“Exhilarating and Exhausting”: Andy Bannister on Six Days of Mission in Plymouth

ab1I’ve just got back from doing a mission in Plymouth, and it was an amazing week. I spoke 21 times in 6 days and although it was exhausting, it was incredibly exciting!

We were mostly involved in outreach and had the privilege of speaking in schools, in universities, and evangelistic settings, and also on BBC Radio Devon. On top of that, we also squeezed in some evangelism training. There are many wonderful and encouraging stories from Plymouth: here are just a few of the many highlights.

Right at the start of the week a woman came up to speak to me at one of our training events and said, “I really want to thank you and David Robertson for what you did at Creation Fest”. We’d spoken at this festival with 15,000 people earlier in the summer. She said to me, “Andy, I brought my daughter to your seminar, and during the Q&A session, there was one answer you gave which addressed what was, for her, THE stumbling block. She was almost on the verge of walking away from her faith, she was about to give it all up, but what you shared that afternoon was absolutely what she needed to hear – it just turned her life around. She is now on fire for Christ, she is witnessing to her friends… so I wanted to say a big ‘thank you’.”

I love the way that God often works through the Solas team, and we don’t even know it’s happening. So it’s great to hear those stories!

Another highlight was working in schools. I haven’t done schools work for a while, but we had some really wonderful encounters, including great conversations with RS teachers, who appreciated our work. We led lessons in which we took classes through the historical evidence for the resurrection, which was a huge amount of fun! It was exciting to see pupils beginning to realise that: ‘Wow, there are actually reasons why Christians believe these things!” In another lesson I pretended to be an atheist and fired lots of objections at a local pastor, such as: “Faith is just for those who are weak minded, and can’t think”, or “It’s just a psychological crutch”, or “No-one with any brains believes in it”. The pupils had the job of trying to argue against me and there was a fun moment when, frustrated with my attempt to claim all religious people were idiots, a year 11 kid called out, “Wait a minute! Isaac Newton, he was a Christian, and he wasn’t stupid!” So it was just great to be able to see the kids beginning to engage and respond.  Mark Oliver the local organiser, tells me that that our week there has “opened the doors for further school involvement” for the church.

3UX3Qh3Q.jpegOn the Saturday morning at the end of week, we did a men’s breakfast. Every ticket was sold, every seat filled, and about half the audience were not Christians. The topic they had given me to speak on was “The Problem of Happiness”. I talked about the fact we are encouraged to find meaning and purpose and happiness in our job, family, possessions, bank-balance and so forth: but that those things ultimately let us down. Of course, I was able to then ‘land’ the message on the gospel of Jesus Christ and we had really good conversations afterwards. One gentleman told me that his number-one-goal in life had been to pay his mortgage off. He’d worked very long hours for years, and had finally made the last payment. He said: “I was expecting to feel euphoric, that I’d finally achieved this goal. But in fact, I felt completely empty. I suddenly realised that this thing I’d been aiming for, for the last 15 years of my life, just wasn’t what I thought it would be. Now I need to figure out what it’s about.” So we had a really interesting conversation about Jesus, and meaning and identity. This was something hugely exciting to be part of.

Another highlight at Plymouth was a smaller event in a Costa Coffee. It was informal, with about 25 people sat around tables as I answered questions. Most of the audience were Christians, but there was one lady there who had been quiet for the most of the event. Then, right at the end, she came asked a deeply moving question about suffering. She had been a Christian — had abandoned her faith — and for the next 25 minutes, it became a dialogue between me and her; honest question after honest question. After the event two or three women who she knew, continued the conversation and I even saw them praying for her. I love these ‘divine moments’. For me, the whole purpose of that Costa Coffee event, was about that one series of questions from that one lady. I’ve no idea how that story ended; but to see that she was being cared for and her questions addressed was incredible.

The week ended with an invitation to speak on BBC Radio Devon (listen to it here).  I was given an opportunity to speak about Jesus to around 20,000 people; both directly in a talk – but also to ‘share the gospel through contemporary issues’ in their newspaper review.

All this came about because we were invited by one local church, Plymstock Chapel, to come and work in partnership with them for a week. It’s exactly the sort of thing that Solas is here for, what we live for, and love doing!

So that was the exhilarating and exhausting week in Plymouth, and now I need some sleep! Thanks for your prayers and your support for Solas — they make weeks like this possible. Please do consider supporting our work for as little as £3 a month, or inviting the Solas team to your town or city to do a week like this. If one small church in Plymouth can organise a week like this, your church could too!

“I would wholeheartedly recommend a visit from Solas. People need to know there are answers that have been thought-through to questions of life and faith. Young Christians must know their faith is reliable and rational in today’s sceptical world, and we need people like Solas to give them this confidence.”

Mark Oliver, Plymstock Chapel.