery) and great power.  It rendered false gods powerless, priests speechless, and left people dead who tried to falsely come near.  You could hear the dramatic and climatic, thundering music.

GLORY!

But what has this to do with anything?

Well, Paul goes on to describe the church community in Ephesus using various pictures (chapter 2).  Pictures of what they once were (dead, aliens, strangers, uncircumcised, haters of God etc) and now what they are (alive, family, brought near, circumcised, lovers of God).  And in those images Paul brings in the fact that we’re a temple.  Not as individuals, but as a people together, with Christ as our cornerstone.  And all very well.  Until we remember what the temple was really like.

The temple was where this “glory” stuff happened.  Or not stuff at all.  Where God manifested himself in the fullest we way the people at the time could manage.  BOOM!

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Crashing waves of the Atlantic are often something that reminds me of the magnitude of God and His glory as I glimpse the power of even a fraction of His being.  This one, Ardmore this weekend.  But so often I don’t connect glory to humans, or His Church.

And so the fact we’re called the temple is baffling.  We are the place where God will manifest his “glory”.  So presumably it’s not too far of a jump to say that when people meet His Church (with Christ at the centre), they will be hit by His full “oomph”.  It renders people speechless.  Everything else in the world will seem small compared to approaching this beautiful community.

I’m still trying to work out how much continuity there is between old temple and new temple, and what exactly we can say about this.  But it’s got me excited.  Excited because I’m freshly convicted that when people meet and mingle with God’s new temple/community, they’ll be struck by something powerful.

And so I want to meet with this community and draw others into this community.  “Oh but we’re not a very [insert adjective] community here.  We’d need to change first, before inviting people in”.  Um, no, I think we need to invite people in and let them see us as we are, and continually strive for change through that, in that, with others, and for His glory.  And primarily before being a loving/forgiving/gracious/hope-filled/[insert adjective] community, we must be a community.

And quite frankly, that’s where most of us fall down.  We don’t see each other past a Sunday, or maybe a midweek smallgroup or meeting.  And if we do, it’s just as Christians together.  For the rest of the time, we’re expected to be lone wolf evangelists, doing personal evangelism to the max.  And we wonder why it doesn’t work?

In prescribing ourselves to this model, we heap pressure on ourselves.  We are our only contact with our friends.  It’s us or nothing.  And to be honest, there’s not much difference between my typing away at my desk all day and theirs.  In fact, many of them show far more positivity all day than I manage.  So much for being asked “to give a reason for the hope that’s within you”.  Few ask questions, because few see any difference, and rightly so – what difference can there really be in how we type, offer someone a coffee, or treat each other in the workplace?  Of course, some, but let’s stop our hyper individualism.

In prescribing ourselves this model, we also rob ourselves of true fellowship.  When we don’t see our fellow brothers and sisters apart from sporadic occasions, we tend, if you’re anything like the churches I’ve been involved with, to resort back to polite chit chat.  And that’s natural.  Only when you’re in and out of others lives, will you be able to walk up on a Sunday morning and ask something more deep or personal.  Because you’ve seen them in the messy-ness of life.

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Our church home-group out this weekend with some of our friends.

So what does this look like?  Well, it puts major questions about geographical proximity to each other in everyday life, or at least to your smallgroup members.  It also puts questions about our individual choice of how we spend our time.  Is it ours to choose our passions, or do I fit them around serving others?  Does “Peter the hockey player” take second place to “Peter the temple brick”, if hockey doesn’t manage to fulfil temple-like functions?  (though in most cases, I don’t think there needs be dichotomies).  Perhaps for your church, it’s even simply starting small-groups.

In Cork, it’s led to us all deliberately inviting our friends who aren’t part of church, into social gatherings where there’s a mix of people, so that they see God’s glory in Christ.  And they are indeed noticing exactly that:

“You’re all so different, but love each other so much!”

“How do you ever hang out with him/her, they’re so weird/different?!  I’d like to be able to do that.”

“I wish I had a community like this that looked out for me in the city: it’s fab”

“I didn’t understand and completely disagree with what was said at your church this morning, but I’m glad we can chat about it this afternoon in a more private place together”

Now don’t get me wrong.  This is hard.  It’s costly.  Half of us haven’t braved sharing our friends yet with each other.  And there are moments I grimace inside and wish I hadn’t invited my friends along, after something has been said in convo that hasn’t been helpful.  But it’s worth every step of it.

The more I find myself committing to community, the more I feel free!  Free to be myself, free to not have to produce evangelistic results myself, free to be weak in front of others (they see everything), free to fail, free to ask for forgiveness, free to keep short accounts with people I see lots.  Free!

That’s what living for the praise of His glory does.  And that’s why being away travelling lots robs you of everything about it.  You’re unable to do this community.  For someone with a job like mine – I’m robbing myself of joy!

35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

(John 13:35)

Book review: Intentional (Williams, 10publishing)

intentionalWho needs another book on evangelism to tell us what we’ve all been doing wrong?  “Not me!” I (quite arrogantly) thought, having studied my apologetics to quite niche levels and hosted and taught at many Christian Persuader Days.

But the simplicity of such a small book, easily read in a couple of hours, struck me as a powerful reminder of something I’d been swaying away from in recent days.

I think I’ve spent so long in the nuanced university academic world that my tendency is always to answer so many questions of sceptics who are far from the Judeo-Christian worldview, that I don’t always get onto the crux of the Christian message.  I also see students who are so keen to show Christianity as NOT being like what the media portray it to be, or what people have experienced, that we often fail to get round to emphasising what evangelism is: a proclamation centring round his death and resurrection.

William’s book will be so helpful regarding that, with worked examples and an understanding of humanity, that I’d happily give it to my CU committees at the start of this year.  This isn’t a nuanced book that’ll help those who have friends with complex questions or are further back in their understanding of things, but it will bring us back to the basics, and make ordinary people be able to reach ordinary people, with the good news.  And for that reason, much as it’s not perfect, it’s a welcome addition to the books out there of this length.

(Again, I’m thankful to 10ofthose.com for providing me with a free review copy, but this in no way altered my review of it)