The Five Loaves: Experiencing Supernatural Provision

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supernaturalprovisionRecently, I’ve been chewing on the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand. And in particular I’ve been struck by the different responses of the various characters in the story–and of what it would mean to put those responses into practice in my own situation. Here are my reflections on seven responses to the invitation to partner with God in the joy of experiencing supernatural provision.

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The Initiative: God invites us to join him in the game of living by faith
Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.
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Before we look at the responses, let’s begin with God’s initiative–for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things! To Him be glory forever! Amen.

To feed five thousand people without preparation and find provision for their needs without advance planning is transparently a foolish idea. But as the prophet said, God’s thoughts and ways are incomparably different from normal human so-called common-sense. And here in John’s Gospel — all of which is an extended meditation on the divinity of Jesus, the Word become flesh — we have pointed out to us that Jesus’ question to Philip is more than a foolish human question, it is a divine invitation to experience the supernatural provision of Jehovah Jireh.

John calls it a ‘test’. But it’s not an exam they must pass for fear of losing anything–in spite of their various faltering responses of faith, they will all equally get to enjoy being utterly satisfied by God’s abundant miracle-working power. Rather, Jesus is giving the disciples an opportunity to show how well they understand the power and personality of God, to put into action the faith they have in His nature and character.

And God being an unchanging God, He still gives us these same sorts of opportunities today! The question then is, when faced with these ‘tests’, how do we respond?

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Response #1: Philip assesses the need
Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”
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The first response in this story is that of Philip. Now, one could criticise Philip’s visible lack of faith. Elsewhere, Jesus was not slow to rebuke an inadequate response of trust in the power of God.

But here Jesus doesn’t offer any correction. Perhaps he’s waiting to see how the other disciples will respond. But perhaps also it’s that there is at least something right about Philip’s realistic assessment of the situation. In Luke 14:28, Jesus tells a parable pointing out the necessity of counting the cost of a task before beginning it. And so Philip’s response does in fact have something for us to imitate in our situation.

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Response #2: Andrew finds others to contribute to the cause
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”
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Second to speak up is Andrew. He doesn’t seem overly filled with faith either. But again Jesus doesn’t criticise, and again there is something for us to learn from Andrew, for although the text doesn’t explicitly mention it, we know that in general you do not have unless you ask. So to have received this little boy’s five loaves and two fish, Andrew must have sought help from others in the crowd, and asked them to contribute to the cause.

And now seems as good a time as any to point out the fun little fact that you can treat ASK as an acronym for ‘Ask, Seek, Knock’ — something that Jesus encourages all of us his disciples to do.

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Response #3: The Young Boy unquestioningly offers all that he has
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish”
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He’s practically glossed over with Andrew’s unhopeful statement in less than half a verse, but the young boy with the loaves and the fish is in a real sense the hero of the story. He is apparently the only one in the crowd who had had the sense to bring and keep enough food to last him until the end of Jesus’ wilderness gathering, but when he hears that there is a need, he doesn’t get precious with his picnic. We’ve heard of the rich young man who went away sad when challenged by Jesus to give away what he had to the poor–well here’s the simple young boy, who unquestioningly gives all that he has so the poor can be fed.

The challenge for us then is whether we are willing to give what little we have to Jesus, even when it seems to small and insignificant to make much difference to the problems of the world around us.

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Response #4: Jesus thanks God for whatever has been provided, trusting it will be enough
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves.
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It’s interesting to consider Jesus’ response here as a paradigm of the faith-filled Spirit-anointed leader charged with the task of ministering to the poor and the hungry.

When God gives us a vision and people to minister to, but the resources at our command are all to obviously not up to the size of the task in question, what is our response? Do we grumble to ourselves and then give up? Do we scale down the scope of the original vision? Or do we stay obedient to the heavenly vision, refuse to despise the day of small things, and rather than giving way to anxiety instead give thanks in everything.

For when Jesus gives thanks, then somehow the loaves multiply. And when we do the same with our apparently insufficient resources, I believe that the same will happen.

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Response #5: Everyone eats as much as they want.
He distributed the loaves to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish–as much as they wanted.
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Here we just pause for a moment to take in the full glory of what is happening. Five thousand men. Plus women and children. Being fed with five loaves and a few fish. This is amazing. Even if you try and explain it away with the anti-supernatural idea that the boy’s willingness to share simply triggered an amazing release of generosity (I won’t even start on why I don’t think this theory is realistic), it’s still amazing. And what particularly strikes me is that they didn’t just get ‘as much as they needed‘, but ‘as much as they wanted‘.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. This is a promise! He will give you the very desires of your heart. Maybe he’ll first have to reveal to you what your heart’s desires really are. Maybe he’ll first have to change what those desires are. But he will give you the desires of your heart if you delight in Him. Hallelujah!

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Response #6: The Twelve are encouraged to be good stewards
And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.
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I find it so fascinating that immediately after Jesus has taken a five little rolls and multiplied them so that five thousand can be satisfied, the disciples are charged with the task of making sure that none of the left-overs are wasted. If there is supernatural power available to multiply our supplies whenever necessary, then what does it matter how we steward the natural resources that we currently have?

And at once level, I think it is definitely true that Jesus doesn’t want us to over-emphasise material stewardship: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’. This comes out really clearly when Jesus talks about the ‘leaven of the Pharisees’ — the disciples are beating themselves up over not having remembered to bring bread, and so completely miss the meaning of the word that Jesus is giving them. And he chastises them for having forgotten what happened when he fed the multitudes.

Nevertheless, Romans 14:12 says, ‘Each of us will give an account of ourselves before God’. Likewise, 2 Corinthians 5:10 talks about how we must all come before the judgement seat of Christ to receive what is due for what we have done in this life. And so stewardship needs to be taken seriously! Particularly regarding the weightier matters of justice, mercy, faith and God’s word to us, but still including our money and resources.

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Response #7: Peter realises however difficult it gets, Jesus is worth it!
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…”
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Unlike the Synoptics, The Gospel of John doesn’t end the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand with the filling of their stomachs, but connects it with Jesus’ subsequent proclamation that he himself is the true Bread of Life. But Jesus’ message meets with dispute, dissatisfaction and the departure of a number of disciples.

As I myself wrestle with the pressure of, on the one hand a need for multiplication of provision, and as it happens, also a departure of a dissatisfied trainee (!), it’s vital to keep hold of Peter’s revelation that whatever happens, there is nothing that can compare to the privilege of following Jesus.

Only He has the words of eternal life. Jesus is the pearl of great price. He is worth giving up everything for. Whether or not he gives the financial provision that I think I need, Jesus is enough! He is my portion, and my exceedingly great reward.

And we remain committed to stepping out in faith even if it is not immediately obvious where the supply will come from, trusting that God will never let us down.

Reflection: On a DTS Trainee Deciding to Quit

On Monday we had to wave goodbye to one of our DTS trainees, who informed me on Saturday night that due to what they felt were irresolvable issues with YWAM Cambridge, they had decided to leave the DTS. goodbye
I want to respect the person involved–but I’m going to post a few reflections on the issue here, for three reasons. Firstly, I have committed myself to a high degree of transparency in explaining and communicating the various things involved with the strange job I do. Secondly, and specifically, I’m accountable to those who receive our prayer-letter, who I try to keep informed about what’s happening with our DTS–both positive and negative! Third, I need to get this stuff of my chest because if it stays in my head it will drive me crazy.

#1 Do I need to clarify my theology of the Holy Spirit?
The ‘irresolvable issues’, as far as I understand, were to do with the manifestations of the Holy Spirit–specifically, speaking in tongues and hearing God’s voice. And feeling an unhealthy pressure and condemnation to do those things. Which leads us to the overwhelming question of what made her feel like this!

For while I definitely believe in the continued operation, usefulness, and even necessity (not–please understand!–necessary for personal salvation, but for the accomplishment of the kingdom assignments God gives us to fulfil) of the charismatic Holy Spirit gifts, and I also believe that to be baptised in the Holy Spirit is an overwhelming reality distinct from that of being born again, I reject the idea that the evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit must be speaking in tongues.

Let me repeat, I have no desire to make anyone feel condemned for not speaking in tongues. And if I have done anything to allow any such impression, then maybe I need to explain myself more clearly.

Which I may try and do on this blog at some point in the near future have now done here. And I did try and do when the person involved eventually announced that they were leaving (thus, for the first time, inviting a proper discussion of the matter). But by then it was obviously too late to affect anything. Which brings me to my next thought.

#2 Please share your struggles with your leaders!
If only there had been an open willingness to bring struggles and concerns to the DTS leadership then I think we could have worked through this issue and resolved the matter.

But I think actually that this point can be put more forcefully. I think there’s a biblical imperative to speak up to try and bring change when we think something needs to be changed. Note that I’m saying when you think something needs to be changed, rather than just when you’d prefer something to change–I’m not calling for a generation of chronic mumblers and grumblers. But when we think something is actually wrong (rather than simply not our preference, and here we need discernment!) then we need to speak up!

It might be that we actually have the power to do something about it, in which case we should take the necessary initiative. Or it might be that all the power to bring change rests in the hands of a group of leaders of which we are not part. Nevertheless, in that situation we must still — like Ezekiel — speak out, or risk having the guilt of the sin we perceived rest upon our silent passive selves.

#3 There’s more to life than DTS
Anyway, it’s happened now–so I don’t want to dwell on the negative. I am filled with hope for all involved, and filled with faith that God’s hand is in all this. There is much more to life than DTS, and the DTS certainly has no monopoly on the possibility of encountering God’s presence. Furthermore, I refuse to accept that leaving a DTS before it finishes is necessarily a failure. In fact I am fully convinced that in some situations a person may rightly feel God leading them to do a DTS, come, receive the thing God for which God brought them to DTS, and then rightly feel led to move on before the DTS programme has been completed.

While I was staffing with YWAM Harpenden, there was a guy doing a DTS (this wasn’t a DTS I was working with) who had just come clean after some serious drug addictions. I met him a couple of weeks into the course and he seemed to be thriving–hungry for God and eagerly engaging with the teaching. I was then involved with some other things for a few weeks, before again being able to connect with the group of DTS trainees. But he was nowhere to be seen. I asked around and was told that he’d quit–at which I was surprised, because he had seemed to be doing so well! But further questioning revealed that he hadn’t left out for any negative reason, but rather he had had so much breakthrough so quickly that he felt that he was ready to go home and get straight into the ministry there that he felt God calling him into. The DTS leaders were unsurprisingly disappointed and a little perplexed at the decision, but from my outsider’s point of view it seemed he’d made a good decision.

#4 YWAM Cambridge isn’t for everyone
‘So, do you feel like it’s YWAM in general that you have issues with, or YWAM Cambridge in particular?’ I asked this question, and the response was one of awkward silence, before the soft-spoken response finally came: ‘YWAM Cambridge’. Perhaps surprisingly, I’m not offended by this comment, and in some ways it even makes me glad. Again, a story might help you to understand my thinking.

The summer before we started the Revival & Reformation DTS, we were at Momentum, manning the YWAM stand and trying to give the people there a vision for serving God in mission, specifically through perhaps doing the DTS. I got talking to a girl who had just finished university, and was undecided as to what her next step should be. So I started explaining to her how the DTS might be a good next step for her–and was in particular enthusing about the merits of the 9-month DTS, which of course we were about to start in Cambridge. She listened with interest and took a flyer, but I heard nothing more from her.

Then a few months later, at the Evangelism Gathering of all the UK DTSes, I spotted a face that was somehow familiar–but I wasn’t sure from where. Finally I had the chance to ask, and she explained that she was the one I’d spoken to at Momentum. And she’d been inspired by what I was saying about the DTS, and particularly about the longer version of the DTS. But her conversation had also left her feeling that she’d rather not be on my YWAM Cambridge DTS!

And again I need to say that I’m not offended by this. YWAM Cambridge has a specific flavour, and it is a particularly strong flavour. We share the Foundational Values with every YWAM ministry, but the way we express those is more intense than most — and that’s okay. And I am encouraged by the knowledge that it was through us in YWAM Cambridge doing our thing with passionate intensity that this girl found her place in YWAM with someone else. We are just a catalyst–we are not the complete picture.

#5 Divine acceleration
To return to the original issue of the person who’s just quit our DTS–I had known that this person and also another have both been struggling with some aspects of the teaching and emphasis of our DTS. But what’s interesting is that their responses have been precisely opposite. Just the day before I heard that this person had decided to leave, the other had arranged to talk with me. And she explained that she wants to commit to join the YWAM Cambridge team for the next couple of years, but wanted to make sure the struggles she’s had wouldn’t be a barrier! This sort of strange symmetry seems to me to be that sort of neat little turn of events that must involve God.

And I recall that when we were first praying for the individual concerned, I had the word ‘acceleration’–and prayed that God would begin to work more quickly in her than she even expected! Obviously I wasn’t expecting her to ‘finish’ the DTS six months early, but God’s ways are not our ways!

And if it’s God’s will that’s being done, then may it happen more and more quickly!

The Places of my Pilgrimage

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I post this here in response to that frequent question Where are you from?

Being a pilgrim on this earth (as a Christian in general, and a missionary born of missionaries in particular) this simple enquiry turns out to have a surprisingly complex answer: I am a British citizen, was born in the Philippines, was mainly educated in Malaysia and India, and legally I am (by marriage) a ‘Person of Indian Origin‘. And I have had the privilege of travelling to thirty-one of the nations of the world.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For the full (perhaps boringly so) account, read on! And bear in mind that the countries aren’t necessarily precisely in the order in which I visited them.

world(Click here to see a map highlighting the places I’ve visited.)

Philippines
I was born in Manila in 1987, shortly following an attempted coup d’état. And it was here that I lived (with the exception of the year ’89-’90) until I was almost seven, and here also that my brother and sister were born.

So I grew up with tropical sunshine, coconut water, jeepneys, pancit, Bayang Magiliw — and basketball! It was here that I began my first years of formal education, first at an English-speaking nursery rather grandly called The Children’s House of Learning and Developmental Guidance, and then at the American missionary school Faith Academy.

England
Though born in the Philippines, I am nevertheless a British citizen since both my parents were born in England, and have never stopped thinking of the United Kingdom as their ‘home country’. Our habit was to go (back?) to Britain for every fifth year–a rhythm which some people call ‘furlough’, but we called ‘home assignment’–where we would primarily live in a quiet little village called Lindfield, where my parents own a house.

So I lived in England at age two (’89-’90), then again at age seven (’94-’95) when I went to Lindfield Infants’ School, and then again at age twelve (’99-’00) when I started secondary school at Oathall Community College. That was the last conventional year-long home assignment that my finally had, for once the examinations of my teenage years began, it was no longer convenient to completely change school for the odd year. So rather than a full year every five, our rhythm became an extended summer in Britain every couple of years. Specifically, in ’02 and ’04.

Only when I came to university in Cambridge in 2006 did England become a more permanent place of residence for me. And although I am still living in Cambridge, I don’t think I’ve ever actually spent more than a year remaining continuously within England!

Scotland
For the sake of maximising the number of nations I’ve been to, I will count the Home Nations of the United Kingdom separately, glad though I am that the UK is remaining united. My Dad grew up in Edinburgh (after being born in Newcastle, and living in Argentina!), and Charlotte Chapel continues to support my parents. Which of course meant that whenever our family was in the UK we would make a visit, and encounter an army of prayerful old ladies that would tell me how I’d grown and how they’d been praying for me. Praise God for the people who have prayed for me!

Singapore
In 1995 my parents joined the OMF leadership team, and so moved to the mission’s International Head Quarters (IHQ) in Singapore, where they were based until 2010. The mission had bought the site for the IHQ property decades before, when the island-city-state was much less developed (consider that the nation only became independent in 1965), and so we lived on a street of millionaire-owned mansions, with the incomparable Singapore Botanical Gardens literally just across the road.

In Singapore I learned to love ice kacang, chicken rice and char siew pao. In Singapore, my delight in natural beauty was spoiled (and cultivated) by the brilliance of not only the Singapore Zoo, but also the Jurong Bird Park and the Night Safari. In Singapore, I briefly tasted the joy of being a disciplined runner, training and competing with Swift Athletics Club (with some success!).

Malaysia
From 1995-’99, I was at primary school in Malaysia, as a boarder in the Cameron Highland’s Chefoo School. In certain circles I find that the response to my (ten!) years of boarding school is one of at least concerned sympathy if not horror — but the truth is that my years at Chefoo were incredibly joyful. It was like the Garden of Eden: a tropical garden where we lived in carefree childlike harmony and enjoyed the presence of God — but you had to beware of serpents slithering through the branches of the trees!

Apart from schooling, our family has holidayed a few times in Malaysia: climbing Gunung Kinabalu and visiting Penang Island. I’ve also had the chance to return on my own, and again later with Taryn.

Malaysia gave me the delights of roti canai, nasi lemak, and the beauty of the rainforest. It was in Malaysia that I got to go to the Commonwealth Games, I learnt what pewter is–and it was to Malaysia that I first flew without my parents.

India
From 2000-’06, I was at Hebron School in South India. I am incredibly grateful for my time there, as I was able to express when I returned a few years after graduating. Honestly, it take a while for me to learn to love India. But though it might not have happened instantly, it did eventually happen!

In some ways I feel like I didn’t really experience India until after I’d left Hebron — an international boarding school has its own unique culture (and accent!) that is quite different from that of the surrounding country.

But I returned to India for each summer after I left Hebron and went to university in England: to volunteer with an NGO working with drug addicts, to trek in the Himalayas, to research a potential dissertation. I may also have had ulterior motives that weren’t revealed on the travel grant applications: the first summer I asked Taryn out, the second if she would marry me, the third we had a public engagement ceremony, and the next summer we were married.

Coming back to India on my own also gave me the chance to begin trying to teach myself Hindi.

Thinking of India brings to mind a string of delicious dishes that I now feel I learned to love much too belatedly: chaat, idli, malabar parotha, chole bhature, butter chicken. And there’s the beauty of the country: the natural beauty of rugged Himalayan mountain peaks; the man-made beauty of perfectly crafted Indian architecture; the colourful chaos of the crowds of urban India.

I have been to several countries–but I think India is undeniably my favourite.

USA
I love America! I haven’t always–there’s a certain disdain for the USA that is ingrained into British culture. And though I didn’t mainly grow up in Britain I somehow picked this up. But I have repented of this!–and I am continually blessed by the amazing American people that I keep coming into contact with. I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for my DTS leader John Peachey, my YWAM Cambridge leader Connie Taylor, and Chad Daniel, the evangelist who confronted me with the challenge to fully surrender my life to Christ — not to mention my old friend Will Tanner! And now that my brother has married Noelle, there’s even a family connection (as in fact there already was–my uncle Kevin is American).

I first went to the States (to the state of California, to be precise) for the Christmas holiday of 1995-96. (This was during my first year of school in Malaysia.) I was eight years old. My Dad was doing a doctorate at Fuller Seminary and so my parents were living in Pasadena. And for the two months that I spent there we were able to visit Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Seaworld.

I returned to the USA in 2009, again during a Christmas holiday. My parents had been invited to represent OMF at the Urbana student mission conference, and so our whole family’s expenses were covered to go! We spent a white Christmas in Chicago before heading down to the conference. It was a notable time for me for a number of reasons: Aradhna were leading worship, Mike Bickle (before I knew who he was) prayed for us via live video-stream, but particularly this was a time when my heart was broken for the unreached people groups of India. After the conference we went to Colorado, and our family was able to enjoy together the deepest snow I have ever experienced.

I again returned to America in 2013, for my brother’s wedding to Noelle Tobin. The Tobin family hails from Harrisonburg, Virginia, so Virginia was where we stayed. Firstly in a friend’s house in Harrisonburg–and then in a millionaire’s hunting cabin in a private hundred-acre wood inhabited by wandering deer and black bear! God bless America! Oh, and we managed to squeeze in a trip to Washington D.C. to see the Lincoln Memorial and the White House.

France
Je suis un francophile. I spent seven years learning French all through secondary school, and even after I went to university I initially (and over-ambitiously) attempted to squeeze in some bonus French lessons.

I first went to France with my family at the age of twelve, sometime in the spring of 2000. We went to Paris, saw the Mona Lisa, climbed the Eiffel Tower, and ate croissants. I wasn’t able to return until 2007, when I spent a few days with my Dad in Nice, walking the coastline, enjoying its scenic beauty, and attempting to practise my French with various marketplace vendeurs. And then recently the YWAM Western European Leaders Gathering gave me an excuse to visit Lyon–and once again to attempt to parler français.

I would love to be able to spend more time in France.

Taiwan
My memory of Taiwan is somewhat vague. I can’t even remember the year of my visit.

My parents were going to a conference and so decided to combine the event with a family holiday, for which we joined together with the Seiboth family. I remember beaches, games of Rummikub, and not being as adept with chopsticks as my brother.

I probably need to go again!

Indonesia
My family has been on holiday together to Indonesia twice. First to Bintan, which is less than an hour away from Singapore by motorized catamaran. Bintan is recommended by the Indonesian government as a tourist destination second only to Bali–although the truth is that our holiday there forever persuaded our family that we would rather go somewhere to do and see things, rather than ever again go to a mere tourist resort.

Then in 2007 we went to Java, which Lonely Planet calls “the most complex and culturally compelling island in Indonesia”. We drank Javanese coffee (and even better is the drinking chocolate), enjoyed Javanese dance–and before dawn on New Year’s Day we climbed the volcanically active Gunung Bromo.

Indonesia is awesome!

Cambodia
I visited Cambodia with my family–I can’t remember exactly when.

My Uncle Tim used to work in Cambodia defusing landmines, a fact which meant that I knew a little about Cambodia’s sad history under Pol Pot. We visited a land-mine museum while there.

And we also went to Angkor Wat, a stunningly preserved ancient ruin of a temple, and now a World Heritage site.

Portugal
Our family visited Portugal in the summer of 2002. We were back in the UK, and it turned out that some friends of my parents had a villa in Portugal near the sea. So we took the opportunity to take a cheap holiday in another country! And while we were there we went to see a bull-fight.

Spain
It was during that 2002 holiday in Portugal that we also popped across the border and visited Spain for an incredibly brief hour.

So I concede that I certainly need to return to Spain! But for the sake of numbering the countries I’ve been to, I include it here.

Thailand
I had gone to Thailand for a family holiday with my parents, my brother and my sister. We wanted to enjoy the beach, the delicious spicy food, the unique culture. But we were confronted by the tragic reality of the country’s all too visible sex industry–and had to leave the hotel we had initially booked ourselves into, because the night-time noise from the neighbouring room made it impossible to sleep.

I have some amazing friends from Thailand, and I pray to God that he would have mercy upon Thailand and pour out his Spirit in such a way as to bring transformation to the nation, and to all those who are in bondage to the lusts of the flesh and the bondage of Satan.

United Arab Emirates
I went to the UAE in the autumn of 2005, on a school football tour with our Hebron team.

We played some football but that seemed to be a lesser priority than us experiecing the overwhelming wonderful hospitality of some of the Hebronite parents resident in the UAE. We were given spending money to enjoy the world’s biggest shopping mall, we drove quad-bikes in the desert, and there was even belly-dancing (and to appreciate the strangeness of this, you have to understand that Hebron School doesn’t even allow dancing). And writing that now makes me ask questions which I didn’t ask on visiting–and a moment’s research reveals the less savoury side of Dubai’s economic prosperity.

Dubai is certainly “a city of contradictions: Muslim traditions mixed with capitalism on steroids”. Pray for Dubai.

Hong Kong
Our family visited Hong Kong in — I’m not sure — perhaps the Christmas holiday of 2002-’03? We stayed with some friends of my mother’s who lived up on the Peak. I think I’d expected it to be more like Singapore–an island-city made prosperous by trade and a former British colony. But I was surprised by how Chinese it was–and how challenging it was for us with only English to work out how to buy food.

Macau
While we were visiting Hong Kong we also visited Macau for a few days. My memory of Macau is vague. But I do remember that we saw the gravestone of Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China.

China
I visited China — Beijing, to be precise — with my family in the summer of 2005. We visited the Summer Palace, and we visited the Great Wall. I had, on a whim, died my hair black–and I remember my mother not being able to identify me among the Oriental crowds, used as she was to being able to single out her progeny by the sight of our blonde heads.

Vietnam
I visited Vietnam with my family in 2008–and so we were in Vietnam as their national football team became champions of South East Asia. We spent time in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), in Huế, and in Hanoi.

Australia
I went on holiday to Australia with my family during the Christmas holiday of 2004-’05.

We saw the Sydney Opera House, we went diving by the Great Barrier Reef, we went to Steve Irwin’s zoo, and we saw a lot of kangaroos (but no wild koalas).

It was while in Australia that I first read On The Road, a book which has no connection whatsoever to Australia.

Italy
I went on holiday to Italy with my family in the summer of 2004.

We visited Rome, Florence, and Venice. Somehow God timed it so that we were able to go to see the Palio in Siena, and to see Pope John-Paul II make an appearance in St Peter’s Square. We saw an overwhelming amount of Renaissance art (Michaelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo — and some other artists who didn’t share their names with Ninja Turtles), and we ate a lot of gelato.

Vatican City
The Vatican City is technically a separate state from the rest of Italy, and in fact is the smallest internationally-recognised independent state.

But the Sistine Chapel–wow!

Greece
I went on holiday to Greece with my family in the summer of 2007, after my first year of university. I’d just bought myself a digital SLR and so spent the time trying to take photos. We went to the ruins in Athens, we walked the Vikos Gorge, and we visited the cliff-side monasteries of Monastiki.

I remember being particularly fascinated by encountering Greek Orthodox Christianity for the first time.

Oh, and we discovered Greek salad! Feta cheese, olive oil–what’s not to love?

Egypt
My friend Jonny spent a year in Egypt as part of his Arabic degree. And so I decided to use the break between Lent and Easter terms to go and visit him. (This was in 2009).

We went to see the Pyramids, and we boated up the Nile towards Aswan. But the most significant part of the trip for me was visiting Mt Sinai.

Israel
As someone who grew up reading the Bible, the land of Israel has sometimes seemed more of a mythical place than a geographical reality. It wasn’t until university that I met a Jewish person.

That friendship led to me going with him to synagogue a few times, and celebrating the Shabbat meal — and also to praying for the Jewish people.

And that led to Inge inviting me to join her on a trip to Israel. Which invitation I joyfully accepted!

And so the two of us went on the most incredible journey around the country. We connected with Israeli believers as we went, praying with them and marvelling at their testimonies. We almost spent a night sleeping out with the scorpions of the Negev desert. We were evicted at gun-point (!!) from the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. We mourned at Yad Vashem’s Holocaust memorial.

Now I realise that any informed person thinking about Israel must also consider the plight of the Palestinian people. And I am aware that our trip didn’t engage with that question really at all. (But it was only a short trip). Nevertheless, the question of my attitude towards Israel was one I was seriously wrestling with–particularly in view of the obsession of many charismatic Christians with Israel. And on the trip God spoke to me, through the appointed Torah reading for one of the days that we were there. And the reading was this: How can I curse whom God has not cursed?

Ethiopia
Myself and Taryn went to Ethiopia with our DTS outreach team. We spent three weeks there, working with Ethiopia Arise. We had the chance to go and visit (and pray in!) the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. We were there for Ethopian Christmas–which is on a different date from Western Christmas, and involves a lot more slaughtered sheep!

I really enjoyed the music and the food, and would have loved to have had longer to get to know the country.

Rwanda
The rest of our DTS outreach was spent in Rwanda, where our team leader Immaculee is from. We spent most of the time at the amazing YWAM base in Kigali, but also had the chance to spend a week in the university city Butare.

Rwanda is a beautiful country that has suffered unimaginably. But o! how inspiring to see the way that Christians are rising up within the nation for a vision for reconciliation!

Wales
After our DTS outreach to Rwanda & Ethiopia, we needed a place to escape to for a few weeks of rest and recovery — especially as we were still coming to terms with what a full-time long-term commitment to YWAM would involve. Thanks be to God that we were invited by a family friend to stay in their holiday house on the coast of Wales.

It’s a pretty pink terraced house called Rhianfa, in a little village called Borth-y-Gest, right on the coast and just south of Snowdonia. Inside are bookshelves filled with books, and there’s an old Nintendo 64 in the living room. We spent lazy days reading PG Wodehouse, watching Downton Abbey, and playing Mario Kart. I went running along the coast, Taryn enjoyed the chance to write songs and play music. For us it was a sanctuary and a God-send.

And according to the guestbook, Vaughan Roberts sometimes spends time there too.

Norway
We took our first Revival & Reformation DTS team to Norway for a week of Circuit Riders training that was hosted by YWAM Grimerud. Beautiful skies, brown cheese, and swimming in icy-cold lakes — joy! And my great-grandfather was Norwegian.

Netherlands
I went via Amsterdam to a little village called Bleskensgraaf for the YWAM European Evangelists Consultation in October 2014. My impression then: The Netherlands is stunningly picturesque. Glistening canals everywhere. Flat and fertile fields stretching out into the wide horizon. Beautiful Dutch farmhouses with thatched roofs.

Germany
We took our Revival & Reformation DTS (’14-’15) to Herrnhut for a week, where we joined with YWAM Herrnhut‘s Revive DTS for a week of teaching from Dan Baumann. And we got to hear the story of the Moravian prayer movement in the very place that it all happened! What a privilege.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the full list of the places that I have been privileged to visit in the course of this pilgrimage through life!

Report: Call To Prayer w/ Jonathan Oloyede

Autumn-Call-to-Prayer-2014-poster-jpeg-724x1024

My good friend Andy Henman has been rallying the Cambridge church with the termly Call To Prayer for a number of years now. The most major one was two years ago when Pete Greig joined us as we gathered at the iconic King’s College Chapel. (I speak as I was there, for I would have been if I could–but unfortunately I was in the middle of my DTS lecture phase at YWAM Harpenden, and so I was unable to make it.)

This Thursday we were hosted by the Great St. Mary’s and had the privilege of being joined by Jonathan Oloyede, a Nigerian convert from Islam, and the visionary catalyst of the National Day of Prayer. And a couple of hundred (my own very rough estimate) Christians from a broad range of churches came together to pray for the Kingdom of God to come on earth — and in our city — as it is in heaven. Leaders representing the full range of Cambridge evangelical churches led us in praying through the Beatitudes, before Jonathan reminded us that whatever our churchmanship, we are one body in Christ:

“We are divided by colour, by class, by culture, by creed. But we are united by the Cross of Christ!” [Tweet that.]

He then led the whole congregation in lifting up a roar of praise unto God: “You might think this is just a charismatic thing or a Pentecostal thing. But this is Biblical! In the Bible it says, in Psalm 47:1 it tells us to Clap your hands, all peoples; Shout to God with the voice of joy!“.

As well as the main Call To Prayer in the evening there was also a midday Church Leader’s Lunch at Histon Baptist Church, at which Jonathan shared a little about how he is involved with joining the dots between the different groups of praying Christians that God is raising up across Britain to pray in the coming revival. Our DTS had the privilege of being invited to this, church leaders though we aren’t, as help was needed setting up the lunch. And I was able to sit next to Jonathan and talk to him over lunch before he spoke. ‘So when did you first have the vision of praying in Wembley stadium?’ I asked, thinking I had read somewhere that it was about six years before the Wembley event. Turns out I was wrong–it was in 1992, twenty-two years before it happened. (So maybe I shouldn’t be frustrated that the vision for night and day prayer in Cambridge hasn’t already become reality!)

Later in the afternoon, before the main evening meeting, there was another bonus meeting–this time for the city’s intercessors. Again our DTS team was able to join. Jonathan spoke about unblocking the wells, apparently without any knowledge that we have prayed a lot along this theme. And from there he continued to encourage us that prayer was vital:

“If Jesus had not obtained the breakthrough in Gethsemane, he would not have won the victory at Golgotha!” [Tweet that.]

Wow! I think I still need to get my head around the implications of that idea, but it makes sense in terms of the gospel narrative, and it rings true in my spirit. So let’s start praying for breakthrough unto revival!

Rap Gospel

Having enjoyed the chance to go out with two mics and an amp on the streets of Bristol and do some evangelistic rapping with my friend Andrew Couch, I thought I might finally make public the lyrics to this. I usually do it with Sing Hallelujah as a chorus.

I wrote it in a single day whilst on my DTS, the fruit of the adrenaline flowing after a few of us had tried some tongue-in-cheek rap battling after ThizzNick had performed one evening.

It’s a hip hop paraphrase of the message of Elihu, who I have argued (it turns out that John Piper is in agreement with me!) is the misunderstood hero of the book of Job. The dream eventually would be to do a complete album with the entire narrative of the book of Job transposed into hip hop rhyme.

Lord before I start, I dedicate these words to you.
You destined me for this even before my mother’s womb.
Many words can lead to sin so I’ve kept my words few–
I’ve quietened my soul, been still and silent, even mute.
But now my heart is burning and my tongue’s on fire too–
How can I be silent when men who are violent keep talking like they do?
I’ve waited for the aged to speak, for I am just a youth
But the Spirit of God lives in me too and it’s him who teaches truth

So Maker, here’s my prayer: Help me not show partiality
To man or woman, black or white, for you made all humanity
Please help my words at all times correspond to reality
Help me not exaggerate or treat the truth elastically
Or abuse half-truths to rudely use my speech sarcastically
See Maker what I’m saying, though I put it periphrastically
is make my words the overflow of Christlike spirituality–
And let my tongue speak not of me but magnify your majesty!

First things first: the reason I’m repeating rhymes is not because of me.
This gift of speaking lyrically with some verbal agility
Is not something I’ve practised — it’s a God-given ability,
So please don’t just encourage me, give glory to the Trinity!
It’s the Spirit indwelling me who taught my tongue these words. You see,
The Maker in eternity spoke the Word which caused the world to be
And now his Spirit lives in me! That’s why I speak in poetry.
But let’s pause briefly because we’ve reached the time for chorus three.

Well, I’ve been sitting quiet here among you for some time.
Like Shakespeare says, the world’s a stage — if so, I’ve been the mime.
But now’s the point of crisis and to my surprise I find
I’m centre-stage, I’ve come of age, the spotlight is now mine.
And suddenly I’m bursting, I’m a wineskin filled with wine
And I’m rhyming without trying — this’s my original design
I’m an urban John the Baptist, standing here and prophesying
That the Maker is returning so you’d better get in line!

Don’t be intimidated, for you know I’m only just
A mere human just like you — and it’s the same for all of us:
Sooner or later, we meet our Maker, and crumble into dust.
The one quality that distinguishes me, is the God in whom I trust:
He’s the Maker and Judge of all the earth: and the law explains to us,
A judge can’t punish whom he choose, he judges whom he must
So the logical conclusion is that though my God’s gracious
If you’ve ever committed wrong, frankly he’s dangerous!

So let me ask you something — Do you think that this is right?
To say that God is in the wrong and you are in the right?
This is the Maker of the stars, who clothes himself with light
Compared with his holiness, the bright noonday resembles night
Even the angels hide their eyes before the blinding light
That proceeds from his throne above the heaven’s highest height
And yet you’d rather claim that God’s to blame now for you plight?
Don’t you know that there in no-one righteous in his sight?

So listen mate you need to stop your self-righteous grumbling
I don’t pretend to understand the mystery of suffering
But acknowledge your sin, God will draw near you if you come to him,
For that’s the kind of God he is: good, patient, kind, longsuffering!
Wow, even just to speak of Him makes my heart begin trembling
And honestly I do not think there’s anything resembling
The glory of the Lord we’ll see one day with saints assembling
In countless multitude and there before him join as one and sing!

Report: DTS Gathering @YWAM Bristol

The DTS Gathering is always a big event—all the different YWAM Discipleship Training Schools in England and Wales (and often Scotland too) joining together for a week of evangelism training and outreach. And its usually in a city where YWAMers are just beginning to dream dreams and see visions of pioneering possibilities. I’ve been to DTS Gatherings in East London, in Glasgow, in Derby—and now in Bristol!

The vision for YWAM Bristol has long been in the hearts of Kyle & Rossie – who used to be the vital force within the ‘Forever Team’, organising DTS Gatherings in all the Olympic cities of the country. But the team has only recently actually come into being, as the Forever Team’s work was finally completed and the two were thus released to move to Bristol and begin the rough but rewarding work of pioneering. And their team now includes three others: Phil & Abbey, and Marlen.

We took the long-distance bus from Cambridge—and before we even reached Bristol, Connie had sat next to a university student and led her to the Lord. So we arrived full of faith for all that the week had in store for us, and found our way to St Paul’s Church, which was hosting us for the week.

Monday began with Yan Nicholls imparting his heart for sharing the gospel:
“Evangelism isn’t an activity, it’s a question! And the question is, how big is your heart?” [Tweet that].

Typically for a DTS Gathering, the schedule each day included worship and teaching each morning and then outreach in the afternoons. Outreach the first day meant heading out to various parts of the city to prayer-walk, asking for the kingdom of God to come in power over the following days. I somehow found myself in the team going to Clifton Suspension Bridge, the oldest suspension bridge in the world and a beautiful viewpoint for looking out over the city.

clifton-suspension-sun

Photo Credit: Alex Nail

Then in the evening I had the chance to do some simple Gospel Bracelet training, sharing a few of the stories from our recent street evangelism, equipping people to actually share the simple gospel message, and inspiring people with a vision for the power of the message of Jesus impacting people’s hearts and minds.

Tuesday afternoon was the first scheduled time of evangelistic outreach, and I partnered up with Tim, a young American doing the DTS at Harpenden. He’s eager to share the gospel but just beginning the journey of learning how to do so. We had a number of conversations with different people, and finally met a couple of teenage girls. I introduced myself: “Can we talk to you? My friend Tim has come all the way from the USA to share the message of Jesus with you!” And Tim used the Bracelet to share with them. It turned out one was already a joyfully confident Christian—and after Tim had finished she turned to her friend and, grinning, said “Now you have to become a Christian!” I was able to explain that becoming a Christian is a simple matter of faith and repentance. “Just say sorry for the things you’ve done wrong and then thank Jesus that he died so you could be forgiven and tell him you want to trust him and follow him! I could lead you in a simple prayer like that right now.” And so she took that first step of faith – at which all of heaven rejoices!

On Wednesday, YWAM Cambridge’s own Connie Taylor was teaching on Fear of God and Fear of Man – pursuing the former and breaking free from the latter. The session ended with a powerful and extended time of people coming to the front to take the microphone and declare their commitment to walk free from whatever lie of the enemy it was that had been holding them in bondage. Afterwards, Inga May (a fiery young Norwegian missionary who had been on my team doing street evangelism the afternoon before) comes to me and shares her desire to respond by doing some open-air proclamation of the truths of the gospel.

So rather than just using the Gospel Bracelets in one-on-one conversations, that afternoon we took the amp and mics out with us into the city. The place where we’d been told to go was very close to the site of the very first ever Methodist Chapel to be established in the Wesleyan revival, so we took the opportunity to go there before we began, thrilled by the inspiring heritage of that great movement that began with the open-air proclamation of the truths of the gospel.

wesley-chapel-bristol

Photo Credit: FisherBelfast

There’s actually a statue of Wesley on horseback just outside the Chapel, and around it written various Wesleyan quotes – “An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge!”, “The whole world is my parish!” — so we stopped there to pray for that same revival fire which ‘strangely warmed’ Wesley’s heart to come upon us.

It was a lot of fun having two mics, as it meant that I could intersperse the preaching with a less intimidating and more conversational approach, asking Inga May her story and giving her the chance to share to those passing-by why it was that a Norwegian would be on a high street preaching in Bristol.

street-rap

The next evening we again used the amp – this time to do some street-corner hip hop. I’d discovered that Andrew, who is doing a nine-month DTS in Derby, is an enthusiastic rap lover and performer. And since I also have a little gospel rap, we decided to see how it would work using it to help us share the love of Jesus. And it worked a treat! We even had a guy passing in his car, turn round, park, and come join us. He was a black Pentecostal who himself did some rapping, and when he heard the lyrics of Lecrae (well-known Christian rapper who appeared on the recent Billy Graham film, The Cross), he immediately decided to join in.

The DTS Gathering came to its official end on Friday morning with a time of praying specifically for all of those who felt God calling them to “do the work of an evangelist”.

But for those willing to go the extra mile there was the option of staying an extra night to be involved in some extra outreach—particularly since it was Halloween. For the last few years Halloween in Bristol has involved hundreds of people donning (fake-)blood-splattered costumes (see this video) for an hour-long ‘Zombie Walk’ through the town.
bristol-zombie-walk

As we walked, I got chatting to a zombie nun (!) whose name turned out to be Adam. “I wasn’t expecting to have such a profound conversation when I came out for this!”

The official Zombie Walk finished, and the costumed undead scattered into the town to continue with whatever their plans were for the rest of the evening. For us, we stayed out on the streets giving away free hot drinks, blessing Bristol with the love and explaining the message—of Jesus!