Christian Today Digest - Winter 2011

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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 thee months.]

Welcome!

Welcome to this final edition of Christian Today Digest for 2011. It comes with best wishes for Christmas (if you receive it in time for that), and for the coming new year.

We all think about gifts at this time of year - but especially the greatest gift of all: the Lord Jesus Christ - a gift which St Paul describes as "indescribable"!

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)

And what a costly gift! The first two verses of this song, often sung at Christmas, describes that cost beautifully:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.

The background to this song is interesting. It was written at a particularly difficult time in the history of the missions to China. Missionaries had been captured by the communist Red Army and released in poor health after over a year of suffering. Others had been captured never to be heard from again. Bishop Frank Houghton decided he needed to begin a tour through the country to visit various missionary outposts, and while travelling in the country, the powerful and comforting words of 2 Corinthians 8:9, "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor," were transformed into this beautiful Christmas hymn.

So let's think on this wonderful truth as we enjoy Christmas and then launch into another new year - with the one who gave all for us guiding and sustaining us.

Jill Ferraby and the editors

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1,000 churches help people beat debt

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) have reached a new milestone with the 1,000th church set to take part in their debt-busting money course.

CAP Money was launched three years ago to teach people the basics of budgeting. The course is run through local churches which are trained up so that they can run it on their premises and pass the wisdom on to their local communities. Crucially, this includes weaning people off the plastic and onto cash, helping them to see just how much they are spending each week and keeping them out of the devastating debt spiral.

"In CAP Money's short history, something like 20,000 people - and that's a low estimate - have been on this free course and overhauled their personal finances," said CAP's Chief Executive Matt Barlow. "That's 20,000 people who now know how to prioritise their spending; how to budget and save, and how to avoid getting into debt. It sounds simple but if no one's ever taught you, it's something you need to learn."

Churches of all denominations have run the course over the last three years as they seek to support people left vulnerable by the economic downturn.

The 1,000th church to get involved was St John's Church in Greenside, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Margaret Butler, one of the members of the congregation travelling to London for the training day, said she was increasingly aware of the local need for people to gain better advice about managing their money, and the congregation wanted to learn how to help their community weather the economic downturn.

She said, "We are in the process of restoring the church hall as a community hall and I saw something about CAP Money and thought, 'This is wonderful! We need to get this underway'. Another lady in our church also heard about it through a meeting she went to in Newcastle and so when we spoke to each other we felt God was in this. We aim to have our first course in the new year."

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Awards recognise unsung Christian heroes

Unsung Christian heroes from across the UK were recognised for their community work at the Inspire Awards in November. More than 120 nominations were whittled down to just three winners who were awarded during a ceremony at the Houses of Parliament attended by Christian MPs.

The award for inspiring individual went to Christine Deponio, who runs Emmanuel House in Gateshead, a free service to those suffering with terminal cancer. Although Mrs Deponio is blind and a full-time carer to her blind husband, she set up the project in 2003 and single-handedly raises the funds to keep it going. The project offers free lunches and physical therapy services such as massages, hair and nail care.

Mrs Deponio also owns three properties in the country that she lets cost-free to cancer patients and their families. She said the award was a "huge surprise".

"I'm just doing what God wants me to do," she said. "They need someone to be here, to cry with, to laugh with, to share their hope with. That's where I come in."

Lifeline Church, in Essex, was presented with the inspiring church award for its Open Doors project. The project has been running for 10 years and offers friendship and care to vulnerable and isolated women. Sally Dixon of Open Doors said: "It's been a real surprise to get this award. We just feel like we are doing the work that God has given us to do. It's really exciting to see somebody who's been isolated come out of their isolation and find a place of belonging in the church family."

Green Pastures, which provides accommodation for 200 formerly homeless people in Southport, received the award for inspiring project. Pastor Pete Cunningham, who started the project, said, "As well as caring for their physical needs we are sometimes given the privilege of leading our tenants to Jesus. In the last few years, 27 came to faith, 19 were baptised and 32 are attending local churches."

The annual Inspire Awards are hosted jointly by Inspire magazine and the Evangelical Alliance.

Inspire magazine's editor Russ Bravo said of the awards: "It's been a privilege to find out about the way ordinary people are putting their faith into action in extraordinary ways. We're committed to telling these kinds of inspirational stories of Christians making life better for local communities, and the Inspire Awards is a great showcase for that."

Paul Slide, chief executive of CPO, said: "Hearing the practical difference Christians are making at grassroots level is a huge encouragement, and genuinely inspirational. These award winners are just the tip of the iceberg - we're looking forward to seeing a whole lot more local heroes in the future."

Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, added: "It was truly humbling and inspiring to meet all the individuals, and representatives of churches and organisations doing amazing work in their local communities, to hear their stories and to celebrate with them. As Christians, we are passionate about community transformation.

"These fantastic, innovative projects being run up and down the UK are feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and restoring the broken. They are just some examples of how Christians are doing great things."

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New future as a mission community

Church Army is preparing to open its doors to new members after it voted to become a mission community in the Anglican Church in the UK and Ireland. Changes to the constitution were backed overwhelmingly at the Annual General Meeting this week.

Until now, Church Army was served by trained and commissioned evangelists. This week's vote, however, will see Church Army shift from being a society to being a movement. That means that anyone keen to be evangelists and identify themselves with the organisation in some way can be part of Church Army. It hopes that the changes will help to expand its existing body of volunteers and supporters, and create a new community of people passionate about the gospel and sharing it through words and action.

Mark Russell, Church Army Chief Executive, said: "This is an historic day for Church Army and I'm so excited about what the future holds for our new mission community. The vision is for Church Army to be an inclusive movement of evangelists, lay people, ordained, full-time, part-time, young and old - all of whom are committed to changing our nation."

Mike Gilbert, Mission Community Exploration Officer at Church Army, said it was the start of a "new chapter" in the life of Church Army.

"We hope that our mission community develops into a natural home for many people who are committed to evangelism and who are longing for a depth of spirituality and strength of community," he said.

Church Army plans to appoint a Dean of Community to lead and care for its members, and in the new year will announce further details about how to join the community.

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Church helping Scotland's poorest communities thrive

The Church of Scotland has launched a radical new regeneration programme to boost some of the poorest parts of the country. The Chance to Thrive project will work with eight communities on development initiatives over the next five years.

The Church says the onus of the project will be on the hopes of the people, rather than buildings. It wants to support local people in bringing about long-term change through their own ideas rather than "having ideas imposed from outside".

Communities will be supported by a panel of volunteers with relevant experience as entrepreneurs, community workers, business planners, artists and architects. It is hoped that the projects will lead to the development of major new and sustainable church-based community facilities.

The Rt Rev David Arnott, Moderator of the Church of Scotland's General Assembly, said: "Despite the massive public investment of recent years, many of our poorest communities a generation ago tragically remain our poorest communities today. Particularly in the current economic climate a different approach is needed. Over the last decade the Church of Scotland has doubled its commitment to Scotland's poorest neighbourhoods. Through Chance to Thrive we are well placed to play our part in the transformation of a number of these areas. We are committed to doing that with others, particularly with local people."

The Rev Dr Martin Johnstone, who co-ordinates the Kirk's work in areas of deprivation, said: "In many of the post war housing schemes, churches provided the first community facilities, helping to create and support the community, and the churches are committed to remaining there even when others walk away. Over the last 10 years we have learnt some critical lessons including the importance of starting small and focusing on the local. We also know that real change comes about when people who live in local communities are really listened to and supported to become the architects of change. This is not primarily about buildings - it is about people and their aspirations for the places where they live. It is about a model of regeneration which recognises the importance of inter-dependence, that in order to build places where we all want to live everyone needs to be involved."

Participating churches are based in Glasgow, Larkhall, Stirling and Dundee. They include Drumchapel St Mark's, which hosts a boxing club on its premises. A boxing ring was set up in the church hall to support Argo Boxing Club after it was left homeless when Glasgow City Council demolished the Argo Centre. The church is looking to expand its support to the community amid public sector cutbacks.

St Mark's minister Rev Audrey Jamieson said the church had been preparing to demolish the church hall when the boxing club offered to work with them in renovating the building.

She explains how the partnership was mutually beneficial.

"I can see that the trainers teach the young boys, and a few girls, fitness and focus and give them role models, as well as giving them a positive outlook and aspirations for the future," she said. "The boxing club has totally transformed our church hall, and sorted out the plumbing and electrics, as well as giving it a lick of paint. This demonstrates to us the talents and possibilities in Drumchapel when we all come together to meet the needs of our community, and we hope the Chance to Thrive project will help us take a huge step forward with this."

If the five-year pilot is successful, the Church plans to roll the model out across other parts of Scotland.

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Cutting hair and sharing the gospel

Ashley Lamason, from the US, was in Moldova for two months to take part in outreach with Operation Mobilisation. It was there that she decided to try out the novel idea of combining her lifelong love of hairstyling with helping others to find God.

"When you go to the hair salon, you end up talking to the hairdresser for about 30 minutes," she explains. "So I wondered if I could spend that half hour talking to people about Jesus?"

In the two months she was in Moldova, the trained beautician gave over 250 haircuts, using these as an opportunity to share her faith. And despite some obstacles - like the language barrier - her efforts paid off.

"I hadn't heard of anyone else doing hairdressing as missionary work, so I was unsure what to expect when I got there. It was definitely challenging and the conditions were completely different from working in a salon - my back hurt a lot because the chairs were so low! But nevertheless, people came and were thankful they could get a haircut. Maybe some of them wouldn't have been able to afford one otherwise, so I was glad to serve them in some small way," she reports. "When the language barrier made it hard for me to witness, the other OM team members I was with shared the gospel with those waiting in line - when you are the only hairdresser, people generally need to wait a little! On one occasion I gave three sisters haircuts. One of them was so fussy that her sister heard the gospel and accepted Christ into her life before I was done!"

Lamason used her skills during evangelistic holiday camps for Moldova's children and through OM's Bus4life ministry which makes Christian literature available to remote East European communities.

"I'm hoping to come back to Moldova for a longer time," she says about her future plans. "My vision is to open a hair salon where people can have haircuts, drink tea and browse the Bible."

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First ordination at a fresh expression of church

A café church in Leeds has played host to what is believed to be the first ordination service within a fresh expression of church.

Michelle Briggs was ordained on November 20 as a priest in the Emmanuel Centre, a base for the chaplaincy at Leeds University. She worked as a Senior Research Fellow in the University's School of Healthcare from 2003 and began ordination training in 2005, becoming a deacon in 2008 at Ripon Cathedral.

In April last year, Ms Briggs was licensed to be an assistant chaplain at the university, a role that involved her in the leadership team of Emmanuel Café Church, which meets on Sundays from 5pm to 6.30pm during term time.

She said, "I wanted to go where I could be with people involved in workplace ministry. The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, Rt Rev John Packer, suggested how to work out my curacy within a chaplaincy framework and Café Church has been a very enriching experience. It's a great way to do church."

Some aspects of the ordination service were familiar while others were very different. The usual order of service was replaced by a "menu" to guide the participation of the congregation. The service was also streamed as a live webcast with an opportunity for the virtual "congregation" to join with those at the venue via live chat on Facebook.

The University's Anglican chaplain Matt Ward said it was exciting to have such a significant event as part of their fresh expression of church.

"Deacons in the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds are ordained in the cathedral but the ordination of priests takes place in the parishes where curates are serving - so in this case, it's Café Church! We have thought long and hard about how to conduct what is traditionally a formal service in a way that remains true to our Café Church style. It's important that it's done correctly but I also wanted us to be connected to our community's unique culture so we basically broke down the service and put it back together again. It has to be accessible to quite a disparate group of people because there'll be non-Christian friends and colleagues who will want to come along."

The live stream was also a way of connecting the special occasion with university graduates who had been members of Café Church during their studies, some for years.

The service was followed by discussions around tables in the café as well as online "tables". And instead of having the litany prayers, people were able to contribute what they had been working on, including someone bringing forward their laptop and offering what the online community have come up with. Ms Briggs even had a clerical dress made for her so that she could be slightly informal while still being able to wear the collar.

She said she was "delighted" that the service had been held within the Café Church.

"I know the term café church can certainly be stretched to cover all sorts of expressions of church but, to be honest, I'm not somebody in search of a label," she said.

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From freestyle skier to son of God

Have you ever hit rock bottom and wondered how life could go on after seemingly losing everything that ever meant anything to you?

Well, Anaiah Kirk has. At the age of 18, he had caught the eye of major sponsors and was on the cusp of becoming a professional freestyle skier. A life of jet setting, parties, fame and girls beckoned and Anaiah was buzzing, thinking he had found the life he always wanted.

"I thought I was on top of the world. I was about to embark on a career as a professional competitive freestyle skier, allowing me to travel the world and live an exciting lifestyle," he writes in the first page of his new book, The Life I Always Wanted.

He moved to Mammoth to train, even convincing himself it was the will of God, but within a few months he had become a "stupid, drunken, fornicating jerk, which finally led to my demise".

Less than a year after his successful run at the US Open in Vail, Colorado, Anaiah suffered several serious head injuries that gave him a 75% chance of going into a coma if he continued with the season. The severity of his injuries lost him his sponsorship and ended not only his season but his career as a professional skier.

"I wondered what I was going to do. My whole life was wrapped up in skiing," he shares. "My dream was shattered. I sat at my grandmother's computer, trying not to cry."

To make matters worse, his girlfriend had started hanging around with another guy and when Anaiah found him sleeping over at her house one night, he was left feeling heartbroken and betrayed.

It was at precisely this point however that God started revealing himself to Anaiah in a dramatic way. Flipping open the Bible in a moment of desperation, he stumbled upon the Book of Hosea, in which the Lord indicts Israel for its adultery and unfaithfulness.

It was a wake-up call to Anaiah as he realised his own rebelliousness against God. From that point on, he resolved to turn his life around and seek God before anything else. He made the return to the church he had turned away from as a teenager and during a Bible study one night, encountered God in a profound way.

Now aged 26, Anaiah sees that time as the turning point in his life. The Life I Always Wanted is his personal testimony of discovering something he never expected to find when his dreams started to unravel – a loving relationship with God.

The book is surprising in its honesty as Anaiah opens up about the reality of temptations and struggles that remain even after meeting God, such as doubts and sexual desires. But he speaks reassuringly about the ultimate victory he came to have over his inner struggles and how real the love of God became to him in spite of everything.

Now, instead of living for skiing as he did before, he sees his purpose as sharing all that he has realised about God's faithfulness and goodness with others. It's his hope that young people will be encouraged by his own story.

"I am here to tell you what I found to be the truth," he writes. "Jesus Christ is Lord, He has changed my life for the better, and this truly is the life I always wanted. Since asking the Lord into my heart, my life has not been peachy. It's full of ups and downs, happiness and sadness, moments of great confidence and moments of uncertainty. However, I can't imagine living without the Creator ... This book was written for those who may be in the shoes I was in before God changed my life."

Although The Life I Always Wanted is primarily aimed at youths, Anaiah's experiences are communicated in such a down to earth and personal way that people of all ages will be able to relate to them - and learn from them. Its manageable length and the author's suggested questions to think about make it an ideal resource for church youth groups.

[The Life I Always Wanted is available via Amazon (£8.81) and Kindle (£3.16)]

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Hard times need not be a faith killer

[A comment from Rob James, Executive Chair of the Evangelical Alliance Wales and Pastor of Westgate Evangelical Chapel.]

Life is full of unexpected catastrophes. It can take just one phone call or one unexpected letter and your whole world can go into free fall.

The victims of the Nov 5th M5 tragedy would surely be able to identify with this observation. The rolling news coverage moved on, but the knock-on effects are still there: the bereaved, the injured and the traumatized (which could include witnesses and members of the emergency services too).

People, understandably, react to tragedy in a variety of ways. Sadly, for some it becomes a "faith-killer". It was for the investment broker I met in France some years ago. He "simply couldn't believe in a God who had allowed his friend to suffer in the way he had".

But, as always, it all depends on your perspective. His wife saw things very differently. She admitted that she couldn't understand why God had allowed things to develop the way they had but even in her darkest moments she was ready to trust someone she had come to know as her Heavenly Father.

Interestingly, for all its corrosive power the "problem of evil" has not dealt a deathblow to faith. In fact the reverse is often true because in spite of their general indifference towards God, people regularly turn to prayer in their hour of need. That should come as no surprise. David Hay writes, "My personal judgment after a quarter of a century of research in the field is that all human beings without exception have a biologically inbuilt spiritual predisposition".

And Hay found that the "God-instinct" is even to be found among those who are highly disaffected as a result of their previous encounters with religion.

"We have become aware that they too have a spirituality," he continued.

The urge to pray is a powerful confirmation of Hay's thesis. But it is more than that: it is a very effective way of helping people see that God is no figment of the imagination; He is alive and well, and eager to help those who are in trouble (Psalm 46).

Betty discovered this some years ago. Betty's husband collapsed and died following the heart attack he suffered while repairing a church roof. She was quite willing to admit that his death left her feeling completely bereft. But in her moment of agony she cried out to God, and to her utter amazement she said that she became aware of his presence in the most tangible way. And, from that day on she assured everyone that she could truthfully say she had never ever felt alone again.

King David must have had a similar encounter with God. It allowed him to pen the following familiar words some 3000 years ago.

Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalm 23)

Kata's story is very different. Kata, a former member of the Yugoslav communist party, was living in the picturesque Croatian town of Vukovar when the war of independence broke out in 1991. Three months later, when the brutal siege was lifted, most of the town had been devastated.

"It was, perhaps, the most comprehensively destroyed town of any size in either Bosnia-Herzegovina or Croatia during the wars of the first half of the 1990s," says the BBC's Gabriel Partos.

But Vukovar's shattered buildings only mirrored the traumatic experience of those who had been living there. Kata for example witnessed brutality on an unimaginable scale, and lost everything, including her brother. Indeed she felt so traumatised that she began to see that her heart had "turned to stone".

But God had plans for Kata and they began to unfold when she visited Wales in the summer of 1992. Kata was acting as the translator for a group of refugee children who were enjoying a holiday arranged by a Christian based in Swansea. While staying in his home Kata's attention was drawn to two very different books: Spiritual Depression by Dr Martin Lloyd Jones and Billy Graham's Angels, God's Secret Agents.

Kata, an English language teacher, avidly devoured them. And then, prior to her return to Croatia someone gave her a copy of the New Testament and Psalms. She initially viewed it as "a peculiar little book" but as she started to dip into it she discovered that rather than reading the book, it was actually reading her! And then she had a series of powerful dreams in which she says Jesus appeared to her. She "adopted the habit of speaking to him" and, consequently, they became good friends. They have remained good friends ever since.

Like countless believers over the centuries, Betty and Kata are reassuring reminders that the best place to be when you're in a storm is in the Father's arms. But that poses a very important question: how will people know unless someone has the confidence to tell them?

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Prayer works - if we just make the time to do it!

Martin Voegelin is chair of the board of Mission Net, a Europe-wide movement mobilising and equipping young Christians to live a missional lifestyle and let their faith shine before everyone they encounter.

Mission Net is just over a month away from its second major Congress, bringing Christians from across Europe to Erfurt, Germany, for four days of worship, prayer and study over the New Year. The final phase of preparations is always the busiest but even though time may be short, Martin firmly believes there is one task that cannot fall off the list of things to do - prayer!

"Due to the widespread misunderstanding of prayer as a Christian duty and obligation Christians in Europe are often hindered from living a prayerful lifestyle today," he says. "With 1,000 different activities and opportunities to distract us, we often fail to benefit from the luxury of stopping for a moment to pray. And as prayer ceases, so too do the answers to prayer - our relationship to God becomes ineffective and boring."

As Chair of the Mission Net board, Martin is keen to maintain a culture of prayer between the board members in spite of the substantial geographic distances between them. And despite their varying schedules, they frequently exchange personal prayer requests and give each other mutual encouragement amid the inevitable joys and struggles. When they do get the chance to be together, whether in the physical or virtual, meetings aren't complete without some time out to pray.

"We are accountable to each other to keep the line to God open and alive," says Martin. "If we value prayer life as individuals, incorporating prayer into our meetings will come more naturally and easily. Our dependency on God's guidance and intervention is also made clear. Without prayer, Mission Net would not be missional - it would just be another interest-network and neither glorify God nor have a spiritual impact on Europe."

Of course, he is always grateful when anyone wants to pray on behalf of Mission Net, but all the more so if the young delegates heading to Germany next month take time to pray for fellow participants and everything God might inspire in them through the Congress.

"Pray for participants from your country and from your church," he says, "friends you want to motivate to participate. But remember, prayer is primarily a relationship, not an activity. It is about being in the presence of God - sharing intimate fellowship with the Creator of the universe. God is seeking fellowship with you!"

His hope is that, rooted in a life of prayer, Christians will be impacted and in turn, impact Europe.

"Let Jesus come into each situation and let him act in and through you - it is a lifelong learning process! My hope is that Jesus would be seen more clearly through our lives and actions in Europe and wherever he is sending us as a result of the Mission Net congress and movement. This will transform us and make as agents of transformation around us - Jesus in us and through us."

[Find out more about Mission Net at www.mission-net.org]

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Pub crawl evangelism

By Chris Duffet

Just humour me for a few minutes. Imagine going on a pub crawl in your local town or city. However, this pub visit extravaganza has a difference: Take a moment to picture what kind of reaction you would receive from each and every single one of your local pubs if you were to open the doors wide open and shout: "I've come to bring good news!" What kind of responses do you think you would receive? Is this the craziest idea you have come across or what!? Yet, believe it or not, that is exactly what I did last year, the only difference was that I had an angel costume on and it was Christmas time. Granted I did look like a right idiot with my large wings, accompanied by a local Baptist minister who was also dressed up, albeit in a slightly less wacky way as a shepherd. Yet, it worked.

Furthermore, not only did we proclaim that we had good news to share, but with the permission of the pub manager we went from table to table and offered a free Christmas gift of a candle in a glass holder that simply declared: "You are loved." People thanked us for the gifts, and groups of party-goers even welcomed us to sit with them at their tables. On hearing we were from one of the local churches some people reached for their wallets ready to make a donation. They were surprised to hear that we weren't collecting money and that the attractive gifts were free. A few people we spoke to simply wept as we mentioned what we believed to be at the heart of the Christmas story: God loved them so much that he gave his only Son for them. Many hadn't heard this news before. Over two evenings we gave out 200 free gifts and spoke to many people. My shepherd friend and I even enjoyed talking with two guys by the pool table for a long time as they asked us question after question about what we believed and why.

Christmas is by far the best time in the year to share the good news of Jesus, and what's more there are plenty of people willing to hear and experience it. Last year over 70 churches up and down the country took part in "Get in the picture". Literally hundreds of members of the public donned fancy-dress nativity clothes and posed for a picture in a stable scene. Pictures were then uploaded onto a website (www.getinthepicture.org.uk) and from there they could Facebook it, e-card, or simply download it. This year we are expecting more churches to take part, it is such an easy way to connect the old story in a fresh way.

How are you taking the opportunities that Christmas brings to share what you have as a Christian? One of the things I love to do is "get all arty!" I enjoy doing street art in busy shopping centres. You see, the story of God becoming a man and making his dwelling amongst us (John 1:14) is a story that the majority of people in the UK have yet to hear or connect with. So, over the past few years I have carefully placed piles of rubbish around a manger with a baby doll wrapper in swaddling clothes. People have questioned what my "rubbish sculpture" is all about. Some notice that on close examination amongst the rubbish there is a sign: "God became a man". Many have been fascinated by the sculpture which serves as a wonderful illustration for connecting the story of the incarnation.

On one occasion I visited every pub in a city delivering beer mats. On one side it declared: "Don't forget to wet the baby's head this Christmas." On the other side I had copied these verses from Luke chapter 2: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord."

This year I am copying an idea from British artist Mark Wallinger for some street art. I will have three security guards protecting an empty crib which contains a small crown. I shall give out literature with the heading "The King is coming!" Simple, yet I am hoping will speak powerfully to people about the first Christmas.

Don't worry; I'm not suggesting that you really have to head to your local pub or city centre armed with piles of rubbish to connect something of your faith this year. How can you show what you believe to your work colleagues and friends and neighbours? How about organising an office mince pies and carols event? Or have you ever considered carol singing in your street and offering chocolates to everyone who answers their door. Or simply give your work colleagues a seasonal card containing the real Christmas story. Whatever you do, my hope is that you plan now to do something to bring this amazing news to those who have yet to hear at the most opportune time of the year.

[Chris Duffett is President elect of the Baptist Union in Great Britain and national evangelist with The Light Project, a group of people who aim to actively demonstrate the Christian message and train others to do the same.]

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Text the gospel this Christmas

A new initiative is encouraging Christians to tell the story of the birth of Jesus through social media this Christmas.

Premier Christian Media and Church from Scratch will be telling the Christmas story "as it happens" through messages from the main characters of the story posted to Facebook and Twitter, or sent via text or email. They hope to bring the real meaning of Advent into the heart of communities, reaching people wherever they are, be that in the office, at the bus stop or doing the big shop in the supermarket.

Peter Kerridge, chief executive of Premier Christian Media, said: "Text will be the only way some people will learn about the nativity story this Christmas. The majority of people these days have a mobile phone, connection to the internet and a Facebook or Twitter account. People are immersed in technology - how many immerse themselves in the Bible like that? We need to meet them where they are, with a new and innovative conversation if we're going to take up the opportunity to tell them about Christ."

The messages will be sent out three times a day to anyone who signs up for the Christmas experience online. The first messages will be sent out on December 18 and will end on January 1.

Peter Dominey, of Church from Scratch said, "We loved the way The Passion Experience gave people such a memorable experience - Jesus' amazing story sent to their phone, wherever they were. This Christmas we give the idea a fresh twist."

To sign up, go to http://christmasstarts.com/experience or text STORY to 60777.

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Telling those who wouldn't otherwise hear

by Deborah Steiner

What makes a man who serves on local Boards of Governors take to the streets?

"We go out on the streets to help people who otherwise wouldn't hear about Jesus," comments Geoff Beckingham of Manchester, who serves on two Boards of Governors for schools in the area. He does this outreach in his role as Training Director for OAC Ministries (Open Air Campaigners). "Whenever we go out into a busy shopping area, we get large numbers of people stopping to listen," he says.

"Those who stay to the end are interested and team members are then able to have in-depth conversations, usually about 15-20 conversations every time. These are all people who would never hear unless we go out and tell them. A lot of people have a negative attitude about Christianity. Our brief messages aim to get them to think about Jesus, who He is and the Good News He has for them."

This week several students from Manchester Grammar School stopped. Often these students have an indifferent or even scoffing attitude. Yet this time, a group of five lads remained attentive throughout the Gospel presentation. Afterward, team members, including a retired teacher, spoke with them. The students all took evangelistic leaflets, and two of them also took Gospels of John.

Geoff's wife Doreen serves on the outreach team. This week she spoke with an Indian man, who related his story - when he came over from India, he knew no one and had no job. He was very lonely and got to such a low ebb that he decided to commit suicide. He put up a rope in his room to hang himself with but wanted some drink to take with some tablets.

Then he realised the local shop was about to close and so ran out and towards it. On his way, he almost knocked an old lady over. He apologised and she said, "That's alright, but do you know that Jesus loves you?" That stopped him in his tracks. They spoke and she put him in touch with a couple who could help him. He received Christ but has now moved to Manchester, so wasn't attending church. Doreen gave him details of a church and a contact person who lives in his area.

Team work is basic to the success of street outreach. Although team members vary in age, work background and denominations, all are involved with local churches as OAC partners together with such churches. OAC professional training equips them to effectively reach those who need to hear about Jesus.

Geoff has specialised in training others. His effectiveness in communicating with students has led to his position on Boards of Governors. Yet he values the experience he enjoys of going directly into schools to share with the younger generation.

"It is a great privilege to go into schools and tell the wonderful truths of God. It is great to see the children sit before me so attentively - such a responsibility."

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