by Nathan Jones
Nathan grew up in Naples, Italy, where his parents serve full time. He graduated from university in Scotland before taking part in the FirstServe gap-year programme.
This past summer I graduated from university. My aim was to find a good job as soon as possible but, after a few unsuccessful interviews, I started considering other options. While visiting my uncle in Zimbabwe, the FirstServe programme was brought to my notice. After praying about it, I applied, was accepted and things moved quickly from there. So, here I am, nearly a year later, writing about the great impact this experience has had on me. This was not what I had planned after five years at university, but it looks like God knows what is best for me!
Although I knew the timetable of where and when I was going to be throughout the programme, I really did not know what to expect from each experience but I was ready to find out. FirstServe aims to bring young people closer to God through serving Him. The programme outline is to spend a period at Bible school, then some time serving within the UK, followed by mission abroad. This exposed me to various aspects of mission that I had never experienced before, opening my eyes to different cultures and ways of approaching mission, locally and worldwide.
Tilsley Bible College
The first month was spent alongside my fellow FirstServers at Tilsley Bible College in Motherwell, Scotland. We learned how to serve, not only by studying God’s Word in class, but through practical application, from doing chores such as washing dishes, gardening or cleaning the library, to helping out with kids’ clubs at nearby churches. The programme is designed to turn the focus from ourselves to serving others. These first weeks helped prepare me for the following months serving in God’s work in various ways. This month at Tilsley was a special time as we studied the basics of the Bible, God’s attributes and something of the beginning of the Torah. I thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity to study His Word. I was greatly challenged in my relationship with the Lord as I studied, allowing me to get to know Him more: His endless power, majesty and love, just to name some aspects. This fuelled my desire to continue to walk closely with God.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
From mid-October to mid-November, I was based in Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, England. I helped with a church and a Christian football club. Being involved in these two ministries allowed me to experience new things. With the church, I was involved in different relational evangelistic events, such as coffee mornings and children’s work. Working in a socially deprived area and meeting people who had just come to faith from a variety of backgrounds was encouraging. One thing that I had never done before was helping with a ‘bread run’ alongside a full-time worker, which involved going from door to door. This experience opened my eyes to a world that I had not been exposed to before, and an opportunity to share God’s love and salvation. A few days a week, I helped out at the football club in the kitchen on match days and in any other tasks that needed doing. It was great to see how the club runs and how it is used to reach out to people with the good news.
For my overseas placement I was sent out with Brass Tacks, whose mission statement is ‘serving those who serve’. I was looking forward to getting my hands dirty and serving in a practical way. Starting in mid- November, I joined a team going to the Moshi Christian Children’s Centre in Tanzania. I have always liked working with my hands, so I enjoyed the opportunity to learn a bit about how to approach a building project. It took me a while to get used to the manual labour, but I benefited in multiple ways from the experience. Having finished my degree in Engineering, I was excited to do something practical. The project in Moshi involved building and installing roof trusses for a staff building. Spending time with joiners was a great way to learn some tricks of the trade. We were there for two weeks and managed to finish the metal roofing. It was a real encouragement to start each day with a time of fellowship and prayer after breakfast with some local believers. Not everyone could speak English, so it was evident that something much bigger than ourselves brought us together.
Not everyone could speak English, so it was evident that something much bigger than ourselves brought us together.
L’Eau Vive, France
In January I continued my practical placement, joining two Brass Tacks workers in the south of France for a bathroom conversion project at L’Eau Vive centre. We were there for three weeks, changing a 3x3m space into smaller bathrooms and toilets. Due to it being out of conference season, there were not many people around but this allowed us to meet and to have fellowship with other Christians there. I learned about their work, the different summer camps and plans to extend the project – all while practising my non-existent French! It was encouraging to see how the centre is used for a lot of events for the proclamation of the gospel in that part of the world. It was great to know that the work we accomplished was much appreciated and will be of good use in the future.
For the final part of the programme I got to go with Brass Tacks to Israel. I had never been before and I was really looking forward to going, helping out and having my own experience in the Promised Land. We were there just short of four weeks. The project involved tiling the floor of a renovated building for a Bible school and church building. To experience such different cultures from that in Africa and our Western culture was incredible. Spending time on Sundays with brothers and sisters praising God in another language was truly special. During our time there, we visited a lot of different biblical sites, from Galilee to Jerusalem and the Jordan valley. I loved the opportunity to stand in these places, letting my imagination unfold biblical accounts. From the 1 Kings 18 account of Elijah at the top of Mount Carmel, then passing by the Sea of Galilee, across the Jordan river, heading south towards Jerusalem, past Jericho! What an amazing way to conclude my experience serving practically – in a place so full of reminders of God’s incredible act of love towards humanity, for the redemption given to us through Jesus, by whom we are saved.
Reflection & Prayer
As I look back now, I am grateful to the Lord for the opportunity to take part in the FirstServe programme and for the people whom God placed me with during this experience: the lecturers and staff at Tilsley, the folks in England, the Brass Tacks workers whom I spent time with during the projects and all the believers serving the Lord in the different lands I visited. I have greatly benefited from all of them, learning and seeing how God has guided in their lives. I can see how, having participated in these different experiences, I have matured spiritually. It was an honour and privilege to play just a small part in God’s global mission.
Pray for the FirstServe programme and for future FirstServers, that their participation in this programme would be of as much benefit to them as it has been for me. I am sure that this experience has further prepared me for my life, and my walk with God. Pray that as I go back to ‘normal’ life and search for a job, that I may continue to seek Him first and serve the Lord wherever He places me. Please pray also for Tilsley Bible College and all the different ministries that I was involved in, that in each of these places God would use His servants for the furtherance of the gospel.