The commission Jesus gave the Church starting with the immortal words "Go ye, therefore", echoing down through the ages, yet, some of us have found endeavouring to reach out to others a struggle or felt the need to recalibrate how we carry out Jesus’ command as the era of the Covid-19 pandemic draws on. It was why the British Union Evangelism and Mission Summit (BEAMS) at the weekend was so welcome. Attendees gathered in Daventry, Northampton, for the summit from 5-7 November where they experienced Spirit-filled worship and training for our present time.
Pastor Eglan Brooks, BUC Ministerial, Continuing Education and Discipleship Director and Dr Kirk Thomas, BUC Evangelism, Mission, Publishing, Personal Ministries and Sabbath School Director, co-hosted the event. The number of attendees (352) exceeded all expectations. In his welcome on Friday, Dr Thomas remarked: "With all the circumstances…militating against this programme happening, the mere fact that we were able to bring this programme to you…is a testament that God still hears and answers sincere prayers made to Him." "Welcome to God’s miracle programme."
That evening, key phrases engaged attendees. The first, "nevertheless", came from Dr Mike Ryan, Assistant to the President of the General Conference and deviser of the 'I Will Go' initiative, who spoke with vision and rich experience in his plenaries. Despite a long night of unsuccessful fishing, when asked by Jesus to push his boat back out on the water and try once more, Peter responded, "nevertheless, at Your word…" (Luke 5:5).
Dr Ryan observed that there has never been a greater need for a "nevertheless generation". He then quotes from Testimonies to the Church, vol 9, p.19: "Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light-bearers…There is no other work of such great import..." as proclaiming the three angels' messages. "Tonight, Jesus is calling you to say, 'I will go.'"
With characteristic humour accompanied by a salvo of quotable, practical points, Pastor Hernandez's plenary 'I Will Go… Eventually' was based on Matthew 28. The Ministerial Secretary of the Southern Union said, "we are educated well above our level of obedience" because of a discrepancy between what we say is important and what we actually do, as many do not participate in evangelism. However, he said to "take the guilt out of it" and "fall in love with Jesus" as this is the ultimate motivator. Jesus was a Pastor of a divided Church of disciples, but "Mission is a great uniter." His keyword, "whatever", meant saying to God in prayer: "Whatever You want Lord, however, You want" while looking for divine appointments. "Start before you are ready", "do it afraid but in the power of Jesus because He has called us," he said, praying that God would personalise what "go" means for each of us.
During Sabbath morning's devotion, Pastor Adriana Fodor, Evangelism Sponsor for the Welsh Mission, asked the question "What is in your bag?", based on Hebrews 12:1 that says to "lay aside every weight" and "run with patience the race that is set before us". Pastor Fodor explained how problems could slow us down, hindering our “going” for the Lord by carrying a heavy backpack. Pastor Fodor urged attendees not to look at the contents of their bags but rather at Jesus by reading His word, learning how God deals with problems and getting to know Jesus more. In this way, the weight will fall off, and we can focus on "going" for the Lord. She added: "Keep moving toward Jesus."
We then learned more about the strategic plan for this quinquennium when Pastor Brooks conducted an interactive session in which attendees reflected on how to embrace the 'I Will Go' initiative. He explained the motivation behind the initiative to get most of the Church involved in serving for the Lord, and Dr Thomas highlighted the need to refresh and update our practices.
In groups, attendees devised a spectrum of exciting ideas for outreach, including:
- Social media content,
- Prayer services,
- English classes,
- Help in writing CVs
- Help in developing ICT skills,
- Community cafes,
- Befriending people to combat widespread loneliness,
- Breakfast clubs for the elderly,
- Health ministries,
- Outreach for men addressing their mental health,
- Help with gardening, shopping and foodbanks.
Further suggestions included holding meetings in public areas to connect with local people and reaching out to local councillors who know the community. Pastor Brooks urged everyone to establish strategies the Church can benefit from in the remainder of the 5-year strategic period.
In his second plenary, Dr Ryan promoted confidence in the Bible as our "lamp" (John 5:39), sharing how smaller-scale prophecies (such as the predicted siege of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 21:7) build conviction that the Second Coming is sure. He presented Jesus' urgency and passion for the salvation of souls (evidenced in His heavy schedule in Matthew 8 and 9) as a model. As the blind men who were healed "spread abroad (Jesus') fame in all the country", Dr Ryan asked stimulating questions: "Do we have Jesus' fame to spread in the neighbourhood…?" "How is 'I Will Go' defined in my life?"
Unconcerned about challenging us because he would be catching the flight home the next day(!) Pastor Hernandez spoke on 'I Will Go… Who is Coming?' which addressed the theme of reclamation ministry during Divine Worship. Speaking from Luke 15, Pastor Hernandez encouraged us to search for the 41% of baptised who disconnect from the Church: a rate that would be unacceptable in other fields or professions. His solution was captured by the acronym 'RAMP':
- Researching the reasons each left.
- Avoiding church conflict, undue anger, guilting people as a strategy or assuming individuals will never change.
- Meeting people with visits and social activities.
- Preparing for these meetings by being intentional and welcoming. He said, "The deeper the wound, the fewer the words;" "Nothing you can say is going to console someone who has been hurt by the church except, the two most important words: 'I'm sorry.'"
The plenary of Dr Samuel Telemaque, Missions and Sabbath School Director of the Inter-American Division, was presented on video and called 'Sharing Christ with All the People of the British Union'. He explained that our work often involves reaching out to individuals different to us and people groups that have arrived as migrants who face an identity crisis, isolation, and other predicaments along with educational, economic, and legal issues. He suggested that we can minister to these needs in demonstrating the gospel. As opportunities arise to proclaim the gospel, he encouraged showing that the word of God speaks to the situations they are going through (2 Kings 4:1-7; John 4:1-12; Acts 17:1-22).
Next, Pastor Wayne Erasmus, Church Growth and Adventist Mission Coordinator of the South England Conference, explored the Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29). He said while we scatter the seed of God's word, we cannot control everything or make them germinate, but we must leave the aspects that are God's to Him. Pastor Erasmus encouraged a heart for the diverse peoples that make up the United Kingdom, saying, "There is every chance that God is busy in your community, but you have not quite noticed it yet." He shared his experience of joining an allotment community where he has become an unofficial elder. "May we be as faithful in the scattering as He is in the growing."
In Sunday's devotion, Dr Gina Miller testified of discovering currency in her travel bag when she was broke, comparing this to the most important treasure we have "in earthen vessels", which we often overlook. Referring to Luke 9:1-2, she identified this treasure within us as supernatural empowerment Jesus gives His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God. She pointed out that effective ministry begins with a call from God, and we are called for this time: "How am I managing my God-given mission?" "My Bible tells me that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," "use the sword of the Spirit," "go and be powerful and let the Lord use you" - "ready or not, here you come."
Joshua and Caleb, two spies, sent to the Promised Land (Numbers 13), were the subject of the following plenary by Dr Ryan. They focussed on crops and vineyards of giant grapes they found in a land "flowing with milk and honey" rather than being discouraged by the large cities whose inhabitants included giants. "God has asked us to provide hope in the UK…" "As you go, never forget the word 'we': success depends on placing our hand in God's hand," so, like Joshua and Caleb, we can "look at our location and say, 'We are well able to conquer' the land."
Afterwards, Dr Jeffrey Brown, Associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference, spoke on the capture of Lot and family (Genesis 14) who his Uncle Abraham pursued: "This was reclamation". Yet reclamation needn't be dramatic: Dr Brown gave supplying groceries to refugees and homeless people or sitting down with someone for a simple meal as examples. "Fight for your family," he said. "Sometimes children are lost in our own homes…Search and chase after your child." Don't be afraid. Remember, the Lord is great and awesome.
Fascinating breakout sessions began on Sabbath afternoon. Dr Mario Phillip and Pastor Wayne Erasmus kindly stepped in for Pastor Costa, who couldn't be present due to unforeseen circumstances. Pastor Erasmus suggested praying for the peace of your city (Jeremiah 29), for love and mingling, looking for the spaces where God is working so we can participate and as representations of Jesus Christ, being aware of what our presence says about who He is. Dr Jeffrey Brown pointed out that we are in a new phase of ministry, and it was dangerous to miss the moment. Drawing from the literature on 'the post quarantine church', he outlined several shifts, e.g., from analogue to digital, from teaching to equipping, from gathering to connecting. Dr Ryan's seminar featured great vignettes about missionaries who, despite the odds, were able to reach people in the most challenging locations. At the same time, Kathy Hernandez encouraged creating good impressions and positive experiences for visitors in all aspects of church life.
Ashriah Akakpo, Tavian Jean-Pierre and Fonah Thomas led the youth in lively sessions based on tackling themes such as God’s purpose in our identity, how individuality can bring God glory and the effects of social media on identity.
Pastor Jeremy Johnson, Youth Sponsor for the Welsh Mission, Pastor Adriana Fodor and Pastor David Rancic, Welsh Mission Pathfinder Sponsor held a prayer retreat called 'Have You Heard?' Young people expressed how "uplifted" they felt and that "there is real power in prayer".
The Wow Club for children followed the conference's overall theme led by Yvonne Cummins, Earl and his wife, Maria Samuel, who especially penned the children’s song 'Go, Go I Will Go, Go', which brought the "wow" factor.
A new resource developed by Pastor Dan Serb, President of the Irish Mission, was presented to attendees by Dr Thomas, an Editor on the project. The website www.believabletalks.com features unique content addressing pertinent themes of spirituality, religion and science, inviting the public to connect via dialogue and ask questions as they explore the concept of objective truth. In their complimentary packs, each attendee received cards with PR codes to share with friends.
As they moved on to new roles, Pastors Rory and Ivana Mendez, Pastor Michael Simpson and Earl Ramharacksingh were given awards for their work by the Evangelism Department. Pastor Ian Sweeney, President of the British Union Conference, presented the gifts. He made presentations to the 'One Vision Project' founded by Enoch Kanagaraj. Pastor Otis Lewis of Peckham church and Dr Mario Phillip, Pastor of Willesden church, who so far in the pandemic period have baptised close to 30 and 50 people, respectively, were recognised for their work.
Led by Christina Quionquion, the Praise Team skilfully guided attendees in response to the messages, including the theme song composed by Tina Brooks, which left the message 'I Will Go as I Grow' reverberating in hearts. Aliah Prince and Marie Roswell enhanced the weekend programme with special items of music.
The weekend also benefited from the dedicated prayers of the prayer team ministry.
In addition to Dr Telemaque's presentation in a digital format, the summit was streamed live on SEC and BUC YouTube channels with over 5,000 views from individuals who could interact and forward prayer requests, making it an actual hybrid experience.
As attendees reunited with the broader Church following 20 months of lockdowns and social restrictions, there was an atmosphere of joy. Sheffield David of Hope Community in High Wycombe says he was "Inspired", and his wife Yvonne especially appreciated meeting up with members in person after so long.
"Presentations were very informative, practical, an eye-opener," said Claudius from Milton Keynes Central church.
"Excellent Summit: thank God for what He has done," remarked Hyacinth Gayle of Carter Knowle church. She continued: "The messages are relevant for the time we are in, and God has given enthusiasm and conviction," so "His people and leaders go forth and do the work that He has called us to do in unity – leadership and laity; working side by side."
In the words of the banner:
"Who will go?
I will go!
Where will we go?
To every family, neighbour, community and culture!
Sharing Jesus and His Love.
Now GOOO BUC!"
For further information on the 'I Will Go' initiative, resources or related questions, visit https://iwillgo2020.org or contact the Personal Ministries team at the BUC.