Wall Building: Heroes of the Week

There are people in our church who astound me from time to time with their faith and commitment, and sometimes it’s easy to miss what they do to ‘build the walls’ (Nehemiah 3). With that in mind, from time to time and with permission, I want to tell some of their stories as an encouragement.

My “Heroes of the week” this time are Richard and
Wendy Owen

Richard and Wendy Owen | Heroic Wall Builders | Steve Petch Blog

Richard & Wendy

Richard and Wendy have been a part of Grace Church since before it even began; by which I mean they were planning and praying for it before the possibility of it even entered my head.

 

Before it began

In early 2005, when the idea of a church plant into Chichester was first being discussed, Jo and I were introduced to Richard and Wendy through a fellow church leader. Based in Brighton, and long term members of Church of Christ the King, they had been dreaming of a church plant into Chichester for several years. To help get things moving they had already joined a church in Worthing in order to get a bit closer to where it might happen. Their house was already on the market. Then Jo and I arrived on the scene and Richard and Wendy willingly jumped in with us to get the church plant started.

Godly qualities

Richard and Wendy are loved by so many people, and personally I admire them for many qualities – here are just a few (and believe me I could list many more):

Their patience:

It took more than two years for their house to sell, but they never wavered. God had spoken and God would do it in his time

Their faithfulness:

Through many ups and downs and various challenges of church life and leadership, Richard and Wendy have always remained steadfast with a good attitude

Their kindness:

So many people have been through their home at various times and have been fed and cared for – it’s no wonder they are well loved

Their tolerance:

Especially of my many quirks and foibles and leadership errors

Their pastoral wisdom:

With so many people who are in all sorts of situations

Their sense of humour:

Richard’s ‘dad jokes’ are legendary; Wendy’s laugh is infectious (Just keep Richard off the subject of “gruesome ex-policeman stories”)

Their servant heart:

Always the first in line to pray for people, to show hospitality or to just do what needs to be done, from putting out chairs to cleaning floors to visiting the sick

In short, with regards to these two, every church needs people like this in it!

So why am I blogging about them now? Because Richard and Wendy are facing a challenge.

A challenge

A couple of years ago Wendy fought her way, with the support of her church and family, through the ordeal of breast cancer. It was a fight that she won, receiving the all clear in the end. Praise God!

So it’s upsetting now to find that, after battling several other illnesses, Richard has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Sadly the treatment options are limited and Richard has been sent away to enjoy the summer. Unless God intervenes it is likely to be life limiting, but rest assured we will be praying for a miracle and would invite you to do the same.

But how do Richard and Wendy respond to this? They keep on serving the church and keep on worshipping, pressing into God and leading us all by example.

What has impressed me once again is the faith and resilience that this couple have shown.

“God is in charge; he is not surprised; our lives are in his hands”

That’s not to say there is no sadness or worry, but any of this is mixed with faith and confidence in a God who always heals in the end – in this life or the next. And that’s where our hope lies, and it’s where Richard and Wendy’s hope lies too.

Let’s keep praying

So let’s keep on praying for this awesome couple who have devoted themselves to building the walls.

 

And, remembering the kindness they have shown to so many, now is the time for us to step up and show kindness to them, as a church family, in whatever ways we possibly can.

Compassion in the slums of Kenya: Trauma and Transformation

Returning from my trip to Kenya with Compassion has left me with a lot to process. I’m not a total newcomer to situations of poverty, and I’ve visited both slums and a refugee camp in the past, but what I saw in Mathare slum in Nairobi was well beyond my previous experiences. At a personal level I would sum the trip up in two words: ‘traumatic’ and ‘transforming’. I am still processing what I saw and heard.

One leader, returning from visiting a slum family, remarked that he felt like he had been on, “a walk through hell”. Entering the slums to visit people in their iron sheet and tarpaulin ‘homes’ gives a fresh perspective on life. (We were escorted by armed guards).

The Compassion Child Development Centre

The Compassion Child Development Centre, run by a local church based in the slum, is turning child sponsorships into real life action. They are doing a fantastic job putting their faith into action and transforming lives and families, but the issues they face daily are hard to think about.

 On one wall we spotted a poster that teaches children how to respond to rape:

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch Blog

A friend asked a development centre worker about the poster, and we thought she replied, in a thick Kenyan accent,

17% of the girls growing up in the slum will be raped.”

Stunned we responded,

“Did you say seventeen percent?”

The worker replied,

“No! Not seventeen percent. It’s seventy percent. Seven Zero.”

I had to walk away and regain my composure at that point; just one of several occasions.

Trauma

That evening we heard testimonies from students who have graduated from the Compassion Leadership Development Programme and are now looking to be a blessing to their country and community. The final testimony was very moving. The young woman told us how her single mother had worked as a prostitute to provide for her and her sister; she told us about being homeless and sleeping in shop doorways and railway stations; and then she told us how she and her sister were sexually abused from 4 years old by an uncle who supplied food … and demanded to be paid.

Transformation

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch BlogEnrolment in a Compassion Child Development Programme, with a sponsor from the USA, created a context for her whole family to be lifted out of extreme poverty. It also created a safe place where the abuse could be understood for what it was, and be disclosed to someone who could help. She told us how, when the centre taught them about STD’s, she realised what was wrong with herself and her sister. She was able to ask for help and both sisters were taken to a doctor and successfully treated. And now she has graduated from university. Trauma … and transformation.

Grace Church’s role in Compassion

Compassion Child Sponsorship | Mathare Nairobi Kenya | Steve Petch BlogAnd one more thing to add. As a church, between us so far, we have sponsored around 170 children in the Philippines. Seeing projects in action in Kenya, similar to the ones we support, was a great opportunity. Let’s keep up the sponsorship and the letter writing.

In a quiet moment I asked one of our Compassion representatives from the UK if this was the worst poverty she had seen. Worryingly she replied that the only place she had seen worse poverty was … the Philippines. Our trip there leaves in April 2018.

Let me know if you want to come and see not only the trauma, but also the transformation we are playing our part in achieving in that place.

Visiting a Compassion Child Survival Programme in Kenya

I’m writing this blog entry from Kenya.

As a church, for several years, we’ve funded a Child Survival Programme through Compassion in the Philippines. They send us regular news updates and you can check out what we do and what they say about it here.

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Rift Valley Kenya | Steve Petch's Blog

Me in front of the Great Rift Valley, Kenya

Yesterday I visited one of these projects in action in Kenya. It’s not the actual project that we fund, but it’s delivering the same thing in a rural area of Africa. To say it was an emotional experience is to understate it.

Compassion’s Kenyan project

This project is currently helping 35 mothers and 36 babies (one had twins). 7 are single mothers. The others are not single, yet only 6 of the fathers are actively involved with their children.

The project is at full capacity

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

Mothers from the project greeted us with singing on arrival

Since they started, maternal deaths have been reduced from a high rate to almost zero, and childhood deaths from preventable illnesses have fallen dramatically in this area too. These reductions are not just among the mothers receiving direct help, but among the wider community as mothers are urged to pass on to their friends some basic encouragements: have their baby at hospital and get your children vaccinated.

Local Church delivering Compassion

One thing that encouraged me was to see that the project is not being delivered by Compassion, but by a local church who they partner with. You won’t find a Compassion logo anywhere – just the local church in action, led by Pastor Paul. The whole community, people from all backgrounds, are being helped as this local church delivers good news to,

the neediest of the needy

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

Enjoying baby cuddles

I enjoyed cuddling babies, eating Kenyan food and being sung too. I loved the incredible African dancing. I was amazed at the way they teach the mothers practical skills to help them earn money. I was inspired by their levels of faith. I was challenged to hear about how they select only the very worst situations to help and about how many others would benefit if they had the capacity. I was moved by the gratitude the project staff showed towards us for visiting them.

A home visit to one of the mothers from the project was even more challenging – to say that this home was poor was an understatement (you can see her and her children and home below). Three children … husband gone … the project has been a life saver here. The food growing here is from seed that the project provided too.

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

A mother of three supported by Compassion

Kenya Compassion Sponsorship and Child Survival Programme | Steve Petch's Blog

The house she shares with her children

Against a backdrop of the incredibly beautiful Great Rift Valley, is the horror of some serious poverty.

And against the backdrop of this poverty is the incredible beauty of Jesus’ church being what she is called to be:

good news to the poor

And that’s what we are funding in the Philippines too, so let’s press on in faith. We are doing good.

And in 2018 some of us will be able to go and visit that project too.

Personally I wouldn’t miss that for the world.

A genuinely life-shaping experience of answered prayer

When I was 11 years old I was taken to a Christian concert by a relative. It was a fundraising event run in aid of a famine in Kenya. Half-way through the evening a video showed the situation in the country. It was shocking footage and sitting in the dark I was quietly moved. Afterwards, I overheard my concerned relative, who I guess had spotted a stray tear on my face, saying quietly to my mother that perhaps I was, ‘a bit too young’. At the time I believed they were wrong, and with hindsight I still believe that; we are never too young to start to care about the needs of others – especially the poor.

Following this event I had one prayer:

“I want to visit Kenya and do something for the poor.”

That prayer never went away.

Bottle-caps

Panda Pops trip to Kenya | Life changing tip an answer to prayer | Steve Petch BlogWhen I was a university student the Panda Pops company (remember them?) did a special offer: win a safari in Kenya. You had to find a bottle with a winning lid. I don’t know how much I spent on Panda Pops that year, but I know it was a lot. Every bottle was bought and opened with prayer and every lid examined. I even pulled empty bottles out of public rubbish bins and checked them. Surely this was God’s chance to let me go to Kenya! Surely he could see that!?! But I didn’t win, and to be fair, a safari was not the goal.

Only passports

My answer to prayer came via another route just a few weeks after the competition ended, but ten years after I had first started to pray. I was visiting a church with Jo (my fiancé then, wife now) and we ran into my old Sunday school teacher and her husband, now in retirement, who were also visiting the same church that week. After hugs and greetings she asked if we would come and visit them in our summer break, and we said, yes, – not understanding what they really meant.

It turned out they were using their retirement to work as missionaries with the poor in rural Kenya, and I remember her saying,

“I mean visit us in Kenya … we are able pay for everything … you just come … you only need your passports.”

Talk about an answer to prayer! It turned out they were in their last year in Kenya and wanted to use that year to connect young people to God’s mission to the world – and it worked; Jo and I had a life-changing trip.

1993: A life-changing trip

So in 1993, Jo and I stayed with them for several weeks in rural Kenya (no running water or electricity or toilets.) We spent time with local people in their mud hut homes. We led some Bible studies. Jo (vegetarian) almost managed to avoid eating goat. We kept pigeons off the roof (our water supply) with a catapult. We helped to vaccinate rural Masai children against polio. We learned to drink Chai (sweet tea) flavoured with rancid goats milk and charcoal. We visited a local medical clinic and with funding from our home church were able to pay to connect that clinic up to the newly established mains electricity supply and buy them a fridge to store medicines. I was able to give basic pharmaceutical advice to the clinic and to a local doctor (having just graduated). We even ended up with a quick safari at the end of the trip. And it was also in Kenya that I preached my first ever Sunday sermon and felt God calling me to that ministry.

Steve Petch's First Preach | Life changing tip an answer to prayer | Steve Petch Blog

The detail of God’s care

Jo and I went to Kenya genuinely expecting God to call us there, or somewhere similar, more permanently, but that didn’t happen. We came home and got normal jobs with a sense of surprise that God hadn’t spoken to us in that way. But he had spoken to us and shaped us in lots of other ways. Not least he had shown us that we have a Father in heaven who hears our prayers and gives us the desires of our hearts; the detail of God’s care is awesome.

This week I am in Kenya again, this time at the invitation of Compassion UK to see the work they do. We’ve done lots of things with Compassion as a church as part of our GraceWorks initiative. Next week I’ll let you know how I got on.

Having fun in Bognor Regis!

 

There are some times when I am just so proud of our church and the stuff we do … like our recent Bognor Regis Community Fun Day (or ‘Wspólny Dzień Zabawy’ as the Polish version of our flyer said it).

Bognor Regis Community Fun Day!

Bognor Regis Community Fun Day | Grace Church | Steve Petch Blog

Over 100 Grace Church people, from all three of our sites, helped to run the event on Hampshire Avenue Recreation Ground and we estimate that around 2,000 local people came along and took part in various ways. Highlights included:

  • Over 1,000 hot dogs and hamburgers served … for free
  • Over 1,000 home made cup cakes made and given away … for free
  • Over 1,800 drinks given away … for free
  • More than 1,500 sweets and prizes won or given away from our competition stands … which were free
  • 5 live owls made friends with lots of our guests … for free
  • A giant 85ft inflatable assault course was jumped on by a lot of people … for free

Bognor Regis Community Fun Day | Grace Church | Steve Petch BlogYou get the idea by now, it was all for free, including:

  • Several summer fete style games (made especially for the event free of charge by a local shop owner who liked what we were doing).
  • A teddy bears picnic with inflatable ball pool, bouncy castle and party bags
  • A taekwondo display

And of course there was excellent live music too from several different people and groups.

As one of my friends said to me on Twitter:

“Who could imagine you could have so much fun in Bognor?”

Why do it?

So why would we do an event like this, and why would we do it for free? Because we have been so blessed by God ourselves that we want to bless other people in turn.  Jesus said,

“Freely you have received, freely give.”

God’s Grace is when he gives us what we do not deserve and could not earn. That includes all the good things in life that we enjoy, whether we acknowledge it or not, but most of all it includes God’s mercy and forgiveness which we can find through knowing his son Jesus:

“For God so love the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life”

John 3v16

It’s hard to be certain what the long term impact of a day like this is; it’s certainly not something that can be easily measured. Following the day we received lots of positive comments from local people, which was great, but the best thing for me was that people joined us on Sunday morning as we held our church meeting in the marquee on the green, and that some of them made a choice to receive the forgiveness Jesus freely offers for themselves.

That’s more than a long term impact – that’s something which will last for eternity.

Grace Church in Bognor Regis…Here for good!

Wall Building: Heroes of the Week

There are people in our church who astound me from time to time with their faith and commitment, and sometimes it’s easy to miss what they do to ‘build the walls’ (Nehemiah 3). With that in mind, from time to time and with permission, I want to tell some of their stories as an encouragement.

My first “Heroes of the week” are Greg and Becky Bell

Greg and Becky Bell | Hero of the Week Wall Builders | Steve Petch Church Leader Blog

Greg & Becky

Greg and Becky have been a part of our church for several years. They have always been full of faith, like the true ‘living stones’ talked about in 1 Peter 2 v 5. Sometimes God has taken them right to the edge before coming through in various ways. It was nail biting to see it happen again recently.

Greg and Becky became confident that God wanted them and the family to relocate from Bognor Regis to Midhurst to help support the new congregation. This presented a challenge since houses to rent in Midhurst are few and far between and often more expensive than Bognor. Added to this they found out they were being evicted from their Bognor house because it was going up for sale.

Having Faith

Convinced Midhurst was God’s calling for them they refused to rent anywhere else. As the weeks ticked by some of us worried on their behalf. As the deadline got closer we worried a bit more.

And then a house came up … and they put in an offer … and someone else took it. And we worried more for them, but Greg and Becky prayed.

Living Faith

Then the same property fell through and came back on the market and they put in another offer … and someone else took it, only this time they had to move out of the other house with their three children and all their furniture NOW.

Growing Faith

But Greg and Becky believed that this house in the centre of town was theirs … so they refused to look elsewhere … and that same house came back on the market a third time … and they put in an offer

… and moved in seven days later.

God is so good and they have been so faithful. And now they live in the centre of the town they believe God called them to and are helping to build the church in that place.

One more thing along the way…

Becky was very keen to go on the Commission India trip this summer but it costs around £1,000, which with moving they did not have, and with all that was going on she laid the trip down before Jesus with a good attitude and focused on Midhurst and on moving in.

When we told the church about the trip taking place and invited people to apply to go (not mentioning Becky at all), one response we got came from a couple who told us that they believed this trip was not for them, but that maybe God wanted someone else in the church to go who could not afford it, and if that person existed in the church could they please pay for them instead?

So Becky is going to India now too and I’m delighted.

God is our provider: 5 loaves + 2 fish + 5000 people (+ women & children) + JESUS = everyone fed + 12 baskets of leftovers.

That’s how we build!