It’s been a remarkable year full of both amazing and tragic surprises we just weren’t ready for. While we saw so many breakthroughs and multiple salvations, we’ve also faced major challenges on all fronts. Here are a few of my personal highlights from 2016…
Along with Carl Beech and a few others, I began the year with a very special trip to Haiti in January. It was so inspiring to see the work of Compassion, which we’ve been supporting for many years now. Haiti is one of the darkest and poorest places on earth. Yet we personally saw God shining his light through their amazing work.
In 2016 more people than ever before moved into some of the hardest to reach places to join Eden than any time since it started. We set a target to set up a new Eden team each month throughout the year and we launched our first team for 2016 in Latchford.
In February, a group of us took on an incredible 600-mile bike ride across South Africa. Before starting out we went to Message South Africa’s vision night. There was an amazing moment as 20 inmates, who’d been released from prison for the day, led us in worship as we all sang ‘I’m no longer a slave to fear.’ It was a great way to launch us into an extremely challenging bike ride which resulted in us raising more than £195,000.
It’s been so incredible to see the acceleration of Message Wales this year, who launched their first ever Eden team in Tremorfa.
We said we were going to organise the biggest youth mission in Manchester for a generation and we did it through Higher in March. We visited 55 high schools and preached the gospel to thousands of young people and saw well over 2,000 responses. A special highlight for me was witnessing so many of our young evangelists faithfully preach the gospel and seeing them have a greater response than I’ve ever seen.
In March we also saw a group of courageous Jesus followers, most of them former gangsters, move into Nyanga, the murder capital of South Africa to start an Eden team there.
In April I had the privilege of speaking to thousands of influential leaders in Florida at Exponential, the world’s largest church planting conference. Later in the year I also spoke at Exponential in Manchester and in California. I was so gripped by people taking the great commission seriously, especially a quiet Taiwanese missionary called Ying Kai. He shared a simple approach to make disciples who make disciples, which has resulted in tens of thousands of churches being planted.
Continuing our goal of starting up a new Eden team each month, in April Eden Walsall was launched.
I went to Canada in May to consider launching a Message Hub there. When we met Dave Morgan he just wrecked me with his heart for the poor as we walked through the Vancouver suburb of Whalley. As we saw so many broken people, I honestly felt the Holy Spirit say ‘back this guy.’ At the time, I didn’t know he’d end up leading our first Eden team in Canada.
It was brilliant to have Bill Hogg come over from Canada to speak at Proximity. It’s always so special when all our Eden workers are gathered together in one place like a Gideon’s army to be equipped to continue to reach their communities.
Our Eden Bus ministry grew throughout the year and we were delighted to send a bus up to Glasgow. Throughout the summer this enabled us to engage with thousands of young people.
During the summer, we brought together 90 evangelists for our first ever Advance Conference seeking to train and fuel the gift of evangelism.
After a two-year battle, we finally opened the doors of The Oaks, our 13-bedroom residential home of hope. God truly honoured the faith of Simon and Jane Sullivan, who refused to give up on their dream to see The Oaks become a reality.
We’re so excited by the impact of our continued partnership with New Wine. In July, our speakers there saw loads of young people saved.
Message Wales also exceeded their target of launching one Eden team this year, when they set up a second one in Rhydyfelin.
The day after arriving back I had to speak at the One event still feeling completely shell shocked. I got to do the main celebration on the last day, desperately needing the Lord’s help. But more stories have come back from that preaching engagement than any other I did this year. God seems to often use us in our weakest moments.
During a busy summer we also saw Eden Gurnell Grove begin.
Our new Academy students arrived in September and they quickly got stuck in working with our mission teams. We look forward to seeing how they grow in ministry throughout the rest of their time with us.
As well as developing two new bands this year for Wales and the Midlands we were so thrilled to see John Williams launch Enable, our latest creative mission team, which will empower children and young people with complex needs. He’s a massive overcomer who was told he’d never walk or talk. But God had other plans to use him to help kids find hope.
Another beautiful thing this year was watching Ben Jack’s ministry go through the roof. God is using him so powerfully not just through his gigs at Galactus Jack, but also as he coordinates our Advance network.
I went out to South Africa in October for a whole bunch of board meetings and preaching engagements with some fear and trepidation as to how Tim and the team were still dealing with the loss of Laura Tucker. But I was so encouraged to see how they had stepped up, with more people being won to Christ and more doors opening to share the gospel.
When I walked into the guest house where I was staying, the man behind the desk recognised me because he’d heard my teaching online. He told me how he had become a Christian through our prisons team. Now he’s leading guys to Christ in prison each week. Meeting him was like God saying, ‘It’s going to be okay. I’ve got this.’
We also bought a new Eden Bus for Liverpool which is being refurbished.
In November, we had the tragic news of our Mess Café and Catering Manager Tony Westwood passing away, after a nine-month battle with terminal throat cancer. He was a great dad, husband and all-round authentic follower of Jesus. But I’m convinced that our loss is heaven’s gain.
Three of our MEC team were baptised during an amazing Ivy Church Sharston service in December. I was so moved to hear Gemma, Ruth and Gary share their powerful testimonies which is something I’ll never forget.
We also finished the year with a bang by starting four more Eden teams in East Finchley, Drumchapel, Rochdale and Farley Green.
We’re so excited and expectant as we look ahead to 2017, when we celebrate 25 years of ministry. This will be our biggest year ever with plans to expand every aspect of our work, as well as hosting our first ever Message Conference.
Would you consider being one of the 1,000 people we’re looking to stand with us as a £25 a month supporter? This will enable us to launch ten new Eden teams, one new Eden bus, three new mission bands, employ two new prison workers and three new MEC team members.
As a special thank you, we’d love to send you a copy of my new book ‘Here I Am, Seek Me’ when you set up a new regular gift.
Thanks so much for all your support throughout 2016.
Q & A with Steve Small, Eden Merseybank, Manchester Next Post:
Advance in 2017…