My hometown Middlesbrough is situated on the River Tees and borders Stockton, Thornaby & Billingham. This is Teesside. A collective mix of people who have hardly ever ventured beyond its boundaries except for a package holiday, adventure seekers travelling the globe and a vibrant international community. In fact, it is pretty much like every other town / city in the UK. Inspired by the concept of Advance Groups we launched them on Teesside in Feb 2020 just 4 weeks before the UK went into lockdown.
We had gathered 35 men and woman forming 5 groups together. We were all set for action and full of passion to see the gospel go out. But lockdown arrived – what now? After the initial shock (like the rest of the world) we discovered Zoom and began meeting together monthly for teaching and then going into breakout rooms for prayer and mentoring. This was helpful but, as you will know, evangelists want to be meeting with people not just talking about it.
Across our collection of evangelists we saw a number of them working hard within the constraints of lockdown to keep the gospel proclaimed and to see lives impacted.
One of our group leaders Pete, had previously begun to build relationships within a Czech community in Stockton. He had been doing some street work and met a man called Berti who had a bad back. Sharing Jesus with him and the power of prayer we saw Berti’s back healed and a passion for Jesus birthed in him.
Berti and his wife Bozena live on a street in the centre of Stockton. The street is full of large houses most of which have multi occupancy. Many socially challenged people find themselves in this street. From asylum seekers through to people with addictions. It is a lively street and never dull.
With Bertis permission Pete and his team began meeting daily on the front of their house for prayer meetings. Between 11am-12pm everyday Monday-Friday they would gather around a raging fire in a steel bin to pray and distribute food. As numbers increased, they spread across 3 gardens. Everyday someone from the street or passing through would be prayed with and told about Jesus.
On a Thursday evening on Facebook Live a 30-minute gospel meeting is broadcast from the street with sometimes 15 to 20 people in attendance. Pete has birthed a community with evangelism as a core DNA. We have 7 of this community connecting into our Teesside Advance groups.
One of our other group leaders Tony has seen lockdown open a growing ministry with men. He has been meeting them and going for walks and calling out the evangelist in them. But interestingly he has been also getting drawn into a network of people with high end criminal background seeking a different life. He has now been given a gospel voice into some hidden worlds.
The challenge for these men is building trust. Many have lived controlling lives and struggle to speak and open up, fearing anything they say could be used to imprison them or put them in danger. Yet the gospel works in these dark places. Tony has baptised a number of these men in the sea as they journey in faith. They’re learning to trust people but most of all they are learning to trust Jesus. The challenge is now how do we add them into the broader family. But I would like to say that’s a great challenge to have.
Our Lord has deposited something wonderful into our hands. It is a message of hope. It is not limited by culture, addictions, or criminality. It is a message that brings people together who society says should be apart. This is the reason Advance Groups are needed. Raising up gospel proclaimers who bring hope and build a diverse community through the message of a crucified messiah who was raised from the dead and in doing so rewrote the destiny for mankind.
Would you like to know more about our ministry and Advance Groups? Our team is here to help and would be our joy to be part of your journey with the Lord. Just click HERE to find out more.
Written by Terry Young.
I live in Middlesbrough which is situated in North East of England. My wife Anne & I have 7 children and 4 grandchildren. Since November 2019 I have been leader of the North-East Message Hub.