Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - Interview: New Wine leaders on Covid-19, United Breaks Out, and the persecuted church - Open Doors UK & Ireland
27 July 2020

Interview: New Wine leaders on Covid-19, United Breaks Out, and the persecuted church

United Breaks Out is the online version of New Wine in this unprecedented year. Emma speaks to Paul and Becky Harcourt and Kate Wharton, the leaders of the New Wine network, about what they've learned from the persecuted church this year.

Until this year, summer events and conferences have involved camping and rain – let’s be honest, a lot of rain. It’s all made for magical memories, right? But this year New Wine and other events like Keswick and Creation Fest are switching to online broadcasts that you get to watch from the comfort of your home or garden, or perhaps with your local church – so we can still feast on some great teaching and worship. 

Becky and Paul Harcourt and Kate Wharton

Becky and Paul Harcourt and Kate Wharton

Open Doors is excited to be teaming up with New Wine and United: Breaks Out this weekend (30 July – 3 August), so Open Doors’ Emma Worrall caught up with our good friends Paul and Becky Harcourt, and Kate Wharton – who lead the New Wine network. 

As you look back on lockdown, what have been your highs and lows?

Becky: The low has definitely been the pain of recovering from a broken kneecap and having Covid-19 at the same time! The high though was the beautiful sunny weather in May with time to enjoy it.

Paul: Not having so much travelling has been great – but then life has been busier than ever it seems. 

Kate: My lockdown high was learning a new skill (baking bread from scratch), and rediscovering/having extra time for some crafty pastimes that I hadn’t done for a while. The low was the loneliness and isolation I’ve felt – as a single person living alone, this is something I’ve really struggled with. Leading a church through lockdown has been a challenge! I’ve felt like I’m making it up as I go along (even more than normal)! My favourite thing has been getting our young children to send Easter cards to our older members, and some of them replying, and remaining in contact as penpals. Often they didn’t know each other before, as they attended different services, and they are so excited to meet when it’s possible to do so.

What has God taught you in this season? 

Paul and Becky: When things have to be different, we suddenly see that life CAN be different. Our assumptions and the places where we often find our security are flimsy. God is also teaching us the truth that we are all connected - what one does impacts on another, even to the other side of the world (as well as the obvious example of a contagious virus, we’ve seen the Spirit revealing that over racism, ethical shopping, care for the environment, etc.).

Hea Woo

Hea Woo from North Korea speaking at New Wine

Kate: God has taught me and my church how important community is, that we can continue to love, care for, and support one another even when we can’t meet together in person. We’ve enjoyed after-church refreshments each week on Zoom, plus prayer and worship gatherings, social evenings, and connect groups. Those have all helped us to feel connected. Of course, some haven’t been able to access those, so we’ve also had a team of people making phone calls each week to our more elderly members, or those without internet access. 

What can you, and the UK church, can learn from persecuted Christians at this time?

Paul and Becky: We can and must learn how to feed ourselves spiritually – as those who, even apart from the pandemic, can’t have Bibles or can’t meet together have to do. We can learn to be thankful, and we can learn how to forgive and love those who persecute us. We can learn to look to God to provide and not the government. We can learn to be generous.

"Their faith, courage and resilience is an example to us all." Kate Wharton

Kate: We so often fail to remember and think of those who are persecuted for their faith. We go about our lives quite happily until we are reminded of them and their plight, at a prayer meeting, or via an email or news story. This time has been tough for us all, we haven’t been able to gather together as we would like to have done, and that’s been really hard. I hope this might have made us ponder those for whom this is their everyday experience – being unable to gather publicly to worship, unable to enjoy fellowship, unable to meet with brothers and sisters. Our experience is far different from theirs, of course, but I hope that as we begin to return to in-person meetings we will remember their struggles. Their faith, courage and resilience is an example to us all.

Which stories from the persecuted church have impacted you most deeply?

Paul and Becky: Brother Edward from Syria, who has shown incredible courage to stay in what was not only a war zone, but where he as a Christian would be a target. He stayed to be a light in the darkness and to offer hope and provision to others.

Brother Edward

Brother Edward from Syria

Hea Woo* from North Korea - giving her rice away in the labour camp to show God’s generosity. Memorising the Bible so it would always be with her, and having church meetings in the toilet. And we know friends in India who are reaching out to the poorest and most vulnerable with holistic care. Making it a priority to let those despised by others know that they are made in the image of God.

What’s your go-to Bible verse in hard times?

Becky: Galatians 6:9 "Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." It’s my go-to verse because it reminds me to persevere. That’s needed because God’s timing is not my timing and I can get tired of doing what feels like the ‘good’ thing, whether that’s trusting God’s promises, keeping a good attitude, keep forgiving, keep investing in people, etc.

"Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

Kate: My favourite psalm is 91, and this has continued to sustain me throughout lockdown, and in fact when we did a sermon series on the Psalms, I opened with speaking on this Psalm. However, 2 Chronicles 20:12 (“Our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”) has also come to mean a lot to me during this time, because I have certainly felt often that I do not know what to do, but it’s been important to remember the need to keep my eyes on the Lord. 

What are your hopes for United Breaks Out?

Paul and Becky: Our prayer is that people meet with God in a special and fresh way. Whilst everything has been so different for some time, and with so much uncertainty about the future, we’d love to think that everyone will come away from United Breaks Out encouraged, refreshed, and confident that God is with us!

Kate: My hopes for United Breaks Out is that we will know the transforming presence and power of our Lord just as much as we would expect to do when meeting in person. The Holy Spirit is more than able to meet with us and minister to us online! I also hope many people will join us for the first time, having never before been to United, and that they will straight away feel part of the family. 

As well as United Breaks Out, Open Doors is delighted to be appearing at Creation Fest and Virtually Keswick Convention this year - we hope you can join us!

*Name changed for security reasons

Please pray

Lord God, we thank You for how You have spoken to use during this difficult season. Please bless all those leading and attending online Christian festivals this year, so that they may be times where many people hear Your word, grow closer to You and become more like Jesus, for Your glory.

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