A Journey with God:
The Texas & Teesside Connection
The story begins in March 2000 with the visit of Sagemont Church, Houston to Teesside but there were some key events that happened prior to this that I feel shaped the course of what was to come! I, therefore, need to go back to the late 1970’s when an American, Chuck McComb, was working for Monsanto on Teesside and worshipping at Middlesbrough Baptist Church. From 1976-79 he was a faithful member of the church and when he returned to America he left behind a strong reputation of being a Godly man.
Fast forward 20 years to 1999 to where I now was at that same church, having been in charge of the youth work there for about 8 years. It had been brought to my attention that the World Baptist Youth Conference was being held in Houston and I had four young people that I thought would be just right to send to that event. They were 16/17 years old and although we managed to raise the money for their airfares and other expenses, we did not have any more money to send an adult with them. I shared this problem with the church and a dear old lady, Anne Dickie, piped up and said, “ Chuck McComb, he lives in Houston. He will look after your young people.” There was no, he might or he may, it was a clear conviction that this Godly man would look after my young people!
I rang Chuck and introduced myself to him and sure enough when I explained the situation, without any hesitation, he said, “ Send them to me, I will look after them.” Our four young people went out to Houston for two weeks, attended the conference, stayed in Chuck’s home and God just poured into them. So much so that when they returned and were given the opportunity to report back to the church at the Sunday evening service the four of then spoke for an hour and a half!
By this time in 1999 Chuck had retired, been to seminary and had a vision to be an interim pastor. If a church was without a pastor for whatever reason Chuck would offer to do interim ministry even, if necessary, taking his huge RV to provide his own accommodation and draw no salary from the church. Not long after our young people came back from Houston our pastor was called to a church down in Derby and we knew it would take about 12 months to find a new pastor. The thought came to us at the church that it would be great if Chuck could become our interim pastor in the meantime. And so I picked up the phone again and invited Chuck to become our interim pastor, a position he was delighted to accept and which he would be able to start in April 2000.
Chuck and his wife, Pat, attended Sagemont Church where John Wills was on staff. John, hearing about this offer and connection with Middlesbrough Baptist Church, thought it would be good to bring a group to Middlesbrough from Sagemont. He wrongly thought that Chuck and I were friends from way back but up to that point Chuck and I had still not met! I remember receiving the phone call from John asking if he could bring a group to Middlesbrough and I remember saying something about did he know where Middlesbrough was and the sort of town it was and that it wasn’t near London! John assured me he had taken a group to Huddersfield previously and so that was good enough for me and so I said, ‘Yes.” I then asked how many was he planning to bring and he said, “ 37 .” I thought that was a question I should have asked before saying yes and then he said he wanted the group to be in the schools! We had now gone from the very difficult to the nigh on impossible – the size of the group was way bigger than my church could handle and to get into the schools – what had I said yes to!?
The first thought was to split the group up and share them around other local churches that I knew. I rang 4 of them and 3 came back quickly and said yes to hosting the group and so an unmanageable group of 37 became a somewhat easier to manage 4 groups of 9/10. Then for the group coming to my church came the difficult task of getting them into 5 schools for the week, a different school each day – John had said after all that he wanted to be in the schools, plural! I knew I could get him into my school for a day but that left 4 schools to fill the week. With much prayer and trepidation I started ringing schools in the area thinking how do I sell this. I can only describe what happened next as ‘God goes before us’ because barely were the words out of my mouth but the schools were saying that they would love to have them in for a day!
John and his group arrived in March 2000, a month before Chuck was to begin his interim ministry, and God truly blessed that week. The churches who hosted, the schools they went into, the team that John brought, which also included for a short time Voddie Baucham, were all touched by God. Such was the experience that at the end of the week John said to me that he wanted to come back in June, with a smaller group, to see whether this was of God or of him just enjoying a great week. John came back in the June with a group of 12 , shared between my church and Billingham Baptist, and at the end of that week John declared that it had been better than the first week. He now wanted to make this a yearly trip and open it up to other churches in America.
What I had said yes to, thinking we could do this once and it would be interesting was now transforming itself into something else altogether but when you say yes to God and take that first step, be prepared for an amazing journey that God is about to take you on!
Following his own two visits in March and June 2000 John Wills then brought a group of 10 youth pastors to Teesside in the December of that year to see first hand the splendours of the area and the opportunities for ministry! By now God was really at work and through His Spirit 9 0f the 10 said they would bring a group in 2001 and the other, because he had already fixed up a trip for 2001 said he would bring a group in 2002. A 100% positive response – you see what I mean about God getting down to work.
Back in those early exciting years I handled the arrangements for the groups coming in on the mission trips. Looking back I can see God opening doors of opportunity which meant that I could cope – more churches were coming on board, schools were opening up and homes were welcoming – a real work of God. Things were developing quickly and in 2002 we had 3 gap year workers, Sarah Levine at South Bank Baptist, Sarah Kabell at Guisborough Fellowship and Lori Stoneman at my own church – all females – commiting themselves to serve God on Teesside.
Alongside this we were also developing AIPM (American Interim Pastorate Ministry), founded by Chuck McComb, where pastors and church leaders would come from America and pastor at some of our churches who were without a minister committing themselves to six month stints. Some churches, Thornaby Baptist in particular, had a series of interim pastors one following another and benefitted hugely from this provision.
By 2003 things were getting pretty hectic as more and more groups were coming – I remember we even placed a group at Beacon Lough, Gateshead which was well out of our area. Fortunately God was again at work and had brought Jon Burns back to Teesside and Jon had a vision to establish a Youth for Christ on Teesside. We met and saw the mutual benefits and Jon, with his usual vigour and energy, soon had Tees Valley Youth for Christ up and running and I had the privilege of being its first chair person with Jon as my director.
At this stage there were a couple of decisions to be made. The Northern Baptist association were interested in partnering with the American teams that were coming in and so I met with two of their representatives. Their area stretched from Berwick-on-Tweed (Scottish border) down the east coast to Hull and they had one person dedicated to youth work in that entire area! The fledgling Tees Valley Youth for Christ were going to concentrate just on Teesside and already had a number of Youth Workers up and running. A no brainer really and so an unofficial partnership sprang up between Tees Valley Youth for Christ and the American mission teams with me being involved on both sides. AIPM, and rightly so, did partner up with the Northern Baptist Association and that worked extremely well placing American pastors in churches across the north east of England.
Tees Valley Youth for Christ benefitted enormously from the work done by the American teams and fledgling Volunteer Youth Workers in that schools were open to Christian ministry and Jon reckoned it had saved him a year in his planning. Tees Valley Youth for Christ was then one of the fastest growing Youth for Christ’s in the country and went on to become the third largest in the country. Jon was a driving force in seeking to bring the Gospel relevantly to the area and in 2006 launched NE1 , a huge one-off event involving 150 American young people alongside 500 British young people housed in a tented village just below the Penshaw Monument in County Durham. Each day hundreds of buses would head out to help to various communities with social action programmes bringing the love of God in practical ways. Each night they would return and the worship meetings each evening were something to behold!
In 2008 Jon moved on to found More than Gold, Lion’s Raw and concentrate on being pastor at the Vine Church, Yarm and was replaced at Tees Valley Youth for Christ by Andy Robinson who became the new director. By now Tees Valley Youth for Christ were handling a lot of the paperwork involved in bringing Volunteer Youth Workers across with Fiona Toop being instrumental in that side of things but as yet there was no official organisation that represented the American Volunteer Youth Worker either on this side of the pond or back in the States.
God again was at work and had stirred in the heart of an American that he should uproot his family and move to Teesside.
In the Autumn of 2010, Mike and Kookie Taylor and their family began to pray about the possibility of moving to the UK to continue to develop the blossoming partnership between Texas and Teesside. Mike first visited The Tees Valley on a vision trip with John Wills in 2005. On that first trip God vividly stirred Mike’s heart for the young people of Teesside. He recalls writing in his journal that he felt like God was calling him to spend significant time in ministry in The Tees Valley. Since that first trip, he was a part of mission teams or sent mission teams each year to invest in the ministry of Tees Valley Youth for Christ. On January 2, 2011, after much prayer with his family over the Christmas break, Mike resigned his position at church and began the process of relocating to the United Kingdom. He relaunched UK-USA Ministries with a new Board of Directors and immediately began to raise support and awareness for ministry in UK. In the spring of 2011 Tees Valley Youth for Christ reached out to him about the opportunity to become the Centre Director for Tees Valley Youth for Christ. In June he accepted the post and by September of 2011 he along with his wife Kookie, and three of his children Thad, Hannah and Hayden, moved across the pond to lead the ministry of Tees Valley Youth for Christ. Shelby, his eldest daughter, stayed in the USA to continue her education at the University of Arkansas.