The Power of Sharing Stories

Over the past 20 months or so, we have run 5 consecutive Online Alpha courses. These courses are a great way for people to explore the claims of the Christian faith together using videos and discussion groups. It has been a great way to meet new people and talk about important things in a safe way and really build a sense of community at a time when many of us feel a bit dislocated or isolated because of restrictions around meeting in person.

Earlier this week I went on a Zoom call with the presenters of Alpha online and they shared some remarkable stories of people coming to faith and running courses in places like Brazil, in India, in the Lebanon and in Austria and the UK.

It was really exciting to hear people share their stories and how maybe family members or friends had invited them to this course online or maybe they responded to an advertisement on Facebook and started to come along each week from the comfort of their home. It felt like a safe way to dip their toe in the water, so to speak, without having to go to church or find oneself in a situation where you might feel ill at ease.

As these people across the globe shared their stories, they spoke of personal transformation, of the hope they had found as their faith became alive in a personal way and the new friends they had made on their journey. We have found lovely things happening on our own courses and met beautiful people, and friendships have grown. Some people have found their faith has come alive or it has grown deeper and others have experienced an inner peace or joy they have never experienced before.

What excited me about the Zoom call, was hearing very similar stories happening in different cultures and parts of the world and, as Jesus became real in people’s consciousness, it seemed to change everything for them. They now found they wanted to get involved themselves in helping to run courses and share that which they had discovered themselves.

About a week before the Alpha Zoom call to share stories from across the globe, I went online for the Fields of Life online Inspire conference. St. Finnian’s has had a connection with Fields of Life for over 20 years now and, over those years, a number of our parishioners travelled to work on short term projects in Uganda.

I found the online conference lived up to its name and ignited something deep within me. It raised awareness of uncomfortable realities like the inequality of the world. I discovered the significant impact of Covid 19 on people’s livelihoods and education.

I heard, for example, of the struggles experienced by young girls and women who are menstruating and who are without sanitary pads and how dangerous lockdown has been for young women. Many are taken away and forced to marry and have children at a very young age. The huge distances that women and girls have to travel to source clean water make them very vulnerable to attacks and rapes and the lack of seasonal work means many are going hungry.

In the midst of these challenges Fields of Life are running projects like ‘I am Girl’ to seek to provide reusable sanitary products and help girls to continue to attend school. They are trying to educate communities and villages about the importance of respect for women and advocating on their behalf to get the government to provide these products free to those who can’t afford them and who are forced into hiding during their menstrual cycle.

In the midst of poverty and despair, I saw the difference that boreholes and clean water make to a local community. We saw the setting up of sanitising and handwashing stations and the difference providing PPE and food parcels made to desperate people in their time of need.

These are not easy realities to write about or describe, but they are important stories to hear about. Some will be aware of how the St. Finnian’s Uganda fund sent most of their reserves recently to support emergency Covid relief in these very poor communities. Why not take the opportunity to tune into the Fields of Life YouTube channel to catch some of the amazing stories from this conference?

Today, I found myself with tears in my eyes as I watched on the news as Kevin Sinfield completed a 101 mile run in 24 hours to raise funds for Motor Neurones Disease research in honour of his former team mate Rob Burrow who suffers from this disease. It was a huge physical challenge to undergo for a tough rugby league former professional. As he made his way into the Headingley Stadium with Rob Burrow’s daughter and the crowd erupted, it was a moment of great beauty and inspiration.

Are there good news stories you can share with someone today?

The world is in need of Good News and, if you are a person of faith, you have a story of hope, a story of love, a story that has the potential to transform someone else’s life. Don’t be afraid to share it!

Looking forward to speaking again soon.

Much love to everyone,

Jono.

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