When God asks you to do the impossible
Fifty years ago yesterday Logos was launched and with her the launch of a remarkable ministry to the nations. Over the past five decades, this ministry has grown and the four ships – Logos, Doulos, Logos II and now Logos Hope – have allowed mission agency Operation Mobilisation to share Jesus in some 150 countries, with almost 49 million people welcomed on board, as well as many more reached out to on shore. I have stepped aboard the first three ships, each while being berthed in Liverpool. In fact, I recall one Mothering Sunday, unfortunately the very day when the clocks sprang forward, driving at an unearthly hour to Birkenhead Docks – we’re talking early 1980’s – to pick up a couple of young OMer’s to take part in our Family Service. They certainly made an impact, not least bringing a hint of adventure to our fellowship. And this remarkable ship-based ministry certainly has been an adventure with highs and lows. Again I recall hearing on the Radio 4 news in 1988 that Logos had floundered off Tierra del Fuego, crossing from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Remarkably all 141 on board were saved without injury. Nevertheless, such was the effectiveness of its ministry that a new ship was commissioned in months, Logos II. It’s quite a story. However, for me the most inspirational part of the story is right at the very beginning and in a small way Jacqui was aware of it during her year with OM in Belgium and France in 1969. In those days OM was based in Bolton: I think it was over a shop, but I’m not sure. Whatever, not the most salubrious of locations -while OM itself was still in its infancy with its American founder, George Verwer, leading the first OM short-term mission teams in Europe during 1962. It began, I understand, in a prayer meeting as some faithful disciples prayed for the Gospel to be shared, not just in their part of Lancashire but in the entire world. Nothing wrong with a Big Vision. As such they were using a map as a visual prompt. The focus moved onto India and looking at the map someone noticed what is by any account totally obvious, that India is a peninsula. This means that most of the country is accessible from the sea, certainly most of its major cities. So how about a ship as a base for mission? Great idea – but do you know how much a ship will cost? Do you realise that a ship has to be crewed? And fuel? Time and time again I come back to the seminal quote from Victorian mission pioneer Hudson Taylor: “You do not need a great faith, but faith in a great God.” The key question is always “Is this of God?” and never “Can we afford this?” However, this vision for a ship somehow took wings. It certainly had an inner logic and OM was prepared to step out in faith even though many thought George Verwer had - to use a phrase contemporary at the time - “lost his marbles.” However, as far as I am aware, no overt fund raising took place – OM believed God was able to provide on the basis of his faithfulness. The big problem was personnel. Jacqui recalls OM recruiting a captain – a captain without a ship. Sadly he was prepared to wait for a while but then stood down. Waiting for God to work can be a testing time. I myself can remember the excitement when the 20-year-old, Danish ship Umanak, just 2,319 tons, was located and purchased. Like all journeys of faith, such as the building of the Ministry Centre when I was vicar at Christ Church, it wasn’t inevitable at the time. The testing process is well, testing. But today George can look back in gratitude for God’s faithfulness. He reflects: “We rejoice over all God has done through our four vessels. At least 100 million people worldwide have come into contact with the gospel in some way. The whole Logos venture has had a huge influence on my ministry, on how to take God at this word, to rely on his faithfulness. “God of the impossible / You are who You are” to quote lyrics by Lincoln Brewster. But how do we discern vision from fantasy? When are wacky ideas just wacky and when are they creative, inspired by God? This was the very question I asked George at Costa coffee at Lime Street Station in August, 2018. Short answer: praying together. In this age of individualism, it is not the individual but Christians learning to imagine together, unafraid of failure and undaunted by scale. And we learn to imagine together by praying together, just like that small prayer meeting in Bolton over 50 years ago. In some ways the story of OM is the story of taking even bigger steps in trusting in God’s faithfulness. We start small but we allow the Holy Spirit to stretch our imaginations and to see the impossible. A lesson the Holy Spirit wants us to learn, a step of faith at a time. Let George have the last word: “Without Holy Spirit boldness, the world will remain unevangelized... there can never be a substitute for the power of the Spirit working through willing men and women, and that power will bring boldness.” You can read more about OM ships at https://www.om.org/ships/.