The ‘Story’ theme for Canterbury’s city-wide university mission week originated with Durham CU’s very successful mission of the same name, last year. That superbly-organised mission week has raised the bar of expectation and effort for many university mission weeks across the country. Rather than doing the bare minimum to run a week of talks, Durham had gone all out to create a culture of excellence, and to love people in a holistic way – not just by providing great talks for people to attend, but by hosting them in a brilliant venue which fostered a sense of community and welcome.
Inspired by what they heard from Durham, the two universities in Canterbury decided to organise their own ‘Story’ mission, and implemented many of the ideas they had seen. The University of Kent in Canterbury is a ’plate glass’ university which stands on a hill overlooking the city. I have been involved in several previous mission weeks here, with varying degrees of success. Canterbury Christ Church University is an Anglican new university which has had very little tradition of doing successful mission weeks, and no real culture of proclamation evangelism. The CUs had never worked together in mission before. Given this, it was uncertain how the week would go, and whether the idea would succeed. It’s safe to say that the week consistently exceeded our expectations, and we were so encouraged and overwhelmed by the sheer hard work and effort of the two CUs in going the extra mile to organise a superb mission.
The MOET team was joined again by Michael Green and a team from Wycliffe Hall theological college in Oxford, as well as Relay workers and local guests, who all worked tirelessly and unitedly.
Each morning began with a joint prayer meeting, upstairs in a cafe in the centre of the city. I was especially impressed at the commitment of some of the Kent students, who had a half hour walk to get to a 7:30am prayer meeting, and then another walk back up the hill to get to 9am lectures! The public location also provided some unexpected evangelistic opportunities…
As usual, the mornings were spent dong first-contact evangelism on both campuses – with question boards, pop-up coffee stalls and flyering, accompanied by a group of musicians from the team who helped to create a ‘buzz’ in the location and get attention. I was encouraged to see the willingness and confidence of students to be both bold and a little bit crazy! In Kent several students scrambled up a stair-well with a megaphone to announce the lunch bar talks to the passing hordes! It would have been hard to miss what was going on at either campus!
Lunch bars at Kent were hosted in a marquee which they had erected themselves on Monday morning. With no flooring or heating, I was worried it wouldn’t work, but thankfully we were blessed with mostly dry and warm weather that made such a location surprisingly suitable. The very public location made the talks feel a little bit more like an open air evangelistic meeting with people coming and going; this made it a little harder to speak, but it did attract those who wouldn’t normally come in to such a talk. Good contacts were made, and the 40 seats originally provided were quickly filled and another 40 were hired mid-week to squeeze in as many guests as possible.
The CU at Christ Church were concerned that lunch bars would not be so successful. They have not done many, and due to the nature of the university it is much harder to get people to come, no matter how well they advertise the event. The CU were encouraged to get 35 to their first talk (more than they had ever previously had) and were blown away by the 60 that turned up the next day! The central chapel proved to be an unusually good venue, and among those who came in were a number of international students from parts of the world where it would not be easy to share the gospel with them.
Another new venture was the International Students’ Supper that preceded the main evening event. After a slow start the numbers grew, and several came back to each evening event, including several young refugees.
The evening events were held in a large barn of a venue, next to the local cinema. The hall was transformed into an attractive environment by a hard working team of 20-30 students, who came 2.5 hours early each night to set up. After music and food, each event began with an interview that revealed the story of a special guest – a local well known landlord, an MP, a carpenter and several students. Michael Green and I then spoke on the story of Jesus through the gospel of John, using music, drama and spoken word. Numbers grew, and 170 were crammed in on the penultimate night when MP David Burrows was interviewed, and I spoke of the cross of Jesus.
One of the things that both Michael and I felt during the week was a real sense of spiritual battle that manifested itself in various ways. Strangely, this is always encouraging as it shows that the Lord is doing something so significant that the enemy feels it’s worth fighting against. We certainly saw some clear evidence of God at work. Around 10 students clearly professed faith in Christ, and many others were impacted and started investigating more.
There were surprises too. One lady came upstairs during the morning prayer meeting as she heard the sound of singing, and stood transfixed at the sight of 70 young people worshipping God at such an early hour. Moved to tears by what she experienced, she met up with a CU guest in the afternoon, came to both evening events that day, and professed faith at the end! It was a joy to welcome her into our team meeting on the final day – with lots of rejoicing. Michael also got drawn into a challenging situation at one of the final lunch bars, where a girl with a lifetime of involvement in demonic activity was set free in a clear and remarkable way. Another student with deep emotional scars from his past came to find welcome, love and community amongst the CUs.
Being the first such mission week, there were still areas which could obviously be developed. Prayer meetings could have devoted more time to prayer, and less time doing devotions and notices! Some of the interviews were better than others. Some evenings probably went on longer than was helpful (our fault, not the students’!). We were blessed by good weather, but cold and rain would have made the marquee at Kent a real challenge. And the final day coincided with several student weekends away, which meant that we lost half of the team – a different choice of week or a four day mission would have probably been better. However, we do rejoice in what God has done through the hard work and commitment of a wonderful group of very committed students.
Do pray for the follow-up of believers, seekers and sceptics alike. While Kent students have four weeks until the Easter break, Christ Church will finish in one week’s time, which means there is no time to lose. Students will need to be especially diligent in continuing the work that has begun. A follow-up course has been organised, but there will also be a good number of students going to church for the first time this Sunday.
Pray that the many gospels given away, and books bought, will be read, and that they will have a lasting impact.