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When God Opens a Window of Opportunity

When our Heavenly Father opens a window of opportunity, will we be prepared to respond to the challenge?
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Preparing the Way

A common comment at our ecclesia used to be, “No one ever responds to our preaching!” Well, that wasn’t quite true. For years, we had been organizing Sunday Bible talks and Bible seminars, sometimes with dozens of attendees for many months. Nevertheless, baptisms had been few, and audiences seemed to dwindle away eventually. But those who were baptized did so because of the relationships that developed. This outcome provided our ecclesia time to get to know our audience as individuals seeking God.

When we look back, however, those activities were preparing the way for something greater. Producing positive Bible presentations prepares preachers. Nevertheless, when our Heavenly Father opens a window of opportunity, will we be prepared to respond to the challenge?

Accepting the Gospel with Childlike Innocence

Someone suggested we hold the Bible Exhibition in our hall. This was a bizarre idea, it seemed. The room is small and could only accommodate around a quarter of the exhibits. From the outside, the building is not attractive and is located in an area with a high immigrant Muslim population. So, it was hardly likely that locals would be dropping in.

One sister suggested advertising the effort by emailing local schools, which she was willing to do personally. We thought it would probably be a waste of effort, but why not? The school across the road from the hall responded by asking if they could come and have a look around. Surely, they wouldn’t be interested in a display of old Bibles and illustrated panels about Israel in the purpose of God and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus?

One teacher who was sent over to “spy the land” exclaimed, “This is just what we want!” The school was almost exclusively Bangladeshi/Pakistani, with some Eastern European and West Indian students. Her role was to organize religious studies, and she was looking for someone to help with the Christianity segment. As the week passed, two hundred youngsters with the most enquiring minds and their teachers listened to our explanations, watched short enactments of baptism and memorial services, and enjoyed Bible activities.

Then they asked, “Can you come to our school and teach the Christian celebration of Christmas?” “Could you teach the meaning of Easter?” they inquired. “Are you going to use the exhibition next year?” This engagement went on for three years. We were hoping eventually that a whole generation of school kids from the local community would be in the hall and learn something about Christadelphian beliefs and our hope. Sadly, that didn’t happen. The teacher left, and we weren’t invited again. There were other visitors to the exhibition, but the eager response of these children was the highlight of those times.

There was a powerful message here that we needed to learn. Don’t limit the Lord! He can bring about highly unexpected results from the most unlikely situations. We were yet to discover just how unexpected that could be.

The Harvest Truly is Plentiful

It started in 2018 when Iranian refugees began to arrive at the hall, asking if they could come in. They were literally “knocking on the ecclesial door.” This interest had happened already elsewhere in the region. Those were happy days, a unique experience, a thirst for truth from our visitors, prompting regular teaching sessions with open Bibles and regular Sunday pizza and salad lunches. The trickle turned to a steady stream with new visitors every week, and then eventually, there were a few baptisms and then multiple baptisms.

The Rochdale Ecclesial Hall

Our small, relatively elderly ecclesia was, to some extent, overwhelmed and outnumbered. And the truly unexpected had indeed occurred. These people were from Iran, that hostile anti-western nation. They were drawn especially to us by our belief in the unity of the Father and the love of His Son. They accepted the truth of the gospel like children, without preconceptions.

One example might help to illustrate our experience. We received a WhatsApp message that two Iranian men had been moved by the UK government to a house in Haslingden, a small Lancashire village with poor transport links, miles away from our hall. They had previously attended the Liverpool City Ecclesia briefly and were keen to keep in contact with Christadelphians. Unfortunately, those who would normally be able to offer transport were away that day, so we thought nothing more about it.

Imagine the surprise when two strangers, neither of whom spoke English, traveled 1 ½ hours by bus to find us (and 1 ½ hours home afterward) to meet for our Sunday service. The doorkeeper for the day was in complete shock, wondering whether he should allow two foreign, swarthy, casually dressed adult males into the room.

They and others after them continued to make those journeys for a considerable period to attend. These folks turned up at our hall with no overt preaching activity from ourselves whatsoever. The nature of our worship services and study classes changed, though not always welcomed in a conservative meeting. The services were interpreted by those few who had fluent English and Farsi (some of whom had learned the language by watching American soap opera TV programs). It was a challenging time.

Sadly, COVID severely impacted these arrangements, and by the time some sort of normality returned, most of our new ecclesia members had their asylum claims accepted. Some had moved on or found employment (often on Sundays) or made arrangements to be joined by their families, all of which were distracted from the truth. We completely lost contact with some. Others wanted to move out of the area, notably to London. Never had the Parable of the Sower and other New Testament writings been so relevant to us.

Today, there are more Iranian brothers and sisters in the room at the hall (and online) than English members. There are still challenges to be faced. Hopefully, we will meet them and be strengthened to serve in better ways because of this.

There’s another focus of activity these days: the sudden universal adoption of video conferencing and instant messaging. This new effort has resulted in online services and studies, primarily to maintain contact with our dispersed membership. Midweek Bible classes for gospel preaching and Bible study with Farsi interpretation now regularly attract forty to fifty attendees and more, most of whom, would you believe, live in Turkey! No one would ever have dreamed of that three or four years ago.

New Wine in Old Bottles

Such radical change in such a short timeframe is bound to leave its mark. Some of that wine may spill.  The strong are not always strong, and the weak are not always weak. We recognize abilities in others that we and they never realized they had.

Those visitors, many of whom are now our brothers and sisters, have come to our hall for various reasons. Some came for a friendly welcome in a strange country or the attraction of something new to do. Maybe it was the assurance of a warm meal or help with their asylum claims. But some came because they recognized and believed in lifesaving truth and are now traveling with us on a greater journey to a true promised land.

Throughout all of this, the LORD’s hand is apparent. Had the events been timed differently, the ecclesia would not have had the resources to rise to the challenge.

So, What Have We Learned?

Our Heavenly Father opens windows of opportunity in the most unexpected ways, and we can anticipate that favor to increase as the great day draws near.

Are we taken aback when others want to share our faith? It always seems to catch me by surprise! As a community, we must encourage ourselves to be positive and open. There are people who want to hear!

Unprecedented change in our community requires early, careful, and prayerful decision-making of the sort we have never been used to. This scenario requires us to deal kindly with those who find change difficult to cope with. Some of our traditional ecclesial frameworks and ways of doing things are not amenable to radical change. We must keep a firm foundation. Ecclesias that are not so heavily involved can step in and provide respite for burned-out preachers.

Our small ecclesia faced, and still faces, an existential situation. Has the LORD answered our prayers, or is some greater unseen purpose working out through our lives and service? Time will certainly tell! God’s word will accomplish what He pleases. It does not return to Him void.

During this time, we have shared the experiences of our Lord. We’ve recalled how his time of preparation progressed to popularity, followed by disappointment and even persecution. How few were at the foot of the cross or in the upper room on the day of Pentecost? Yet what a foundation was laid for the mighty work that followed! May we also rise to the opportunity. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Peter Simpson,
Rochdale Ecclesia, UK

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Bro John Galbraith Castle Hill Ecclesia NSW Aust
1 month ago

Thankyou Peter for this encouraging story

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