So how did the prayer adventure go down on Friday?
1 rickety minibus.
And A LOT of prayer.
The day started with prayer at my house. There were just 8 of us – but we were up for it. We prayed for Trevethin then legged up to Garndiffaith and prayed for the Tooveys and the fledgling church that has just taken root up there. Prayer for the eastern valley finished in Blaenavon before bombing across to the Western Valley where we prayed for the Revive mission taking place in Abertillery.
We then headed up to Ebbw Vale praying specifically for Hill Top estate, then over to Tredegar where we focussed our prayer on Cefn Golau (a very deprived community situated above Tredegar) that has no church witness whatever and is therefore high-up on my “Desperately needs a church plant” list. The guys were real troopers as they jumped off the bus and walked the streets, praying for the community, despite the shocking weather. They then jumped back onboard and we popped over the hill to Pontlottyn and the Rhymney valley.
It was as we journeyed on from there to Merthyr that the adventure started to really feel like an adventure. We took yet another treacherous mountain road en route to Merthyr and were in literally in the middle of nowhere when we arrived in possibly the most random village in the Welsh valleys – Fochriw! 35 years I’ve been a valley boy and never heard of this place (nor have you probably!) It’s a quite extraordinary, quaint, yet bleak little village that’s right on top of the mountain between two valleys and home to around 1,500 people. We concluded “surely there’s no church up here!” How wrong we were! We asked one of the locals if there was a chapel and he told us that we’d find it tucked up a side street near the chippy. So off we went to find it. And find it we did! And what a prophetic sight it turned out to be. There, at the top edge of a village that’s hidden away in the clouds above the Welsh valleys, was the Fochriw Pentecostal Mission hall. As we drew closer, we saw a something quite profound several sheep, cwtched up against the wall as they sheltered form the storm that was battering the mountain. We were stunned – what a picture of the gospel! That here in this tiny, largely anonymous backwater village was a gospel light that still shone – a place for sheep to shelter from the storm! We were privileged to pray for that chapel and grateful to God for the encouragement that while there is huge need in the valleys, there is also cause to hope!
From Fochriw we weaved our way over to Merthyr Tydfil where we hooked up with my good friend Dave Medlicott, from Sovereign Grace Church Merthyr, for a bag of chips. Dave was accompanied by a motley crew, including Scott and Rachel. Scott was a real character, converted from a gnarly background on the town’s notorious Gurnos estate. Rachel was recently converted from a similar situation on the Swansea Road estate. After our chips these guys joined us on the bus and acted as our “tour guides” as we prayed around Gurnos and Swansea Road. Some of the stories and situations we were praying into were truly heart-breaking and harrowing – drug abuse, violence, broken homes, murder, suicide and despair. At points many of us were close to tears as we cried out to God for mercy on those streets. However, unlike many of the places we had visited, we sensed real hope for Merthyr. These guys were on fire. They were the real deal – as Merthyr as they come, but clearly soundly saved, well discipled in a loving, gospel-centred church and SO passionate about Jesus! We left Merthyr challenged by the scale of need but ultimately encouraged that God has got his people in that town too!
We took the Heads of the Valleys Road across the top of the Cynon valley then ventured into the Rhondda via the back door (A4061). We made two stops in the Rhondda. First Penrhys, which at 1300ft is a crazy little estate that has long since been synonymous with poverty, though has seen a great deal of demolition and regeneration over recent years. Some of the guys found Penrhys quite oppressive and unsettling. The weather didn’t help, but of all the places we visited it was probably the most stark. We were encouraged that it had a tiny ecumenical chapel building there (newly refurbished) but to what extent they preach the gospel I couldn’t say.
We then moved south to the Rhiwgarn estate near Trebanog. This estate is close to my heart as many moons ago I was involved in running DJ workshops up there. This is another one of those estates in the clouds that has great need and absolutely zero church presence. We prayed for that community and from that high vantage point we prayed for the Rhondda valleys as a whole.
The clock was ticking (so were my eyelids by this point) so we swiftly made our way through Pontypridd to our final destination – Caerphilly. We had 2 very good reasons to be in Caerphilly:
1. Lansbury Park – a council estate that lies right at the heart of the town and that was last year declared to be the most deprived community in South Wales. Again, while there are some great churches in the town, there is no church whatsoever on that estate. Again, this need resonates with our vision at Hill City Church…so watch this space!
2. Costa – After 8 hours in the bus we all needed a strong coffee, so Costa was our last stop. As we drank we reflected on all that we had seen on our adventure – the challenges and the encouragements. There are 1.3million people living in the Welsh valleys and while there are gospel lights scattered across the region that continue to shine, things are spiritually bleak and there is still much to do! I challenged the guys to not only continue in prayer for the valleys but also to be willing to be an answer to their own prayers. I really believe that some of those guys will go on to to make Christ known in these precious valleys in the years to come. We closed in prayer and headed home – humbled, but expectant!
May these dry bones live again!
(You can read my friend, Tim Neale’s thoughts on the prayer adventure here.)
PS – Big thanks to our friends Alan and Margaret for supplying us with much-needed drinks for the day!