The Burning Rose Bush

by Benjamin Chua

Table of Contents

Hello there! My name is Benjamin Chua, and I work part-time at SEAPC as a “Storyteller and Community Connector” (as much as I like this title, I must admit someone else came up with it). I also have the privilege of being a Friends Around the Table (FATT) regional representative with my wife, Mercy, who works full-time with SEAPC.

One of the main responsibilities Mercy and I have in our volunteer role as regional reps is helping to organise an annual gathering in Europe / the Middle East. The first two we hosted were in London, in 2022 and 2023, and the next one, which is just around the corner, will be held in Berlin, Germany, in July 2024.

God has taught us a lot at these gatherings, but perhaps my biggest takeaway from these times has been: God has a great sense of humour, and God has a plan. Let me share briefly about the last Friends gathering in our region, so you can see what I mean. (Spoiler alert: this story features a special guest appearance from a stubborn but miraculous rose bush.)

Open Eyes, Open Hands, Open Plans

It was our second year coordinating the event, and we were keen to apply our most valuable learning from the previous year: God is the one “setting the Table” for us; we just need to follow His lead. So how did we start in 2023? By praying and listening to God as a team, and doing our best to plan accordingly.

As we gathered on Zoom, we heard and saw a total of seven things that we felt were from God:

  • “Action!”
  • “Just do it!”
  • A mental image of a long, heavy broom with thick bristles, accompanied by an invitation to perform community service in love.
  • Another mental image of a crystal ball, and the call to prophesy life and truth in place of counterfeit visions.
  • Ephesians 3:12 (faith in Jesus brings freedom and confidence).
  • “Open eyes, open hands, open plans…”
  • Bring revival… back to Jerusalem (from West to East)

Some of these words and pictures seemed like clear calls-to-action that did not need a huge amount of interpretation (especially the first four words), while the rest required a little more discernment to nail down…

Man and woman in front of projector screen during Friends Around the Table EUR/ME 2023
"All success in the spiritual realm comes from an atmosphere of prayer and worship..."

Faith in Action

We started with what we understood instinctively — God’s call to act — by putting prayer walking and community service front and centre all three days of our gathering time, in addition to the normal FATT schedule.

On Tuesday, the first day, we partnered with a local church to walk and pray around Battersea and Nine Elms in Central London. Before the groups went out, we encouraged everyone to focus on prophesying the truth in love, making friends, and interceding for open doors.

On the Wednesday, we planned an itinerary full of service-oriented street outreach in Abbey Wood, East London, which culminated in an open evangelistic prayer & praise night at our vicar friend, Ruth Turner’s, church building. 

On Thursday, our third and final day, we plotted a prayer walk around Clapham Common, where many 18th, 19th and even 20th century heroes of the faith like William Wilberforce, Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon lived and laboured for the Kingdom of God. We urged all of the friends gathered to pray that the revival work God started through these great faith fathers would once again flow from the UK into the nations.

Group gathered outside Holy Trinity Church Clapham to pray and remember UK faith heroes.
Friends gathered outside bullet-scarred plaque commemorating Clapham heroes of faith.

God Delivers Fish

After describing how Jesus provides a miraculous catch of fish and welcomes Peter back into ministry, John, the Beloved disciple, concludes his gospel by saying that if he were to record everything Jesus did, the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25). FATT 2023 may only have been three days’ long, but I have a similar feeling about what took place in London… so I’ll zero in on the central story, chronologically speaking: our service day in Abbey Wood.

As I mentioned earlier, our main task in East London was to serve the local people in practical ways. After our morning praise and teaching time concluded, we did this by sending out two teams: one to pick up litter, and the other to help Ruth with her church building’s long-term gardening needs (specifically, cutting down some intrusively tall, thick grass, and uprooting several very heavy, very stubborn rose bush stumps).

The two teams were also given a bundle of business-card-sized flyers to hand out as they served the neighbourhood. These cards contained an invite for the event we were co-hosting with Ruth’s church congregation later that evening: “JOIN US FOR FREE PIZZA & PRAYER @ WILLIAM TEMPLE CHURCH!”

SEAPC was to provide the pizza, and William Temple Church were going to provide the venue, music and a welcoming atmosphere. The back of the card said as much: “All welcome to a night of pizza, prayer and music at William Temple Church, Abbey Wood.” The time and address were included below.

Pizza and prayer event business card as part of FATT 2023
Event details for pizza and prayer night in Abbey Wood, 2023.

Signs to Make You Wonder

As it turns out, engaging in visible, practical acts of community service is a great way to get chatting with passersby: a sign to make people wonder. I could imagine some of them thinking: “Why have these people come here? What on earth are they doing?”

I also imagine their curiosity could only have risen once they heard American accents, and saw well-dressed pastors holding large white rubbish bags and handing out business cards… I say “imagine” because I was part of the gardening team, not the litter-picking one. Nevertheless, I heard from that team that they had great conversations, and were able to invite plenty of people to the evening’s festivities.

As an added bonus, one of our friends spontaneously (i.e. without any knowledge of the seven words we had received in prayer as a team), wore a special baseball cap on each day he attended our gatherings. Guess what it said? (See below for a great example of God’s humour).

Faded black Nike baseball cap with the words, "Just do it." above the brim.
Prophetic fulfilment in hat form...
Older man and younger man litter picking in Abbey Wood, London.
...put to good use in the International Litter-Picking Team, (posing outside William Temple Church, cap in question worn backwards).

Rose Bush: Enter Stage Left

On our team, the flyers were a great excuse to take rapid mini-breaks from the heavy-duty labour work required in the church garden. Nobody tells you this in school, but rose bush roots are obstinate and heavy. It took Mercy and me almost two hours to hack away at just one of the bushes, and it wasn’t until 530pm — half an hour before the event — that we finally heaved it out of the ground. 

By this time, we’d already been able to talk to students coming home from school, mothers picking their children up from daycare, and other locals going about their business, to invite them to the event. Many were positive and promised to join in. We weren’t done yet, though…

The two of us hoisted our rose bush prize off the ground so that we could carry it to the dumping area on the other side of the church. About halfway there, next to the bus stop, we ran into three young men, so I called out, “Hey! What are you guys doing tonight? We’re hosting an event in this building with free pizza, praise and prayer; would you like to come?”

If I were them, I would have been just as shocked as they looked: who was this strange man holding a muddy thorn bush? What was this event he was talking about? They stopped for a moment and thanked us for the invitation, but ultimately declined: “We’re busy, but thanks for offering!”

“No worries! It was great to meet you. Bless you, and have a great evening!” I called after them. They waved back awkwardly, with bemused smiles, and went on their way. Mercy and I went back to the task at hand, then found time to clean ourselves up before the church doors opened.

Man pointing at freshly dug-up rose bush roots and stump after hours of backbreaking gardening work.
The peskiest, most miraculous rose bush ever dug up from the face of the earth...

The Power of the Rose Bush

In hindsight, I reckon that rose bush was infused with God’s presence: it decided to come out exactly before those three young men walked by. I also reckon it was strange enough, and the invitation was unexpected enough, to make them think twice.

Even though they “had plans,” they came back! All three showed up partway through the service, when people were standing up to testify about God’s goodness and inviting those gathered to receive His healing. I welcomed them in and got their names (which I’ll change here for the sake of this story): “Arthur,” “Ambrose” and “Michael.”

Slightly awkwardly for them, they appeared at the back door to the side hall, rather than the door to the main sanctuary, which meant they had to enter the sanctuary from the front (via the internal door connecting the sanctuary with the side hall). Given that the meeting had already started, that meant walking through with everyone watching. They bravely made the journey past the pulpit to sit in the first row, right in front of Matt Geppert, SEAPC’s president, who was sharing a word.

Shortly after Matt finished speaking, we broke for a time of prayer, and Matt went straight up to one of the young men. Matt asked Arthur how he could bless him that day, laid hands on him, spoke prophetically into his life, and then did the same for other two.

Testifying about God's healing power during the evening meeting at William Temple.

Summoned

During that time, I was praying too: a long line of people who had accepted the invitation for the event came up to the front for the team to lay hands on them. Just after I finished praying for one person, I heard someone calling my name from the side hall door. I turned to see Arthur beckoning me over: “Do you think we could chat with you and your wife, Mercy?”

Mercy was busy praying for others, so I texted her to let her know about their request, then joined them in the side hall once more. They were standing in a horizontal line, waiting for me, just in front of the kitchen island where we’d served pizza not long before. 

For some reason, they looked a little imposing in the moment, and I felt a strange anxiety well up in my chest. I figured it must be a spiritual attack of some kind, so I started praying in tongues quietly and asking God for a confidence boost.

“We have something we want to tell you. We’re Muslim, and we would like to hear more about Jesus and what you believe. We were struck by your invitation on the street. Everything happens for a reason. That’s why we asked you to come over here; is Mercy coming too?”

I explained that she was still praying for others, but would come over when she could, then suggested that we pull up a table and chairs to chat — I would be more than happy to share about my experience with Jesus. There were folded tables and stacked chairs in the corner, so we got set up quickly.

A Different Vibe

We talked for ages, trading stories about our experiences with God. Mercy joined about thirty minutes in (she had to help pack down the sanctuary first), and shared the reason for her hope in Jesus. It was a great conversation and, by the end, we exchanged contact details so we could keep in touch and chat more another day.

It would take too long for me to recount everything we discussed here — we kept talking until just before 11pm, and even had to ask Ruth if we could stay in the building, as everyone else had left, and she had to lock up (she graciously agreed to let us stay on) — but one moment that stood out to me came in the first part of our conversation. I asked Arthur, Ambrose and Michael why they had decided to come back after their initial ‘no.’

Arthur replied, “Something about the way you asked us felt different. When we left, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve met people from different faiths before, and they’ve invited me to things, but you guys just had this energy. I couldn’t work it out, and the feeling wouldn’t go away…”

And then he got personal: “My dad died last week, and it’s been really hard for my family. So when you asked us to come, I don’t know, but it felt like that was somehow connected. And then when Matt prayed for me first out of the three of us, that also felt important. Like we said before, everything happens for a reason.”

Kingdom Lessons

Arthur and I met up several times for coffee after that FATT, and we’re still in touch today via WhatsApp (Mercy and I have moved back to the US, so Arthur and I are now in different countries). I praise God for that unexpected friendship, and for the way He opened the door to that conversation and many others that day. We’ve heard from Ruth that several people who came to the event that evening are now regular members of the William Temple congregation. 

What’s the lesson here? Everyone should start digging up rose bushes! For real, though: when God asks you to do something, even if it involves you looking a little silly, don’t hesitate! Plan accordingly, and watch to see what He’ll do. His ways might not look our ways — this FATT was definitely unique — but God knows what He’s doing.

When you “go low,” adopt a heart of service for the community God has called you to, and maintain an open posture, you never know what could happen. After all, when we approach Him with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12), it’s in His nature to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). From what we know at SEAPC, He might even use our tiny acts of obedience to bring nation-changing revival… all the way back to Jerusalem.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

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