It’s fair to say that 2020 didn’t pan out how we expected. In the midst of a global pandemic, 2020 has been a year of remembering that ‘In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps’ (Proverbs 16:9). We had initially planned 12 Eden teams and 14 Higher Tours and I had made many plans to travel the world sharing the gospel. But it has been amazing to see how God has moved in a new way.
At the beginning of the year, many people kept drawing me back to The Message’s touchstone scripture from Isaiah 43:19:
‘See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.‘
And God certainly has been doing in a new thing in my life, and in the life of The Message. Here are some of my highlights from 2020…
In January we kicked things off with a Higher Tour in Southport, launched 136 Advance Groups in 27 nations and gathered together at Greater Manchester Prayer night to lift up one voice to God in prayer. January also saw us celebrating the first full year of South Africa’s Message Academy as well as the opening of two new GangStar cafés in Mowbray and Philippi.
Our second Higher Tour in North Wales was a huge success in February and saw hundreds of young people giving their lives to Jesus as well as getting involved in follow up. We also opened our first enterprise in London – Neal Street Espresso – that is perfectly placed to share Jesus and transform lives in our capital.
And then it all changed in March as the nation and nations across the world went into lockdown! Overnight the world changed, but whilst we cannot downplay the impact Covid has had on people’s lives, out of this we’ve seen opportunities rise up too. The first of these was when the Greater Manchester Prayer Gathering moved online and instead of a few hundred people gathering together to pray we saw thousands of people up and down the UK (and beyond) log on. There was such a hunger for God’s presence, and it was a great encouragement to share testimonies of God’s faithfulness together.
As lockdown continued, we saw the need of the poorest in Manchester growing so in April we started delivering free school meals to families in Wythenshawe. At this time of national crisis it was a privilege to be able to be Jesus’ hands and feet in our local community.
In May this was kicked up to a new level, as Sam Ward worked with others to help launch the Lockdown Hunger campaign which has seen over 4 million meals being delivered to people in need, thanks to partnerships with local churches. We also held our 2020 Eden Proximity Conference, that encourages and equips the church for urban mission. Meeting in person wasn’t possible so we moved online and saw our biggest ever Proximity Conference. We saw hearts stirred up for urban mission and were able to share our plans to take Eden to Blackpool.
In June we moved mission fully online and launched Message Live – broadcasting cutting edge content, teaching and videos that equips us all for mission and shares the good news of Jesus with young people. We’ve seen tens of thousands of people logging in and heard of so many young lives being transformed as a result! We also started a new initiative called Bags of Hope in conjunction with Junction 42, through which we’ve delivered Bibles, music, resources and other items to prisoners across the UK. It was a huge project but so rewarding to reach out to people in prison during this time as lockdown has been extremely isolating for so many.
A personal highlight was my 60th birthday in July – it was a great day spent with my family, celebrating all God has done in the last 60 years of my life. We also took the keys to Woodseats Church in Sheffield, where work to renovate this derelict building into a brand new Enterprise Centre has already begun! July also saw our Wales team take Love Where You Live mission to 10 estates where they helped practically in the local community and prayed for people.
In the hottest week of the year in August, our Message HQ team went out to the streets of Wythenshawe for another Love Where You Live mission. It was a special time of sharing the Gospel and meeting the practical needs of the community on our doorstep.
September was a transformational month as we launched the first of our Community Groceries here in Manchester. The grocery enables families to come and get the weekly shopping they need for just £3 and so far more than 900 families have signed up to become members. Walking down the shop queue has been a huge privilege for me as so many people are hungry for the good news of the gospel and are so open to hearing about Jesus. We have heard many testimonies already of people starting their faith journey here, and we have big plans over the next 12 months to launch more groceries into the most deprived neighbourhoods right across the nation. September also saw 84,000 people in prison receive our Message content, full of hope and the gospel through prison radio.
In October, we launched a full week of online mission in Cambridge with Higher Live Cambs. Our missions teams created online gigs, discipleship sessions and live discussions through which they told the young people in Cambridge more about Jesus. Straight after this we headed into a week of Higher Tours in Germany – and here our teams were able to go into schools and meet young people face-to-face. We also had another Love Where You Live week in Walsall and welcomed our latest bunch of Message Academy students.
As we entered another lockdown in England in November, our Neal Street Espresso doors were closed to the public. Instead of serving coffees, the team launched a new homeless outreach programme where people experiencing homelessness have found new hope and life in Christ. We never expected to use the café in this way, so it’s been amazing to see how God moves according to his purposes. We also launched another Love Where You Live mission in Blaen-Y-Maes, Swansea, in partnership with our newest Eden team.
And finally, in December, we launched our first ever online fundraising dinner to raise money to see our Community Groceries churned out across the UK. It was an incredible night of generosity and I want to thank everyone who came along and donated to our Christmas campaign. This money will have a lifechanging impact for many. In the run up to Christmas, we also delivered Christmas hampers to 5,000 of the poorest and most vulnerable families in the UK – it was a brilliant time of being Jesus’ hands and feet and making connections. December also saw our International Advance Summit where 45 leaders from across the globe gathered online for a day of prayer and pressing into God’s vision for Advance. We are praying that half of the nations in the world will have Advance groups up and running in the next 12 months, and that in my lifetime, we will see all nations having Advance groups. And I believe we can see this!
I am amazed by all God has been doing through The Message during this year. Despite a global pandemic God is breaking out and transforming lives, and I am so excited to see what next year holds for us.
If you’d like to watch Andy share his highlights of 2020 you can do that here.