If you have followed this blog for any length of time you will know several things about our church. You will undoubtedly know – because it is the sexiest stat I’ve got – that our church is slap bang in the middle of the most deprived town in England. You will know that our area of Glodwick saw some the worst riots ever seen in the UK about 15 years ago. You will know that our church is in a predominantly South Asian Muslim area of Oldham that has traditionally been considered a ‘no-go area’ for white Brits.
You will also know that we have seen Iranian Muslims coming into our church and converting in numbers. You will remember that we have seen around 15 baptisms in the three years since I have been at the church, predominantly but not exclusively, of Iranian people. To put that in context, a church in a decent part of Birmingham was not long ago revitalised with a small core team and this was considered a great success having seen 18 baptisms in five years. This is, indeed, cause to praise God and the subsequent book written about it was very honest about how that came about and is well worth reading. We have seen nearly the same number of baptisms in two less years, without the benefit of a single extra worker, for most of that time no external funds and in a considerably less desirable area.
We have struggled to get outside supporters, funding and workers. Partly, this is because I am not well-connected guy and – without putting too fine a point on it – I am terribly British and embarrassed at the mere mention of money. It all gets even worse when I fear asking might be perceived as feathering my own nest. I’m quite happy to call out failings in the church and offer forthright assessments of the way things are, as I perceive them. But make it about money and it all feels so horribly crass and I get terribly embarrassed about the whole thing. Despite all that, we do have a handful of outside individuals who have continued to support us wonderfully. We are so grateful to God for their prayers and financial support.
I have often feared ‘over-selling’ or giving a false impression and so tend to be painfully honest about our context and evangelistic goings-on. I struggle referring to our amazing international outreach when I really mean a tract table setup outside our church building or our distinctly unprofessional, but nonetheless best effort, at running English Classes (that is not to take away from our brilliant class leader. Just to say we cannot credibly claim to come close to competing with the local college provision).
I find our regular dialogue evenings with local Muslims genuinely exciting because of the depth of conversation and, frankly, ability to share Christ with those who would have no opportunity of encounter him otherwise and their genuine openness to hearing about it. I can acknowledge that anywhere up to 50 Muslims coming down to your church, and the ability to preach the gospel in Mosque, is a special opportunity. I was only convinced this was a genuinely exciting thing the Lord had done when a former missionary to Pakistan asked to be involved because he had struggled to get anything similar setup more locally to where he lived. This has been an amazing door the Lord has opened.
What has become clear is that people love a project. If you’ve got a building project, it is not that hard to spell out what you need and to get supporters who are open to making a one-off donation. What is much harder is being a church in a deprived community, with many deep and varied needs within the congregation, whose members are never likely to be in a position to financially sustain the church through their own giving. Unfortunately, asking people to long-term help us plug our monthly c. £1500 deficit is a difficult sell.
One of my elders quite rightly pointed out, we are the project. We are not asking for people just to plug a gap so that we can carry on being a church; we are looking for people to partner with us in the work of reaching Muslim people and the white urban unreached. I was given the opportunity to share our work with a church a few months ago. I gave a brief outline of our work and told a couple of stories about how two of our Iranian members became believers through the witness of the church. Maybe I have just become desensitised, but people were blown away by the mention of 15 baptisms in 3 years. They were over the moon to hear about Muslim people coming into the kingdom and some individuals were moved to financially support our work. I was reliably told they were talking about it weeks afterwards. That was so unbelievably encouraging to me.
We not only have the joy of seeing Iranian people coming into the kingdom, we have the privilege of training them and then blessing other churches by sending them on. One of our very best Iranians – who was regularly bringing others to church and ran our Farsi Christianity Explored course – recently received his asylum and moved to another city. Without going into all the reasons, his move was quite legitimate. But this didn’t stop it being a huge wrench for us. Nonetheless, we were able to link him up to a local church near his home which he is now blessing by bringing other Iranian people. We miss him dearly but are delighted that we can bless another church with a committed, godly believer who has received 3 years of solid training with us. We have dozens of stories like this.
The point here is that we are never likely to be self-sustaining. The nature of our area and the demographics of those being saved mean we have a high turnover of people and those who do stay rarely have vast financial means to share with the church. The fact is, we are the project.
Nonetheless, if you support this project, you will be supporting fruitful work that has seen a good number of people baptised and joined in membership as those who the church can affirm as believers. You will be supporting work to South Asian Muslims in an area that many white Brits simply avoid. You will be supporting the training of people who are regularly being sent to bless other churches in towns and cities across the country.
If you would like to support the work of Oldham Bethel Church, you can get in touch by clicking ‘contact’ at the top of this blog. Similarly, if you would like to come to Oldham Bethel Church and join us in the work, please get in touch to find out the opportunities available. We have just been given the green light from Union School of Theology to offer their GDip from September as a Learning Hub. This allows you to join us for two years, receive accredited theological training and also receive training in urban context mission. Details are available on request.