Over the past year, I’ve been a student in the Antioch Discipleship School. To wrap up our year we took a two-week mission trip. When we were told we were going to work with refugees, I imagined lifting people from boats. “Perhaps not”, I thought quickly, when the leaders explained that we would be helping the refugee population in Belgium and northern France.
It was amazing to have the opportunity to go to Calais to spend a day at the refugee camp there. People there were living in tents, hoping to somehow get access to the stability of more prosperous countries. Some of these people had been so beaten and battered it was painful to even look at them. It was such a privilege to pray with some of these people and help them in any way I could.
In Brussels, the refugees tended to have more permanent accommodation, often in church-run accommodation blocks. Our team sought to build a sense of community by playing sports and games with the children for example. It was amazing to see the joy this brought with just a simple act.
Our team was also involved in street drama and prayer outreach. One day, we went to a shopping centre. I sensed God leading me to sit next to a lady who I soon discovered was in the midst of chemotherapy for breast cancer, exhausted from this and saddened by her hair loss. She told me that no one knew her pain, no one could experience her pain with her or could take her pain from her. At the risk of offending by correcting her on all three points, I explained that how Jesus identified with her suffering and how he died in order to heal us spiritually as well as physically. We prayed for healing, at first, she didn’t feel anything. So we prayed again. And again. Finally, she felt the presence of God as a burning sensation in her chest and head and weirdly she developed an insatiable itch on her scalp — I felt this indicated her hair beginning to re-grow. She also felt an inexplicable peace and joy. We hugged and danced together in the shopping centre as we both knew God had just healed her. She left to tell her family just that!
These are just a few incredible moments from this trip. While God didn’t complete the “to do” list I set Him, I realised he had a much bigger agenda. He showed me the importance of not praying for outcomes but loving people as He does, following His leading and having faith that He has got the rest covered.
One instance of God’s immense power demonstrated was when our team members prayed for a lady of Romanian descent who had sustained a serious injury from being in a car accident and who was unable to walk without the help of her crutch begin walking.
The team had previously met her and shared the gospel with her, to which she responded in faith, accepting Jesus into her heart. It was only during our second encounter with her that she related how a car had hit her and now she was unable to walk. As we examined her foot, we saw that i had swollen up to more than twice its size and had been mangled in certain places. We asked her if we could pray for her leg to be healed and she agreed.
As we begin to pray, we felt the Holy Spirit wanting us to pray for specific location where pain and immobility was present. Slowly, much to the surprise of everyone around, she begin to move her foot and even hobble around without her crutch. However, we only saw complete healing take place when the lady, who had not been able to stand without aid, strode over to where the team had settled for dinner. It was only in that time that we realised the full extent of God’s healing that had taken place!
One of the things we would do during our time helping engage the refugee crisis in Sicily was to head to the local city and find people to love and share the gospel with. On this one occasion, myself, Patrick and two other people from the Sicily team, Ryan and Carmen, met three young men who were refugees from Senegal. Each of them had been in Sicily for a different amount of time. One, Marmadu, had been in Sicily since 2011. It was an incredibly humbling experience talking to Marmadu. Despite having come to seek refuge in Sicily whilst most wanted to move on to other places Marmadu had clear intentions of staying in Sicily and continue his job working as a translator with the Red Cross to help the incoming refugees. This was unlike his friends who wanted to leave Sicily. What was humbling was that Marmadu had taken his bad experience and devoted his time to helping those that had been in similar circumstances. What was most moving to us was that he was a Muslim yet happily allowed me and Patrick pray for him and his work in the name of Jesus, and appeared touched by us offering to do so. He even invited us to come visit him in his work place.
His Friend Yaya told us that he was an atheist and shared his doubts about Jesus. Despite this he was open to us telling him about the gospel and when asked if he had anything for us to pray about he shared that he had trouble with his leg, especially after doing physical activity. Just before encountering Yaya and his friends, I experienced a piercing pain in my left leg and felt God telling me to look for someone who had pains in their leg. Yaya experienced the pain in his left leg too and so it was clear that God was bringing us to him. Ryan explained that God could heal this and wanted him healed. He was very sceptical that God was capable of such healing so I shared my testimony of how I had been healed the day before. Also how I had stopped my medication so should be experiencing side effects that normally leave me bed bound. I asked Yaya if I looked in pain to him, to which he replied no.
It was amazing to see how his face switched from showing scepticism to showing a look of intrigue. He then happily accepted prayer for healing, despite having been sceptical he was now totally open. After praying Yaya declared that he no longer felt any pain and that his leg was healed. He was overjoyed and exchange details with us so that he and his friends could start the Discipleship course. I had never seen someone look so filled with Joy, it was amazing to witness Gods glory being revealed to those who had felt they had never truly encountered God up to this moment.
Dear Antioch Family-
This past Sunday was a significant day for Antioch Sheffield as we announced that we will be sending out our first church-plant!
We believe the local church is the hope of the world — it is God’s plan for reaching and discipling the nations. Therefore our vision has always been to become a church-planting church. Over the past year, God has been speaking to the Books and Fanchers about planting a church in Asia Minor (specific location withheld due to security reasons) and we will be sending them out this September.
It’s an exciting step for our church, but it is also bittersweet. Planting churches means sending out some of our best. For the past several years, the Books and Fanchers have loved and laid down their lives for this church and the people in it. So much of what we are as a church is a direct result of their input and influence. They are deeply loved members of this community and we will miss them!
However, just because they’re being sent out doesn’t mean we won’t stay connected with them. As a sending church, we will support them with our prayers, our finances, and by regularly sending mission teams to serve them.
Practically, they will transition out of their staff roles following the ADS trip to Brussels in August. The Fanchers will leave Sheffield the 16th of September for a well-deserved sabbatical. The Books will depart in September for a 9-month training stint in southeast Asia before transitioning to Asia Minor in the spring of 2017. Of course, we will have some special times to honour and celebrate them before they go, but please don’t wait until then to encourage and thank them for the ways they’ve impacted your life here.
John and Dustin’s departure leave some big shoes to fill on our leadership team. However, we’re happy to announce that Ian Merton will be joining the church staff in August as the Director of Operations. For years, Ian has been a committed member of this church and has grown into a gifted leader. He also brings a wealth of experience from his role at Cadbury’s that will be a tremendous asset to our leadership team.
As Lauren and I look to the future, we’re full of anticipation for all God is leading us into as a church. We believe God has great things in store for Antioch Sheffield in the days ahead.
Lead Pastor, Antioch Sheffield