Little did I realise as I listened to Tony and Esther Payne sharing about God's call on their lives for the Philippines, that one day my son would run the complex which they had still to build. It was in a prayer meeting in the Assembly of God Fraserburgh many years ago, now four of us have just returned from visiting Sefton Village where my son Mark and his wife Mary are missionaries. The four were my wife and I accompanied by her brother and his wife. We were anxious to see our granddaughter Lydia Mary who was born in July. We also wanted to be useful in the work of Sefton Village during our 3 weeks, and our time was certainly well utilised.
It was 1989 when Tony and Esther left their home church in Wigan and set off for the Philippines. Esther's father Ray Belfield was pastor and he was also the Asia Director in World Ministries. It was during his leadership that the ground for Sefton Village was purchased, in answer to the prayers of the Filipino churches in partnership with the British Assemblies of God. This was an outreach to help the many people groups of that region who were largely untouched by the gospel.
For 12 years Tony and Esther poured their lives into this project 5 miles from Santiago City in Northern Luzon. Two Filipinos called Henny and Jonathan assisted them; and together they built a beautiful complex, which today is a glowing tribute to their skills and dedication.
In May 2000 Tony and Esther were due to return to the U.K. Mark and Mary Ritchie had already felt God's call on their lives and left the Assembly of God church in Whitburn to take over the work in Sefton Village. Mark was assistant pastor, and Mary was a Speech Therapist in Mussleburgh. Mary hails from a staunch Salvation Army family in Wick.
Sefton Village is a tremendous tribute to the power of the gospel in the face of tragedy. It consists of;
The Helga Mosey Children's Home built in the memory of the daughter of an Assembly of God minister and his wife. Their daughter died in the Lockerbie disaster in 1988. The home presently has 23 children from different tragic backgrounds, mostly suffering from poverty related problems. Open days at the end of school term are now a regular feature, and the head of the Department of Social Work, paid tribute to the valuable contribution that the Helga Mosey Childrens Home makes in the lives of disadvantaged children.
The Katriona Graham Learning Centre was built in memory of the daughter of an elderly couple from Larbert, Scotland who also died suddenly. Last year they financed a new classroom increasing the daily intake of children from 90-120. Education is provided free to children from poorer families. Representatives from The Department of Education, Culture and Sports attended the open day and commended the curriculum of the Katriona Graham Learning Centre and the educational standards it has set.
The Sefton Bible Training Centre was named after Mr Sefton from Wigan who was missionary secretary of the Assembly of God Church for many years. This year there are 32 students in residence on the 1-year course. Mark has also been building up relationships with the local ministers and congregations; many of them attend the open days, creating a greater relationship between Sefton Village and the local churches. Mark has now been appointed to the board of the Regional Ministers.
It is Mark's vision to support each student pioneering a church. They receive two piglets from which to breed, along with an initial supply of pig food. This will ultimately provide them with an income, and to facilitate this a new 'piggery' has been built. Hens and chicks run free along with a couple of colourful cockerels as the livestock is gradually being built up. The rice fields at the far end of the grounds produce enough rice for the complex, and the students are all involved practically in the work.
The Fire Centre
The new Fire Centre is a prominent landmark on the main road from Manila. Work began in April 2002 under the careful eye of Bong Lagma a local architect who is a committed Christian and very committed to the vision of Sefton Village. Henny is in charge of the practical side of the work.
The Fire Centre will comprise of;
* A prayer room where all the churches in the district can link with the centre in prayer and ministry. It is hoped to have a prayer tower with continual prayer
* A 'house of refuge' where needy people can call and be ministered to spiritually, physically, mentally and socially
* A large sports complex
* Seating for up to 1500 people for conferences and special events
* A student library and quiet room.
The local churches could not contribute money, but they provided thirty labourers every day during the heavy building work. This has enabled them to identify with the project, and the local pastors also took part on a rota two days per week. This ties in with the vision of the complex eventually being run by Filipinos.
Sefton Village has been founded on personal sacrifice, heartache and sorrow, but from these ashes there has arisen a glowing tribute to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Already £40,000 of the £70, 000 for the Fire Centre has been raised from individuals and churches in the UK. This has built the shell and now fundraising continues to complete the interior walls, fixtures and furnishings. It was from the massive arches of the Fire Centre that a tent roof was suspended to provide shelter for the 3-day Prayer Conference.
It was as well there was no sides to the tent for people spilled over far beyond the perimeter of the roof. People drove the lorries that had brought them, as close as possible, and listened from their higher vantage point. The people under the tent sat in semi darkness in glow of the few light bulbs, fanning themselves from the heat and mosquitoes the light was attracting. Everywhere people listened attentively as they drank in the word of God.
It started with around 300 people, and by the last night there was 650 - 700. It was like Nehemiah 12 v 43; the sound of rejoicing could be heard far away. Sometimes it was singing, and then the people could be heard collectively crying out in prayer to God. The last night was also our last night, and the meeting just kept on going, at 12.30 when we went to bed, the sound of prayer was like a crescendo in the still night. Well why finish? Many of them were going to sleep where they stood. Every available building was packed with people sleeping on the floor. Those who could not get in slept wherever they could; on top of tables, the platform, chairs, even on the ground people slept.
The Prayer Conference was a fitting finale to our trip where we had experienced the love of God in a totally different culture. There was a great desire among the people for the things of God, both in Sefton Village and the local churches. Some of the activities we were involved in were;
* Preaching at the dedication of the College Dean's son
* Preaching in the local churches and prison
* Cooking a meal for 200 prisoners and guards
* Painting the interior of the local prison
* Meeting with a Catholic volunteer from Glasgow, she works alone in a very remote area
* Sharing Thanksgiving with American missionaries
* Sharing fellowship with the Filipino Christians and the children in Sefton Village
* Teaching in Bible School
* Training session with the staff of the Helga Mosey Childrens Home
* Prayer Conference.
It was 4.00am and in contrast to the noise from the Prayer Conference, stillness filled the air, as we slipped out of Sefton Village into the darkness on the first step of our homeward journey. However the memories of those wonderful people, and the sense of the presence of God will be with us for a long time.
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