Message Academy Update March 2020

Hey guys! So, it’s been well over a month now since my last update because honestly, I’ve been so incredibly busy working each day and doing things, that often, I wouldn’t have time. Obviously, there’s a big worldwide crisis going on right now to do with COVID 19 and I’ll get to what this means for me later in this update.

I can’t even begin to tell each one of you how amazing this course has been for me and continues to change me each day I’m up here in Manchester. I can honestly say what I’ve already done in this course and what I will continue to do is just life changing stuff and I’m so in love with what The Message Trust are doing and how they do it. I’ve been realising how fortunate it is to spend a year around such faith filled people where God has transformed them from places of addiction and darkness to places of Meaning, Purpose, Fulfilment, Peace and Joy. There’s a strong sense here that its not about knowledge and maybe how well you know the scriptures, what theology qualifications you have or how eloquent you can be in your words. But it’s instead all about Jesus and the hope we have in him. Its all about faith, ultimately.

We’ve started the Higher Tours! ‘Higher’ is a gig-like event The Message Trust do around this time of year in lots of different places and venues across the UK and soon across the world. The reason some may have not heard about it is because it’s a type of school outreach where across the two weeks leading up-to the gig in a certain area, our Creative Mission Teams or “bands” go into schools, perform and talk about different relevant young people’s topics such as identity, mental health and relationships just to name a few. Then at the end they invite the young people to the Higher Gig, and we play lots of music and have fun, but above all, proclaim The Gospel.

The first Higher Gig ever was at the O2 arena and we often try and book the biggest venues we can find in the different locations! So currently me and the other Academy Students got to steward at both Higher North Wales and Higher Southport. Higher North Wales was incredible with coach loads of young people turning up totalling at 1200 school kids attending. I feel the one thing I learned – in-fact that we all learned that day, is that school kids can be ‘feral’! When compared to Christian events like Soul Survivor, they’re two very different things and I can now say I have the deepest respect for schoolteachers than I ever had. It was a bit chaotic looking after 1200 of … ‘them’ but the result of the gig was way worth all the stress and madness. Strangely, teachers tell us that its often the most misbehaving kids who have the most dramatic response to the Gospel and on that day, we saw about 450 young people give their lives to Christ. Unprompted, hundreds of them began to chant “there is hope” the motto of our band ‘Brightline’. And, we had the privilege of setting them up in their local churches and to meet their local Youth workers during the end of the gig. It was a privilege to witness and a privilege to serve at, even if parts were hard at times, it really was an incredible thing to witness.

In my normal weekly schedule, Thursdays would always be my highlight of the week for me which is street evangelism. We would always meet every Thursday in MacDonald’s and then go out and pray with as well as tell people The Gospel. God has been doing some amazing-crazy things through it too by his Holy Spirit at work within us! Every week at the minute seems to get better too, with more people accepting offered prayer, more people responding to The Gospel, and more people with just a higher level of openness to hear of the hope we have found. Last Thursday we had a much larger team as we were joined by 7 Americans who were equally on fire for God as we all are. That day, I got to share the gospel with 6 people, bless and pray with over this number and lead one man in the sinner’s prayer! Praise God

Last Tuesday we spent all day in prison learning about what our prison team do day-in-day-out and I was privileged to be able to have amazing conversations with many of the inmates living there. There was a guy in there (and I won’t use his name) who had been in there almost 15 years from shooting a police officer. From what he told me he was involved in the drug trade when he was young and growing up in poverty with his single mum in a rough council estate. He then got involved in playing around with firearms and became part of the sale of them too. Eventually this led him to become one of the leading Birmingham gang leaders and he got very wealthy from it. At one point he was stabbed and had an out of body experience before he was saved and became conscious again. His brother, similarly, while in a gunfight got shot and had an out of body experience where he saw angels and what sounded like a description of demons. He too survived. While in this cycle of “darkness” and violence he was caught and put in prison for a sentence of 15 years (I think) and while in prison at one of the higher security prisons, The Gospel – God’s life changing message of mercy and forgiveness was preached and he powerfully responded. He has been a transformed Christian for 5 years now and is clearly in The Word ALL THE TIME. You can tell not just because he was always reading it in every break, but every single page was written over and highlighted to the point where his Bible was practically falling apart. He told me that was his second Bible too! It’s amazing because God works so powerfully in prisons and there are so many “born again” stories like these where prisoners are freed from addiction and set free from the darkness of their old lifestyles. This experience impacted me massively and I might see it as an option in a few years to work in jails like how The Message are able to work and impact these people’s lives.

Across this time, we have been mostly working hard in our Mission Teams where later in the year we should be heading out on mission into schools across the UK. Proclaiming the gospel and doing what our Creative Mission Teams do on their day-to-day, but for 6 weeks. Musically, I’m focused on vocals at the minute with a spoken word in the middle of one of our songs as well as Graphic Design. For example, the logo I made for our Mission Team, “Above All” (picture above). The name comes from Philippians 4:7 in the Bible when describing the vastness of Peace that God gives to us even when the world feels like chaos around us. Today we had a performance review for one of our planned and rehearsed school lessons which went really well and I’m very much looking forward to being able to perform and share truth with young people when we’re out on mission.

So, COVID 19! It honestly seems to feel like the world around me has gone mad and the power of fear is just everywhere at the minute. And, because of this virus outbreak, we unfortunately must now finish two weeks before the start of a two-week Easter Holiday so I’m now heading back into Leicester tomorrow (21st March) to probably self-isolate like everybody else. About Germany, we’re still unsure about what the situation is going to be because currently as planned by the Government, they should be opening their borders 10 days before we have to fly out and to those who have donated I can just give all my biggest thanks and appreciations and ask that we all pray that this overseas mission can still go ahead. Much love to you all, especially a shutout to Liz Smith who has crocheted a blanket and auctioned it towards my mission trip to Germany! What a legend! So again, thank you to everyone supporting me financially and through prayer. Love you all and I look forward to seeing you hopefully when this crazy virus fiasco has blown over.

Joe Smith