CHRISTIAN TODAY DIGEST - SPRING 2010

From:-
TORCH TRUST, Torch House, Torch Way, Market Harborough, Leicestershire, LE16 9HL, U.K.
Telephone: +44 (0)1858 438260, Fax: +44 (0)1858 438275, email: info@torchtrust.org
Charity Number 1095904.

Contents

[This magazine has been jointly edited by Christian Today and Torch Trust for the Blind. All the articles were first published on the Christian Today website www.christiantoday.com over the last three months.]

Welcome!

Welcome to this first edition of Christian Today Digest for 2010!

As we thank God for a wonderful year of celebrating 50 years of Torch Trust throughout 2009, we also continue to thank God for the life of Stella Heath - co-founder of Torch - who last September went to be with her Lord whom she served so faithfully for so many years.

A memorial fund was set up in her memory, and as many of you contributed to it, we would like to share with you the result of it.

Many generous donations were made in memory of Stella Heath. These together with the collections taken up at the Service of Thanksgiving for her life in Pulborough and at the Torch Trust 50th Anniversary Thanksgiving Service have so far amounted to the magnificent total of £9,279 inclusive of Gift Aid tax recovery. The fund is still open.

We and the Heath family want to express our deep gratitude for this outpouring of love. Together we have carefully and prayerfully considered the most suitable application of the funds. Stella had specified that funds given in her memory should be used in connection with the Torch Trust work in Malawi that was so close to her heart.

£5000 will be used to establish a maize mill in the East Bank district of the Lower Shire area. This will be of great significance to all who live in this, one of the poorest places on earth, but it will make a huge difference for local blind people who will have their grain milled without charge and other blind people will also benefit from the distribution of the profits.

The balance will go towards the purchase of the computer driven braille embosser (total cost approximately £7000) to be installed in the Torch Trust for the Blind International production unit in Blantyre. There it will enable the team to respond to the day-to-day demand for braille Bible volumes in local languages.

So now we trust you once again enjoy the mix of news and information in this magazine. We appreciate all the "happy comments" that come our way!

Jill Ferraby and the editors.

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Demand for Bible outstripping supply in China

The Bible Society has reported a growing demand for copies of the Bible in China where an estimated 500,000 people converted to Christianity in 2009 alone.

Although some four million Bibles were printed and distributed across China last year, the rapid growth of the church year on year means that demand for Bibles is now outstripping supply, according to the Bible Society.

The official number of Christians in China stands at 28.6 million, but it is believed the true figure could be as high as 90 million if the estimated number of worshippers at unofficial house churches is included.

The UK-based Bible Society subsidises the cost of printing Bibles to keep the cost below £2 a copy, vital for Christians living in China's rural heartland, where 70 per cent of churchgoers are found and half the population live on less than $2 a day.

The Bibles are printed at the state-owned Amity Printing Company, which has printed around 70 million Bibles since it was established in 1987. Around 50 million of them have gone to Chinese believers.

"As more and more people are joining the Church they are asking for a Bible," says Bible Society's China Partnership Co-ordinator Kua Wee Seng. "Every year we have to raise funds for Bible subsidy. The reason is that in the rural areas where most Christians are found, they are living in relatively poor conditions. In order for them to have a copy of the Bible we have to provide paper so that a Bible is affordable for most of the Christians in China.

"This is a time of opportunity in China. Many of us feel that we mustn't miss this opportunity or people will turn to something else, other than Christianity."

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Eat soup and raise funds for the poor

Celebrity chef Kevin Woodford is encouraging people to raise funds for Christian Aid's work with the poor by holding a soup lunch with friends.

The Super Soup Lunch on 26 March invites people to ditch the usual sarnies and serve up a bowl of soup instead for themselves and friends, relatives or colleagues. A donation is then collected from everyone who joins them. People are being encouraged to take part whether they like to make their own soup or feel happier cracking open a tin of ready-made.

"Whether you regularly make your own soups, or are a dab-hand with a tin opener, we need you to get involved in Super Soup Lunch," said Woodford, much loved for his enthusiastic appearances on Can't Cook Won't Cook, This Morning and Ready Steady Cook.

"Get together with friends in your work canteen, at school, or the local café and enjoy your lunch knowing you are helping Christian Aid raise thousands of pounds so that people in developing countries can make a better life for themselves."

Christian Aid has put together a free fundraising pack for people wanting to take part at www.christianaid.org.uk/super-soup-lunch.

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Gospel artists to record single for Haiti at Abbey Road

Plans are in motion to bring together British Christian artists from the world of gospel, urban gospel, praise and worship and CCM music to record a charity single next week at the world famous Abbey Road studios in London to raise money for victims of the Haitian earthquake.

Lawrence Johnson, co-founder of the London Community gospel choir and Les Moir of Kingsway Music have joined forces to organise the recording after being moved into action after watching the scenes of devastation caused by the earthquake that hit the island of Haiti on January 12, leaving over 200,000 people dead and the infrastructure of much of the country destroyed.

Artists that have pledged their support to this charity recording initiative include X Factor finalists Voices With Soul and Beverley Trotman, Amy Stead, Graham Kendrick and Tim Hughes, Britain's leading praise and worship artists, Ken Riley, LZ7, Simon Brading, Tre Shepherd, MOBO award winners Victizzle and Jahaziel, E-Tizz, New Direction, and 29th Chapter.

"It's great when Christian artists can work together on a project that will provide help and assistance to people that need it. More than anything it demonstrates Christian unity and togetherness," said Moir. "Lawrence and I first worked on the recording of a charity single in 2005 following the tsunami that hit southern Asia in 2004 on Boxing Day. Christian artists came together, wrote and recorded the song One Voice and raised £30,000 for the victims of the tsunami. We hope to achieve the same level of success and help the homeless of Haiti with our single."

Lawrence Johnson commented, "I have been humbled by how willing artists have been to offer their talents and get involved in this project. Everyone it seems wants to lend their voice and participate in this worthwhile project, and what's great about it is that artists across the various streams of Christian music are part of it."

Both Les and Lawrence aim to release the single in April. All proceeds from the single will be donated to Compassion UK, which runs a number of projects in Haiti.

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Green award for "Eco Commandments"

An Edinburgh church that devised a list of 10 "Eco Commandments" has received a top environmental award for their green efforts. South Leith Parish was presented with an Eco-Congregation Award on 21 February following an extensive campaign to cut their carbon footprint. The congregation has helped with a number of environmental activities for young people in the local community, and have put in place "eco procedures" in their own buildings.

They are the first church to receive the newly designed Eco-Congregation Award plaque, which has been made by Greyfriars Recycling of Wood (GROW).

GROW, part of the Greyfriars Church Community Centre based in the Grassmarket, is an emerging social enterprise that seeks to create new employment opportunities for the long-term homeless with addiction and mental health problems. It brings together homeless service users and volunteers from the local community as they produce high quality saleable goods made from recycled wood - most of which is old church pews. The quality of goods produced demonstrates the ability of people who are generally devalued and the process of making things of beauty and value from what has been discarded as worthless is itself a message to the wider community.

Adrian Shaw, the Church of Scotland's climate change officer, said: "Eco-congregations share the vision of re-using scarce resources and the beautiful plaques made by GROW help us put that into effect."

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Christians must be rooted in Christ

About 10 years ago, Pastor Rick Warren made a long list of the "up-and-coming" pastors in America he wanted to pray for. Just as he had older mentors who prayed for him when he started Saddleback Church in southern California at 25 years of age, he felt compelled to do the same for the younger generation of pastors.

Unfortunately, about half the people he listed are no longer in ministry today.

"They burned out; they flamed out morally; they got tired; they got discouraged; they quit," Warren told thousands of pastors and ministry leaders at the Radicalis: For Radicals Only conference this month.

"You don't get credit for starting the race. You get credit for ending it well," he stressed. "The only way you're going to finish well is if you build roots, not fads, not therapies, not management."

The Purpose Driven pastor is committed, he said, and is giving all his life to help the next generation finish well. As part of his effort, he is taking them back to the root of the Christian faith and of the church. "Radicalis", a Latin term meaning "of roots", is serving as his banner.

Warren, who has been training pastors for 30 years, believes most churches, pastors and Christian leaders are "spiritually rootless". While they chase the latest fad, methodology or technology, many are not rooting themselves deep in Christ, Scripture and love. And without deep roots, Christ followers give up ministry as soon as life gets hard.

"How do you know when somebody's got roots, when a church has a root? Fruit," the renowned Saddleback pastor said at the start of the four-day conference. "The evidence of roots is fruits. And the fruit is not just for a season ... it comes back every year."

Warren brought together a line-up of well-known pastors, including Andy Stanley, Perry Noble and Mark Driscoll, to speak to fellow leaders on building spiritual roots in eight different areas of their lives, beginning with radical devotion.

"There's a lot of things I can teach you about how to build small groups - we've got over 4,000 of them," Warren said. "There's a lot of things I can teach you about how to baptise and bring unbelievers in - this year we baptised 2,800 new believers. There's a lot of things I can teach you about how to send people overseas in mission - we've sent over 8,000 people. I can teach you those things. But you've got to start in the heart," he stressed. "And you've got to start with radical devotion."

The first purpose in life, he underscored, is worship. That is, to love God more and know Him better.

"At the end of the day it doesn't matter how many things have gone wrong ... how many failures ... if at the end of the day you love him more and know him better, that day was a success," the southern California pastor pointed out. "On the other hand, it doesn't matter how many things you've accomplished ... at the end of the day if you don't know God better and love him more you just wasted your day because God didn't put you on earth to mark things off your to-do list."

Noble, senior pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, offered pastors his own take on radical devotion, saying it begins with an "accurate view of Jesus".

"I don't think we would speak to Jesus the way that we speak to him sometimes if we just understood who he was," Noble stated. "Jesus, I'm over my head!" said Noble as he humorously demonstrated a likely usual pastor meltdown scenario.

"I know," the SC pastor said, as he responded as Jesus.

"Lord God, I'm so powerless!" he continued.

"Duh."

"God, I don't know what to do!"

"I know. That's why I called you."

Driving his point, Noble said, "I think before we can discover what God wants, we've got to see who he is. The church is so obsessed with what he wants that we've forgotten to pay attention to who he is because I believe when we discover who he is our hearts will beat for the same things that his heart beats for and we will understand what he wants us to do."

Calling pastors to action, Noble alluded to Jesus' command to Apostle Paul: "I did not show you who I am so you can get involved in a Bible study for the next 30 years and discuss insignificant theological topics that will never be settled on this side of Heaven.

"Get up and stand on your feet ... I'm calling you, Paul, to take action because there's a lost and dying world that don't know who I am!"

Noble lamented the reality that many ministers leave their flock when the personal cost becomes too high. But he recalled what Jesus told Paul. "You're going to witness for me; you're going to serve me; it's gonna hurt," he paraphrased.

"The attitude we've got to develop in us is hell will not revoke the calling that he has placed on my life!" he exclaimed. "I will pay the price because I will never be asked to pay the price that he (Jesus) paid for me. So anything I'm going to suffer is less than what he suffered. Jesus, let's do this thing!"

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Hope re-launch reveals appetite for mission

The re-launch of the Hope movement in March is an indication of the great appetite for mission across UK churches, says former YFC chief Roy Crowne.

Mr Crowne will lead the movement, which has its roots in Hope08, the year-long initiative that saw churches come together to reach out to their communities through mission and social action in 2008. The initiative was a huge success, with an independent report finding that 83 per cent of participating churches had felt it made a tangible difference in their communities.

More than a year after its conclusion, many churches are still running activities and community outreach under the banner of Hope08.

Mr Crowne said: "The appetite for mission in this country has never been this great, and the desire to work together for the sake of those outside the church community has found its expression through Hope. Hope08 exceeded all our expectations, with churches in 1,500 areas signing up, and I think we will be able to double that as the next campaign gains momentum."

Evangelical Alliance General Director Steve Clifford will resume his role as Chair of Hope when it re-launches on March 1. The movement is being reformed with the support of the General Secretary of the Baptist Union, Jonathan Edwards, and Church of England mission leaders Bishop Graham Cray and Rev Canon Paul Bayes.

Mr Bayes said: "In 2008, Hope encouraged thousands of local churches to work together, unfolding the good news of Jesus in word and deed for their communities. Christians of all denominations and streams seized the Hope moment, saw what God did with it, and asked for more. Now there's a chance to build the moment into a powerful momentum for mission, unity and service where you are. People need it. Let's not miss it!"

Bishop Wayne Malcolm, the senior pastor of Christian Life City Church, said that the continuation of Hope is a bottom up, grassroots revival.

He said: "The desire to collaborate and co-operate across denominational, ethnic and cultural lines, for the purpose of evangelising Britain, is unprecedented and clearly indicative of something authentic - I'm excited!"

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Marilyn Baker Ministries name change

The ministry of blind singer-songwriter Marilyn Baker has announced a new name and logo to reflect the changing world. Marilyn Baker Ministries will now operate as MBM: Restoring Lives Through Intimacy with God.

Marilyn said the change was intended to reflect the ministry's vision to help people step deeper into healing and empowerment by drawing closer to the heart of God, learning to hear his voice, and seeing from his perspective.

"We may be re-branding to keep in touch with a changing world, but the heart of our ministry is still the same," explains the internationally renowned blind singer-songwriter. "We have a passion to see healing and a deeper intimacy with God."

MBM has recently expanded its ministry to do more for the elderly by making regular visits to residential homes. Marilyn makes the visits together with her partner in the ministry Tracy Williamson and guide dog Penny.

"For many it is the first and possibly the last time they will hear that God loves them," she said.

MBM continues to take part in evangelistic and encouragement concerts, Christian festivals, church weekends and services organised by other Christian organisations, as well as running conferences and quiet day programmes across the UK.

The ministry has worked to bring healing, wholeness and a deeper experience of God to people since it was founded 28 years ago.

Marilyn's albums include All That I Am, Changing Me and Overflow of Worship.

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Prayer for oppressed Fiji Church

Methodists in Britain and Ireland are praying and fasting for the Methodist Church in Fiji as it continues to face oppression from the military government. The Fijian Church has been banned from holding its annual Conference and choir festivals until 2014 after questioning the democratic credentials of the regime, which came to power by overthrowing the democratically elected government in 2006.

The Fijian government recently extended the ban on the Church's meetings to local districts and circuits.

Criticising the regime is a criminal offence in Fiji, as is meeting without the government's permission. Earlier in the month, fifteen Church ministers were arrested and charged with breaking the Public Emergency regulations by attending an unauthorised meeting last April. It brings the total number of Church ministers facing charges to 24. Those charged include all members of the Fiji Methodist Church Standing Committee, who were arrested last year.

Methodists in Britain and Ireland prayed and fasted on February 25 in particular, the day dedicated to Fiji in the Methodist Prayer Handbook. They were invited to donate the money they would have spent on food to the World Mission Fund, which is offering long-term support to the Methodist Church in Fiji.

The Rev Stephen Poxon, ex-president of the British Methodist Conference and Secretary of the Methodist Missionary Society, said it was easy for believers in the UK to take religious freedoms for granted.

"The Methodist Church in Fiji simply desires to worship God and serve the people of Fiji with their ministry, but the government's unreasonable restrictions are making the Church's daily life almost impossible," he said. "Through fasting and prayer, we want to show our solidarity with our Fijian brothers and sisters."

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The best is always yet to come, says bishop

Whenever we find ourselves having to move on in life, we must believe that the best is always yet to come, says the Bishop of Stafford.

Writing to churches in the Diocese of Lichfield in February, the Rt Rev Gordon Mursell challenged people to think about what matters most in life and what they can let go of.

"What illusions about myself, what status symbols, what dark resentments, what accumulated clutter, need releasing if I am to travel on in faith?" he said. "We keep kidding ourselves that we can go on through life simply adding more and more (things, experiences, memories, qualifications) to our spiritual luggage, without ever having to let anything go. Yet Jesus told his disciples to leave home and step out in faith with no spare bag or tunic (Matthew 10:10)."

Bishop Mursell is retiring to Scotland after five years as Bishop of Stafford and nearly 37 years of full-time ministry in the Church of England. He admitted travelling light was "desperately hard in a consumer society which prizes stuff, and acquisitiveness", but encouraged people to see leaving as a chance to start anew, no matter how fearful the prospect.

"However hard it is to believe, the best is always yet to come. We don't know, for the future is not in our control. But God is a nomad too, and walks with us into the unknown. The supreme symbol of leaving home in Scripture is not the closed gate of Eden but the Cross of Good Friday. For there, and in our place, Jesus let go the most precious thing of all - his life - in order to receive it back from the Father on Easter morning in a form even death could not destroy."

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The Easter story on Twitter and Facebook

What does Easter mean to you? Tweeters and Facebook members are being invited to share their feelings about Easter by answering this question on a new Lent twitter feed. Easter (LIVE) will run throughout Lent, bringing together 140-character reflections from well-known tweeters on Easter.

Alistair Johnson, from Cliff College, and Huw Tyler, from Share Creative, have created the Twitter feed as part of the Biblefresh movement of churches and agencies, which seeks to help Christians gain confidence in and appetite for the scriptures.

Mr Johnson said: "Easter is the pinnacle of the story of Jesus. In it we see the passion God has for His people. Easter (LIVE) is an exciting way for people to reflect on the meaning behind the eggs, flowers and other trappings of Easter time."

Mr Tyler added: "Easter (LIVE) is about reaching new audiences to explore the Easter story. We're keen to engage with these communities and get deeper through discussion, thought and response. We're excited about seeing 'tweets' from well-known contributors to regular users of Twitter and Facebook and finding out what Easter means in a digital world."

Evangelical Alliance General Director Steve Clifford started the tweets off with this tweet: "Looked like a disaster. Hopes gone, dreadful defeat. But it was the watershed of history, amazing victory, death was beaten."

He said: "Easter (LIVE) provides an opportunity to explore what, for Christians, is the pivotal event of history. There cannot be a more important question for each of us to ask. If Jesus rose from the dead, what does Easter mean for me?"

You can follow Easter (LIVE) at www.twitter.com/EasterLIVE

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Williams laments church decline in Middle East

The head of the worldwide Anglican Communion has expressed his "deep" concern over the declining number of believers in the Middle East during a four-day visit to the region.

"We worry deeply about the dwindling of numbers here," said Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams not long after arriving in Jordan for the first leg of the visit. "I believe it's the first importance that we keep that solidarity, friendship and presence," he added, according to the UAE-based National news agency.

Dr Williams, who is regarded as "first among equals" within the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, was due to meet Christians in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine during his visit, which took place from 19 to 23 February. The Archbishop also met local heads of state and government and led an Anglican delegation in a fourth round of discussions with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He was accompanied throughout the trip by Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani and Church of Ireland Bishop Michael Jackson of Clogher, the Anglican chair to the Anglican Jewish Commission.

The Archbishop laid the cornerstone for a new church on the eastern bank of the Jordan river and reiterated his remarks on the Middle East's dwindling Christian population, saying that the departure of Christians from the region "represents a source of extreme concern for us".

But amid the turmoil and escalating violence, Dr Williams urged the some 600 Jordanian Anglicans to not lose hope.

"It's the same world as the one into which Jesus came - in so many ways a place that can drive us to despair or rage, and yet now and forever a world in which God is real, so that neither rage and despair can be the only or the ultimate option for us," he said, according to the National. "May the God who has called us his beloved sons and daughters in baptism give us the courage to be faithful to this gift of presence - the courage always to begin again, day after day, to be a Christian."

Christians currently make up between 1.5 to five per cent of Jordan's six million people. In 1950, Christians made up about 30 per cent of the Jordanian population. The drop has been largely attributed to the higher birth rates of Muslims in the region as well as the influx of Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries. Also contributing to the shrinking figure is the exodus of many Christians to Europe, the United States and Canada for better opportunities.

Although relations between Muslims and Christians are generally good in Jordan, the US State Department has noted that the government's application of Shari'a law infringes upon the religious rights and freedoms laid out in the Constitution by prohibiting conversion from Islam and discriminating against religious minorities in some matters relating to family law, including inheritance practices.

Members of unrecognised religious groups - such as the Baptist Church, the Free Evangelical Church, the Nazarene Church, the Assemblies of God, and Christian and Missionary Alliance - also face legal discrimination.

Notably, however, the State Department last year praised Jordan, among other countries, for its promotion of interfaith dialogue efforts.

"International interfaith initiatives are growing in many parts of the world, and the Middle East region in particular has seen a growing interest in intra-faith and interfaith dialogue," the department noted.

Among the efforts noted was Jordanian King Abdullah's "Amman Message" of 2004, which the State Department acknowledged for its promotion of a number of interfaith conferences and activities, and for having been an "important precursor" to further efforts.

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World's oldest pastor dies in Japan aged 101

The man believed to be the world's oldest actively serving pastor died recently in Japan at the age of 101.

The funeral service of the Rev Tsuneharu Oshima was held at Mikage Shinai Church in Kobe city, Nagoya, Japan. During his funeral, held at the Japan Assemblies of God-affiliated church, a video was played of Oshima's speech in July 2009 during the 150th anniversary of Japan's Protestant Mission. The audience was deeply touched as he spoke about the past, present and the spirit-filled vision for the future. Up until his last few days, Oshima spoke the words "peace, gratitude, victory, hope".

His memorial service was attended by some 250 people from across Japan.

The pastor's eldest son, the Rev Yoshinao Oshima, shared that his father continued to work as a pastor even after he turned 100 years old.

"He gave us hope for Heaven, served as a path for Lord Jesus Christ, and became a blessing and hope to many people," the younger Oshima said, according to Christian Today Japan.

The older Oshima had served as an active pastor for 74 years. He was senior pastor at Kobe Philadelphia Church, part of the Free Christian Missionary Fellowship. His son, meanwhile, is serving as assistant pastor at the same church.

Last year, Oshima celebrated his 101st birthday on October 5. But on the eve of his birthday he was hospitalised with pneumonia. He was released after a month, but was repeatedly hospitalised for various illnesses. His fourth visit was his final.

Christians make up two percent of Japan's population, according to the CIA World Factbook.

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The modern-day hymn writer, Stuart Townend

Introducing Stuart Townend is being released on February 23 from Kingsway with EMI CMG Distribution, in recognition of one of the most prolific "modern hymn writers" in the world today.

The recording features UK-based Townend's In Christ Alone and How Deep The Father's Love.

Both songs are among the top 50 most sung worship songs in the US, according to CCLI, and are examples of Townend's distinctive lyrics that are rich in theology, poetry and have contributed to the worshipping life of the church worldwide.

Having written at least 119 songs that congregations are singing (CCLI), Townend's ability to craft songs with great lyrics and accessible melodies has caused some to draw comparisons with the greats of previous generations, such as Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley.

"The church has shown its thirst in recent years for songs of substance and hymnology," says Steve Nicolle, Kingsway director, music and media. "A good melody is not enough, but depth of lyric, Scriptural relevance and poetic beauty are required. This is the unique quality that Stuart brings to the global worshipping church."

Grounded by his commitment to the local church, when asked about his own song-writing, Townend explains, "It is so important that our lives are built not on our feelings or circumstances, but on the Word of God, and songs can really help us to meditate on and retain truth.

"I know from the correspondence I regularly receive that if you can express in songs the profound truth of the gospel in a poetic yet accessible way, they really can have an impact in people's lives."

Introducing Stuart Townend features six songs, a sampling of his poetic lyrics and stirring melodies that have impacted millions. The full track listing follows:

In addition to writing and recording, Townend is a gifted worship leader, musician and seminar speaker. He spends a good part of his year leading worship at major Christian events, doing solo concerts and training emerging worship leaders and songwriters.

He also attends and regularly leads worship at Church of Christ the King (CCK) in Brighton UK, one of the Newfrontiers network of churches headed up by Terry Virgo. Having studied literature at the University of Sussex, it is here he met Caroline, whom he married in 1988, and they now have three children: Joseph, Emma, and Eden.

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