I'd like to introduce you to some friends I've made very recently, Josh & Nina Cleaver and their little girl Joni. Their lives were transformed in the most remarkable way when someone invited them to go on an Alpha course.
You can read their story, as told by Nina, below. They've inspired me again to believe that my simple invitation to someone to come and find out more about Jesus can be the gateway to their lives being totally transformed.
Please be thinking about who you can invite to the Alpha Launch event on the 20th September. You just never know what God might do! You can get tickets here, or on Sunday at any of our meetings.
ps If you'd like to get in touch with Josh and Nina, or support them in any way, please contact me and I'll let you have their contact details. I've also encouraged them to do a blog - if they get that up and running I'll post a link to it.
At 24, Josh was working so hard to bring in some money as a guitar teacher, that it was sapping his love of music. I was a new mum, more focused on setting up my practice as a psychological therapist (balanced with a demanding role in the NHS), than I was interested in treasuring time with my tiny daughter. Life was a race, a competition against friends, peers and the rest of the world. We had no higher purpose than to look after ourselves; saving up for a house and the ‘security’ that would come with it, was a huge aspiration. All doom & gloom? No, not at all. We were pretty pleased with ourselves. We had one another, we were talented in our professional spheres and, so as to feel we were also ‘successful in caring’, we would occasionally add a sprinkle of charity fundraising or neighbourliness.
3 years later, at 27 (actually, Josh is only 26, as he never lets me forget), we are Christian missionaries. Having grown up & into the secular materialism of the UK, never having attended church nor being inclined to, this has involved an incredible transformation. In 2011 and 2012, Josh and I attended Alpha courses. God faithfully transformed us both, one after the other, and we fell at His feet like dominoes. It brings tears to my eyes to think of all He has done for us. We have been set free by His love and forgiveness. Only God could have known (because we certainly didn’t realise) how trapped and empty we were before. Very quickly, we dedicated our lives to serve others, as a natural response to realising what Jesus had done for us. Finding a mission placement with CMS (Church Mission Society), we left our careers, sold our stuff and went.
We were unlikely missionaries and indeed Christians, unsuspecting right up until the moment we changed. It’s like God hit the ‘off’ button of the treadmill we were running on; getting no-where but unable to stop for fear of falling down. As unpredicted, was the loving relationship we now have with the church that reached out to us. St. Mary’s church in Langley has become family. We have been loved and mentored by Reverend Robin Grayson and his wife, Juliet. They opened up their home to host the Alpha Course; good food, conversation and hospitality included. Without their outreach, the church itself would have seemed irrelevant to us, with its’ uncomfortable-looking wooden pews (we have grown quite fond of them now) and the traditional hymns we couldn’t understand.
We are convinced that even the smallest, oldest congregations can reach young people in unexpected ways. From our own story, we have learned to be ready to talk about Jesus whenever it feels right and never to rule anyone out. God can grow fruit from seed in all sorts of situations (but not quite as easily - Josh jokes - if the seed is left in the packet!)
I write today from All Nations College in Hertfordshire where we are de-briefing from our first year of mission in Nepal. God has used every experience we had there, working with a church in a slum community and with women and children who have faced jaw-dropping hardships, to shape us. Challenges were many; the collapse of plans and placements, exchanging our possessions for welts as we were ravaged by a mite infestation, homelessness, sickness, financial insecurity, scepticism & criticism from non-Christians back in the UK. During one very challenging week, Josh joked that God was ‘beating the snot out of us”, or at least, allowing Kathmandu life to. Through being so vulnerable, we truly learned to trust in the Lord and find our comfort in His love for us.
Violins away, though! It was an amazing year, with countless spiritual highs. The church is exploding in Nepal, with more healings & miracles happening every day than it we could process. We were humbled to see congregations and communities glued fast together, not by church traditions and behaviours, but by incredible faith in the work of the Holy Spirit and such a deep love for Jesus, it hurt. Nepali church taught us that if God is worth anything, he is worth everything.
We are preparing to move, this September, to Ukraine. We have felt God beckoning us to serve in the Slavic Nations. We will be joining YWAM in Ternopil (Youth with a Mission) for training and outreach across Ukraine & Russia. YWAM offers refuge for street children and support for youth and families at war with drug and alcohol addictions. They are sharing the gospel in ways that young people can relate to, in places like coffee shops, football grounds and youth camps, as well as working with churches to make youth work engaging and exciting.
We are so thankful for Jesus, for our faith and for this journey we are on.