We are delighted to be able to share some inspiring news we have just received from South Kordofan in Sudan – a people for whom Covid is simply the latest in a long, and far more devastating, series of challenges and hardships. We hope that you too will be encouraged to know that the Lord is at work in this most painful context; and that you will draw strength from it as we face our own, more modest, difficulties.
People requesting prayer in Salara
The Diocese of Kadugli held a Rooted in Jesus training conference 18 months ago, led by Andrew Evans and a team from the Diocese of Salisbury. Since then the challenges and difficulties of Covid have been added to the far more severe challenges and difficulties they have been facing for many years now. But the Diocesan Secretary and Rooted in Jesus coordinator Babuj Simon has just written to share the news of how Rooted in Jesus is making a difference in the town of El-Dalang – to such an extent that they decided to embark on an ambitious outreach to Salara, a town in one of the rebel-controlled areas. The church there was closed fifty years ago, the building converted into a college, and people were forced to convert to Islam.
Pastor Hassan Sudan, the Rooted in Jesus team leader in Salara, recently obtained access permission for a team of 20 people from El-Dalang and El-Obied to go to Salara, to pray for the sick and to share the gospel. Twenty two people gave their lives to Christ, including some key leaders from the community, and all were baptised. The team was led by Babuj, and most of the members were drawn from existing Rooted in Jesus groups in El-Dalang. To read the report and see for yourself please read our blog post here.
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. Isaiah chapter 12
How can we remain faithful to our calling to share the good news of Jesus with others? How can we best draw them into the radical community which we call church? Ian Cripps is convinced that it is through building relationships. He outlines some simple steps he has taken in his own town:
If we are loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves we will form warm relationships. A warm relationship is when you and your friend know about each other’s circumstances, and so your friend knows you are a committed Christian. If you invite your friend to an interesting event, they will seriously think about attending. You have absolutely nothing to lose.
Working backwards from the outcome we desire gives us something which looks like this:
6. God invites everyone to enter into relationship with him.
5. One way of sharing God’s invitation is to provide an attractive Christian foundation course, followed by an invitation to an accessible church service.
4. One way of sharing God’s invitation is to provide an attractive Christian foundation course, followed by an invitation to an accessible church service.
3. The taster event is advertised through personal ‘warm’ invitations, through an announcement from your minister at your weekly online service and church website, and through neighbourhood media.
2. In preparation for this, ask for your minister’s support and email your church council or leadership team and church members outlining the planned outreach and its purpose. Invite some to serve as facilitators in the Zoom event and subsequent Zoom foundation course.
1. Find an experienced guest speaker and agree a topic.
I am a member of the Mathetes Trust’s Equip programme. So I shared my thoughts with Roger Morgan, and then took my proposal to our minister. She suggested I work with our curate as co-leader. Just five weeks later we held our taster event!
We ran the event twice, once during the early afternoon and once in the evening, and received 34 feedback forms. We had invited participants to rate the event on a scale from 0 (a waste of time) to 6 (excellent). We were encouraged to find the average score was 5.2. Thirty of those responding said they would welcome further similar events.
We then invited those who had attended the taster events to sign up for a foundation course. We decided to use the Mathetes Trust’s friendly and accessible Beyond Ourselves course, and again we held it on Zoom. 15 participants (congregational members and their friends) and 5 facilitators accepted our invitation to attend. We used breakout rooms to keep the discussion groups small, matching each facilitator with three participants who were at similar points on their journey and asking them to keep in touch by phone. We plan to follow the Beyond Ourselves course with the rest of the series in The God Who is There programme.
Beyond Ourselves offers an interactive, jargon-free introduction to the Christian faith
If you would like to know more about running taster events and enquiry courses and feel we may be able to help, please do get in touch. Information about The God Who is There can be found on our discipleship page.
We have just published the Rooted in Jesus Annual Report for the year 2020. It’s been a peculiar year, to say the least, but three significant RinJ conferences took place (unusually early in the year!) before the national lockdowns came into force, and we have made good use of the time by working on new translations and editions of the leader’s booklets and team manuals. We have kept in regular touch with those we serve, and have received some hugely encouraging reports of the difference Rooted in Jesus has made as people have struggled with the challenges raised by the pandemic. The availability of vaccines both here in the UK and in Africa is a positive step forward, and we look forward to fulfilling the outstanding invitations for conferences as soon as circumstances permit.
The report can be downloaded from the Rooted in Jesus website here – or read a summary on the Rooted in Jesus blog, where you will find feedback from across the continent of Africa, details of new translations, personal testimonies and more.
The beginning of Lent seems like a good time to focus our minds and prayers on our brothers and sisters in other lands, and we have some news to share from the Diocese in Toliara, Madagascar. We have posted a full report on our blog, but here is a summary:
Southern Madagascar has been hit by a prolonged period of drought. This has seen many people lose their lives, and many more have been forced to leave their homes in search of food. With support from Christians in far off places, the diocese has now made a second famine relief distribution, providing enough sacks of rice and beans to feed 900 families in the affected areas for a month.
The good news is that many people have responded to this by starting to attend church – not least because the food was given away to everybody, irrespective of religious affiliation. There has been, Revd Gaston, reports, an “explosion of people, with no more room to fit in people. People are being baptized because they are being touched by the love of God and asking, ‘What religion is this that cares? We want to join you’”. Gaston’s wife Olivia is running three Rooted in Jesus groups to teach those who have decided to place their faith in Jesus, and the new church of Ambovombe is packed out on Sundays.
Meanwhile, not far away in Mahabo parish, the Rooted in Jesus group in the Chapel of St Andrew has now completed the programme and received certificates.
We first went to Madagascar ten years ago. In a country where 80% of people are yet to hear the gospel, it’s hugely encouraging to see the huge strides being made despite the very real difficulties of living in a place subject to an increasing scourge of famines and cyclones. We feel privileged to be able to continue to support them in these small ways. As we begin the season of Lent, it would be good to respond to their prayer request: “Please pray for rain to fall so that rivers will be filled, the underground water table will rise, and crops will grow, but not so much rain at any one time that it causes damage.”
We are delighted to announce that we have just published our first e-book. Alison Morgan’s What Happens When We Die? has been out of print for some time. It has helped thousands of people to find a new and life-changing confidence as they face up to the reality of death, and has sold many copies both here in the UK and in China, where it was published in 2007. There has been renewed interest in the book due to the anxiety caused by the pandemic, and we have responded to this by publishing an updated edition as our first e-book.
Starting with ancient ideas on death and the afterlife, the book explores the teaching of the major world religions, considers near-death, psychic and paranormal experiences, and examines the case for reincarnation. The strengths of the various religious claims are then tested by reference to the character of the prophets of each tradition, and this is followed by an objective summary of the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Alison, who had begun her journey as an atheist, brings everything together by sharing her decision to place her faith in the Christian hope – it is, she concludes, the only one which seems to stand up to rigorous examination.
It’s available from our publications page for just £5, and can be read with any standard e-book reader. For a Church of England newspaper review click here.
Have you ever, by any chance, received a startling and unexpected announcement, perhaps one which changed your plans for Christmas??? Here in England we are all thinking again about the next few days – for, they tell us, something bigger than family, more far-reaching than mid-winter feasts, is happening among us: the coronavirus is once again expanding its reach, our hopsitals are full, and we must stay at home.
It may occur to us that this is not the first time ordinary people have sat down and listened to news they didn’t expect to hear. What would it be like, to be looking after your animals in the hills, to be welcoming people to your inn, to be gazing at the night sky – and suddenly to discover that something so momentous was going on that it would change everything? That was the experience of the shepherds in the biblical story, the publicans in the towns, the wise men observing a new star. Perhaps it’s not so hard for us to imagine after all, as we too are forced to change our plans. Perhaps this is a time to pray that we will be able to enter more deeply into the story which we remember at this time of year, to trust more profoundly in whatever future awaits us, and to give thanks for the coming of Jesus into our lives.
But however tough things may be, we are not alone. Bad news paves the way for good news – and that is, after all, what Christmas is all about. Perhaps we will be able to see the ‘Christmas star’ due to brighten our skies for the first time in hundreds of years as Jupiter and Saturn line up this week, and perhaps we will remember that once, a star just like it led the wise to Jesus.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
All of us at the Mathetes Trust wish you a very happy and blessed Christmas.
Sometimes unexpected and unwelcome events turn out to be the very thing needed to stimulate change – and as we have reflected on our own calling, this has been true for us too. Looking back over the last ten years of our EQUIP ministry has enabled us to reshape our thoughts towards the future – and we’d like to share them with you.
EQUIP began in 2009. We were on holiday; Roger spent the afternoons walking with the family, and the mornings praying in a coffee shop. ‘What, Lord,’ Roger asked, ‘do you want me to do with the rest of my life?’ The answer, when it came, was simple: ‘I want you to focus on equipping other Christian leaders.’
And so the EQUIP ministry was born. Andrew Evans, a vicar in Holt near Trowbridge and now one of our trustees, asked Roger to mentor him; soon we had a little group meeting for one day, three times a year, in our home in Wells. Each meeting was followed by parish visits and sometimes ministry visits too – we started by taking a team to Holt for a week of mission.
The little group grew, and soon meetings began to happen in other places; John Benson started one in Chester and Roger began new groups near Basingstoke, Canterbury, Leicester, and Bristol. The leaders who joined were mostly ordained, some Anglicans, some not; a few were lay. By 2020 Roger and John were working with 60 people.
Why had God asked Roger to do this? We suppose because of his background. He had been a Christian leader himself, lay and then ordained, since age 26; working with the Navigators in Cambridge, with Daniel Cozens and Through Faith Missions, and then after ordination in various parishes. So he knew the territory. It mattered too that he had been employed by Cambridge University within what has become the Cambridge University Business School. In those days he went from one government department and one large company to another to advise on many different problems – nothing to do with God, mostly manpower planning and production management – but it meant that he was used to working from the outside for a complex organisation.
So when Covid interrupted everything in March, Roger asked God what to do about the EQUIP ministry. The answer came at 5.30 in the morning: ‘Be faithful’. So we knew we had to stick by the 60 people to whom we had committed ourselves: we replaced face to face meetings with Zoom, we replaced visits to people with phone calls, and embarked on what has become a long series of meetings and calls. In this period we have exercised very little direct ministry, just the occasional sermon via Zoom. Roger wrote 16 spiritual exercises for individual and group use, and John continued to produce his series of booklets. Four people didn’t take to Zoom, but we think the others have all enjoyed it – and some new people have joined too.
Over the last months we have focussed on four things.
It’s not been a simple task for leaders to remain faithful to their people during the pandemic. Mike Saunders from Hungerford shares what it’s meant for him:
“For the last 4 years I’ve been the vicar of Hungerford; I’ve been a member of EQUIP group for about 5 years. Before lockdown we had an embryonic Pastoral Care Team, but we had been struggling to make it work. So when Roger encouraged us to ‘be faithful’ to our members, we invested some time and energy into this team. Our Pastoral Care Team has 10 members and between us we care for 144 people. We encourage every team member to ‘keep in touch’ with the people they care for, which means phoning them once a fortnight if we haven’t spoken to them on Zoom or on our daily walk. And it has worked really well. For example Di cares for the people who come to the 8 am Communion; she calls them every week on a Monday. She has been so effective that when we were allowed back to church on 12 July fifteen people were present and only two were missing. Thanks be to God.”
Our second topic has been endurance; all of us have in one way or another made a lifetime promise to God. At times keeping that promise has been a joy; but during the pandemic some of us (including me) have found that tough. To endure is to press on when things are difficult; Jesus told his disciples that if we endure we will be saved. Presumably that means only if we endure.
The third topic which we have been covering is hope. Hope is about the future; it’s always based on God’s promise that the future will be good. John has written eloquently about the hope that revival will again come to north Wales, and everyone in EQUIP has written a hope statement, trying to sketch out what we believe is going to happen when the pandemic has gone. Rich Phillips writes about his hopes for Hull:
“I’ve been the Vicar of a small church in Hull for the past 6 years. Together with a group of committed and Spirit filled elders, we’re on a journey of seeking to create a culture of ‘disciples who make disciples’; where every believer knows who they are in Christ and is equipped to proclaim and demonstrate the gospel in the power of the Spirit in their everyday lives. However, seeking to transform the culture of a church can at times be a challenging and lonely path as a leader, and so earlier this year a friend introduced me to Roger and his work with the Mathetes Trust. I joined an Equip group of other leaders on a similar journey to me. Since then I’ve met regularly with the Equip group via Zoom and have enjoyed frequent phone calls with Roger, all of which has been a great encouragement to me. The calls with Roger have enabled me to talk through my vision and hopes for the future and to tap into Roger’s wisdom and experience, which has helped to both affirm the path I’m on, but also given me fresh insights about how to move things forward and where best to focus my time and energy. The hope is for Roger to visit St Aidan’s at the earliest opportunity in 2021 to meet me and our leadership in person and to preach on a Sunday. Following this, and with Roger’s support and encouragement, next summer/early Autumn we are planning to run a week of mission whereby Roger will bring a team of people to St Aidan’s to help us grow in our confidence to reach out to the people in our community with the Gospel – which is incredibly exciting.”
The final topic has been ‘prepare’. John has produced a booklet for church leaders about how to prepare for what is to come, focussing on questions such as ‘What is the Lord saying to us?’, ‘What are the lessons we have learnt?’’What are we preparing for?’ and ‘Where do we begin?’ – if you would like a copy just let us know (we’ll need to ask you for a small contribution to cover the print and postage costs). And Hazel Aucken from Kirkby Mallory has written about one way she is helping her church prepare for the future; we have posted her story here.
In New Testament times, John the Baptist was the person who prepared his nation for what was to come. He started by asking for repentance; so we too have been encouraging one another to use this time to repent on behalf of the church in this country. Churches are meant to be full of joy, love and power, and zealous for righteousness. We have too often taken those four things off our priority list. When the pandemic ends, we must be determined to start again and hit the ground running.
So what of us – how are we applying all these lessons to our own ministry of support? In 2021 we are planning to reorganise our EQUIP meetings. We are used to Zoom now and we will continue to use it even after the pandemic ends. This will allow us to organise the EQUIP groups in a different way, bringing together 4-6 people who share a common purpose rather than following a geographical pattern. So groups may be designed for those who are leading children’s groups, or multi-parish benefices, or who are lay leaders, and so on. Each group will meet bi-monthly and each meeting will be followed up by phone calls. The groups will be much smaller and homogenous than the EQUIP groups of a year ago.
Secondly, we are forming an EQUIP team, to work primarily with Roger. As soon as may be, the team will be on the move to minister alongside each EQUIP member, helping to facilitate missions, prayer weekends, training seminars and so on. We hope this will result in a significant expansion in the level of support we are able to provide.
We are excited by the way God has been leading us this year, and looking forward to a new phase in the life of our churches. We have been glad to welcome some new members over the last few months – so if you are a Christian leader and would like to take advantage of these new opportunties, please do be in touch; and do let others who may be interested know. We’d be glad to speak with them.
One of the benefits of the coronavirus pandemic this year has been to prompt us all to experiment with new ways of meeting together. Hazel Aucken has been using our series of spiritual exercises designed for small groups of Christians who wish to learn to pray together. She has sent the following report:
“Over the past few weeks, I have been delighted to see three self-selected ‘stars’ grow in courage and confidence, thanks to the ‘Praying Together’ spiritual exercises that Roger sent out during the first coronavirus lockdown. I work as curate in a benefice of four rural villages. The largest of the four churches has no tradition of open prayer, nor even small groups. There is one Bible study group, but its members prefer to pray in silence or have the leader pray audibly. My training incumbent, like myself, comes from churches where prayer meetings are a source of rich blessings, and we both want to share that with others. She therefore gave me the opportunity to start a prayer school, and I began by recruiting the licensed lay minister and his wife to provide sympathetic, experienced encouragement and support.
“I advertised the 8-week course in our benefice magazine and via the weekly benefice email, and waited to see who appeared. Allowing the faithful, available and teachable people to step forward in this way made my task much easier. When we began, Caryl, Lindsay and Stella were complete novices at vocalising their own prayers even on their own, never mind in front of others. Consequently, it was with some fear and trepidation that these three lovely ladies joined us on Zoom for the first session. Nevertheless, they were willing to have a go and by the end of the evening each had prayed for something they wanted God to do for them, despite the symptoms of stage fright they all shared. Without exception, they wanted God to improve their self-acceptance, courage and confidence – in Caryl’s case to get her to the end of the course without bottling out!
“God is certainly answering their prayers, as is evidenced not only in our meetings but also in the fact that Lindsay prayed a beautiful prayer in the benefice morning prayer Zoom last week, Stella has volunteered to lead the whole service one Monday, and Caryl is still with us and has surprised herself by praying spontaneously without having to write it out first. That was for the family of the Kurdish-Iranians refugees who were all drowned, and despite the raging toothache she had that evening. We all insisted on praying for her, though she didn’t think it was important enough, and the next day, I recruited Roger as well. The following week, as a non-believer in miracles, she had to cope with the awkwardness of reporting to everyone that she had woken up pain-free the second morning after our prayers! I am looking forward to seeing everyone grow further over the last three sessions – and beyond, since all have agreed to join me in leading our Advent Sunday service on Zoom.”
Praying in small groups
We have now produced a complete series of notes for those wishing to experiment with small prayer groups in this way. They are designed particularly for use with people who may have little confidence in their own ability to pray in a group, and we have been encouraged to find that the Lord is as present where two or three meet together over Zoom as he is when they meet together in the time-honoured way!
The series has been written by Roger Morgan, and can be downloaded following the links below:
Supporting the ministry of local churches in the UK
We are increasingly encouraged by the resolute and creative ministry of the many churches we support through our EQUIP programme for church leaders – especially in North Wales, the East Midlands, Kent, Gloucestershire, Bristol and here in Somerset. We are standing with each one of them as they focus on their hope – not just of eternal salvation, but for the future ministry of their church once the pandemic is over. To this end, each church leader has writtten a hope statement based on God’s promises to them; we are praying with them as they encourage their churches to prepare for the harvest which is to come.
As we pray into the future, we are delighted to read the latest national prayer polls conducted by ComRes, which show that people who have never previously prayed are beginning to do so, and that the provision of online worship has seen a doubling of numbers attending, with a rise from 11% to 24% of the population participating. The increase is greatest, it seems, amongst young people! Details available on the ComRes website here.
Supporting the ministry of Rooted in Jesus in Africa
We would also like to draw your attention to our latest Rooted in Jesus blog post, which covers news from our partners in Africa. In brief:
Hectorina Tsotetsi writes about her new socially distanced Rooted in Jesus groups which meet to worship on a mountain in Free State, South Africa
Brian Keel shares the new work with Rooted in Jesus being done in villages around Kisumu, Kenya, by a network of Pentecostal churches
Alfred Mugisa sends an update on the difference Rooted in Jesus has made in South Rwenzori, Uganda
Pez Raobison and +Todd & Patsy McGregor share the challenges and opportunities of Covid in Madagascar
+Moses Zungo writes from Maridi seeking our prayers for South Sudan
John Onyao gives us some troubling news from Karamoja, Uganda
We were delighted to receive a report from the Rooted in Jesus ministry in South Africa, this time from the Diocese of Natal, where Revd Bruce Woolley has written a very encouraging account of how the Rooted in Jesus group at his church continues to meet via Whatsapp. There are some inspiring testimonies from group members, some of whom are finding a much deeper faith than they had before. The world may be locked down – but God is not:
“The enemy has succeeded in keeping places of worship closed temporarily but he has not succeeded in preventing the St Luke’s RinJ from their weekly fellowship via social media. Every Thursday I look forward to spending time and discussing the word of God with my fellow RinJ members. Learning the memory verses has helped me to overcome trying and negative situations during Lockdown.”
EQUIP is continuing to meet via Zoom, with regular phone calls to each of the 50+ members. God has given us four words: faithfulness, endurance, hope, and promise. We are encouraging our EQUIP members to be faithful to the Lord, and to each of the people and tasks to which they are called. Faithfulness implies endurance, because no one is finding things easy and everybody needs encouragement to keep going. To endure we need hope; it is also true that as we endure then we find that our hope increases. EQUIP members have been asked to write a short hope statement which will then become the basis for our prayers about the future. Hope for a Christian is not wishful thinking because with God our hope is underpinned by promise. God has given several promises about our ministry which is why we know that our hope will not disappoint us.
We have continued to produce a series of spiritual exercises. The first series is for personal use, and the second for group use. The group topics so far are:
Praying together Praying for each others’ needs Praying with scripture Praying with the Holy Spirit
John Benson has produced a booklet called Prepare to help churches think through their plans. John covers the following issues:
What is the Lord saying to us? What are the lessons we have learned? What are we preparing for? Where do we begin?
John reminds us of something C.S. Lewis said: “God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Again, do let us know if you’d like a copy.