Please have a listen to the two recent radio inteviews Ash has been involved with:-
Andy Peck interviews Ash Barker on Premier Radio about ministry in Winson Green and the founding of Newbigin House and Newbigin School for Urban Leadership. Click here to listnen.
Tony Campolo interviewed Ash Barker on his ‘Across the Pond’ radio show. Click here to listen.
It’s sometimes difficult to know if we are making any real impact. How can we be certain if we are on the right track? Are there other paths we can find to greener pastures? When Jesus was asked about this dilemma he simply answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matthew 12:39). We have begun to know a little about what this sign of Jonah means for us as, our journey in Birmingham continues to unfold.
There is often the ideal. Jonah had a call as a prophet of God. He may well have understood this as a position of power and privilege, speaking for God against injustice and corruption as so many previous prophets had done. To have some idealism and vision can be a good start, but holding too tightly to expectations of certain results and tying our self worth to these measures of impact undermines our unique God given call. In Jonah’s case God called him beyond his own shores to help a city made up of those outside his own ethnicity and religion. Instead of going to the city of Nineveh as directed, Jonah tried to run away to Tarshish, a city far more in keeping with his ideal of himself and role. God loved Jonah, knew him well and got his attention in dramatic fashion to turn him around. Ideals and good intentions may be a beginning, but they are not enough to see real change.
There is the ordeal. Jonah ended up deep inside the belly of a huge fish. He couldn’t run away from himself and God’s call on his life. There was a kind of death and grief that he had to face about himself. In dark and smelly spaces our false images can be burnt off and change in us incubated. Indeed, Jonah would not have had the capacity to be a change maker without this trauma and humiliation inside a huge fish. Richard Rohr writes of this sign: ‘It seems to demand that we must release ourselves into a belly of darkness before we can know what is essential. It insists that the spiritual journey is more like giving up control than taking control. It might even be saying that others will often throw us overboard, as was the case with Jonah, and that will get us to the right shore—and even by God’s grace more than any right action on our part…Jonah indeed is our Judeo-Christian symbol of transformation. Jesus had found the Jonah story inspiring, no doubt, because it described almost perfectly what was happening to him!’ The belly of the beast is a necessary place for incubating change in us.
There can be a new deal. Jonah was spat out by the great fish in the place that God had intended all along. He landed on Nineveh’s shore smelling of fish guts and his skin bleached white, but this strange man was now ready to offer nothing but a deep and authentic sense of God’s message for change. God had changed the messenger and Jonah’s Message would see a whole city transformed, far beyond his wildest imaginings. I am convinced we can only make our unique change making contributions in the providence and power of God. That as we let go of our ego’s fragility and become the uniquely, even strange, people God is preparing us to be, we can see transformations we couldn’t even dream up if we tried.
In so many ways I can relate to Jonah. We thought we were coming to Birmingham in November 2014 to do certain roles, with certain goals in mind. Yet, these ideals were quickly swallowed up. Indeed our initial plan hardly survived the impact of landing in the UK. Twelve months in and we were deep in debt, despairing and not even able to afford to run away to a place we thought more suitable. I am sure it was no accident that our first home in Winson Green was literally on Nineveh Road! Over this time we became different people as God has worked in us to build our capacity for transformation through us. Consider these amazing places God has brought us since we moved into Newbigin House (the former Winson Green Vicarage) just 12 months ago.
Oasis Academy Foundry was named UK School of the Year for its diversity! This local Winson Green primary school, where Anji is based, was in special measures and facing closure in 2013. The role the Oasis Community Hub (that Anji founded and leads from the school) and its community based initiatives with parents from the school was instrumental in helping make this transformation possible.
‘Soho Albion FC’ was formed as a partnership between our local community and West Bromwich Albion FC and over 700 kids and their parents have been involved so far. Steve Hopcroft, who is head of West Brom’s Youth Academy and originally from Winson Green explained that no organised football for young people in Winson Green was available any more. As we talked a plan was hatched and after visiting every Primary School in the Soho Ward with local leaders a new football club was born. After initial trials wth over 700 young people, a training squad commenced with some of the best youth coaches in the UK. The Season proper starts in September and there is also a development squad preparing for trails to join the West Bromwich Albion Academy.
Over 20 neighbour-led community projects have commenced in Winson Green over the last 12 months with over 200 neighbours involved most weeks. Winson Green was the subject of a much maligned documentary shown on UK TV about contemporary poverty. Newbigin Community Trust was formed as a Charity in October 2016 as neighbours came together to renew our neighbourhood and support local initiatives. Many of these community projects are in partnership with local schools, churches and prisons. Some are self-help groups (eg, Grow Groups, Youth Group, Young Mum’s Group), Social Enterprises (eg Flavours of Winson Green Cooking School, Animal Encounters Mobile Zoo, Hair Dressing,), Recreation and creativity (Jogging Group, Dad’s and Lads Football, Soho Albion FC), Places to meet and connect (Community meals, community hub, prison visits and mentoring).
Over 70 urban leaders have participated in our courses, groups, forums and retreats. Many urban leaders need fresh insights, frameworks and spiritual practices to grow in their vocation. Newbigin School for Urban Leadership (CIC) was officially formed in January 2017 to raise-up more compassionate, resilient and innovative urban leaders. This has been happening through credited courses (eg, MA in Theology-Urban Mission with Nazarene Theological College, University of Manchester), leadership formation programs (eg. Newbigin Associates, residencies), immersion courses (eg. with Church Mission Society and Operation Mobilisation) as well as informal groups and retreats (eg. Gas Street Groups, Miss Dei retreats).
The United Nations invited us to host an ‘Urban Thinkers Campus: Faith Communities and the Cities We Need’. Christian often avoid going ‘upstream’ to see what is causing poverty. Urban Shalom Project was formed in Quito at the UN’s Habitat III gathering, October 2016 to help Christians engage in urban challenges, opportunities and the UN’s New Urban Agenda. Already Urban Shalom Forums and talks have been held in Melbourne, Adelaide, Bangkok, Birmingham with more planned in Detroit, Sydney and Cape Town. Publications (‘Urban Shalom and the Cities we Need’ and the journal ‘New Urban World’), Pod Casts ad a Call to Action are ready to be launched too.
These are just some of the headings and highlights to give God thanks for. While so much is set up for us now, there is still so much to do. A sense of call has emerged here is that we are to be ‘planted’ in Winson Green and then ‘linked’ to the world. That despite our weaknesses and mistakes, God can use our unique gifts and experiences to make unique contributions.
Ash and Anji Barker
PS. About 25 regular supporters have helped provide the finances and prayers to make these experiences possible and we are so grateful for this! To go the next level, however, we would love to add another 25 supporters who know us, trust us and believe in what we are doing enough to gift finances and prayer. Details can be found here: http://newbiginhouse.uk/donate/
October saw us rely more fully on faith support. Trusting God will provide through people who know us, trust us and believe in what we are doing has not been easy, but Anji and I can now engage more fully in our unique vocation here. We also have the needed space to build capacity for future impact and a Sabbath day once a week! Thanks to your support these highlights happened this month:
Our residential community in Newbigin House has grown to 7 resident people as well as 2 alpacas, 2 lizards, 4 chickens and pug called Yoda. This month we have also had over 25 guests stay with us from all over the world with over 200 different people coming through the old vicarage for various groups, training, meetings, meals…. and mayhem!
Local ministry in our Winson Green neighbourhood has gone to another level. Weekly community meals, weekly prison ministries, family outing to Blackpool, Grow mental health support group started, youth ministry. We now also help lead Prison chapel one a month and a local church service once a month too. Just to name a few of things happening! Anji also got her ‘FAB Community Hub’ building at the local Oasis Foundry school so there is more space for youth, family and community initiatives. Neighbourhood leaders have come together to form Newbigin Community Trust which was approved by the Charity Commission to give local leaders a greater voice in renewing our neighbourhood together.
- See Newbigin Community Trust’s vision and ethos here:
Raising-up of more resilient urban leaders through our School for Urban Leadership has begun. We launched new weekly leadership programs this term with Newbigin Associates (7 community leaders in Winson Green), MA in Urban Mission (9 urban leaders with University of Manchester’s Nazarene College), Gas Street Group (11 urban leaders exploring urban mission) as well as Missio Dei retreat day (4 urban leaders for discernment), an Immersion Course weekend in Winson Green (9 CMS Pioneer leaders) and ran a retreat day with Baptist ordinants (30 leaders at Bristol Baptist). We applied for the Newbigin School for Urban Leadership to be a Community Interest Company and had Lianne join us a day a week to be our administrator to help this entity be like a strong trunk to so that our dreams for urban impact can grow like branches.
Going ‘upstream’ to try and prevent people being pushed into torrents of urban poverty and to fight for more just and sustainable urban future at a global level has had some important breakthroughs too. October 15-20 I went to Quito, Equator to co-lead a delegation called ‘Urban Shalom Project’ to the United Nation’s Habitat III for the future of cities. We ran a pre-conference (The Gospel and the future of cities) to help our delegation to prepare to represent 600 million Christians at the UN gathering with 45,000 leaders. I had the privilege of being present in the assembly hall when the nations of the world committed to the New Urban Agenda for more sustainable, resilient and inclusive cities. A campaign, publications and forums to help Christians engage with this global agenda will be launched next year and I will continue to co-Convene as Urban Shalom Project as part of the co-alition made up of Micah/World Evangelical Alliance and Lausanne.
- Here is our press release
None of this would have been possible without your trust and belief in us! We are so very grateful for the providence of God through so many generous friends, families and communities. Transitioning back to faith support is not simple, but we are conscious of Hudson Taylor’s encouragement that ‘God’s work done in God’s ways will not lack God’s resources.’ Thanks for standing with us as this adventure unfolds.
Ash and Anji Barker
The Urban Thinkers Campus & next Urban Shalom Forum will be in Singapore from the 10th -15th November 2017.
For more information, please visit the Urban Shalom Project Website by clicking here.
Risky Compassion is a series of stories, insights and reflections from Dr Ash Barker’s twelve years immersed in Bangkok’s largest slum with his family. From this extreme context, he explores the story of the Good Samaritan and teases out life’s risky questions and implications for each of us. Ash brilliantly identifies those qualities that can enable you to go deeper in life – no matter where you live.
As you read Ash’s latest book you will:
- Be compelled to ask yourself those risky questions about what really matters in life.
- Step out of your own comfort zone: Begin to travel further on your own risky journey.
- See how suffering can help you take the risks of gaining insight.
- Learn how to join with God’s risky compassion.
- Begin crossing over to connect: Finding solidarity with those on the margins in ways that changes life perspectives and values.
- Find strategies that can work for you to help others and find your own vocation at the same time.
Ash wrote, “Life in Klong Toey slum confronted me. I couldn’t avoid the big, risky questions that this neighborhood raised for me about life, death and what matters most. As my time in Bangkok began to draw to a close, I felt an invitation to search for deeper answers to make sense of my years here and this book is part of the result. Exploring the story of the ‘Compassionate Samaritan’ helped me find meaning in the midst of suffering. I pray and hope this story, and these musings, can have a similar impact on you.”
Richard Rohr contributed the foreword for Risky Compassion and wrote, “I hope anew when I meet people like Ash and Anji Barker and the many like-hearted folks who work with them, and whom I meet all over the world. They are surely out there, and usually not making many headlines because they are too busy doing instead of talking. Christ seems to be just as invisible and unnoticed now as he was when he first came. Just doing it is less book-worthy than thinking about it, for some sad reason. But this book will help you to both think with the universal mind of Christ–and to do what you must do with the endless empathy of God. ‘What we received as a gift, we must give as a gift’ (Matthew 10:8).”
You can buy Risky Compassion from Amazon.