Ry’n ni yma o hyd! – The Welsh football anthem at the World Cup translates as ‘We are still here!’
The Welsh language means different things to different people. To many Christians outside Wales, it brings to mind the great revivals of the past with the Methodist fathers and great hymn writers and preachers. To a growing number of people in the more populated areas of Wales it is an opportunity, as they see their children benefiting from a bilingual education. To others it’s a sign of a nation recapturing its identity, with prominence given to the language through celebrities and sporting achievements. To others it’s the language of their heart – how they live, think, suffer and rejoice, but what about the work of the gospel in the lives of the more than half a million people who speak the language? What is God doing in these communities today?
Setting the scene
Christianity has been at the core of the Welsh language and culture for centuries. Place names, hymn singing at national sporting events, prayers in public, church buildings, Christian assemblies at schools: these are all signs of God’s work in the past. Yet in the last century there has been a dramatic decrease in the spiritual health of the Welsh-speaking people. Liberalism has had its effect and we are now seeing the collapse of formal religion. Covid has only quickened the process with many churches not reopening. Although every Welsh speaker has been touched by some form of Christianity, the gospel is quickly disappearing from the land. Sprinkled throughout these communities are gospel Christians. Some find themselves on their own, others have the blessing of being with others in small groups in either an Anglican, denominational or non-denominational church.
Gospel Christians and churches
Although gospel situations have not seen the dramatic decrease seen in other areas of the church, there is no doubt that many struggle. We cannot hide that we are not seeing conversions on the scale that is needed to fuel real growth in the church. We thank the Lord for all that he is doing, recognising that every conversion is a miracle, and that every person who is called into gospel ministry is a wonderful gift. Some gospel churches are being planted, some are seeing small growth, others are holding their own, but many honest gospel churches are decreasing in size.
The reasons for this are varied. The fact that every Welsh speaker has been touched by a form of Christianity (often dead and moralistic) makes it difficult to share the real Christian gospel message. There is also no doubt that there is an element of judgement on us all as a nation as we have turned our backs on God. Above all it shows that only God can save – he is sovereign, and we can’t manufacture his blessing.
Is there hope?
We have a God who is love and loves to save. The Bible, history and our experience testify to this. God is at work, and we are seeing conversions. Over the past twenty years we have seen many children of Christians and some people from outside churches coming to faith. The gospel is still the power of God unto salvation. We continue to see men and women being called into Christian ministry and a gospel unity across secondary issues.
Welsh speaking communities are not immune to the pressures that others are facing. Illness, poverty, uncertainty, death and the changing of the morals of society are having an effect, and we are seeing an obvious need. For the first mission in many years this summer I met people who had started to read their Bibles and pray in search of help. Some people are searching, and we pray that God would bring these people into contact with gospel Christians and that the devil will not snatch the seed of the gospel away.
We are seeing a growing number of Welsh speakers linking up with English-speaking gospel churches. Ironically, there may be fewer cultural hang ups allowing them to hear the gospel through a non-Welsh speaking church! Many English-speaking churches have been asking for Welsh resources such as Ask, our bilingual evangelistic Christmas magazine. What a wonderful blessing to see God reaching out to our fellow Welsh speakers through non-Welsh speaking brothers and sisters! Wales is fast becoming a bilingual country and God may well be using this to reach and save Welsh speakers.
Welsh speaking Christians are becoming aware that we are missionaries in our own country. As Welsh speaking Wales becomes less Christian, as churches become smaller, and as we struggle to find full time ministers, we become uncomfortable, and we are thrown on God. This is not always a bad thing for it brings us back to the basics. We are here to share the gospel as we travel homeward. It brings a focus on evangelism and personal costly devotion to God.
Our main hope as always is through prayer and a dependence on God. God loves to break in and save in hopeless situations. Though completely undeserving, he has broken into our lives as gospel Christians and placed us in Wales. It is to God we must look for an answer to the spiritual state of Welsh speaking Wales.
In the words of Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour (Hab. 3:17-18).
Here are four things to pray for Welsh speakers.
Pray that Welsh speaking churches would have confidence in the gospel – it is easy to lose confidence when there is a lack of conversions.
Pray that Welsh speaking Christians and churches would form stronger and greater links with non-Christians in their communities.
Pray for non-Welsh speaking churches and their work with Welsh speakers.
Pray that God would forgive us and bless us once again, for the glory of his Son.