Category Archives: News

Appointment of Paul Blackham as Church Planter at Soul Church, Neath.

paulblackhamPaul was minister of a church plant in Preston, and was previously Associate Minister at All Souls Langham Place. He holds a PhD in systematic theology and is known for his Book by Book Bible study DVDs. It is a great blessing to have such a significant Bible teacher coming to the area.

Steve Levy, Pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea, said, ‘We are so blessed that someone as well qualified and gifted as Paul Blackham has agreed to come and help with the church plant in Neath, and we are looking forward to God doing great things. We are especially grateful to God for SaRang Church and WEST for their support and vision in this work, and pray that God will continue to work in reaching those who don’t know Christ in the Valleys.’

Soul Church was the first church to be planed through the Valley Commandos project.

Getting to Know: Cwm Gwendraeth Valley

The Cwm Gwendraeth Valley is home to over 21,000 people, mainly in the larger towns of Cross Hands, Tumble, Gorslas, Llanon, Pontyberem, Pontyates and Cefneithin.

You’ll notice straight away that something is different about the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley from the way we always refer to it with that little prefix, ‘Cwm’. That’s because the valley is one of Wales’ most welsh places. The vast majority of the people who live there think of it as Cwm Gwendraeth before thinking about it as the Gwendraeth Valley.

The valley is a stronghold of the welsh language with Menter Cwm Gwendraeth, a pioneering community-based Welsh language initiative, based in Pontyberem. Statistics show that it is the most Welsh speaking area in Carmarthenshire and one of the most Welsh speaking regions in all of Wales.

Surrounding the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley are Carmarthenshire’s 3 main towns; Carmarthen, Llanelli and Ammanford. In this sense the valley is as central as you can get, yet in another sense it leaves the valley isolated and overlooked as people tend towards the (relatively!) urban towns that surround it.

Cross Hands, the largest town in the valley, is something of a focal point as it is homes a significant proportion of the population, a number of popular shops and supermarkets, has fantastic road links to the rest of Carmarthenshire, and is now the primary location for secondary education. Many people know Cross Hands only as a place you drive through on the way from/to west Wales.

Nearby Tumble is, thanks to ongoing building, so close to Cross Hands it’s a little difficult to recognise where one ends and the other begins. Yet it is definitely it’s own place with it’s own identity and is divided up between ‘Upper’ and ‘Lower’ Tumble.

Pontyberem is geographically at the heart of the valley. Iit lies almost equidistantly between Cross Hands (to the east), Carmarthen (to the north), Kidwelly (to the west) and Llanelli (to the south). The BBC’s longest running television soap opera Pobol-y-Cwm is located in the fictional village of Cwmderi in the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley said to be based on Pontyberem.

Many people will have visited the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley to enjoy one of Carmarthenshire’s finest beauty spots, Llyn Llech Owain. The nature park is steeped in history and folk history as well as being well equipped for a family day out.

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With all that said it’s fair to say that the valley is spiritually a hard and dark place. During the 1904 revival it was one of the least touched areas of Wales with a relatively small awakening. There are a few glowing embers in the church’s that have existed in the valley for decades and a few sparks of life that we pray will cause a blaze in the near future.

This is why Ammanford Evangelical Church has chosen to plant into it’s neighbouring valley with Hope Gwendraeth and why it is our prayer that we will, sooner rather than later, be able to plant a second church dedicated to reaching out in the Welsh language.

 

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You can follow the progress of Hope Gwendraeth (formerly CrossHands Church) on the web hopegwendraeth.com, on twitter @hopegwendraeth or on facebook www.fb.com/hopegwednraeth

New lights being lit

Picture the scene:

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It’s late October 2012. The sun has set and the amber glow of the street lights are all we have to find our way. A group of burdened Christians have made the trek from all over Carmarthenshire to CrossHands, to an old chapel, to pray for what might become a new church in the Cwm Gwendraeth Valley. The rain is lashing at the windows, the fluorescent tubes are humming, but both sounds are drowned out by the singing and prayer of those who have made the journey.

That WAS the scene when we called our first ever prayer meeting in CrossHands, and it was the scene when I was given the opportunity to properly address those who were thinking about forming the core of our new church. Travelling in the darkness to reach the chapel, the promise of warmth that the light spilling out the chapel windows gave to those who approached, it all stirred my spirit to speak some very Biblical imagery. Darkness and light.

Think about the contrast between darkness and light in Scripture…even at the very beginning.

In Genesis 1 we begin with darkness. Nothingness. A complete void. Where God has yet to create there stands darkness. And as God creates, as He intervenes in the nothingness, as He lays His first fingerprints across creation…LIGHT! And not just light but a real, significant change to creation. From nothingness to something which is actually, positively ‘good’.

From the very start of God’s Word we get a sense that without God’s fingerprints, without His involvement and intervention all we have is darkness. And it isn’t good.

As God’s Word unfolds, as He reveals more of Himself through Scripture, we discover that darkness isn’t simply something devoid of God, but it becomes a symbol of His judgement.

In Ammanford Evangelical Church we recently made our way through the book of Exodus. In the early chapters you come across a number of plagues. The plagues build to a crescendo, to a final most gruesome and terrifying plague of the blood of the first born, yet as it’s about to reach that crescendo you first get the plague of total and utter darkness, darkness so all encompassing that it can be felt! Continue reading

2 Farmers + Acts 1 – Dai Hankey Post

seedsThere’s an old tale about two farmers whose crops were in desperate need of rain. They both cried out to God in prayer, asking Him to send the much-needed rain. But only one of them then went out into his fields to prepare them for the rain when it arrived. The question that this story presents is simply this – which of those farmers truly had faith?

That story came to mind as I was reading the first chapter of Acts last week. As a church planter and a bloke who just loves exciting stories I’ve read the Book of Acts A LOT of times. However, I’d never noticed this sweet little nugget in chapter 1…until now!

Chapter 1 begins with our Saviour promising His disciples that a special gift is on the way:

“Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before. John baptized with water, but in just a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (v4-5+8)

Jesus then steps onto His epic cloud elevator and ascends to heaven, leaving His disciples to wait for the ‘gift’.

Acts 2 then famously charts the spectacular arrival of that gift – the Holy Spirit – on the day of Pentecost and from that moment on it was game on! The church literally explodes and the world is never the same again.

But where’s this nugget I’m banging on about?

It’s found in the bit that happens between the promise of the Holy Spirit and the arrival of the Holy Spirit:

“Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those who were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon (the Zealot), and Judas (son of James). They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus. During this time, when about 120 believers were together in one place, Peter stood up and addressed them. “Brothers,” he said, “the Scriptures had to be fulfilled concerning Judas, who guided those who arrested Jesus. This was predicted long ago by the Holy Spirit, speaking through King David. Judas was one of us and shared in the ministry with us.” (Judas had bought a field with the money he received for his treachery. Falling headfirst there, his body split open, spilling out all his intestines. The news of his death spread to all the people of Jerusalem, and they gave the place the Aramaic name Akeldama, which means “Field of Blood.”) Peter continued, “This was written in the book of Psalms, where it says, ‘Let his home become desolate, with no one living in it.’ It also says, ‘Let someone else take his position.’ So now we must choose a replacement for Judas from among the men who were with us the entire time we were traveling with the Lord Jesus—from the time he was baptized by John until the day he was taken from us. Whoever is chosen will join us as a witness of Jesus’ resurrection.” So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they all prayed, “O Lord, you know every heart. Show us which of these men you have chosen as an apostle to replace Judas in this ministry, for he has deserted us and gone where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and Matthias was selected to become an apostle with the other eleven.” (v 12-26)

Let me summarise what’s going on here – Jesus had promised the much-needed Holy Spirit to come and empower the early believers for the task of turning the world upside down with the gospel. In other words, Jesus had promised them rain! The believers’ response was to faithfully prepare their fields.

This is what that looked like: “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer (v14)

It was out of this of togetherness and prayerful unity that Peter spoke to the disciples regarding leadership. He explained that Judas’ betrayal and grizzly demise had left their leadership structure weak and in need of strengthening. After a prayerful game of Rock, Paper, Scissors Matthias became Apostle number 12. With the leadership situation addressed, the field was now ready for the ensuing monsoon! By the end of the following chapter the church had grown by some 3000 people and the church was off to a flyer!

So what’s this nugget teaching us?

I guess it’s simply this – if we are seeking God to move in power, to save to the uttermost, and to unleash the Holy Spirit in our midst and in our generation – I guess we need to be doing more than simply talking and praying about it. We need to be preparing for it. Are we identifying, raising up and releasing leaders who will humbly serve, lovingly lead, faithfully disciple and courageously commission others? It’s a challenge for all church leaders, church planters and gospel ministers. But it’s a challenge that we must rise to in faith. (For your prayers, it’s something that we as elders are looking at with real purpose at Hill City right now!)

So let’s follow the example of the 2 farmers and the Acts 1 believers:

Pray for rain.

Prepare for rain.

Reap the harvest.

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Dai Hankey is on the Valley Commandos Board representing Acts 29 and also a Church leader in the Valley of Torfaen. View the original blog post on his blog here.

Valley Commando Dai Hankey Guest Post:

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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? Continue reading

CrossHands Church Plant

Allow Us to Introduce Ourselves

I’m excited to introduce you to CrossHands Church, a new plant that plans to start meeting publically in Carmarthenshire’s Gwendraeth Valley from September. But before I tell you about that, we need to go back a little, perhaps 35 years.

Ammanford Evangelical Church, the church behind the CrossHands plant in the Gwendraeth Valley, is somewhere in the region of 35 years old. It’s hard to tell because reports vary and at the time of it’s birth people were more interested in speaking about Jesus than keeping records. It had as it’s humble beginnings a rag tag bunch of brethren believers who met together along with Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Since then it’s been a church marked out by two vital elements.

Firstly, it’s always been a place in which the Gospel, found in God’s Word, is at the centre. I suppose that’s essentially what it means to be ‘evangelical’ but it was also inevitable given that it’s beginnings were in essence a Bible study.

Secondly, it’s always been a church that’s placed a premium on community. A premium on loving, sharing and growing in the Gospel together as a family. Again, the reality is that this is exactly what a church is, a family drawn together and held together by Jesus’ blood.

Our prayer is that the new church in Crosshands will be marked out by the exact same elements. Loving God’s Word and loving one another.

Fast forward 30+ years and Ammanford Evangelical Church has a lot to be thankful for. Conversions, restorations, marriages, births, properties and the fact the two current pastors are products of the church’s youth work. God’s blessings have been visible each and every step of the way.

It was in this place of counting God’s blessings that the leadership of the church sensed a call from God to reach out beyond our Ammanford base. Of course we always have, as a church whose influence extends far into the Amman Valley and beyond, we’ve always looked beyond the geographical borders of Ammanford town. We’ve also had a strong history of sending gifted Christian into serious Gospel work with churches near and far.

But the call from God was to reach out this time in planting. Planting a church that would itself be planting churches (more on that in later posts perhaps). The call was to identify our ‘Samaria’ (Acts 1:8) and invest in kingdom growth.

3961919_300Enter (at last) CrossHands Church. Perhaps the name will change but the vision certainly wont, “To Make and Mature Christ Followers in the Gwendraeth Valley.” The Gwendraeth, like the Amman Valley, is home to somewhere in the region of 25,000 people. Yet the Gospel witness is heart breakingly small. I could bore you with the details of how God is convincing us that it’s the right time and place to plant but I wont. I’d rather just ask for your prayerful partnership in the work.

First of all thank God for the work that has gone on before and the work that is going on now in the valley. Thank God for men and women who have prayed and shed tears over the valley. Thank God for the men and women who have stood up for Jesus, proclaiming Him boldly even when many seem unmoved.

Pray for the folks from Ammanford Evangelical Church (and other churches) who will form the core of CrossHands church. That they would love one another well and as they do so that they would be living testimonies to the power of the Gospel.

Pray for a venue for our Sunday meetings. It turns out that suitable, affordable spaces are few and far between in the strategic spot of CrossHands. But talks are in an advanced stage over a unit in the local business park.

Pray for the leadership of Ammanford Evangelical Church who will lead and help birth this new church. And pray too that God would be rising up leaders who would take it and lead it forward as their own church.

It is such a joy to know people from all over Wales (and beyond!) are partnering together with us in prayer. What a privilege. It is such a thrill to know that something like Valley Commandos now exists in South Wales in order to bring together people and churches from different backgrounds, even different continents, but unite them to one purpose; to see Gospel churches planted in all the Valleys of South Wales so that thousands would see the Gospel, hear the Gospel and trust the Gospel.

Please, please, please be praying with us and for us. And in advance, thank you for your partnership.

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Note: Sammy Davies is Assistant Pastor in Ammanford Evangelical Church having been saved as a late teenager through the church’s youth work. Following University the church called him as a ministry apprentice before supporting his studies in WEST. Sammy is the ‘Elder on the Ground’ for CrossHands Church. Follow him on twitter @saintbeagle.

You can follow the progress of CrossHands Church on the web crosshandschruch.com, on twitter @crsshndschrch or on facebook www.facebook.com/crosshandschurch

Bible Reading

by Valley Commando Board Member Steve Levey From Mount Pleasant Baptist Church

One of the things that we are doing in Neath is RBT (Reading the Bible Together).  There are passages of the Bible that perplex preachers and it needs other members to see the obvious. Take 1 Kings for example, which starts with the story of David at the end of his life. Now we know how David trusted the risen Christ for salvation (Acts 2:31) and we know he is an example of faith in Christ (Romans 4). But why does the book start with him shivering and old, sleeping with a pretty woman but unable to do anything but sleep. He looks so ridiculous, such a fool. I’d always been perplexed but someone in the Neath RBT group pointed out that even though David trusted the Lord himself to come and save him (2 Sam 7:11), the unbelieving servants around him looked at his life and thought, “you know what David needs?” “A pretty woman.”

Bible Study

The question hangs out there.  When I am old what will unbelievers think I need? Christ or something that makes me look an old fool – a solemn warning from RBT Neath.

Soul Church – Valley Commando Will Savory – thoughts on Church.

SOUL Church Valley Commandos blog:

There is nothing like church.  It is “the household of God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  As I look around the church plant in Neath I’m reminded there really is nowhere like church. There are people of all kinds of 1-timothy-315_2162_1600x1200backgrounds and all you have to do to join is put your faith in Jesus. Age, background and academic ability are barriers broken down in Christ.

 

Now we set about the hard task of reaching the people of Neath and making sure they too know that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world.  Already we have seen quite a number coming in. It has also been a real thrill to see how churches that preach Christ have been so encouraging in supporting us.  As one minister said, “there are more than enough non-Christians to go around” – and there certainly are. What an encouragement!  You’ve got to love church, it’s what God is doing in the world! A piece of heaven on earth, home!  After all it is “the household of God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”

 

Map shows location of Neath and the surrounding Valleys. 240px-Neath_Port_Talbot_UK_location_map.svg

From the Rising of the Sun

This blog post is written by Wales Evangelical School of Theology Chief Operating Office Joel Morris regarding his work at WEST and Valley Commandos:

” I had been living in Korea for a little over a year having gone there in the first place due to my wife being Korean and in order for me to have space to finish writing my engineering doctorate thesis.  After submitting, I was soon in a postdoctoral position at Seoul National University in the Nuclear Engineering department. I remember while working in Seoul attending a speech given by a British CEO all about the shifting of economic power from the West to the East. During my life in Seoul I could almost sense the ground shifting beneath my feet.  This shift in economic and military power might bring increasing tension, fear and distrust around the world.

The church cannot be isolated from such tectonic shifts but should not react like the world. Such a shift in economic power may also impact global missions —Korea and China now follow the US and India in third and fourth places for countries sending the most missionaries.   A good example of such a missionary reversal is the gospel partnership between Wales Evangelical School of Theology (WEST) and SaRang Community Church, Seoul.  It was during my first few days in Korea that I met up with a contact from SaRang, a pastor who I’d been introduced to previously.  I promptly started to consult for him about Wales and WEST every Sunday as I attended his church.  I can honestly say that Pastor Sam Ko is one of the most remarkable men I have ever met.  His and SaRang’s approach has impressed me.  They recommending me, a Welshman, to work as Chief Operating Officer of WEST, typified this.

What is behind this link between Korea and Wales?  In 1866, Welshman Robert Jermain Thomas gave his life in order to bring the gospel to Korea.  He risked everything to accomplish what the Lord had set before him.  Then in 1907, the Korean Peninsula experienced a great revival that has been traced back to the Welsh revival of 1904. The result a hundred years later is a close family bond and spiritual repayment on behalf of the Korean Church.

Here are five areas in which my thinking has been moulded by my time in Korea:

1. Partnership

Being a ‘bridge person’ has shown me the importance of unity, and our union with Christ and his church is one of unity with one another in him.  The author of Psalm 133 compares unity with the anointing of Aaron.

‘It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!’ (Psalm 133:2)

True unity, like the oil, sanctifies all it touches and it has a gospel purpose.  As the high priest bears the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgement on his heart similarly our great High Priest bears the Church on his chest and shoulders, so that the Holy Spirit flows down onto the people of God.

Through our gospel partnership the Church demonstrates this unity and not mere empire building. Of course this isn’t new but Asia has traditionally been on the receiving end of such relationships. What we are experiencing at WEST is reciprocal and mutually beneficial to churches in both regions. Now, Welsh churches supported and encouraged by SaRang and WEST are planting in Wales, the first one in Neath by Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.  (Watch the video on www.valleycommandos.com).

2. Risk

When moving my family to Korea I risked everything I had to follow where I believed the Lord was leading. I had no job, no place to live, and my wife was pregnant.  As those gathered to Christ we risk all to follow where Jesus leads. Korean Church leaders tend to have big faith and expectation in God so their operations are inherently risky. In the same way Robert Jermain Thomas risked all, and a nation was blessed richly with the gospel.  What are we willing to risk today in our risk averse consumer society?

3. Patience

‘Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.’ (Psalm 25: 5)

David knew what it was to wait for God and didn’t make a move until he knew he was with him.  Psalm 25 was precious to me during my time in Korea.  I had an   important lesson to learn — how to wait for God and the need to earn the trust and confidence of the people there before I could be allowed in and given opportunities.  In Korea, there is a kind of parental relationship between old and young in work, church and all walks of life.  The younger show respect and submission, the older in return show trust and benevolence. This works to form humility and patience in the young. If you want to get anywhere in Korea you need to respect your elders, do your time and learn all you can!  Sounds quite Biblical!

4. Pride

It is always helpful and certainly biblical to learn from other Christians especially in a cross-cultural setting.  We in the West need to be mindful of prejudice against our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, ensuring our proud hearts are not too stubborn to learn.  The reverse of course is also true.  When Thomas died there wasn’t a soul won for Christ in Korea, in Wales there were churches on every corner.  Compare this to where the Korean and British Churches are today.  Going on the 2001 census, there are now between 90,000-100,000 churchgoers in Wales, whereas over 90,000 members belong to SaRang Community Church alone, and 162 missionary family units are supported.  This serves just to demonstrate the kind of gigantic reversal experienced between two nations in just 150 years!

5. Church

In Sarang, new believers are put into cell groups, where they are nurtured and grow – discipleship is in the DNA of the church!  John Oak the founding pastor firmly believed that ordinary church members are the best and greatest potential of the church in its mission. I think he achieved more than most in this area and at least one Welsh Church adapted its own discipleship course because of SaRang.  This was such a radical concept for Koreans who historically relied too heavily on pastors to do the work.  I think we’d all recognise similar challenges faced in our churches.  The whole church should be a projection of the life of Jesus through relationships and behaviour, when gatherings take place, in sharing the gospel and caring for the poor and needy.

Let’s examine ourselves and gain confidence in preparation for other such gospel collaborations between East and West!  Let’s take advantage of gospel opportunities afforded by the changing political landscape.

Dr. Joel Morris
Chief Operating Officer of WEST
Cooperative Missionary of SaRang Community Church, Seoul