Monday, September 15, 2014

20 Schemes: Gospel Churches for Scotland's Poorest with Mez McConnell Part 1 of 2

Emmaus City Church Worcester MA Urban Church Planting Network of Missional Communities Soma Acts 29 Christian Reformed

20 Schemes: Gospel Churches for Scotland's Poorest with Mez McConnell in Providence, Rhode Island on Friday, January 31, 2014

Jesus has written a gut-wrenching story of how God moves a person from darkness to light, from death to resurrection in the life of Mez McConnell, senior pastor of Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh, Scotland. The place that God did this in Scotland is called a "scheme," a form of public or social housing. Schemes are known as "council houses" in Ireland, in most of the UK they are known as "council estates", in the US they are regarded as the "projects", and in Scotland they are called "schemes". You can watch and listen to Mez McConnell's story on Vimeo.

Emmaus City Church Worcester MA Urban Church Planting Network of Missional Communities Soma Acts 29 Christian ReformedI don't know why it's taken me this long to write down my notes from my two days with Mez and 20 Schemes back in early 2014, but God is in the details and the time must be right. I recently finished Mez's autobiography, Is There Anybody Out There?: A Journey from Despair to Hope and this first post will feature quotes from that book in Mez's classic accent and lingo. This will help set the stage for why and how Mez is now helping to start new churches. Plus, the book quotes will provide an overview of Mez's life which he shared on Friday, January 31, 2014. The next post will be more about what he shared about his work with 20 Schemes on Saturday, February 1, and how they are planting and revitalizing churches in Scotland among the nation's most poor. I have much to learn from Mez. Because he honestly and bluntly shares from his own life, when Jesus steps in, you know you're reading something real and true. I was reminded again of just how powerful the good news of Jesus is to transform a person and a community. No matter how dark a life can be, the darkness has never and will never overcome the light.

Is There Anybody Out There?: A Journey from Despair to Hope Review of Quotes


"We're all writing stories, every single one of us, whether we realise it or not. We're all banking memories, adding to them, storing them up for a day when we can cash them in, when we can sit back and wallow in them, remembering the things we've done, the places we've gone, the people we've met and the experiences we've had. That's not true for everyone, of course. Some of us, many of us, are running away from our memories and trying to forget our experiences. Some of us, many of us, are trying hard to erase our past experiences by how we live in the present. We try to smother them with drink, drugs, sex or work. But that's an exercise in futility. All we are really doing is extending our nightmares and adding more experiences that, sooner or later, we will need to work harder to forget. ... Who knows our inmost being? Who knows what we really think and what we feel? Who knows our story? Who can see the world as we see it? Who sees through our eyes? We are our own interpreters. We make our own memories. We understand our experiences in our own unique way. No two stories are ever the same. No human story is ever understood universally. We all read it and understand it in our own way. We all take different lessons from it. Yet there is one story, a cosmic story, that's being written, that has been written, that is constantly being told. We are living in it. We are a microscopic part of it. When understood it gives our own stories meaning. It adds hope to our memories and it supersedes all of our interpretations." pgs. 9-10 

Chapter 1 | Memories 

"My story starts before I was even born. My parents, who married at a very young age in the Republic of Ireland in the early Seventies, had problems from the outset. My grandfather on my dad's side committed suicide when Dad was a young boy. Apparently he stuck his head in an oven and just turned on the gas. Dad's mother then abandoned him and his young brothers. I think there were four of them. I'm not sure. It's not something I've ever discussed in depth with my father. All I know for sure is that somehow Dad ended up moving from his birthplace in Scotland to Ireland whilst the others were spread out across the world. He never saw two of his brothers again. There's a story right there just waiting to be told. But, sadly, it will be lost by the passage of time because there is nobody around to tell it." pg. 11

"I'm hungry. There's not enough food this week. There's enough for cigarettes and beer but not for food. Dad disappears again and I'm locked in my room without food. It's worse in the holidays because I have to stay there for days on end. I feel alone. Sometimes I'm sent to the shop for bread and milk and I open the bread up, steal a slice from it, and replace the top. I have to hurry back though, because if I take more than five minutes SHE beats me. If I do it in less SHE beats me. I have time it just right. I'm so hungry. Sometimes I lie in bed at night and wonder what it would be like not to be hit. In my head I transport myself into the future where I'm big and strong. There is no hitting in my dreams. I can't even remember when the hitting started. I can't remember what it's like not to be hit. Sometimes, if I'm lucky, I just get slapped on the head. Often I'm punched on the back of the head and the kidneys. The punch to the kidneys hurts the most. I try and avoid that if I can. It usually means leaving my head wide open, but anything is better than the kidneys. I try to avoid curling up on the floor because SHE kicks me in the testicles. I don't cry out any more for it doesn't do any good. Sometimes I wonder where my mother is. This is all her fault." pgs. 14-15

"'You're useless. Nobody likes you, you and your spastic sister. Your mother hated you. That's why she left you. Your dad hates you. I hate you.' 'Get your head out of that book. What are you reading? Famous Five? I'll give you a famous five punches in the head. You're useless. Just like your father.' Sometimes I just wish SHE would die. I don't know where my dad is. I'm hungry. ... We've just had our 11+ exam results. They're in envelopes and the teacher tells us to take them straight home. On the way home I ask God to let me pass. I promise that I'll never ask him for another thing again as long as I pass this exam. I haven't talked to God for a long time. I used to pray that he would make the hitting stop, but he never did. He must really hate me too. I hope that he'll listen to me just this once. I give her the envelope. SHE's drunk again. SHE reads the note and then looks at me. I've passed! I was stupid and useless and everybody hated me but I didn't care. I'd passed! That night SHE beat me and beat me and beat me. SHE dragged me around the room by my hair. SHE kicked me. SHE spat on me. SHE head-butted me. I staggered to my room. It was the sweetest beating of my life. I passed! I passed! I sat in my room and laughed and laughed and laughed. I jumped on my bed. I punched the air. SHE never called me stupid again. ... I live in fear of her turning up at any moment to beat us for daring to have fun and for staying up until 6 o'clock to watch the television. I daren't go out to play in case SHE does come back and I'm not there. But SHE's never coming back. I will never be beaten again. I am thirteen years old." pgs. 17-21

Chapter 2 | Life Begins or Does It? 

"They say that life begins at forty. Who they are? I have no idea. But whoever they are, they're wrong. For me, at least, life began to thirteen. I suddenly woke up one day and realised that there should have been more to my life than making the choice between covering my testicles or protecting my head in the daily round of beatings. ... One day I woke up and things were different. I got out of bed and realised that I was angry. I was angry at this woman, angry at my dad, angry at the world, angry at myself. There were so many people and so many things that I was angry with that I didn't know where to begin. I felt so impotent and helpless. I wanted somebody to suffer, to pay ... What about justice? What about fairness? What was I supposed to do with all of my anger? What does a thirteen-year-old boy do with this swirl of emotions that he is barely able to comprehend? ... I wouldn't realise the irony of this period of my life for another fifteen years. This woman leaving was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. No more pain, no more suffering, no more fear. Yet it turned out, at one level, to be the worst thing that could possibly happen. I could never have guessed it at the time, but it lead to a downward spiral of self destruction that lasted for the next decade." pgs. 23-25

"A friend of mine was stabbed to death today. He wasn't a particularly good friend. We had shared the odd cigarette and a laugh. The girl who did it used to be my girlfriend. She stabbed in the chest with a kitchen knife. He crawled into the street with a knife wound in his chest and lay there dying. He died in a car on the way to hospital. He was fifteen years old. His life just ebbed away in the back of a grotty old car and there was nothing anybody could have done to help him. He had to face death alone and we were just helpless bystanders. It was reported in the national press the next day as a 'Romeo and Juliet' crime. They made it sound romantic and exciting, but the reality was that he was a boy who wet himself and drowned in his own blood as the life was sucked out of him. There was nothing remotely romantic about it at all." pg. 25

"My social worker is dead. He committed suicide. He fed a pipe from his car exhaust in through the car window and turned the engine on. One day he's telling me how to work through my 'issues' and the next day he's dead. I feel cheated. How could he help me when he couldn't even help himself? That was the first time I consciously questioned life. More than that, it was when I began to realise that life didn't last forever. I began to question my own mortality." pg. 25

"School, which had once been my only refuge, now became the bane of my life. I lost all motivation to study and do well. I took perverse pleasure in handing in work that I knew to be wrong. I became uncooperative and sullen and grew to resent my teachers and fellow students more and more. What was the point of it all anyway? To get a good job? To earn lots of money? We were all going to die and it all seemed like a momentous waste of time and effort. What good will a job and money do when we're dead?" pg. 26   

Chapter 5 | New Beginnings and Old 'Continuings'

"I've met a girl. She's very nice. She makes me feel better about myself and she's a good crack when we get high. All the essential ingredients for a potential wife! 'What do you mean your mum's made you have an abortion? How can she make you have an abortion? So what if I haven't got a job or a proper place to live. So what? Does that mean you can murder my baby?' It can happen at any time and without warning. One minute I'm OK and the next I can't breathe. I get all hot and sweaty and my heart starts pumping hard. It feels like it's going to burst out of my chest. This is it. I'm having a heart attack! I'm going to die right here in the street and nobody can do anything about it. Nobody can help me." pg. 44

Chapter 6 | Onward and Downward

"This is how I met them, the Christians. The Bible bashers, gimps, freaks. Take your pick. They just turned up one day out of the blue. I wasn't too sure at first. Maybe they weren't Christians. Maybe they were the police. They had hired the gym in the Center and invited us in to play football with them. I was highly suspicious. People just don't turn up out of nowhere and ask you to play football, do they? 'Hands up if you've ever heard of Jesus Christ?' Is this guy for real or what? Hands up if you've heard of Jesus? I knew there was some catch. Do you want to come and play football? They're Bible bashers! They're trying to convert us and brainwash us into joining their group. ... You what? Jesus died for my sins? What is this bloke on about? Jesus died for my sins? Well, that's his problem then, isn't it? ... You what? A relationship? What you on about, Mate? Are you off your head or what? ... Well, that's a real comfort when I'm sleeping on my floor tonight. If God loves me, Mate, then why does my life suck? ... Tell you what, why don't you and I go outside and we'll see if your mighty God can stop me kicking your backside. ... Sometimes I'm nearly convinced by these guys. I mean, they are so into it. They are so excited about it all. I have nothing in life that gets me that excited." pgs. 46-47

Chapter 8 | 250 Miles for 15 Minutes

"I got a letter this morning from one of those Christians. They want to know if they can come and see me in prison. Why not? I don't get that many visitors anyway. Maybe they'll be good for a bit of snout. I decide to send them a Visiting Order. I got another letter this morning from a girl called Paula. She reckons she wants to be my friend. She got my address from these Christians and decided to write me. A bit weird, if you ask me. Maybe this is how they get you? They get a girl to play with your head and then they suck you into their little group. I'm going to have to watch this lot. You don't just start writing to people to be their mate. It just doesn't happen. People only want to be your friend if you've got something, especially if it's drugs. But this lot aren't into any of that. So what do they want then? There's got to be some blag going on here. ... They came. These people travelled 250 miles to visit me for fifteen minutes. They even brought me a personal stereo so that I could listen to music. I don't know who's more freaked out here, them or me? ... For the first time since I'd met these people they never once referred to Jesus or God. They talked to me like a real person and not some pet project. For the first time I began to take their message seriously. Maybe there was something to all this Jesus stuff after all. I mean, who would come all that way for a fifteen minute chat with a bloke who does nothing but give them grief? These guys must really be serious or complete nutters." pgs. 65-66

"The gates swung open and I stepped outside. I had stepped outside many times before on my way to the fields to work. But this time I was not under guard. This time I was a free man. I took a deep breath and waited for the feeling of elation I was told would come. I watched as wives, girlfriends, children and parents met those released with me. But nobody came for me. I was a twenty-two-year-old, drug addicted, ex con with thirty quid in his pocket and a chip on each shoulder. A wave of anger and regret swept over me. Prison had not changed me. I narrowed my eyes in determination and headed for the nearest train station. Once again I found myself alone." pgs. 68-69

Chapter 9 | Jesus Freak

"I saw them today, the Christians. They came round to Matt's house (Matt gave me a place to stay after I got out of prison) for dinner and they sat around the table holding hands and praying or something. I think it was praying. I've never seen anyone pray at a table before, except on 'Little House on the Prairie.' ... They seem happy, these Christians. Well, happier than anybody I've ever known. ... 'Mez, have you repented of your sin and accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into your heart yet?' 'You what?' Some of these people are truly off their heads. 'Have you accepted Jesus as Lord of your life?' 'You better get yourself out of my face. All right? Or you'll be accepting my fist as lord of your dentures. Know what I mean?' Lord of my life? What's all that about? How do you make some bloke you can't see Lord of your life? And what's all this 'accept him into your heart' lark. Sometimes they talk about blood and it freaks me out. I mean, is this some sort of weird cult or what?" pgs. 73-74

"'Hurry up or we'll be late for church!' I can't believe that I'm going to church. But as there's a big group of us, and I don't feel so conspicuous, I figure that I'll give it a go. See what the fuss is about. 'Good morning, brethren. If you are a visitor here, then we welcome you in the precious name of the Lord Jesus Christ.' 'Matt. What's a brethren?' 'It's like people. Good morning, everyone.' 'So why didn't he just say that then?' 'I don't know.' 'Let us pray. Oh Lord, we know that thou are our heavenly Father and that we are thy humble servants. We beseech thee in the Name of thy precious Son to hear our supplications this morning.' 'Matt. Why's he talking like that?' 'Shh. He's praying to God.' 'What? Does God understand him then? Do you talk like that to God?' ... 'So what did you think, Mez?' 'About what?' 'Church.' 'Is it like that every week?' 'More or less.' 'Then it's rubbish.' 'Why?' 'It was long and boring for a start. Half the time I didn't have a clue what that guy was saying up the front. And what's with all that standing and sitting. And how come you all know exactly when to do it? It was just too weird. Half the people in that place looked more miserable than some of my friends doing time in Armley.' 'Matt?' 'If I become a Christian, would I have to learn to pray like that bloke from the church?' 'No. We all pray in our own way.' 'So there's not like a special way to pray and stuff?' 'No, why? Are you interested?' 'No! Just asking.' Sometimes I can't sleep at night just thinking about God and the Bible. Sometimes I get this overwhelming urge to pray, but I just can't. I feel stupid just entertaining the thoughts. Yet, no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to get God out of my mind." pgs. 75-76

"I was sitting on a park bench when it happened. It was the 3rd of May 1995. ... I just sat looking at a flower. A simple daisy it was. I suddenly realise that this flower didn't get here by accident. ... it was quite clearly designed and perfect in every way. God was a reality that I had to face. 'Jesus has left me nowhere to run. I've been busted. I can't hide behind my background, my life and my childhood anymore. I can't excuse my behaviour, my feelings and my problems. I have to face the fact that I am a sinner. I have to take responsibility for my own actions. But I don't want to. Everything within me is trying to fight, to escape these truths. I feel like I'm drowning. I can't get my guilt out of my mind. But I'm scared that I'll have to give up all my hate when I want to keep it with me. I'm scared that I'll have to forgive those who don't deserve it. I'm scared that my life won't be my own anymore. I'm afraid of everything I'll have to give up. I want to be in control. In control! That's a joke! Is my life my own anyway? What would I have to give up? My misery, anguish, despair? I would be glad to get rid of them. God is real. It's like the focus button has turned inside my head and I can see the world clearly for the first time. God is real and I'm armpit deep in trouble! ... 'God, I'm a sinner. I've done some bad stuff in my life. Please forgive me. I want to put my trust in Jesus. I don't really understand very much, but I'm willing to give it a bash if you'll let me. Amen.'" – pg. 79

Chapter 10 | New Life

"I've started meeting up with this bloke from the church. His name is Mark and he knows everything about the Bible. It's called a discipleship class. Haven't got a clue what a disciple is. It's just another one of those freaky words that nobody else understands. I tell you what, they ought to give you a dictionary of freaky sayings when you become a Christian. Man, I love my discipleship class. I get to learn about God and how he created the world and everybody in it, and I also get to ask every question I can think of. It's much better than that church lark. You're not allowed to ask questions there. You've just got to sit while some bloke goes on for forty minutes. I'm lucky if I understand ten minutes of it." – pg. 84

Chapter 11 | Finding My Feet

"It's my baptismal service today and I'm, well, nervous. I've never been up the front in a church before. Apparently I've to give something called a testimony, which is Christian-speak for telling people about what Christ has done for me on the cross. Some of the others talk about having 'a personal relationship with Jesus,' but I haven't a clue what they're on about. All I know is that Jesus died for my sins, I repented, he binned them all, and now I want to live according to his Word in the Bible. I'm not sure about all this 'personal relationship' stuff though. It's not like we meet up for coffee every week or anything." – pg. 91

"I'm scared now. What if it isn't real? What if it's all in my head? Where does that leave me? Maybe I should just jack this Christian lark in? They don't treat people very nicely, do they? At least my non-Christian mates are always glad to see me. I could just disappear from here and I'd never have to see these people again. ... I begin to read from a little booklet called 'Daily readings' that a friend gave me. The reading is Deuteronomy? Where's this? I look it up in the index and find it in the Old Testament. I read, 'The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged' (Deuteronomy 31:8). I feel goose bumps rising on my arms as I read the words. The pastor had told me that when we read the Word of God we literally are reading God's actual words, not word written by men about God, but written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. Is God speaking to me? Nah, it has to be a coincidence. But I did just pray for God to help me, so why shouldn't he? Man, how freaky is this! God is speaking to me through the Bible! Everything is going to be OK if I just keep going on with him. Well, stuff Satan. He can do one! All of a sudden I feel at peace. The doubts have gone. The fear has gone. I write out the words on a piece of paper and put it in my pocket so that I can memorise it. 'Nice one, God. Thanks for listening, and thanks for answering my prayers. Please help me to get through my time here and keep Satan off my case please. Amen.'– pgs. 94-95

Chapter 12 | Different from the Brochure

"I'm glad my faith doesn't rest on how I feel. Most of the time I don't feel particularly great at all, but I know that at any time I can turn to God in his Word and he'll be there. He's my Constant, the anchor in my life when I'm feeling adrift. I'm not one for all this emotional stuff, but I know deep down, in my own way, I love God and I love his Word. His love for me will never change. That's much more certain than my fragile emotional state. If I've learned one thing this year it's that the Bible stands above all our spiritual experiences and us. It's the final arbiter in all things. It's flawless and completely trustworthy on all things. The more I understand and trust the Bible the stronger I feel my faith becomes. I don't feel so antagonistic toward people these days. I don't much like them, but at least I'm willing to talk to them even those I consider to be muppets. It's an improvement, I suppose. I've got to learn to love these people. God loves me and all my (many) faults. Still, I find it so hard. Sometimes I wake up at night and pray that God will just take my anger from me. But then the next day somebody annoys me and I have to start again." – pg. 107

Chapter 13 | White Socks and Sandals

"'Street children constitute the largest unreached people group in the world today. They are often the weakest, most vulnerable and despised members of their communities, and little or nothing is being done to alleviate the problem by the modern church.' How sad is that? The church ought to pull itself together on this one. ... I can't sleep. I can't eat. I keep dreaming of street children reaching out to touch me, to grab me, begging me to help them. What can I do? I'm not a missionary. I'm not the type. I'm staying in England and working here. But somebody ought to do something about those street children. It's an absolute crime. Maybe I ought to do something about those street children. I can't be going to Brazil. I don't even like flying. The thought of getting on aeroplane makes me feel sick. 'Dear Lord, if you want me to go to Brazil and work with street children then send me a clear sign or something.' ... got a letter from Unevangelised Fields Mission Worldwide (UFMW) this morning from some guy named George. He sounds pretty cool. He wants me to get in touch with him so that we can talk about the 'Lord's calling.' The Lord's calling I'm not sure what that means, but I'm almost positive that I should be going to Brazil to work with street children." – pgs. 110-111, 113

Chapter 14 | The End ... or Not

"Miriam (whom I married in August 1998) and I arrived in Brazil in September 2003 with our two young daughters. Keziah was about eighteen months old and Lydia was a year younger. We turned up with eleven suitcases and not a clue about what we were actually going to be doing there. In the three years that we've been here, we've had to leave the field twice due to illness. Both our girls have been in hospital on more than one occasion and we've found the whole missionary experience very wearing. Why are we here? That's a question that often surfaces, and it was one that was particularly hard to answer as we watched our eight-month-old daughter strapped to a bed with tubes sticking out of her. We couldn't even ask the doctor for help or clarification because we didn't have a common language.' We have wanted to leave so many times that we've lost count. It's been a struggle spiritually, physically and emotionally. We've felt depressed and often quite isolated. Those emotions worsen when we hear of friends being married, or family members having children, and we're not there to share in their special moments. Sometimes we worry that our children will be the strange cousins that nobody really knows. Then there is their education. There is so much to make us wonder if we're doing the right thing. And yet I'm thankful to God for my life. I'm thankful to God for my wife. She's a constant source of strength and encouragement. I'm thankful for my girls. They are precious gifts from God. As I'm typing these words my youngest, Lydia, has just toddled into my office. Keziah is singing that the best book to read is the Bible. I look at my wife, my girls, my life and I see the power of the gospel. The true power, not just the intellectual proposition that says unless you repent and believe you will perish for all eternity. The glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is so much bigger than anything we could ever imagine. The greatest sermon that I ever heard was in a prison visiting room when two men walked in, looked me straight in the eyes and said, 'How are you, Mez?' If I'm honest, that was the moment when I realised the gospel was true. Hell held no fear for me at that time. I needed hope; I need the promise of, not only peace with God, but also peace of mind. I needed a reason to go on, a reason to exist. And I needed to connect with the human race once again. Jesus Christ has not only freed me from my sin, he has not only reconciled me to God, but he has changed my future and the future of my offspring for generations to come. He has broken the chains that bound me from birth. The cycle of pain and misery will stop with me. My children will never know what it is to be beaten at home. They will never know what it is to be abused physically and mentally by those who are meant to care for them. God willing, they will never know what it is like to go hungry. They will never know all these things because of the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. Jesus Christ has broken the cycle." – pgs. 116-117

"Ironically, salvation from my battles within lay in the very place that I found most confusing and alien; it lay in the church. I found the church to be a place of surprising contradictions. There were those, for whatever reason, who would have liked to see me fall and fail, but there have been many who have picked me up, encouraged me in the faith and helped me to keep on going. There have been great men and women of God who knew absolutely nothing about my life experience yet who were my greatest helps because of their Christ-like, godly lives. The church is the key to surviving troubled times. For all its faults, God has given us the church with its pains and troubles as a place in which we can grow and mature. I think back and shudder at some of my early attitudes and behaviour. Yet I also think back and thank God for those who stuck with me in my darkest times, who didn't give up on me even when I was giving up on myself. I don't know what surprises, what heartaches, what moments of happiness life has in store for me and my family. But I do know that it is all in the hands of God Almighty and that somehow it is all wrapped up within the immense cosmic story that was written in eternity past and will continue into eternity future. And I know one last thing; whatever happens in this life or the next one, I will never, for one moment, be alone again." – pgs. 119-120

Chapter 15 | Saved to Serve

"Miriam and I are now the directors of a project called, Off the Streets in Sao Luis, northern Brazil. Such is the scope of this project that I am finding it difficult to put it into words. I suppose I could write about our drop-in centre that operates three mornings a week, our proposed recuperation home for addicts, our night work on the streets of the city, our pre-school for children from impoverished and broken homes, our creche, football school, our alternative church for street children, alcoholics ... I could write about our vision statement and objectives to reach out to street children, children at risk and their families in the city.  I could also write about our emphasis on prevention in the war against the street children problem. And I could write about our emergency shelter for children under twelve years old that we are in the process of building. I could write about our dream of creating a haven for used and abused children and young people in Sao Luis. Or I could just simply write about the people. Thallison is twelve years old and we found him living under a bridge in one of the tourist hotspots in the city. He stole some money from his mum and hadn't returned home for six months when we found him. Thallison was living with a gang of about eight other children and a couple of adults, who were abusing him sexually. The boy was often paid for sex by visiting German and Dutch businessmen. When we discovered him he was emaciated, starving and high on paint thinner. Over a period of a few months our night team got to know him better and he slowly began to trust us. Eventually, we traced his family and found that his mum and grandma had been frantically searching for him for months. They were desperately worried and had long forgiven him for stealing from them. Emotions were running high as we took him back to be reunited with his family. All his family were there: mum, grandma, sister, brother and cousins. There were tears and hugs as he was welcomed back. Our team bought a little cake and spent a good hour praising and thanking God for this reunion. When Thallison applied to return to school he was rejected because he didn't have a uniform, shoes or school books. Off the Streets agreed to vouch for him, bought his books and material, a uniform and his first ever pair of school shoes. Thallison is now back in school and dreams of becoming a doctor. He is the only member of his household who goes to church every Sunday to hear the Word of God and he is constantly sharing his new found faith with them. For the first time in a long time he has hopes and dreams for his future. Such is the power of the gospel and the grace of God." – pgs. 122-123

"Off the Streets is primarily about the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. As poor as these people are, they are sinners cut off from God, and their only chance of redemption is faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. But it is also about restoring dreams to suffering children. It is about giving them hope and the opportunity to realise that the world extends beyond their current circumstances and that they can play a constructive part in it. Off the Streets is about showing them and telling them that there is somebody 'out there' who cares for them and loves them. Years ago a missionary once said to me, 'Why are you always talking to these kids about hopes and dreams? They need to live in reality'. On the contrary, their lives can be changed forever by the one true hope of the world – Jesus Christ – and any of their dreams can become a reality. Just ask a forgotten, neglected, angry, self destructive little boy who grew up on a rough council estate, having his dreams sucked out of him by the harshness of life and the cynicism of his elders. One day he grew up to become a missionary amongst street children, and his dreams were not only realised but they surpassed even his vivid imagination. That is the true power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the complete, unmerited grace of God, our heavenly Father." – pg. 125 

Chapter 16 | The End of the Dream

"I can't remember when we decided to call it a day in Brazil. I just woke up one morning and knew it was time. Miriam and I had been feeling uneasy with it all for some time. I don't think that it was just one thing in particular; it was more like a steady flow of little things that brought it all to a head. I would like to be all 'Christiany' and say that I had a clear sense of direction from the Lord, but that wouldn't be true. Maybe it was the church of 5,000 members just down the road from my house that barely gave us enough to buy a loaf of bread for the street children. Maybe it was passing more than a dozen evangelical churches on my mile-and-a-half trip to the large roundabout where I worked with my main street gang. Maybe it was the poor neighbourhood, full of little congregations with no apparent sense of gospel unity. Maybe it was the fact that my family had little or no access to any evangelical witness in the UK. These all weighed heavily in the end, I suppose. My heart wasn't in it any more. I still loved the children. I still loved my Brazilian team. I still loved the Good News Church that we had planted, but I just knew deep down that it was time to move on. Despite this, I was full of doubts and fears. Why would the Lord make us wait seven years in preparation for going to a country for only three-and-a-half years? Why go through all the pain of language learning to throw it all away? Was it too soon? Should we stay and develop the team we had built? Some missionaries had been there for fifty years, so we were bottling it? In the end it came down to this: does this project belong to the Lord or to us? If it is a God thing, then it will stand the test of time. If it is a Mez thing, then it deserves to die. Thankfully, the Good News Church still goes strong and is a great witness in that community today." – pgs. 127-128

"(After accepting the position of senior pastor at Niddrie Community Church in Edinburgh, Scotland) My introduction into community life at Niddrie was greatly helped by the local police force. On my first morning in the place I was followed from the church building to my home about half a mile away by a police car. They were obviously doing a PNC check on my car. It's not like I was worried. I hadn't stolen it or anything! Anyway, as I pulled into my street the police car pulled up behind me and a policeman got out at the same time as me and huckled me straight into the back of squad car with his mate. 'Right son. Not the brightest idea was it?' 'What?' 'What!! Don't be funny lad. This car's from England and it's registered to a Reverend McConnell.' 'Yeh, and? That's me.' (Cue laughing from both of them). 'If you're a Reverend then that's the best disguise I've ever seen in my life.' He took my name and details and then marched me into the house, looked at all the unpacked boxes and began to falter a little. When I got out my license he seemed a bit less cocky and sure of himself. I smiled sweetly, enjoying the moment. They had pulled up my record to check for warrants and found my past crimes. 'How did someone like you get to be a priest?' I smiled. 'Well, boys, let me tell you about what Jesus has done for me.' They couldn't get away quick enough! Just before they pulled off one of them said to me, 'Why bother wasting your time with scum like these? They'll never change'. A few days later someone from the press came to see me and the story made the Scottish press. I couldn't walk down the street without someone to sell me cocaine as a joke. It was a brilliant introduction and we took it as a signal that we had made the right decision." – pg. 132

"We now open our building seven days a week. We have a community cafe and people come and just sit with a coffee and a sandwich for hours to chat with us about all sorts of things. Many of the people who come to us for help suffer from one, or more forms of addiction, mainly heroin, cocaine and Valium. A good number have severe mental health issues: chronic depression, paranoia, anxiety and schizophrenia, to name a few. Many are just down and abused by life. We welcome all without exception and offer them the hope of the good news of Jesus Christ. We speak plainly to people. They are sinners going to a lost eternity but, regardless of their response to our message, we seek to love and serve them. I would love to tell you of a great revival in this place but that would not be true. Some people have confessed Christ but have fallen away, consumed by the pressures all around them. At the time of writing, several are persevering and continue to grow by God's grace. One thing is certain though. Who we are, and what we stand for, is now known across large swathes of this community. ... There are many 'Christians' who would like us to tone down what we do and be less 'in your face' with the truth. They want us to 'love the poor' and all that patronising nonsense. People here want the news straight up – end of story. There's a lot of this 'we have to earn the right to speak' nonsense that does the rounds, particularly in middle class churches looking for reasons why they are so ineffective in areas like ours. We do not have to earn the right to do anything. Jesus Christ has earned the right for us! Our responsibility is to speak the truth in love. But we must not let the 'in love' bit come to mean that we should water it all down to acts of service. People need to hear truth proclaimed whatever their financial, social, or political circumstances." – pgs. 133-134

"Most of the real 'work' happens outside of our Sunday services during the week in the community. We have various groups and meetings going on for people. One of the things we run is a 'Recover' course designed for those who are battling any and all 'life controlling' issues. We meet weekly for Bible study, prayer and mutual encouragement. As a church we are also looking at ways in which we can disciple our new and young believers more effectively. Life in Niddrie is tough for those professing Christ. Temptation is around every corner and the cultural pressures are every bit as problematic as they would be in other cultures. People may not suffer death, but they can suffer the same sort of painful estrangement from family and loved ones when they step out in faith. To that end we have come up with an arm of the church called 'Niddrie Social Missions'. This is a Limited Company (soon to be a charity) that seeks to develop projects that can benefit the community in practical ways and continue to promote evangelism both in our area and beyond. At the time of writing we have just opened James Ramsay House in Shotts, which is about forty-five minutes away from the estate. This is a three bedroomed Victorian house which we have mortgaged to use as a Christian discipleship 'home'. It is not a rehabilitation centre. We don't want people to feel that they have to kick all of their medication immediately before they are allowed in. They must be off 'street' drugs and they must have made some form of commitment to Christ, or at least be open to our ethos. The aim is to offer a safety and stability away from the estate. This is to be a home where those who stay have the opportunity to reflect, to grow in understanding of the Christian faith and come to a place in life where they can start to make decisions about the future. The project is very new and we will make mistakes, but we feel it can be a very useful tool for the community. We have had several residents and God is blessing us." – pgs. 134-135

" ... as a church we have (also) been partnering with the Free Church of Scotland and the Porterbrook Institute to help develop a Porterbrook Scotland initiative. This is a part-time theological training programme that we run as part of our in-house training scheme here at Niddrie. We offer one, two or three-year internships for those who want to gain hands-on experience coupled with theological training in a difficult inner city setting. The future is very bright for the work here. We hope that we can be of service to the wider Christian community as well as continue to push forward with the gospel. There is a great mission field in Scotland. Our God is greater than the obstacles we feel hinder us. Christians must rediscover their heritage as people of faith and not be afraid to pursue big dreams even if they fail. We have only one shot at this life and I have no intention of sitting around worrying about what we can't do. I'm only interested in solving problems that result in making things happen. Why? All for Christ and all because of Him." – pgs. 135-136

Next post: 20 Schemes: Gospel Churches for Scotland's Poorest with Mez McConnell Part 2 of 2      


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