Countdown to Korea – Part 1

Your mission if you choose to accept it – 5 weeks to raise £6,000 so 6 volunteers (of which you are one) can go to a youth prayer conference called “Uprising” in Seoul, South Korea. Flight tickets need to be booked, accommodation needs to be found. 3 of the volunteers are in different countries and are restricted on the support they can offer and the ways they can raise funds. It is likely that the price of the tickets will rise between now and the then. The conference tickets have not been bought either and the conference is likely to be very popular. You suffer from 2 food intolerances and are unsure how you will manage these in Korea. Finally, you have your normal serving responsibilities at Ashburnham Place and general life to lead on top of organising and fundraising.

The items you have at your disposal – faith, trust, two close friends (who are also your traveling companions) and good old-fashioned hard work.

Sounds insane doesn’t it? It is the biggest step of faith that I think I have ever taken. And yet that is what we have accepted. Every day we are working towards achieving this goal.

The story started several months ago. I was approached by Bex, one of the prayer co-ordinators at Ashburnham and asked if I was interested in going to the conference in Seoul. My first response was one of uncertainty and even a little fear. I know that Christianity is not a safe belief in that area of the world. North and South Korea are currently involved in a ceasefire. In North Korea being a Christian can see you arrested and thrown in prison.

It was an invitation that I considered carefully. Yet how amazing would it be to step out in faith, to put my safety completely in God’s hands. To follow him where he is most moving and the church is most powerful amid the areas of persecution. I felt it could put me in similar situations as David Wilkerson and Corrie Ten Boon (OK, not quite the same I admit!) and I might get to experience some of the amazing spiritual things that they witnessed. What followed was a season of being on fire for the Lord including my first really powerful visitation of the spirit. I had always been slightly afraid of such experiences. Afterwards I felt the door had been opened and this fear and uncertainty had been softened. Almost as if in preparation for the type of experiences I hoped Korea would hold. I said yes to going, expecting a not so favourable response from my parents knowing that I would have to go anyway (NB. My parents, Christians themselves, were surprised but accepted my decision)

Several meetings were held as we discussed the people that would go and all of the logistical aspects of the trip. I won’t bore you with those details. In the end we settled on raising money for six people (myself included) – the plane tickets already cost £900 then and they would probably rise as the date approached. A fundraising strategy was put in place. Amongst general appeals for donations and financial support made to Ashburnham “friends”, the local communities and our own friends / family and churches at home we set several dates in the diary for washing cars, selling doughnuts at the Triathlon being held on the Ashburnham grounds and holding an International meal for the general public.

Things took time to get in place. The Just-giving page and general appeal information wasn’t prepared or finalised until roughly the beginning of May about the same time that the newsletter with our article went out to the Friends of Ashburnham. We had already received several large donations (£300 from one of my friends – such an encouragement to start us off) and £400 or so that Meidy in Indonesia had collected. (Meidy was unable to ask her workplace for sponsorship – if she could receive an amount of that size that was another great encouragement)

The date for our first car wash for the public was fast approaching – the 28th May. Bex was away on holiday in Germany until Tuesday 24th and I was suddenly burdened by the need to advertise and get the ball rolling. By the Wednesday I had already mentioned the car-wash at the Monday community prayers, commissioned a basic flyer and arranged for the first community member car wash and inside clean to be held that afternoon. And thus we began. It was a good experience that taught us a lot of practical things. It was also a very satisfying experience, watching something no matter how dirty become clean again (and we have washed some REALLY dirty cars!). Such a spiritual parallel. And with worship music playing it became for us a form of worship – “everything you do, do it unto the Lord”. Once we had begun people become more interested as we beavered away and people saw the results. By the time we were washing the second a few days later we had several volunteers helping us. This was a far cry from the atmosphere that surrounded us when we prepared for the first wash. People were negative about how many cars we would get washed in the time allocated (in the end they were right but still!) and when I asked for some encouragement they clapped in a mocking way. This taught me one of the first important lessons I would experience in this whole process. I couldn’t expect other people to be burdened by this as I was. I couldn’t expect them to view it the same way or to share the vision God had placed upon us (despite how much I may want them to). Some, would see it as supporting their brother and sisters in Christ to follow the call that God had placed on their hearts, others would see it as people asking them to fund their trip to Korea when they themselves had not been given the opportunity to go.

Several days later I discovered that £12 from our collection box at reception had been taken. I had just emerged from a time of feeling low and despondent about the whole idea. I had been carrying everything under my own strength and looking at the entire task in one go. This then panicked me (a spiritual attack that rears its ugly head on and off) – in short it was not what I was carrying but how I was carrying it. Then with the first car wash, the motivation we gained from it and the positive response we received I was buoyed up and more motivated especially as more and more cars were being booked into our diary. The theft of this money felt like a kick in the teeth. I was in the Hospitality Director’s office with Bex near tears. It was bad enough to steal money from anyone. But we were working hard to raise money and trying to keep the faith for something that we were doing for God and that means so much to us. That made it even worse. Yet my anger departed swiftly and pity took its place. Pity for the person because they are obviously not free and are being manipulated by darkness. It geared me up even more because opposition only comes when we are on the right track and doing the right thing. This just motivated us further and made us even more determined to “keep calm and carry on”. In another more twisted way it even conjured up sympathy for our cause – as the news spread people felt sorry for us. Talk about the devil shooting himself in the foot. One of the Directors said that we would get the money back, in fact he believed we would get a lot more. Another director said he was sorry to hear about our “trouble” and that we “would get to Korea but not in the way that we would expect” – all encouraging words that helped us soldier on.

We continued with the car washes. People walked past us and laughed, not maliciously I might add. We hoped seeing faith, determination and hard work played out before their eyes despite such odds would be a shining example of faith and works in action. Our fund-raising already seems to be changing the atmosphere for the better as people pull together in their own way to support us. Behind the scenes we had been praying for a softening of hearts towards us and our cause. Already we had several people wanting to help us wash the cars and cook for our international buffet open to the public in June. Their hearts were sincere, thus we were encouraged. When I considered people’s negative reactions I fought back the fear and anxiety that the devil tried to stoke. I did this by considering, at the Spirit’s prompting,  Moses. He was the last person people would choose to free the slaves from Egypt. All the negativity that surrounded him came from himself! He wasn’t a great man, he just served a great God – luckily so do we. We are in great company. Also Jesus himself was persecuted for going against the grain (we were nowhere near the same scale of course) but this gave us hope. I would rather try to raise the money and not succeed, the only way this would happen would be if God chose not to open the door, than lay on my death bed thinking “I might have gone to Korea if I had only tried and stepped out in faith” To steal words from Bethel worship “God makes me brave” and the old cliché, “you regret what you didn’t do, not what you did do”

The Friday night before the first car-washing for the public, I was working the late shift on reception. All the organising had been done regarding getting the flyer out to the individual guests and the groups and a full registration process had been set up. Despite this, when I finished work at 8pm there were still no cars signed up to be washed. I went to the Burn worship event, physically and emotionally tired and rested in God’s presence. While there I caught the attention of a picture that one of the volunteers had painted. It was of a person running across a draw bridge towards a large, mysterious and thick cloud with the drawbridge continuing on the other side. This was exactly how I felt. I would not allow myself to be dragged down by fear and anxiety but would continue to chase after the Lord in faith. That night I set my alarm to wake at 3am and pray into the following day. Prayer was one of the weapons I had at my disposal. Knowing its power and that it changes things I wanted to kneel before my heavenly father and place the following morning in his lap despite my own mortal frustration. My alarm sounded at 3.00am and I switched it off but I had no energy to sit up and pray. I fell back to sleep obviously needing the rest. I didn’t set my alarm for that morning so slept a bit later than usual. By the time I got into reception to hang around and answer any questions about the car wash I was already tired and feeling low. I tried to print some appeal letters to send to my friends while I waited but I kept making mistakes and having to re-print them. To make matters worse we had thunderstorms scheduled and it was already spitting with rain – not in my mind, an ideal car washing environment. One of the staff members said that we could take her car to wash as an advert so with the keys in hand we trudged down to the car park, trying to stay hopeful. We had scheduled enough time to do 5 cars. We feared we would be lucky if we had any. Within ten minutes we had secured one car to wash. Then a second. Then we washed the “standby” car. Then we secured another. A lot of the Orangery guests (who were our main audience) are often not Christians. To them what we were raising money for probably wasn’t a big deal, maybe even self-indulgent and a bit odd 🙂 With 20 minutes to go we were praying for one more car to take our grand total up to the 5 we originally wanted. For a bit nothing happened. Then I noticed a head poking over the bushes looking at us. Then a car drove up and a man disembarked and asked us to wash it. He only gave us a few pounds at first but at this stage it was more a confirmation and an encouragement from God than being about the money. However, he came back before he left and gave us another few pounds taking his total donation up to over a fiver. Thanks be to God.

It has become obvious that our fundraising “strategy” (if you can call it that) is completely faith based operating within the “unforced rhythms of grace” – a saying that we are often reciting to encourage one another. In all our prayer sessions we have been praying to be blessed with these heavenly unforced rhythms of grace. Not to be dragged and weighted down by our own striving, trying to accomplish things under our own strength but operating under the Lord’s might and power. That is why, though it has sounded silly and insane to others, we are not asking for any specific amounts of money for what we do. People ask us what the fees are for washing their car etc. and we tell them it is strictly on a donation basis – to any businessperson this is complete madness – we would be laughed out of any Dragon’s Den boardroom! But that is how God works. He knows how much we need and he knows which people should give how much. We do not want to pressure or coerce in any way – after all God loves a cheerful giver. So do we. God will stir hearts. Whether it’s a large donation or a few pounds it will all add up to the final total that God desires. This has been for us incredibly freeing and has prevented us from striving and controlling. So it is the same with people to help us, either by washing cars alongside us or cooking for the international meal etc. God has been touching the hearts of others to help us at the right time. We want people who help because God asked them and they are responding to that, not as a result of us spending 30 minutes press-ganging in the staff room. We have offered them gifts of chocolate at the end – so far they have all refused. That is the demonstration of a sincere heart. For me it is about the whole journey and not just the final total. When we were discussing the possible, different fundraising activities, we considered the spiritual and practical ethics of all our ideas. That took prayer and listening. But all our activities are to bless others. Yes, we have received donations from the mere kindness of people’s hearts. They will receive no blessing from us but our great thanks and gratitude (and of course blessings from God which we pray over them). But the car-washing, selling food at the triathlon and hosting the international meal, where volunteers are able to cook food from all over the world and bless others in their own way, are all means for us to serve other people in the process. Thus (though I hate thinking like this) if we didn’t get to Korea, we could look back and know that we had served and blessed people regardless.

To close, the bottom line is that if its God’s will that we go then the door he opens for us, no man, organisation or evil force can close. And if it’s not his will, then we don’t want to go anyway.

That’s the ultimate and absolute bottom line.

It’s that easy and at the same time that difficult.

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