Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
I share the leadership of our EQUIP ministry with John Benson, who spent many years running a very effective Anglican mission in Singapore. From time to time we each write EQUIP booklets aimed at helping church leaders, and these are available from the Mathetes Trust. John’s latest booklet, which he calls Be Bold, seems to me to be particularly relevant in the present times.
John begins with Habakkuk 3.17-18:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the sheepfold and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
Though the Covid restrictions continue and the churches are struggling, though restructuring brings no improvement and our mission bears little fruit, though the churches are nearly empty and there are few children or young people, though synods make ungodly decisions and people see no need for God or the Good News, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
Starting from there, John calls us to recover the dynamic boldness that was a prominent characteristic of the early Church. He includes a Bible study which directs us to the boldness of Peter and John in Acts 4.13, to Paul’s description of the outcome of his bold preaching described in 2 Corinthians 3; and to many other places. Filled by the Holy Spirit, Paul, Peter and John were bold to speak the word of God at every opportunity, and bold to approach God’s throne and pour out their hearts and appeal for his power to accompany their preaching.
Bold to preach, bold to pray; needed for our churches in our times just as boldness has been needed every time the church has been overwhelmed with difficulties. If you would like a copy of John’s booklet please get in touch, and we will be pleased to pop one in the post for a nominal donation of £2.50 to cover costs.
To find out more about our EQUIP programme click here.
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.
We would like to take this opportunity to let you know what we are doing to ensure that we remain faithful to our calling at this time of unexpected challenge. For us, as no doubt for you, life has changed radically. We are just over a week into making adjustments, and here is our first report.
World Turned Upside Down, 17th century woodcut
EQUIP is a ministry which aims to support church leaders in the UK. It has meant a lot of travelling, and of course this has had to stop for the time being. We need a new way of working, and so in the last week we have set up 11 new groups which will meet via video conferencing using Zoom. The 11 groups will also be in touch with each other through a new closed Facebook page.
Roger has now had a lengthy conversation with each of the EQUIP members he works with (just over 50). We are greatly encouraged by their resourcefulness. Two have set up a hub – a place that is continuously manned and in touch with increasing numbers of people in their community, including many who do not normally attend church. One of our churches is in touch with lots of children who now receive messages and materials which will provide them with spiritual input. Lots of our churches are developing pastoral teams who will maintain contact with all their church members by phone and by email. Some churches have successfully involved their whole congregations in a virtual morning service. One of our members is sending out a regular ‘thought for the day’. We hope to share these ideas so that they can be used more widely.
ROOTED IN JESUS
Rooted in Jesus is our discipleship programme for Africa. We are grateful that the three teams due to travel to Ethiopia and Kenya (providentially early in the year!) were able to complete their missions; feedback is good, with groups growing in these dioceses. Unusually, all the rest of our conferences are scheduled for the autumn. We were expecting to travel to six dioceses with both the adult and the Junior programmes; planning is ongoing, with postponement perhaps the most likely outcome.
In the meantime we have been taking the opportunity to focus on the ongoing work of translation. We have received the Rooted in Jesus Junior Team Manual in Swahili, and a new version of Rooted in Jesus in Masai which will be printed in Arusha for use with the 300 new churches planted in the last few years by the Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro. Translations are ongoing into various other languages too, both of the later books for dioceses already using the course, and into new languages for those looking ahead. We cannot tell what the impact of Covid-19 will be in Africa. Many African countries do not have well-resourced health services, but on the other hand the population is much younger than in the West, so may prove to have greater resilience. We hope and pray so.
PUBLICATIONS AND RESOURCES
The third strand of our work is the production of books and resource materials. Alison is now able to spend more time writing her book on the Psalms, which has a working title World Turned Upside Down (since before the coronavirus!!). She hopes to finish it by the end of the year.
Roger is designing a series of spiritual exercises. If you would like to receive these regularly please do let us know, and we will either mail them out or post them online, depending on the demand. It will be vital for all of us to remain spiritually buoyant as we cope with this virus.
It seems likely that this situation will go on for some time. We are confident that God will use this time to change the church, strengthening it and equipping it to face the future once the virus has gone. In the meantime we remain trustful in our faith and steadfast in our prayers, ready to support and care for others. Every crisis, as we know, brings with it an opportunity.
It has been a great privilege this year to share in the good news of Jesus with so many people, both in the UK and in Africa. We are grateful to all who have partnered and prayed with us, and offer our best wishes for a trustful and joyful Christmas.
We have seen the Lord working in many places – but would like to invite you to pray for just one of them as we celebrate the coming of Christ: the Diocese of Kondoa.
Kondoa sits on the eastern edge of the Great Rift Valley in central Tanzania, and it held its first Rooted in Jesus conference last month. It’s an unremarkable place, set in an ordinary rural community whose people support themselves predominantly by subsistence farming. But it faces particular challenges. People have worshipped in traditional ways here for thousands of years – Kondoa is home to some of the oldest rock paintings in the world. And more recently, Kondoa was a staging post on the slave route to the east coast. Today 90% of its 600,000 people are are Muslim. Many have never heard the gospel.
But the Lord has been working in Kondoa. Bishop Given Gaula has been called to serve the diocese as its leader, and he has some remarkable stories to tell. The number of Christians is growing, churches are being planted, and 126 people have just been trained to lead the first Rooted in Jesus groups.
We’ve posted a full report on https://rootedinjesus.blog/. So before you settle down to celebrate the Lord’s coming with your family, why not take the time to ponder on what he is doing among our brothers and sisters in this remote rural district in the heart of Africa – starting with a very special act of incarnation and redemption.
We believe that prayer for healing is a key part of the ministry of those who are disciples of Jesus. We base this on Matthew 10: 7-8 where Jesus instructs his disciples: “Proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” That seems quite clear, doesn’t it? Proclaiming the good news is our first priority but prayer for healing is not an optional extra; it is an essential part of our calling.
We have been pleased to support the ministry of healing at a number of events this autumn. Roger is often invited to preach in churches, especially those where the church leader is a member of one of our EQUIP groups. He does not always preach about the healing ministry but he does routinely offer to pray for people at the end of the service, always quoting the words of Jesus that if we have faith like a grain of mustard seed we can tell mountains to move and they will move. We suggest to people that if they came to church with any kind of mountain in their lives they should not go home with it, but instead come for prayer. It is not always possible to tell immediately if the prayer has been answered, but in recent times we know of one person whose hearing loss in one ear has been restored, a man with cancer who now has no trace of it left, and someone who is now on top of a serious addiction which has been dominating his life for years. We are finding that God is with us and we are trusting him even more as our ministry develops.
Andrew Evans is the vicar of St Katharine’s Holt, Wiltshire, and one of our trustees. This year Andrew and a team from St Katharine’s have been hosting a monthly meeting as part of their Gateway Christian Healing programme. The vision is to bring God’s healing love to all as a declaration of His goodness. All meetings include worship, a talk, and an extended time of prayer. Each month a different speaker is invited, covering a whole range of aspects of prayer ministry, and in November Alison spoke on ‘I am the Lord who heals you’. There was a wonderful atmosphere as people huddled together to pray, sitting or wandering off into corners, and eventually drifting off late into the dark night outside. The Gateway programme continues next year, and all are welcome – if you are in the area do take a look at their website. Next up is Simon Guillebaud!
October found Roger in Wroughtonnear Swindon where he had been invited by vicar Phill Harrison to lead a parish weekend on prayer. Similar weekends have happened in other churches and proved popular; the next one will be in January in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Roger normally does two sessions on the Saturday; the first of these is on solitary prayer based on Matthew 6: 6 “When you pray go into your room and shut the door and pray to your father who is in secret”; Roger tries to answer the question ‘how do we listen to God in these solitary times and what do we talk to him about?’. The second session is based on Matthew 18:19-20 “If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven for where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them”; the session is about praying together – the aim is to show how to discover the presence and the power of Jesus when we pray in groups. Then on Sunday Roger usually preaches from Luke 11:13 where Jesus invites his disciples to ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit; in Wroughton as in other places people came forward for prayer to receive the Holy Spirit and others for healing.
To find out more about our long-standing healing course In His Nameand other resources on prayer ministry, or to think about the possibility of hosting a prayer weekend for your church, check out the links or give us a call.
Finally, we are offering free UK postage on all or publications this month. Our poetry collection makes an excellent Christmas gift, our popular Lent course provides a fresh focus on the work of the Holy Spirit, and our other books and booklets provide a seasonal stimulus to faith. If you would like to take advantage of this offer please place your order through our office by emailing or calling us on 01749 679865.
The fourth National Rooted in Jesus Coordinator conference has just taken place in Tanzania. The conference was hosted by Bishop Stanley Hotay, the National Director for Rooted in Jesus in the Province of Tanzania, and attended by diocesan coordinators from across the country.
Bishop Stanley explained how Rooted in Jesus was first created as a resource to help people understand and practise their faith. “We had no resources to teach with,” he said; “our culture is to talk. We needed a suitable course for Africa, which permits people to talk, not read. If we are rooted in Jesus, the church will be healed.”
Each Diocesan Coordinator gave a report on the progress of Rooted in Jesus within their diocese, many speaking of people coming to faith and experiencing life-changing healing, of churches growing in strength and numbers, of increasing confidence in ministry among members, and increased financial growth. Where there have been challenges, people were able to encourage and advise one another, and plans were made to support and strengthen the programme where necessary.
One of the great benefits of drawing together all the Diocesan Coordinators in this way is that it creates a strong team atmosphere. All of the Coordinators have leadership responsibilities in their own dioceses, and they had much to offer one another by way of encouragement and advice. As Rooted in Jesus becomes ever more firmly established across the Province, this is the group from whom the training teams are now drawn.
The second major benefit of the conference was that it enabled these leaders to pool their experience and think strategically about the future. How can they strengthen Rooted in Jesus in their own dioceses and in those not represented, as well as introduce it to those not yet using it? What are the factors which make for success, and what are the pitfalls to avoid? Should Rooted in Jesus be introduced to the theological colleges? How can they ensure it becomes truly self-sustaining within the Province?
Rooted in Jesus has a long history in Tanzania, and although the task of evangelism and discipleship is of course never ending, Tanzania can be proud of its own track record, and of the gift it has offered to other countries in Africa.
We have posted a full report on the Rooted in Jesus blog.
Rooted in Jesus is published and supported by the Mathetes Trust.
We have just posted a report on the Rooted in Jesus blog from Canon Andrew Evans, who has just returned from the Diocese of Kadugli in Sudan, where he and a team from Bradford on Avon deanery led a Rooted in Jesus conference for 75 leaders. The invitation from Bishop Hassan came last year, but it was only in August that the political situation in Sudan improved sufficiently for the invitation to be confirmed.
Andrew writes that the churches in Kadugli city have undergone a very difficult time in the war, and they described all Christians as being the targets for the military under the previous regime. As such all the denominations have almost blended into one, as the churches clung together in the face of persecution. The Christians in Kadugli were amazed that six white people from England had been allowed to travel there, and they shared that it was an encouragement more than they could put into words that we had come to express our solidarity with them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
The RinJ teaching was enthusiastically received. The delegates readily accepted the need for discipling in the churches and were keen to start the programme. Andrew tells too of some powerful prophetic words sent by an intercessor in Holt, and a number of remarkable healings: “every time we invited the Holy Spirit to come, more and more people were released. This was of particular significance for a man who responded to a word about giving ‘locked up hurts (from long ago) to God’ and that God was ready to take them and replace them with joy. As he was wailing and crying out in response it revealed the release of some very deep and unspeakable pain. The next morning the same man was singing his heart out, dancing for joy up and down the aisles – face beaming with smiles. Most surely God had released him and given him some new peace.”