Saul (later known as Paul, the future Apostle to the Gentiles) is first introduced to us in the Bible as the man who witnessed the first wave of church multiplication movement through disciples multiplying and spreading beyond the city of Jerusalem to outsiders.
From the very beginning of Paul’s story, he proved to be a great catalyst for movement (albeit not for entirely great reason)!
‘Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen’ (Acts 8:1)
As a result of of Saul’s actions, a great wave of persecution began, sweeping over the entire church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria ‘[…] Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison’ (Acts 8:1-3)
A GREAT WAVE ACROSS BRITAIN AND EUROPE
For a number of years now, I’ve travelled through an initiative called Mission Britain across the 12 Regions that make up Britain, namely (according to the European Union): Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, North East, North West, Yorkshire+Humber, East Midlands, West Midlands, East England, South East, South West and London, finding, learning from, training and connecting those involved in new forms of church, mission and disciple multiplication movements and hosting Vision Days.
One focus of these Vision and Training Days is gathering people to wait and listen to ‘what the Spirit is saying to the churches’ in that region. From around 2010 onwards, most of the words and pictures people received had a similar theme: The message was this; ‘there’s a wave coming’.
As we progressed through the regions, this prophetic message came to the fore again and again. In one location (Scotland I think) someone shared a dream or vision they had of ‘people lying on a proverbial beach, blissfully unaware that there was a large wave on the horizon looming towards them. However, there was one person with a surfboard who was on the lookout and saw the wave approaching in the distance, and so ran out to meet the wave, was taken up in the crest of the wave and began to ride the wave. However, all the other people lay on the beach, unaware of the impending doom and were subsequently crushed through the weight of the wave and swept to sea.’
Around this same time, we were training a team of students at the Church Army Base in Sheffield, England. We trained them in the Luke 10 skills of Pioneer Mission and Multiplication Movements. One night, we had some downtime, so Tom (my co-worker) and I decided to go to the local cinema to watch a cool indie comedy.
As we sat in the cinema, the screen began to fill up with crowds of people until there was hardly any spare seats left (I remember remarking on how strange that was because the film we were going to see was fairly alternative and not the kind of blockbusting film that would usually draw such a crowd).
As the film started, I became even more confused! What was showing on screen didn’t match the description of the film we had planned to see. The movie began with a family sunbathing in an idyllic location, then all of a sudden, without warning, a great wave came and swept them and their family away…it was terrifying!
They were swept under the force of the wave, and furniture, cars and all kinds of inanimate objects flew through the water, hitting those who were drowning and cutting their legs and arms open. The scene was bloody, gory and nauseating. There were moments, as I watched, (as I’m pretty squeamish) where I thought I was going to wretch. When things began to get a bit too much for me, I made my escape and left the screen of the cinema to go for a breather and work out what had happened…
I wondered off to find a cinema attendant who informed me, ‘we are really sorry, we changed the schedule and the film screenings earlier in the day.’ So although we were in the right screen and they had actually sold us a ticket to the indie film we’d expected, they were now actually showing a film about the 2004 Indian Tsunami disaster called; ‘The Impossible’ in that screen now instead.
Pondering whether we should sit through the rest of this disaster movie or not, it so happened that we were both fasting on that day which made us perhaps more inclined to ask if there was a spiritual message in this human mix-up. So before just simply walking out of the film part-way-through we asked, ‘God, is there something you want to say to us through this film?’
When the harrowing ordeal of sitting through the film was finally over, we went drove back to the Church Army base to pray through what we had seen and heard, and as a result, our attention was drawn to this passage of scripture:
‘When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all.’ (Luke 17:26-27)
The impact of this scripture, after seeing the tsunami disaster flick, struck us hard, and with all the previous prophetic words circulating about a coming wave, this led us to pray more intensely into this wave picture asking God for more about what he wanted to show us.
Over a period of years since then, wrestling and waiting in prayerful intercession regarding this scripture and prophetic picture with other groups across Europe, we began to sense a broad collective call to ‘Build An Ark’ to ‘rescue and disciple Generations XYZ’
Considering the experience of Noah, we know it will take a long time to build this Ark, a collective ‘long-obedience in the same direction’…a culmination of the work of many people working together to re-evangelize or remission and church plant across Europe, working together to see Kingdom Movements and new forms of church spreading across the continent and beyond and creating new resources that will help fuel this emerging movement.
And so, just as Noah followed the heavenly pattern for the Ark laid down by God, we too must collectively receive by seeing and hearing, the divine blueprint from God for want He wants to do in Europe in the 21st Century.
With that in mind, we began to pray and listen collectively with regards to ‘what will this ark be like’, what shape might this Ark take? We began asking God for the blueprint; including His patterns for gospel spreading, disciple making, church multiplication, leadership development, societal engagement and so on for 21st Century Europe in the generations to come.
It therefore didn’t escape our notice that, the year after accidently watching The Impossible about the tsunami (released in 2012, but we saw it in the UK at the beginning of 2013), the film ‘Noah’ with Russell Crowe was released! (2014).
Whether or not you personally enjoyed either of these films, the timing of the prophetic words ringing out across Europe and these film releases were of particular interest to us, as was the news reports in 2016 of a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark being built in Kentucky, USA by a ‘devout Christian.’
The Kentucky Ark is being built to the exact specifications of the original Ark Noah built. The attraction will be called ‘The Ark Encounter’ and, whether or not you agree with the building of such a thing (it will cost $90 million), after all the prophetic words and co-incidences, this all seemed to confirm that God was speaking to us about what he wanted to do in Ark Building, metaphorically here in the UK and across Europe. During this time, I also came across another Noah’s Ark replica built in the Netherlands, and this one actually goes on voyages around the world.
‘Hundreds of thousands have already visited the Ark of Noah in the Netherlands to see the Biblical reconstruction and hear the story of Noah and the great flood. To be in line with the Biblical story, the ark includes artificial replicas of animals paired two-by-two as described in Genesis’.
Whatever you think about the sanity or logic of such real life ark building replicas, it does lead us to these questions:
Are we collectively in a Kairos moment here in Europe?
Is God saying something to His Church at this time? If so, what do we need to do about it?
And so, as we continued traveling across Europe, hearing more prophetic words that ‘a wave is coming,’ one day in my morning quiet time, I re-read Acts 8:1 and then the wave suddenly hit me!
‘A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church […] and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions […] the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went…’ (Acts 8:1-4)
There it was…an interpretation to all these prophetic signs, words and pictures was already clearly written in black and white in the pages of scripture. I had read that passage many times and on many occasions and had already seen the connection between persecution, scattering, multiplication and movements, and had often prophesied that we needed to become persecution-proof in Europe and prepare for movement. But I hadn’t noticed the key phrase; ‘A Great Wave’.
When Christians usually talk about coming ‘waves’, they usually mean ‘a move of God’ resulting in some kind of revival or societal transformation or the advent of a new Christian movement. But I’d never heard of the next great wave being referred to as a set of circumstances involving hardship and persecution of believers that sets off a chain reaction of scattering and the multiplication of gospel spreading, disciples and churches forming amongst the previously unreached.
The new movement spoken about in Acts 8:1 spread outside of the confines (the box) of Jewish believers in Jerusalem and into Samaria through the scattering of believers triggered by the persecution of Stephen. Philip, one of the spreaders, became so emboldened he was transformed from one who ‘waited on tables’ to one who boldly preached the gospel with signs and wonders and miracles following.
News of great crowds coming to faith in Jesus and being baptised reached the ears of the apostles who were the only ones who had stayed behind in Jerusalem. So Peter and John were sent to lay hands on the new disciples so that they could receive the Holy Spirit and then they too joined the fun and went on to preach in all the villages along their way back to Jerusalem (Acts 8:14-17).
Philip now fully operational in his movement phase, even baptized the treasurer of Ethiopia which led to the spread of the movement into East Africa.
Interestingly, in a similar manner, waves of persecution by state authorities have actually been catalytic towards dramatic movements of disciples and churches in Communist China, and similar waves of hardship and persecution have also brought more Muslim Background Believers into the faith since 2001 than at any other time in history.
Could God be preparing us in Europe to live through a time of hardship and persecution and/or for new movements of disciples and churches to be multiplied amongst the unchurched people groups of the continent?
Either way, I don’t want to be amongst those lying on the proverbial beach, blissfully unaware of the impeding and threshing wave. I don’t want to be like a frog in lukewarm water unaware of the rising temperature of opposition increasing in Europe to Jesus and his Ways!
I want to be one who works to intentionally to Build An Ark for the movement of many new people groups becoming disciples of Jesus across the UK and Europe in my generation.
How about you?
In Act 7 there was a pretty static church, remaining largely stationary amongst one predominant type of people (Jewish people) gathered in Jerusalem, but by end of Act 9, as a result of Saul’s sudden appearance on the scene in Act 8, and, remarkably, even before he became known as Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles – the church had now spread from Jerusalem to Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Damascus in Syria and Ethiopia.
Not bad for saying Saul’s intention was to actually stop the movement! He unwittingly turned a movement that was based in one city into a fledgling movement that spread across significant geopolitical regions across the Middle East.
Do we need more hostile Saul’s in order to see this happen in Europe today?
Or will we just obey Acts 1:8 instead of having to be turned upside down by Acts 8:1?