Reflections on Ablaze18, Wolverhampton

About a year ago, I sat in a LBC Borough Leadership Team meeting with some of our friends working in Wolverhampton and listened as they shared this crazy idea they’d had to host an outdoor “crusade” type event in West Park in June 2018. A couple of their fellow ministers in Wolverhampton had been over to Argentina to visit a well known revivalist preacher called Carlos Annacondia. I’ll be honest – I’d never heard of him. But a quick google revealed that his ministry in the growing revival of the evangelical charismatic Church in Latin America is huge.

Carlos

Obviously, these travelling pastors from Wolverhampton were far better informed than me as to the power of Carlos Annacondia’s ministry and during their trip to Argentina, witnessed some of his healing meetings. It was there they felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit help them to dream and wonder whether or not he’d be willing to come to the UK and do something similar. Miraculously, Mr Annacondia agreed and Ablaze18 began to take shape.

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Last weekend was the big event. As you’d expect, God was incredibly faithful. He honours the heart of those who seek to serve and obey Him and where two or three are gathered and the gospel is preached, He promises to be there too. And He was. This video offers a great taste of the highlights of the 4-day event and is well worth watching.

Now I realise in that crude summary that I haven’t done one iota of justice to the painstaking planning, sacrifice, financial cost, prayer and hard-work that happened in the build up to the event last weekend. Most people never see that part of the process when they attend events like this. They also never hear about the questions, doubts and downright cynical “it’ll never work here” comments that are banded around in the months before the big day. I confess, I was often one of the skeptics.

Allow me to explain.

I was born and raised in Sedgley – a little town on the border of Dudley and Wolverhampton. I like to think I know this area and the type of people who live here pretty well. I went to university in Wolverhampton and have the supported the (Premier League!) football team my entire life. Hi Ho Wolverhampton!

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As a teenager, I used to spend most Saturday afternoons before kick-off hanging out near the “Greebos” in Queen’s Square, trying to look cool and nonchalant before heading down to Molineux to watch the match. I know West Park well and I know the city well. So the thought of staging an outdoor healing crusade in a place as ethnically, socially and economically diverse as Wolverhampton seemed like an odd choice to me. A new Food Bank – that would make sense. A bigger homeless shelter – that would be a logical move. Better drug counselling or increased support and outreach to students – a no-brainer. But an outdoor crusade with a non-English speaking evangelist in his seventies from the other side of the world? Well, that was a method for reaching the spiritual needs of the city that probably wouldn’t have been my go-to choice.

However, when I watched the highlights video and saw the testimonies, I admit, I felt both convicted and encouraged in equal measure. Who am I to make value assessments on outreach methods? Who am I to say something is or isn’t going to work? We serve a God whose methods throughout scripture were, at times, utterly absurd by cultural standards. (A old, barren couple parenting a new nation? A talking donkey? A group of fishermen leading a new religious/political/social movement? A well-known murderer of Christians writing most of the New Testament?). Yet God’s word always prevailed and achieved what He wanted it to. And it continues to do so today.

talking-donkey

There is definitely much to say about methodology, and we welcome your thoughts and comments below. But I’m grateful that despite all of my own doubts and cynicism, there is a little old lady in Wolverhampton today who has put her walking frame into storage because of the power of Jesus. Who knows what impact her story, and the many like hers from last weekend, will have on the people close to those involved? Who knows what seeds were sown and what fruit will grow in the future? So, I’m grateful and inspired by the faithfulness of a few leaders in Wolverhampton who were obedient to God’s “absurd” idea and followed through on what He’d asked them to do. Maybe if we were all a bit more daring in our obedience to the nudges of God, community transformation wouldn’t sometimes seem so far out of reach.

Linsey Wildsmith.

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