I wandered around in the damp early morning. Clumps of people were scattered around in their campsites, some wending their way in their dressing gowns to the shower blocks, tooth brushes and towels in hand. On the outer edges the trees were beautiful in their tender spring leaves, and the grass was lush and long.
I walked on, reminiscing. Ah yes! That was the building which the South Africans took over one year. It was actually hot that summer, there were lots of water fights. This is the parade ring where church teams played football matches, and here is the grassy area where we pitched some of the children’s tents for their morning activities.
It was all coming back. Great memories. Songs, laughter, kids running all over the place, the sound of teaching booming out from microphoned seminar tents and buildings, little groups under trees eating sandwiches and strumming guitars, huge queues eagerly waiting to rush into the evening meeting and save seats for their friends.
I walk by one of the large concreted areas designated as carparks, and hear again Nigel Ring’s voice, so courteously imploring naughty campers who haven’t yet complied with the regulations to “please take your cars off site to the car park.”
Such a strange nostalgic feeling to be back at what was once known as Stoneleigh Agricultural Showground now called simply Stoneleigh Park. Some of the most important and formative summers in our Newfrontiers History took place here, in the decade of 1991 to 2001. Many people heard God calling them into salvation, into fulltime service, into a deeper walk with him, into sacrificial giving, into relocating to church plant. Some left behind years of rebellion, some repented and returned from backsliding, many were healed, many were set free from various types of bondage.
I mused upon all this as I ambled around. I passed the immense long building which had originally been a cattle shed. This was where we held the main meetings until the last couple of years. We were able to get some 6,000 under one roof! But the main and abiding memory was of the strong smell of ammonia and dung which assailed the senses from the first moment of any Bible week! Somehow we tolerated it, and indeed, its pungency seemed to moderate as the week went by. Now I stood at the back and gazed down its length, remembering how thousands of chairs had to be shipped in, television monitors installed, a platform built and a PA system rigged up. Now it is just a dreary concrete and corrugated iron shell, and used for this weekend as an immense carpark. One plus though: the strong aroma of cow is no more!
I walked purposefully on now as I recognised the spot where Terry and I and our 5 children slept in the early years. A rabbit hopped through the weeds as I approached. Circling around, I chuckled to myself as I saw the familiar sign on the building: “Rare Breeds Survival Unit”.
I think that describes us pretty well really. I hope we don’t appear so tatty and run down though.
Enough nostalgia! I turned toward the big new complex of buildings which Catalyst was using for the third time. It was nearly time for the first meeting of the day. This was the festival weekend of the apostolic group Catalyst, led by David Devenish. Over 5,000 were camping or staying nearby from churches located all over the UK but also from Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Pakistan, and many European nations. Last night I had spoken with dear friends who have been experiencing harrowing circumstances in countries hostile to Christianity and also the hazards of military operations which have endangered lives. I was deeply impressed by their faith, zeal and cheerfulness.
“How did you live?” I asked of one whose family had been forced to flee with two little children and a four week old baby.
“We had a large family car, so we put as many of our possessions in it as we could and lived in it for a while.”
Not only did this family survive, they sought to encourage their church members who had also been forced out of their homes, and took initiatives to help and bless others with the result that people were saved and a church begun.
We were also privileged during the weekend to hear Andy who is leading a church planting team in a major Middle Eastern city. We listened in awe as he spoke of the cost involved in taking a young family on such a venture, and yet with red-hot passion unabated. Andrew Wilson, another speaker, was also as usual provocative and stimulating, colourful and relevant.
It was a joy to see people such as Jules Burt who led worship so ably and passionately, and Philip and Carol Wilthew, who had been mere nippers in those far off days of Stoneleigh Bible weeks! How wonderful to see so many who had been teenagers or kids in those days now mature Christian believers ably leading churches, or serving on church planting teams, or teaching, or taking responsibility in various capacities. Newfrontiers may have devolved into different apostolic spheres, but the same Spirit prevails and the same principles are being worked out; and although there were greater numbers at Stoneleigh when it was the only one of our Bible weeks, now with the proliferation of spheres and Newday there are now nearly as many people attending overall.
In each of the apostolic spheres around the world church planting is vigorously taking place, and in an increasing number of countries, so that Newfrontiers is represented in some 70+ nations. The mood at Catalyst was definitely one of joyful anticipation of more growth and manifestation of the Kingdom of God breaking out.
It’s good to look back sometimes, as long as it is with thankfulness and not through rose-coloured spectacles. The old days were great, but they were not the best: the best is yet to come!
“We’ll praise him for all that is past
And trust him for all that’s to come!”
My reverie was interrupted by the sound of the band striking up; I must hurry to find my place. It seems somehow fitting that the speaker this morning is Terry Virgo. Yes!