Hundreds of Leicester's shoppers walked a red carpet last Saturday, invited by a team from the EMBA led by Chris Duffett on the first leg of his presidential 'Big-Hearted' tour to inspire churches in generous evangelism.
People of every age, colour and religion were drawn in by the prospect of feeling momentarily that they were a V.I.P. Small cards were given out at the end of the carpet encouraging them to realise that God views them as very important permanently.
Particularly special was the sight of some burka-clad Muslim women whose eyes lit up as they walked down the carpet with some style to cheers and applause from onlookers. There was a podium marked '1','2','3' and people could stand on the gold position wearing a gold medal whilst volunteers stood in silver and bronze medal positions so that someone who had never won anything in their lives could be a winner!
A church youth worker who was encouraging people to draw themselves on bunting talked to a young man who said he couldn't draw himself because he was ugly. He pulled back his long sleeves to show the fresh scars of knife cuts.
However, the youth worker was able to show him her scars where she did the same before she met Jesus and share how she now knows she is beautiful to God.
Other visitors to the city followed a maze that, if the right route was chosen, led them to a treasure chest. When the lid was lifted, a mirror revealed that they themselves were the treasure. One person looked at the mirror, realised the intended meaning and said, "I'm not treasure, I'm trash" giving us an opportunity to explain the truth about who they were in God's eyes.
Moments of honesty like this peppered the afternoon and led to a number of extended conversations.
One lady stopped to talk to one of the young people who was carrying a tray of free chocolates (gently melting in the unexpectedly hot sunshine).
She surprised her friends by admitting she was a Christian but said that she hadn't been to church for years. With the bluntness of youth, the young person responded, "Well, go to church then!"
The afternoon brought more encounters with people of other faiths than most of those taking part had ever experienced in other evangelistic initiatives. Hindus and Muslims alike seemed appreciative of being blessed in God's name, many returning the blessing in the context of their own faith.
Chris encouraged the EMBA team to invite participation from passers-by and so they were encountered on their own terms. The mixture of teaching and hearing about Chris's experience as a street evangelist and city chaplain was really helpful in inspiring those listening to put it into practice afterwards.
On Sunday morning in Derby, listeners of Chris were encouraged to be doers and went out into the streets to meet folk, give out doughnuts and pray for them if they wanted it. Having a sign saying 'Stop can I pray for you?' made it easy for people to approach others and to offer prayer.
Some bought ice lollies and handed those out telling folk they were a gift from the church; they were encouraged to be ready to explain their testimony in just six words if need be.
Others met those who were just lonely and needed someone to listen to them, all of which proves that 'the harvest is plentiful'.
Everyone returned to the church, excited after being used by God and getting alongside people, rather than staying in the pew that Sunday.
Chris was the guest at a couple of teas for the 'Young at Heart', encouraging those a bit older to still use the valuable time that they had to be creative and reach out to people.
At the other end of the spectrum he chatted with youth over pizza in Nottingham about being 'big hearted' in school and beyond.
Away from the city, Chris spoke to churches about evangelism in a rural environment in Lincolnshire. Entitled 'Sowing, Keeping and Reaping' he spoke about effective ways to come into contact with people and build up relationships.
After tea, stories of good news of how churches were already doing this were shared at the service and the Church thanked God and prayed for what was happening in the area.
God's message through Chris was clear; even if you might not be able to do everything that Chris does we all can do something, and many were challenged and excited at the prospect of being more mission-minded and generous in sharing God's big heart for people whoever and wherever we are.
As one person said 'Before I was very nervous but actually being thrown in the deep end worked! I feel I have broken though a barrier; though I'm still not in my comfort zone. Before I would have thought 'oh no not me' but I now feel I can say 'yes I can do this!'
'It was a weekend of fun, laughter and discovering more of God's Big hearted love and plan for people everywhere,' said the regional minister the Revd Dianne Tidball.
'All ages, backgrounds and traditions were inspired to share the big hearted love of God.
'There were anxious moments as we went on the streets with doughnuts, chocolates and drinks but delight as we returned with stories of blessing people with God's love.