Remember the Late Summer Holiday weekend? We certainly do. About 80,000 people ‘invaded’ Reading to attend the annual music festival held on the outskirts of the town centre. Apparently the festival-goers spent £7 million pounds, ate 250,000 hotdogs and drank nearly 2 million pints of lager during their brief stay in the town!
In the face of such numbers, one might question the impact that a small group of Christians could have on the event. However, as we reminded ourselves several times during the weekend, our sovereign God chooses to work through his people as they proclaim the Good News of Jesus to those around them.
We thus had every reason to be optimistic as we prepared to speak to the masses at the festival.
Carey Baptist Church have witnessed at the festival for many years. However, this year we decided to step up our efforts. We invited Mike Mellor from the Open-Air Mission to lead us in our endeavours and also advertised for volunteers from other churches to join us.
The programme began on Thursday afternoon with Mike giving us some training – including how to engage people in conversation and how to answer difficult questions.
That evening about twenty of us set off to the train station and distributed free maps of Reading to the thousands of young people flocking into the town centre. These maps were gratefully received and included a gospel message.
The rest of the church attended our weekly prayer meeting and prayed for God to use our maps and conversations. On Friday and Saturday we headed off to the Festival site for the rest of the day.
We based ourselves on the banks of the River Thames, where a significant number of festival goers spent the day sitting and relaxing in the sun. Dividing ourselves into twos and threes we wandered along from group to group chatting and introducing people to the gospel.
At about 4.00pm each day, the big-name bands got going and, with fewer people around, we returned to the Carey Centre to review the day. These meetings proved to be a real encouragement as we saw how God had been at work.
On Sunday, Mike preached in our morning service to a congregation that included a number of non-Christian visitors. The weekend was wrapped up with Sunday lunch before those from other churches went home.
As we reflect on this weekend of evangelism we give thanks to God for his provision and protection. Many of the team had never done anything like this before, and at the start of the weekend several expressed how nervous they felt.
However, by the end of the event I think we had all found our feet. Starting conversations with people was made much easier by a questionnaire we had produced for the weekend. This allowed us to go up to people and enquire whether they would be willing to answer a few questions concerning their beliefs.
Time and again the team were surprised by positive responses to this approach. Further, the questionnaire often opened the way for meaningful conversations about the Lord Jesus Christ.
The fact that the festival-goers were not rushing anywhere meant that many of them were happy to talk for quite long periods of time about what we believed.
We were also struck by the way in which the Lord ordered circumstances so that many on our team found themselves talking to people with whom they could identify – common backgrounds, hobbies and experiences were often identified, and led to extended conversations.
Overall, we were thankful to God for every contact we made during the weekend. We gave out over 4,000 pieces of literature and 88 significant conversations on spiritual matters were reported back to us.
We do not know how God will use these things, but we pray that he will be merciful and use them to lead some to a knowledge of himself.