In August 1889 Frank Joshua, with his brother Seth, was working hard to reach the spiritual darkness of Neath. He wrote, ‘The deadness of things weighed me down. I was not better until I had wept away the heaviness and had much prayer.’ These brothers, as earlier generations had done, looked only to the power of preaching and prayer to break through this spiritual darkness and death – and after seven years of such faithful evangelism they could speak of more than 450 people seeking Christ. Neath and Neath Valley have fallen back into that spiritual darkness and once again we return to prayer and preaching to shine the light of Jesus.
Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea had the vision to help the gospel work in Neath back in 2013, by planting a local church that would hold to those same biblical convictions about preaching and prayer. SaRang Church from Seoul in South Korea has provided financial assistance, with constant prayer and support. Pastor Sam Ko’s preaching and encouragement has been deeply appreciated by us all. SaRang Church have such a thrilling vision for planting churches in Europe and embody the biblical principle of local churches supporting other local churches.
Will Savory has led the work, with a group of Christians from Mount Pleasant, from 2013 and then in Autumn 2014 I moved down from Preston to join Will in the work. Most weeks we meet in the Town Hall at 11am and then eat lunch together, which has been a great help in uniting us in church life and discipleship. Many of the new people who have joined us appreciate this opportunity to share weekly fellowship over a meal with the church family.
The elders at Mount Pleasant provide constant wisdom and oversight for Soul Church. It is a great blessing to have such a large and faithful church to support all that we do. Every Tuesday evening both Soul Church and Mount Pleasant gather together for a united prayer meeting. The work at Soul is only possible because of the weekly prayer, financial support and practical help of Mount.
In Autumn 2015 we began a Wednesday lunchtime meeting in the Community Hall. Together with the church apprentices from Mount Pleasant and Gabalfa Baptist in Cardiff we have been on the streets inviting people to come along. Each week we preach a short and simple gospel presentation. We share lunch together, giving us a great opportunity to get to know the many new people who come along. Our urgent prayer is that these people would come to the Sunday meetings and then properly commit to baptism and church membership.
When people want to join the church family, we go through a church course with them to explain from the Bible all that it means to be a church member. It is vital that those saved are properly discipled in the way of Jesus so that they can enjoy and contribute to the full life of church.
Having been involved with church planting and evangelism in different parts of England, there were new challenges for us in Neath. There is more of a sense of Christian history, with chapels and hymns, than I have ever met before. Even the street names embody a strong Christian history: we live on ‘Tabernacle Terrace’! Yet, the reality behind this seems to be long forgotten by the vast majority. When people feel a sense of hopelessness, it is far more common to turn to drugs, alcohol or romance than turn to the Spirit of life and hope.
On many Thursday evenings, Will heads up a team from Soul to visit the pubs in the town and invite people to church. Even when there are some sharp rejections to the invitation, there are encouraging conversations as people open up about their need for hope and help from heaven. Many people joke that if they came to church there would be a lightning bolt from heaven. They just can’t or won’t believe that church is for messed up people, just like you and me. Many people we spoke to had some awareness of the Christian history of Wales.
Neath has thousands of students in the local college. One or two of these students have come along but in the main they have not responded to the invitations. Neath is famous for an annual fair that dates back to 1280 and there are other street events throughout the year. Thousands of people come together for these events, especially the artisan food fair but so few have any spiritual hunger.
By the Spirit’s power
In 2 Corinthians 4:6 we are reminded that evangelism relies on the same power and sovereignty and grace that the Father used through Jesus by the Spirit when he created the universe. When the heavens and the earth were formed by the power of his Word, the darkness and chaos were utterly defined and defeated. The universe did not already exist, waiting to receive assistance on its upward journey. No! The universe needed existence, order and life from the living God.
In Genesis 1:2 it was almost as if God allowed it all to exist for a moment without the revelation of the light and life of Christ the Word, so that it would be clear that there can be no life or light without him. The truth of God’s power in Genesis 1 gives us a proper confidence in him when we face the spiritual chaos and darkness of a lost world. There is nothing we can do to create spiritual life and light (see 2 Corinthians 4:4-7).
Sing to the Lord
Singing the Psalms has been a key feature of our church life at Soul. Nearly every time we meet, even for a leadership meeting, we like to sing at least one of the Psalms. To sing these Bible words with serious commitment and loud volume is a vital part of presenting Christ to those who come along. People will sing and shout at rugby or football, so we should sing so much more with hearts full of the glory of God in the Lord Jesus Christ!
Seth Joshua in the 1880s wrote an article on the need for strong singing in the churches he was planting in Neath. Commenting on 1 Chronicles 6:32 he wrote:
They ministered with singing. We must needs go back to Old Testament times to find a true conception of congregational singing. The preacher ministers to the congregation in his preaching and is often dismissed for careless preparation but the congregation ministers in singing to the Lord and often deserves dismissal for the same singing…. Let this truth grip the people and then the best will be placed on the altar. Singing will be transformed from a mere item in the programme of a service into a sacrifice of praise and into ministry to the Lord and to each other.
If the Joshua brothers felt the weight of spiritual deadness in the 1880s, then the same burden is with us today. Nothing less than the genuine miraculous gospel power of God in Jesus by the Spirit is needed. Please pray for us in this work: that our gracious God would have mercy on Neath once again; that blind eyes would be opened; that the light of the knowledge of God’s glory would be displayed in the face of Jesus Christ as we keep on preaching him.