Return to Azerbaijan

I recently returned from a visit to Azerbaijan, a country that is very close to my heart, having lived there for 6 years from 2007 to 2013   

‘Where?’ You might ask.  Azerbaijan is a small former Soviet state which geographically can be found at a crossroads between Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East.  Local people face many challenges. Despite wealth pouring in from oil, services are poor and there is high unemployment. But there is a great spirit and recently the nation has been put more clearly on the world map through hosting the Grand Prix, and very recently the Europa Cup final between Chelsea and Arsenal.

It is nominally Muslim but many people have never read the Qu’ran or visited a mosque and a relatively small proportion appear to fast at Ramadan.  It is very different from the more conservative culture of the Pakistani Muslims I have come to know and love in Luton.   

The three-week trip involved visiting very special Azerbaijani friends in three different places. My aim was partly to encourage some of the believers through prayer and visiting. To this effect, I spent time in the capital with a family who are making connections with students through English teaching, a young couple who are reaching out to local families in an area in the south of Azerbaijan where there is no known church and then spent a number of days in Ganja – the town where I used to live. I was able to spend time with an amazing couple who have been leading a small fellowship for a number of years through times of significant hardship. They are desperate for people to come alongside them and support them and yet they always have encouragements to share. New families have joined us recently, they told me and they are hoping to re-start the children’s work that I used to lead. 

One of the main purposes of my trip was to connect with my former colleagues.  When I lived in Azerbaijan 6 years ago, I was teaching and training local teachers at a small international school. It was encouraging for me to see how warmly they remember it, how much they appreciated those days when we worked together and how much the teachers felt they had learnt despite the fact that we were targeted many times by local authorities resulting in the school being closed down twice. I met and talked with former students who were now completing high school or at university.  

Perhaps my most encouraging encounter was with a girl (Fatima) whose mum had brought her to a children’s home as a baby, having been rejected by her family.  The mother was found by foreign believers who took her in and eventually she became a cleaner at my former workplace and a regular member of a local fellowship. On one occasion this Christian group was raided by police, Fatima was called by the authorities of the school she attended and told that she would never pass any exams if she choose to associate with Christians.   She is now at university in the capital and a leader with the local student outreach. I spent a lovely afternoon with her listening to all that she was currently involved in and hearing her talk enthusiastically about her future.

I am hoping now to be able to visit this country at least once a year. It is a place where I feel I have something small to give but more than that going back to this beautiful place gives me an insight to some of the wonderful things that God is doing in a very different culture and I always come back greatly encouraged in my spirit.

 

 

Written by Shirley Weston

The Importance of Prayer

posted in: Prayer, Tony Thompson 0

I am increasingly being challenged by God about the importance of prayer. This is something that has been going on for many years, not just a recent thing. When I was preparing to lead a church for the first time, around 25 years ago, I was challenged that my personal prayer life. I realised it was not strong enough to sustain a church. I spent months reading about prayer and seeking to rebuild my prayer life.

The last few years has found God speaking to me again about the importance of prayer, that I should pray more but also about what and how I pray. In a recent sermon, Here is your God, I spoke about God challenging me to look to God more and my problems less. (You can listen to the sermon here http://www.hopechurch.co.uk/sermons-3/?sermon_id=175.)

I have also been drawn to the prayer of the early Christians recorded in Acts 4, which models something similar.

The believers pray

23 On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. ‘Sovereign Lord,’ they said, ‘you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

‘“Why do the nations rage
    and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth rise up
    and the rulers band together
against the Lord
    and against his anointed one. 

27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. 29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’

31 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

I am reminded of the importance of filling my mind with the greatness of God, “Sovereign Lord”, before “considering their threats”. Reminding ourselves of all that God has done, and how relatively insignificant the nations are, how men may plot but God is in control. Catching sight of God changes the content of my prayers.

We too face many threats, this passage encourages us to pray, filling our minds with who God is and what he has done and then bringing those threats to our all-powerful God. The passage also points to our need to be doing this both as individuals and as a church.

Over the Summer can I therefore encourage you to pray, to give some attention to your personal prayer life! We will be republishing a series of blogs on prayer to encourage you in this. In the Autumn we will be announcing new opportunities for us to gather together as a body to pray, I do hope you will make every effort to join us in this.

 

Blogs on Prayer (click to read):

Tony’s Experience of Personal Prayer

The wise man built his house upon the rock

Keep Calm & Pray

New Year, New Adventures, Prayer Required! Part 1

New Year, New Adventures, Prayer Required! Part 2

Written by Tony Thompson

Good News To The Community!

posted in: Hope Church, Luton 0

Good News to the Community (GNTC) is the work we do at Hope Church to reach out and bring hope to those who live in open despair. We see GNTC as a doorway into church for those in our society who may otherwise never walk into a church building. It encompasses the work that we do alongside those in our community and it incorporates areas like Open House and the 4pm service; where we seek to welcome, befriend and share the gospel with those from our local community.

 

The Bible is very clear about God’s heart of compassion and mercy for those in need, for example, Matthew 25:31-46

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

 

I’d like to leave you with some provocative thoughts from the book ‘The Myth of the Undeserving Poor’ by Natalie Anderson and Martin Charlesworth

“Jesus came to bring good news to the poor. He wasn’t ashamed to associate with people who were in desperate need; in fact, those on the margins of society – shunned beggars, ‘unclean’ lepers, shamed prostitutes and despised tax collectors – seemed to be attracted by him and comfortable around him.  Jesus valued everyone he met, regardless of their status, wealth, health or faith.

He saw beyond reputations and stigma, recognising in every human life the image of God. Jesus called (and still calls) his disciples to do likewise, but how much are Christians shaped by political narratives rather than God’s narrative over a person? Is our behaviour towards particular groups of people influenced more by our culture or by our God?  Are our attitudes shaped by the headlines we read in our newspapers or the verses we read in the Bible?”

 

How can you get involved?

  • Pray for our work through GNTC
  • Volunteer at Open House, Monday, Wednesday or Saturday.
  • Take the time to chat to someone different to you on a Sunday morning

 

Written by Linda Geevanathan

Holiday Club Superheroes Assemble!

posted in: Events, Hope Church, Luton 0

I had the pleasure of being a Holiday Club helper, both in the month leading up to, and on the day of the 29th May. The theme was superhero’s and followed the adventures of Elijah. I was warmly incorporated into the development, collaboration of ideas and creativity were welcomed, and together the plan for the day took shape. The lead up saw lots of creating, constructing, and organising. Nonetheless, this was done in good-spirit and humility by the team, and the weeks flew by in anticipation.

On the day it was all systems go from the 10.30am start. As the doors were opened, masses of parents and children 4-11 years came through to sign in.  The kids were met with a bounty of opening activities: crafting superhero wristbands, playing tug of war, limbo, and other games. Most were enthusiastically kitted out in their favourite superhero costumes, and even some of the adults got in on the fun!

Throughout the morning, children were invited into the world of superhero’s and dimension/time travelling Chair. This was through props, videos, and puppets. Everyone’s favourite puppet villain ‘Red Kev’ made his appearance, as he taunted his new evil plans to be foiled!

We were then treated to a live drama, showcasing the story of Elijah and the Prophets of Baal, and with interactive effects to bring the story to life. To test what they remembered, the children began an exciting team obstacle course full of foam, running, and answering quiz questions on the story. This was a lot of fun and encouraging to see so many remembering key information. This was followed by story-related crafts, games, and lunch.

The activities continued in the afternoon, with part 2 of the Elijah story and hearing God in the whisper rather than the wind, fire or earthquake. This transitioned into a team maze quiz challenge, and then an array of crafts and games, tailored between 3 age groups. Making T-shirts and going through a swamp obstacle course, using gym equipment, were favourites of the kids; the latter a fun challenge for the adults!

Reflection

Having seen the effort and care is taken by the team to imagine, plan, construct, buy, cook, pray and assemble these activities, it is rewarding to see it come together. It is heart-warming to see multitudes of children enjoying themselves, and for the ethos to be rooted in the principles of God’s great love and power.

It is an amazing blessing and opportunity for many unchurched children, and friends in the Muslim community, to feel comfortable and welcomed at a Bible-based event; whilst having an enjoyable time.

Every member of the team, and those who stand in prayer, are to be commended for their commitment and enthusiasm. It takes a lot of input to allow each holiday club to thrive, however, by the favour of God, this has been provided. Please continue to pray for the work of Holiday Club, and if you would like to be a part, do get in contact – we would love to hear from you!

 

Click here to find out more on our Hope Holiday Club page

First Year of Understanding Islam

We are coming to the end of our first years training on “Understanding Islam”. Around 20 people from across the country have gathered to learn more about Islam to enable them to be more effective reaching out to their Muslim neighbours in our multi-cultural nation.

They have received teaching from Muslims from different backgrounds, Imams and lay people as well as from Christians with vast experience of working with Muslims in this nation and overseas.

Those who attended said they found the following particularly helpful.

  • How Muslims feel about being a Muslim in the UK and what life can be like for Muslims.
  • Quran teaching from an Imam
  • Differences of Honour/ shame as opposed to forgiveness/guilt
  • Muslims are as diverse in their understanding of their faith as are Christians.
  • How history has led us to where we are today, understanding the last 100 years of history and politics.
  • The importance of contextualising stories and language.
  • Muslims are interesting people.

Would you like to know more about Islam and Muslims? Do you know other people who would? In which case please consider signing up for next year’s course.

There are 10 Saturday sessions between October and July all held at Hope Church Centre.

Further information is found at www.hopechurch.co.uk/understandingislam

To register an interest or ask any question email: jane@hopechurch.co.uk

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

posted in: Book Reviews, Tony Thompson 1

I rarely read a book twice, however I have just finished rereading The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. You may think it is a curious choice, a book on Moral philosophy by a secular Jew! However, I have found it very helpful and relevant. I therefore want to share and apply some of his thoughts.

One of his premises, backed up by academic research, is described by the picture of us as elephants being ridden by a rider. The elephant represents our intuition, emotions and feelings whilst the rider is our intellect and reasoning. His point is that most of the time we are ruled by our feelings and use our reasoning to justify and reinforce our feelings.

He draws out the implications of this as follows –

We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

…….you can’t change people’s minds by utterly refuting their arguments.

If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own…… talk to the elephant first. If you ask people to believe something that violates their intuitions, they will devote their efforts to finding an escape hatch—a reason to doubt your argument or conclusion. They will almost always succeed.

Having seen the heated debates going on around me regarding the hot political issue of our time, Brexit, I am convinced about the relevance of this. People try to change others minds by reasoning but all that happens is we throw more and more facts at each other and no-one’s minds are changed. We doubt the truth of facts from the other side whilst accepting everything from our side. As Haidt says when we want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Can I believe it?”” In contrast, when we don’t want to believe something, we ask ourselves, “Must I believe it?”

From a political perspective I have concluded that we need to listen to others much more and seek to convince them much less. I don’t see much of this happening, but I am convinced that it is the major need of our day and something that we as Christians should be modelling. It is something I am trying to do.

The application is obviously wider than politics it also applies to evangelising, us seeking to share our perspective on overall truth. Reasoning by itself doesn’t work. We need to listen to others perspective, allow people to get to know us, to like us. Only then will people be willing to listen. We then need to go beyond telling people what the Bible says is right or wrong, we must explain why it is right or wrong.

 

Written by Tony Thompson

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