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Interview: Andy Hawthorne, evangelist

03 May 2019

‘Christ had a vision for the masses, but he poured his time into the poor and the marginalised’

The Message Trust is a mission organisation based in Manchester, but now with a global reach. We have about 130 paid staff in the UK, and thousands of dedicated volunteers.

We do three things: creative mission to reach young people with the gospel; community transformation, particularly through Eden teams, where more than 700 people have chosen to live in deprived communities to bring transformation; and Christ-centred enterprise, providing jobs, homes, and wrap-around support, mainly for ex-offenders who’ve come to Christ.

All of our evangelistic work is in partnership with chaplaincy; so we relate particularly well with prison chaplains. Our team have keys to the young-offender institutions in the north-west, and increasingly throughout the country. We work on the wings doing detached work, but also evangelistic and discipling stuff through the chaplaincy. And, of course, we’re ready to meet young offenders at the gate, to provide all the support that they need.

Here I Am isn’t really targeted at young people, but I hope they’ll enjoy it. In fact, my 86-year-old mother enjoyed it — she’s my biggest fan, though. The vast majority of our team and the people we work for are millennials. I’m the old man of the organisation, because I’m 58. The book was born out of the teaching I give them every Tuesday morning when we meet together.

It was inspired by Isaiah, which is a tremendous missional book, and especially on the pattern of Isaiah 6: someone encountering the Lord, becoming aware of their sinfulness, being restored, and then commissioned.

We’re getting nowhere without an encounter with Jesus, and we need to realise our unworthiness, receive forgiveness, and then take that most important step that I don’t think most Christians actually take: to say, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Then anything’s possible.

There’s always a battle between the flesh and the spirit. I battle with my own temptations. If you’ve lived a life of addiction, Satan can easily sneak you back into your old ways. People often fall back into their old lifestyle after giving their life to God. I’m thinking of a lad who gave his heart to Jesus, got married, but went back to his old chaotic ways and back to prison; but now he’s well and truly back and committed to Jesus. Some of our best people had periods when they were really down.

I don’t live in our rehab house, but the team who do are the real heroes. You can be just celebrating a breakthrough, and then someone’s back in their old habit. God is good at recycling people, and it’s amazing how he can turn things round. If his hook’s really in their heart, I so often see that he has a beautiful way of returning people back to himself. The Government can’t change people’s hearts, but the Holy Spirit can, and that’s why our reoffending rate is so tiny, not because we’re smarter than the probation service.

There’s no such thing as a typical day, but, if possible, I spend my time on four things: developing and refining the vision of the Message Trust; promoting its work; networking and meeting key potential partners; and preaching.

I was brought up in a Christian home, but went to a gig with my local youth group and was surprised to discover that they were a cool Christian band. An American guy preached, and I gave my life to Christ. That was more than 46 years ago. I’ve discovered that there’s always more to learn, and that the Bible is an endless treasure trove of wisdom.

By nature I’m a salesman, but running a business for 13 years helped me to learn about line management, accounts, personnel issues, and so on, which has really helped me in the last quarter-of-a-century of building a charity.

The next thing? I’d like to genuinely play my part in an out-of-control, Holy Spirit movement. Down the centuries there have been moves of the Spirit, and the early days of the Salvation Army are a great inspiration to me. William Booth spent nearly 25 years in the East London Mission before he suddenly had that vision, which had a massive impact.

It feels like we’re growing fruit: the ministry’s going out and God’s breathing life into it. I want to run an excellent organisation called The Message, but I also want to send people who will do other things to change the world, that may never be traced back to our work.

What we’re trying to do desperately is actually follow Christ. He had a vision for the masses, taught thousands on the hillside, had a big vision for the whole world, but he poured his time into the poor and the marginalised. He modelled that transformation. The ultimate goal is community transformation. We follow his big vision of being the lamp on a stand, but pour out our time on a drug addict. That’s the tension that I’m constantly pouring into my team.

I’m leading a global multi-million organisation, but I constantly press the flesh with the broken, and know that nothing enlivens me like preaching and spending time in the prison with the guys that mess up. It’s not about getting a big vision that I’m changing the world, because God’s heart’s in the poor. I looked around, six or seven years ago, and thought: there are not enough poor and marginalised people on our team. That’s not the case now. There are ex-prostitutes, criminals, drug-offenders on our payroll — and doing a brilliant job.

Every day demands courage, when you’re believing for millions of pounds and working to see the hardest-to-reach turn into beautiful disciples. But there’s a guy who works in our café and all he knew was death and destruction. His best friend died beside him, taking heroin, and then his brother. His mum and dad died of alcoholism. All he knew was chaos and death. But Jesus stepped in with his plans, and now he’s a brilliant evangelist, and has the qualifications he never had at school.

Another girl who works for us was one of the most broken women you could ever meet. She was an alcoholic, in prison when we met her, separated from her family. She’s now back with her family and kids, and living a fabulous life.

Mo, a former Muslim gangster, now a brilliant man of God and an evangelist in Hull, says of himself: “I used to deal death, and now I deal hope.”

So, I hope the book might give people faith that God’s not finished with us yet. Peter, an unschooled ordinary man, became the rock on which Jesus saw he was going to build his Church. We need to see people and believe that, with God, anything for them is possible.

I love the sound of whale song. I’ve seen whales in the wild, in South Africa, and, if I’m stressed, it’s their song I would listen to. It’s the most magical sound in a wonderful creation.

People who turn the dynamic of following Christ into something boring and religious make me angry.

Walking in the countryside with my wife
is what makes me happiest.

I’ve got loads of hope for the future. When you see Jesus do the things that only he can do, you have to.

I do pray, a lot, but maybe too much for myself and my own things. I wish my prayers were more focused on others.

If I was locked in a church for a few hours, I’d want to be with Isaac Sali. You may not know him, but he’s a Ugandan pastor who could keep me stirred up for hours on end. He’s a man who prays passionately for The Message in our prayer room, though he’s not on our payroll, praying with intensity, wisdom, faith. I think of him as the real fuel behind The Message. During our recent 24/7 week of prayer, I was thinking: “You’re an ultra-marathon runner and I’m only a 5k man, but I covet that power of prayer.”

Andy Hawthorne was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Here I Am: Joining God’s adventurous call to love the world is published by David C. Cook at £9.99 (Church Times Bookshop £9).


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