I’m convinced the opportunity the church has, to share the message of Jesus, is built on the credibility of the great work the church has done over the last 15 years. As the saying goes:
people don’t care about what you know, until they know that you care.
My own story started in the leafy suburbs of London in the 1970s. As a child growing up with my two sisters, I thought everyone lived like this. How wrong I was! My parents had emigrated from Jamaica in the 1950’s as many had done, to help rebuild the country after the Second World War. I was blessed with the most amazing parents. They were both very articulate, always correcting my pronunciation. “Speak the Queen’s English” they would say. My father was a deputy head teacher in Southfields, London whilst my mother was a stay at home mum. Education was valued in our home. “You’ll have to work twice as hard if you want to do well in life” they would say. How right they were!
Being one of the only black kids in my school was tough. Racism was casual in the 1970s and the playground could be brutal. I learnt to look after myself and by the time I was a teenager began to be politically conscious. My biggest musical influences were the Two-Tone movement. Stand Down Margaret by The Beat and Free Nelson Mandela by The Specials are just two examples of that politically-charged genre. My visits to “the wrong side of town” had quickly shattered the illusion that Britain was all leafy suburbs. I began to get angry about deprivation, especially experienced by black people in inner city Britain.
Gripped by feelings of injustice, I came to faith at 14 years old when I reached a crisis in life where it could have gone one of two ways.
People often have a view that when you come to faith in Jesus, life is a ‘bed of roses’. That wasn’t my experience. Losing both my parents to cancer in my late teens shattered any illusions I had but also tested the strength of my faith to the max. When you lose people in life who are most precious to you, you have two choices. You can blame God and run the opposite way or you can embrace the only thing that stands the test of time when all else fails. For me, I was comforted by the Bible verse:
when your mother and father forsake me, Then the Lord will take care of me (Psalm 27:10).
With a desire to address the injustices I saw in society, I studied Urban Planning at University and came out with a first-class honours degree and post graduate diploma. My first permanent graduate job was working across London, working with communities on participation in urban renewal schemes. By this time, I felt a real call in my life to go into full-time church pastoral ministry.
That happened when I was 25 years old and my wife Viviene and I, newly married in 1993, took the radical step of leaving a young up-and-coming London life and moving to the north of England to Keighley, West Yorkshire. It was a town that had its engineering and manufacturing heart ripped out by 1980s deindustrialisation. It was there I found my heart not just for those in need within the church, but the pressing needs beyond the church.
Over the last 15 years I’ve committed my life to helping churches engage more effectively with their local community. Working with young people has been a key part of that. Having been the national pioneer of TLG Education Centres in the UK, I have learnt the importance of giving excluded young people a second chance. After all, isn’t that what Jesus has given us all when he came into our lives? A second chance.
Leading on church engagement for the Cinnamon Network has given me first-hand experience of the difference the church can make when it reaches out to ordinary people in the community. I’m sad about the cuts and the austerity we’ve experienced over the last ten years, but I’m proud that the church was there when it was needed. Running foodbanks for people, debt advice centres and street pastor teams.
As I look back on my life so far, I’m grateful to God for the sense of purpose he has given me. Serving people is what gets me out of bed. I have a faith in Jesus that’s gritty, challenges injustice and deals with the real issues people face. It’s summed up in Micah 6:8. Acting justly, loving mercy, walking humbly with God.
It’s why I’ve given my life to sharing his story
Mike is a church leader in Birmingham, church engagement lead at Cinnamon Network, national pioneer of TLG The Education Charity, and a member of the Evangelical Alliance Council.