British Asian and Church Army Evangelist JOE FARNAND shares his vision for witnessing to his local Asian community
Most of us at some stage in reflecting about our church or community ask the question ‘God what are you doing?'
Church Army Evangelist Joe Farnand asked that question in prayer in January 2005 and, much to his surprise, God’s answer was that work was to be done amongst Asian people in Joe’s community. Just two weeks later, one his church members at St Birinus and St John’s in High Wycombe came up to him and told him that the words Asian uprising had come to her in a dream – and she was told to tell Joe!
It seemed pretty clear to Joe that God was calling him to work more directly amongst the Asian Community – both re-engaging some Christian Asian young people, and forming friendships with non-Christian Asians. There are not many people better qualified to do this work than Joe. As a British Asian who previously worked with the government on race and faith during the Bradford riots of 2001, he was able to bring an insider’s perspective and insight to the cultural conflicts and challenges posed by a new and emerging culture.
The challenge this time was not to shape and develop government policy, but to fulfil God’s purpose for ministry and mission within the Asian community on his doorstep.
High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire has a significant Asian population of around 8%, and in 2006 was at the centre of arrests for Muslim extremist terrorism which brought some tension and suspicion around the subject of faith within the Asian community.
But the radicalisation of young Islamist men is not the whole story here. Asian culture is undergoing huge change with the development of a new, confident, vibrant culture which has taken so many by surprise – a real mission field ready for harvest.
Joe says: “Since setting up our Asian Christmas celebration and similar events I have really been able to help church members engage with cross-cultural mission, and begin the process of encouraging Asian Christians to re-engage in a more committed way with church. Lives are changing and there is now definite movement as people are opening up to God and his purpose for their community.
"My Gujarati background and experience gives me credibility in communicating the gospel in to our new and emerging British Asian culture, and to develop missional thinking based on relevance to and resonance with communities I strongly identify with.”
For the past couple of years Joe has been consciously working to prepare for this work of God. He has invited a number of Asian people to the Alpha Course, and led pub-based outreach evenings to engage with them. Having had success with these events, he has worked with a cross-cultural team to develop an innovative form of worship and mission event.
Joe says: “The key to these is to engage with Asian songs and readings in Asian and English language, and yet to make it not a spectacle but an encounter with God. This requires careful judgement and what is sometimes called liturgical sense, that sense of knowing what God is doing during worship and to go with it. In addition to that we have speakers who will provoke us to action.”
Last Christmas, Joe and his team organised an Asian-style Christmas event with Asian food, special testimonies, cross-cultural worship and a talk from Rev Canon George Kavoor – Chaplain to the Queen and Principal of Trinity College Bristol – who left no stone unturned as he pointedly challenged people to open their hearts to Christ.
Rev Kavoor shared the good news of his church in India, which had grown to a congregation of 20,000, and encouraged a vision for the UK Church to think bigger and develop and support more active discipleship of Christ.
Joe adds: “ It was an inspiring outreach event, which included our Asian community, demonstrating the unity that can be achieved by focussing on Jesus and his global message of salvation. George Kavoor had an exceptional perspective of issues faced by the Anglian Church and the challenges that must be addressed if the Church is to survive and grow.”.
Pavan Lall, an Asian attending the event said : … I felt very inspired and moved by what George said. I do feel that we need to take action, we as a church need to be practical in saving souls."
Dave West, the lead musician for X-Alt, said: "‘Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of what can only be described as a breakthrough in cross-culture God-stuff I feel inspired to take the Asian worship deeper into the X-alt dynamic."
Since the event a number of those who responded have grown in their Christian walk and have joined the Freedom in Christ course run at St Birinus and St John's Church by a team under Joe's leadership, and are looking to see how the church can be more active in mission and impact on the local community.
Joe says: "It has been on my heart that I should make preparations for the success of God's mission amongst Asian people through His Church. I am delighted that this event has developed the Church in cross-cultural understanding of God, worship and mission .None of this would have been possible without the developing passion of St Birinus and St John’s Church for cross-cultural mission. People were signing up to help in whatever way they could. This is a joy as people are becoming creative and starting to develop their own missionary instincts.”
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