THE FATHER’S LOVE LETTER was intended to be an integral part of LOVE SOUTHEND right from the start. In this specially-extended article, we look at how it came about.
It wasn’t easy…the original vision was for the Father’s Love Letter to go to every home in the Borough – some 75,000 properties. It was to take the form of a Valentines’ Card: from God. At first, the plan was for it to be delivered, in it’s entirety, by the Post Office. When they considered the logistics involved in delivering such volumes of mail in one go, they suddenly informed us that they would need three month’s extra notice to manage the operation.
With the churches adamant that the original vision be adhered to, and that the Letter go out around 14th February, we were now faced with a situation where we would have to deliver them all ourselves, by hand…
However, cometh the hour, cometh the men and women. The decision was taken that the Letters would still go out during a two-week period, around Monday 14th February. It meant that an urgent appeal would be made, not just for postmen and women, but for volunteers to fold and pack the cards into their pre-printed envelopes, along with the freepost response-postcards that were also enclosed. Not only that, but appeals went out for prayer when, a few days before they were due to be packed, we had no comfirmation from the printers that they would even be ready in time! It all looked a bit Keiron Dyer…but perhaps we reckoned without the help of God and the commitment of a relatively small, but highly-motivated team of His people.
Jo Martin takes up the story of the great envelope-stuffing party, that was the evening of Friday 4th February…
ON THE CARDS
It was an outstanding display of togetherness – over 200 people crowded round long tables, stuffing envelopes (not the most exciting job in the world!) with card after card – and all the while smiling, chatting and singing worship songs together.
We began at 6.30pm with worship music playing and 75,000 empty envelopes lying in dauntingly full boxes on every table. I think it’s fair to say we were all overwhelmed by the scale of the task ahead of us, but we didn’t lose heart – indeed, it was the sense of camaraderie and commitment that kept us going. After an opening prayer time, we knuckled down until 9pm, when we stopped to sing a worship song; then we pressed on, buried in a task that rather brought to mind the feeding of the 5,000 – but in reverse, starting with a massive amount of stuff and gradually working down to nothing. Of course, I’m not claiming that we engineered a miracle, but God’s presence was manifest among us and the evening was not only exhausting, but extremely uplifting.
Not everyone could come for the whole evening. Some came for an hour or two, or arrived a little later and a number of people came along after the Sound Nation event finished in Rayleigh. The core team were there from beginning to end, including organiser David Coleman whose efforts in arranging and publicising the evening, arranging refreshments and overseeing the biggest project yet undertaken by LOVE SOUTHEND were truly amazing. We were all glad to have been part of God’s work in Southend in such a manifest way!
Once the envelopes were stuffed and every card ready to go, the next phase of the operation kicked in – delivery.
Some people went on foot and others by car, and bit by bit, the cards were delivered over a period of a fortnight and at a miniscule fraction of the cost of sending the cards by post.
One lady, in the middle of a period of illness, was still determined and got out to cover her road in Southchurch; one gentleman, well into his seventies delivered between 2-3,000 Letters over several streets; a couple delivered to the equivalent of one entire Council Ward, such were the number streets that they were able to do.
LOVE SOUTHEND would like to thank them, and everyone else who helped, in ANY way, with the Father’s Love Letter – your selflessness and commitment helped realise a beautiful Valentine’s dream!
A LOVE SUPREME
So what was the fruit of their labours?
Only the other day, I had an e-mail from a colleague at Customs and Excise – a Muslim lady explaining, “A Catholic friend told me of a card connected with ‘Love Southend’. She said she was very moved by it and told me to contact John Cheek. I’m not sure what she means, but please would it be possible to have one of these cards?” Eventually, John Simmons – another colleague and a LOVE SOUTHEND organiser – delivered the card to her, in work.
It’s a small anecdote, arising from the remarkable story of the Father’s Love Letter in Southend. Other stories quoted here, are those relayed to me which I report as best I remeber them; please forgive me if I repeat them incorrectly! Either way, I’ll attempt to record them in a manner that respects the feelings of those involved in them, some of whom remain anonymous.
We begin with Wendy Thomas of Belle Vue Baptist Church, who felt called by God to bring the Letter to Southend. The Letter is entirely made up of words from God, quoted directly from the Bible. Wendy felt that it should go to every household in the Borough, around Valentines Day. During the two weeks either side, it did. Little did she know that, by the end, it’s impact would be such that it would even be read-out in full, at a funeral. The Christian Enquiry Agency, who handled the immediate requests from the public for more Christian literature on our behalf, have since reported that the replies from Southend residents have been the biggest and best response that they’ve ever had, to a Christian literature campaign.
Sam Curtis also works at Customs, and was in the team of volunteers from Kings Church, Westcliff who, under the LOVE SOUTHEND banner, were featured in the Evening Echo planting shrubs in an attempt to improve the environment around Cavendish Gardens. His colleagues saw the article and, he told me, asked him more about this ‘Love Southend’. Seems they knew a bit about it, already…perhaps because of the Father’s Love Letter that they’d received.
Maybe it was something to do with the item that John Simmons placed on the ‘IntraNet’, an internal website for Customs staff. John, part of the leadership team at the newly-renamed Westcliff Free Church, asked the 3,000+ staff if they’d read their copy. There was some negative feedback as a result, but a lady contacted him to say that she hadn’t received the card and wondered if God was punishing her for living on the Kursaal. So John delivered another copy of it, to her, at work.
Wendy Thomas herself, was to get chatting to a cab-driver and asked him if he’d received it yet. He had, and he’d sent sent off the response card for more information – although he doesn’t believe, he was intrigued and felt that he had to find out more, at least. He’s one of over 300 people who’ve now responded to the Father’s Love Letter. All have been sent further literature and some have now asked to be put in contact with a local Christian. At the time of writing, one or two letters a day are still being received at the LOVE SOUTHEND office, requesting this sort of further contact.
Gill Johnson of The Well church, is another LOVE SOUTHEND organiser. Approached by a neighbour with the card in her hand, she asked Gill, “…are you anything to do with this?” Gill said she was, and the neighbour informed her that she couldn’t believe in such a ‘loving god’, after He’d taken her husband away – in fact, she was thinking of going to a spiritualist ‘church’, to contact her late husband. The two of them looked at the Letter together and Gill was able to talk at length about God. Eventually, the neighbour changed her mind about the spiritualists and asked if she could start coming to church with Gill.
But perhaps the most remarkable story is that of an elderly lady, living in Rev. Stuart Kimber’s Westcliff parish. Her husband had recently died and Stuart was contacted, to arrange the funeral. He duly went to see her and she explained that her husband had been growing increasingly weaker, at home. He’d reached the point where, sadly, he could barely speak and was confused, mentally. The Father’s Love Letterwas delivered to them, and she was so impressed by it, she decided to read it to her husband who was physically unable to do so, by himself.
By the time she’d finished reading it to him, his face was saying what his mouth could not – it was a huge, peaceful smile.
The next day, he died.