Saying ‘goodbye’ to a good friend

A sad day

15079034_1026862530772733_3224708844393030373_nYesterday at Grace Church we said goodbye to a dear friend and church member, Richard Owen. Richard and Wendy have been part of our church since before it began; they helped to plant it. Richard will be greatly missed.

If you want to know what sort of man Richard was, you could do a lot worse than to look at the things written about him on Facebook since he was taken home. For example:

  • It was a pleasure to know Richard, such a kind & generous heart
  • Richard was one of the first people to welcome me to Grace Church, and he knew my name. He was such a lovely man
  • We will miss this man of great faith, humility, compassion, love and joy. He is an inspiration
  • Richard will be greatly missed – such an example to us all of a real warrior for God showing great perseverance and faith
  • Richard was such an inspiration to me as a young adult. He brought faith and fun together in a natural way
  • Richard is an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord

Inspiration

15171334_1026862740772712_7280242106463818483_nOne word seems to come up a lot: Inspiration. There was something about Richard that inspired people to live well and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Something about Richard inspired people to look to God and to stand firm in their faith. The final post that he made on Facebook, on June 24th following the EU referendum, said this:

“God is building His Church. He always has and He always will. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that has always transcended borders. Nothing can thwart His eternal will and purpose. The outcome of the referendum makes not one iota of difference to Him who is forever praised. To His redeemed He has promised that He will work ALL things for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purposes. We have nothing to fear. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”

Richard had his gaze set beyond this world and onto his heavenly home; the home to which he has now gone.

Thanksgiving

At the thanksgiving service we focused on these words from the Bible, 2 Peter 1v5-8:

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That passage sums up some character qualities which we saw in Richard’s life, and which were the source of much of the inspiration he gave.

The first quality it mentions is faithRichard was a man of faith. He had his own personal faith in Christ, but he was also prepared to take steps of faith: travelling to India, setting up charities, giving himself to an adventure like church planting. These were faith steps.

It says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness”: Richard embodied goodness in many ways: he was good to people; he was always willing to do good to others and to put himself out. He spent hours showing pastoral care and love to people who needed it. He was willing to help when help was needed. Many of us benefited from his goodness.

Next it says, “add … to goodness, knowledge”: Richard spent hours studying and reading books about his Christian faith. Even in his final days he was deep into books by the great authors of the Christian faith. He was devoted to growing in the knowledge of God right up to the end, when he saw him face to face and no more books were necessary.

15110901_221087181649703_7917039115661628657_oTo knowledge we are told to add, “self control”: I’ve no doubt that Richard got cross or upset sometimes, but in the 11 years I knew him I never saw it. I never saw him lose it, or fly off the handle, or gossip or back bite or complain or get angry or bitter. That’s a serious level of self control – and it’s not as if he never faced any disappointments!

Ask him how he was and he would say, “I’m good”. Even when he was dying of cancer and I thought that maybe now he might be forgiven for a few grumbles, he would just say,

“I can’t complain; God is good!”

Then it says, “add … to self-control, perseverance”: I saw Richard persevere when his house in Hove refused to sell for two years. Believing God had told them to move, he persevered. I saw him persevere when Wendy battled breast cancer. I saw him persevere though the challenges of church life. And we all saw him persevere through his illness, only reluctantly stepping back from his many serving roles when Wendy insisted!

“To perseverance” we are told to add, “godliness”: As someone said on Facebook, “Richard was an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord”. And someone else said, “He brought faith and fun together in a natural way”. I’m not sure there are any better definitions of godliness than those two.

To godliness we are told to add “mutual affection”, or as other translations say it, “brotherly affection”: Many of us benefitted from Richard’s affectionate nature; the love he showed to his brothers and sisters in Christ.We see it y in the way he served in so many areas: setting up events, leading small groups, his travels to India, his commitment to leadership and his acts of service and generosity. Richard exuded brotherly affection.

15095030_1281942981827381_953735968216780002_nAnd finally, to “brotherly affection” we are told to add “love”: The type of love it refers to here can be summed in one phrase: self sacrifice. This is a love based not on feelings but on a decision; a love that chooses to prefer others and put them first. And Richard showed that so well: in marriage, in parenting, in friendships and in church life too.

A high calling

What an incredible list and what a high calling, and Richard embodied it well. The passage finishes with this: “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And Richard was anything but ineffective and unproductive! What a faithful servant! What a life! No wonder he was such an inspiration to so many!

The source of it all

So what was it that made Richard such an inspiration? What motivated him? What shaped him? Was he just a naturally good person?

Without being rude or disrespectful, the answer is no! If Richard had been willing to acknowledge that he had these qualities at all, he would have been clear that the source of them was not found in his own natural character or goodness. These qualities were not inborn; they came from his relationship with Jesus Christ.

They came from being born again!

Despite all his natural good qualities, and they were many, as a young man Richard came to realise that he was a sinner and that he needed forgiveness and mercy from God … and in Jesus he found the source of an eternal forgiveness and mercy.

The Bible puts it like this in John 3v16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life”

Richard knew this to be true. He believed that Jesus was the son of God. That he came from heaven to earth, born as a baby. He believed that Jesus lived a sinless life, and that he died on the cross in our place, to pay the price for our sin. He believed that Jesus was punished in our place on the cross. Crucified, dead and buried, and then three days later Jesus rose to life again. That was the basis of his faith.

No fool

398822_2708099735376_825295775_nNow Richard was no fool. He was a policeman for 28 years. He was used to looking at evidence. He didn’t let people put one over on him easily. He had some gruesome stories of dead bodies too that he used to roll out from time to time to make people like me squirm. Richard was no fool.

Yet Richard believe that this one man, Jesus, had done something that no one else in all history had ever done: he had risen from the dead. And the implications of that fact, carefully considered and researched by Police Inspector Owen, changed his whole life.

Richard knew that through Jesus we can each find forgiveness and mercy and be made right with God again. And on believing that message  Richard put his faith in Jesus and followed him. And I know that Richard would want each of us to do the same.

Jesus changes everything

When you put your faith in Jesus it changes everything. Jesus is the source of the good that we saw in Richard:  faith, goodness, knowledge,  self control,  perseverance,  godliness, brotherly affection, love … all these things find their source in Jesus.

When we put our faith in him, he not only makes us right with God, he not only forgives our sin and promises us eternal life, he also starts to change our lives and make us into the people we were created to be.

Real evidence

Perhaps the real evidence of the truth behind Richard’s faith in Jesus, the evidence that we should all pause to consider, is the righteous life that Richard lived as a result of his faith. This was not the result of human effort; it was the result of God at work in Richard’s life.

So we thank God for Richard

We thank God for his example. We thank God for his life. And most of all we thank God for the eternal life that he now enjoys through his faith in Christ, a life that is available to each of us by faith too.

Faith was the first quality on that list for a reason; it all starts with faith … and maybe now is a moment for us to put your faith in Jesus too, perhaps for the first time or perhaps to reaffirm our own faith again.

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Walking on water – stopping the traffic

(WARNING: some of this blog’s content could be upsetting)

Inspired by “Life”

One of the things Jo and I were most inspired by during our recent trip to India was meeting Keith and Ramona, who run the Chaiim Foundation in Mumbai. Chaiim works to restore victims of human sex trafficking and to reinstate them to live a full life again. They provide hope by teaching life skills and offering vocational training, education, housing, counselling and spiritual development to victims.

keith-n-ramona-chaiimKeith, who started out as a businessman in Mumbai, had a change of direction after God spoke to him – and I do mean that God spoke to him. It happened during a visit to one of the very under resourced, government run homes that are intended to tackle this issue within India. These homes are very overcrowded and under resourced, often with nearly 200 girls living in a space designed for 50. Some are in such a poor state that the girls can even feel life is worse than before they were ‘rescued’.

During a visit to one of these homes Keith heard an audible voice say to him,

“Keith, get out of your boat. “

He turned to see who had spoken but there was no one there. And then the voice spoke again, “Keith, get out of your boat”.

It sounds very dramatic – a call to step out and to ‘walk on water’ – and talking to Keith he said that this moment shook his life’s foundations. After some internal struggles, and facing the fear of the unknown, Keith and Romana chose to obey God. They knew God was calling them to take action and it has changed everything.

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Before Chaiim was set up Keith had become aware of a young girl – 12 years of age – who had been trafficked, and he had wanted to help her. When he located her, in a government  home, she seemed unwilling to speak to him. Wondering if this was because he was a man, he asked about it. He was told that she had been beaten so badly by her ‘pimp’ that her jaw had been shattered and her teeth had ripped through her tongue leaving her completely unable to speak.

Keith left the home determined to help. He did some research and preparation and then returned to the home. On arriving they found that the girl was no longer there. They were told she had ‘gone home’. Enquiring into this further they were given some more information by the home manager: “I am sorry sir. Sadly this girl has now expired”. This young girl,  just 12 years of age, died before Keith and Ramona could help.

Devastated at not having been able to help in time, God spoke again, “There are many other girls like this, and I want you to help them.”

Out of this calling Chaiim, which means “life”, was born.

It has been a huge journey of faith for Keith and Ramona, learning to trust God as they have pursued this ‘out of the boat’ calling. The results are fantastic to witness.

During our visit we saw how some girls were being taught to make clothes as a vocational skill. The clothes made in this way, which are of high quality, are then sold through an ethical clothing company in Germany.

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The profits Chaiim makes from this provide a portion of their funding (the rest comes from donations – all from people in India)

Chaiim have now helped many victims of sex trafficking. Keith and Ramona’s love for Christ, and that of their team, has transformed lives. When we were with them Ramona was working out what to do in response to being asked to take in four girls from the government home, when they only had space to take in two. They were also delighted at having seen one of their girls recently get married – a total transformation.

This work is not without challenges and risks. This photo of the girls making clothing was carefully taken by Keith so that it didn’t show any of the trafficked girls faces, something that could put them at risk.

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Chaiim is a great example of faith in action.

Keith and Ramona’s example also provokes some questions that we should consider:

What is God calling you to do to make a difference?

How is he calling you to get out of the boat?

And one more thing to remember:

Sex Trafficking is not unique to India

It’s a worldwide issue, affecting even the UK. In fact it turns that the United Kingdom is one of the most prominent destination countries for people to be trafficked to in Europe.

So, before you click on a link to view some “harmless” pornography, stop and think.

Remember the story of that 12 year old girl. Remember that she represents many other victims, of all ages, all over the world. Her story is not unusual.

Please look at these links … here … and here for more information on the link between human trafficking and pornography – it’s truly shocking. Please educate yourself on this. And remember, even an apparently ‘free’ site provides funding to this industry, via advertisers, when you click on it.

It turns out it’s not so harmless after all.

To find out more about Chaiim check out their website here or their latest newsletter here

If you want to see their clothes for sale then the link is here

And you want to find out more about human trafficking you could start here

Wall Building Heroes of the Week: John and Mollie Oldfield

In this blog I’m giving you a chance to honour some great leaders in a tangible way, so please read on to the end to find out how.

My Privilege

As the Lead Elder here at Grace Church I am privileged to work alongside a high quality group of leaders at all levels: worship leaders, site leaders and leaders in all of our different ministries – there far too many to list them all – you know who you are!

The team I personally spend the most time with is our eldership team – a group of men for whom I am so grateful. This group, who oversee the life of our church, set the vision and bring pastoral care and direction, are a joy to serve with.

Changes are afoot

Those who were with us at our Prayer and Vision night on Wednesday will know already that, among other things, we had a mix of stepping up and stepping down on that evening:

  • Simon Taylor stepped up to join the site team for Bognor Regis
  • Greg Bell and Jez Cooper stepped up to join the Midhurst site team
  • and we announced that John Oldfield has decided that the time has come for him to retire from eldership

Honouring a fantastic couple

John and Mollie have been huge blessing to us – personally and as a church – since they arrived at Grace Church back in 2013, serving in so many ways and bringing blessing to so many. The good news is that they are not moving on, they will still be living here and serving the church:24410_103853996323857_7087165_n

  • John will remain on the Bognor Regis Site team
  • They will still be looking after the Life Groups in Bognor
  • They will still do much of the pastoral work that blesses so many
  • They will still be involved in mentoring some of the younger couples in the church
  • And we will still hear John preach from time to time

However John has decided that, before he hits his 75th birthday (what a shining example of faithfulness!), the time has now come to lay aside the eldership role. We want to thank and bless him for all he has done, and to thank Mollie for all that she has contributed too.

Honouring this couple

Those who don’t know John and Mollie well may not realise the huge variety of things they have done in the past. They have served God and the Great Commission in many ways, including:

  • Church planting in India
  • Being the lead elder at a church in Dartford
  • Being the lead elder at a church in Chatham
  • Leading mission work and teams in Yemen
  • And, of course, helping us establish a congregation in Bognor Regis

This is a couple who are a great example and deserve to be honoured by us all … and here are three tangible ways we can each do that:

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1. Keep listening to them

Although John may be stepping down from eldership, this couple still radiate a passion for God and His church, and they carry a huge wealth of experience. Please keep pressing in to learn from this couple.

2. Say “Thank You”

We are all grateful to this couple, and because they are still here and serving it could be easy to forget to say, “Thank you”. Please don’t just assume they know you are grateful … tell them. This moment, when John is significantly changing his role, is a great chance to show them your love and appreciation.

3. Help them on their way to India

We will soon be waving them off on a six week trip to India, to visit some new places and to revisit some of the people and the works they were so involved with. Commission has a lot going on in India, and John and Mollie were a foundational part of that for many years. They are so well loved over in India, that everywhere I go there people ask if I know them and how they are!

Because of their health, and because we love them and want to honour them, there is a small thing we want to do for them as they go – something we can all do together:

let’s send them business class.

This will really help them to make the most of the trip, and to start and end it well (it’s a long and tiring journey!), so we are inviting anyone who wants to show their thanks to give financially towards this. Anything over and above this will also be passed on to John and Mollie.

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If you feel inspired to say thank you to them in this way, please give it via Grace Church in the usual ways and mark it clearly so we know what it is. (And if you’re not part of our church and you’ve been blessed by John and Mollie and you also want to give to this, you can do it via our website here – and please send us a message so we know who you are and what it’s for)

Finally – be inspired by scripture

1 Timothy 5:17 says this,

“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour”

here is a great chance for us all to put that into practice.

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.

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!