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03 August 2017

Go together: tales of a transformational Church

Go together: tales of a transformational Church

Tani and Modupe Omideyi head up the Love and Joy Ministries in Liverpool, seeking the transformation of their city in Jesus' name. Alexandra Davis caught up with them to hear more about their ministry and why they're excited to be taking part in Movement Day later this year.

Movement Day is about seeing kingdom transformation across cities and towns – tell us a bit about the community transformation project/s you run in Liverpool.

Modupe: We work in three areas of transformation – we have an arts centre, we run a school, and we also run a heritage centre. Our arts centre is in Anfield where we work to reduce isolation, build social cohesion, improve the skills of those people who come through the project. We see around 750 people in the centre every year, and in addition we see about 15,000 people come through our facilities, including our exhibition space. We see people from across sectors of society – people come in as family groups, we see children, young people, and the elderly; we run language classes for asylum seekers and refugees; and we provide opportunities for volunteering to help upskill those who are unemployed and struggling to find work.

Our school is called Harmonise Academy - we are an alternative provision school for 13 to 16 year olds in years 9 to 11 at school. They are usually children who have struggled in mainstream schooling for various reasons, they're often vulnerable and face difficulties at home. Harmonise Academy is a place that gives them both home and education, using the core curriculum but adding other opportunities to develop, learn and thrive. It's a small school with only 104 children per year but the smaller classes allow better opportunities for teachers-pupil relationships. We find that the children respond so positively to the love, forgiveness and compassion that they experience in their classrooms. We see a 100 per cent progression from school into higher education after the children take their GCSEs at 16, and we were rated outstanding by Ofsted 2015. I think the thing that makes Harmonise Academy so successful is that the students sense that they are loved and valued in the eyes of God – the genuine love and care for them by the staff, the respect given to them along with the compassion and understanding in the school helps them to learn to trust the system and the people running it.  

Our heritage project is our newest initiative which we're looking to develop into a heritage centre over the next few years.  We have six acres of woodland which we use alongside a heritage and environment project. We want it to be a missional space where community workers and probationers can work side-by-side. We're also expecting to a seasonal programme, marking not only the spring and summer months but also festivals like Christmas and Easter. 

You're obviously working really hard to see Liverpool changed for good so what is your vision for your city? What does "kingdom transformation" look like there? 

Tani: We work with Together for the Harvest which is a cross-city unity movement whose vision is to see every man, woman and child in Liverpool – that about 1.2 million people - to hear the gospel in next 10 years. Our vision to see Christ lifted up, and the values of Christ to become engrained in all the inhabitants of our city.
We're using some key indicators that the Alliance has been forming a conversation around in their What kind of society? project: love, truth, justice and freedom. Our vision is to see love dominating relationships; truth in our conversations; true freedom in Christ; and to see justice upheld. Justice is a particularly important issue in Liverpool, which really suffered injustice during the Hillsborough tragedy and in the years since.

Something the Alliance has been challenged on in recent years, and is working alongside the One People Commission to change, is developing multi-ethnic expressions of Church in the UK. You work across ethnicities through your projects, how does that impact the way your community meet with, or come to know, Jesus? 

Tani: Our work with a multi-ethnic community means that when people come to know Jesus or step into a church, they are being introduced to Church as the body of Christ as a multi-ethnic community. Sometimes people can come into Church experiencing it as a common interest group - everyone's there because they are part of a particular corner of society, rather than because the thing that unites them is Christ. Multi-ethnic church communities challenge prejudices and beliefs and prepares new believers for the Church that is for everyone. It also demonstrates that Jesus is the saviour of the world, of all people – all races and colours. In the UK this means combating the historical experience that Christianity is exclusive to the rich, white, middle-class, European communities; multi-ethnic churches prove that Jesus is for everyone.

How do you think the Church can be better at cross-cultural mission? 

Tani: I think there are three useful pointers to help the Church develop it's cross-cultural mission. Firstly, it's really important to grow church leadership intentionally across cultures; we must see on stage and up front in our church communities a reflection of the community itself, the diversity of our congregations. Cross-cultural understanding needs to come from within, with intention. 

Secondly, it's important that we recognise that it's not always possible to reflect a multi-cultural congregation: many congregations exist in communities that aren't very culturally diverse so developing cross-cultural mission from the front of church isn't really possible. That's where cross-cultural collaborations are so important. If you want to develop cross-cultural mission, find other external groups that reflect other cultural communities and work in conjunction with them. It's so important, especially in mission and evangelism, that we reflect the communities that we're trying to reach.

Thirdly, I would like to see church training colleges delving deeper into scripture and into cross-cultural theology. It would be beneficial to see new church leaders being taught in the God of Africa, of Asia, and of Europe, to understand scripture as it is filtered through all cultures, not just through the white European filter that we are used to and hear taught. Little things like remembering that Jesus grew up in Africa, and that the Church is a "house for all nations" are a great place to start.

You'll be talking about "transformational Church" at Movement Day – tell us a little bit about your involvement with the conference and why you've chosen to get involved. 

Modupe: I'll be sharing the story of our school, and the context of work and mission. My book, Transformed to be transformed will also be out so I'll be sharing a little about that too.
Tani: Movement Day isn't a one-off event but it's a landmark of what God is doing – bringing groups together to work in unity for the transformation of our places. It will be a great time of inspiration and opportunity to hear what God is doing in places we've never even heard of. Modupe and I have been doing transformational Church for 15 years but it's only recently that we've become aware of how God is moving outside own context. I would really encourage everyone to come and hear what God is doing in towns, cities, and villages around the country. It's a great time to be with others as part of God's incredible move in our nations.

How do you see Movement Day helping churches to bring about transformation in their community? 

Modupe: We attended a meeting of the Gather unity movement in the north of the England and it was such a thrill to hear what's going on around our region and to be able to share our experience of God moving. Movement Day will be such an encouragement for those work in community transformation: you are not alone! 

It will also be a real inspiration for those who want to see their places transformed but don't really know where to start, or are uncertain about whether they can do it. Meeting others, networking, finding out how people are tackling problems that can be seen in our own places will be really inspiring for new transformation projects to get started.

Unity and collaboration are so important for community transformation. What would you say to encourage Christians in a town, city or borough to come together as a delegation? 

Tani: Where do I start? We really believe that unity makes incredible statements to communities - we need the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole city. There is a huge language in togetherness; the world sees the Church negatively, as a divided community, they know what we don't like, not what we're for. We want the world to see the Church as one, with a common message.
The Church being together in unity really helps build our communities, especially in the current political and social climate. When the initial planning for Movement Day was started, we couldn't have forseen how important unity would be in our nation today; Movement Day spoke out a prophetic voice for unity, against division and fear, standing together as one body.
Coming together as a delegation means we're not isolated in our mission, but we go together to hear the same things and go back to our communities, speaking together with one voice about the things we want to do to see social and cultural transformation of our place.
Come along and speak together to our nation. 

Movement Day takes place in London on 6 and 7 October. Find out more and book your tickets.

Transformed to be Transformed - Dr Modupe Omideyi
How can a church be used by God to transform its community? It starts with transformation in the people in the church themselves. This book tells the story of a couple, and those God gathered about them, who walked that journey of transformation in their direction, faith, outlook, vision,  focus and activity. In their first year of married life, God led Tani and Modupe to a city they did not know, to start a work they could not have imagined…