This article is adapted from the BUC Worship of 25th July 2022. Please join the BUC staff at 8:30 am each weekday morning by clicking on the links below:
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord. - Jeremiah 29:4-9
There is a little bit of a trend in some Adventist communities, that the place where we happen to live, is not where God wants us to be. What God really wants is for you to pack up and move into the wilds somewhere. But this text in Jeremiah is saying something else. It seems to be saying: look, never mind where you want to be, this is where you are. So, just get on with life and be a witness for me here.
Now it’s possible that this was a unique situation – the Babylonian captivity, but I suspect that there is a wider message here, that applies to all of us. Maybe this is the way God wants us to evangelise the world?
Most of my ministry was spent in Wales which, interestingly, seems to be a preferred destination for some of those who want to flee the cities of London and Birmingham etc. The vast majority of the Adventist members in Wales moved there from somewhere else.
So, I want to talk a bit about Wales, and suggest some ways that our members, at least our evangelistically minded members, can share the Adventist message there. Of course most of you watching aren’t in Wales but the principles apply wherever you are: London, Birmingham, Stoke-on-Trent, Babylon, anywhere.
I think what God is telling us through the prophet Jeremiah is that if we want to reach the people around us, we need to engage with them and identify with them.
On 21 October 1966 something terrible happened in a village just a few miles from where I used to live in Cardiff. A colliery spoil tip had been built up over a natural spring. Eventually the water content caused it to give way and more than 100,000 tonnes of rubble cascaded down the slope and engulfed the village school, killing 144 people, 116 of them children. If you’re an Adventist in Wales, you need to go there, to the little village of Aberfan. You need to walk along the rows of graves and read the children’s names.
If you’re in Wales you need to get familiar with the humour of Max Boyce. He’s now 78 but still hugely influential throughout Wales. If you understand his humour, then you’ll also understand something about Welsh culture and Welsh nationalism. Max never knew his father as he was killed in a mining explosion just before he was born. The resentment of the exploitation which took place in the mines, exploitation which led to the massive wealth concentrated in Cardiff and the poverty which still exists in some valley communities, can be heard in echoes in some of Max Boyce’s songs.
If you live in the north of Wales, you need to see Llyn Celyn, not far from Bala. It’s a pretty lake but it still arouses feelings of resentment among the locals and the wider Welsh population. There used to be a village there, called Capel Celyn, but in 1957 a bill was passed by the parliament in England which authorised the construction of a reservoir to provide the city of Liverpool and the Wirral with water. Because it was a parliamentary bill, no Welsh planning permission was needed. The Tryweryn Valley was flooded and the village drowned. If you drive north up the A487 you’ll see a painted rock at Llanrhystud, just before you get to Aberystwyth, which says, “Cofiwch Dryweryn” – “Remember Tryweryn”.
Then there’s St David, the patron saint of Wales. Wales was a stronghold of Celtic Christianity just 500 years after the New Testament era. Wales has had major religious revivals and has sent missionaries all over the world. If we want to “evangelise” the people of this land, we need to make sure we understand their Christian heritage. Actually they can probably teach us a thing or two.
Other things and people you need to know about include the story of Hedd Wyn, the Welsh poet killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele in the First World War and posthumously awarded the Bardd’s Chair at the National Eisteddfod in 1917.
Also, there’s Mary Jones, who walked 26 miles to buy a copy of the Welsh Language Bible. Her story helped to launch the British and Foreign Bible Society and her footsteps have been followed by millions since then, often literally on the very popular Mary Jones Walk.
Then there are the various miners’ strikes, including the one which I remember well, from 1984 to 1985. I remember the coal lorries with metal grills across the windscreens to protect the drivers from bricks being thrown by the striking miners. If you don’t know about these things, then you won’t be able to understand the people of Wales.
I could mention Dafydd Iwan, Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, the Morriston Orpheus Choir, the National Anthem, Rugby, many other things which make the people of Wales who they are. If you don’t know these people, then you’re not going to care about them, either as people or souls for God’s kingdom.
I was lucky when I went to Wales in the early 1980s because I had this stuff drilled into me by people like Pastor Kendal Down, originally from Australia, but who was passionate about the Welsh people and became fluent in the language. And Dr Brian Phillips, an academic who has a PhD in Adventist history in Wales. And also, his father who was one of a whole culture of well-read, educated miners.
Well, I’ve talked a bit about Wales, but there is a wider application. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of the growth which has occurred in the Adventist church here in the UK and Ireland has been from outside of the culture which we are trying to reach. Like the Jews who were exiled from Jerusalem and had to live in the foreign land of Babylon, we pretty much find ourselves in an alien environment.
Now that’s okay, though there’s a danger that it can lead to us looking inward rather than outward. If we are to fulfil the gospel commission, then like the Jews in Babylon we need to “seek the peace and prosperity” of the cultures in which we find ourselves. If you’re in Wales, go to a rugby match, visit the National Eisteddfod. If you’re in Scotland go to the Edinburgh Festival. If you’re in the Irish Mission then visit Belfast and Dublin, explore the museums and landmarks on both sides of the border and learn about the complicated history. If you’re in England go to a cricket match, and a football match, join a local cultural society of some kind, volunteer to help the parish council in some way.
Yes, there’s a risk that we may end up less “Adventist” than we are now, but our job is not to propagate Adventist “culture”, it is to present the gospel as Adventists understand it.
When Jesus came to our world, He found Himself in an alien and hostile culture. But He embraced it fully. The Word became Flesh, as John tells in the first chapter of his gospel. But Jesus went even further. As we’re told in Philippians 2, Jesus was not only made in human likeness, but He took on human weakness, humbling Himself, eating and drinking with sinners, absorbing fallen humanity into His psyche, until He was one with His creation.
Whatever your situation, I hope that today you will look a little deeper into the cultures of those around you, and so be better prepared to share with them the gospel of Jesus Christ.