This is the third talk in the ‘Hot Pursuit’ series, delivered at Lee Abbey in August.

Pursuing His Purpose – Lee Abbey 2023

This is the story of one of my heroes: Robert Jermaine Thomas (1839-1866) from Kingsley Armstrong’s book:

After Robert Thomas found the Lord, he began preaching at age 15. He went to train at New College, London; met Caroline Godfrey, got engaged, married, ordained and sailed to China the same year. In 1863 Robert said goodbye to his homeland. He was twenty-four when he travelled with his new wife on a ship from Gravesend to Shanghai, a four-month voyage. 

On the journey, Caroline got pregnant, but within five months of their arrival in Shanghai, she died from a miscarriage. They had not known of her pregnancy and he had gone off to another city to seek better accommodation for them. He wanted the best for his new bride and tried to make things good for her so what a blow to him to get such heart-shattering news.

In one letter home, he writes: “My heart is well-nigh broken. I must seek somewhere a complete change. All that could be done for a sufferer was done for my dear wife… I trust to give myself more completely than ever to the noble work on which I have just entered, but at present I feel weighed down by deep grief.”

Can you imagine how his parents must have felt? They were devastated back home in Wales when they got the letter from Robert telling them that their daughter-in-law was dead and also their first grandchild. What grief! Can you imagine what everyone would have said: A young family – what a waste! She died before they even accomplished anything in China.

But was that the whole story?

In Robert’s grief he had two very close friends and comforters, Joseph Edkins of the London Missionary Society and Alexander Williamson of the Scottish National Bible Society. Williamson introduced Thomas to two Catholic Koreans who were eager to read Bibles but did not yet possess any, and Thomas was touched by God to try and help them. He committed himself to getting hold of Bibles for the Korean people even though he was warned of how dangerous that would be.

He talked with the Scottish Bible Society to take Chinese-print Bibles to Korea. Eventually, Robert took two missionary journeys along the west coast of Korea. This was such a dangerous mission as ten thousand Korean Catholics had already been killed and it was well known that the Korean authorities would not welcome any Christian visitors.

He then made contact with an American ship called the General Sherman. It was shrouded in mystery, as the mission was so difficult. It is not known whether it was a merchant vessel or what the purpose of the expedition was. However, Thomas’ purpose was clear; get the Bibles to the Koreans. Some have suggested that he agreed to be the Captain’s interpreter to fulfil his mission.

As they approached the land of Korea, they received many official warnings to turn back. However, they continued despite the opposition. On 3rd September 1866, the authorities in Korea commanded that the General Sherman be attacked and destroyed. They sailed several burning boats toward the Sherman and set it on fire. The crew jumped overboard and waiting for them on the shore were their executioners; not one survived.

Robert Jemaine Thomas stood on the burning deck and opening his cases flung his Bibles to the soldiers and villagers waiting on the shore shouting “Jesus!”  Finally, Robert himself caught on fire and jumped overboard. 

As he swam to shore he begged the awaiting soldier to take a Bible from him. The soldier killed him. He was 27 years old.

When news eventually got home to Wales, his family was once again devastated. It was bad news when his wife died. Now, the second time, tragedy again. This time he had not even completed his mission. They had known of his desire to share the Word of God but he had kept this mission secret. What did he think he was doing! What a tragic waste of a life that could have been so useful to God.

I wonder what story they would have told to Jesus on meeting him in heaven. Would they have told him of the tragic waste of their family’s life, of their son who nearly made it as a missionary but failed?

But was that the whole story?

What about when Robert faces Jesus in Eternity. I can imagine him falling at the feet of Jesus, crying, “I am so sorry; I have failed!” His story would have been as the ‘almost made it’ missionary.

But that is not the end of the story.

Let us go back to the shores of North Korea.  Some of those watching did not destroy the Bibles as print was so precious and took them home, some even using the pages as wallpaper.  Some then started reading the pages. And here on the walls of their houses they began to read about a Saviour who died for them and would forgive them for everything they had done wrong. Even though Thomas was gone, the story was continuing.

About 50 years later a huge revival broke out in Pyongyang, Korea. In 1904 ten thousand became Christians; in 1906, thirty thousand became Christians; in 1907, fifty thousand more. 

And then beautifully in 1907 as the Holy Spirit moved in Pyongyang at a revival meeting, an old man, Choon Kwon Park, came forward repenting that it was he, who in his youth as a soldier, had beheaded missionary Robert Jermaine Thomas. He had also read the book given to him by the man he had killed and through it found the Saviour.

That 1907 Revival was part of something amazing that the Lord was doing in the world at the beginning of the 20th Century. It started in Wales in 1904, went into India through Welsh missionaries in 1905, then on to Asuza Street in the USA in 1906. From Korea, the revival went into parts of China.

Going back to Thomas crying at the feet of Jesus begging forgiveness for his failed story; I can imagine Jesus stepping back and asking him to see the true story. To look and see the millions of Korean Christians who had come to faith through his sacrifice. I can imagine Robert’s parents having a similar experience when Jesus would also show them the fruit of their sacrifice.

That was not the end of the story; Jesus had not finished writing yet.

Robert Jermaine Thomas was never that well known in the UK, but there is still a chapel in his home town Llanover, South Wales:  Many Koreans have visited to give thanks to God for sending him to Korea.  His life was extinguished at the age of twenty-seven, but even today, his memory still lives in the hearts of the Korean people. 

Robert Jermaine Thomas did not write the whole story himself but he certainly was obedient and faithful in allowing God to write over his life.  Remember today, that God is writing your story and, though you may never have the privilege of reading the last chapter, one day you will see the end of it.

Some more notes/quotes/illustrations from the talk:

1648 Shorter Westminster Catechism, over 100 questions, first one was

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Gil Bailie: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

“Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, wrote, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours are the hands with which God is to bless people now.” 

I love Bob Sieple’s line too: “If we know something is wrong, we are accountable for that knowledge. We are accountable for what we know. If we can do something about it, we are also responsible. Accountable knowledge allows for pity. Mercy demands responsible action.” 

Graham Cyster shared a painful story about a personal experience decades ago when he was struggling against apartheid as a young South African Christian. One night, he was smuggled into an underground Communist cell of young people fighting apartheid. “Tell us about the gospel of Jesus Christ,” they asked, half hoping for an alternative to the violent communist strategy they were embracing.

Graham gave a clear, powerful presentation of the gospel, showing how personal faith in Christ wonderfully transforms persons and creates one new body of believers where there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, rich nor poor, black nor white. The youth were fascinated. One seventeen-year-old exclaimed, “That is wonderful! Show me where I can see that happening.” Graham’s face fell as he sadly responded that he could not think of anywhere South African Christians were truly living out the message of the gospel. “Then the whole thing is a piece of sh—,” the youth angrily retorted. Within a month he left the country to join the armed struggle against apartheid—and eventually gave his life for his beliefs.

The young man was right. If Christians do not live what they preach, the whole thing is a farce. “Western Christianity has largely failed since the middle of the twentieth century,” Barna concludes, “because Jesus’ modern-day disciples do not act like Jesus.” This scandalous behaviour mocks Christ, undermines evangelism, and destroys Christian credibility.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “We are not simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice; we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. . . . Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Muhammad Ali was a great boxer, but perhaps he was an even greater exponent of pride. Once on a plane, an air stewardess said to him, “Sir, please fasten your seatbelt.” He replied: “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” Quick as a flash, she shot back, “Superman don’t need no airplane, now fasten your seatbelt!”

‘I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble. The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker.’ Søren Kierkegaard

“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and snivelling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” Timothy Keller

This is the second talk in the ‘Hot Pursuit’ series, delivered at Lee Abbey in August.

Pursuing His Presence
Pursuing His Peace

Pursuing His Purpose
Pursuing His Power

You can listen here:

Pursuing His Peace – Lee Abbey 2023

Some notes/quotes/illustrations from the talk:

Isaiah 26:3 “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.”

What is Shalom? Completeness, soundness, welfare, peace. At ease, favour, health, peaceful, prosperity, safety, secure, security, rest, trust in relationships, wellness, well-being. 

  1. Acknowledge your fear
  2. Become aware of his presence 
  3. Claim his promises

“The beginning of fear is the end of faith; the beginning of true faith is the end fear. Fear or anxiety never strengthens you for tomorrow – it only weakens you for today.”

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face … we must do that which we think we cannot.” Eleanor Roosevelt

Henri Nouwen: “Look at the many ‘if’ questions we raise: What am I going to do if I do not find a spouse, a house, a job, a friend, a benefactor? What am I going to do if they fire me, if I get sick, if an accident happens, if I lose my friends, if my marriage does not work out, if a war breaks out? What if tomorrow the weather is bad, the buses are on strike, or an earthquake happens? What if someone steals my money, breaks into my house, rapes my daughter, or kills me?” But if we let such questions guide our lives, we end up taking out a second mortgage in the house of fear.

Fear of other people’s opinions: “We would worry less about what people think about us is we realized how seldom they do.” Whose opinions matter? The Audience of One. Brennan Manning: “Freedom in Christ produces a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing, and the bondage of human respect. The tyranny of public opinion can manipulate our lives. What will the neighbours think? What will my friends think? What will people think? The expectations of others can exert a subtle but controlling pressure on our behaviour.” “When I was eight, the impostor, or false self, was born as a defense against pain. The impostor within whispered, ‘Brennan, don’t ever be your real self anymore because nobody likes you as you are. Invent a new self that everybody will admire and nobody will know.’” 

“The cost of non-discipleship is far greater…than the price to walk with Jesus. Non-discipleship costs abiding peace… love.. faith.. hope… power to do what is right and withstand the forces of evil… it costs exactly that abundance of life Jesus said He came to bring.” (Dallas Willard)

Thomas Green suggests this prayer: “Lord let me be just as disturbed about this situation (or this person’s behaviour) as you are – no more and no less. If you are angry let me be angry too, but if you are not disturbed let me share your peace.” He continues: “It is amazing and quite humbling how often my disturbance simply dissolves once I say that prayer and really mean it.”

Oswald Chambers: “When you really see Jesus, I defy you to doubt Him. When He says ‘Let not your hearts be troubled,’ if you see Him I defy you to trouble your mind, it is a moral impossibility to doubt when He is there. Every time you get into personal contact with Jesus, His words are real. “My peace I give you,” it is a peace all over from the crown of the head to the sole of the feet, an irrepressible confidence. ‘Your life is hid with Christ in God,’ and the imperturbable peace of Jesus Christ is imparted to you.” 

“You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they find their rest in you.” Augustine

Two painters each painted a picture to illustrate his conception of rest. The first chose for his scene a still, lone lake among the far-off mountains. The second threw on his canvas a thundering waterfall, with a fragile birch tree bending over the foam; and at the fork of the branch, almost wet with the cataract’s spray, sat a robin on its nest. The first was only stagnation; the last was rest.

Erwin McManus: “Peace does not come when you finally have control of your life; it comes when you no longer need control of your life.”

Going through a hard time or a crisis? In the Chinese picture-letter alphabet, the symbol for crisis is a combination of two characters – one meaning ‘danger’ and the other ‘opportunity’. We can look at it either way.

Fearful of the future: “Future plans are uncertain, but we all know that there is first God’s plan to be lived, and we can safely leave everything to Him, ‘carefully careless’ of it all.”

There was a Christian man called H.G.Spafford in Chicago. Successful lawyer, married man with four precious daughters, become very wealthy.  One summer, Mrs Spafford and daughters were to go to Europe and do a grand tour of the cities, art galleries etc.  Alas, in mid-Atlantic ship collided with another one and sank quickly.  Mrs Spafford was picked up, reached Fr, sent a cable home: ‘All lost! I alone remain. What shall I do?’  But that was not all – there had been a sudden bank crash in Chicago, and Mr Spafford had lost all his wealth.  Gone from being a very wealthy man to a very poor one instantaneously.  So, what did he do? Did he say, ‘I must not give up. I must call on my reserves of courage and be a man’? No, that is stoicism, and this man was a Christian, not a stoic. He sat down and wrote these words:

‘When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul!

That is what the gospel does.

You might struggle to believe some of the following stories from last month’s outreach. I hope not though. ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever’ (Hebrew 13:8).

So here are some feedback highlights, having asked folks to pray last month as we sent out 1,439 young evangelists from 88 churches for two weeks all around Burundi. 

The top-line summary is that they saw over 23,000 people come to faith! It’s the modern-day Acts of the Apostles! Here goes:

An Urge for Healing

In the small village of Bwambarangwe in Kirundo province, 41-year-old Diomede had lain paralysed from the waist down and in increasing despair for the last three years. Our team visited him and shared the gospel, which he accepted as he was desperately in need of hope!

Interestingly, they didn’t pray for his healing initially. But as they parted ways and stepped out of the compound, he felt the urge to call them back to pray for him to be completely healed. Once they’d said ‘Amen!’, he took his crutches and stood up. He then let them go and carried on walking! He burst into tears and shouted for joy. 

Hearing his cries, people rushed to see what was happening. Just like in Mark 2:12, they were ‘all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” Thirteen people responded to the miracle by surrendering their lives to Christ.

There were multiple showings of the Jesus Film shown around the country with lots of people responding positively.

In Her Right Mind at Last

In a town called Kivoga, Nadine was a contemporary ‘Gadarene demoniac’, just like in Mark chapter 5.

As her condition detoriorated, her father sought treatment at a mental hospital, as well as spending all he could on traditional medicine and witchdoctors. Eventually, the family gave up, and she wandered around Kivoga deranged and half-dressed, feared and mocked by the whole community. She lived on the rubbish dump and roamed the streets at night.

When our team of evangelists showed up, they overcame their initial fear and started praying for her. Demons manifested, but the team called on reinforcements, took her to the local church, and over the next three hours of intensive prayer, battled through for her total deliverance.

Suddenly, after the last demon was cast out, Nadine’s screams ceased. She looked at herself and began weeping. She had no recollection of what had happened but asked for some clothes. 

When her father arrived and saw her ‘in her right mind’ (like Mark 5:15), he was so overwhelmed he fell to the ground. Our guys shared with him how Jesus had set her free, and her Dad and seven other people present gave their lives to the Lord!

From Cursing to Repenting

Baltazar was a notorious witch doctor from Bugenyuzi. He was feared by all around him, and loved the reputation he had. Nobody challenged him as they didn’t want him to cast a spell on them (I know, many of you struggle to believe this stuff. Suffice to say, out there you don’t need to convince them the power is real). 

Witchcraft charms to be burned
Witchcraft charms to be burned

One day, a neighbour approached and asked him to stop his witchcraft. A few days later, that previously healthy man was found dead at home.

So that was the context when our team showed up. They heard the stories and decided to camp out on Baltazar’s hill and pray every night. When he heard what they were doing, he went out to confront them. 

But as he approached them, he was overwhelmed by a greater power and fell to his knees. He asked for prayers and surrendered to Christ. He invited the team back to his home, where his wife likewise repented when she heard what had happened to him. A crowd came to watch as the team burned all his charms, and he and his wife repented of all they had done to their neighbours and in the community.

Everyone was amazed at this total transformation.

Wow! Wow! Wow!

There are more stories, but I’ll stop there. It’s a different context to ours maybe, but the same gospel message – the same Holy Spirit in us, the same power in the name of Jesus, the same Heavenly Father who longs to forgive his children and lavish them with his amazing grace.

Be encouraged. Be stirred. Be bold.

Thanks for your encouragement, support, and prayers – they make all the difference! Please keep them coming!

This series of sermons was delivered at Lee Abbey in August under the title ‘Hot Pursuit’. I’ll release them over the next few weeks in turn.

Pursuing His Presence
Pursuing His Peace
Pursuing His Purpose
Pursuing His Power

What are you pursuing?

In greyhound racing, the dogs are trained to chase after a mechanical rabbit, which is controlled by a man in the press box. He keeps the rabbit just in front of the dogs so that they keep chasing it as fast as they can. During one race at a Florida track, as the dogs hurtled after the rabbit, there was an electrical short circuit in the system. The rabbit came to a halt, exploded, and its few remains lay there in flames attached to the wire. This totally confused the dogs. Two of them broke several ribs as they careered into a wall. One began chasing his tail. Others howled at the spectators in the stand; and the rest just stopped running, lay down on the track and rested.

Not one of them finished the race.

So many people are chasing an illusion – a mechanical rabbit of some sort – which they think is real. It seems to provide a sense of purpose, a goal to strive for, a reason to live. Sometimes it takes the wake-up call of our mechanical rabbit going up in smoke to recognize we were chasing after the wrong thing all that time. Many of our friends continue in their frenzied pursuit of their own illusion of choice. May we model to them another way.

So that’s what this series is about, and we start with pursuing His presence. Take a listen:

Pursuing His Presence – Lee Abbey 2023
  1. His presence is constant, whether we realise it or not
  2. His presence is critical, whether we realise it or not
  3. His presence is comforting, whether we realise it or not
  4. His presence is certain, whether we realise it or not

A few highlight stories/quotes from the talk:

In the mid 1990s, I paid my first ever visit to the famous London church, Holy Trinity Brompton, for their winter carol service, which was held in the dark with atmospheric candles lending great intimacy and ambience. The Holy Spirit was doing extraordinary things apparently, and even the secular press was reporting on it. Not one prone to manifestations of the Spirit, I went there nevertheless open to the Lord doing whatever he might choose to do in me. I hadn’t been there long when I felt a warm glow on the back of my head. I kept my eyes shut and continued worshipping. But the warmth of the glow was undeniable – in fact it increased, and I thought I could feel a gentle pitter-patter all over my back. “God, what’s happening?” It got hotter and hotter. “God! If this is you, have your way in my life. Oh, I love you. I surrender all. Make me holy, and more useful, I’ll do anything, go anywhere for you!” After about a minute of such praying, the heat became unbearable – it was positively burning me. I opened my eyes and looked up, and there three feet above me was a chandelier gushing forth wax from a
weeping candle!!!

C.S. Lewis talked of how sometimes people experience extraordinary times of intimacy and closeness to God. “But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.”

Abraham Kuyper, a Dutch theologian of a century ago: “There is not one square inch in all of God’s creation that Jesus does not cry out, ‘Mine!’” Indeed, God is omnipresent. “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” C.S.Lewis

Psalm 139:7-10 “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Dallas Willard was once asked by a young man: “How should I use my 15minute quiet time?” After his characteristic long pause, he responded, “I believe God is rather unconcerned with your 15-minute quiet time. He is far more concerned with how you choose to spend the other 23 hours and 45 minutes of your day.” He went on to offer this wildly winsome invitation, “You must arrange your days so that you are experiencing deep contentment, joy, and confidence in your every day life with God.”

John Paton was a missionary in the New Hebrides (modern day Vanuatu) with his wife. Well, months before, they found themselves surrounded by cannibals who wanted to kill and eat them. They bolted their doors and dropped to their knees and prayed through the night for God’s protection, whilst listening to the screams outside and expecting to be killed at any moment. But morning came, sun rose, and the cannibals left. A year later the tribe’s chief was saved. They discussed that horrible night, and the chief asked: “Who were all those men with you?” “There was just my family, nobody else.” Chief argues back: “There were hundreds of tall men in shining garments with drawn swords circling about your house, so we could not attack you.”

American guy called Sean Litten was heading up IJM’s work in Thailand. He found out about a girl called Elizabeth who was only 13 and had been forced into prostitution. Caseworkers carried out dangerous undercover investigations and once they had gathered enough evidence presented it to the police and persuaded them to carry out a raid to free her from the brothel. Sean took part in the raid and found Elizabeth locked in a dormitory that looked more like a dark cave. When Elizabeth realised Sean was coming to rescue her and not drag her out to be abused by another client, she said to him,“I knew you’d come. I knew you’d come.” Well that was a surprise. How had she known? What also surprised Sean was to see strange writing on the back wall behind her. It didn’t look like the local language and the form it took made him think it could have been from the bible. He flashed a torch on it. It was from Psalm 27. It read “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?” Sean was flabbergasted. This little 13 year old girl was a Christian and even in the midst of the truly appalling circumstances she had found herself in, she was nonetheless putting her trust in her Lord and Saviour. It turned out that Elizabeth from a Christian family. Elizabeth and her family had been praying and praying for nearly a year that God would free her.

God has come, He is here, His presence is always with us. The promise of Scripture is that God is always present with us. Nothing changes that fact; it is only our awareness that changes. God’s promise to Jacob was, “Look, I am with you …” (Gen. 28:15). Jacob’s reply? “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (v. 16, emphasis added). John Piper surely was right when he said, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” Believer, don’t allow the darkness of the night or the presence of the storm cause you to doubt whether God is present and working in your life. Indeed, the storms of life do not deny His presence but provide opportunity to prove His presence.

A little girl had just finished witnessing to a small group of friends. Joyfully she told of God’s saving grace and how His love had touched her heart. With assurance, she appropriately concluded her testimony by quoting these comforting words of Jesus recorded in John’s gospel: “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28,29). Just then a joshing, doubting friend piped up with the question, “But Maggie, suppose you slip through His fingers?” Quick as a flash, she replied, “Never, never! You see, I’m one of the fingers!” Maggie may not have been well versed in the language of theology, but a biblical principal had been lodged in her heart; namely, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones” (Eph. 5:30). She knew that she had been joined inseparably to Jesus and that she belonged to Him.

This man 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. Forty-five 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.”

This sermon was from my recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, delivered at the Cathedral Church downtown.

Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”(John 11:25-26)
I tell the story of my friend Providence, who died in 2012, but is still alive today! Try to get your head around that one – you can read her amazing story here.

Here are a couple of quotes from the talk:

Shortly before Moody graduated to glory, he said: “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L.Moody is dead. Don’t you believe it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all! I was born of the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die, but that which is born of the Spirit will live forever!”

John Patton (1824–1907) was a Scot from Dumfriesshire. He had travelled to the New Hebrides (a group of Islands in the south-west Pacific) determined to tell the tribal people about faith in Jesus. The islanders were cannibals. Nobody trusted anybody else. His life was in constant danger. 

He wanted to translate John’s Gospel into their language, but he discovered that there was no word in their language for ‘faith’, ‘belief’ or ‘trust’ because such concepts were alien to a culture which lauded deceit, dishonesty and trickery. 

Eventually, he found the word he was looking for: one day, when his assistant came in, Patton raised both feet off the floor, sat back in his chair and asked:

“What am I doing now?”

In reply, the servant used a word that means ‘to lean your whole weight upon’. 

This became the expression that Patton used. Faith is leaning our whole weight upon Jesus and what he has done for us on the cross. 

Are you leaning your full weight on the Lord, or hedging your bets?!

Sometimes it’s just plain wrong…
and we have to do something about it.

It is wrong that a pastor serves God faithfully his whole life and then ends up with no pension, in total poverty, abandoned by his children, dying penniless and uncared for, sometimes regretting he’s given his life to the Lord’s service in the first place.

And yet such a scenario is relatively common in a country where very few people get a pension. Daniel was a pastor for 36 years before retiring. He reminisces:

“I taught the Word of God in schools, planted many churches and mentored many people… but now I’m 81. I’ve got diabetes and other health issues. I can’t do any physical labour in the fields. I live a lonely life in total poverty.”

That is wrong.

John is 76. He served Jesus for 46 years, planting multiple churches and leading many to the Lord. When the war kicked off in 1993, he lost his wife and six children but kept going. He says:

“Now I’m too old to work and I’m desperate. An old injury means I can’t walk far. My shack leaks when it rains. I go days without food. My surviving children live far away and don’t help.”

Again, it is just plain wrong that he laid down his life and now lives in misery.

I can’t imagine that happening to my pastor.

So with your help, we are going to right that wrong!

Last year, GLO partner UCE bought some land upcountry to build a retirement village for precious brothers like Daniel and John. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to enable dozens of these faithful servants to live out their latter years in peace – well-fed, nurtured and valued?

That sounds right to me!

One of the proposed buildings at ‘Christian Hope Centre’ retirement village.

Whilst another organisation is committing funding to the building work, we want to help the whole project be self-sustaining by buying a lot more of the available surrounding land to develop for farming to feed the community.* Sowing into this means that whatever you give will keep on generating blessing for posterity!

There’s also a dream for it to one day become a place of refuge and discipleship for new Muslim-background believers suffering persecution. I love this! Do you want to be involved?

  • 100m² costs £25 / $30
  • 1000m² costs £250 / $300
  • 10,000m² (1 hectare) costs £2,500 / $3,000

Whatever you can give, it will have a beautiful long-term impact, providing crops year after year after year – the gift that keeps on giving!

We want to be part of the fulfilment of King David’s promise in Psalm 37:25: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.”

Click here if you want to help. Thank you!

Quite right!

This morning was holy ground.

I’m back out in Burundi with a team of supporters for a week of introducing them to our various wonderful partners. As I knew would happen, the team members are blown away at the calibre, integrity and commitment of these Kingdom warriors. As Justin noted, the repeated story is that almost all of them had the chance to take the easier option and leave for whichever affluent peaceful country, but they chose to stay and make a costly difference here, in beautiful but broken Burundi.

Ephraim shared how he’d fled to the Congo during the war, but after a few years felt convicted to return to bless his nation. As he was on his way back, he was taken by militia who beat him to (half) death, tried to dump him down a latrine (he didn’t fit through the hole), and then hanged him from a tree. He said to them that they couldn’t kill him because God had told him he would go back to Burundi to preach healing and forgiveness in Jesus. They carried on beating him up. He was bleeding from his nose and ears and left in a crumpled heap. His last words to them were (as with Stephen in Acts when he was stoned): “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing!”

I love my brother. He’s doing truly beautiful work with sexually-trafficked ladies, prostitutes, widows – basically the most vulnerable of society. If you’ve got scornful sceptical anti-Christian friends, they should come and meet Ephraim and friends. This is undeniably wonderful.

Ephraim and I

As he carried on sharing, he broke down in tears. It’s very rare to see a Burundian man cry. As the proverb goes: “Amosozi y’umugabo atemba aja mu nda” (‘A Burundian man’s tears fall inside in his stomach’). His passion and compassion for his countrymen, coupled no doubt with the pressures of daily living and looking out for others, led to the dam of emotion breaking within him, and there was a holy release. The team sensitively reached out, laid hands on him and prayed, as our tears merged with his.

There is so much weariness, despair and crushing poverty in this the poorest nation in the world. But there are also many Ephraims and Lyduines (his wife) exhibiting truly remarkable and vibrant resilience coupled with incredible vision, fruitfulness and lasting transformation. As I’ve often said, some of God’s best troops are in Burundi. It’s a privilege to serve them.

Holy ground indeed…

I have exciting news! My publishers have kindly agreed for me to share the award-winning devotional Choose Life 365 for free in 2023!

So I invite you to sign up for either a daily or a weekly email from me in 2023, helping you to choose faith over fear, love over legalism and gratitude over grumbling!

There’s no denying that times are really tough for many of us. Personally, we’ve experienced some real sucker punches over the past couple of months in our family, so more than ever, we need to press into God and pursue Him each and every day. I hope this will help you to do just that!

Check out this promo video I recorded recently in Burundi:

I’ve been journeying through it weekly with a bunch of folks for two years now, and I’ve been encouraged by some of the stories of impact people have sent through, so I’m excited to be able to share it with you for 2023!

If you find it helpful, I’d be so grateful if you could forward it to friends and family, or get them to sign up at chooselife.org.uk

If you want to buy the book for yourself, I’d encourage you to support our friends at St Andrew’s Bookshop or your local Christian bookshop, rather than the usual titans of the bookselling world!

Sign up here:

Gloria Smiling with her sewing machine

Look at Gloria’s glorious smile! Her life has been totally transformed.

She was trafficked to the Middle East and spent ten years in prostitution. Hers was a truly hopeless and miserable life. But when she managed to escape back to Burundi, our Ephraim tracked her down and found her living in total poverty. 

He rescued her, trained her to be a tailor, got her a sewing machine, and now she’s able to make a living and provide for her daughter. Listen to her in this short film…

Just beautiful!

What I love is that with just £25/$30, we can help a vulnerable lady like Gloria start a business. And that’s what we want to do this Christmas. Could you help one such precious life, or two, or ten? Do click through to make a donation here

We have many such beautiful stories of transformation on the back of very small (to us) monetary interventions. Alida was desperate to avoid the last resort of selling her body, but the temptation was there. She tried to make ends meet by cutting hair. We then gave her a £7 loan to buy ladies’ hair products. That was a game-changer, because now she had more customers and made greater margins, so she was able to provide for herself. From her profits she’s now even bought herself a pig! And what I love is that the whole community now honours her for having resisted taking the prostitution route.

Alida Cutting Hair

It blows my mind that a £7 loan changed Alida’s destiny…

What’s Alida’s next step? Setting up her own salon!

It’s a bit early, but I wish you all a very happy Christmas, and here’s to making it all the happier for some of the last, the lost and the least on the planet!

This talk was given at my local church, St Andrew’s Community Church, as part of their sermon series on 1 Samuel. Below are a few quotes and notes from it for your perusal:

Samuel Chadwick: ‘It is a wonder what God can do with a broken heart, if He gets all the pieces.’

“Until we give God our heart, we give him nothing at all.” J.C.Ryle

Dmitri was a Russian factory worker imprisoned after the house church he pastored grew to 150 people. He was sent 1,000 miles away to a hardened criminal facility full of 1,500 prisoners. As far as he knew he was the only believer.

Every morning he would get up, face the east, raise his hands, and sing songs of praise to God. As he sang the other prisoners would bang their cups along their cell bars, curse him, and throw their food and human waste at him. All he had to do to be released was sign a piece of paper recanting his faith in Jesus.

For 17 years he refused to sign, but after they convinced him they had killed his wife and had custody of his sons he agreed so sign the paper the next morning. That night his family sensed something was wrong and started praying for Dmitri. Dmitri said the Holy Spirit opened his ears so he could hear his family praying. He knew his wife was still alive, and they were all together! He refused to sign the document.

Several weeks later the guards decided to execute him. As they were dragging him out of his cell to his execution, the prisoners stood up, faced the east, raised their hands, and sang “O God Give Me Strength!” The fear of God came upon those guards, and they were terrified. They asked Dmitri, “who are you?” He looked them right in the eyes and said “I am a son of the living God and His name is Jesus Christ.”

He was released shortly after. Eventually, his son became the chaplain of that prison.

You see, we march to the beat of a different drum. This is not our home. As Peter wrote, we are ‘aliens and strangers’. Worldly kings or regimes have different allegiances. It will be costly.

“You can endure a lot of suffering when your heart is set on a purpose, but if your heart is set on comfort – or if you have a wayward heart – you cannot endure any suffering at all.” David Wilkerson

This was my parting quote and challenge, which got cut off by the recording, unfortunately:

“To belong to God is to belong to His heart. If we respond to the call of Jesus to leave everything and follow Him, then there is a voice within us crying out. ‘Fight for the heart of your King!’ Yet Christianity over the past two thousand years has moved from a tribe of renegades to a religion of conformists. Those who choose to follow Jesus become participants in an insurrection. To claim we believe is simply not enough. The call of Jesus is one that demands action” (Erwin Raphael McManus, The Barbarian Way).