Avengers assemble!’…for many of you, you’re already way too excited with the thought of yet another Marvel movie! That cry to come together, to battle against overwhelming odds to defeat evil so that good will triumph.
It gets all the juices flowing but that’s a movie right? What about real life and what about the Church? How’s our excitement level for the Church right now?
According to some, the Church seems to be declining, the statistics aren’t good in the West, more people claiming to have no religious affiliation and fewer than 50% of the UK now claim allegiance to Christianity. Combine that with the post-Covid blues many of us are still feeling and the cry ‘hope-carriers assemble’ may well fall on deaf ears. But it shouldn’t, because the Church is alive and more than well.
In 2022 I helped lead a trip to Israel and stood on the spot in Caesarea Philippi where 2,000 years ago Jesus declared, ‘I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it’ (Matthew 16 v.18) Do you know what, they haven’t!
The Church is still God’s best idea for planet Earth. As Dallas Willard once famously put it: ‘The aim of God in human history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.’
Maybe you don’t see your church quite this way, but zoom out a little, go to 30,000 feet for a moment: the Church is more than the building or even the people you and I connect with. The Church is global, beautiful, powerful and the Church is on the move.
From Minehead to Manila, from Skegness to Sao Paolo, the Church is on the move, hope-carriers are assembling.
In February 2023, I was invited by Compassion UK to go to Uganda along with other Spring Harvest leaders. Compassion is a global organisation that believes that millions of children living in poverty is a total injustice. Spring Harvest, for more than 40 years has inspired and equipped the church in the UK to be salt and light for the kingdom of God. The opportunity to see the potential for these two incredible organisations to work together was irresistible. I gladly went and what I experienced in those few days impacted and inspired me, and will live with me for years to come. I saw hope-carriers assemble.
There were the volunteers at the local church: faithful men and women pouring their lives into children and young people day after day after day. There were the staff leaders, many of whom were graduates, meaning they were once children in the projects themselves and are now educated, trained, empowered and equipped to make a difference in the world and in the lives of children, just like the ones they used to be. Then of course there were the sponsors: men, women and sometimes young people who have given monthly, written occasionally, prayed frequently but may have never witnessed the impact of this in the way we did.
This all came together for me on the last day. We went to see a leader called Richmond at his place of work, an impressive multi-acre site with a training centre, well-being hub, offices and beautifully kept grounds. He told us his story of having been a child living in extreme poverty, with little hope for the future. His father had been murdered when he was very young.. Then he was sponsored and in his words, ‘from that moment on my life changed.’ The pastor of the local church took an interest in Richmond, introducing him to Jesus. Other volunteers invested in him, and his sponsor from the UK continued to support and pray for him. The hope-carriers were assembling.
Richmond spoke of the transformation in his life brought about by Jesus. How he went to university, became a pastor, got married and how he now invests and trains thousands of leaders across Africa. The church he leads aims to plant four new churches every year. When Jesus changes the life of a child the ripples are eternal, it can affect a family, a community, a region, even a nation!
Finally, he said to us ‘my whole life changed the moment I was sponsored….by a teenaged girl from the UK.’
When he said this many of us broke, we wept, not with sadness but with hope, maybe even with a sense of relief. The gospel still works, the Church is still God’s plan A for planet Earth and we can all play a part in God’s flipped, upside-down Kingdom.
How about you? Could you become a hope-carrier?
Maybe for you it’s sponsoring a child through Compassion like that young woman did for Richmond?
Maybe for you it’s noticing that one child in your church or community who nobody else notices and begin investing in them? Recently, we’ve seen many young people get baptised who have additional needs who all said what impacted them was that they felt noticed, loved and included.
Or maybe for you it’s to stop seeing what your church isn’t and start seeing what your church is… part of the global, beautiful, powerful body of Christ.
It’s time… hope-carriers assemble!
Willard, D. (1998) The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.