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It’s About How You Come Across

The golden rule on the Isle of Man is not to say ‘I’ve come from the British mainland.’ People will only smirk at you. After all, Britain is also an island. You simply say ‘I have come from across.’ In future, I think I’ll say I live ‘on Great Britain.’

At the end of July, four of us went ‘across’ to serve as a GBM Envision team on the Isle of Man, doing a week of mission alongside the churches in Port Erin and Onchan. Angela Walsh, Heather Booth, Sam Hawley and myself brought a good mix of enthusiasm and experience to reach out with the gospel.

The two churches had put together a programme of gospel events that kept us busy throughout the week. A men’s breakfast in a Port Erin hotel ended with a challenge to take a Mark’s gospel and read it, and some did just that. Angela and Heather connected with the women of both churches through a cream tea and a pamper evening. Many women, having heard their testimonies, wanted to share their own stories. At the Friday evening event in Onchan, I told the story of Martin Luther, and explained justification by faith alone in a culture where church-going is still quite common. The Sunday services drew in a good number of fringe people, in answer to many prayers, as did a meal with a message in Onchan on the theme of ‘Where is God when it hurts?’ More than a dozen unsaved folk came to a quiz night in Port Erin where Sam gave the talk and Angela told her story.

Port Erin is one of the most picturesque parts of the island, never more so than at the Saturday beach festival. This was one of our best days of outreach. Crowds came in from all over the island, and we ran the church’s stall, giving out leaflets and engaging people in conversation. Young people came up to try our photo survey and talk about their thoughts on spiritual things, while Sam did his questionnaire with three young people who claimed in all seriousness to be witches!

Running a Holiday Bible Club in Port Erin on our final day was also a highlight. The children had to find their way into our ‘superheroes’ Kids Club through a corridor of ‘lasers’ made of wool, which they loved. We focused on the miracles of Jesus, leading up to the healing of the paralysed man and the power of Jesus to forgive. It was good to know that some of the children were hearing this for the first time.

The Isle of Man is a curious mix. Fully self-governing through its ancient Parliament, Tynwald, it has a strong Christian heritage, largely due to Methodism, which is now fading. Gay marriage has recently been approved, and there are pressures to legalise abortion. Many Christians expressed their concerns about a secularist group called (ironically?) Free Thinking that is starting to close down some opportunities to reach into local schools, a real concern for the local CEF worker. Yet we found people we talked to out on the streets were more willing to take leaflets and read them, and to take a gospel of Mark and read it properly.

Phil LoBao, the pastor in Port Erin, wants to retire in the next few months, and there has been no pastor in Onchan for some years. Yet these two churches are strong in fellowship and proved themselves eager to reach out. Pray that two new pastors will consider the need to travel ‘across’ to a new ministry at a key time, and be part of a wider gospel movement renewing churches on the Isle of Man.  

Jim Sayers

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