“…if you wandered the earth doing your thing and then someone gives you a peak into perfection, shows you paradise, the greatest love you’ve ever felt or the greatest gift you have ever seen, why would you not be on fire?“
Rowena Cross and her husband, Ron, lead and pastor St. Saviour’s Sunbury Church in England. Rowena is fiercely passionate about people coming to know Jesus. Rowena also founded Esther Ministry to help followers of Jesus discover their gifts and put them into action.
Overcome fear. Gain confidence. Share your faith motivated by love for people. Rowena is here to lead the way. Listen now or read the show notes below.
Tell us The beginnings of how you got to where you are right now.
My husband Ron and I were living in London and earning loads of money. We were just normal people or what you think is normal. We were normal in the sense that we thought if we got a bigger house, car, or if we earn more money we will be happy.
Something traumatic happened to us though. I was pregnant with our first child and was put into a coma. They told my husband that I was not going to survive and that was all they told him. I remember it was all very traumatic.
My mum and dad had started to go to church after I had left home, so neither me nor Ron were brought up in Christian homes. However, when I was in the hospital, their church prayed for me. Ron also got down on his knees and prayed.
When Ron was 13, his father passed away and he remembers running into the garden and asking: “If there is really a God, how could you take my dad?” Ron got back down on his knees when I was in my coma and said, “Okay God, if you are there, now is your time to show up. I will do anything for you if you will save my wife.” During the time he prayed, we found out later, the church was praying at the same time and then I woke up.
The doctors kept saying, “Do you understand this is a miracle? You must understand this is a miracle!” But what Christians don’t know is if you aren’t a Christian, you don’t know what it means to have a miracle happen. So, we did that thing you do when you experience trauma–you try to run away from it. We gave up our careers, escaped to the country, and bought a bed and breakfast.
It was there when we met Christians and they had a light inside them which the rest of the world doesn’t possess. Literally we saw it, we never read the Bible, we had no idea that is what the Word said, but that is how we described it. They were obviously praying for us, but we didn’t know. One morning we woke up and I felt like I wanted to go to church. I told Ron and he said, “Weird, I feel the same way.” Then we went and cried the whole service!
This was a little tiny church. It was not like we wandered into a Hillsong Church! We entered and it felt like we had come home. Within four years, we left the village and my husband become a vicar which is your equivalent to a pastor. It was rapid and I was propelled into being a vicar’s wife. I had no idea what that was. I didn’t get it and I don’t speak Christianese, which everybody else seemed to speak. This language that Christians spoke, where they like just assume you know this song and I’m like unless you played it in an 80’s rave, I’ve never heard it. This was the beginning of our journey into faith. My husband becoming a vicar and me thinking, “What just happened? I am so confused.”
You went from living in London AND making loads of money, then to a life-threatening situation and when you moved you met people and see that light. what compelled you to move into ministry from the secular world?
It’s not like you leap over night, but if you wandered the earth doing your thing and then someone gives you a peak into perfection, shows you paradise, the greatest love you’ve ever felt or the greatest gift you have ever seen why would you not be on fire? What I noticed is when you come into faith, having had none, you are like, I’ve done the world and it sucks, it’s horrible. Now I see Jesus so why wouldn’t I want to tell everyone about him?
We live in a world where people take pictures of their food. What’s that all about? We all go “Woo!” and like it, but I met all these Christian people who don’t tell people about Jesus, the greatest person ever! They’ll share the greatest hotel they had, the greatest food they had, but they won’t share about Jesus! Literally I was dying. I had to be dying before somebody did something and that is not okay!
The word we use in the UK church is luke-warmity. It’s the slow drip of eradication of faith in our society, it means people don’t want to share their faith. Sorry, no, if you’re not reading your Bible every day and not immersed in Jesus, you won’t want to tell the person next to you with a breaking heart that you have the answer to their pain. We just keep it to ourselves.
When I came to know Jesus, I promised I would serve him for the rest of my days. He’s given me a big mouth and that is apparently what He wants me to use it for. So, I will tell everyone who will listen. What they choose to do with their life is not my concern. I don’t like the word “convert.” I don’t convert people, God convicts people. He comes into your heart and shows you the greatest love you are ever going to feel.
I don’t need to convert people; all I need to do is tell them it’s for them. Tell them that He loves them. What they choose to do with that is between them and God. But even an atheist needs to hear the gospel once otherwise how can they make a choice? They’re making a one-dimensional choice otherwise. In America you have democrats and republicans, if you only ever heard from republicans how would you choose democrats? If you only ever heard democrats, how would you choose republicans? You need to hear from both to know which one your choice is. It’s the same with the gospel, but a billion times better. The gospel is going to change your life.
What are the things you are most passionate about sharing when you are helping to equip people in evangelism?
My pastoral ministry I noticed was not me walking up and freaking churches out up and down the country. Basically, I noticed that it can be a confidence issue when it comes to sharing our faith. When you come into faith everyone repeatedly asks, “What are your gifts?” My response was, “What are you going on about, what gifts?” We say we don’t have any gifts because the world has told us that we are x, y and z and we have just believed it.
What I realized when I came into faith is that I assumed Christians were sorted. It was my biggest disappointment when I came into faith that that was not the case. You give your life to Jesus and there is not a magic wand that makes everything perfect. In fact, it’s the opposite, you give your life to Jesus and it becomes much harder. Suddenly you have this moral compass you are living by that you didn’t have before.
So, I help people to find their gifts because once you’ve been told this is your gift that God has given you, you must answer what will you do with it. We think gifts are given to pastors, bishops, and all these important people. Yet Jesus chose the uncommon to do the common. He chose the ordinary to do the extraordinary. All the people of significance in the Bible are the people you didn’t expect. And most of them said “No” to start with and God didn’t give up on them! Instead, He encouraged them and said, “Come on mate, I see you.” God looks at us and He sees our potential. When I’ve been into a church and say, “These are your gifts and this is what the Bible says about gifts,” you cannot undo this, it is the truth.
I see people come to life. It’s like a light goes on in their eyes and they go out and start transforming the world that God has put them in because they see their gifts. I am passionate about people knowing that they can transform the world. What I see in evangelism is that it has as much to do inside the church as it does outside the church.
Here are some examples. Today, a girl gave her life to Jesus and said, “I am completely addicted to alcohol. She drinks it all day and all night. I’ve got nothing left.” I said, “Then you’ve got nothing to lose because Jesus heals addiction, this is your addiction, it’s not who you are. This is just something you do because of your pain.”
She gives her life to Jesus and four hours later she left the church in an ambulance on her way to get help for the first time. She cried her heart out thinking she wasn’t valuable or worthy. I can’t bear that, so what drives me on is that every person is valuable to God and every person deserves to know that they are loved and that His love is for them.
They don’t have to get better to accept his love. He comes to us in the dirt and dust and destruction of our life and He reaches in and says, “I love you. Come to me and I will help you.” And that’s our job. We are His hands and feet on earth, so what drives me forward is the people I walk past.
There was a person I saw the other day who I went up to in a coffee shop…and I’ve never done this before. It was bold for me, but I saw a flash of a picture and there was a dog sitting next to his chair and I thought, “I can’t tell him that.” I was with my mate who is also the wife of a vicar and she says, “You’re an evangelist love, if you can’t do it, who’s going to?” But I thought, “That’s weird!”
I went up to this man and his friend though, they were businessmen. I just rambled on and told him. And they were just like, “That’s the best thing I have ever heard!” We forget that when we live in a world and someone comes up to you with a light and you are sitting in darkness, it’s beautiful, it’s loving, it’s the best thing you’ll ever hear and that’s what drives me on because no one did that for us. They looked at us and thought, “You two won’t accept the gospel or I am too embarrassed.” No one has ever died of embarrassment. Can I just put that out there? It’s not going to kill you if you are rambling around. I don’t mind it because I just can’t help but share.
Give us examples When you have helped Equip others in their gifts and how you went out with them?
I think as Christians people often wait to be equipped or they are waiting to be ready. Can I just put it out there? That day is never going to come, and you will probably be dead. You must step out because it’s God doing it and not you. Recently I was asked to do an evangelism training. Whenever I am asked to do anything, I always go, “Seriously God? Me? Why are you sending me? God, you have heard what comes out of my mouth, I say inappropriate things,” but God’s response is, “Yes, love, but I have asked you to go and do it.”
So I go and I did this. You know it could loosely be described as training but it was me, turning up, ranting, telling them why they needed to tell people and convincing them evangelism is just them sharing their story and heart. But what I hadn’t told them is that we were going to go out.
Now this church has a lot of exits, I was not impressed by the amount of people I saw shimmying out the doors thinking I couldn’t see them, but I could. I thought, “Look, you don’t need to worry about me, God can see you running away.” However, a brave group stayed, and we went out to the pub to do evangelism. I turned up at the pub just behind them because I had inappropriate heels on, so I walked slower and by the time I arrived, they were all standing there. Half at the bar getting a drink and the other half just standing in a circle. They turned to me and said, “Come on Rowena, show us how it’s done.”
I was like, “Are you serious? This is not a show, but fine, OK!” They made me go and speak to four men who were quite happy in their booze (which is what we call a drink). They were watching the football, swearing, shouting, cheering, and drinking and they picked these four men and I had to go and tell them about Jesus with a whole group of people watching me.
So, I went up to this man and said, “Sorry, this lot here won’t come and talk to you, so I got to do it.”
He said, “Why? Is it because we’re young?”
“No,” I said.
“Is it because we’re swearing?” he asked, and I said “Nope, it’s because I’m going to mention the word ‘Jesus’ in the pub.”
And he spoke up and said, “Oh! I’m a Christian!”
“Really?” I asked.
“Well I was christened as a baby,” he said.
I said, “Yeah, well have you accepted Jesus for yourself?”
He asked, “Well, what do you mean?”
So, I explained to him and we went on this whole conversation in which I won’t repeat because it’s probably not suitable for a podcast, but basically it was along the lines of people who have done things wrong in churches. He had lots of opinions about Catholics. One of his friends there was a Catholic. He talked all about this kind of stuff and in the end, he asked me about God and suffering.
I told him, if no one who had done anything wrong was allowed in the Kingdom of God then I wouldn’t be here, and neither would you. If God got rid of everybody who made mistakes there would be nobody left.
I asked him, “Are you perfect?”
He said, “No.”
I said, “I’m definitely not.”
He said, “Okay then, you’re telling me that Jesus wants to be my friend. Does He do deals?”
I said, “I don’t think He does, but I think if it got you to give your life to Him and He saved your soul then yeah maybe.”
I didn’t know where he was going with this and he says, “If He can make Manchester United win, I’ll go to that church you just told me about every week.”
Now I don’t know what the equivalent in America is, but Manchester United is a very over-played bunch of footballers in the UK who generally win a lot of stuff and they were losing this game. There was only one-minute left of the game and I just went, “Okay…?” At that moment, Man United scored in the dying seconds of the game. And the young man goes, “WHO IS THIS JESUS AND WHERE IS THIS CHURCH? HE MADE MAN UNITED WIN.” And the whole pub just went, “YEAHH!”
These Christians stood there with their mouth wide open and I just turn around and said, “And that’s how Jesus gets people in the Kingdom of God.”
I went home and when I got in the car, the radio man said, “You’ll never believe what’s just happened! Man United scored in the last seconds of the game!” And I’m going YEAH because of Jesus! It was awesome.
Ro, I know you are passionate about your city, too. You did an event a year ago, Joy at Kempton, with serving. Tell us about your vision and what you are doing through your church in Sunbury.
I noticed as a Christian that Christians often hide behind social justice. They live like we’re showing Jesus’ love by giving out food and that’s how they tell people about Jesus. But really, the receiver just thinks you’re a nice person. We can’t leave them guessing about Jesus. You must use words, but with fear people don’t think they can do that.
It was the work that we did leading up to Joy at Kempton Park that transformed our community. We did 6 months of intentional evangelism and it transformed us, it transformed the place around and it transformed all the churches. We are very Kingdom-focused and work with lots of different churches together. We have come together to worship and pray together, but what we learned along the way is you just got to choose to do evangelism.
We weren’t suddenly just anointed with evangelism by God because people will say they are not an evangelist, but you are called to be a whole-life disciple. God will have given you a gifting in your time for your thing and it’s not that everyone is suddenly becoming an evangelist and standing on the street corner. We must recognize that we are all gifted. People who have the gift of prayer, can heal and then say, “I didn’t heal you, Jesus did.” They say, “Who is this Jesus who healed me? I’m going to give my life to him.” This is because people are using their gifts!
Our church would be considered in a deprived area and we have this huge food bank and we kind of noticed that we were giving out food, but we weren’t telling anybody why. This motivated us to start this thing called Thursday Church and it’s a bit like a flash mob. It just kind of happens where we’re giving out food and housing advice. Then suddenly, we stop, and we share the gospel and people were giving their life to Jesus every week. We do a 5-minute gospel preach that I don’t prepare, I just ask the Spirit to come. I’m properly pushing myself out my comfort zone. I just say, “Spirit come and show me how to preach the gospel in this moment,” and He just does. We do a huge free lunch with food from all the big supermarkets that would have gone to waste. We take all their food and turn it in to a huge meal and we feed a couple hundred of people every week and then we tell them about Jesus.
A young lad on Sunday has only been in our church once before and has an interesting background and Ron gave people the chance to give their life to Jesus and he ran. He ran to the front of the church. The tears he was crying were filling up the steps and I just prayed with him and he gave his life to Jesus in front of the whole church. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Then, someone died in our church last week and that young lad helped at the funeral and in our church every day since. He said, “I never thought I would come in this building, I never thought this would be for me.” He is being transformed by Jesus love.
Our job isn’t to judge people and decide who’s worthy of Jesus’ love because I know I’m not worthy of Jesus’ love. Our job is just to tell them and so we’ve noticed that Jesus is getting bolder because we have claimed it as a church. It’s in our vision this year for our church to have a year of intentional evangelism. We are going out on the streets and we are just praying for people. The church is surprised because people love it! They aren’t telling us we’re horrible. For me, I know I have the valuable experience of knowing I wasn’t a Christian for 34 years, I know I was hungry for it, I just didn’t know what it was! Someone coming up into the street and telling you, “That hole inside you you’ve got is for God’s love” is what we’re doing.
We came home from a Christian conference and we sat in our Uber talking about the event. The man driving us was just highlighted to me in the car and I asked him, “Do you have a faith?” And He said “Yes.” I said, “Do you know Jesus?” And he said, “Yes.” I asked him, “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” And he said, “No, in my faith Jesus is a prophet.” And we went through his faith and we talked to him. We ended up singing over this man, 5 people on our staff team and we’ve never done that, it wasn’t weird. It was the Holy Spirit. We sang over him and his face just lit up, but he said that his faith had told him that Jesus is not the Son of God.
I was filled with rage and I just said to him, “Let me get this clear. Your faith has told you the one thing that’s going to save you and give you eternal life is a lie? That is not God. You need Jesus and you need to accept Him into your heart, and you will live forever with Him in salvation.” But he just kept saying, “They told me this is a lie.” And you know what? Because other people are passionate about their faith, they want prayer rooms and they get prayer rooms!
What do we do as Christians? We say, “Of course I won’t wear a cross to work. Of course I won’t tell anyone about Jesus in the National Health Science in the UK! Let’s not pray for people who are doing poorly in case we get the sack!” Other faiths are for their God and they’re not even in the right faith. Christians are and we know the truth and we just bumble along and are allowing it to just be eradicated. The enemy in the UK doesn’t need to persecute people in the way he’s doing around some of the places around the world cause we’re just lame and letting the enemy steal our land. But not in Sunbury because these people deserve more.
No one’s ever told them the gospel and how valuable and beautiful they are–that God looks at them and sees their potential. He doesn’t see their circumstances because they are not their circumstances so that is why they are pouring into the church here and to the people coming in. You are not your circumstances, you are not your feelings, you are a beautiful child of God and you have potential, but you must make a choice and that’s all were doing. Yes, 2000 people turned up to our event, but that wasn’t the most important thing. It was the things we were doing every day. It was us being a living, breathing light in the darkness like were called to be in Matthew.
What would you say to those listening who feel something Stirring them to share their faith? what could be one of the first steps?
For me I would just say, “Just do it.” Remember who you are going to stand in front of at the end of the day. When I stand in front of God, I want him to say, “Well done good and faithful servant” not have a massive list of missed opportunities because I overthought it, created a committee, talked about it endlessly, but didn’t actually do it.
I would say, “If you have been called by God to be a pastor of a church, He has trusted you with the leadership of those people and if you don’t have evangelism deep down in your soul and don’t live that out then your church isn’t going to do it either.” They need to see you do it first. They need to see you step out and get embarrassed. They need to see you step out and be bold and brave. I can tell you, I met a lot of organizations in a previous job that I had. I have never met such a servant-hearted organization as the Palau guys. You guys have a genuine heart for the lost. You don’t see that every day, it’s rare.
I would say to every church leader, “You can either book me and I’ll come to fire up your congregation or just ask the Palau guys to come in and work with them because they have this genuine, genuine, genuine heart that you don’t often see.” I don’t like fake people, I have a fakometer that I can spot a mile off.
I fell in love with your whole team and Stephanie’s now my best friend because you looked different. Christians are called to look different. If you look like the world, what is the point? God is the person you have got to stand in front of at the end of the day. So, you may be embarrassed and not feel equipped, but you don’t want to stand in front of God. I am more scared of disobedience than embarrassment.
The word God has given me for the Church is that luke-warmity is going to kill off the church if we are not careful. Remember He spits out lukewarm? Take that, and nothing else, and relight your fire because that is what He’s asking us to do. Be bold, get on with it and just crack on for Jesus. Start doing it and you will realize God has gone way ahead of you. I have not met a person yet who did not respond with joy to the gospel. Did all say “yes”? No. But did they all receive the gospel with joy? Yes!
I was at a funeral the other day and half the room gave their life to Jesus. When else are you going to get the opportunity to meet people in their pain? Your loved one may have died, but she loved Jesus and her legacy lives on now because you’re going to see her again. We are just sitting in God’s waiting room.
In our Wednesday congregation, the majority are over the age of sixty and when it’s my turn to preach, I say to them, “Are you dead yet?” They respond, “No!” and I say, “Then God still has you here to do his work on earth.”