Hearts Ablaze in London
Young Evangelists Yearn to Reach the United Kingdom for Christ
May 1, 2004 - Fifty years ago this month Billy Graham completed a landmark three-month Crusade at Harringay Arena in London. He writes in his autobiography, "If our 1949 Crusade in Los Angeles marked a decisive watershed for our ministry in the United States, the London Crusade in 1954 did the same thing for us internationally." Mr. Graham says that though he will no longer be able to travel there himself, he wants to support young evangelists in proclaiming the Gospel to a country he has come to love.
by Amanda Knoke
A curious orange milk crate sits on a sidewalk, just out of the way of scurrying club-hoppers in London's trendy west side. Pedestrians—in plaid coats, pea coats, leather coats, long coats—file past with an almost continuous clicking of chic, heeled shoes on pavement. The blustery night doesn't keep them from the bars and pubs that line Ealing Broadway, a major thoroughfare in west London. Dance music reverberates from The Townhouse, whose sign boasts, "Ealing's Premier Club." According to evangelist Martin Durham, the many high-profile disc jockeys who are invited to clubs in the area make it a place to be and be seen.
At about 11:30 p.m. Durham taps the milk crate into position with one foot. Then he steps up: "Good evening, Ealing Broadway. I've good news to warm your heart this cold evening." Using John 3:16, Durham expresses God's love for the people passing by the corner. He continues, "There's a new film coming out soon as we approach Easter: 'The Passion of the Christ,' the story of Jesus."
Durham is interrupted—"What does God think of gay people?" shouts a passerby.
"He loves them," Durham replies without hesitation. "But He doesn't agree with them. Some people see the Bible as a book of rules. But it is actually a book of life." And so Durham continues to proclaim truth into the busy night ...
Earlier, he explained why he spends his Friday nights on a street corner. "Eight years ago you would not have caught me doing this," he said. "There are times when I would rather not go out late on a Friday night. I would rather stay home with my wife, yet I can't not go out. There is a fire within me, and the love of Christ compels me. Like Jeremiah, 'His word is in my heart like a fire ... I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot' (Jeremiah 20:9, NIV). God has given me a vision of Europe ablaze with the Gospel, and nothing will dislodge me from it."
Durham's message, like that of his 60 colleagues in the English and Scottish Institutes for Emerging Evangelists, is the same unchanging message that Billy Graham brought to their land over the course of five decades. But in a culture that BBC News recently described as "one of the most secular in the world," the evangelists realize that they will have to be pioneers of new methods of evangelism. Mark Ritchie, an evangelist in Nottingham, England, is booking theater halls for his evangelistic story-telling show.
"I thought that I would receive [at the Institute] a five-step plan on how to do what Billy Graham does," Ritchie said, "but one of the most exciting things I learned is that we are at 'the end of the map' and I will have to cut my own path; I've got to be a pioneer."
So Durham, Ritchie and their fellow evangelists around the UK, with help from godly mentors, practical training and one another, are finding paths—into club nightlife, theaters, businesses, schools, universities, pubs, innovative churches and even a red-light district—where they are effectively and passionately proclaiming Jesus to their land.
Provocative and relevant, Durham's words elicit obscenities and angry comments, but he says that his entire team of six is approached with questions as soon the preaching begins. Durham himself often steps off the crate to answer questions.
Not long ago, Durham was sitting in church and felt a tap on his shoulder. "Do you remember me?" a man asked. "I met you on Ealing Broadway, and you told me about Jesus." A year earlier the man had been on Durham's corner, disheveled, drunk and on drugs. Now his hair was trimmed and he was clean-shaven. He told Durham that after talking to him, he had met another Christian the following week. The Holy Spirit had touched him, and he prayed with the man to commit his life to Christ. From that moment on, he said, he hadn't touched drugs or alcohol—and he was soon going to serve God in Macedonia.
Reaching the Masses in Glasgow
On a Saturday afternoon Buchanan Street, a main corridor through the center of Glasgow, Scotland, is a mass of humanity—for as far as the eye can see, bodies fill the street. On this street, at the nerve center of the tourists' and shoppers' haven, stands the regal, 200-year-old St. George's-Tron, city-center church in a city that has roughly 10,000 businesses. Within the past two years the Tron, as it is called, has employed Alex Bedford and Sam Lee as full-time evangelists to connect with the people on the streets and the businesses that line them. They build relationships with those who do not know Christ and encourage Christians in the workplace.
A mannequin in a black leather miniskirt and jacket and fishnet hose graces the front window of the Hellfire Alternative Clothing store in Glasgow. Bedford stops in and strikes up a conversation with the manager, who is bedecked in a black snow cap and dog collar. It isn't the first time Bedford has been in the gothic-wear store. The shop is only one of the places he visits in the city center as part of the business chaplaincy that he and Lee have developed to spread the love of Christ in Glasgow's downtown area. "A lot of [Goths] are curious and think about spiritual things," Bedford says. "I explained the Gospel to one of the workers, and afterward I didn't think much about it." When he returned months later, he learned that the woman he had spoken to had left the shop and become a Christian. Bedford and Lee, in partnership with other churches, also take a sketchboard and tracts into the streets on Saturday afternoons, engaging in conversation and proclaiming the truth of Jesus to all who will listen.
Looking out on the throngs filling the street outside his church, Bedford seems strangely moved by what most might see as just a busy Saturday afternoon in a big city. The gravity of his call is evident in his voice: "Hundreds of thousands of people stream past our church," says Bedford. "We have a responsibility in the city center—in this massive number of people, many are slipping into judgment without a Savior."
"The God Bus"
As with Martin Durham on the streets of London, 11 p.m. signals only the beginning of outreach for Scottish Institute delegate Steven "Stevie" Boyle—in one of the hardest areas in Glasgow. On one rainy night, Boyle has only hours earlier returned from the sheep-speckled hills of central Scotland, where he spent a week at the Emerging Evangelists Institute. But now he is where his heart and ministry lie: on West Campbell Street, the red-light, drug-dealing district of Glasgow.
Warm light from inside his place of ministry—a bus—shines into the dark street. The bus is not a typical one. The rows of seats have been removed and now instead line the perimeter of the bus. In one corner a heater provides some warmth from the chilly night. In the back of the bus, at a makeshift counter, coffee pots produce more warmth, hazing the windows with steam. Sandwiches and cookies are also available, and Christian music plays in the background. Boyle says that many of those who come to the bus are homeless, involved in prostitution and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Some call this "The God Bus," he says.
There is some laughter on the bus, but mostly there are empty stares from women dressed in provocative clothing that seems to reveal not only their bodies but their souls. A woman—or girl—tucks herself into a corner seat and seems to warm herself with a coffee cup. Boyle sits with a man who has tears streaming down his face. Boyle grips one of the man's hands; with his other arm he cradles the man's head. A girl, weeping, enters the bus. "Are you a Christian? Can you pray for me?" she pleads. Boyle ushers the young woman to a team member, Loraine, who herself was a woman of the night before the love of Jesus reached her. Loraine comforts the girl, whose tears eventually subside.
Boyle greets his sister Debbie, who is also part of the ministry team, with a warm hug. Both Stevie and Debbie know the vice of addiction and what it's like to be on the streets—many of those who come to the bus remember the siblings when they were both addicts. "But now they see a change," Boyle says. "I live a new life for the Lord now, and they know that. My heart is to see them come out of their darkness and live for the Lord. I love speaking of the Lord because I know that one word of truth can reach their heart."
One of Boyle's ministry team members surveys this night's visitors on the bus. "Nothing is impossible with God," she says quietly. "Absolutely nothing."
Equipping Younger Evangelists
Boxes of pizza are heaped on a table, and a large group of teens converge upon the feast provided by their leader, Dave Newton. It's supper break at an evening of evangelistic training Newton launched seven months ago with the goal of training three high school evangelists at each of the 24 schools in the district. The students will become an evangelistic team in their respective schools and will meet to plan and encourage one another.
Newton works with Youth for Christ in the Wirral area, near Liverpool, England. In addition to speaking at school assemblies, he works with his own group of "emerging" evangelists. "One thing I've learned from the Institute is that evangelism is bigger than just the proclamation approach," Newton says. "I've got a big heart to speak, but I also have a big heart to invest in others. There are people closer to their own age who can do a better job than I."
Sixteen-year-old Heather said, "Dave has given me more confidence about speaking with people [about Christ] because I've always been embarrassed about that. I shouldn't have been—but I've got more confidence now. I've told every single one of my friends [about my faith]."
"A Church for People Who Don't Go to Church"
Tim Davies' favorite place to work on his sermons is a couch in front of a low table that doubles as a goldfish aquarium at the Utopia coffee bar in Sheffield, England. The modern, relatively loud music doesn't seem to faze him. He wants to be surrounded by the souls of those he hopes to minister to—people who don't go to church. "Preparing my sermons here has helped enormously with the application and relevance of what I'm preaching," Davies says. He constructs his sermons as he looks out on the coffee shop's clientele and imagines how they would hear what he preaches. "Would it warm his heart? Would it encourage him? Or ... would he be really negative?"
Those questions were posed by Institute speaker Greg Stier, of Dare 2 Share ministries, who also prepares his messages in a coffee shop and emphasizes the importance of teaching the Bible relevantly. Davies says that he wants people to know that the Bible is their book—God's Word to them, and he wants them to be able to read it at home and understand it.
Right now his church, Christ Church Central (a.k.a., a church for people who don't go to church), which had its public launch service in October, packs into a primary school classroom. A bulletin board of paper African masks and tempera-painted elephants serves as the backdrop to the pulpit.
At their fifth service, the congregation was greeted with these words of introduction:
"We are doing some of the things you might expect in a church. We're going to sing; we're going to have a talk based on the Bible; we're going to pray. What we're trying to do here is strip away all the bits and pieces that might be unfamiliar or unfriendly to people who don't go to church ..."
For Davies, the idea of engaging with a new culture is one of the most helpful things the Institute has trained him for. He recalled a speaker who said, "I was trained for ministry in a world that doesn't exist." Davies said, "That struck me. Much of my formal training as a Church of England clergyman doesn't actually relate to the world in which we live at all." The church plant is committed to helping a congregation—including many who have not been in a formal church setting—understand the basics of the Christian faith.
Linda began attending Davies' church the day of its launch. Her mother is Hindu; her father is Sikh; her brother is Muslim. "When people asked what my religion was, I would say, 'confused,'" Linda said. Now, she says, "I couldn't be happier. I love it here. My relationship with Jesus is quite young—I've got a lot to learn. But I've got the best people to guide me and teach me."
To the UK—and the World
Passionate and full of fresh ideas for taking the UK for Christ, the young British evangelists will soon graduate from their Institutes, continuing to carry the message of salvation that Billy Graham heralded in London 50 years ago. At the same time, other Institutes will just be commencing. Institutes in North America, CIS-Baltics, India, Romania—and beyond—will also identify young evangelists with the same goal of setting their nations ablaze with a relevant message of Jesus. The prayer of one English evangelist is like a battle cry: "Fill us with Your Spirit. Set us on fire—give us the passion to share Jesus in the world! Come, Holy Spirit!"