80 years of Worldwide in Bangor
The parable of the mustard seed in Matthew’s Gospel speaks of how God can do so much with even the little that we can give Him. “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches,” Matthew 13:32.
In 1936, Herbert James Mateer proposed that the local Christian Workers’ Union should hold an annual missionary convention in Bangor where he lived. Previous to this, the Union had held house–to–house collections for missions. The idea took off and speakers came to the north Down town from around the world, giving first hand information on God’s work. The initial target was £100, to match what was normally brought via door–to–door. After the first Convention was held in Bangor’s King’s Hall in September 1937, £298 was raised.
Eighty years later, £4,772,072, which is the equivalent of £11,435,496 today, has been donated to missions through what has become the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention.
Of course it is not just money that is raised for global mission. The Convention has inspired many of those who attend to serve in full time ministry in a variety of capacities.
Neil Kennedy was a volunteer on the sound desk at Worldwide in the 1980s and is now a . “I enjoyed listening to lots of the talks, but stories of what the Lord was doing in eastern or central Africa, or medical mission, were the ones that stirred my heart. Growing up in Bangor, then a white middle class monocultural town, it was exciting to hear that there was a great big varied world out there– and be reminded that it was God’s world – created by Him and for Him.
“I read a book Rich Christians in an age of hunger in my early teens and was struck by it’s clear biblical call not to ignore, but to care for the poor in God’s world. I began to wonder if the Lord was calling me to work in Africa. Through the Convention that call was amplified and confirmed.
“I had a growing sense of excitement of hearing what the Lord was doing all over the world through His church, and inner conviction that I had a part to play in that work. I decided to become a doctor because I reckoned it was a good way of getting to work in mission in Africa.” Neil and his family serve with PCI in Blantyre, Malawi.
WEC International missionary Maud Kells is a frequent visitor to Worldwide right back to when she was a nursing student in the 1960s. “I always go to Bangor when I am home on holidays or furlough. I am always blessed by listening to other missionaries and through the Bible teaching. It’s like spiritual food and I thoroughly enjoy coming.”
Much of the history of the Convention is told in the book Stir Me written by Maureen Mateer, daughter of Herbert Mateer. Documented are important accounts of the growth of the Convention as well as the incredible testimony of Herbert (Herbie), who was such an integral part of its story.
The book records how the Convention has continued to the present day without a break, which considering the events, both local and global, that have passed in its 80 year history, is quite an achievement.
When Britain and France declared war against Germany in September 1939, the Convention was due to take place two weeks later. Eight of the main speakers who were advertised were unable to come to Northern Ireland due to the travel restrictions.
That year, the Committee report concluded: “We were faced with the task of rearranging practically the entire programme on the opening day of the Convention…but every difficulty was overcome. People came to the meetings not to hear an address from some great speaker, but to hear what God, the Lord, had to say to them.”
When Herbie retired as Convention Secretary in 1976, Raymond Pitt took over and now serves as the President.
The founders of many missionary agencies have spoken at Bangor including Brother Andrew (Open Doors), Ernest Allen (Every Home Crusade), Dr Andrew Gih (Evangelize China Fellowship), and George Verwer (OM), who first came in the 1960s and is making a return in 2016. Other significant speakers have also included the late Georgi Vins and the late Elisabeth Elliot (1996).
Since its inception, the Convention has been organised by an interdenominational group of men and women. It’s current chairman, Tom Clarke, is the clerk of Session at Hamilton Road Presbyterian Church, where most of the events are held: “I have been attending Worldwide for 40 years and joined the Committee in 2006. There have been some memorable moments such as the night we ran out of seats when Canon Andrew White, Bishop of Bagdad, came to speak in 2012. Prior to that in 2004, Brother Yun attracted around 2,000 people came that night he spoke, they were queued outside long before the meeting began – we had to set up a relay to the two halls so everyone could hear him.”
Tom explains the process of inviting speakers year to year: “We have a list of over a dozen potential speakers and their origins are a mixture. Some have been recommended to us by supporters who may have heard them in other contexts, some are recommended by mission agencies looking to raise their profile or who are aware that one of their main officials will be in the UK in August, some are recommended by members of the committee and others have been on a list carried over from previous years.”
Worldwide has embraced the many technological advances of the last eight decades. Videos of speakers are posted on the website (bar some that are too sensitive to broadcast) and they have a presence on social media platforms including Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and Vimeo, reaching 145 countries with video footage of events.
Whilst there has been many changes throughout its history, central to the work of the Convention is the comforting knowledge that it serves a God that does not change. Through the prayer meetings, the youth events, the morning Bible readings and the evening celebrations as well as the new seminars that seek to equip disciples, His love blesses and encourages all who attend, as they seek to share the Good News of Jesus, to the very ends of the earth.
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