07 June 2020

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday when the church celebrated both the coming of the Holy Spirit and its birthday. Those who joined us at St John’s last Sunday brought a cake or a bun with a candle on it or brought a light of some kind.

The very term “Holy Spirit”, or in the old language “Holy Ghost”, can be confusing. Jesus promised the disciples that the comforter would come after he had left. Jesus uses a word in Greek (Paraclete) meaning “someone who comes alongside to help”. Jesus also used the personal pronoun “HE” – this is not a statement of gender but a statement of person hood! The Holy Spirit dwells in us and is alongside us! Here are three stories of the difference the Holy Spirit makes – two of them I knew personally.

In 1956, five American missionaries were killed in the Amazon jungle of Ecuador trying to reach a stone age tribe called the Aucas. They had dropped gifts and pictures of themselves and the yellow MAF plane that would land on a riverside beach. On arrival, they were attacked and killed leaving five widows and small children. It made international news and inspired the global church at the time.

Over the years, the Aucas were contacted with the Gospel and one of the widows, Elizabeth Elliot, actually went to live with tribe, and a church was established.

About the year 2000 there was an international conference on global evangelism in Amsterdam convened by the Billy Graham Association with several thousand delegates from across the world. There was an extraordinary moment in the conference when a middle aged American church leader and a diminutive South American Indian church leader embraced on the platform. The American, Steve Saint, was the son of Nate Saint, the MAF pilot who died in 1956. The Indian Church leader was the man who murdered his father! Such is the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives.

Less spectacular, but by no means insignificant, was a visit that Margaret and I made on a mission trip to Northern Uganda in 2003. It is a dangerous and remote area, and we were flown in by a MAF plane. The church at the settlement of Kotido had a small church building which was overflowing, and they had partially built a new church about the size of a tennis court. The drive to build a new church had been led by a Christian local politician with considerable influence, who had been posted by the Government to administer that region. The Holy Spirit brought the right man at the right time! The building had no roof, so I asked the Archdeacon what it would cost – to them the huge sum of £4,000. Can you imagine an entire church roof for £4,000! We came home with the message “Can we raise a roof!” Within a very short time, we were able to raise the £4,000. This was Holy Spirit driven generosity.

Finally, I sat and drank coffee more than once in a west London home with an ex-Belmarsh prisoner and we shared our stories, When he was processed at Belmarsh the screw asked him the stock question “Does anyone else know you are here?” Jonathan Aitken replied “About five million readers of the Daily Mail!” Prison transformed his life and the lives of those he met in prison, and it was our privilege to sit in the congregation at St Pauls Cathedral in 2018 when Jonathan was ordained as a prison chaplain for Pentonville by the Bishop of London.

In a diverse and amazing way, these three stories tell of the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, not in some self-indulgent “bless me” way, but in lives and circumstances that God can use – even in yours and mine!

Jim Elliot, one of those Auca martyrs, wrote this in his journal not long before he died: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose!”

God bless you.