Summer mission in Plymouth
This year a group of young people from Buckinghamshire came to urban, inner city Plymouth for a mission week. Marianne Holt, youth worker at Broadway Baptist Church in Chesham and Michael Shaw, minister of Devonport Baptist Church in Plymouth, explain how two very different churches worked together for mission
How it came about
Marianne: Two years ago our church sent a youth team to Moldova with Mission Direct. It was fantastic and the teenagers got a real feel for mission. So when they asked if we could go somewhere in the summer of 2017 we began to pray and seek out where God might want to send us.
For several months I contacted mission organisations, but as I wanted to take teenagers as young as 13 (start ‘em young I say!) our options were limited and step by step, prayer by prayer it became clear that God was asking us to think differently.
Our church minister sent out some emails to ask if there were any churches that might like to borrow a youth group and things fell into place. The youth group got so excited and the whole idea just felt right - inspired by and infused with God!
Michael: We were approached by our regional minister Carl Smethurst as to whether we would be able to take a team of young people over the summer. We are a small urban church with limited resources, so while I knew there would be some logistical difficulties, I also felt the opportunity was too big to refuse.
So I created a basic plan for the week and sent it to Marianne to see if the activities would be appropriate.
Marianne: We raised a lot of money for our last mission but this time we wanted to cover our costs so that the churches we were going to serve wouldn’t have to sacrifice too much, and we could eat, sleep and give money as needed.
We were a decent sized group with some very young members so I knew it would be hard for churches to host, but I also believed that God had called us to do this and he had it in hand. Some of the teenagers raised their money, some parents paid and we were also supported by the mission committee at our church and several of our church members.
Almost all the members of the youth group came to one or other (or both!) of the mission weeks and being in the UK gave us a bit more flexibility. The two weeks we were doing were very different and that meant I could plan who might suit each week as well as separate some siblings. We were willing to try anything the churches asked us to do.
Michael: The key things we had to get in place were accommodation and food: we do not have a lot of spare rooms in our church, so we had to think more laterally. While talking with Ruth Sayers, a local CMS mission worker, she mentioned a hostel owned by a local lady from one of the Anglican churches. I asked her to inquire and as it was free we booked it straight away.
The other big issue was food. I asked a local chef who has helped us in the past and who works at the local homeless shelter about whether he could help provide lunches. It was a no hesitation 'yes' and he agreed to do it for free at first (but we felt we should give him some money for costs anyway).
While the plan was good, we did have a few issues: our plan for a fun day was scuppered by the venue pulling out, but we found other things to fill our time, including a local pub that was having its own fun day and needing a face painting team!
I did a walk around with a locally-based youth worker at each venue to assess health and safety risks, and that opened my eyes to so many other possibilities. Rather than being a chore, it actually created opportunities.
Michael: We tried to mix fun with hard work, so while we did get lots done, we also included a beach day, a zoo trip and a shopping afternoon.
But other than that, there were lots of activities we managed to do during the week. We had several trips to a local retirement home (one scheduled – the rest because the team and the residents enjoyed it), we tried out a Youth Café at a local café, we yarn bombed the local high street with pom poms and we painted a mural on a wall in a house the church uses. So many great activities and the team were so positive and energetic, it was brilliant!
Marianne: It was fascinating to see how another church so different from our home church worked. The teenagers were pushed out of their comfort zones and had to just step up in ways that surprised us all.
They loved having some time off and time together, they fell in love with another church and have talked about it a lot since we got back. I’m often proud of my bunch of teenagers, but I was extra proud of the way they did things that they would not have had the confidence or opportunity to do at home.
Michael: The energy of the team was infectious and a real boost to the church. One of the residents at the local hostel has asked to be baptised. The service at the retirement home has doubled in number. The Youth Café made connections that we are hoping will turn it into a regular activity.
All in all, it was hard work but so worth it. We were so sad to wave the team goodbye.
Marianne: Once we recovered we led a feedback evening service for our own church, sharing the things we did and learnt, and the things we believed God showed us to bring back home. So often churches can get stuck in a comfortable rut and the mission really opened our eyes to new ideas and inspiration.
We’re going to be leading a morning service before Christmas and are trying out a whole load of new ideas. We also want to maintain contacts with the churches we visited; we have a photo wall up all about our adventures; and four of the youth group are now getting baptised as well, which is cause for celebration.
Michael: This was such a positive week for us as a church. We would love to do this type of thing again, it made such an impact on us and on the community around us!
Marianne: At first I was worried that the youth group would be disappointed by the lack of “glamour” in a UK mission - I mean, they were thinking suntans, elephants and unusual food, and instead we got rain and takeaway chips! But, seriously, God sent us and God knows best. It’s made a lasting impact on each and every person to went on our mission and that’s exciting.
A huge thank you to everyone who took a risk on a mystery bunch of teenagers.
If your church would be interested in doing a similar week South West Baptist Association would like to hear from you: https://swbaptists.org.uk/mission/mission-opportunities/