Leaving Orkney was somewhat sad, I, we, felt connected to the green isle. There is such a serenity to be found there. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Do you know the history of Orkney?
We arrived in Aberdeen on Saturday, a 35 minute flight in a 36 seater plane and it wasn’t even full. At check in we were offered the exit row, God bless the guest service assistant, Peter is still struggling with his sprained ankle after his fall in the middle of the never, never.
We heard that Orcadians love Aberdeen and some come twice a year. There’s a ferry leaving Shetland then picks up passengers in Orkney at midnight arriving in Aberdeen at around 5am in the morning and it’s less than £20. But I’m not seeing what they do. Aberdeen is dirty, filthy actually, more people smoke than not (there’s that ugly reformed smoker in me coming out again), high ethnic population, African, Indian and Middle Easterners that I can recognise immediately. In the short distance from alighting the bus to our accommodation there’s evidence of the complete inebriation the night before and I step around it. It’s the clubbing district we’ve discovered as well as the poor area of Aberdeen.
But what I really want to tell you about is Christ Central the church, just across from Union Square which is a shopping mall. It took us awhile on Saturday to find the church. We knew the church had moved to a new location in the zone, it’s not a traditional building in fact it used to be the location of a herring processing operation if I understood correctly. The renovations are not yet complete, it’s being staged and they have plenty of hurdles to jump before it will be finished
I want to tell you about everyone we met, they are an amazing faith-filled group of people but maybe some stories are better told face to face. Amy Brookes wife of the lead Pastor Rick Brookes gave us a condensed history of the journey to the purchase of the building and it’s definitely worth the telling.
Eight years ago or probably longer the building they now occupy came up for sale, two offers were made, one party offering £1.3mill approx and then Tesco (UK supermarket giant) offered £1.6 mill then having heard there was a generator in the basement withdrew their offer. This left an opening for Christ Central to make an offer for the building, being £800k.
Now for all intents and purposes one would say that was a gift, only half of the Tesco offer but all is not as it would seem. Firstly, they offered because they felt The Lord lead them to do so, the building was not a walk-in walkout it was almost derelict and had significant value to the developers of Union Square but would require a great deal of money to get it to a point of being fit for purpose.
Of greatest significance was that the bank required £400k within 28 days before they would release funding and to add to that, the congregation numbered only 34 people. If that was not enough of a challenge Rick felt God saying not to preach and ask for money from the congregation. Amy recounts the story how each day they would look at the bank balance and refresh the screen. As the 28th day was coming to a close and they looked at the bank balance again refreshing the screen a number of times and on the last time an amount of £412k appeared in the bank. I’m moved to tears by this story even as I write it. The solicitors acting for the church were so astonished by this immeasurable act of faith and trust that they gave a further £10,000 to cover all fees.
It is inevitable that the enemy will test faith even after all is said and done. As soon as the church had possession of the building thieves stripped the building of its valuable copper piping gaining access through the gaping holes in the walls. The thieves did not turn off the boiler first so the building was also flooded. They have continually been harassed by Tesco, M&S and others, one party even ordering the cutting down of trees on the church property before the church brought it to a halt.
But the hand of God is so evident in so many ways including acquiring at no cost a vast amount of carpet which was used just the once for a music concert, a member of the church was there to accept the carpet that was being dumped and it has carpeted at least two floors of the building. What colour do you think it is? The colour of royalty, purple no less! It looks fabulous!!
The council wants to tax them as a business which would be 1000s of pounds each year, but because the building was used for prayer meetings for a period and the church is a charity, they can’t. The church cannot use its front doors because of some issue raised by the developers of Union Square, they have installed CCTV on the front door to ensure there is no breach by the church, but it is security for the church. How fantastic is that!
As I say there are still many challenges but their faith is strong and they are meeting these challenges head on as they arise.
Christ Central have a community arm TLC, we had the privilege of hearing Tim Olsen preach on Sunday, Tim also heads up TLC, Rick said Tim left a much better paying job to do so but we could see his heart as he told a number of stories involving members of the community who are able to access help through the food bank, counselling and other support.
To give you some form of perspective regarding Aberdeen as it did for us, the population is around 230,000. Aberdeen is on the coast of the North Sea which is an oil basin and has brought significant wealth and employment to the economy of Aberdeen however when the oil prices dropped a few years ago 120,000 people lost their jobs. Tim said pointing “if you walk 90 seconds in that direction, you will be amongst the poorest 5% of the population”. And all of a sudden it answered all the questions we had upon our arrival.
It is a poor and needy zone in which we have landed. Begging on the streets, though we know not all people begging are truly destitute, the state of the streets, the high disability needs, the look of desperation only the blind can not see it but it’s almost in your nostrils.
The church does an incredible job meeting human need, Tim could hardly contain the emotion in his voice and again we are moved by his authenticity. TLC has three food banks, they see it all, people of faith and no faith, loss and grieving for a number reasons, suicide and so on.
Many of us quote that famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, “if you build it, they will come”. It was prophesied some time ago to the church and they are believing it and building it.
Someone up front I can’t remember who said of those in the church, “if you need prayer why aren’t you at the prayer meeting, if God has answered your prayer why aren’t you at the prayer meeting”.
God is speaking to us so many thousands of miles from home, but He is also speaking to the ‘whole’ church not just Aberdeen. Where is our faith, where is our faith in action, who are we waiting for to do the work, if we need prayer why do we wait for someone else to pray we should be front and centre crying out for ourselves and for others. If we have had prayer answered, again I ask, why are we not front and centre crying out our praise and thanks to God.
God is most definitely speaking, are you listening, am I listening, who is listening? If God’s hand and favour should depart from us it bears not thinking.
In Genesis 13:4 Abraham built an altar and called on the name of the Lord and he worshipped God.
Cheers from Aberdeen