Firenado – Sam Ward

firenado[fahyer-ney-doh]

noun, plural fire·na·does, fire·na·dos.

a phenomenon created when turbulent air rapidly rising from the site of burning

I love Firenando day or Pentecost as some like to call it. Acts 2 – it’s a new day and the disciples gathered, united in purpose and proximity. A roar is heard from the direction of heaven. There’s no mention of who was first to hear it, but within moments every ear hears that heavenly hurricane as it fills every square inch of the house. Seated, the disciples watch as the wind ignites into flame, divides and then delicately descends to rest upon their heads. Sensory overload. They’ve never witnessed something like this before. They saw and they heard but did they feel anything? Did the wind wobble them? Did the fire warm them? The Holy Spirit filled them and the tongues of fire were soon replaced with new tongues that enabled the gospel to be proclaimed to the ears of all nations.

Exchange the Pentecost property from Acts 2 with a freezing cold conservatory in the suburbs of Manchester. It’s here where I first encountered the life altering power of the Spirit. As I began to take steps of faith and looked to count the cost of following Christ, myself and a couple of friends met one evening after college to seek God. We didn’t hear the sound of a violent wind or witness what might appear like tongues of fire resting on our heads. But we knew the presence of God as our hearts burned within us much like those disciples on the Emmaus Road.

I had never felt such a love of Christ and such a passion to serve him. The desire to stay in that moment of encounter was so strong but the urgency to go was far stronger. I was compelled to leave. Not for home but for nations – to the least, the last and the lost.

I knew I had received the Holy Spirit and with his presence came a missionary call – I am confident that these two things are inseparable. I was convinced I would head to India or Estonia or some other place that my limited geography could yet name. In discerning my assignment two things began to emerge. Firstly, I was to cross the street before I was to cross any ocean. Secondly, I was being called to return to those I had run from. My calling was to become a domestic missionary and my nation was those I had feared throughout my school years.

My family had moved to Manchester when I was twelve. We lived on the outer edge of an outer estate and I always felt like an outsider. My school (named ‘Druggie High’ by the local press) was located between two disadvantaged communities and I feared them both. I had planned my escape to middle class suburbia and my route out was upwards mobility. I’d better myself with a good education. I’d pursue a good job. I’d move to a good place. Buy a guard dog. Build a wall.

My conservatory conversion turned my world upside down. God was calling me to downward mobility with a call to serve the disadvantaged in my own city – to give the best of myself to those experiencing the pain of poverty. I confess that this felt as costly as a one-way ticket to Mumbai.

As I began to explore urban mission I heard about the Eden Network, a ministry of The Message Trust. They were pioneering something radical. They were sending out and supporting teams or urban missionaries in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods – to live sacrificially, share the gospel and build authentic community. I was confident of my calling and I could see that Eden would provide me with the experience, encouragement and equipping I would need to fulfil all that God had asked.

Nineteen years ago, I moved into a two-up two-down terrace in Openshaw, East Manchester. Openshaw is a notorious estate but beautifully known by God. A community ranked high on the scale of deprivation but highly favoured by the Father. I am at home here. God has been faithful and I continue to work with him in his mission among his people.

If you are interested in exploring urban mission and following that call then please visit joineden.org for more information.