Tim Fielder, missionary in Bermondsey is spearheading a brand-new ministry called Body and Soul Fitness which combines personal training with discipleship of unchurched young guys.
I often talked to others about God at my gym. So I thought ‘What about a gym session and Bible study together?’ Then amazingly, the Salmon Centre here in Bermondsey, a Christian youth club, offered us this place to use as much as we want.
Protein shake and Bible
As well as the group gym session I attend on Wednesdays to make new contacts, I run between three and five hour-long personal sessions per week. We start with a 40-minute personal training session and cool down with a 20-30 minute Bible study over a protein shake, all completely free.
Most of the boys who attend the centre are between 16-19, some up to 24. Some are in college or school, some are NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and get recommended to us through a program the youth centre runs, Future & Hope Employment Project. We also make contacts in our door-to-door visits or they hear about us via word of mouth.
The one-to-ones seem to be working. There’s something about being in the gym... It’s a macho atmosphere but also completely un-macho, filled with opportunities for being humbled or affirmed, These boys open up about their lives - some have never really talked to anyone or been affirmed by anyone before. One of the first things we ask is “When did you last cry?’ Most have never cried. But we’re thinking ‘You should be crying, why aren’t you? Let’s break it down and talk about what’s going on in your life. You need to be vulnerable.’ We want to help them learn to be real men.
This works. It’s culturally relevant and popular - Get massive. Come and cry.
They call the Bible Studies the Man Talks, No one has yet refused. Most have no arguments against Christianity - they’ve just never heard about it! Popular sayings like ‘Love your neighbour and do unto others’, ‘the Lord is My Shepherd’ and the Lord’s Prayer are all foreign to them. When we tell them God’s model of monogamy, of only sleeping with one woman, they respond with - ‘That’s a really good idea!’ It’s never entered their minds. They’re so moldable but have just never been exposed to an alternative way. We have to go over and over things since their idea of normality is all over the place but we’re exposing them to the Bible so they at least have the chance to make a choice.
It’s tempting to be a dominating voice telling them what they can and can’t do. It doesn’t work. They don’t open up if they feel they have to behave for me. I’m not the police or a teacher, I’m just here. I want to be a father figure for them, a man like Jesus...constant, not getting angry when they don’t turn up. Of course, ultimately, it’s a Holy Spirit thing. But we tell them who they are, their identity in Christ if they accept him.
We gave one of them, Matt, a Manga Messiah (Japanese animation version of the Bible) He’s now got a job and is thanking us for praying for him. He’s not a Christian yet though.
One boy, Jason, used to sit at home playing games all day. No one in his family had ever worked. Three months ago, he started coming every day, got really fit and listening carefully to Bible studies. He now has a job as an apprentice and would probably say he’s a Christian, When the scheme asked him what changed his attitude, he wrote down - the Bible Studies.
Churches often have a bring people to you model - be part of our culture, listen to our music, behave in this way. Here we meet people where they are. That can be scary. How to keep it holy, what conversations can I allow in here? It’s hard, but it doesn’t feel like work...It’s awesome! This is my dream job. I’d love to open a gym north, south, east and west London!
Please pray for -
Our work on the doors and for more guys to come
For them to break down and repent
For 17-year-old Harry, the only boy who really doesn’t believe in God, though he still does the Bible studies. He’s been kicked out of school, been in foster care and has lots of problems at home.
For 22-year-old Dean, the ringleader, everyone looked up to him. But every time we prayed for him, he’d nearly break down. Recently his dad died and we’ve lost contact with him.