Why Pastors should support #EQUIP

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul.” Psalm 23:1-3

I have just returned from an inspiring two days at the Welsh Leadership Forum EQUIP conference.

Last year was a great success with world renowned speakers Os Guinness and John Lennox bringing many to attend the launch.  They were excellent to hear, but for me the content this year spoke far more directly to the needs of our mission field in Wales. 

But, however rich and applicable the content was, it was nothing compared to the feedback I received from our church ministry team who left feeling; valued, uplifted, empowered, inspired and confident in the gospel.

And this is what EQUIP is all about.

I fear that Church leaders and Pastors are far to quick to dismiss EQUIP because it does not have the theological depth of other conferences but this is not what EQUIP is about.

Although it is a real blessing for Pastors, the focus is not on us.

The Welsh Leadership Forum designed EQUIP to help and support the hundreds of volunteers who help run our; Youth Clubs, Sunday schools, and home groups. It is for our ministry leaders, elders and deacons, volunteers and our wives. 

EQUIP provides a fantastic and affordable opportunity for our closest and most committed church members to network and learn from their peers, rather than receiving second-hand, filtered information that we gather from a plethora of Ministers conferences that we attend.

Noddfa EQUP

Some of the Noddfa Church crew at EQUIP

 

We are a relatively small church in the Welsh Valleys, yet managed to bring ten people to the event over the two days and it was a pleasure to support and share in their learning as “Pastor”.

I know that they will all be better and more confident in their ministries as a result of this week.

My wife returned home filled with practical ideals for Sunday school and was excited to share them with the wider team, it was lovely to see her face beam with such enthusiasm that I have when returning from other conferences. She thoroughly enjoyed the conference and I pray that others from the church will come with us next year.

I pray that next year many more Pastors will embrace the conference and bring their weary and hardworking flock to the good grass and still waters of the EQUIP conference so that they to maybe refreshed.

Welsh Leadership Forum EQUIP

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Being in the presence of God – EMW Camps 2018

I am broken, exhausted and emotionally drained as I write to you all. This last week has been both a battle and a joy.

Last year I wrote a blog on my first camp experience as chaplain and the blessings we received. I encourage you to read it if you are thinking of supporting or getting involved in the camps. “Better than the best thing I could ever think of – camp

This year I am not going to write about all the great activities we did with the campers, as far greater things were done by God.

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Australia was the camp theme

I enjoyed my time with the campers last year and listened to their pains and anxieties as they struggle to live the Christian life amidst the hostility of our secular age.

I hoped to address these issues this year with the theme of “Assurance”. 

I arrived on the Saturday afternoon with my notes and Bible studies prepared.

Every morning and evening we would go through each of the Beatitudes and study how salvation is expressed.

To summarise the weeks teaching;

  • Those who know their own spiritual poverty, grieve their sin and hunger and thirst for God are blessed. 
  • Those who have dealt with conflict at the cross and have made peace with God and who face persecution for living for Christ are blessed.
  • Christianity is expressed by inward reflection, outward action and outside reaction (we even had dance moves for this).

The officers seemed encouraged by the notes and came loaded with several questions. I am grateful for how seriously they took the task in hand.

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The first service felt lifeless, the wind was heavy on the tent and was distracting those who needed no encouragement. The projector fell mid way through the message and I knew I had lost them. 

The first few days were restless, their was conflict, tears and tiredness between the campers. The Devil was clearly attacking! It was going to be a tough week!

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This years camp was different in many ways, but the most significant was in prayer.

From the first night we all met as officers and leaders to pray for God’s blessing upon the week, we prayed for each child until the early hours and then we woke and met again to do the same.

Camp leader (Joshua Slade) lead the morning devotions taking the officers through Colossians. We prayed right up to the breakfast bell each morning and could have gone on all day.

Last year I was encouraged by the handful of campers that came to the early morning prayer meeting (comprising mainly of duty bound ministers children), but this year the early morning prayer meetings peaked at 21 souls desperate to see God work.

We prayed as officers again before the dorm Bible studies and at the very end of the day after the officers epilogues, when we were all exhausted, the officers and leaders still all met to pray again until the early hours ……..and the Lord was pleased to answer!

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As I have already said, the first couple of days were incredibly challenging (the enemy knew what was coming). But from Monday evening (where we truly felt God’s presence in our late night prayer meeting) things began to change.

I had preached earlier that day on Matthew 5:4, using the illustration of a life boat. “Only those who mourn their sin, know the desperate situation they are in and will accept the offer of rescue.”

This analogy struck a chord with a number of the campers, several stayed after the meeting to pray.

As we continued through the Beatitudes we could see a change in the Spirit of the camp, a number of the difficulties were ironed out, foes became best friends, the restless began to sleep and prayer was being answered.

God was with us!

At meal times, we were not singing dorm theme tunes or popular music, but Hymns to God’s glory. 

During the activities, campers were reading their Bibles, whether they were on the beach, or sat on the floor in the crowds at the zoo. They could not get enough of God’s word.

After each morning service half of the campers stayed to pray for the lost, one young girl even wept in utter confusion that there were campers who could leave the service seemingly unaffected. (This challenged me greatly)

Throughout the week we could physically and tangibly see God move through the campers.

In total we welcomed nine professions of faith (compared to zero last year) and several showed clear signs of growth and have gone home assured.

What excited me the most was that each profession was made secretly, personally and reverently.

None of the children were following the crowd, but spent days praying and speaking to the officers to make sure in their own hearts that they were not riding a superficial wave.

One young lady was walking back from the day trip to the farm on her own, praying I would retreat to her so she could discuss her conversion. She was not seeking attention, far from it, she distanced herself from the crowd to speak with me alone. She knew she was saved and had everything in Christ.

One young man who was not in the prayer meetings at the beginning of the week, started coming by the end. I asked him why? To which he proclaimed “Christ died for me”. I would not have known about his conversion if I had not asked. 

None of the converts were attention seeking, neither were they appeasing me. They called officers aside individually to share what had happened to them and although humbled in Spirit all were excited to return home to share their good news with friends and family.

Camp veteran and leader Joshua Slade said he had never known a camp like it.

We had all the fun of previous years, but the spirit of unity (that came out from a potentially difficult week) was clear. 

God drew these young souls to Him through the entire team on camp, every officer had a significant part to play as commitments were being made. Grace (our ladies leader) spent many hours with our young ladies.

On the last morning a number of the converts (and those who were significantly strengthened in their faith) came to me for an unplanned prayer meeting before they went home. I read from Mark 4.

“You can return home assured, knowing that you are in the lifeboat, but storms will come and Jesus will seam silent, but know that He is in the boat with you, have faith that He can calm the storm” 

The reality of the blessing we shared this week has already been evidenced by the storm, with various attacks that I have returned home to. I would value your prayer……

I asked the campers to write where they were at with God on Day 1.

I asked them to answer the same question on the last evening.

Here are some examples.

The Llanerch colliery disaster

On February 6th 1890 176 men and boys (fathers and sons) died in a tragic mining disaster at the Llanerch Colliery, Abersychan.

Since its 125th anniversary Councillor Giles Davies has organised a service at the pit head to remember the lost and I have had the honour of leading those gathered in prayer and worship.

An earlier methane explosion  (October 1889) that lead to two casualties, raised concerns about the colliery’s safety. Mine inspectors suggested the use of closed safety lamps, but the Managing Director of the pit approved the use of open flame lamps (December 1889) on the belief that the mine was “well ventilated”. Eight weeks later the explosion happened and 176 men were dead. So severe was the blast that it echoed down the valley and could be heard for miles around. Many of the casualties could not be identified.

The incident itself stripped the local community of an entire generation of men, leaving their widows and family desolate. You can read a list of the deceased here, many are buried in our graveyard at Noddfa.

The inquest ruled the explosion was caused by the men using “naked lights”.  No one in management was found responsible and no one was fined. The mine was reopened and back in business just 13 days after the incident.

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Survivors of the Llanerch Colliery Disaster – “Back to Work”!

At its peak (1918) the Llanerch, Havod Van and Blaenserchan pits that filled this little valley employed 2,060 people. It was a booming place of industry with several pits, furnaces, brickworks, roads, trains and other amenities.

Sadly it all closed shortly after Nationalisation in 1947. Nature has now reclaimed the fair country and all that is left of the pit head at Llanerch is the bottom of the girder that once held the shaft pully.

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During the short service, we prayed, the children, Mayor, MP and Councillors placed daffodils on the pit head and I spoke from the text 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”

The men and boys of Llanerch left their wives and children in the early hours of February 6th 1890, fully expecting to be back for supper, but they never made it home. They were taken in an instant. As we remember their sudden deaths, we need to ask ourselves whether we are ready to face our own? As it could come as suddenly! Do you know peace with God? Do you have hope in the risen Saviour Jesus Christ?

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The Llanerch Colliery

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A drone image of the Llanarch Colliery site during today’s service (by Gwyn Jenkins)

 

After the service I then took a welcomed walk around the derelict and dismantled sites through the little valley with friends.

Chris Tew (the Sherriff of Abersychan) kindly guided me through the small valley and told me what went where. A forgotten past hidden amidst the rubble and thorns.

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This often unheard of tragedy is currently marked by a small memorial. The local community are fund raising to build something of more significance that will keep such a dark history in memory. You can find out more about the fund here

A big thanks once again to Giles Davies for organizing such a wonderful morning, including lunchboxes for all the children.

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Day 18 A walk and a watch

Day 18 of our 30 days wild adventure and we are all doing fine!

I took the kids up the valley to the Garn lakes nature reserve (part of Blaenavon World Heritage) for a walk, a picnic and to spot some birds.

“I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.” ‭‭Leviticus‬ ‭26:12‬ 

As we approached the lake we were greeted by some Mallards, Ozzy (7) reminded them of the no swimming rule!


We kept on walking through the park and saw black birds and wood pigeons


Sammy (3) dressed himself in his nature outfit for the trip. This consisted of what can only be described as a Denis Waterman bomber jacket (from Minder), a shirt that only a TV magician from the 1980s could get away with and a Holyrood tartan tie! But somehow it worked! The Birds were not put off.


We hit the next lake and were followed around by some Canada Geese.


We then walked back to the first lake for our picnic and a rest, enjoying the scenery. On the lake we noticed a pair of common scoters, they were absolutely stunning preening themselves on the bank (the birds, not my kids).


I love the valleys!

Life is like riding a Bicycle….Welsh Velothon

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It is often said that “Life is like riding a Bicycle”…..all you need is; a bit of balance, keep yourself strong and healthy to get up those tough valley climbs and be prepared for the dangers ahead. Keep on peddling and you will get to the finish line and all will be fine!

But sadly life is not all that simple, the road often gets bumpy and you can lose your balance and fall off, or the hill is too steep and you have to give up, or at the slightest distraction the dangers ahead pop up before you notice them and CRASH you are out of the race.

We have all fallen off at some point and have suffered life’s cuts and bruises as a result.

The truth is, by our very nature we cannot cross that finish line in our own strength, the course of life is too difficult, none of us are perfect.

Even the greatest men of the Bible fell off their “bikes” at some point.

Adam disobeyed God, Noah a drunkard, Abraham lied, Moses a murderer, Gideon an idolater, David an adulterer, Peter denied Christ three times and Paul persecuted the church. Yet the Bible tells us that they all got to the finish line! Not by their own strength and ability but by trusting in their Saviour, Jesus Christ the Son of God, who by His Grace lifted them up when they fell, washed away their dirt and guided them safely through to the finish line.

The church at Noddfa does not claim to be a home for the yellow jackets, although those who know Christ have been given His.

Noddfa is a place for those of us with scruffy knees, bent frames, flat tires and sore limbs who keep falling off and are looking for help. Noddfa is also home for those who think they are doing fine, peddling in their own strength, but are simply lost and seeking a purpose and direction in life.

If you want to find out more about Jesus Christ and how He can help you get you through life’s Velothon, why not come and join us at Noddfa?

Because of the road closures for the Velothon we have a shared service at High Street Baptist Church (Abersychan) 11am.

If you can’t usually make Sunday mornings but are now stuck at home with nothing to do it is a great time to come and have a taster of church! Come as you are, all are welcome!

though we may stumble, we will not fall, for the LORD upholds us with his hand” Psalm 37:24

We look forward to welcoming the Welsh Velothon back to our village (Aberyshcan) despite the seeming inconvenience of having many of our congregation out, because the race that has divided our county has brought two churches closer together .

 

 

 

 

A year in the Valley

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:10

In June 2014 my family and I moved to Noddfa Baptist Church to serve the Lord in Pastoral Ministry. This move was made in partnership with ReformissionWales and Emmanuel Evangelical Church, Newport, under the mentoring of Rev Bernard Lewis.

Like so many churches in the Eastern Valley, Noddfa was without a minister. It had a predominately elderly, but very committed, congregation that had become increasingly disengaged from the wider community. Noddfa was struggling to survive with just 15 regularly attending the Sunday morning Service, a handful of children at the Monday night Club and a Mothers and Toddlers’ group on a Tuesday. We took on the challenge knowing it was a Nehemiah work that was needed.

Noddfa 2014

Noddfa 2014

Making contact with people in the community

Noddfa evangelismInitially I distributed a personal letter to all the immediate homes in the area. This letter introduced myself and our family, explained why we have moved to Abersychan, and included my contact details if people wanted to get in touch with me. This had a huge impact as many thought the church was, in fact, closed. It gave me a great opportunity to speak to many people as I went door to door and began to understand that the darkness was not due to “atheism”, as I had first assumed, but to “nominalism”.

This was a game-changer. I understood then that as a church we had to re-engage with a mission field amongst those who, sadly, think they are Christians but who do not feel they need to worship God and receive his Word in fellowship with his people.

I was encouraged that many people still had affection for Noddfa and would be sad to see it close. They had a loose assimilation to chapel tradition that we could use to our advantage. But the general opinion was “the world has moved on and I have other things to do on a Sunday morning.”

We started by holding reunions for former Sunday school attendees who are still living in the area and have now grown up and have families of their own. They were well received. We enjoyed Fish and Chip Suppers and a Summer BBQ. Old pictures and fond memories were shared, stories told and, more importantly, local people left those meetings knowing that Noddfa is still here and continues to run activities for their children.

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Through these meetings and speaking with the families that attend the weekly clubs, it became clear that, despite having a desire to attend and be affiliated with Noddfa, Sunday morning has become a struggle for many in our community because of work or sporting commitments. This is the world we live in today and we must be pragmatic in these situations just as the early Christians were in Acts. So we planned to run another Sunday Service at a time that suited people living in a secular society, so people will no longer have an excuse. This ‘family friendly’ service is called “Look Up”. This great name was coined by an 84 year old church member and allowed us to put a big sign on the road that guides the eye to “Look Up” the hill to see Noddfa Chapel. The “Look Up” service includes Bible readings, hymns and a 20 minute message, followed by fellowship with refreshments and a seasonal activity.

Initially we thought we might get a few families from the youth ministries, some who came along to the reunion and supporting families from Emmanuel. To our amazement the service now welcomes, on average, more than 60 people from the local community, many of whom have never experienced church or heard the Gospel. This peaked on Firework night 2014 with more than 120 people attending. They heard the Gospel proclaimed as well as “looking up” to see some fireworks after the service.

Capturing all of this activity and putting it on Facebook has also been a great opportunity for people in the community to discover what actually goes on inside the chapel walls and to see pictures of their friends and family being involved.

Victoria Village School

Victoria Village School

By simply living in the area we reach out to the community at every opportunity and encourage the congregation to do the same. We have had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people and have made some great friends. We make an effort to buy locally whenever possible. This allows us to get to know the shopkeepers and speak to those in the queue. It also helps when it comes to putting posters in the shop window! As funds allow we try to eat out at local cafes and restaurants once a month. Our oldest boys attend the local school and are involved in the local music group, football team and boxing club. The Lord has opened doors in the local schools for me to take assemblies and to visit the local care homes. My wife, Harriet, is a member of the slimming club (not that she needs it) and attends other pre-school playgroups in the area with our younger children, she is also involved in a local choir. We try to attend most community activities; charity nights; pub quizzes etc and are constantly building bridges, knocking down walls and simply being accessible to people so they know where to go when the Lord puts that desire in their hearts.

Throughout 2015 opportunities continue to develop and I was appointed assistant Chaplain to the Mayor of Torfaen, a dear friend Giles Davies (who I have got to know well over the last 12 months). Giles is unique in that his office has not come out of ambition or pride but as a consequence of the genuine love he has for the area and I thank God for raising Giles up in the community during this early stage of my Ministry. Working in this capacity of Chaplain to the Mayor has opened many other doors into the community for me to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Pastor John with Mayor of Torfaen, Mayor of Blaenavon and Welsh Labour MP for Torfaen

Pastor John with Mayor of Torfaen, Mayor of Blaenavon and Welsh Labour MP for Torfaen

We praise God for the way He is blessing the work. From June 2014-15 attendance at the traditional Sunday services have doubled, requiring us to start a Sunday School to cater for the children during the service. The Monday Club has five times more children attending and the Mother and Toddlers’ group has also seen significant growth.

By God’s Grace on July 19th we are baptizing three people who have come to know the Lord through this evangelism.

Noddfa June 2015

Noddfa 2015

Noddfa 2015

Please continue to pray for us

The last 12 months have been amazing, the Lord has worked beyond our wildest expectations, but the church at Noddfa is still in a desperate situation. I have to support myself financially in secular work, the core membership of the church remains small and elderly, and although the numbers have been a great encouragement, it is all superficial if we do not see souls being saved.

This is our burden for the people in our community and we ask that you continue to pray for the work, so that we can continue to do everything possible with what God has given us. Please pray that God will do the impossible, as only He can, and revive this land once more bringing many people to saving faith in Jesus.

“I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest,” Isaiah 62:6