I live and serve in suburbia and a large national institution provides me with a comfortable life. Almost every activity and ministry I do is required to have a risk assessment. I long to see the power and provision of God….
In March I bumped into my friend Luke Smith, when I mentioned my sabbatical, he asked me to join him for Escape and Pray in the summer, I couldn’t grab an excuse fast enough so I ducked the offer with a promise to pray about it. Within a few hours as I listened to a talk on risk and adventure, the Holy Spirit nudged me and said “If you really want to see me work, then you’ve got to put yourself in places where you depend on me”. I vowed to the Lord that I’d say yes to Luke.
Escape and Pray is a wild initiative run by Fusion an amazing organisation which equips and inspires students and churches in mission together. This June they are sending 333 people in 100 teams, (mostly students) into Europe to pray for a move of God in universities across the continent. Each team is sent a pack plus a date and time to turn up at a certain airport. When they arrive, they open the pack put on their T-shirts and open an envelope to discover where they are heading and their flight tickets. They go with no food and accommodation booked, (just €20 for emergencies) they trust in God to provide.
Luke Smith: works for Fusion, building teams, linking with churches and having creative radical ideas. He’s become a good friend in recent years, including our shared love for sport and sympathy in being ginger.
Dave Tonks: a brilliant Scouse church leader from Chester, who I had never met before Monday, but will be a lifelong friend now.
The team dynamic was a highlight of the trip, great honour and support, easy communication and quality banter. I loved spending time with them both.
Pronounced (Ko-nus) is the second city of Lithuania, population is c.300,000, of which 50,000 are students. The city centre is beautiful, at the intersection of two rivers it has a clean, open, gentle feel to it. Some traditional architecture survived the Soviets and many churches and older buildings too, we walked past many stylish cafes and bars. It is somewhere I’d take Nells back to for a romantic weekend!
We arrived at Luton at 6am on Monday morning and opened the envelope to discover we were heading to Kaunus in Lithuania, to be honest, none of us had ever heard of it!
We filled up with a big breakfast, prayed and set off. (We were constantly praying through the whole trip)
Flight was straightforward and we arrived at the airport, picked up tourist maps and asked the taxi drivers how far it was to walk to the city centre. They laughed at us! We found a good spot to hitch-hike and within a minute a big Audi stopped, the passenger spoke English and they happily took us to the city centre in comfort. (about 20km away and off their route)
We looked around the city, found a prominent church, which was beautiful but no one spoke to us.
We walked down the main street and an old man enthusiastically chatted to us, attaching himself to us as tour guide. He led us to the old town, and disappeared. There we found an Ignatian college, Luke is pursuing the Ignition scripture meditation exercises and we were there for students so we rang the doorbell. We were immediately welcomed in, we explained our story and purpose and asked to meet and pray for the college director. The kind woman who let us in took us upstairs and found some colleagues including the English teacher. We chatted for a while, asking about the college, its Ignatian principles and as we did so, my caffeine addiction kicked in. I simply thought ‘I wonder if they’ll give us some coffee’. Within seconds our host interrupted herself and said “Sorry, we’re standing, come and sit down, would you like some coffee?” They were lovely, and over coffee, water and amazing biscuits gave us insight into the city and directed us to the local Jesuit priest and mass at his church at 5pm.
We turned up for mass a few minutes late and sat through it, not understanding a word, but recognising the structure. At the end the priest disappeared, so we grabbed a young man in the row in front and introduced ourselves. Again we explained our story and why we’d come. He was amazed and said “Wow, these things never happen to me!”
He then phoned his friend Agne and said I’ll take you to meet my friends. We walked across the city square and into a building to find ourselves in the Kaunas Arch-diocese Catholic Youth centre. We met a couple of the staff and some of the students, who used it as a social base a bit like a Chaplaincy.
Their English was amazing, (true for all those under 25 we met) and they invited us in, offering food and drinks.
A group of about 12 students and youth centre staff gathered around and we talked. We discovered that they were passionate for Jesus and shared our taste in worship music and hunger for the Holy Spirit. Ange made a couple of calls and then told us that she’d sorted out accommodation for us in a spare room in a local seminary. After a while someone suggested we worship and pray together.
We went through to an open meeting room, someone opened in a brief liturgical prayer and then we worshipped, all facing the cross, with a guitar and songs with familiar tunes but in Lithuanian. It was spontaneous and passionate worship of Jesus. Luke, Dave and I then offered to pray for each of them, so we went round as they worshipped and laid hands on each on, sharing specific prophetic words for each of them and encouraging them. It was stunning in every way, to see the Holy Spirit impact them and to see their freedom, joy, friendships and desire to know God. Just like earlier in the year in Mumbai, God reminded me that the simplest way to cross cultural barriers is to boldly lay hands on someone’s shoulder, speak out prophetically whatever the Holy Spirit gives me and pray for healing wherever possible.
After that, we were taken out of the city to a retreat house log cabin in the woods, where a team were training and preparing for a children’s camp this summer. We shared our story and then we offered prophesy or prayer for healing to everyone. There were about 20 teenagers and students there (and a Nun) and they all came forward to be prayed for. We prophesied, prayed for personal needs and for healing. One 17yr old lad who had lung problems (asthma, I think) said he felt extreme heat in his lungs as I prayed for him and then they felt very clear and breathing easier. The Nun was so humble and hungry for God and asked me to pray for healing for her too.
We were buzzing!
We played silly games with them late into the evening and then returned to Kaunus and taken to the empty seminary building, where beds had been made up, we had our own kitchen, bathroom and they gave us food for breakfast and the next day. From our window we looked straight onto Kaunas’s Medieval fort.
Before God acts, all we have is trust. As we flew there, I trusted God would provide, but I had no idea how and I had a whole bunch of fears about worse case scenarios. Underneath each of those fears was a lie about the character of God. One of those fears for me was that God would provide for other teams, but not us. I had to recognise and let go of a bunch of lies: That we didn’t matter to God, that we didn’t have enough faith and that it depended on us and that God might make it hard for us to teach us a lesson.
As the day unravelled those fears and lies shrank and disappeared, to be replaced by faith and joy. This side of the story, the whole thing seems so natural, it was so easy and God so kindly placed it all together
God had us totally available, because we were dependent upon him. So he took us somewhere we’d never have planned to go, and took us to a group of people whom he wanted to encourage. This trip wasn’t just for us, it was for Kaunas, for a community of young disciples of Jesus, to see that God is real and that they matter to him.
More to follow…