An Experience in Open Air Gospel Testimony
Alan Baguley, Leicester, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The beginnings of the work
Driving into Leicester on a Lord’s Day in May 1994 to attend the gospel meeting, due to commence at 6.30 p.m., we were aware from the outskirts of the city of a large amount of black smoke ascending into the sky. We judged this to be coming from a point very near to the Gospel Hall. Upon entering the street where the Gospel Hall is situated we were stopped by a fire officer who informed us that the fire was directly opposite the Hall. As a result, none of the believers was able to gain access to the building for the gospel meeting, nor could they enter the building to remove any hymnbooks. However, there were some gospel tracts which were reachable and so these were taken out.
By 6.30 p.m. about fifty members of the assembly plus others were gathered at the entrance to the street. After taking the opportunity to distribute gospel tracts to all the sightseers, it was decided that as the weather was fine, an open-air meeting would be held in the Town Hall Square, a short walk away.
We sang a few well-known hymns, then, after prayer, several brethren who felt exercised to preach did so for about five minutes each. Shortly after the preaching had commenced we were encouraged to find that a few people congregated nearby to listen. As soon as the preaching had concluded we were approached by an employee from the Town Hall who informed us that permission needed to be granted before any such meetings could be conducted in that particular area. Apologies were made to him for our ignorance in these matters and explanations made about the fire, which were accepted.
However, the assembly was encouraged through the event, sensing that the Lord had given help by providing an opening not envisaged before, to reach the few people who had stopped to listen. After much private and collective prayer over these matters, we reached the conclusion that the Lord was sending us out into the open air to preach the gospel in the centre of Leicester, bearing in mind the Lord’s words to His disciples, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature’, Mark 16. 16.
Confirming and promoting the exercise
While preparations were at this early stage, and some members of the assembly were still unaware of the intention to go out to preach on a Lord’s day evening, the overseers were approached by a couple of younger believers with an exercise to preach in the open air in the centre of the city on a Friday evening, when there would be many people about. While this exercise was commendable it was felt that it could be dangerous for just a few believers to be down in the city seeking to preach at that particular time and they were advised against it. At the same time the elders were able to inform them of the intention to take the whole assembly to the centre of Leicester to the Clock Tower on a Lord’s Day evening, to conduct our gospel meeting there instead of in the Hall, if the necessary permission could be obtained from the authorities.
The Police were the first authority to be approached and they very quickly informed us that if the City Council agreed, the services could go ahead. They wanted to know how many people would go down to the City Centre as they were concerned about crowds gathering there owing to the presence of multiracial communities, and the possible risk of riots which had occurred in the past.
We had requested to use a public address system and as a result the Leicester City Council Pollution Department had to be approached. However, after checking the noise levels permitted at the Clock Tower, where fortunately there were no private residences, they gave us permission to go ahead on the understanding that if they received any complaints, they would have to reconsider their decision. Both the Police and the City Council wanted to know dates and times that were planned to have the meeting at the Clock Tower. They emphasized that people should not be stopped on the thoroughfare, although leaflets could be handed out to people passing by. Also, in view of the City Council’s efforts to try to keep the city centre tidy, and on our part for the sake of the testimony, an agreement was made to retrieve any of the leaflets that might be dropped on the ground.
Commencement and development
At last everything seemed ready to go and on the 7th May 1995 the assembly held our first gospel meeting at the Clock Tower. A few hymns were sung, this time with the use of a hymnbook, and after a word of prayer the preaching began. This time the brothers preached in a preselected order because it was felt that, if there were any delay in taking hold of the microphone, a passer-by may take the opportunity to grab it and try to take over speaking. Opposition was quickly encountered, but we had anticipated this on the understanding that whenever there is a work being carried out for God the devil will try to hinder it. On one occasion two young lads used the believers as a cover to hide from the police who were looking for them. They had obtained two hymnbooks and were standing with the assembly!
After a few months it was decided that it would be better to use the time in the open air to preach just the gospel, leaving out the prayer and hymns. Before going down to the city centre twenty minutes in the Hall were spent in prayer. This was not only because the need for prayer was great, but that the believers felt very vulnerable in praying and singing in the open air. These activities are likely to be ridiculed by the unsaved thus bringing dishonour to the Name of the Lord.
Arrangements were also made for a brother to remain at the Hall for a few minutes after 6.30 p.m. in case anyone arrived for the meeting, which was advertised on our Notice Board situated outside the Hall. With afterthought we now put a notice on the gates re-directing people to the Clock Tower for that particular Lord’s Day evening.
Establishment and experience
As a result of these early experiences we have developed the pattern that these meetings now take. Eight services are held at the Clock Tower each summer, as the Lord allows, between the months of May and early September, subject to favorable weather conditions prevailing. The Clock Tower has four roads converging at this point. The traffic does not pass by the Tower other than the occasional police car. The police often stop and wind the car window down and appear to listen to the messages. Their presence has proved invaluable when very angry individuals have approached the believers shouting their objections and declaring their intentions to stop the meeting. On seeing the police they quickly change their minds!
People ‘high’ on drugs and others under the influence of alcohol and who cannot control their actions are encountered. The enemy uses such individuals to disrupt and halt the proceedings. The assembly is blessed with some members who have the particular gift of personal evangelism and who are very able to speak to them on a one-to-one basis. This has proved to be invaluable when an individual, influenced by drink or drugs, stands before the brother who is preaching and shouts abuse or sometimes, obscenities, at him. The brother is only able to continue speaking if these believers, with much wisdom, tolerance and grace, are able to wean the objector away from the speaker. After such instances, sometimes there have followed very good conversations with these very same individuals, so all is not lost.
On one occasion the police made an arrest just a few yards away from the preaching dispossessing a youth of a knife. The policeman then asked the brother who was preaching at the time to continue, because on account of the disruption, and not surprisingly, he had lost his train of thought! On a few occasions the microphone has been snatched out of the speaker’s hand and once the objector tried to destroy the microphone. There have been fights taking place nearby and police sirens wailing as they come to attend to these incidents. It certainly adds flavor to the outreach.
There have been a great variety of people encountered over the years. These have included believers, backsliders, those under conviction, and others with Christian backgrounds but not yet saved. The believers organizing these meetings have been greatly encouraged by the support of the assembly. Some of the older believers tell of earlier days of blessings as the gospel message was preached in the Market Square or at the gates to the Victoria Park, nearby. It has been concluded that it is very important that the assembly stand together supporting the outreach because the city centre is no place for the fainthearted.
The first speaker always informs the onlookers where the believers are from and the reason why the preaching is taking place. Emphasis is placed each time on the fact that the meetings are held only on the basis that the required permission has been obtained to preach in the open air. Experience has taught us that five speakers giving a short message of about seven minutes each is ample time to present the truth directly to those sitting in the vicinity or passing by. The meeting is curtailed if the weather is cool or the interest is seen to be waning.
A very busy takeaway outlet is situated nearby. This provides a ready audience but one from which many of the objectors emerge. Believers who hand out the gospel leaflets place t h e m s e l v e s strategically at various points adjacent to where the preaching takes place in order to meet most of the people passing by. Leicester has a multi-racial and therefore multilingual society and leaflets need to be available in some of the main Indian and European languages. It is estimated that at a normal meeting the gospel has been preached to over eighty people and on occasions, the number has been greater. When an event such as the annual Radio One Road Show takes place, there are hundreds passing by.
A few believers remain behind at the conclusion of the preaching to speak with any who show interest, and also to invite individuals to come back to the Hall to have some refreshments. The concluding speaker informs the audience of the gospel meeting times at the Hall each week and that a warm welcome is extended to all to attend. In this way the work is extended into the regular gospel witness of the assembly.
Sowing with patience and in hope
Our intention is to continue faithfully with this exercise until the door is closed. We know that the Lord has absolute authority in these matters, after all He is ‘he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth and no man openeth’, Rev. 3. 7. We believe that the time is short and the opportunity will soon be gone. The meetings have taught us how much dependence upon the Lord is essential to continuance, knowing that the assembly is in the Lord’s hands alone as movement is made into the front line of Christian warfare. As we enter the domain of Satan we have learned to expect that anything can happen and does happen. The reverence that was experienced by our forebears has now gone as ‘the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not’, 2 Cor. 4. 4.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Alan Baguley is an elder in the assembly at York Street Gospel Hall, Leicester, and is active in the preaching of the gospel and in teaching the scriptures. Alan has previously contributed to Precious Seed and to other assembly magazines.