Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Crew in Crna Gora

After the last post becoming an overview of the 2011 UCCF Summer Team to Montenegro, I thought I'd write one with a few more specifics about some of the people we met.
(Note: the people mentioned are in no way my favourites, they just give you a bit of an insight into the situation and the task. Also, names have been removed for personal reasons)

Let's begin with Danijel.

Danijel was a staff worker in Serbia with EUS, but took on the task of pioneering the work in Montenegro (more info here). When I first met Danijel, in summer 2010, he was due to become a father for the first time at any moment! His wife, Martina, has since given birth to a wonderful and incredibly cute little girl. There are many things I could say about Danijel. He is great inspiration. He perseveres in a very difficult climate for the proclamation of the gospel, as mentioned in yesterday's post, but not only that, he does it with joy. He and Pete Stonelake, a British guy who originally lectured out in Niksic but now works freelance, regularly meet up with students, help them learn English, and generally build friendships to help break down barriers to the message of Jesus. They are both gifted with the ability to naturally get along with people. I am sure that many times they feel despondent and want to give up, but the conviction that people need a relationship with Jesus drives them on. They along with local church which has been established for 15 years are seeking to be a light in dark place, salt and light in their community. But it's tough work with very little obvious fruit. They are living, breathing examples of faithful gospel ministers. I'm sure they'd value your prayers.

Here are a few people we met on camp this year, but I am sure you could replicate very similar stories many times over across the country:

The first is A. A is a young girl who we met for the first time this year, but is good friends with a one of the girls from the church. Firstly, she nearly didn’t come to the camp. The, when on camp, nearly didn’t attend the evangelistic talk and Bible studies. Why? Because her father is a priest in an orthodox monestry and she didn’t want to upset him. Over the course of the camp a few people had some good conversations with her, we hope more opportunities will arise for her to hear about Jesus. She left camp saying she had loved it so much she didn’t want to go home!

The second is B. B is the brother of a girl we met last year in the local church called D. She is a believer, B isn’t and neither are their parents. But their parents love the influence the church has had on their kids so are happy for them to do anything with them. Please pray that B, who can be quite quiet, will have further conversations with Danijel. They are good friends and B has been thinking a lot about life after death, what happens and how a person can be sure of going to heaven.

The third is C. C lives in a coastal town which has no established evangelical church. It’s thought there may be up to 5 believers in the area. The camp was great for C, she really came out of her shell and we think the gospel content was a great foundation for her. As far as I know she doesn’t often get fellowship with other believers. Her parents are not keen on her being an evangelical Christian but allowed her to come to the camp because relatives of Martina (Danijel’s wife) live next door and they trust Martina.

Wonderful mission, lovely people, much to pray about!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Lessons from the Black Mountain country

What do you do when you get a chance to go and partner with brothers and sisters in Christ on mission in the least evangelised country in Europe?
You go of course!!!
That's exactly what I have had the privilege of doing for the past 2 summers.
My colleague, Lensa, and I have taken 6 students from the CUs belonging to the NE and Yorkshire region of the UK to a little town called Niksic in the beautiful, rugged mountains of Montenegro.

Our aim: to help reach students with the good news of Jesus.
Our plan: to run and English and Bible camp for 5 days as well as some little events in and around the city building relationships in the week prior to the camp.
Our partners: EUS Serbia/Montenegro and the local churches.

(Check out IFES, UCCF for more information on the work worldwide and in the UK)

Danijel and Pete are two guys who are plugging away with conversation classes and general relationship building to try to make Christ know to students. They are committed to the only local evangelical church in the city and their perseverance is a wonderful thing to witness and a challenge to my weak faith. It was a privilege to work alongside them. Danijel is the first and only staff worker in the country.

The country has only been independent for a short while and the history, both politically and religiously, makes it a tough place to be an evangelical Christian. Most people are nominally Orthodox from a religious point of view. They believe they have the history and tradition and therefore as Protestants, not only did we come out of the Catholic church, but we have less history and less tradition so why should they listen to anything we say. So they prevailing attitude is the evangelicals are a cult and so are treated with suspicion or apathy.

What we did this year was build on the work of the previous summer. Further relationship building, but also some sport on the university campus with anyone who happened to fancy a bit of football or basketball as well as an acoustic cafe in a local coffee shop took place in week 1.
This was really helpful and although none of the contacts made came to the camp, we really benefitted from meeting people and getting to know a bit about the culture.We sought to serve the local church wherever we could too through participating in Sunday services as well as through moving a whole load of gospels from storage into the church.

The camp was awesome. The students lead English lessons at 3 different levels, Lensa and I did evangelistic talks and the students followed those up by leading discussion groups. We also had plenty of fun playing sport, teaching the locals how to Ceilidh and learning some traditional Montenegrin dancing. There is also an hilarious video of our team and their tribute song at the talent evening, I'll try find a link for it!

A few encouragements and challenges:

1. The local student believers whom we met in 2010 had all grown in their faith and it was wonderful to see that God had been faithful in keeping them.

2. Some local believers really have no support day by day because their town or village doesn't have a church and they cant travel to 1 of the 3 evangelical churches in the country or because their parents are not happy about their new found faith in Jesus.

3. Students in Montenegro ask similar questions to students in the UK due to the world becoming a global city through the internet and other technological advancements.

4. The impact the camp had on a couple of individuals made it all worthwhile. One girl, not a follower of Jesus, said she didn't want to go because she had loved it so much.

There is so much more to say, but this post is already huge! I pray that the foundations of partnership laid, and contacts made, will bear fruit in the awesome plan of God to bring many people to know and love Jesus.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Bible Handling.......and your chance to do it!

What a privilege it is to be involved in Bible ministry on a regular basis.

Being a staff worker with uccf:thechristianunions gives me this privilege all the time.
One such example was last week, when my colleague, Hamish, and I spent a day training the Relay workers from out regional team.
We started after lunch with 2 sessions: One on basic Bible handling, looking at the author's purpose, context and structure tools (as they are described in Digging Deeper by Andrew Sach and Nigel Beynon). The other giving them time to put those skills into practice by working on some passages in teams of 3 then presenting their findings and an outline to the whole group. We purposely chose passages which studied in isolation from their context would not make complete sense, or lose their thrust.

The evening was then spent chilling out together with a little bit of healthy competition thrown in for good measure in the form of Cranium!

The following morning we embarked on a new set of sessions which Hamish and I had decided to introduce this year for the first time. We decided to specifically look at handling the Old Testament and how it is about Jesus. The format was the same, teaching of skills and helpful stuff about ways passages can point to Jesus. Then we gave them passages to go away and study and present their findings.
What was encouraging was that while some of the Relays had done a lot of Bible handling before, all of them seemed to really benefit from the concentrated time spent thinking and discussing together. The OT stuff stretched us as well as them, which is always a good thing. Hopefully we all will grow in love for Jesus and the word as we see it hanging together so wonderfully.

Final thing to say is, if you are a final year student, or you're wondering what to do when finishing university in a couple of years, why not think about Relay (see video below) and you too could enjoy some wonderful fellowship and excellent opportunities to sharpen one another through studying the Scriptures and discussing how best to understand it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Jeremiah 29:1-23

I recently had the privilege of preparing a sermon on Jeremiah 29. I gave it at a little church in Ouston, Gateshead as a guest speaker (11th Sept) and then at my home church, Calvary in Sunderland (9th Oct), as part of our series in Jeremiah.

I was keen, as with the passage on Elijah from 1 Kings (blogged about a while ago), to preach the passage in context but also show how it spoke of Jesus.
The transcript of what I said is linked below. As with the other sermon I posted on here, this is roughly what I said. Some parts get expended others shortened as I speak. My aim is not to gain plaudits by posting this, I'd love any thoughts or comments from anyone who preaches, or just wants to throw their thoughts in for good measure. Maybe I will try and record future talks somehow.

In preparation, I found Tim Keller's talk, which was mainly about the first section, looking our for the welfare of the city, helpful.

The transcript is available here.

Monday, 10 October 2011

More excitement!

At the start of last week both Teesside and Queen's Campus CUs had welcome events for the christian freshers who signed up to join or declare interest in the CU.

On Monday evening, I joined Teesside for some food in a local pub. On arriving I was expecting one or two sitting in a corner around a table because I was on time and students are normally late!
But a I entered the pub I was surprised to see around 12 fresh faces around a table getting to know one another.
As the evening went on and we order and ate our food, I think about 25 different people joined us for some or all of the time.
This was a great encouragement to me and to the current CU members. This was followed by the first CU meeting of term, where along with some local church leaders getting to know students and advertising their churches, I was given the privilege of speaking to the 20 or so students gathered about the purpose of a CU and the exciting opportunity there is for them to be part of the mission team on campus.
We looked at the gospel and thought about Jesus' high priestly prayer. Praise God for all of this.

On the same Tuesday, earlier in the day, QCCU had their fresher's fair, and though they were the furthest table from the entrance, had a bumper crop of sign-ups to the CU. Around 40 people gave their email contact details, which for a campus containing only around 700-800 freshers is great. I hope that many will come to the first meeting tomorrow.

But, the highlight of those 2 days is the conversation I had with the CU evangelism secretary for QCCU. She had been speaking to a friend about Jesus in the past. They got together near then end of the summer holidays, not long before returning to Stockton, and her friend asked if she would read the Bible with her!!! Awesome stuff! They are going to look at Mark's gospel together, and this all happened just after a training day at her house on how to read the Bible with a non-Christian friend. Added to all of that, when the CU met some of the freshers for afternoon tea, a muslim girl, who had just come along to find out a little bit about the CU, also got chatting to the same girl and they are going to look at Uncover (see below for details on Uncover)! Praise God!
(names excluded for privacy reasons)