Some moments are created awkward, some are created special, some romantic, some painful, and some? Some are as near to perfect as can occur in a fallen world. Last Saturday afternoon fell firmly into the latter group. It was almost five o’clock and the sun hung low in the sky and cast a wonderful golden glow over the whole scene.
We were on Isamilo Hill, Mwanza, Tanzania, on a little dirt road that runs up the hillside. Next to the road is enough of a dusty area to play football, and surrounding that a grassy knoll. Along the roadside are homes and the occasional small shop, winding up and around the hill.
We were there for our church’s outdoor cinema night, where hundreds of people come and watch a film under the stars. It’s a time when many people first connect with the church, where people get introduced to something that can change their lives.
As teams wandered up the streets, talking to people and inviting them to come and join us, a few of us played football with a great group of young guys from the area. We ran forwards and backwards, stopping only for the piki-piki riders to pass along the dirt road that formed one side of our pitch.
It was while doing this, and pursuing my first goal away from British soil a little too determinedly, that the PA system came to life. I recognised those notes. Something stirred in my soul and I didn’t just hear the music but felt it. My mind was flooded with memories associated with that tune, and moments later the words to Glorious Ruins started to drift through the neighbourhood.
Let the ruins come to life, in the beauty of Your Name
Rising up from the ashes, God forever You reign
I was taken to times when I’d thought I was through and done with and yet had worshipped with this song and let it prophesy life into situations that looked long past hope. I was taken back to Iron Men conference two years ago, arms to the sky, giving my crap to God and losing it in grace. I was reminded that some of the blessings I live with now came from those moments when I sat in the ruins of a circumstance and praised God anyway.
I was overcome by the beautiful sense of something prophetic happening; by the knowledge that the music filling the streets was not just songs of praise but songs of faith, declaring a future over that neighbourhood that it does not yet see.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
– Hebrews 11:1
It’s not an area of economic prosperity; there is high unemployment, people live with far less than we are used to, need in a material sense is so obvious – but there is an answer. That answer is the church, empowered by Jesus Christ to go out into all the world and bring the message of reconciliation.
There was a tangible sense that God’s heart is for people and a hope that the future is brighter than the present, that ruins do come to life, souls do find refuge in Him, and hearts are strengthened in His presence.
My words can’t do justice to how beautiful that moment was, stood in the middle of this make shift football pitch, looking around at an area and feeling a glimpse of what God has for it. Wondering at how many lives He has already planned to change, how many burdens He has already seen and understood and is coming to remove, how much mourning He is going to turn to dancing.
Wondering at how many lives He has already planned to change, how many burdens He has already seen and understood and is coming to remove, how much mourning He is going to turn to dancing.
Football, cinema and some Hillsong worship on a PA system? That’s a prophetic act. I firmly believe that Glorious Ruins being the first song played, the first time we’ve been at that site, was a God breathed moment. I know through experience that God, through His power, uses words to prophecy goodness over His people. And I’m excited to see what He has in store for the people on Isamilo Hill.
Our shadows lengthened across the pitch as the sun continued it’s lingering trajectory towards the horizon; I quietly wished that it would be still in the sky, because I would have happily stayed in that moment – worshipping, connecting, playing football, believing in faith for the renewal and regeneration of a whole neighbourhood – for hours.
And for the sake of anything you may hear from my good friend Pastor Andrew from our Teesside campus? I did get that goal. And it was worth the wait. Even if he did score six.