One of the great things about working for Steve Thomas is that I get to hear about all sorts of things and even get to take part in some of them. However, when, within a few weeks of hearing of the incredible results obtained in an evangelism campaign in Reading, I began to pick up indications that, not only that they were thinking of taking this thing to France, but that Steve had actually volunteered my services to help administrate the event, as well as to translate all the related texts, I was far from impressed. I then discovered that, although Steve had suggested Lille as the target French venue, he was going to be in Africa, instead!
I was very sceptical about the Reading rumours and even if they were true, what was there to say it was going to be lasting, let alone exportable? this script seemed to me to be theologically questionable in some places and the very concept was thoroughly dated. With nothing to reassure me, I simply went into denial and refused to believe it was going to happen: even the anglophile church of Wattrelos, Lille wasnt going to be keen to have this latest Anglo-American craze, was it? There was certainly no way that they were going to accept to run it in less than six months time. The idea of getting a team of twenty French-speaking Brits from S&L and The Gate at such short notice was ridiculous. I felt safe, despite all the advertising that went on at Transform and the French Destinée camp.
And then, at the beginning of September, we hear from Eddy, the leader of the Wattrelos church, that the leadership team felt this was Gods will roll on November! Begrudgingly, I accepted that it was going to happen and began to prepare. The OCC churches in South Oxfordshire had invited a team from Reading for a weeks outreach in their towns, so I duly went along to the first evening encounter meeting in Abingdon to find out what it was all about. I was not in a good mood and I was almost daring God to inspire me against my will. Unsurprisingly, most of the evening was spent in tears. Towards the end, I was given a prophetic word to the effect that something would happen as I went out on the streets and that I would carry the Turning in my heart. I smiled nicely (or as nicely as I could whilst crying) and said thank you, but inside my response was well, that would be a miracle
The next day, I went to the training and remained unconvinced, although they had by this time amended the script slightly to ensure theological accuracy. I paired up with Simon Kerr to go out on the streets and we had a few negative experiences, but did lead a couple of people through the prayer of commitment. Simon was very excited and even I was reluctantly having to admit that there might just be something in this. However, I still didnt want to go out again in the afternoon but I did and, this time, we were able to help a couple of church-goers recommit their lives to Jesus. I left, forced to accept God was in this, but still not actually wanting to join in.
As I worked on the translations, I began to understand the spirit of the Turning. I heard more and more stories from South Oxfordshire and other places. Yet, I was still very, very reluctant to go do this in Lille and, as all my practical reasons for feeling this way gradually disappeared, I eventually realised that the real issue was that I dont like talking to people, especially not complete strangers. Quite simply, I was way out of my comfort zone and was allowing that to influence my view of what the Spirit was doing. Praying this through, I eventually got to a place where I was willing for God to change this in me and I asked various people to pray that this would happen.
The Wattrelos church, on the other hand, was getting very excited! I was taken aback by how eager everyone seemed to be to try this out and the conviction they had that God was really going to do something. I was amazed by the teachable attitude they presented, by the questions they asked to make sure they were preparing themselves in the best possible way and by the desire they had to learn as much as possible from this unknown pastor they were receiving purely on Steves recommendation. With my negative attitude, it was actually rather irritating, but once I was there, in the midst of all the faith that was rising, I got hooked!
The first day we went out on the streets, Yinka asked me to accompany him, so I could interpret for him. The thing is, were in the city where I grew up. I know the atmosphere. I know that a black guy randomly going up to people and speaking English, even if someone is translating, is just asking for rejection. Add the word God in the mix and you might as well go home now. But it was great! We led a number of people to pray to Jesus on the streets for the first time and even met a couple of practising Catholics whom we able to encourage. And even those who didnt want to talk smiled and thanked us. Not a single word of rejection, let alone a racial or religious slur!
Over the course of two weeks, 865 people prayed on the streets. On average, evangelical churches in the area have 50-70 members. This means it was the equivalent of every member of 15 or so churches having a positive conversation about faith in a fortnight which is huge! And from very early on, people were coming to the evening meetings with stories of how they had also used the script to bring neighbours, shopkeepers, even their boss to the Lord. One person was very disappointed that they couldnt come out one day but ended up leading a relative through the prayer of commitment over the phone!
The numbers obviously sound great, but the most exciting part was seeing the transformation of the Church. After centuries of persecution of Protestants and the complete rejection of religion and faith by the State, many French believers feel that hanging on is all they can do. Now, we were seeing Christians feeling equipped and enthusiastic about sharing the Gospel. People were returning disappointed that only one person had responded that morning when one a year would previously have been cause for great rejoicing!
And beyond that, we were seeing working-class Christians who had always felt rejected by the highly academic French system realise that they could be used by God just as much as anyone else. Churches that had had very little previous contact were now working alongside each other, supporting each other, praying with each other. Church members were inviting unsaved family members to the evening meetings and walking out at the end with a new brother or sister. Christians themselves were encountering God afresh and experiencing significant emotional and spiritual healing.
The final evening, especially, was incredibly precious: I was completely exhausted, having been interpreting for two weeks, so was just sitting down in the front row, whilst pretty much everyone else had gathered at the front. As we were worshipping, I reviewed the past fortnight and found myself praying God, please dont let this be the end. I looked up and saw all those gathered in front of me start holding hands and lifting them high above their heads whilst singing a song about standing firm. Something prompted me to look behind and I saw that even those who had stayed by their seats were doing the same thing. It was one of the most moving things I had ever seen in fact, when I got up to pray over them, it took me a good two minutes to manage to get any words out, I was so close to tears!
It was a real privilege to serve The Turnings launch in Lille and I am really looking forward to doing the same thing here in Oxford it looks like miracles do happen!