Last night was special.
Back in January we at Hill City sent our friends Ben and Lois Franks, along with our other friends Courtney and Bip, to the Rhondda valleys on a church planting adventure! It was a joyful, albeit emotional time because we love these guys and we knew that we were sending some of our best people.
Ben is one of my best friends and a man for whom I have the deepest respect. We have been hanging out in the name of the gospel for longer than I can remember, so despite their move it’s been good to keep in regular contact with him and chew the cud. As is often the case in endeavours like this, Ben has testified to some of the acute challenges and struggles that they’ve faced in the early stages of the journey, yet he has also shared much about the thrills and excitement too. There really is nothing quite like the experience of embarking upon a gospel adventure with nothing but a heart full of passion and a fist-full of faith to keep you going.
And the guys have kept going.
And kept growing.
Truth is I have never doubted that this church would get planted because it’s a vision that has been burning in Ben’s bones ever since I first met him as a young 16 year old rapscallion! Similarly it’s a vision that Ben has always been able to articulate with raw courage and compelling clarity. The fact that so many gifted young saints have been willing to take the brave step of putting the ‘obvious’ choices of career and community to the side in order to join the Hope adventure is a great testimony to Ben’s leadership. People are attracted to vision, and when vision gets a grip in their hearts they will make all manner of sacrificial decisions in order to see that vision become reality!
So why was last night so special?
Well it was special because me and my family got to go to Tonypandy to celebrate the first official public worship gathering of Hope Church Rhondda. The venue was the old Bethel Baptist Church building that is situated slap-bang in the centre of the town and WHAT a phenomenal venue and location it is! The story behind the provision of this new home for the fledgling church is itself a story of the miraculous, gracious providence of God. But I haven’t got time to go into all that now!
Anyway, in true Hankey fashion we were late for the start of the service. However, I’m kinda glad that we were because as we climbed the ridiculously steep flight of steps up the side of the chapel from the car park (several miles) below we heard something that I doubt Tonypandy has heard for many long years – the sound of loud, passionate, Spirit-filled song!
It was AWESOME!!
Personally, I’m not the world’s greatest fan of chapel buildings, but when it comes to acoustics and sung worship – there’s nowhere quite like a traditional Welsh chapel. As we entered the building we were hit by a wall of sound as Matt Redman’s “We are here for You” rang out. We were informed that the lower floor was full capacity and were asked to sit up in the balcony, which was also busy. We took our places and joined in with the singing. And as I sang I sensed the smile and the pleasure of God over what was taking place in that venue that evening.
I believe that God was LOVING the praise that was being offered to Him.
He preached passionately. He preached long. He preached unashamedly and He preached in tears.
He testified to the grace of God that has marked their journey thus far and then he opened up Haggai 1. He shared about the power of responding to God’s voice, the tragedy of the current decline of God’s house, the privilege of building church that gives Jesus great pleasure and the promise of His presence to see the work completed. It was solid stuff and many were stirred up and challenged by the message.
After a final song we descended down several flights of steps to the abyss (aka the church hall) that is situated somewhere near the earth’s core! It was only then that I really got to appreciate just how many had turned out to enjoy this special and deeply significant event. It’s hard to say but there must have been somewhere between 150-200 people there – a great testimony to just how loved and supported the Franks’ and their team are. I was especially encouraged that over 30 of them were from Hill City, confirming what I already knew that our church is incredibly excited about what’s happening in the Rhondda too! After eating way more cake than I should have it was time to head home. Like most who were there last night we drove home excited, expectant, humbled and grateful to have played a small part in this story. However, as Ben was very careful to say last night – it was neither the starting line or the finishing tape. There is much yet to be done. Many prayers to be prayed. Much grace to be received. Many obstacles to be overcome. Heaps of salvation to be enjoyed. Countless anthems of worship to be sung. Numerous lives and eternities to be transformed.
And next Sunday is when all that kicks in.
When the scores of friends and supporters are not standing with them in person, when the sound of sung worship is not quite so loud and as the size and scale of the mission ahead dawns on them – let’s make sure that our prayers and our faith are as strong in the weeks ahead as they were last night.
I for one am super excited to see what God is going to do in and through Hope Church Rhondda.
I pray that those precious streets will once again resound with songs of God’s praise.
And may He get all the glory for it!
(Hope Church Rhondda now meets every Sunday at 4:30pm at Bethel Baptist Church CF40 1AL. If you’d like to know more about Hope Church please get in touch and I’ll put you in touch with Ben. You can also follow them on Twitter @HopeRhondda)