"That's the best night out I've had in ages!" quote Polly, in the car on our way back from a night out in Leeds... at church.
Yup, you heard, church. Myself and three students from York hopped in my tiny car of dreams and road-tripped to the neighboring city of Leeds, where I was speaking to the students of St. George's Church about telling their mates about Jesus. Given the topic, it was no surprise that we all left the meeting absolutely buzzing.
There are nearly 80,000 students in Leeds, one of the biggest Uni cities in the land, and less than 1% of these students are following Jesus and plugged into church. For this massive northern city, with a far superior night life to little old York, the statistics are particularly grim. Yet, as I told the 40 plus students on Thursday night, this makes for an exciting challenge. With that sort of concentration of students, people who know Jesus will literally be falling over opportunities to meet people yet to meet God, and introduce the two. Let's not get daunted by the numbers Leeds, but instead recognise you are strategically placed to do something about it!
During the evening, I got my three student mates to each give a three minute testimony about their experience of life and faith at Uni. Rosie spoke of how she turned up on Fresher's week, determined to follow Jesus no matter what people thought, and within the first two weeks of going to church, she had brought two different housemates along with her. Next, Garreth chatted about having an active faith before Uni, and how the words "down it fresher!" had sent his first year into a messy spiral where he totally took God out of the equation. Yet there he was, having had a massive wake-up call, now telling other students about the turn-around God had done in his life and that you are never too far away from God to be reached. Read the story of the lost son... this stuff still happens.
Finally, I asked Polly to come and share her story, introduing her by saying, “"If you want proof that Jesus was right about claiming he saves and the gospel is true, meet Polly". Polly is Rosie's housemate, and met Jesus through meeting Rosie and joining our church community. Polly absolutely overflows passion for her new found faith and it was an amazing moment to watch a girl, a year into her journey with God, tell a crowd that they have nothing to lose by sharing their faith, because that's how she found out God exists and loves her! You could see the room sit up and pay attention to this story, everyone seemed almost tangibly lighter and more excited about life by the end of it. The good news really is good news.
In November 2009 I had stood in that same church and prayed that the followers of Jesus in Leeds would love the hell out of their city. We prayed that God would bring students into the place to do just that. Two years on, I stood in front of that answered prayer, with all the potential for the stats to change as lives are reclaimed, embodied in a bunch of students who are now challenged to answer the question “"who are you telling about Jesus?" and to follow this up with action.