Thursday, 28 April 2022

Thank you, St Mary's, Luton!

 It was so wonderful to be at St Mary's, Luton. 

Luton is a place where, even though I didn't grow up there, I always feel like I'm coming home. Sadly we don't have a house in the town anymore, and during the pandemic finding accommodation was nigh-on impossible! Thankfully, as things are easing, we've been able to travel back to this wonderful place that sent us into missions in the first place. 

As we process any change in our ministry work, we always seek advise and counsel from Luton first. St Mary's is where I got married to Becky and where I really deepened my faith and commitment to the Lord Jesus! 

If you're interested, here's the talk I gave (underneath is the transcript for the sermon, if you prefer reading to listening). 


Fear of the Lord only

We’ve been part of St Mary’s church since 1999. I was a cell group leader and cell pastor. I love Luton. It’s the place where I studied, it’s the place where I met Becky. This church is where I got married, and it’s this church where we were sent into missions 12 years ago. By God’s grace, He’s kept us going strong. And St Mary’s has been a huge part of that. Thank you.

Becky is a missionary kid, grew up in Nigeria. From the moment we met, she talked about travel and getting out there to share the gospel. It took me a few years to get on board! 

After five years of marriage, we finally went into missions in 2010. We served for 6½ years in Cape Town, South Africa before moving to the Philippines where we are now. The move to the Philippines was a chance for us to expand the work we’d been doing in South Africa and we felt it was the place with the greater need for anti-trafficking work, especially in regard to children.

This is one of the ladies we help, her name is [name removed].

After 20 months of being away from the Philippines, due to covid travel restrictions, the question came to our minds: is it safe to go back? Since January 2021, we’ve been regularly checking the entry restrictions and trying many different ways and means to get back to do the physical mission work, though we continued working remotely with the help of staff on the ground. Every avenue we tried didn’t work. Suddenly, at the end of February 2022, the Philippines announced the opening up and allowance of foreigners to re-enter the country.

The question then comes to mind: the borders may be open, but is now the right time? 

A typhoon in December hit Cebu hard. Our house, thankfully, wasn’t affected so badly, but we still lost parts of our roof, the water, electricity and internet connections.

After consideration and prayer, we decided that just one of us should go out and survey the land – is it possible and is it wise for us as a family to move back at this time!? What about our budget – can we afford to live? How are prices now and do we have enough support?

I had to go to the airport without a ticket and trust the Lord that if it was right to go that he would make it happen. There’s more to this story as to why I did that – not my normal way of doing things, but it was to do with a step of obedience and step of faith.

I had had a false positive covid test. I knew it was false positive, because I had recently recovered from the actual virus! The positive test result, even though false, caused my ticket to be invalidated by the airline (I called the airline with the news and they put my ticket on hold, until I could get a clarification of it being a false positive). Thankfully, I was able to confirm with the testing company that it was, indeed, a false positive and a repeat test showed a negative result. Going back to the airline, they'd already sold my ticket so someone else and there weren't any seats left at my price. On discussion with the agent and not having any easy option, I prayed about it and felt peace to go to the airport anyway without a ticket and trust that I could fly. 

On arrival at the airport, Becky reminded me that we had been forced to pay for extra insurance by the Philippine government to cover covid-19 incidences. We discovered, to our surprise and delight, that this compulsory insurance covered false positive tests and they agreed to pay the fare difference. This was a miracle - we didn't have the money for a new ticket and for the provision to come at this point (just 3 hours before the flight) was amazing and so exciting. It's my first time going to the airport without a valid ticket! I was nervous, but somehow knew that God was going to get me back to Cebu! 

So, I arrived in Cebu and met with colleagues and friends and began my work. It was such a wonderful time and full of God’s guidance and provision.

These are some of the ladies with whom we work and I was able to meet some of them on my trip. It was amazing to be back, to meet new members of the team and to survey the land! Straightaway work began on fixing the roof and it was completed in a few days. The internet was restored and inside the house was re-painted and broken items fixed. Only the Lord could have made all these things happen so quickly, because so much of it was out of my control. It really felt as though the Lord had his hand on our return.

I spent my time in Cebu visiting the projects where we work, putting things back together and putting together a budget for the next year of work if we were to return as a family.

I’m pleased to say that: based on the kindness and support from St Mary’s and others, we’re now up to about 90 per cent of our budget from donations and pledged gifts. This is amazing and we’re so grateful for this support, especially in this time of uncertainty and increased costs for all of us and for all of you. We really appreciate the sacrifice that so many of you have made in supporting us – especially supporting us through St Mary’s.

This gives us confidence to return, knowing things are ready for us, as a family, in Cebu and to continue the work and even expand on what we’ve already been doing. This is a really exciting time for the mission work and it’s so good to have a great team around us in YWAM at the House of Prayer. 

Our next task will be to see if we can raise enough to replace our car which is spending more time in the garage than on the road. It’s a 22 year old Toyota and I think it’s pretty much at the end of its useful life right now!

We will be flying out as a family on Monday, 2nd May 2022. The children will be homeschooled for a couple of months whilst we register them for the new academic year in Cebu, when – finally – face to face instruction is expected to return. Children in Cebu have been off face-to-face schooling for over 2 years now.

The bible passage we’re looking at this morning is from Matthew 18, which begins with the disciples discussing with Jesus about who is the greatest. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but I’m sure they never expected the response they got from Jesus, as he invited little children to come and sit with him. Jesus identified the pride in their hearts. If you think about it from the disciples’ perspectives – “hey Jesus, we left our entire lives to follow you – surely we get a special place in your Kingdom?”. This is a very easy place for missionaries to fall – we left our homes, family, comfort zone. Where is my reward? How great will I be in the Kingdom of God.

The answer is not so comfortable to read!

Jesus turned their question on its head and shows examples of the Kingdom of God and how we need to be childlike in our walk with God. Jesus talks then about how he will bring severe judgement on those who cause the little children to sin. He then concludes with a parable that says how he will persevere to protect his flock, even if it means leaving those that are safe to find that 1 lost sheep. I’ll come back to that 1 sheep in a bit, but let’s examine this childlike faith a bit further first…

It’s really only when we lay down our rights to these home comforts unconditionally – without expectation of reward – do this passage becomes truly comforting. As I lay down my own pride in what “I have achieved” and lean on Him, then this message from Matthew’s gospel becomes so powerful. If we truly look at my own abilities to do what God’s called us to do in the Philippines, the need seems overwhelming. But…

…if we just come to him, like a child, and have that willingness to just go, the impossible task becomes possible. This has rung true in so many ways. We often do not know how things will pan out and the work that God has called us to do seems overwhelming and I certainly feel underqualified for it. But… his faithfulness that we have seen over the years brings confidence to the unknown. My flight out to the Philippines was impossible, but with God, it became possible!

Thank you for your prayers

OK, let’s move on to look at the 1 lost sheep.

The need in the Philippines is so great. Our work is to help survivors of human trafficking. We feel led to expand that work to help the survivors of OSEC – online exploitation of children – and it is a form of trafficking. With the incredibly long lockdowns and with the closure of schools for 2 years now, online abuse has grown exponentially, as families struggle to make ends meet and seek increasingly desperate measures to survive. Within a few minutes, the traffickers can earn a week’s wages.

As we look at this growing problem of human trafficking, we can easily feel overwhelmed by the need. However, as we discussed this issue with one of our mentors, they said “focus on the one”. If you can start with helping one person or one family, then things can grow from there. This encouragement has inspired us to think – and reminded us of the parable of the lost sheep – that Jesus would go after the one. If we can bring the gospel to the one, share the love of Jesus to that one – if they respond and give their lives to Jesus – then we have helped that one.

In our mission work, we have a vision of 4 freedoms:

Freedom in Christ – bringing the gospel to the poor

Freedom from slavery – giving people a hope away from control and abuse

Freedom from pollution – of the body, soul and mind. Bringing an environment of clean, healthy living.

Freedom from poverty – bringing sustainable income, to remove the snare that brought them into bondage in the first place.

 

So, as we go back, even though we’ll be developing strategies to help whole communities escape from poverty, we will always look to celebrate each one we help.

Back to Pete:

The stumbling block for me on sharing the gospel over the years is fear. Fear of being mocked, being laughed at. Fear of rejection. Fear of how it would look to be a bible basher! For people I’m close to, my fear is based around losing the relationship – being rejected. I have really struggled to share my faith with my family, especially, as I’m scared to lose my relationship with them! It stopped me from going into missions for many years, much to Becky’s frustration! I’ve seen other Christian friends who have become isolated from those close to them, as they share their faith, people pull away from having a relationship with them.

In today’s Old Testament reading, we had Proverbs 9:10, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. In 2nd Timothy 1vs7 it says: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” So, if I’m afraid of sharing my faith – the bible tells us that that doesn’t come from a fear of the Lord, it is a fear of man. It’s very sobering and it has motivated me to step out of my comfort zone and say: Lord, if you didn’t give me a spirit of fear, then help me to be bold, even in the face of rejection!


Supernaturally, God has given me boldness in the Philippines to share my faith in places I never have before – with bus conductors, or the mechanic fixing my car. Even foreigners I see in the malls. I’m still a work in progress – I still shy away, especially in my own culture and with my own family – and I need to ask God continuously to help me lay down my own fears and submit to the fear of the Lord!


Whilst praying on what to share today, the Holy Spirit is speaking to me about fear of man. Fear of man is simply allowing what others think (or even worse, what we think they think) to shape our actions, rather than leaning on what the Lord is telling us to do.

It’s something which I fall into very often and something which the Lord has been working on in my life over the past 20 years or so. And it’s not just limited to sharing the gospel. I still find myself making life decisions based on what others would think or say.

But when we think about eternity, that never ending life that we know exists for those who trust in the Lord, isn’t it worth it? Our walk with the Lord is a daily process of looking to him and him alone.

In today’s passage, Jesus compared obedience in the Kingdom to being like a little child. In many ways, we overcomplicate our walk with God, don’t we. We try and justify our actions as being the sensible way to do things. But our ‘sensible’ way, isn’t always the way the Lord leads. My experience has been sometimes that the Lord will take me halfway across the world, just to highlight an area of my life he wants to deal with.

 

I think that’s possibly our challenge for you: if you look at your community where you live, where you work, where you study…who is the one you could make a difference to? 

Who is the one that’s never heard the gospel that you could share with? 

A whole movement can start with the life of just one person being transformed by the gospel.  And you could be that one that shared with them. 

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