The city of Hull has a population of well over a quarter of a million people. Each year it plays host to a week-long fair, one of the largest in Europe. Thousands of people come from far and wide to enjoy the fun. During this time the Open-Air Mission witnesses to lost souls, both in the city centre at lunch times and at the fair in the evenings.
One of the city’s famous names is William Wilberforce, a Christian renowned for his tireless efforts to ban the slave trade. No doubt he was just as interested in seeing men and women delivered from a greater slavery – that of sin and Satan.
All around the city centre and at the fair, it is evident that souls are heading for a Christ-less eternity. It is because of this great need that we go each year to preach the glorious gospel which alone can set people free.
The team, consisting of five full-time evangelists, one trainee evangelist, one associate evangelist and several other volunteers, was based at Walton Street Evangelical Church – on the main access road to the fair and a strategic location for the outreach each evening.
The team was greatly encouraged to have local support from several different fellowships, both prayerfully and practically. How we praise God for the unity we enjoyed!
This year we had the joy of visiting 13 primary schools and speaking at a total of 19 assemblies. Some schools invited us back more than once. Approximately 2,500 children were presented with a challenge from the Bible.
Many of these children come to the fair in the evenings with their parents, and often spot the preachers there. Regularly we hear them say to their mums and dads that they saw us at school – which makes the parents less hostile and more willing to listen.
Each lunchtime we preached the good news in the city centre. Our usual spot was denied to us this year because the council, in league with the BBC, had erected a huge TV screen.
However our new location proved to be much better – the Lord knows what he is doing! Thousands of tracts were given out (each a gospel message in itself) and numerous conversations took place with folk from a wide variety of backgrounds.
One was Sali, a Saudi Arabian who had been contacted by a Christian in Portsmouth who had spoken with him about Christ. Sali was going to get an Arabic Bible from him.
He hadn’t received it yet, so it was a joy to give him a John’s Gospel. He explained that he so much wanted to know more about the Bible.
I told him to be careful if he took it with him back to Saudi Arabia! Sali was clearly a seeker and we pray that the entrance of God’s Word will bring light to his heart and soul.
We also spoke to locals like Diana – a young woman with a great sense of guilt who knew she needed to be right with the Lord. She occasionally attended an Anglican church but had never heard the gospel clearly explained. Diana was thankful for all she heard and went away with much to consider.
There was also a polite young man called Lee, whose mother had brought him up with Christian values. A long conversation followed. Lee knew he hadn’t yet trusted the Lord as his own Saviour and said he was going home to sort things out!
Six lads stood listening. They then began to make comments about what was being preached. One of the team went to talk with them and four other young men.
A friendly discussion then ensued. One of the group, Rob, showed particular interest and asked some good questions. He readily accepted a John’s Gospel and said that he would read it.
The evenings at the fair usually prove to be ‘lively times’ and this year was no exception. One evening three girls, one in particular, ranted at the preacher. Crowds soon gathered and a police officer tried to arrest her.
She promptly grabbed his helmet and ran off. The officer duly gave chase and apprehended her. Although it gets rather wild at times, this does attract a crowd and many are challenged as they see the reality of sin.
Sometimes, when people hear of God’s love and see it demonstrated in the gentleness displayed to those who oppose, they become inquisitive and thoughtful. Then they will stand and give a hearing to the preaching – and good conversations often follow.
One example was Fiona, an18-year-old who took a Gospel of John from the team leader Keith Bullock after he had finished preaching. She was about to start university to study Religion and went on to ask a number of deep questions.
She was encouraged to think seriously about the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. She appreciated the conversation and was challenged by the uniqueness of Christ.
Rob and Debbie, a married couple, also listened to the preaching. Afterwards Rob said he was born again but was not attending a place of worship. Debbie was extremely warm and open, and seemed to relish the prospect of going to a church to hear this message again. She seemed very close to trusting the Lord.
Details of a good Evangelical church in the city were given to them and they left – excited at the prospect of beginning a new life together in Christ.
Over 200 John’s Gospels plus other evangelistic booklets were given to those who expressed interest. Around 150 individual conversations took place and many folk opened up to team members in amazing ways.
Often people will talk to a stranger who is outside of their situation more readily than to someone who knows them.
The preaching reduced some to tears. Jasmine, a teenager, wept as she listened. She came forward for a John’s Gospel. When Keith Bullock spoke to her she talked of an uncle who had died recently aged only 42. He had told her about Jesus but she had ignored him.
Now she realised that her uncle had been right – she needed to turn away from the wrong things in her life. She was open to the gospel, even asking Keith to pray with her. She took helpful literature and a local church was suggested for her to attend. She certainly was a prepared heart!
One man actually prayed there and then in the open air, asking Christ into his life (something, that as a mission we certainly would not encourage lightly).
John had stood listening for a good while. He admitted being an alcoholic (although he was sober that day) and in great need. He was introduced to one of the team, Mike Mellor, who himself had been an alcoholic.
He was glad of this, and told Mike that he knew Alcoholics Anonymous did not have the answer. He said he had prayed in the past but no change came in his life. It was explained that he needed to acknowledge and repent of his sin, and believe in what Christ had done at Calvary.
Mike shared his own testimony of how God had delivered him, and John expressed a desire to pray, asking for forgiveness and a new start. He wanted to be put in touch with a church, so details were given him.
Finally, and perhaps most thrilling of all, was Raphael – a Spanish man who was spoken to at the fair last year. He had started attending a local Evangelical church in Hull and has been saved. He came to tell the team the wonderful news and that he has just been baptised!
Many today tell us that this method of evangelism is outdated and ineffective. The experience of our workers both in Hull and all around our land convinces us otherwise. In towns and cities, the Christ-less multitudes go about with little or no thought of eternity.
Even if people are concerned about spiritual things, who will show them the right way? Oh, that as God’s people we would wake up to the need to stand in the gap and hold out the words of life to the lost and perishing!
The church of Jesus Christ needs to go out to the people and preach the gospel – even as we have been commanded by our Lord and Saviour.