a man with a staff stands next to a fire in the street

Last Friday in Bujumbura, CIP was shut down, wound up, put to bed. Let me explain why that is probably GLO’s greatest satisfaction to date in our involvement in Burundi:

In April 2015, a political (and therefore national) crisis came to a head as the sitting President announced he would indeed stand for a third 5-year term in office. The constitution stipulated a maximum of two 5-year terms elected ‘by the people’. His first term had been elected by parliament as Burundi ended its 13-year war. So can you see how both sides would interpret the situation differently? His side insisted he’d only had one 5-year term elected by the people (which is true), whilst the opposition (and most of the international community) said he’d definitely already served two 5-year terms (which he had), and therefore should step down for the good of Burundi’s fledgling democracy.

That’s when it kicked off. Burning barricades, demonstrations, and fear became a daily reality in the capital.

Within a week of the crisis, all our key leaders met together and had the holiest meeting of my life. We went around the table, with the sound of gunfire and in sight of a burning roadblock, and counted the cost of active engagement in the crisis. For context, we remembered how after the genocide of 1993, someone wrote a tract entitled ‘Abantu b’Imana bagiye he?’ – ‘Where did the people of God go?’ Essentially in 1993, the Church hunkered down in fear, and failed in Her mandate to stand courageously against the onslaught and violence. Would such a tract be re-written in 2015? Not on our watch, we decided!

That was the birth of CIP: Christian Initiatives for Peace.

CIP consisted of a dozen or so strategic Christian organisations (mostly GLO partners). It tapped into their different specialties and constituencies to mobilise people on whichever side of the divide to embrace key accepted shared values: the sacredness of life, compassion, community, and personal responsibility. There were no egos, no jealousies, no rivalries – just total unity. “You’re best at social media, go for it!” “We’ve got the strongest network through schools, so let’s take the lead but we need your input on strategy and content.” “You three are the most coherent expositors and debaters, you go on TV and radio.” “You invite all the pastors as key influencers, we’ll provide the venue and food.”

In a relative vacuum of trusted information, CIP provided a clear voice and framework on how to respond to the crisis based on the teachings of Jesus. In all our attempts to contribute to the process in Burundi, consistently espousing non-violence and dialogue, we very intentionally trod the middle ground, so as to be accessible and trusted (or not) by all sides. The scope of our engagement was significant.

Writing in 2016, i.e. a year later, here are some of Onesphore’s thoughts on that period:

Let me tell you it was scary at times to stick our necks out, on TV and radio, using tens of thousands of tracts, at conferences, bringing youth leaders together, mobilising churches, trying through every means possible to stand for non-violence during violent times. People recognized us wherever we went, and as things became ever more polarized, radicals on each end didn’t like what we were advocating. I often wondered if I would pay the ultimate price of my life for what we were doing, but I (and the others with me) considered it worth the cost as followers of Jesus and because we love our nation so much.

We have so much work to do. But what I love is that GLO is intentionally unknown behind the scenes – not seeking credit for these initiatives, but simply working to facilitate powerful meetings that lead to reconciliation and healing. Some of what we’ve been involved in is too sensitive and can’t be talked about. Maybe we’ll be able to share those stories in a few decades’ time!

Indeed, some of the juiciest stories can’t be shared! But thank God, dire predictions of Burundi imploding never came to fruition. That’s not to belittle the suffering of many, with hundreds of thousands fleeing the country, and a shattered economy. I have to be sensitive in how I communicate this. Burundi has a long way to go to bounce back fully.

However, CIP completed its mission. On Friday, we wrapped it all up. Sadly on my part, covid stopped me flying out to join the last group evaluation and celebration meeting. Honestly it’s hard to quantify the impact, because the aim was to stop bad things happening, and we don’t know how many bad things would have happened without CIP. Suffice to say, we have myriad stories of individuals, like the young man who said: “I’m only alive because I came to your meeting. You told us throwing stones wasn’t the way. I stopped, whilst my friends carried on. They’re dead and I’m still here.”

One of GLO’s key mantras is ‘Everything is about relationship’. As I reflect, we were able to achieve what we did (under God’s grace) because in what was a very distrustful and suspicious climate and culture, we had met intentionally together for years every month to have team breakfast together, pray together and plan together. We’d been on retreats with our spouses together. We saw across ethnic and political divides. Together… indeed, it was all about relationship.

And it still is.

So I write this to praise God and salute my precious Burundian brothers and sisters who formed CIP back in 2015 and did whatever they did in the ensuing years. Instead of the 1993 tract ‘Abantu b’Imana bagiye he?’, the 2015 equivalent could be ‘Abantu b’Imana ni bo basutsemwo mabisi!’ – i.e. not ‘Where did the people of God go?’ but ‘The people of God threw water on (the fire)!’

As we look to the future, there are huge challenges to overcome. I’m encouraged by so many passionate and committed Burundians who are desperate to see the healing of their nation. By faith, with costly action, it will come. But for now, it’s RIP to CIP, 2015-2021!

On this day last year, my dear friend Caleb Meakins graduated to glory after days battling to overcome injuries sustained in a car crash in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His death left many of us reeling, because he had so much love, energy and passion to give, and it all felt so wrong.

To understand Caleb, you had to know the defining moment in his life. His English father worked for Tearfund and had married his Ethiopian mother. In 1996, his Dad’s plane was hijacked and crash-landed in shallow waters just off the Grande Comore Island in the Indian Ocean. As the plane was losing altitude, his father stood up and shared Jesus with the screaming passengers. Not all of them died, and that was how Caleb came to know through the testimony of the survivors that his earthly father had been consistent in his faith and courageous to the last.

As a student at Loughborough university (coincidentally the same one I attended fifteen years before him), Caleb had contacted me after being impacted by a book I’d written. I wasn’t part of his inner circle, but I was keen to help nurture and encourage this supremely talented younger brother in any way possible. He came out to visit us in Burundi and my kids absolutely loved him. Later on, we shared a twin-bed for several nights together whilst speaking at a conference in Northern Ireland. I got some hilarious footage of him snoring loudly, so he wasn’t the best room-mate if I’d wanted a good night’s sleep! In fact, the flu he had at the time, he duly passed on to me, which meant I remembered him with a distinct lack of fondness for another fortnight!

But how we laughed! And how we dreamed together! Caleb was a beautiful blend of big dreams, creative ideas, entrepreneurial nous, winsome ability to connect, deeply kind and caring, empowering of others, self-deprecating, adventurous, willing to take risks, the list goes on.

I’ve just had a nostalgic look through a few of the films on his YouTube channel. One of the many things he did was take on a challenge of doing 40 days of failure – i.e. taking on something that he knew he’d probably fail at, to see how it worked out. It was about overcoming the fear of failure, and invariably ‘failure’ was a great learning experience!

Simple things like getting on a train and doing his first ‘live’ song! (He talks about it in this TED talk starting at 4mins 45secs) Caleb had a truly dreadful singing voice, but he stood up, introduced himself, and blasted out the song ‘Stand by Me’. 

Stone silence and heads down from all the passengers. 

“OK, that didn’t go so well… could any of you join me if we try again?” 

The second rendition saw a builder and another woman join him at the chorus. Progress! 

“Hey guys, come on, let’s do it! Let’s try one more time!” 

And the whole carriage sang together with gusto, and clapped and cheered at the end!

He said he went from 0% to 100% confidence. And that experience was repeated time and time again.

Seriously, if you’re going to waste some time surfing the web this week, why not check out him getting dressed up as an Arab sheikh and trying to test-drive a Lamborghini; or embarking on giving a lecture at UCL in front of several hundred students until the actual real lecturer arrived; or blagging his way onto the red carpet with Sarah Jessica Parker for her movie launch; the list goes on. Friends posted him challenges, and he rose to them, showing us all in the process that taking risks and stepping out usually turns out just fine. This led to a few TED talks where he spoke as an ‘expert in failure’ (see the one mentioned above and this one).

I love it that Caleb was courted for a job in the UK by an outfit that always got who they wanted – they saw how good he was – but he turned them down! He then decided to go (back) to live in Ethiopia, and had his finger in so many creative pies there when the accident happened. Indeed, there’s so much more that I could share about that chapter, but this needs to come to an end.

I last saw Caleb when speaking at the summer Shift event on the Troughton farm near Cheltenham. Shift was a movement he’d started with the aim of seeing his generation captivated by God and impacting culture. Several hundred of us laughed and worshipped and dreamed together over several days. He was only 31-years-old, and he didn’t seek the limelight in any way, but it was clear everyone looked to him as the leader.

I have to say, he packed more into those 31 years than many do in their three score years and ten. Certainly, he wasn’t one whose highest aspiration was to arrive safely at death. But now he’s gone. What a spectacular loss he is to the many, many people he influenced – most immediately, of course, to his wonderful mother Ruth, and his sisters Lydia and Abi, who have lost the two closest men in their lives. Lord, comfort them!

There was so much more to come from Caleb, as we saw it. Yet it wasn’t to be. Many things happen that we simply can’t understand. Trying to muster a satisfactory explanation is futile. His death was a tragedy. Today is the first anniversary of his passing. But because of the timing of his death, with the onset of the pandemic, there was no memorial service in England and we didn’t get the chance to come and grieve together.

That’s why I wanted to write this. To remember our precious brother. Mercifully, ‘we do not grieve as others do who have no hope’ (1 Thes 4:13). The last talk I gave on that Shift weekend was from 1 Cor 13:12, where Paul writes: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Well, dear Caleb, you’ve beaten us there! Now you know fully, even as you are fully known. How amazing that must be! We miss you, we honour you, we remember you. And as we thank God for your life, we vow to step up and take risks, embrace ‘failure’, and be part of a movement that shifts our culture in the right direction.

Until we meet again!

John Riches

I’m gutted to say my old friend John Riches passed away this morning.

I first met John 24 years ago. I was living in the North of Rwanda doing language study, and he swung by to greet my Aunt and Granny for ten minutes on his way back to Burundi from Uganda. Off the cuff, I jokingly asked if I could hitch a ride with him to visit Burundi. He gave me three minutes to pack my bag, and we were off!

So began a great friendship. The war in Burundi was ongoing, and there was an international embargo as well, so he was generously bringing in lots of goodies for friends in his beloved Landrover. At regular intervals, on what was just about the most dangerous road in the world, he told me of previous close escapes, through ambushes, of charred dead bodies in the wreckage of taxis that had blasted past him a few minutes earlier… He lived by faith, was ready to die, and was a kindred spirit.

He had arrived in Burundi as a divorcee in his 40s. Brilliant with his hands and a methodical problem-solver, he was as good a mechanic and electrician as anyone I know. He saved us many thousands of dollars in our construction projects by sending back faulty materials or creating cheaper and more effective complex solutions.

Meeting and marrying Nadine gave him a second chance at creating a happy family. She was a few decades his junior, and kept him young. Their mutual love was deep and genuine. They had six children together, and their home was full of noise, chaos and laughter.

In obituaries (which I guess this is), the tendency sometimes is to exaggerate or overstate the deceased’s qualities. To avoid that happening here, let me just say that John was perhaps the least linguistically-skilled person I’ve ever met – after thirty years in Burundi, his Kirundi vocabulary extended to about a dozen words, and to listen to him attempting to communicate in French was sheer comedy! But despite the language barrier, he always got his point across eventually and got the job done.

About five years ago, he was working on our roof, setting up a solar panel. It was pouring with rain. I was sat reading a book when I heard the most almighty crash. Fearing the worst, I ran into our bathroom to find torrential rain pouring through a gaping hole. John had slipped and come smashing through the ceiling. He was hanging precariously from a metal beam, that stopped him falling fifteen feet onto the concrete below – which a 70-year-old surely wouldn’t have survived. I rushed him to the hospital to the X-ray machine (the one that he kept in working order!). Thankfully nothing was broken… and in his dazed bruised state he insisted he needed to go back and finish the job on our roof. “No John, you’re going home!”

That’s the kind of workhorse he was. He spent the last thirty years tirelessly keeping sound-systems working at churches, concerts, schools. I preached from the prison to the palace with him in the background overseeing the sound desk and rescuing the situation when things went wrong.

Unfortunately, he was such a soft touch that he seldom got paid for his work. Be it a medical centre, a school, or a friend, most had tight money situations and so John let them off or the bill got lost in his pile of disordered paperwork. I used to hassle him in frustration on behalf of Nadine: “John, you’ve got to charge for your services. You’ve got to take care of your family!” He would reply: “I just can’t. The work needs doing, they haven’t got any money. God will provide for me, He always does.”

And this morning, after three weeks of battling against Covid, John has graduated to glory. He would rank right up there as one of the most servant-hearted and kind people I’ve ever met.

Nadine is now left with six children in her charge. They have significant hospital bills to pay (hopefully mostly covered by insurance), have been asked to vacate where they live, and a future ahead of them without the main bread-winner. Please be praying for them all in their grief.

As John has blessed so many people over the years, I want us to bless him (and them) back. When he said: “God will provide for me, He always does”, that usually happens through His people.

So I invite you to be a part of his story and testimony. It’d be wonderful if we could raise enough to help Nadine own a family home, have funds to get all the kids through school, and start-up capital for her to exercise her entrepreneurial gifts.

If you want to help, you can do so here

Thank you! God bless you!

A montage of photos from the new KCC development

I’m seriously excited, because this last week has been almost 12 years in the making. Check out this 1-minute clip with photos

But honestly, there were times when I doubted we would we ever get to this point. Let me explain:

We helped Scripture Union launch the King’s Conference Centre in 2009 (See this video). It’s a sustainable success story and a hit with locals and international guests alike. Not only do several dozen staff receive a good salary to provide for their families, but profits are ploughed back into Kingdom projects like pastor-training, youth camps, and Bible distribution, etc. Beautiful!

But then to our horror, the neighbouring land was going to become a nightclub – this would have massively damaged our plans (who wants to sleep next to a nightclub?!). However, in the end, the owner agreed to sell the land to us if we could find $80k in a week. We prayed and fasted and the funds were miraculously provided that very week!

Owning the neighbouring land meant we could now plan on ramping up facilities. But after some years of plenty, the 2015 political crisis kicked in. Many fled the country. 30 of the 53 staff had to be laid off. It was desperate. Other hotels folded. Our staff took salary-cuts and we hung on in there. Indeed, KCC was the venue for some critical nation-shaping meetings during those tumultuous days, even as roadblocks burned and demonstrators were scattered.

And slowly but surely, through the testing years – including this year when hotel and conference bookings have been affected by the covid crisis – we carried on building Phase 2 one brick at a time… It’s a huge, beautiful project and we believe it has strategic significance in the nation – bringing together ministries and influential people from across all social, political and ethnic groups under the Lordship of the King! On the top floor, overlooking the city of Bujumbura is a dedicated 24/7 prayer room where a constant stream of believers from across the city will be seeking the Lord for peace, protection and national unity. 

And this last week, we were able to do a soft opening of the first two floors for business – especially the two big conference rooms which are the talk of the town in this stunning new facility.

So the point of this blog is simply to…

GIVE GLORY TO GOD
and to
THANK YOU FOR JOURNEYING WITH US!

Am I allowed to be proud and boast about Goretti as Manager and her team?! They’re top-notch! KCC is the No.1 Hotel in Burundi according to Tripadvisor

Goretti is the Manager of KCC

I love it that so many customers talk of the special atmosphere they experience – it’s because it’s the King’s Conference Centre!

One of our core values excellence in Jesus’ name – Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as for the Lord, not for people.” Other hotels might be bigger and better on different metrics, but we can be the best at customer service because we’re doing it for the King!

Please keep praying and journeying with us. There are 30 more hotel rooms and three more floors to equip. With your help, we’ll get there!

For the KING!

Simon

PS If you’re still reading, this webpage with a short video explains more what KCC is about. 

PPS Deo’s Provi gave birth to a healthy boy yesterday whom they’ve named ‘Akoravyoseneza’, which means ‘He(Jesus)hasdoneallthingswell’, just trips off the tongue!!!

Providence and Deo

Providence died in 2012, but will be giving birth this coming Monday…

Say that again?

On 13th September 2012, Provi plunged over a cliff at Butomangwa with her three RTNB colleagues (Burundi’s national Radio/TV) after a day’s news-reporting on a UNICEF project. All four were declared dead on the spot. Their bodies were taken to the morgue at Rutana hospital. The accident made national news headlines, and the Minister of Information announced on air each of the names of the dead, including hers.

The first three bodies filled up the morgue, so Provi’s corpse was laid outside on the ground in the sun. In the meantime, a lady called Cecile was praying, and she had a vision in which she saw a woman still alive at the hospital who needed rescuing. She made her way there and, although she’d never met Provi before in her life, she recognised her face immediately from the vision. The trunk of the corpse was so mangled and broken that Cecile struggled to follow through with what she felt God had told her. She summoned the nurse, who confirmed to her that Provi was indeed dead.

“No, she’s not dead, God has told me she’s not dead!”

Sure enough, on closer re-inspection, there was the faintest glimmer of life. Cecile’s husband Fulgence worked (and still works) for World Vision. They are an influential and respected Pentecostal family and they managed to get permission from the Governor to take the body home. There they had doctors attend to her whilst they prayed in the next room. After a while, she regained consciousness.

After an ambulance ride to the capital, she was seen by a top doctor at the Polyclinique. He examined her, and said: “You’ve had so much internal bleeding, yet your vital organs are somehow still relatively undamaged and functioning. I just can’t believe you’re still alive… are you a Christian? Do you pray?” She was able to share her faith and story with him.

Beautiful! And that was over eight years ago.

Back to the present day, due to the injuries sustained in that accident, she can’t give birth naturally. So instead, it will be by C-section this Monday at 830am (UK time).

It’s just a great story! We’ve supported her husband Deo for many years, whose own story is also pretty wild.

Through GLO, we’ve had the privilege of knowing and supporting many outstanding leaders of high integrity. And because of this, we hear countless mind-boggling testimonies like the above that challenge our (lack of) faith and inspire us to trust in Him who “does marvellous deeds”.

So we share these stories to encourage and inspire you, all the more during these challenging days.

Keep the faith!

Simon

PS If you’re looking at ways to help us, could you share GLO with your friends? Do you want to join in the Choose Life read? Could you consider a regular small donation? Or join us for our inspiring weekly prayer Zooms when we actually hear from the likes of Deo?

PPS If you need a ‘remote’ speaker for your church’s Sunday service, or a youth group – whatever context, I’d love to join you to stir the troops and bring a word of encouragement. Do get in touch!

Lizzie and I are doing the Navigators’ Topical Memory System scripture memorisation thingy (check it out here) with a few friends, which involves learning two new verses each week. This week’s ones included Hebrews 10:25, which speaks of ‘encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.’

Mark Twain said: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Well, a compliment or a word of encouragement certainly goes a long way, particularly during these challenging times.

So here’s an idea which isn’t too difficult to implement but which will bring a lot of joy to people in your life (and yourself): why not set out each day with a goal of encouraging x number of people? 3? You choose a realistic number. 

Everybody loves being encouraged!

When someone randomly comes to my mind, I try to make it a point of emailing/phoning/whatsapping them, and it’s uncanny how often it is bang on the money. “I so needed that.” “I was about to give up.” “Your message confirmed I’m on the right track.” It costs me little, but can bring them (and me) so much.

Whether that ‘random thought’ was a coincidence or a prompting by the Spirit of God – depending partly on your view of life – it doesn’t really matter. It’s a great habit to get into, and anyone can do it.

So, brothers and sisters, through these dark days, hang on in there! Keep the faith! Don’t give up!

Look around, and be distressed.

Look within, and be depressed.

Look to Jesus, and be at rest.

Let us indeed be ‘encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the day approaching.’

That last part gives me the excuse to share one of my favourite quotes, by Smith Wigglesworth:

“Live ready. If you have to get ready when the opportunity comes your way, you’ll be too late. Opportunity doesn’t wait, not even while you pray. You must not have to get ready, you must live ready at all times.

Be filled with the Spirit; that is, be soaked with the Spirit. Be so soaked that every thread in the fabric of your life will have received the requisite rule of the Spirit – then when you are misused and squeezed to the wall, all that will ooze out of you will be the nature of Christ.”

So take a minute to think…

…who can I encourage today…? Then grab the phone, knock on the door, get typing! And live ready!

The world we are living in is nuts, and only getting more nuts. Most people, however intelligent, are seeking rational explanations. But the truth is, there aren’t any. I genuinely think most of us in the West are so blind to spiritual realities that we have an awful lot to learn from other worldviews.
I was cleaning up my computer and came across this talk given in 2017. I’d never posted it. But I found that all the more after a short time of living back in the West I needed to hear it. I think it’ll do you some good as well.
Do take a listen.


“We are at war, and the bloody battle is over our hearts. I am astounded how few Christians see this, how little they protect their hearts. We act as though we live in a sleepy little town during peacetime. We don’t. We live in the spiritual equivalent of Bosnia or Beirut. Act like it. Watch over your heart. Don’t let just anything in; don’t let it go just anywhere. What’s this going to do to my heart? is a question that I ask in every situation. “ (John Eldredge)

John Piper highlights the critical issue as follows: “Probably the number one reason why prayer malfunctions in the hands of believers is that we try to turn a wartime walkie-talkie into a domestic intercom. Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for… But what have millions of Christians done? We have stopped believing that we are in a war. No urgency, no watching, no vigilance. No strategic planning. Just easy peace and prosperity. And what did we do with the walkie-talkie? We tried to rig it up as an intercom in our houses – not to call in fire power for conflict with a mortal enemy, but to ask for more comforts in the den…

…Most people show by their priorities and casual approaches to spiritual things that they believe we’re in peace, not in wartime… In wartime we’re on the alert. We’re armed. We’re vigilant. In wartime we spend money differently, because there are more strategic ways to maximise our resources. The war effort touches everybody. We all cut back. The luxury liner becomes a troop carrier… Who considers that the casualties of this war don’t merely lose an arm or an eye or an earthly life, but lose everything, even their own soul, and enter a hell of everlasting torment?”

Amused

George Orwell wrote about the time a wasp “was sucking jam on my plate and I cut him in half. He paid no attention, merely went on with his meal, while a tiny stream of jam trickled out of his severed oesophagus.  Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him.”

Back in 1985, Neil Postman wrote ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’. The book is obviously dated, but whatever warnings he flagged up back then concerning the dangers of being conditioned and shaped by vapid television content – well, they need to be heard all the more nowadays with social media, Netflix, etc.

Lockdown is such a weird time. Some people are equally or more stretched with work than before, whilst others are on furlough or simply less pressured. I’m in that latter category.

When one’s schedule is full, time has to be well-used. Personally, I have 5 less speaking engagements each week now than during pre-lockdown days. So when things are more fluid, it’s easy to waste time, and become professionally (or spiritually) flabby. That is my biggest challenge, and I suspect it’s the same for many of us.

And my biggest concern is for my (and your) spiritual journey.

Picture yourself in five years’ time answering the question ‘What did God teach you in lockdown?’ I don’t want my answer to be a fumbling bumbling ‘Err… hum… Well, I got to watch 5 seasons of This is Us, 3 more of Homeland, finished off The Crown, etc’.

The biggest danger to our souls – way bigger than Covid to our bodies, I suggest – is amusing ourselves to death.

John Piper writes: “If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great.”

I’m scared that might become true of me particularly in this season…

…So as the new year has kicked in, I’m desperate to feed my soul nourishing fare rather than neutral (at best) or positively destructive crap.

Not just desperate… but determined. Can I spend at least as much time reading/praying/worshipping as in front of the box, for example? Hmm…

Anyway, here’s just sharing a few books and a podcast that will do you good, without trying to overload you.

The single most influential book in my life was E. G. Carré (ed.), Praying Hyde: Apostle of Prayer.

I’ll paste at the bottom some of it and what it did to me. You can’t manufacture personal revival, but it absolutely nuked me as I dug deep and spent time in the Lord’s presence. You can buy the book here.

I’m currently reading Jon Tyson’s ‘Beautiful Resistance – the Joy of Conviction in a Culture of Compromise’. You can buy it here. It came out of a superb recent sermon series. In fact, if I have one recommendation for podcasts, his preaching/teaching would be it. He is so insightful, clear and unapologetic on how the Church needs to shape up in this cultural moment. There’s never a duff sermon from him, so do sign up.  (Search for his series on the Controversial Jesus – brilliant!)

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson. He writes of a man who was born in a gypsy tent, of humble origins, and yet ended up being invited to the White House by two presidents. Rodney ‘Gypsy’ Smith came into the world in 1860 in Epping Forest, just outside London. 45 times he crossed the Atlantic to preach the gospel to millions of people on both sides. His passion was almost unparalleled, and there was great fruit in what he did. What was his secret? Private prayer. His praying was even more powerful than his preaching.

A delegation once came to him to enquire how they might experience personal and mass revival as he had. They wanted to be used the way Gypsy was. Without hesitating, he said: “Go home. Lock yourself in your room. Kneel down in the middle of the floor, and with a piece of chalk draw a circle round yourself. There, on your knees, pray fervently and brokenly that God would start a revival within that chalk circle.”

So do buy that book here and get in the circle!

Another good one is Ross Paterson’s ‘The Antioch Factor’. I liked this book so much when it came out that I bought 800 of them to get the message out! Buy the book here.

Obviously I’d recommend signing up for Choose Life, which many of you have. I’ll be putting out a weekly vlog each Tuesday and there’ll be other things coming out of that to sharpen/challenge/encourage us in the coming year.

I’ll stop there. Don’t be that unsuspecting severed wasp over lockdown! Resist!

Scroll down if you want to read a bit of my encounter with God through Praying Hyde sixteen years ago

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Pengwern Jones was a close friend of John ‘Praying’ Hyde. What he observed of Hyde is worth including at length because it can teach us so much:

“I owe him more than I owe to any man, for showing me what a prayer-life is, and what a real consecrated life is. I shall ever praise God for bringing me into contact with him… The first time I met him was at Ludhiana in the Punjab, where he lived at the time. I had been invited to speak a few words on the Revival in the Khassia Hills to the Conference of the United States Presbyterian Mission, who had their annual session at the time there. I had traveled by night from Allahabad to Ludhiana, and reached there early in the morning. I was taken to have a cup of tea with the delegates and others, and I was introduced across the table to Mr. Hyde. All that he said to me was, “I want to see you; I shall wait for you at the door.” There he was waiting, and his first word was, “Come with me to the prayer room, we want you there.” I do not know whether it was a command or a request. I felt I had to go. I told him that I had traveled all night, and that I was tired, and had to speak at four o’clock, but I went with him; we found half a dozen persons there, and Hyde went down on his face before the Lord. I knelt down, and a strange feeling crept over me. Several prayed, and then Hyde began, and I remember very little more. I knew that I was in the presence of God himself, and had no desire to leave the place; in fact, I do not think that I thought of myself or of my surroundings, for I had entered a new world, and I wanted to remain there.

We had entered the room about eight o’clock in the morning; several had gone out, others had come in, but Hyde was on his face on the floor, and had led us in prayer several times. Meals had been forgotten, and my tired feeling had gone, and the revival account and message that I was to deliver – and concerning which I had been very anxious – had gone out of my mind, until about three thirty, when Hyde got up, and he said to me, “You are to speak at four o’clock; I shall take you to have a cup of tea.” I replied that he must need a little refreshment, too, but he said, “No, I do not want any, but you must have some.” We called in at my room and washed hurriedly, and then we both had a cup of tea, and it was full time for the service. He took me right unto the door, then took my hand and said, “Go in and speak, that is your work. I shall go back to the prayer room to pray for you, that is my work. When the service is over, come into the prayer room again, and we shall praise God together.” What a thrill, like an electric shock, passed through me as we parted. It was easy to speak, though I was speaking through an interpreter. What I said, I do not know. Before the meeting was over, the Indian translator, overcome by his feelings, and overpowered by the Spirit of God, failed to go on, and another had to take his place. I know the Lord spoke that night. He spoke to me, and spoke to many. I realised then the power of prayer; how often I had read of blessing in answer to prayer, but it was brought home to me that evening with such force that ever since I try to enlist prayer warriors to pray for me whenever I stand up to deliver his messages. It was one of the most wonderful services I ever attended, and I know that it was the praying saint behind the scenes that brought the blessing down on me.

I went back after the service to him, to praise the Lord. There was no question asked by him about whether it was a good service or not, whether men had received a blessing or not; nor did I think of telling him what blessing I had personally received and how his prayers had been answered. He seemed to know it all, and how he praised the Lord and how easy it was for me to praise the Lord, and speak to Him of the blessing He had given.”

I recently devoured the book containing the above passage, as I hungered for the effectiveness in intercessory prayer of the likes of John Hyde. I was back by myself in Burundi, separated from my precious Lizzie and unborn son for what would be several months. I’d arrived back heavy-hearted, my malaise compounded by my Mother’s freshly-diagnosed cancer. However, what followed were days of unparalleled intimacy with Jesus. Largely undisturbed early from the crack of dawn and late into the evenings, I could spend hours in God’s presence, seeking his face, praising him, and engaging in intercessory prayer. I share an entry from my journal of that season to illustrate some lessons learnt from spending real concentrated time in the Lord’s presence:

“29th September 2005: I’m reading this book on Praying Hyde, and it’s so challenging. As I tried to emulate him by letting rip in prayer for ages on my bed in the dark, it suddenly struck me that these few months will probably be my quietest ones for the next several decades! So instead of bemoaning my loneliness, this could be the most fabulous time of nurturing intimacy with the Lord by spending as much time with him as possible. Let’s be positive! I’m rubbish in general with my own company, but loved the chance tonight to pray so undisturbed – not something I really did much over the last few months of hectic preaching around England. So Lord, I give you this time, I surrender my life afresh, have your way, do whatever you want with me. What a great privilege it is to be a child of the King!

30th September: It’s my fasting day. I feel caught up in an extraordinary state at the moment, somewhat a mountain top experience. It surely has to do with the fact that I’m spending so much time in the Lord’s presence – what a numbskull I am and how slow to learn the fact that intimacy, which we all crave, can only be attained and sustained through disciplined commitment and time given to him. We want effortless intimacy, but it just doesn’t happen that way.

So I was up at the crack of dawn, and jumped out of bed with a ‘Good morning, Jesus!’ I prayed passionately, sang, read the Bible and then started preparing a sermon for Sunday. I wanted to make notes on the computer, but it seemed like it had fused with the latest power cut. The power wouldn’t go on, although everything else electrical was working. I prayed over the computer, and went off to start searching the Scriptures for the right message. I came back to find it working! And then the sermon just flowed as never before. The Lord was being so clear, the ideas and structure flowed so easily. Truly preparation of the messenger is as important as preparation of the message.

God knows how long this season of beautiful intimacy will last, but in any case I want to maximize it. Keep the discipline, Simon, and guard the time spent in his presence. Don’t let business crowd him out. It’s so obvious, and we all know prayer is of paramount importance, but Satan will do anything to distract us from what renders him powerless. I remember someone once asking me, ‘How much do you want of God?’ Because ‘nobody has less of God than they want.’ Keep me hungry and thirsty for more of you, dear Lord!

1st October: …Whilst I was in the bath in the evening, Bruno came round, and so I knew he’d be back again shortly. Instead of viewing him as a nuisance who wanted to use up my valuable time to improve his English, I decided to see him as someone sent by God to come to faith through me. But before reading this Praying Hyde book I would’ve just prayed: “Right, Lord, Bruno’s coming round. Please open the eyes of his heart to see you, and give me the right words. May he come to know you.” Such a piddly prayer would take about twenty seconds. Instead I really prayed, and spent serious time, delaying supper until I’d done so. I worshipped away on the guitar, and proclaimed the Lord’s victory until my fingers were too sore to carry on. I was full of faith, so claimed his life for Jesus, and interceded on his behalf.

Then Bruno showed up again. He’s a nice lad, 22-years-old, we chatted about football, studies, etc, and then I asked him what he thought about Jesus – was he ready to face judgment? Basically I then led him through the gospel and asked him if he wanted to receive Christ as his Lord and Saviour right now – no pressure – but do you want to be ready? He did! I prayed and he repeated after me. He’s coming with me to church on Sunday. Seal your work in his life, O Lord!”

‘Spiritual enema’ is how my friend Kevin describes my daily devotional ‘Choose Life’ – in his words, it ‘clears the decks and provides a welcome shot in the arm’ – metaphors galore! Well, I would definitely prefer submitting to a spiritual rather than to a physical one! 

So do you need one as 2020 comes to an end? I think we all do! 

From the start of 2021, a whole bunch of churches and individuals are going to be journeying through the year with ‘Choose Life’ as part of the Big Church 365 Read. We’d love you/your family/life group/school CU/church/etc to join us.

Every week over the year I’ll put out a short vlog (weekly video message) relating to what we’ll have been reading, which you can sign up for HERE.

To order your copy of Choose Life and join the journey, click HERE.

If you already own a copy, then please also join in. You too can sign up for the weekly video message reminders. 

Here’s to a year of breakthroughs on many levels, God bless you loads!

Simon

“I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, ‘Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown’, and he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way’.”

Louise Haskins