Category: Valleys

Stuffed Foxes, Dry Bones and Church Plants.

fox bones valleys

Last week I visited a tattoo parlour in Cardiff…and it was unlike any parlour I’ve ever seen before. Many tattoo parlours have clinically white walls with tattoo designs plastered all over them.

But not this one!

This particular shop had a staggering array of stuffed animals all over the walls and shelves – birds, bears, badgers scorpions, stags and a fox! I mention the fox because it’s in the shop window and is a quirky piece of taxidermic craziness that has been on my mind ever since. The fox (I don’t know his name sorry!) is stood upright in the shop window with a quirky cap on his head and a stick in his hand. I’m not a big fan of stuffed animals, but I have to confess that he’s pretty cool! And I guess that’s the point of him being in the shop window. Certainly the shop is a hive of bustling busyness and the artist I was chatting to informed me that people literally wander in off the street just to see the animals. Some stay in to get their bodies inked.

So why has this fox been on my mind all week? (more…)

A Valley Boy’s Response to MTV’s The Valleys

Last month I travelled to Kent to take a wedding ceremony for a friend. I arrived the evening before and stayed in a local B&B. As I was settling down for the night I had the TV on and an advert came on that I really wasn’t ready for. To me, it was vulgar, sexually explicit, degrading and offensive. But what blew me away was what it was for – it was advertising a new show that MTV have just launched called The Valleys. You might have heard of it by now. Anyway, being a proud valley boy (Pooler born, Pooler bred and when I die I’ll be Pooler dead!” I was intrigued as to what the dickens this show was all about. (Pooler is short for Pontypool, in case you didn’t know!)

So here’s the general idea – MTV locate a bunch of young people from the Welsh valleys (though they’re not all from the Valleys…but that’s another story) who apparently have aspirations to ‘make it’ in the music industry and who think their only chance of making it is to leave the Welsh valleys and try their luck in the big city (Cardiff). These are some of the things that the cast had to say about the Welsh valleys:

“There’s nothing in the valleys!”

“There’s no jobs.”

“I’m sick of the fresh air, the hills, the sheep and the pound shops. Get me out of here!”

“There’s no opportunities there for us at all.”

For those of us who live here, those sort of statements are hardly new, and not entirely out of place, especially regarding employment. However, having spent 12 years of my life in Cardiff I can safely say that there are plenty in the city who would also lament the lack of jobs, and who would say that they’re sick of the smog, the concrete and the stray dogs! In other words people seem to be discontent wherever they are.

But all that said, I still have a BIG problem with MTV’s The Valleys.

I could simply bang on about the drunkenness, immorality and irresponsible attitudes towards sex and relationships that the show clearly portrays, but that would be too easy, so I’ll leave that for all the legalists to kick off about! Besides, it’s that stuff that sells the show and people mouthing off about it is only going to generate greater morbid curiosity. Similarly, I’m not going to slam it for painting the Valleys in a bad light. Do everyone in the valleys behave like those guys? No. Do some? Yes. The same can be said of anywhere in the UK. But here’s the thing, I don’t think that anyone would really think that this show paints a true picture of what ALL people in the valleys are really like.

So what am I blogging on about?

Here’s my main concern about this show – it promotes laziness, cowardice and escapism. The idea that if somewhere is tough then you need to leave that situation rather than change that situation. It’s easy to be a thermometer (taking the temperature of how things are). Anyone can do that! But to be a thermostat (actually changing the temperature of how things are) requires significantly more energy, creativity and courage. It’s so easy to identify and criticise what’s wrong and, to be honest, many people in the valleys do. It is far more costly to actually do something about it.

Let’s assume that these young people all make it in Cardiff, will they then return to the valleys? I very much doubt it! What do I base that on? I base it on the use of the word ‘just’ on their promotional video:

“Will they make it in Cardiff or will they just end up back in the valleys?”

JUST end up back in the valleys!! That’s SUCH a derogatory statement. That word ‘just’ sums up my problem with this show. For what it’s worth, I left the valleys, got a degree in Cardiff, served in several fantastic local churches and made a shed load of fantastic friends. Would I go back if God called me? Yes! I love Cardiff. But God told me to go back to the valleys. And do you know what? The problems up here are exactly the same as they were in the city! Guess what? Both the valleys and the cities of Wales are full of broken people trying to make sense of life in a broken world. I haven’t JUST ended up back in the valleys. I’ve come home. Pontypool might not have huge multiplex cinemas, a vibrant nightlife or bendy buses with TV screens onboard. But we do have EPIC countryside, genuine community spirit and a tidy accent!

On top of all that, here’s my view as a Christian. Cardiff has some HUGE and active churches that are doing a great job of making Christ known there in the city. Up here in the valleys, with a few exceptions, there is not an abundance of growing, gospel-preaching churches. In other words, what we have up here is a PHENOMENAL mission-field! Shortly before I moved up to Trevethin, a friend in Cardiff told me that I was crazy for leaving Cardiff to go live on an estate that no one’s ever heard of! He said that I would have far greater influence if I stayed in the city and that my ministry would be more widely effective. But God told me to go to Trevethin, and His vote wins!

Is it easy seeking to make Christ known up here? No! Sometimes it’s painful and frustrating and hard! But we have seen God do some wonderful things that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been obedient to come. Have we seen enough? Not by a long shot! But I’m not going to jack it in and join in the chorus of discontented voices that are determined to tell us how crap the valleys are. I’m going to fulfil my ministry and not stop in my task of being part of effecting gospel change here in the Welsh valleys, whatever the cost.

So a word to all my fellow valley commandos (especially the ones who love Jesus) and who are thinking stuff the valleys, the city is where it’s at: If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, perhaps you should water your own side rather than jumping over the fence in the hope that the next field will be a more blessed place to be. Be a thermostat, not a thermometer!

Rant over.


Hill City GT Progrmamme

This is a post specifically for anyone who has an itch for gospel ministry and is wondering what to do next with their lives. If that describes you, then the Hill City GT (Gospel Trainee) programme might just scratch where you’re itching.

The GT programme is specifically geared towards those with a passion for pioneering gospel ministry in the valleys, whether as a church planter, member of a planting team, or just generally in evangelistic outreach. Here’s what we have to offer:

  • Opportunity to be actively involved in a range of front-line gospel / church planting ministries.
  • Involvement with Acts 29 Western Europe network, conferences and training events.
  • Acts 29 assessment for those who are exploring a call to church planting.
  • Training including Porterbrook Learning and leadership development.
  • Exposure to raw gospel community life in a pioneering context.
  • Personal mentoring / coaching.
  • A good time.

This is not an option for the faint-hearted. It would require a commitment of at least a year and we are unable to offer any financial assistance to those who are up for it. However, we guarantee that it will change your life as you are challenged, stretched, provoked, equipped and inspired to live all-out on mission for Christ. We’re looking for people to join us from September, so get in touch if you’re interested.



Reflecting on the Valleys Prayer Adventure

So how did the prayer adventure go down on Friday?

10 hours.

9 valleys.

14 intercessors.

1 rickety minibus.

Torrential rain.

Raging winds.

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!

Valleys Prayer Adventure

We have brought the much-anticipated valleys prayer adventure forward by a day, so we are now looking at going this Friday (8th June).

The day is essentially all about 3 things:

  • Raising awareness of the scale of gospel-need that currently exists in the welsh valleys.
  • Praying for families, churches and communities across this beautiful, broken region.
  • Envisioning some of those who come to take a huge step of faith and be part of the solution.

While we won’t be able to cover every area of every valley in a single day, the plan is still ambitious. The day will look something like this:

09:30 – Coffee and prayer at my house in Trevethin

10:00 – Eastern Valley

11:00 – Ebbw Vale

11:45 – Sirhowey Valley

12:30 – Merthyr (inc. Chippy lunch at Sovereign Grace)

14:00 – Cynon Valley

14:30 – Rhondda Valleys

16:00 – Pontypridd

16:30 – Caerphilly

17:00 – Finish

I’m well excited about this prayer adventure. If you are able to jump aboard the minibus and join us for the whole day, great! If not but you fancy joining us for part of it, just drop me a line and we’ll try to hook up with you somewhere on the road! If you can’t make it at all, please make a point of praying with us for the Welsh valleys this Friday.


Alive and kicking thanks to Steve Timmis

When I was a teenager I used to regularly go on adventures on my bike. I’d ride from my home in Pontypool out to Usk Island and then back home via Chainbridge. It was a 15 mile jaunt and it was smooth roads all the way. However, it was the furthest I ever cycled on my bike…until yesterday!

Yesterday, I made the most of the bank holiday and successfully completed a bike ride that I’ve wanted to do for years, but knew that it probably would have killed me. It was great to have my friend and co-nutter, James Richards, joining me with his running daps on (cos he’s insane!) Our missiont involved climbing from my house (900ft) to the White Stone at Garn Wen (1350ft), riding along the ridge to Blaenavon and up to Keeper’s Pond (1550ft) before climbing up to the summit of the Blorenge (1841ft). I then dropped back down to Keeper’s for a picnic with our families before descending to the floor of the valley and heading south to Pontypool (450ft) before climbing the steep hill back up to Trevethin. In total it was a 20 mile ride (the majority of which was mountainous terrain) and involved a total ascension of over 2000ft. I managed to do it in just under 3 hours riding time…and I was absolutely shattered…but totally elated!

However, I’m not sharing this to show off. I’m sharing this to say thank you to a good friend.

On October 19th last year (2011) I was having a coaching session via Skype with my friend Steve Timmis. Our coaching sessions were geared around the area of church planting, so I wasn’t really ready for Steve’s opening item on the agenda: “Dai, I was wondering if you’d like to join some of the other Acts 29 guys in trying to lose 7% of your body weight. We’re calling it Acts 29’s Biggest Loser!” Initially I was a bit taken aback “Is he saying I’m fat? Cheeky git!!” But the truth is that Steve had hit a raw nerve! That week I had jumped on my dad’s weighing scales and was shocked to realise that I weighed almost 16stone. That, coupled with the fact that many of my (large) clothes were starting to feel small and tight, meant that my weight and health were increasingly concerning issues. Which is why I’m grateful that Mr T was willing to speak up and speak into my situation, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” Proverbs 27:6)

So I accepted the challenge and then went away to try to work out how to lose almost 2 stone in weight. I knew from past experience that a blitz or binge mentality was not going to work, this endeavour needed to be sustainable. So I decided on 3 very simple action points:

1. Stop eating ALL snacks between meals.

2. Stop eating cereal before going to bed.

3. Start doing weekly exercise.

So that’s what I did. My exercise regime consisted of Fight Club each Wednesday night and one short bike ride each week on Monday afternoons. And it worked. I’m now weighing in below 14 stone (and still reducing) and clothes that used to be a squeeze are now hanging off me. I reached the 7% target several months ago – praise God! I’ve discovered that it’s great to have a personal target to aim for and a real achievement to reach that target. Goal setting is good! I haven’t felt this fit, healthy and up for anything in years. Similarly, I have found that the discipline required to train each week, as well as saying ‘no’ to chocolate and junk food has started to affect other areas of my life, not least my walk with God and my relationship with my kids. More energy, greater discipline and a happier home! I guess that bit of coaching advice was all about making me a better church planter after all!

And it’s all thanks to a friend who was willing to speak the truth in love.

Thanks Steve – I owe you one!

A Vision for the Valleys

When we planted Hill City Church almost 5 years ago, our passion was to be a church plant that plants churches. In my experience churches that aren’t committed to gospel expansion quickly move into consolidation mode (and consolidation is just another word for stagnation) Therefore, it was crucial that we established church planting as part of our DNA right from the off. A couple of years ago we identified nearby Garndiffaith as the first place we were going to plant and things are now moving forward with that vision at a rate of knots (more about that in another post!)


Ignite Hope 2012

Really excited because today’s the day that Ignite Hope 2012 kicks off!

Ignite Hope is a youth-led initiative that runs from 4th-7th May. Essentially Ignite Hope is all about demonstrating and proclaiming hope to communities across South Wales in Cardiff, Newport, the valleys and the Vale.

What that’s going to look like on the ground is 800 young people putting the love of Jesus on display by dishing out an unfathomable amount of social action, acts of mercy, community outreach events and such like. But be in no doubt, the gospel is at the heart of it all, with Bible teaching sessions each morning and gospel preaching services in the mahoosive marquee located at the Hope village in Sophia Gardens. We are trusting that God is going to save mightily this weekend as many are exposed to the power of the gospel in both Word and deed.

You can find out more about Ignite Hope 2012 here.

I’m posting this to ask you to pray. My role this weekend is to teach all of the morning sessions at the Valley hub in Blackwood and also preaching the gospel at the main event in the marquee on Saturday evening. We’re also hoping to bring a couple of car-fulls of Trevethin Young People on the Monday evening too.

I’d be so grateful if you’d pray for all of this with us.

As you could probably imagine, an event like this is not cheap. If you would like to stand with Ignite and bless Ignite Hope financially, you can do so here. Your support would be gratefully received.

May God be glorified across South Wales this weekend!

Plant on the Scarlet Blobs!

Just a simple little post to tell you where to plant your next church!

The map below was part a shocking article in Walesonline yesterday that revealed the true scale of child poverty in Wales. The map colour codes poverty across the principality – green being a low percentage, yellow and orange increasingly concerning and scarlet indicating that 40+% of children are living in poverty. Unsurprisingly, the Welsh valleys scored especially high, including my estate, Trevethin, where 46% of kids are deemed to be living in poverty!!

Why do I share this?

Simple – this is an epic church planting map!! I regularly talk to students and young adults who have a huge heart for the lost and a passion for planting gospel-wielding churches, but haven’t got a clue where to go! The Bible is clear that God’s heart beats for the poor, the broken and the marginalised. Sadly, for many years the church has had a different agenda – opting to focus on setting up shop in city centres, out-of-town industrial estates and leafy suburbs, often overlooking the challenge of taking the gospel to the more difficult, dangerous and desperate communities – the scarlet ones! While I agree that ALL people need reaching – the imbalance is nothing short of scandalous!!

Those who know me will know that I’m kind of passionate about seeing the Welsh valleys littered with churches that preach the truth and shine the light of God’s grace. There are more than enough opportunities to plant

So if you are called/interested/pursuing church planting in South Wales but are still unsure where God would have you do it, can I offer this simple advice:

Pray over this map, then go in the name of Jesus and plant on the scarlet blobs!