Wonderful Ukrainians

It is amazing how in the short space of a week it is possible to feel so much love, hope and
affection for people that you have never met before.  I met many great people during this past week at the YMCA Youth Unify camp in Poland and was most deeply moved through the immense privilege of getting to know an amazing group of people from YMCA Ukraine – specifically Kiev, Lutsk, Odessa and Kharkiv.  They really ambushed me with their friendship and encouragement.  I wish to use this blog post for two simple reasons:

  1. To honour their faithfulness to their nation, the YMCA and, most importantly, to God.  They work tirelessly in their home towns sacrificing time, money and man
    y other things to serve young people.  Their hunger to understand and know Christ is inspiring.  Love and humility just pours out of them.
  2. To call you to pray for the nation of Ukraine which remains in the midst of such violence and a heartbreaking war.  This video shows four of the volunteers from YMCA Ukraine sing a haunting prayer for the peace of their nation. You may wish to use the song as a tool to lead you into praying for the peace of Ukraine.

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The Mission Continues

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I returned home on Monday night from an incredible fortnight with the Mission Possible team for the YMCA Europe Festival in Prague.  It was a wonderful time and when I woke up on Tuesday morning and made my way into work it felt like I was missing a limb.

The one thing that made it so fulfilling was that the entire time with the team seemed to be non-stop worship of God.  Whether we were eating, team building, planning, singing, dancing, discussing, acting, preaching, playing, laughing or crying God was in the centre of it all and so it just felt good and right the whole time.

So as I drove to work feeling a definite sense of loss I realised, as amazing as the people were and as much as I am bereaved by the absence of their companionship, it was actually the tangible image of God shining through them that seemed to be slipping away and was causing this sadness.

Of course, God is not fleeting and is still to be found in the slightly more mundane of life.  It just takes a little more effort not to be distracted by the less meaningful and to continue living purposefully in the presence of God.  I had a beautiful evening with 5 Black Country friends from church last night, again because God was in the middle of what we were doing.

The truth is that Mission Possible continues wherever God is acknowledged and I look forward to endless more Mission Possible experiences on my own, with my own wonderful family, with my lovely colleagues and with my inspiring church.

I still miss my friends though.

Fun, friendship and God at YMCA Europe Festival

Yesterday was Day 4 of the YMCA Europe Festival in Prague.  It was a ‘quieter’ day in many respects for the Mission Possible team I am working with.  We had no formal programmes but the day was still full of non-stop opportunities to meet people and share with them a little bit of what makes us tick, and receive some inspiration back too.

The theme of the day was the ‘City’ and all 5000 participants were given the opportunity to get out into Prague, see some of the sights and visit different aspects of the YMCA’s work in Prague.  It was on top of the huge hill that overlooks Prague that I met probably my favourite people of the day – a group of friendly and kind-hearted residents from Southampton YMCA.  Unfortunately, the few minutes I spent with them meant I lost the rest of my team for 45 minutes in central Prague!  But they were eager to help me find them and that really touched me.

I also met Hani from Gaza YMCA, helped the volunteers clearing up the dining hall for a couple of hours, hung out with the unique Sarah Prescott, enjoyed a great Stop Poverty concert, met loads of other great people and our team supported the Hong Kong delegation who were leading a service in the Tent Chapel – they had seen how great we were at engaging young people with our inclusive ice breakers that they asked us to invite people to their service – we filled the Tent Chapel for them 🙂  It is quite inspiring to see that what most people desire is to be included, certainly a lesson to take back home.

Today we have 3 formal programmes culminating in the worship night.  It’s gonna be a long tiring day but I can’t wait for it to get started.

An excited YMCA Black Country festival goer at the Stop Poverty concert:

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YMCA Europe Festival Day 2

It really would not be an overstatement to say that today was one of the most fulfilling days of my life.

The start of the YMCA Europe Festival in Prague was put back a few more hours so that the organisers could get the site safe and ready after last night’s storm.  They did a sterling job.  However, this meant the formal part of our Mission Possible programme was cancelled.  I’d been preparing to preach so initially I was a little disappointed.

However, the team, made up of young people from 7 countries, really came into it’s own.  We headed down to the festival gates early and from 1pm-5.30pm we brought dance, games, worship, drama and teaching in the open air to those who had gathered by the gates waiting for the festival to begin.

I really feel like we contributed to the positive feel of the festival and our energy and enthusiasm was received well.  The content of our message clearly moved some of the onlookers and there was delight from all those that joined in the crazy Peruvian and Colombian dancing.  I was privileged to preach to the growing crowd of at least 300.  I have never done anything like this before and it was really exciting.

Once the gates opened the festival came to life and the place was buzzing when I left.  It’s gonna be an exhausting but out of this world week.

This photo shows a few of the young people listening early on in the afternoon:

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Apocalyptic start to YMCA Europe Festival

This afternoon the gates opened at 4pm for the 2013 YMCA Europe Festival in Prague.  By 6.30pm the first night had been cancelled as gales, torrential rain and lightening ripped through the park.

It was pretty exciting to be there and the darkness and wind in the afternoon certainly had an apocalyptic feel about it.  However, a huge amount of damage has been done and the large team of volunteers will be working through the night ready for the gates to be re-opened at midday tomorrow.

I’m part of the Mission Possible team at the festival and we really made the most of the difficult conditions and had a great time singing and dancing in the huge dining hall (evacuation centre) and then on the tram and train on the way back to our accommodation.  We finished the evening off with another powerful time of worship and praise.  Thanking God that he is in control even when things seem a bit crazy and praying for all those who have been effected by the damage.

This is a video of some of the crazy Mission Possible team on the tram, coming home earlier than expected:

I managed to briefly catch up with Jack who is volunteering in one of the cafe’s which was great, but I was really disappointed to miss Lenny, Sarah and Gary and the rest of the YMCA Black Country crew, though there were reported sightings of them!

Tomorrow I’ll be preaching at the Tent Chapel at 3pm.

Some things I miss

There are 3 things that I miss at the moment:

1. Aleksa – when we were worshiping yesterday evening I had my eyes closed for a couple of minutes.  Then I opened them to check where Aleksa was.  I half expected him to be at my feet with his arms held up waiting for me to pick him up.  I really wanted to give him a cuddle.

2. Anya – I would love to just watch her here.  There is so much for her to learn from the people here and I know she’d be just going around doing her own thing, picking up information and storing it away for when it would be useful.  She’d love the big house we’re in with all it’s nooks and crannies to hide away and I know she’d go down a storm with everyone.

3. Rada – I really miss talking to her.  The internet is not great so Skyping attempts have been really frustrating.  It’s a long way from the 20p a minute phone calls we used to have to settle for just after we met but that thought doesn’t help.  I want to tell Rada all the great things that God is doing and all the details about the people here.  More than that I would love her to meet them all she would love it so much with all the languages and cultures and crazy people.

Ah well, I’m having a wonderful time.  Enjoying it immensly but missing the family.

The International YMCA

UK, Germany, Zambia, India, Peru, Colombia and Iceland.  This is the eclectic list of countries that are represented in the YMCA team that I have joined in Munich.  It is so exciting to meet people from countries that I have not had the privilege of meeting before.

Even better than discovering cultural nuances is being able to worship Jesus alongside one another, coming together from across the nations.  I love hearing people pray in their own languages.  And these are some of the most amazing languages you could hear – Icelandic makes my mind boggle!

And complementing all this is the fact that we all come from different YMCAs.  You feel a real kinship knowing that you have the YMCA in common.  The majority of the guys on the team are volunteers.  I think in the UK we take it for granted that many of us can be paid to do jobs we love at the YMCA.  Across the world most of these guys give up hours and days and weeks to help out young people.  And they are soooo passionate too.  It’s already proving an inspiring week.