apologetics, blogging, Canterbury, christ, christianity, England, evangelization, faith, god, IMB, Islam, jay smith, jesus, london, mission trip, muslim, OM, Operation Mobilisation, Oxford, photos, Religion and Spirituality, SBC, Short-term mission, summer missions, testimony, Turning Point, witnessing
After some deliberation, I’ve decided to post some old personal photos and write-up a post concerning them. A couple more posts of a similar fashion and type will probably be forthcoming.
The downside is that these photos were taken with a good old-fashioned 35mm camera… which means I’ve had to dedicate a chunk of time just to scan these particular photos… and my scanner was giving me fits. Certainly, if you’re looking for better quality photos of many of the places I visited you can find them elsewhere online. A great photographer I am not – though my children have been providing me with some great pictures, regardless of my lacking photographic ability.
In the summer of 2001 I went on my first true mission trip. I was 27 and it was overseas in London, England. The basis for it was to learn about Islam and in turn witness to and evangelize muslims. Why London? Because there is a substantial Muslim population in London and a substantial number of Muslims from the Middle East like to vacation in England during the summer. London provides an opportunity for a meeting of East and West.
Let me backtrack a bit further though and give a bit of my personal testimony…
I was raised in a Christian home and became “saved” when I was ten. Through my late teens and early twenties however I lived the life of and was what is commonly referred to as a “backsliden” Christian. I wasn’t a reprobate, but I wasn’t living for the Lord either. I just wanted to do my own thing – which mostly involved being a lazy hermit spending money on comic books.
Anyhow, there were lines I was not willing to cross. While I had put my faith on a shelf and determined to sit on the throne of my life, the morals of my faith and upbringing largely determined my actions and perspectives. I also determined that I wouldn’t go back to church of my accord - outside of “perfunctory” family situations – unless I wanted to go. That is to say I wanted to feel a need, a hunger if you will. A true want.
This came about around two years prior to going to London. I woke up one Sunday morning with an urge to go back to church, to get back into “church”. And so, that’s what I did. I was on the road back up the slide, slowly, and perhaps a bit without true spiritual purpose. And then it happened…
The incident. Paul bore the marks due to living his faith out for Christ. I have marks on my body from “wake-up” calls.
Sometimes, some people have what they call mile-marker events in their lives. Moments that wake them up, or at least affect them deeply. Some respond to it, some do not, some only for a season… sort of like Jesus’ parable of the seeds and the various kinds of ground they land on…
Go back a bit further in time and I suffered a serious medical condition that put me in a hospital for around a month or two. I required a couple of procedures and open chest surgery. I’d had a collapsed lung that turned into a trapped lung. Fun times. Lo and behold, my mother, sitting by my bed one day asked me if I thought God was trying to get my attention. Mothers know – just like they know you’re up to something in the other room specifically because it’s quiet! I brushed her off that time…
In the summer of 2000 I was working for a retail glass company, primarily delivering to regional, smaller retail shops. One “fateful” morning, I was carrying a sheet (3 ft. x 8 ft.) of 1/8 ” plate-glass as I had so often done when before my eyes it cracked in half. One piece swung down and hit my leg, impaling it. I’ll save you the gory details, but suffice to say that I eventually required reconstructive surgery and spent over about two months out of work totally.
Some good things came out from that event however. Sure, I still bear the serious scars from that accident and it has and will affect my strength and ability in that leg forever, but the Lord often has a way of turning bad things into good things, of using a “wrong” to make a “right”.
My mother asked me a second time during my recovery if I thought the Lord was trying to get my attention. I agreed with her whole-heartedly. Furthermore, I was not angry. My accident could have been worse. I could have lost my leg, never-the-less, I know enough of the futility and senselessness of railing against God. Job anyone? God didn’t harm me.
So, I got a bit bored during my recovery and I began hanging out at the local Baptist Collegiate Ministry (I lived in a college town, mere blocks from the college and the BCM). While there I realized that I needed to get back into college and finally finish getting my/a degree ( I did the 13 year plan!). Also – and more importantly to this whole story and post – I felt a desire to go on mission trips (in large part due to a very serious emotional and spiritual event that happened to me at a conference).
I had zero clue how this was going to happen. I had no money.
Louisiana’s workman’s comp laws – at least at the time – and the circumstances of my accident gave me little financial or legal recourse. I had no grounds for a lawsuit – nor did I feel it really necessary (or right ) to do so – and the reduced payout of workman’s comp. made my meager finances even tighter for a period. But something interesting happened. My employers cut me a check in response to the accident. I never asked what their exact reasoning was for doing it. The logical and cynical side of me says they were trying to buy me off so I wouldn’t sue them. The emotional, sensible side says that they liked me and felt sorry for me. Either way, it was a lot of money to a single guy living along, making a meager wage.
And this is where it all points – at least for me – to the whole event and ensuing situation being one of those “God Things”…
I had to raise money through donations/sponsorships to go on the trip. Not only did I have to have enough money to pay my way to London, but I also had to make sure that all of my bills would be paid in advance through the summer while I was gone.
Between the money I raised and the money my then former employers (I quit to go on the trip and knowing that upon returning I’d be enrolling full-time in college – a full-time day job was no longer possible) gave me, I walked onto the plane effectively broke, but with zero debt. The accident made my trip possible. The accident “paid” for my trip. That was “God Thing” number one, and I was wholly cognizant of it.
Secondly, the day I stepped on to the plane to go to London was exactly one year to the day of my accident. Some may see that as mere coincidence, and to be sure, there are often things which are really just interesting coincidences. I do not believe it was the case in this instance.
I’m not perfect and I’d be lying if I said that the events of that year and summer put me so squarely on the narrow road again that I then went off to the Congo, built a church and led thousands to the Lord, all the while having a spectacular, renewed and growing personal walk with the Lord.
Instead, my perspective and priorities were renewed and changed. My walk with the Lord has continued.
Perhaps you are preparing to go on a mission trip or are thinking of going on one. Perhaps you are where I was, backsliden or have just had one of those “mile-marker” events in your life where you realize and acknowledge that God is knocking on your heart. Perhaps you’re in the stage of your personal walk with Christ like I am now. Either way, I hope this post speaks to you and encourages you.
Below is a small collection/montage of photos I took during my time in London and England that summer of 2001. What I learned and saw that summer helped prepare me for that fateful day just a month later after returning home, when, while sitting in the first class of my day we were told that a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.
There are 16 photos, and while I’ll have some descriptors on the individual slides, I’ll flesh each photo out in the following list:
1. I went on my Mission trip through the IMB, which is an organization under the SBC. From there I was attached to Operation Mobilization and more specifically, their organization called Turning Point. I was part of a small group of college students from Louisiana and we were thrown into the mix with well over a hundred other students from across the US, Europe and elsewhere. I was placed in a team that mostly consisted of fellow Louisianans and we were placed - after training – in an old Baptist church in Shepard’s Bush, a suburb/”neighborhood” in/of/near London. We lived in that church for about seven weeks. Thankfully one of my teammates and I had a bunk bed and we were squirreled away in the top, rear of the church.
The church was very old and in serious disrepair. In fact, there was a “tent” inside the sanctuary as the roof leaked badly and thus only the lower portion of the sanctuary was used – not that there were enough members to fill the balcony (let alone the all the pews). I found out a couple of years ago that the church has since burned down due to an accident and I believe the pastor who led the church – a salty old retired British Naval vet – has passed away.
2. Our team’s primary mission/job was the use of book tables. We would display tracts, small booklets and some videos to give away or ask for a small donation. We’d also use the platform to enable discussions with passersby if they so chose to engage us. This photo is of what was our “primary” table in Shepherd’s Bush.
3. Once or twice we set up a table on Queensway, nearer to downtown London.
4. Edgware Road. Turning Point would operate a “Coffee Corner”. The neighborhood had a large Muslim population and the corner offered a lot of free space which I believe the organization had rights/access to – as well as some rooms nearby to store materials. The free coffee and tea facilitated more dialogue.
5. Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park. Not a great photo, but my “best” one of Jay Smith. Mr. Smith led a couple of training sessions when we first arrived and a number of our groups would go to Speaker’s Corner every Sunday after church – with a sack lunch – just as he did. Mr. Smith is an interesting individual; someone I highly recommend as a resource on Islam and Christian apologetics and evangelization to Muslims. Speaker’s Corner is… odd.
6. Trafalgar Square. We went to see a rally/event that some Muslims were putting on. Another sign I didn’t photograph said, “Islam will dominate the world.” To put it mildly, the particular organization has had some rather “interesting” leaders, attractants, beliefs, followers and actions.
7. Trafalgar Square, same event but facing the National Gallery Museum.
8. My time in Shepherd’s Bush was divided into two “missions”. While a number of us were there for eight weeks, some people only went for three or four weeks, so we saw some rotation of summer missionaries. During the second mission I was asked to be a part of the leadership team (three people modeled after the Trinity) of our Shepherd’s Bush team. Interestingly, during this second phase we had a large contingent of Christians from Egypt and South Korea. I’m not blaming anyone, but I always felt like the spare tire as the third leader – I felt a bit clueless.
9. Summer Missions isn’t all about work. You do get time off… just, not that much. We had one day off a week – along with maybe a few hours in the evening every day. We were urged not to do too much or go too far, but come on!!! Most of my days off were spent with others from my group or other groups touring some of the attractions of London. Here, the Tower of London – which of course is a whole castle complex.
10. St. Paul’s Cathedral. I climbed up to the “observation deck” just below the dome. I also visited Westminster Abbey.
11. Ruins of a Norman keep in Canterbury. I took this trip by myself, taking a bus from London. The excursion took the whole day. The wall dates to Roman times. I got to walk inside the remains of the keep.
12. More so than London, central/old Canterbury showcased some very old wooden buildings. 4-500 years old, wooden and all warped and yet still in use. Quite interesting walking inside some of those business establishments with off-kilter doors, windows and slanted floors, walls and ceilings.
13. This was a public park I came across in Canterbury that was a bit hidden; certainly off the beaten path of most tourists. What you see are carvings of tree trunks that had been uprooted during a storm, that had evidently been a pretty nasty one, from a few years prior.
14. On another day off a couple of us went to Oxford. Other than walking around a little we didn’t get to see or do much. It was wet and we were pressed for time. The picture is of High Street.
15. Back to the tables. In Shepherd’s Bush, timing was often key for setting up the table as space was a premium, specifically since a local mosque would also set up their own pamphlet table once a week or so. This often made for some tense moments.
16. Back to Speaker’s Corner. A Muslim speaker. I believe his name was/is Sheik Abdul Rizzah? I was told he was from Libya and had either fled to England or exiled there by Mr. Qaddafi’s regime. As Jay frequently garnered a LOT of listeners – and hecklers – Mr. Rizzah often got quite a lot of people to listen to him.
I am forever grateful for my time in London. I learned a lot and hopefully grew a bit spiritually. While I did feel physically threatened by Muslims on one or two occasions, I probably had more to fear from the IRA. Just a week or two prior to coming to England, a bank or other building in Shepherd’s Bush had been bombed by the IRA, a subway tube was bombed once while we were there and once while we were at Speaker’s Corner there was a bomb threat at Hyde’s Park.
I was asked to come back again the following year and lead a team but I’d already committed myself to some other ventures. If you’ve never been on a mission trip, I encourage you to take one. It’s not just about witnessing to others but spiritually feeding yourself and growing. My time in England began my interest in learning about Islam and following news and events concerning it.
If you have any questions or comments, please respond. I’d be happy to give a bit more details – to a degree.
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