Journeying out…pushing through – Tuesday 5th January 2021

Living in the light

1 John 1.5-2.6 (New Revised Standard Version)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him’, but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, ‘I abide in him’, ought to walk just as he walked.

Reflection

The season of Epiphany, which we are celebrating in January, is about the revelation of Jesus to the ends of the earth. In 2010, through helping to run a café with the charity Friends International in Edinburgh, I had my first experience of sharing good news with people from other countries who have come to the UK. I learnt that people from where we might perceive as ‘the ends of the earth’ have come to our doorstep.

My concern for people who have moved to the UK from other countries grew in 2015, as the plight of Syrian refugees dominated headlines and prompted political debate. Over 75 per cent of the asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Europe that year had fled conflict and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. I felt frustrated that I didn’t know what I could do to help.

Then, as a curate at St Paul’s in Skelmersdale between 2017 and 2020, I was able to put into action this passion for cross-cultural discipleship and concern for refugees and asylum seekers that had developed over these years. This included helping to lead a weekly bilingual discussion group, hosting, at different times, two refugees in my home, preparing asylum seekers and refugees for baptism, attending tribunal centres to provide witness for asylum claims several times, and organizing services to celebrate Nowruz – Persian new year.

As a missional priest in the parish of Dalton and Up Holland, I am excited about the opportunities for discipleship and church planting with people from many nationalities who live in Skelmersdale. I serve as part of the team with the Joshua Centre, whose vision is to support the multiplication of new congregations in the Diocese of Liverpool, and they are already working with three new congregations reaching asylum seekers and refugees.

Based on my own personal experience of working with churches around the country, the first challenge of crossing cultural boundaries in mission is that the suspicious and hostile attitudes and narratives represented in society towards people from other countries are often found within the church as well. The reality is that all of us watch the news, and hear mixed messages about how should be able to come to the UK.

However, there is a clear Biblical mandate to ‘welcome the stranger’ which should be obvious in all of our church communities. In our reading for today, the Apostle John writes that if we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar. Sin means that we have not perfectly loved God with our whole hearts and loved our neighbours as ourselves. As soon as we become aware of the deficiency of our love for other people, we need to ask for God’s help in turning around and serving, giving, and telling people the good news.

The Apostle John continues “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There are steps we can take to begin to change the attitudes and narratives that exist in our churches towards people from other countries, such as introducing people to each other and providing people from other countries with the opportunity to share their testimonies.

As we get to know people from different cultural backgrounds, we will quickly see that God is on the move amongst those seeking refuge in our communities! Many of those seeking asylum in the UK have met with Jesus on their journey, and others are keen to use the religious freedom that they have in the UK to learn about Jesus – something which may have been forbidden in their home country. They are an inspiration to us, and a blessing to our local churches – if we let them be.

Another challenge of crossing cultural boundaries in mission is that this will demand lots of new leaders, but there are many people from all kinds of backgrounds who are waiting for the encouragement and opportunities to develop as leaders. When I was invited to speak at the Christian Union at Edge Hill University, I invited a refugee from Iran to come with me and share his testimony, which was really inspiring. There are many people in our local communities who do not know Jesus and in the strength of the Holy Spirit, we have all the resources we need to make a difference.

Recently, I have been describing that I believe we need to change our mindset from survival to revival because God wants us to reach all 42,000 people living in our parish. This is only possible through planting lots of new congregations. I am delighted that you are committed to finding creative ways of sharing the good news in Wigan.

Multiplication of new congregations often takes place through reaching groups of people share certain characteristics, but it should not stop there. Another challenge of crossing cultural boundaries is the need to help people integrate into the community of the church, so that there is not a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Jesus has promised that he will build his Church and that this will be a beautiful community of people praising him together in every language and from every tribe.

Welcome Churches is a fantastic charity, whose vision is for every refugee to be welcomed by a local church. They are developing a network of refugee-welcoming churches across the UK so that refugees and asylum seekers who have recently arrived are welcomed and that they are easily able to find a church when they move to a new part of the UK.

There are challenges in crossing cultural boundaries in mission but we are not alone. We have each other within the Diocese. We have charities, such as Welcome Churches, who can offer some excellent training and support. We are anointed with the Holy Spirit. Let’s share good news with people from other cultures, so that they can know they are not alone either.

The season of Epiphany, which we are celebrating in January, is about the revelation of Jesus to the ends of the earth. In 2010, through helping to run a café with the charity Friends International in Edinburgh, I had my first experience of sharing good news with people from other countries who have come to the UK. I learnt that people from where we might perceive as ‘the ends of the earth’ have come to our doorstep.

My concern for people who have moved to the UK from other countries grew in 2015, as the plight of Syrian refugees dominated headlines and prompted political debate. Over 75 per cent of the asylum seekers and refugees arriving in Europe that year had fled conflict and persecution in Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. I felt frustrated that I didn’t know what I could do to help.

Then, as a curate at St Paul’s in Skelmersdale between 2017 and 2020, I was able to put into action this passion for cross-cultural discipleship and concern for refugees and asylum seekers that had developed over these years. This included helping to lead a weekly bilingual discussion group, hosting, at different times, two refugees in my home, preparing asylum seekers and refugees for baptism, attending tribunal centres to provide witness for asylum claims several times, and organizing services to celebrate Nowruz – Persian new year.

As a missional priest in the parish of Dalton and Up Holland, I am excited about the opportunities for discipleship and church planting with people from many nationalities who live in Skelmersdale. I serve as part of the team with the Joshua Centre, whose vision is to support the multiplication of new congregations in the Diocese of Liverpool, and they are already working with three new congregations reaching asylum seekers and refugees.

Based on my own personal experience of working with churches around the country, the first challenge of crossing cultural boundaries in mission is that the suspicious and hostile attitudes and narratives represented in society towards people from other countries are often found within the church as well. The reality is that all of us watch the news, and hear mixed messages about how should be able to come to the UK.

However, there is a clear Biblical mandate to ‘welcome the stranger’ which should be obvious in all of our church communities. In our reading for today, the Apostle John writes that if we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar. Sin means that we have not perfectly loved God with our whole hearts and loved our neighbours as ourselves. As soon as we become aware of the deficiency of our love for other people, we need to ask for God’s help in turning around and serving, giving, and telling people the good news.

The Apostle John continues “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” There are steps we can take to begin to change the attitudes and narratives that exist in our churches towards people from other countries, such as introducing people to each other and providing people from other countries with the opportunity to share their testimonies.

As we get to know people from different cultural backgrounds, we will quickly see that God is on the move amongst those seeking refuge in our communities! Many of those seeking asylum in the UK have met with Jesus on their journey, and others are keen to use the religious freedom that they have in the UK to learn about Jesus – something which may have been forbidden in their home country. They are an inspiration to us, and a blessing to our local churches – if we let them be.

Another challenge of crossing cultural boundaries in mission is that this will demand lots of new leaders, but there are many people from all kinds of backgrounds who are waiting for the encouragement and opportunities to develop as leaders. When I was invited to speak at the Christian Union at Edge Hill University, I invited a refugee from Iran to come with me and share his testimony, which was really inspiring. There are many people in our local communities who do not know Jesus and in the strength of the Holy Spirit, we have all the resources we need to make a difference.

Recently, I have been describing that I believe we need to change our mindset from survival to revival because God wants us to reach all 42,000 people living in our parish. This is only possible through planting lots of new congregations. I am delighted that you are committed to finding creative ways of sharing the good news in Wigan.

Multiplication of new congregations often takes place through reaching groups of people share certain characteristics, but it should not stop there. Another challenge of crossing cultural boundaries is the need to help people integrate into the community of the church, so that there is not a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Jesus has promised that he will build his Church and that this will be a beautiful community of people praising him together in every language and from every tribe.

Welcome Churches is a fantastic charity, whose vision is for every refugee to be welcomed by a local church. They are developing a network of refugee-welcoming churches across the UK so that refugees and asylum seekers who have recently arrived are welcomed and that they are easily able to find a church when they move to a new part of the UK.

There are challenges in crossing cultural boundaries in mission but we are not alone. We have each other within the Diocese. We have charities, such as Welcome Churches, who can offer some excellent training and support. We are anointed with the Holy Spirit. Let’s share good news with people from other cultures, so that they can know they are not alone either.

Rev Jack Shepherd
Missional Priest
Dalton and Upholland