When God speaks, it changes everything. Roughly this time last year, a great friend of The Message, John Bunjo, came and spoke to us here in our Tuesday team prayers. There he gave a word which set the tone for the whole year that was to come: ’Get ready, because 2014 will be the year of open doors!’ I received this word with faith and I came into work after Christmas full of expectancy.
And what a year it was! Here are just a few of my personal highlights.
One of the first items in my calendar in January was a return trip to Haiti. It’s a massive privilege to partner with Compassion there, following a powerful word spoken to us 15 years ago to ‘never forget the poorest of the poor.’ Over the years our partnership has resulted in hundreds of children being sponsored, life-changing work in women’s prisons, and new buildings and wells. We tithe all our unrestrcted income to Kingdom causes and in all this year we’ve had the joy of giving away more than £213,000. Amazing!
The growth of Message South Africa this year has been nothing short of miraculous. The movement launched officially in February and since then the team has been firing on all cylinders: opening their first business to employ ex-offenders, recruiting their first creative mission team, and planting their first Eden. Its location, Salt River, is known as ’the gateway community’ in Cape Town because it’s the way so much crime and drugs enters the city. We’re believing that one day it will be the gateway for the transformation of a city, and even a whole nation.
In March we staged the first Urban Hero Awards outside of Manchester, as Eden London celebrated some of the best stories from their work over the last few years. In the process they raised over £100,000 and lots of new support for their work, including an endorsement from cabinet minister Iain Duncan Smith. The night was a great model for all our Message hubs, growing and raising their supporter base in the area where they are.
April saw another new open door as we began the process to acquire a community house near to our HQ in South Manchester. The dream is to run a half-way house where we can invest in prison-leavers who have given their lives to Christ and want to learn how to live a new way. We have the perfect couple to run it in Simon and Jane Sullivan, and the funds to purchase it have been miraculously provided interest-free. Please pray over the next few weeks as our plans go forward to be approved by the council.
May is in the top few of the months I’ll never forget in my 27-year journey with The Message. Not only did we host a fantastic Proximity conference, I was privileged to get to take part in a joyous 15 year celebration of Langworthy Community Church, birthed out of our second Eden team. The transformation which has come to that community is truly incredible. Read more.
But also in May I felt another door swing wide open. During a short personal retreat, God spoke very clearly to me in three separate ways from Isaiah 60. As I read this powerful passage, the last three decades of ministry unfolded before my eyes and I heard a clear challenge for much more gospel preaching and to invest in a new generation of young evangelists. Off the back of this, we’ve started working closely with Light to plan the biggest youth mission this country has ever seen with a vision to see 200,000 young people coming to Christ – a culture changing number of young disciples. Watch this space for more details next year.
June saw our seventh Urban Hero Awards and it was another glorious night showcasing some very worthy winners. You want to see the Message bottled? Look at Lauren Jubb, our Urban Hero of the Year 2014. Saved and discipled on Eden, trained here at Message Academy and now sent out to serve on Eden in Doncaster. Watch Lauren’s Urban Hero nomination video.
In July, we saw Message Scotland getting underway with the CLAN Games in Glasgow. Most of our activities were focussed on the Parkhead neighbourhood where, later in the year, we launched our first Scottish Eden team in partnership with a brilliant local church. And we saw Twelve24 travelling to Slovakia to headline the massive Lumen festival, the biggest gospel festival in central Europe. That night it became so clear to me that we have a world class band on our hands as they not only performed at the very top of their game, but saw 1,000 responses to the gospel in one night. I felt the Lord say, ’Get used to it!’
I love the surprises God has for us. Just when we least expect it, he pulls something out of those big sleeves he has. We saw another one in August when at New Wine, amidst lots of great talks from the Message team, a generous guy gave us a cheque for £50,000 to put a new Eden Bus on the road. It means that from next year we’ll have three buses full time – in Manchester, Merseyside and Glasgow.
In September, our new Academy intake joined us here in Manchester. Our stats for Academy are incredible – of our graduates from the last five years, 20% have come to work with us in Message ministries but a full 95% are in some kind of full time Christian ministry. It’s so fruitful. September was joyful for other reasons too, not least the wedding of one of our apprentices, Laura, to Cyril. What a picture of the gospel this couple are! Watch’s Laura’s amazing testimony.
In October, Eden really started motoring. When Sam Ward took on the role as National Director from Matt Wilson last year, he gave his full focus to strengthening the network and building into our existing teams. It’s meant that we’ve seen double the number of Eden workers moving into projects this year and we’ve laid the groundwork for several new Edens to launch in the coming year. Eden is a crucial part of the South Africa plan and Sam and I travelled out to be part of the first international Proximity conference, again in Cape Town. How moving it was to see former gangsters stepping forward, asking us to plant another Eden in the tough community of Nyanga, one of the gun capitals of the world. Guess what our response was!
In November we all got the first glimpse of what our amazing theatre company In Yer Face had been working away on during the autumn. All is Calm blew us all away with its beautiful writing, performance and production. It’s no wonder the Arts Council agreed to help fund it – this wasn’t just great Christian theatre, this was great theatre.
And our Vision Night this year was testimony after testimony of the awesome power of the gospel to change lives. If you’ve not seen it yet, check out this short clip which captures some of the best bits of the night.
Perhaps it’s fitting that this year, which started with such a clear word from the Lord should end with another. Just before our December prayer day to round off the year, I had a meeting with Jonathan Conrathe, an evangelist who has led over 200,000 people to Christ so far in his ministry. After praying loudly over me, he gave me a word from Revelation 3: ‘See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.’ We enter 2015 more fired up, more ready for what God has in store for us than ever before.
I want to thank you for standing with us over the past year. I really believe that we are writing history together – and your prayers and gifts make you a part of it.
As we push out on all fronts, your support has never been so important. So I’d love it if you would consider giving a special gift to the Message today – or even better, starting a new regular Direct Debit or raising your existing monthly gift. Click here to do that now. Thank you.