A church in Chester is boldly evangelising in a council estate café and an upmarket shop, with some incredible testimonies.
I’m tucking into my fried eggs, and the manager of Café Life in Chester is getting a grilling about evolution and the book of Genesis. The two people interrogating her are former heroin and crack addicts who – one recently, and one seven months before – came into the café and were asked if they wanted to give their lives to Jesus. Christians prayed for them to be healed from their addiction, and although they are still on prescription drugs, they have stopped taking illegal drugs. Their eyes shine when they talk of Jesus and his love for them, and their wide grins speak a thousand words.
The woman who recently came to faith was taking drugs for 35 years, had been a prostitute, in prison, and very unhappy. Her face shines as she describes her story of salvation. Ian, who has been a Christian for seven months and still takes methadone, is still struggling with depression but nonetheless he looks happy, and talks about the changes he is making to his life as God guides him. Further back in time, women have been healed from amphetamine and cannabis addiction; occult spiritualists have repented and found healing; and aches, pains and ailments – even sexually transmitted diseases – have disappeared.
The story began when Aliss Cresswell and her husband Rob felt that God wanted them to open a church in Blacon in Chester, a large council estate with the usual associated problems – drugs, crime, forgotten and unloved youth, and peoples’ reliance on benefits.
Aliss had long wanted to see Jesus work the miracles he promises in the Bible, and had prayed and fasted for years to see it happen. When she had prayed for people she had been getting no results, but this had not quenched her thirst to see Jesus directly and immediately changing lives. When she opened a café in February 2009, she found that boldness in sharing God’s love and asking if people wanted prayer for healing resulted in people becoming Christians. ‘It’s just being really upfront about Jesus, about releasing the Holy Spirit and the power of his presence,’ says Aliss. ‘You can’t argue with that.’
They report about one miracle a day since opening; some of which have been filmed and put online (blaconlife.org). From deafness to arthritis, depression to addiction, people look shocked as they experience Jesus for the first time. They have seen gangs of ASBO kids kneeling down and repenting of thieving, and praying for forgiveness. ‘I got fed up of praying for revival,’ says Aliss, ‘and decided to start one.’
Now, she says the café acts as a church for the local area. People aren’t likely to go to church on a Sunday morning, but they do come into the café. The table menu lists food options on one side and talks about Jesus on the other, there are Bibles, and the volunteers are all Christians keen to evangelise and offer prayer.
In the more luxurious surrounds of Chester city centre, the Cresswells have also opened a shop that sells trinkets and household wares alongside charismatic Christian books. Called ‘Spirit’, it looks a bit like a New Age shop. Consequently, it attracts spiritual seekers such as Reiki healers who are often open to hearing about Jesus. They are plainly told that Jesus is the only way and that other spiritualities are counterfeit.
As Aliss and I are sitting in the shop’s café enjoying a coffee, a well-dressed middle-class woman says how much she likes the place. ‘Yes we do coffee, and we do miracles as well,’ says Aliss. ‘Would you like a miracle?’
I had expected a cynical smile and a hasty exit, but instead the woman hesitates and steps towards us. Aliss gently tells her of people who have been healed from blindness and deafness in the shop. The woman sits down, and says she has just recovered from cancer and feels negative and afraid.
Aliss draws me into the scene, and we both lay hands on her as Aliss prays for healing, positivity, and for the cancer to stay away. I feel a warm sensation in my hand and a tingling; the woman says she feels warm inside. ‘Would you like to know Jesus better?’ says Aliss, and receives an enthusiastic response. She gently tells her of the cross, leads her to accept Jesus and the Holy Spirit, to ask for forgiveness, to give her guilt to Jesus, and prays for the fear to go away. The woman is clearly touched, and leaves with a Why Jesus? booklet and a smile.
Such a direct approach cuts through much of the debate about relational and process evangelism which is popular in our postmodern and sceptical culture. Aliss says that many people she talks to are open to hearing the gospel, and have often never been told that God loves them. The trickier issue of discipleship once someone has made a commitment is addressed by the presence of the cafés, where (particularly on the estate) people can come to get prayer and ask questions.
Not everyone she offers prayer to accepts it or feels the Holy Spirit; but Aliss says that when praying for healing for non- Christians, she is seeing about 95% of people receiving healing (fewer if they are Christians already). ‘I can’t say why some aren’t healed, but God’s word says lay hands on the sick and they will be healed,’ says Aliss. ‘It is God’s will to heal. We can’t understand why people don’t get healed sometimes.’
I do outreach projects in my community, and I often tell people that God loves them, or offer to pray. But Aliss’ steadfast faith that Jesus will heal, and her boldness in telling people of God’s love straight away revealed the lukewarm nature of my own evangelising, and the fear behind this. She has challenged me to keep believing for healing, miracles and revival – and in the power of a constant and bold Christian witness in a humble café.
See www.blaconlife.org for video testimonies and more information