Thursday, July 16, 2020

on the road again

I’m going to cut to the chase, then go back to the details, if that’s all right with you.

In September, I am moving to York (north England) with three other women in order to re-pioneer the YWAM base there. We will be joined by a family that has been a part of YWAM York since their own DTSs.

As many of you will know, I moved to London eight years ago to join an arts team that eventually became YWAM London Radiant. I never put a time limit on how long I would be here. Instead, I said, “I’m here until God tells me to go elsewhere.”

Well, guess what. God’s called me to go elsewhere!

Late last year, my leaders here at Radiant asked me to pray about leading a team to re-pioneer the base in York. God gave me a strong “yes,” and my leaders and I prayed together and travelled to York a few times (my mother even visited it with me whilst she was here!), and we asked a few other people to consider coming along. They heard God’s “yes,” and also agreed to be a part of this new adventure!

So long story short, the three other ladies are in the States renewing visas and raising finances right now, and I am in London preparing to lead an outreach team up for a week at the end of July.  The York base has a building, a community centre that holds a small cafe and a dance studio/meeting room space, and we are going to spend a week cleaning and organising it to prepare for September. 

Over the next two months, I am also going to be going through a process (which has already begun) of learning the different things I need to know in order to lead a base - finances, data protection, communication, health and safety, etc, etc, etc. I’ve never done this before, and there are certainly a lot of things to learn! Luckily, my leaders at Radiant, Chris and Johanna, are walking with me through the process. They will continue to be my spiritual leaders when I move to York, and the York base is being re-pioneered by Radiant, so we will not be abandoned in any way. 

There are a lot of aspects of moving to York and re-pioneering the base that are large and could be a bit intimidating: we need to do some work in the base to prepare it for the activities that we will run for the community and for future training schools. We (by we, I mean the four of us ladies who are moving) also need to raise money for a deposit on a house for us to live in, which will probably be around £2,000. And of course, we need to come together as a team, to discern God’s vision and heart for both the city and for the base. 

This is a big transition for me, and you lot have been with me faithfully for the past eight years, so I am glad to finally be able to share it with you. A lot of the details are still up in the air (global pandemic, etc), but here are a few prayer points:

  1. The visa offices are currently shut, and all three other ladies need to renew their visas to be in the UK. Please pray for the offices to open up and the girls to get their visas by September.
  2. For the outreach that will go to York next week to prepare the base/get to know the area.
  3. That I will meet the people, have the appointments, and receive the paperwork that I need as I prepare to move to York and the base.
  4. For us to raise the finances that we need to put a deposit on a house to live in.
  5. For the physical move from London to York.

If you have any questions about the move, you can email me at deborahestevenson@gmail.com. I am happy to share more with you about what is happening, or just to hear how you are doing or clarify anything I can.

Thank you all for your support, your prayers, your emails, and the way that you constantly surprise me. And thank you for being here as we transition from London to York!

a map of England including York and London (so you have an idea of the journey)


L-R - Renee, Nicole (who already lives in York with her husband and daughters), me, Raya. Yvonne, our fourth American lady, is not pictured.

York Minster at the end of a typical shopping street. It makes you want to come and visit, right?


A photo of York Minster grabbed from atop the medieval city walls (which you can walk round any time)

The tea shop where my mother and I had tea and scones

Inside the tea shop where we had tea and scones


Monday, July 6, 2020

together, we cannot be silent

Throughout June, I watched as the Black Lives Matter movement grew and swelled across the US and into England. Our protests were not as violent or as quick as the ones in the States, but age-old wounds were brought to light by our neighbours, and as a church, we listened and sought God's heart. And we weren't the only ones. Through conversations between pastors, the idea for a demonstration by Christians was born.

On Friday, we met with dozens of other churches and Christians from around the UK to have a time of peaceful protest and prayer in front of Parliament. There were no other protests happening; in fact, it was eerily quiet in Westminster. We all wore masks and tried to stay socially distant, but we weren't actually distant. Our churches have still not been able to meet together, and as we met across the street from Parliament and began to pray together, I realised that it was the first time that we've gathered together physically since March. It was such a privilege to get to be together to fight for God's heart in the midst of all of the unrest that is pouring across our planet.

We stood together for racial equality. In the past decade, several bills have been passed in Parliament that fight for racial equality, but they are not being upheld. We exhorted Parliament to uphold them, and we prayed that God would convict their hearts and ours as we learn what it means to fight racism, both systemic and in our own hearts.

Eventually, we made our way to Trafalgar Square, where we prayed together again and spoke to the few people who were out and about. I got to pray with some girls from Reading (a city near London) and to talk with men from around the nation. There was a little push-back from some men who felt that slavery should still be legal, but for the most part, COVID19 has made people much more willing to talk to strangers and to be more real about what is happening in their hearts. I was also walking on stilts, so I got to meet a few different children.

A year ago, a protest like this would have been an activity that was exciting, but as soon as it was over, I would have forgotten it. But everything is different now. I remembered an impression I felt last winter as our whole base prayed together in Trafalgar Square. We had been planning OneFest, an event for the churches to host together this month (which we had to cancel in April due to the pandemic). The impression was that what the noise that we made together would reverberate off of the embassies and offices that surround the Square and bounce across the UK and Europe. On Friday, our drums made just such a noise as we stood with other churches and Christians and asked God for His heart and to see Him move. I believe that God is doing something incredible in London this year. We have all felt that it is a year of revival, and God can do that as easily in our houses as He can in our church buildings and arenas.

So I have to tell you, four days after our demonstration at Parliament, I am still thinking about it and praying over it. And I feel expectant. 2020 has been full of so many surprises so far, but the one I am waiting for is to see how many people have met Jesus and had their hearts transformed in this time. Covid isn't all bad. I serve a God who can work all things together for good.




Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Like Riding a Bicycle

I want to share a story with you that isn’t big, maybe, but I think it captures what we are living right now.

Back in October, somebody sent a donation for me to purchase a bicycle. Cycling is probably the fastest way around London (although it is far from free. It has been eight years since I sold my car on the way to my DTS, and let me tell you, I had forgotten how much upkeep on vehicles costs! But at the same time, they are wonderfully grounding.), and I began cycling to work when weather permitted.

Now, in the times of corona, cycling or walking are the only two ways that I can get around. I cycle the four miles to Think (our cafe) twice a week, but more importantly, Meli and I cycle three miles to the City of London two nights a week to pick up donations from M&S, a posh supermarket chain that donates out-of-date or damaged food to charities. 

Every time we arrive at M&S, the staff smile and welcome us. The manager brings us out crates of food and helps us pack bags, and more often than not, some of the staff help us load it onto our bikes. We are slowly building relationships with the workers, all of whom act as if they enjoy having us in their shop, even as they are trying to do the intense sanitation regime required when they shut now.

On the way home, Meli and I keep a lookout for homeless people to whom we can pass out some of the food. It’s always fun to hear their genuine delight when they’re given such nice treats (seriously, the food we receive is amazing). Once, I stopped and gave fresh pastries to some girls who were hanging out on their front steps. They didn’t really know what to do (I guess receiving pastries from a stranger is a bit odd), but we still stopped and talked for a bit.

I know this is only a little anecdote, but to me, it shows how community-oriented we’ve become in London. We are still on lockdown. We can’t go into shops yet, because they’re not open. We can only get food delivered or take it away from the shops that are open. But people have learnt how to enjoy each other again. We can meet our friends for walks, and I have seen so many people do just that. We can meet in parks, and now, when we sit two metres apart on blankets with our friends, we aren’t constantly checking our phones or wishing we were at home watching Netflix. We are genuinely delighted to be together.

Who knows what is really coming out of this whole situation, but I am seeing community built again in a city that is often called the loneliest city in the world. When I stand in the window of Think to receive the takeaway orders, customers want to have deep talks. A quarter of people in the UK attended a religious service online in the first six weeks of lockdown (up from 6% normally). My neighbours stop and talk when they see me in my front garden. We are building relationships. We are becoming part of one another’s lives, and we are letting people go deep with us. And the real miracle of all is that it’s been sunny and warm now for several weeks, but when you ask people how they are, nobody seems to want to talk about the weather. They’re finally ready to start talking about what matters.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Life in the Time of Corona

So, what a season, isn’t it? We’ve been in lockdown for seven weeks now in London, with no end-date in sight, and people keep saying that this is our new normal. 

Covid-19 is an interesting challenge for a missionary. Our very life description, our life work, is to go out and reach people. But the government has banned that first bit, “going out.” Still, we quickly realised (perhaps from the jump in our own screen time) that reaching people via the internet was easier than ever. We went from moaning over constant phone use to championing it - it’s the first time in my life that I regularly go to bed with a flat battery. And let me tell you, that’s not from Netflix watching. 

Our team has wondered for a while what it would be like to make some of our activities more virtual. We’ve been looking into how to use media to send not only our preachings into people’s living rooms and smart phones, but also how to move training teachings that way, or how to incorporate technology into the way that we respond in various teachings and meetings. It’s the language of the generation that is coming up, so we knew that we needed to learn it. And now, it seems, is God’s time for us to do so!

If you follow any of our social media, you know that we’ve been far from quiet in this time. Our base is already structured in such a way that each ministry has its own online presence, and we’ve been reaching out to the people who follow us very intentionally. We have fitness videos available on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, led by our very own fitness instructor, Larissa (Check them out here: https://www.facebook.com/radiantsportsandfitness/  )

We also have church on Sundays and kids’ programmes that premiere twice a week, as well as occasional cooking tutorials with our team chef, all available on our church Youtube and Facebook: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTbZFdg5m43zbUbnmvQfCag

And each ministry is reaching out in their own way. I’ve been working with theatre ministry, and we’ve made a series of tutorials on monologues so that actors can brush up on their skills in this time. It also opens us up to coaching acting via Zoom. If you want to see me in action, go ahead and look here: https://www.facebook.com/tabootheatrelondon/

What is truly amazing to me is the way that people in London are keen to help out however they can. Our food banks and other charities are literally turning away volunteers at the minute. As a team, we are helping our local Camden food bank to deliver excess food to people on estates around Camden. We have to be very careful as we do this, because our city is still on tight lockdown, and because we still have Covid-19 in our midst. But at the same time, it is a relief to finally be at the point where we can be physically present in the lives of our community again. 

We’ve been handing out flyers that share our Hope & Anchor information on our daily government-allowed walks, and a few days ago, I got to meet the across-the-street neighbours that I’ve been seeing from afar ever since moving here. It turns out that they go to the local Anglican Church and help to run the youth ministry, and once lockdown is lifted, we’re going to discuss partnering together. Our next-door neighbour is the pastor of a church that’s a bit further away, and they blast worship music throughout the day that keeps us grooving as we work. They even played a sermon at top volume last week, so I can confirm that our whole block knows who Jesus is!

It’s been so encouraging to realise that there are more Christians than we thought around. Hackney, our neighbourhood, has been written about in magazines as a place where witchcraft is growing, and whilst that is definitely true (hey, missionaries should be living in dark places, right?), there are also people fighting for our neighbourhood alongside us. 

And also, people have become so open to Christianity. I’ve downloaded an app that allows me to interact with people who live locally, and through it, I’ve been able to message back and forth with a local woman who doesn’t believe in God, but who is isolating alone and allows me to pray for her. There are others who protest that they aren’t Christian, but they still react to our posts offering prayer with their prayer requests. It’s amazing to watch the Holy Spirit move during corona, the very moment our movement is limited. It’s obvious, but it just reinforces to me that God is not limited by our limitations. He uses our limitations to show His presence so much more clearly. 

So anyway, what a weird season, but one that God’s prepared us for, and one in which He is still moving. Please do check out these different videos - they aren’t just for Londoners, and if they brighten your days of lockdown, or if they help you breathe deeply and trust a bit harder, then praise Jesus! This lockdown certainly isn’t going to waste!

Also, as a post-script, the DTS that was meant to begin in March has been postponed until May, which means we’re in a bit of a tricky financial situation as a base, since our rents on houses are still due in this time. Please pray for us as we deal with this unprecedented situation. God is a God of miracles, hey! And also please pray that we’ll keep following God into this strange new world or learning to reach out to people using the technology that we took for granted and often still don’t know how to use. But mates, won’t He do it!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Missions in Self-Isolation

You may have heard that London is essentially on lock down, and you may be wondering how we are doing missions in self-isolation. Or perhaps you're just wondering how we are!

YWAM London Radiant is doing well at the moment. We don't have the virus, but we are staying inside our houses to avoid infection as the count has sky-rocketed in London in the past two days. But that hasn't stopped us from keeping on! We are carrying on with our internship as usual. We have teachings via a group video call, so everybody still interacts and responds to questions. We also still have ministry times every day, and on top of that, we've been deep cleaning and fixing things in our houses.

I think that it's really amazing to be going through this in a time where we are all still connected to each other, even though we are separated physically. Through social media, I've been able to spend this time talking to friends that I've lost touch with in recent years. We're all stuck at home, so we're actually taking the time to go deeper in relationships that have gotten shoved aside by what is happening in the here-and-now.

But nothing's happening in the here-and-now, so we have the time to actually be here. Now. My housemates and I are working, eating, cleaning, and having fun together. We've planned a disco party for Meli's birthday on Monday, and we're going to dress up and wear make up and barbecue hotdogs. I've started an Instagram photo challenge that allows me to meet people who I wouldn't ordinarily interact with, even on the internet. And we're praying together and diving deeply into God's Word, which was a goal we had as a team this year.

In our retreat in December, we talked about focussing in 2020. We spoke about making our houses ecosystems that sought God together. We talked about what it looks like to form families in our houses across London. And now we are really having time to dive into it. No, we can't go out into the streets right now, but that's okay, because the people aren't in the streets. They're on their phones, or their laptops, just like you probably are if you're reading this. They're alone and scared by the statistics and lack of surety. And we're on our laptops and phones, messaging, creating content that brings hope back into the mix, and shouting loudly about Who our hope is. Because He's right here in the middle of this virus. It hasn't taken Him by surprise. We don't know when we will be able to leave our houses, but until then, we are going to reach out in any way that we can!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

throwing crowns

I thought it might be interesting to write a post from here in the midst of the pandemic of the corona virus, in the mayhem. And that maybe it would bring some hope. I have no idea what will happen in the next month, especially as the peak of the virus isn't meant to hit here until two weeks from now, but here we are.

The UK doesn't have as many sanctions as other nations in Europe, but starting next weekend, gatherings of more than 100 people will be discouraged (if not outright prohibited). We've decided that it would be prudent not to meet as a church or to do most of our church-wide activities throughout next week, so we are definitely giving it everything we've got this weekend, while we still can.

Let me tell you, the atmosphere over London is thick. As missionaries, it is always the crisis that make us think twice. While most people decide escape routes, we ask God for the wisdom in how to bring hope and light into situations. In the summer of the terror attacks, we had plans for if things went wrong, but we also decided not to evacuate London. We chose to stay, even had things escalated, to be where people needed Jesus most.

That leads us to corona virus. How can we be responsible, but not be afraid? Perfect love casts our fear, but God also asks us to be wise. So we scoured Camden for hand sanitiser and made signs to take out with us tonight that asked people if they wanted prayer for anxiety, health, mental health, worries, etc. And the turnout was more than we expected.

Before we even got outside, one of our longtime homeless friends stumbled into our shop, out of her mind with fear. We prayed and spoke with her for two hours as she said goodbye to things that had chained her and re-dedicated herself to Jesus. We even helped her get rid of some of a crystal that she was wearing to ward off evil spirits. Then we headed up to our yellow tent outside of Camden Town Station, where the rest of our Saturday night crew were spread out across the square, praying for people.

People are so open in London right now. Whether they want to lash out in anger or bravely admit their fear, they are open. So many people stopped who would normally have smiled and muttered something about the weather. We prayed, we invited them to church, and sometimes we even gave them a quick squeeze (and then doused ourselves in hand sanitiser). It's odd how people need so much reassurance when fear hangs so thickly in the air. And at the same time, it's a massive privilege to get to be the ones who reassure them. We have a hope (and an anchor...) that we can share with them, and here they are, ready to hear about him. Finally!

So yes, corona virus is a pandemic. It's frightening. But corona translates to crown, and I know exactly where I'm meant to put my crowns - at the feet of Jesus.



Monday, February 17, 2020

February 2020 Update

So I promised to tell you more about what we have going on right now, and a chilly, wet February evening seems like the perfect time. So here's a February 2020 update!

Right now at Radiant, we have two training programmes going on: the Leadership and Urban Ministry Development internship and a winter Arts Internship. I am a part of the leadership team of the internship, which has eight ladies from four nations: Germany, Canada, the States and France. It's only been two weeks so far, but we've already explored London, had two teachings and several days of arts ministry time as well as times of evangelism and serving at church.



We are also seeing Hope and Anchor continue to grow, with several new families joining to round out our children's ministry. Yesterday, we even had our first baby dedication! My Connect Group has also grown, and now we have over four nations represented, and nearly all of us own puffy black jackets, so we look like a girl gang when we leave Think after our Tuesday night time together. As the church grows, we are starting to have Friday night activities for the church in the Upper Room, the hall where we met until last year. Our evangelism times have also grown so that we feed and clothe the homeless on both Friday and Saturday nights, and people from the community have even begun joining us. I love it, because as we reach out to our community, we can share the love of Jesus with both those who need the food and clothes and with those who want to be a part of serving.




We are also planning an event called OneFest for 19 July 2020 in Trafalgar Square. That is the centre of London, and this is no small undertaking. It will be a free festival that is not overtly religious, but will champion young entrepreneurs and allow them a place to have a stall that reaches many different people whilst simultaneously allowing them mentors who are already (Christian) businesspeople. One of the main aims of the festival is to create a place for the church to meet with Londoners and for us to influence many different areas of society (religion, business, and arts/sports) in the centre of our city. We believe that 2020 is a year that will bring awakening in London, and while this is a massive undertaking requiring funding and planning that we have no experience in, we are so excited to see how God is moving. Everybody that we have spoken to are skeptical about the size, but we have been following where we feel God leading, and last week the Trafalgar Square management team put us down for 19 July! This is a massive prayer request (and something quite hard to explain), especially because we submitted the application last week and are waiting to see what more we need to include. So please pray for us, that God continues to bring us the right contacts and people to plan and host this event!

We also need a new house, because we have over 25 new students arriving in March, and we have begun the search in earnest. There is a housing crisis in London that makes it difficult to find houses, especially in the size and location in which we need one. And Think, our cafe, has been doing well recently (especially our hairdressers, who are booked full-up thanks to Groupon), but we still had a hard time in the autumn, from which we are still recovering. But we know that business is hard, and we see God move through Think. People meet God as they have their hair cut or as they enjoy a latte. When one woman inquired about holding a meet-up at our cafe, she said that she felt safe and at peace there. That's a high compliment for Camden!

Several new staff have joined the team recently, and it is amazing to watch ministries grow and reach into the different parts of society. Our fashion ministry dressed the models in one of the shows in London Fashion Week just last night, and Ina, the leader of fashion ministry, helped the designer finish up the collection in time to hit the catwalk! Tidal, the band Eric and Federico formed last year, is in the process of filming their first music video, and Chasm Magazine is almost finished with its fourth volume. On top of all of that, Micah spoke at a prayer meeting in Parliament last week!

At Hope and Anchor on Sunday, Chris talked about how we are meant to be all things to all people, from the homeless to the Members of Parliament, because God doesn't make distinction between them. I love watching as God moves us from Parliament to the streets of Camden in the rain, from classrooms to fashion catwalks. We live life at a crazy speed, it's true, because when God is doing so much, you have to run to keep up!