I taught geography and international development for nine years in Bristol with over 600 sixth-formers. Bristol is a politically active city, with a treasure box of social-action projects and movements. My students were a joy to teach. Some are serving all over the world with churches, charities, and the UN.
Now I work for a Bristol charity that welcomes immigrants, Bridges for Communities. There’s often good housing and legal provision, but if you’re new to the city and can’t speak the language, and haven’t got a job, you need to make connections. We run meetings and peace feasts, and befriend people, with some training for the police and medical staff.
We’ve had to adapt — use Zoom, deliver meals for online peace feasts; and we’ve started a new programme called Walk With Me, for one-to-one walks.
I’ve also started the LukeX project, a media project of inspiring interviews with people who are following Jesus today: investigating their evidence and encountering the modern Jesus movement. I always loved studying sciences, people, and cultures. I love to immerse myself in the Gospels and Acts, because they record real events, people, and places.
One of my great heroes is the Scottish geographer Sir William Mitchell Ramsey. Ramsey was raised in a sceptical academic climate, where many viewed the Gospels and Acts largely as fiction; but when he travelled through modern-day Turkey, he concluded that Luke couldn’t have written so accurately unless he’d journeyed with Paul and interviewed eyewitnesses. He wrote The Bearing of Recent Discovery on the Reliability of the New Testament in 1915.
I took a career break in 2016 to research Finding the Peacemakers. Sometimes you must take the first step before you know what the whole journey or even the destination looks like.
My first step was one letter. I’d detected a spiritual dynamic to the rescue of 33 Chilean miners in 2010. There were stories of miracles and prayers and the presence of God, but the secular press weren’t sure how to report them. I wrote to José Henríquez, the miner the others called “the Pastor”. Eventually, I received an email saying: “Here’s my cell-phone number. Call me when you land.”
I took a couple of friends to film and translate. We had a remarkable interview with Henríquez and several other miners. The project snowballed into an investigation all over Chile and our documentary Miracle in the Mine. The story wasn’t just of God’s providence, but also the miners’ faith. Despite despair, division, and starvation, they forged a praying community that flourished until their near-death and rescue.
The Arab Spring was rippling through North Africa and the Middle East. I wondered how anyone could find peace in the midst of the turmoil. Again, a letter to one contact snowballed into a wider investigation. I interviewed several refugees who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles and now live as peacemakers in the flashpoints of the Middle East and Southern Europe. They don’t negotiate political stalemates: they love their enemies.
I gathered other testimonies here, to see how they all fitted together in the life of Jesus. I wrote for agnostics as well as Christians. How do you unpack Jesus’s story in a way which is utterly faithful to the gospel, but wildly engaging to a secular audience?
I decided to walk Jesus’s journey myself, from his exile in Egypt as a child, to his home in Nazareth. I encountered many glorious peacemakers along the way. The result’s an invitation to join the movement he inaugurated as it’s unfolding.
As a non-fiction writer, social scientist, and believer, I’m honest about things I understand and things I don’t. The miracles I recorded in Finding the Peacemakers happened. I worked hard to uncover the fine details, to interview people myself, to inspect evidence. If a miracle didn’t have enough evidence, I left it out. Evidence matters. I report accurately what isn’t in the secular media.
It’s also important to share the stories of those who don’t seem to get their miracle. In 2011, 21 African Christians were executed on a Libyan beach by IS fighters. Were their families praying for their safe release? You bet. I don’t know the answer to that, and it’s important not to force one.
Hebrews 11 showcases heroes of faith. Some were rescued; some weren’t. God was with both. Jesus was both. We don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but it comforts me that Jesus experienced both breakthroughs and suffering. As we do, too, we can hold on to that.
My gut says Jesus is behind everything. How that works out in every individual moment for every individual around the world, who knows? Jesus is far more generous than we realise. He sought out those who, in the eyes of those around him, were least deserving of a miracle, and poured out his favour on them. Some thanked him, some didn’t, but his mercy knew no bounds. Why would we think he’s any different today?
For me, childhood was about surviving, and making the most of every moment. I got on well with my sisters; I had good friends. Trust was earned, religion was irrelevant, and I was in charge of my own life. My mum sent me to a Christian holiday camp, and in between go-karting and football, someone explained to me the whole life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was a game-changer.
What excited me was the person of Jesus: smart, brave, compassionate, loyal. I gave my life to following him, and he still excites me now.
Even as a teenager, I threw myself into apologetics. I thought Charismatic worship at university was a bit weird, but the more I read my Bible, the more I saw that being filled with the Holy Spirit was central. My heroes of faith were filled with the Spirit, and some of them were even a little undignified, from King David to Mary of Bethany.
When I moved to Bristol, I joined a slightly more Charismatic church, and asked God to fill me with the Holy Spirit. I learned to sense God’s presence and tune into his voice. I’ve never fallen over laughing or done anything weird, but I’ve learned to walk in step with the Spirit.
Human trafficking is what makes me most furious, overwhelmed, baffled. I can’t understand such cruelty.
People make me happy. Learning. Nature. Meeting someone for coffee or a pint. Going for a walk, catching up with a friend and hearing about what they’ve been reading, learning or doing on their latest adventure. Taking off on an adventure myself, the open road, the great outdoors, good friends.
Jesus really is my answer to the hope question. I can’t place my hopes on programmes and policies, even Christian ones. What changes the world is people discovering a personal relationship with Jesus.
God loves his children unconditionally. God loves me, whether I feel it or not. But I’m also his servant. He’s the potter, I’m the clay. Living for a higher power than myself is liberating. The pressure’s off. God calls the shots. I just have to obey.
Praying for miracles for those affected by climate change while merrily living our own lavish lifestyle is hypocritical. There’s no point praying for an end to human trafficking if I’m not prepared to change my life. Little choices matter.
I pray with a different friend every day now on the phone. I pray with a list, a reading plan, a journal. I pray while I’m walking. I have a prayer diary from Sat-7 and Release International to pray every day for someone in a different part of the world. This is important. I listen to music to help me pray.
I’d like to be locked in a church with Luke. He wasn’t part of Jesus’s original group — probably wasn’t even Jewish. He was an educated, connected, and talented individual with superb Greek and a skill-set to match. Without Luke, no Prodigal Son. No Good Samaritan. No Acts. Oh, the debt we owe to Luke, standing invisible behind the camera!
Dan Morrice was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Finding the Peacemakers is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £14.99 (Church Times Bookshop £13.49); 978-1-529-35818-6.