by Rupert Abbott & Lesley de Blieck
What a journey of a year we’ve had here at Echoes International! Celebrating God’s faithfulness over 150 years has been a long time in the planning. We’d like to take this final article of our December magazine to consider our 150th anniversary year. As we look back at a busy year full of books and resources and events and mission exhibitions, we reflect on the people we’ve spoken to and the things we’ve learned.
Young people were always at the heart of our hope for the anniversary plans this year. How many biographies of missionaries have we read, where they knew as a child or teenager that God might be calling them to serve away from home? It is important that our young people within our fellowships are encouraged to hear both about past missionaries’ service and today’s mission needs. At many of our exhibition dates, churches put on special youth evenings, allowing their young people to go round the mission exhibition, ask questions of Echoes International directors or mission partners and listen to the call of God on their lives.
We even catered for little ones: children could take part in a quiz as they went round the exhibition. Our children and young people’s resource, Mission Expedition, was produced for use in Sunday schools around the UK or with people’s children or grandchildren at home, and is still available for use going forward in the new year. At one event, Rupert Abbott and Rich Harknett shared their Mission Expedition mission stories from Pakistan and Peru with all the children’s groups, teens’ groups and older young people – Mission Expedition felt very well used that weekend! Children responded to our mission exhibition arriving in their town; we even had 150th anniversary beautifully decorated biscuits to welcome us in Northern Ireland
Part of our exhibition featured an interactive table with a retro telephone where you could listen to the old ‘Telephone Echoes’ prayer line, use an old-fashioned typewriter, and see facsimiles of some of the earliest postcards and letters sent out by mission partners. A post box offered people the opportunity to write actual letters to mission partners and ‘post’ them. We’ve shared them with our mission partners and hope to collate a selection of them on our website, so that people can be encouraged by the messages of prayer and support which have been sent over the past year. We know mission partners are delighted to hear of people praying faithfully for them, as they often work in difficult, isolated areas.
The mission exhibition features stories of mission partners throughout our 150 years, as well as highlighting priorities for mission for today. The stories that we shared in the exhibition and the accompanying book, Footsteps Worth Following, could only always be a fraction of the wonderful stories of many mission partners supported by Echoes over the years. Ian Burness’ anniversary lecture, A Legacy for the Future, shared a more detailed account of mission history during our 150 years. As we travelled with the exhibition, we were given a pristine copy of the first magazine ever published in 1872 and heard from people connected with mission throughout the years. In one location, Rupert got into conversation with Heather Lay, whose parents ran conferences for mission partners when she was a girl. She has kept an autograph book with some interesting entries, including Bobby Jack (Argentina), then aged five. Another lady, aged 93, remembers reading the Echoes magazine aged seven and was delighted to see a magazine from that era at the exhibition.
mission partners are delighted to hear of people praying faithfully for them, as they often work in difficult, isolated areas.
We thought we might have difficulty transporting our mission exhibition around the UK, but the charity Hope By the Roadside, which shares Bible verses and the gospel message on billboards and trailers, offered us the use of a trailer for the whole year. This witnesses to everyone as we drive along and arrive at venues, and was just the right size to fit our exhibition in – truly an answer to prayer! We became experts in putting up and taking down the exhibition in 37 venues. Over the past year, a team of staff, directors, trustees and volunteers has been driving up and down the country, and we estimate that it has travelled a total of 5,157 miles in 2022!
At most venues, each church hosted a mission meeting with films, personal testimonies from mission partners and a call to mission. Often the host church was a commending assembly and so they were able to share about their own mission partners’ work, as well as update the fellowship on mission around the world. Refreshments and meals were often part of this time, and we are grateful to the many helpers who got involved in the mission exhibition weekends, gave of their time and talents to make food, bake cakes, serve teas and coffees, man bookstalls and generally welcome people in.
Footsteps Worth Following
Many of you will have already read our 150th anniversary book, Footsteps Worth Following, featuring 150 photographs and stories from 150 years of mission. We’ve had many lovely comments about the book and how it has encouraged many of you to reflect on God’s faithfulness. We’ve heard of a person, ill in hospital, who had enough energy to read one story a day and pray for the countries mentioned. One student read the book and was inspired to come to our Scottish conference, where he heard about our gap-year programme. He then applied to FirstServe Compact and served over the summer, helping churches in Eastern Europe as they reached out to Ukrainian refugees.
When pointing out the story of Stuart Hine and how he came to write the verses of the now famous hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’, we heard from someone who had listened to the hymn when it was first sung in the UK. Stuart Hine had brought over an Eastern European choir to sing at a local Eisteddfod in Wales and took the choir to the local gospel hall. We pray that Footsteps Worth Following will continue to be used in ways like this to inspire people for mission.
One of Echoes’ aims has always been to communicate the needs of mission around the world to the church in the UK – that’s why this magazine was set up so long ago in 1872, and why we continue today. We pray that this year was not just one of busyness and activity or about celebrating Echoes International, but a year in which God was glorified, and the call of the Lord Jesus Christ on all our lives was proclaimed. Pray that we may see the fruit of this anniversary year for many years to come, and that we might see the next generation hearing and responding to God’s call. ‘Direct my footsteps according to your Word’ (Ps. 119:133a).
Thank you to everyone who has been involved in our 150th anniversary, whether travelling, setting up and down, speaking, hosting, catering or attending. It has been a privilege to travel around the country, sharing and hearing stories about mission and inspiring people to pray for and support mission.