04 July 2014
Signs and wonders: Taking Jesus to the streets
A rapidly increasing model of evangelism in the UK, Healing on the Streets is witnessing remarkable results with ever-increasing numbers of people coming to know God, having been touched by receiving dramatic healing on the streets. Richard Woodall finds out more...
"In the last 80 days we've seen more than 600 people come to know Jesus just here in Coleraine."
With revelations like this, it seems then that rumours of the Church's demise across the country have been greatly exaggerated.
The above are the words of Mark Marx, the 57-year-old founding leader of the Healing on the Streets (HOTS) ministry which was born during Easter 2005 at Causeway Coast Vineyard in Coleraine, Northern Ireland.
Similar HOTS projects now spread across a staggering 17 countries and throughout 700 churches including places such as Germany, Africa and South America .
But what is behind such growth and why do we not see a universal approach to such ministry across the UK?
The idea behind HOTS is to simply express God's love in the streets and marketplaces. Over time, teams aim to build relationships and create stepping stones leading to Jesus. Their prayer is for people to receive healing along the way.
Mark moved with his family to Northern Ireland in 1998;joining Alan and Kathryn Scott at what was then a new church plant - Causeway Coast Vineyard.
He said: "My frustration in ministry has always been how to get the Church out of the building and engaging with people outside.
"God gave me this model for HOTs...I didn't know how far it could go and as far as I could see it was just for Coleraine. Through it, we've seen a movement of God travelling around the world."
One of the key strengths of HOTs seems to be its commitment to invest long-term in the communities with which it works. The HOTS Coleraine group meet every Saturday between 10.30am and 1pm outside the town hall so that people know where to find them if they want prayer.
Mark calls it a 'gentle' ministry with a commitment to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.
Each week starts by the team kneeling outside the town hall and acknowledging God's presence.
"We minister to people as carriers of divine presence who seek to show God's love and kindness," he says. "Whether that be a word of knowledge or another gift, people can receive prayer for all kinds of things. We see a lot of people healed through it, but what we don't do is make promises.
"People have come into church because of Healing on the Streets. It's really brought the presence of God into Coleraine and is one of the reasons we are seeing so many people come to know Jesus. It's come from nine years of kneeling on the ground and asking God's presence to fill the town."
With any new outdoor ministry, there is often some form of opposition to it, or suspicion about it.
"We always get permission from councils before we start something" Mark added. "When those in the town see we are on our knees whether in ice, rain or snow, and that we really care for the community, then people are touched and can we are genuine.
"There's not been much opposition to it anywhere. It seems totally illogical that if you put a chair out in the middle of the street, a complete stranger will sit down and let you pray for them. It's not rational though – it's a supernatural God drawing people by his presence.
"It's about inviting people."
Andrew Myatt is the leader of Oxford Vineyard Church which also has monthly HOTs outreach in the city centre.
"The street is where we encounter more of what God is doing," he said.
"If we just pray for people in church we probably won't see much happen, but if we pray outside the church walls there is more that happens and it seems to fuel what happens in our meetings too.
"About 50 per cent of those asking for prayer are unchurched, including people from Muslim and Hindu backgrounds;sometimes we even have atheists. Since March, we have seen three to four giving their lives to Jesus each week."
For some, stories of amazing healing and transformation will be hard to hear. Mark Marx acknowledges not everyone they pray for is healed.
"There are times when people are not healed," Mark admits. "I teach that healing can come in three ways, it can come instantly;it can come gradually or there can be no sign of healing - but that doesn't mean that person isn't going to be healed.
"I think gradual healing is the most common way; the Bible says believers should lay hands on the sick and the sick shall recover (Mark 16:18). The word recover signifies it takes a while. For those who have no sign of healing, we tell them doesn't mean God doesn't love them, and it also doesn't mean they will not be healed. We also say we'd like to pray again for them. But we are clear that we make no promises or guarantees about healing."
Listening to such testimony inevitably raises the question of whether such clear signs of God's love and power should be expected across whole towns and communities? If everyone were committed to engaging spiritually like this, could we see a changed nation?
"The Great Commission was to continue to do what Jesus was doing and I think the Church has to get out there" says Mark. "God has given us authority to do the things Jesus did. In the years since I've been here I've saw hundreds healed by the power of God. You see hurt and broken people everywhere and the answer is Jesus. I don't know how you can do without such power. God seems to be using it to help churches come together – it's amazing.
"I hope HOTS is no longer needed one day because the Church is doing its job."