On the first night, local band Electralyte supported YFriday, the Geordie rock worship band. Highlights included the way YFriday generously praised Electralyte, publicly wishing them well with their new album. No competitiveness. Also, the way Ken Riley of YFriday explained the background to the writing of their song Everlasting God with Brenton Brown. No triumphalism, but a story of God drawing near in desperate suffering.
Another night was devoted to a more ‘urban’ theme, reaching out to people from rougher backgrounds. Support act was the south London hip hop artist Jahaziel, who has a remarkable testimony. Teenage lads walking through the park where we had our marquee were drawn in to hear him. Some would have got up on stage and rapped with him, given the chance. The event managers let them in for a bargain price.
Jahaziel was followed on stage by two guys from Tough Talk. One guy, an East Ender (goes down well in Essex) and ex-bouncer told his dramatic story of deliverance from violence and drugs. He did so in episodes, punctuated by feats of power lifting by his colleague, who progressed from two hundred to five hundred pounds. Then we learned this guy was the British power lifting champion. He told his story of being brought out of a lifestyle dedicated to drugs and the occult while working in the city.
Tough Talk trailed the fact that they were going to invite volunteers from the audience up on stage to try a spot of bench pressing. Nine people volunteered. Two were from the lads who’d drifted in. Every participant won a prize. They were given books of Tough Talk testimonies. I hope and pray the lads from the park will read those books and be impacted by the stories.
The other night I’d like to write about was totally different again. We had asked our guest speaker Steve Chalke to use his television skills to interview five Christian ‘celebrities’ around the theme of ‘success’. All told stories that blew conventional notions of success into pieces. Cameron Stout, winner of Big Brother in 2003, came across as very much the ordinary unpretentious guy who follows Jesus.
Anne Atkins, the author, commentator and agony aunt got way beyond her media image of the right wing moralist. There is so much more to her. She talked of her family: one daughter has battled mental illness, a son has Asperger Syndrome and for a year they were split up and homeless as a family, despite her husband being an Anglican vicar. Success for her was keeping the family together.
Then we met Yazz, famous for hit singles in the late eighties like ‘Doctorin The House’. But she can’t bring herself to perform her massive hit ‘The Only Way Is Up’, because it reminds her of a painful period in her life. She discovered the dark aspects of the music industry, and her marriage dissolved. Only in the last ten years is she finding healing through faith in Christ. (And by the way, her debut ‘Christian’ CD is astonishing – see the review here. You might just recognise the reviewer’s name.)
In the second half of that evening, Steve interviewed Jo Gambi, the first woman to climb the ‘seven summits’, with her husband Rob, the first Australian. They were the first and fastest married couple to do so. But their adventures only began when Rob had his second bout of cancer.
Finally, we met Henry Olonga, the former Zimbabwean Test cricketer who was courageous enough to oppose Robert Mugabe publicly. His story linked personal faith and social justice. Certainly, the whole evening busted any fairy story notion that ‘since I became a Christian, all my troubles ceased’.
More on what I’ve been catching up with over the next day or two.