It’s been four decades since global workers with Encompass World Partners first entered the United Kingdom. Since then, several families have served in England by planting churches, training leaders, and leveraging social clubs for the Gospel. In celebration of this fortieth milestone, a few workers reflected on their time in England.
Part one of this series was written by Tom Barlow and reflects on the history and trajectory of Encompass’s involvement in the U.K. Tom and his wife, MaryAnn, have served many years in England, first in London and later in Birmingham. They recently concluded their time in England and returned to the United States in December 2022.
Encompass entered the United Kingdom in 1982 as part of a focused effort, led by Tom Julien, to see up to 100 staff mobilized to reach the continent of Europe. Since the end of World War II, many evangelical missions felt the strategic importance of reaching the “Old Continent” with the Gospel message, which was difficult to find in the traditional churches — many of which were backed by the state and part of the governmental system.
Within the Charis Fellowship, key initiatives like Training in Missionary Endeavors (co-sponsored by Encompass and Momentum Ministry Partners) and the Euro-Missions Institute, held at the Château de Saint Albain, shared the vision of spiritual need across the continent. God used those and other initiatives to raise the first Encompass staff to enter the U.K., including Phil and Eleanor Steele and Dave and Cindy Kowalke.
Bill and Beckie Kiddoo joined the team in 1986, followed by Greg and Cheryl Shipley and Roy Angle. David and Becky Schwan joined in 1990, followed by Brian and Rhonda Weaver. Beckie remembers “the call” focusing on how many churches were closing in the U.K. per week at that time and how many mosques were opening at an alarming rate.
Early ministry focused on learning the British “spiritual soil” and how to plant and water seed that would bear spiritual fruit. Early on, it was clear that using words like “missionary” or “church” could shut down conversations, rather than opening people up to consider the Gospel. Early workers had to build relationships and work closely with local believers to counter the “structural resistance” to the idea of church, something that was seen by the majority as corrosive and even abusive. Others saw structural resistance to church in the form of apathy or irrelevance. Required religious instruction in school had been a factor in inoculating people against the truth of the Gospel.
Early workers spent time prayerfully considering where to plant early “points of light” to create momentum in planting other churches. Birmingham was chosen with a strategy to see one church planted on each of the four points of the compass in the city: north, south, east, and west.
The Schwans and Kiddoos served faithfully alongside the Shirley Grace Church in southeast Birmingham. Many people were reached for Christ through activities like youth clubs, puppet presentations in school assemblies, speakers’ clubs, and guitar clubs. Bill Kiddoo led “Speaking Aloud” clubs that helped people find their voice to express what was going on inside through speeches and English learning clubs. This created connection points for sharing the Gospel.
In 2002, David and Becky Schwan gathered a team of six — including two British couples — to launch a new effort in the Rubery/Frankley area of southwest Birmingham. A particular focus was a guitar club outreach, capitalizing on David’s guitar ability, to reach out to men in the area and to draw them into Gospel conversations. In late 2004, the Grace Community Church started meeting on Sundays — first in Rubery, and then in Frankley. Many have encountered the Gospel through the ministry of the church family through events like the Frankley Guitar Club, a monthly youth night, Messy Church, Open the Book, and most recently, Craft and Cuppa — a Thursday morning gathering of moms and their kids for a cup of tea, a craft, and conversations around spiritual needs.
As with many churches, Covid was a particularly trying season. Both churches, Shirley and Frankley, had to find new ways to do all the old ministries. Shirley Grace, which was led for over 10 years by local Pastor Malcolm Stevens, moved their meetings online. This was an unexpected bonus and the church actually grew stronger through the Covid isolation.
The Frankley church experienced ups and downs, trying many creative ways to continue meeting and reaching out to the local community with so many needs. Walk and Talk Church and working alongside a local food bank were two of many creative activities attempted. Though the Frankley church has just changed format for regular gathering as a church family, three principal outreach avenues continue: Messy Church, Open the Book, and Craft and Cuppa.
More local leaders are involved in guiding the two churches as Encompass’ role in church planting and development decreases. We praise God for these two local bodies, and ask you to continue praying for local leaders, as well as for the ongoing “behind the scenes” mentoring of local leaders, which continues through current Encompass staff.
Part two of this series will include ministry highlights, transitions, and future plans.