Be the change – Why I am involved with Ella’s Home

ELLASHOME(share)A few years ago I came across the charity ‘Stop the traffik’ who raised my awareness of the issue of human trafficking.

To think that the poor and vulnerable in society are being deceived or taken against their will, bought, sold and transported into slavery. For sexual exploitation, forced begging, sacrificial worship or removal of human organs, as child brides or into sweat shops, circuses, farm labour and domestic servitude. Is in my opinion, one, if not the greatest crime against humanity.

But like so many other crimes against humanity I feel hopeless as an individual to do anything about them, they are so big, so complex for me to do anything about. To ease my sense of hopelessness I sign a petition to join my voice with others to declare “Stop the atrocity of modern day slavery”.

Having signed the petition my conscience is eased, I have made my contribution to the cause. Now, its up to the government to sort this out. If nothing changes it is not my fault by signing the petition the ball is no longer on my side of the court!

A few years later I met Emily in Kahaila cafe (An amazing place) and heard Emily’s  story and some stories of women who have been sexually exploited, including Ella’s story. What I heard during that conversation moved me so deeply that I knew I could not carry on as if everything is good in the world. My conscience was no longer appeased by having signed a petition. The ball may no longer be on my side of the court, but I am fooling myself if I expect a return hit from government on this, they have their own game and their own rules. So, I am picking up the ball and walking off the court to play my own game!

People often like to quote the words of Mahatma Gandhi “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

It’s not just these words that made Gandhi a remarkable human being, it’s that he lived these words in extreme adversity that makes him one of the most respected people in modern history.

What is the change that you wish to see? Are you willing to be that change?

If you want to see a change for victims of human trafficking then consider how you can be that change. Join us in raising the funds to begin renting homes for vulnerable women and setting up exciting employment opportunities.

Donate at http://www.charitycheckout.co.uk/1138653/Ellashome

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All good things…

Since January 3rd, I have started each day thinking “today is the day we will sign the lease.” People would ask, “Paul, have you signed the lease?” and my response was always, “not yet! but by the end of this week…” As the weeks turned into months, my sanity turned to insanity. Parts of my blonde hair turned silver. It’s not that I was doubting that it would happen, but at times you do get paranoid that others are thinking that it won’t. For which I don’t blame them as they repeatedly get my response of a fake smile concealing my frustration and the same answer, “by the end of the week…” They were probably thinking I was losing it!

Along with a sense of paranoia, I was imagining all the ways that I could speed up the solicitor. I had visions of getting our team to pitch-up tents outside his office until he did his job. Shouting, “do your job, you lazy…!” But perhaps that would have been a bit extreme, plus I don’t like camping!

Nevertheless, as the weeks and months passed, finally the lease was signed by both parties on the 6th March. Hallelujah!!

Reflecting back on it I am not sure why it took so long. It’s crazy to me that it took Nehemiah 52 days to rebuild the whole city wall of Jerusalem and it took the solicitor 158 days to draw up a contract ready to sign when we agreed terms back in October. But what intrigues me more is that we signed the lease on the 6th March 2012 and our very first Sunday was 6th March 2011. I am not sure if there is anything spiritually significant in that, but there is something about God and his perfect timing. In a similar way, the very first Baptist church in the UK was planted in Spitalfields in 1612 and exactly 400 years later we are planting a Baptist church in the same area.

If some people ask, “So what?” my response would be “I’m not sure!”

But it does encourage me to think that God is interested in the detail as well as the big picture. This is also true on a relational level. God is interested in the detail, that is my life! This is a credible reason for why God has made me wait, using this time to develop me, to reveal more of himself to me. I know that is the outcome of the wait.

Thank you Lord.

Where there’s a problem, there’s provision

This phrase was something one of the praying ladies said to me while I was on prayer retreat recently. In response I thought to myself, ‘I like that and perhaps one day, when I have a greater following on twitter, I might tweet that, but for now I will just hold onto it.’

So then, within a week, I met with an architect and project manager to look at the work that we need to get done to the property, and as the conversation went on I got more and more overwhelmed. It seemed I needed a different engineer for this and a different engineer for that. I did not realise that so many engineers existed! I thought about telling them my engineer joke to lighten the mood. The one when you say ‘what’s this?’ as you twist your ear and go vroom vroom. ‘An engine ear.’ But I thought these guys seemed too serious.

Then when they told me I would need a specific engineer just to come and measure the walls I thought, ‘come on, you cannot be serious, give me a tape measure and I’ll do it myself. In fact I could go down to B&Q, buy one of those fancy red laser gadgets and do the job a great deal cheaper.’ So I came away wondering how we could afford all these professionals? But then I held onto the phrase above and the truth that where there is a problem there is God’s provision, so I gave it to Him!

On the Monday of the next week I then spoke with a man who had volunteered his services as a structural engineer and surveyor to come and look at the property. As our conversation continued it transpired that not only was he going to do all of this work for free, as what he called “a love gift,” he would also be able to utilise his vast experience to draw some architectural drawings for the design of the cafe. How amazing!

So please remember this, where there is a problem this is always provision. I love the fact that my God is able to do far more than I could ever possibly ask or imagine. In fact, I can’t wait for the next problem!

A lesson in love

Yesterday I found out that our offer on a different property has fallen through as the owner has changed his mind about leasing it out.

I resisted the urge to pull out all of my hair, stamp my feet and roll on the floor kicking and screaming. Partly, because I was in Ikea when I received the news, in the section with all of the glasses, and did not want to hurt myself as I have a low pain thresh hold.  Perhaps I should have sat in a Poang and rocked my frustration away. Although even then I could have been taken away in a white jacket and put in a padded cell. Enough! I am getting carried away with my thoughts of how to work out my frustrations in Ikea.

But the reality of my situation was that I was feeling frustrated, after more then 6 months we are still no closer to securing a property than when we first began. As always in these times, questions of doubt come in and you begin to think, ‘God, what is wrong with you? Do you not care what this is doing to me? Do you not care that loads of people are watching, and it’s okay if this succeeds because people will say “Praise God,” but if it does not all people will say is “That Paul Unsworth messed it up!” Do you not realise that people are watching our progress and that some of them have donated generously? So come on God, provide a property, anyone will do, just something.’

The above is a dramatised version of my thoughts; nevertheless some of these thoughts do exist.

 

 

Thankfully, God never leaves you hanging over the pit of despair for long. Instead he used this situation to teach me about his character of love.

You see, if I understand God to be a God of love, then I have to trust that as an expression of his love he will never give me second best. He is simply unable to, it’s just not his nature. So the fact that this particular property has fallen through is not a reason to doubt God, it becomes the reason to trust that God ultimately has something better in store, because his love guarantees that he can only give me the best.

So if you are in a place of frustration because God is seemingly doing nothing other than closing doors to the desires of your hearts, then know that his love for you means that he can only ever give you the best, so be patient, trusting that ultimately he is in control.

(I started this post several weeks ago and in this time God has opened the door to a property that is in the perfect location and is by far the best property for us as we start. So I am grateful that God sometimes withholds what I want and gives me what he has for me.)

 

Managing Expectations

We go through life with expectations; strong beliefs that certain things will happen. It could be getting married, having children or buying your own home. It could be that we have an expectation of free health care and education for all.

But we can’t always control what happens, and so life doesn’t always live up to our expectations.  So how do we manage our expectations when they are no longer being met?

With riots spreading uncontrollably throughout London and the UK we start to seriously question the tactics of our Police and government.  They’re failing to meet the expectations we place on them to maintain peace and order.  The media have had a field day suggesting extreme tactics like bringing in the British Army.

This has been a challenge for us lately, we’re now 6 months in to the church plant and our expectations have not been met. I thought that by now we would have had a premises, I thought by now we would have a great coffee shop running, that we’d be really effective in serving the community and that the church would be growing. However we find ourselves still waiting to secure a premises, and even if we are successful this month it is unlikely we will be in a position to open until December or the new year. Arghhh!

I could look at this and seek to blame someone. “God its you! You gave me this vision and you gave me these expectations and now you’re failing to meet them. So I question you and I question your tactics; I’m going to call in the Army!”

In other words we doubt God and we begin to think of different strategies in order to have our expectations fulfilled. However this is a colossal mistake. When things don’t go according to our expectations, our response as Christians should not be to panic or to question, neither should it be the time to try and assume control and make things happen the way we want them to. Instead our response should be to wait patiently, to be at peace, and to keep trusting – trusting that he who has promised will be faithful.

In the past 6 months, there have been times when I have panicked because things have not gone according to my plans.  I’ve questioned whether I’m doing the right thing and whether I should just throw in the towel and go and get a different ministerial position. But then I take time to be with God and I find the peace that surpasses understanding. I discover that the last 6 months have not been wasted. I can see how God has been at work in me and those around me. I can understand that in this time God is teaching me things that if I had been busy setting up the cafe I would not have learnt.

So the bottom line is, I am learning to manage my expectations. I am learning what I want to happen is not important because actually, it is what God wants to happen that is of paramount importance. So the best way to manage my expectations is to surrender them and to follow Him, and I encourage you to do the same.

The fourth fruit is growing…but not quick enough!

Do you spot the irony? Now and again I try to be both funny and clever!

Patience is the fourth fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

It also seems to be the learning curve I am on right now, as patience is not one of my greatest strengths. I want everything right away. I suppose it is the product of living in a time where we expect everything to be instant, whether it’s food, internet access or results. So the fact that we are still no closer to securing premises  causes some level of frustration and at times it makes me wonder whether the vision will ever come to fruition. I mean, how can we call ourselves a cafe church when we have no cafe? (Someone suggested that for now perhaps we should be ‘flask church’).

So what am I learning in these times?

In a way I can see the benefit of not having a cafe. We are being forced to think about how we engage with the community of Brick Lane and it has given us some space to set up some new initiatives. It is also forcing us to get out among the people.

I am also learning that this is a great opportunity to ‘be still and know God’. This has taken me a little time to appreciate, as I am a person who likes to ‘do’ rather than to ‘be’, but sometimes I can get so wrapped up in doing things for God that my time of being with God suffers. When this happens I find myself getting impatient and even doubting everything that we are doing. But John 15 :5-7 reminds us that as we remain in him we will bear much fruit and that without him we can do nothing of worth.

So in  this process of waiting I am going to remain in him and wait for him to grow the fruit.

 

 

 

Level up!

I have a confession… I am a gamer! I love playing computer games – playing games is a way that I relax and unwind. If things are stressful at work, it is always great to come home and relax by blowing things up or scoring goals.

But tragically  my my PS3 died a few months ago, which brought an abrupt end to my gaming. Thankfully, Facebook provides some light relief through its online games. But hopefully soon the PS3 will be back in action.

The general point of playing computer games is to get to the next level, because you know when you get to the next level you get more bonuses, or you gain more skill and you also get tougher challenges. Gaming is all about getting to the next level, because it is at the next level you get to see how good you are at a particular game. In fact, fellow gamers judge themselves against each other by the level they have attained in particular games. As soon as you get talking to a person that plays the same game as you, the first question you ask is, “What level are you on?” This is an important question; this is the moment when you discover who is the better, more committed, more experienced gamer.

But why am I telling you this? Well, this morning I had another moment when God woke me up, this time at a reasonable time of 6.30am (thank you, Lord!)

So I asked God in the usual fashion, “God, is there anything you want to say?” In response, I felt him say, “There is always more of me (being God) to experience than you are currently experiencing.”

As I reflected on this, I realised that I had grown in my faith. In gaming terms, I had gone a level up in my faith and in doing so I have seen God do amazing things and provide in amazing ways. But in His provision I have been getting  nervous – I think “Flip! Life Cafe Church is really going to happen”. We now have enough money to enable us to start negotiating on a building – which makes me think, how am I going to do this?

In reaching this new level of faith in God that I need for planting Life, I learn  that I actually need more faith. I realise that both the excitement and the challenge of reaching ‘new levels’ is that you need more of what you originally had in order to go further.

This is why I believe God was saying to me this morning, “There is more of me to experience than what you are currently experiencing.” I believe that God is taking me to new levels that require me to have more faith and a deeper relationship with him.

So what about you? What level are you on and are you ready to go to the next level in your relationship with God?

Remember, there is always more…

Why church planting

I have been listening to Tim Keller’s podcast “Why Church planting?” It is well worth a listen. Essentially, what he says is that,

“planting new churches is the best way to reach a new generation. That it is better than any other kind of outreach, better than any programme… the way to reach a new generation is to plant a church in them, for them, toward them.”

He also says that “Young adults are always disproportionately found in new congregations.”

For these reasons and others Tim Keller believes that all churches should be involved in church planting. Now, I understand that not every church is in the position to plant a church on their own, but there is a way that we can work together to plant chuches. I want to network with churches, organisations and individuals to invest in church planting.  I, like Tim Keller, believe that church planting is the best way for us to reach the new generation. Therefore, I am willing to dedicate my life to serving God by planting churches so that this generation and the ones to come, will always find a church that is accessible to them. What are you willing to give?

None of this is a criticism of the established church, there is and will always be a need for the established church. Tim Keller acknowledges this and points out that often established churches are better equipped for deeper discipleship.

I am passionate about building bridges with the established church so that together we can plant new churches and see this new generation and our city transformed.

“For greater things are yet to come, the greater things are still to be done in this city…”

 

 

 

Thou it tarries, it will not tarry

On Monday, I went on to a prayer retreat to  ‘the praying ladies’. This day is my one true sabbath, a day when I completely retreat from the outside world into the presence of God. I think that if it were not for these days, I would be locked away somewhere in a padded cell.

Anyway, as I was waiting on God I felt led to 1 Corinthians 2: 9-10:

“No eye has seen,
no ear has heard, 
no mind has conceived 
what God has prepared for those who love him.”

but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.

I believe God is saying that in many respects what we are seeking to do in Brick Lane is a new thing that he has revealed to us by His Spirit. This is exciting, and it also enables me to answer the question that I always inevitably face, which is, “Is this happening anywhere else?”  I believe God’s answer to this is, “No!”  – as no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him. I was reminded that not even I, as the person casting the vision, have even begun to conceive of all that God has prepared.

This became apparent the following day. One of our trustees mentioned the vision for a cafe church whilst at a gathering of business people at HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton).  It sparked a great deal of interest which is beginning to open up doors of exciting possibilities (this is all I will say at the moment).

God is doing his thing with this and I am just so grateful that I get to enjoy the ride. But I felt that God was saying more as I rested in his presence. He led me to Isaiah 64, and to two verses in particular:   1) “Oh Lord that you would rend the heavens and come down…  come down to make your name known.”  I understood this as God saying that he is coming to reveal himself in Brick Lane. 2) “O Lord you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” Again, this points to the fact that all this belongs to God and that He will mold Life Cafe Church as a piece of clay into something that will bring Glory to His name.

And finally the word I want to leave with you is the same word that a friend gave to me this week from Habakkuk 2:3 “Thou it tarries, it will not tarry” (KJV), or for the NIV people, “Though it linger wait for it, it will certainly come.” What we are looking to do in Brick Lane is tarrying, but it will not tarry.

 

Supersize me

It happened again… this time I woke up at 4.11 am. I wasn’t sure whether it was God wanting to initiate a conversation with me, or that my mind decided that it was time to start working, or simply that I needed to relieve myself (you didn’t need to know that bit, but I wanted to share it with you!) Anyway, for whatever reason my mind was active when I should have been fast asleep and so therefore I asked the usual question: ‘God is there anything you are trying to say to me?’

And then the phrase “Supersize me” came into my head. Now, I can honestly say that I haven’t been to a McDonalds for a long time and even when I did I never went supersize (honest).  So my only response was to ask God what it meant. It was then that I felt like God was saying that he wanted me to ask for a supersize portion of what he wants to give, that I should not look for a regular portion. So my response was to immediately ask God to supersize me – and  to give me a few side orders as well! Because I want God to use me to do supersized things for Him. So this is my prayer at the moment – that God will continue to supersize me. I suppose it’s a simpler version of Jabez’s prayer:

Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that it not be to my sorrow!

And so the question for you is also, what size portion would you like? How much of what God has to offer do you want?

English: The official logo.

English: The official logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)