The return of ‘God Loves’, our annual week of outreach, had been eagerly awaited by our student and wider church population.
By the time the week was over, our expectancy had only increased; God had shown us how responsive the community was to His love, and had given us sure confidence of His future plans to change their lives.
To get the ball rolling, we hosted a family Fun Day on Saturday 9th June in Chester-le-Street. It was an opportunity for us to generously serve the community there, and to cement an association between an incredibly fun event, and the people in blue t-shirts who facilitated it (who in turn gave the glory the greatest facilitator, the Love of God, on the backs of those very shirts!). This paved the way for recognition and conversations on street outreach in Chester-le-Street during the following week.
Having seen the faithfulness of God in bringing joy and community to this event, ‘God Loves’ took place from 12th-15th June. Each of the four days saw student volunteers (alongside some of our non-student population!) meeting for prayer and worship every morning, before receiving some practical teaching on evangelism. God blessed us immensely during our morning sessions. We came closer to Him and subsequently to one another, and learned the value of praising Him in the face of our own worry and stress.
The group then split into three teams, each of which would serve a particular community for an afternoon. Teams in Chester-le-Street undertook street outreach. Numerous cups of tea and gospel tracks were handed out, and opportunities to pray for people were just as plentiful. The teams encountered a man who had already decided to visit the church that coming Sunday, and a woman who had already heard of Emmanuel’s Fun Day and toddlers group: God was clearly working behind the scenes, and His name was being made known in Chester-le-Street before the teams had even turned up! They also connected with a homeless couple who, having seen the ‘God Loves’ teams around town, expressed an interest in coming to church.
Pete Gray led teams in Cheveley Park Primary School, running prayer spaces with children aged five to eleven. This was an incredibly fruitful time, with children who had stated they ‘didn’t like anything’ about themselves suddenly expressing the desire to ‘change the world’ upon being told that God had created them with a unique set of gifts and a wonderful purpose! One prayer station introduced children to the Gospel story, causing a group of five-year-olds to ask why people would kill Jesus, to give a huge cheer when Jesus saved humanity on the cross, and to state of the gospel: ‘That’s the best story ever!’
We discovered how receptive the children were to God’s love, and how important it was for them to hear these truths.
Further into Gilesgate, teams helped Durham Action on Single Housing (DASH), a charity that provides accommodation to those nearing homelessness, by sorting donations, renovating furniture for future housing and gardening outside their office. The teams gardening were assisted by local children, who had seen other teams working in their schools earlier in the day, and so started to pull weeds out of the earth in what was a really encouraging time of community connection and team work!
Similarly, whilst painting furniture, one team spoke to a woman who had decided, upon visiting a church and wondering ‘where God has been’ all her life, that she was going to make a commitment to Christ.
Other teams gardened ‘The Duffy’ in Gilesgate, which was noticed and appreciate by many people, with a few residents requesting the services of the teams for their own gardens! This in turn led to one recipient coming to church on a Sunday.
All in all, God caught the community’s attention during ‘God Loves’. Children and adults alike began to associate fun days, nicer gardens, and compassionate conversation with the notion that ‘God Loves’, and we can thank Him for the ways He has moved, and is continuing to move through His people in and around Durham!