Seeing God on the move in Bridgend
Modern-day missionary Lem Turner left a large American church to lead a much smaller congregation in the troubled Welsh town of Bridgend. And God is on the move...
A declining Elim church is on the up following the appointment of an American pastor.
Lem Turner, 34, flew over the Atlantic two years ago along with his wife Tobey and their children Malachi, Noah, Owen and Parker. They targeted the lost and needy in Bridgend, and Compassion Church is now going from strength to strength.
“Wales is truly God’s country,” Lem says. “It’s one of the most breathtaking places in the world... and I’ve travelled to some places.
“The future is bright. It has been and will continue to be a privilege to be able to lead such an amazing church called Compassion Church in Bridgend. I am truly thankful to Elim for allowing us this honour – it has been a dream fulfilled for us and will continue to be.
“My family has adjusted so well to life over here. My kids are speaking some Welsh already. They integrated into the local schools so well. The pace of life was so different, and we embraced it with open arms.
“The weather, however, has been a real challenge. We are definitely not used to the rain all the time, but have adjusted now by making sure we travel with an umbrella everywhere we go!”
History is repeating itself for Lem and Tobey – both their parents served God as missionaries in Africa. But despite his strong Christian upbringing, it took Lem a while before he became serious about his faith.
“I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, as a missionary kid, and grew up in a Christian home,” he says.
“I was one of those kids that would hear the gospel message and raise my hand each Sunday for salvation but never lived it. In my early teen years, I was rebellious. I absolutely worshipped the party scene... drugs, alcohol and women were my go-to.
“At one point, late one Friday at a club in Lusaka, Zambia, my friends and I were arrested by Zambian police with AK-47s pointed at our heads for smoking cannabis and taking ecstasy outside the club. Even though I wasn’t living for God, I believe he got us through that.
“Not long after that, I realised I needed a change of pace and wanted to get away from home. I wanted to leave home for all the wrong reasons, but something in the back of my mind told me I needed to go to boarding school in Kenya at the Rift Valley Academy. I now realise this was
God leading me in my rebellious state to where I needed to go. “The first year of boarding school was rough. However, it was there that God started to speak to me in a very tangible way. The things I had grown up being taught by my parents made more sense. It was during this time that God gave me a Scripture that confirmed my call to the mission field.
“It was 2 Corinthians 5:20: ‘Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.’
“Everything changed for me. A new plan for my life: unbelievable joy, peace, patience and self-control. I wanted nothing more than to serve God. All of a sudden the Bible began to make sense to me. It was alive and active like it talks about in Hebrews 4. This was exciting – something new – and I couldn’t wait to go to a foreign land that I did not know and tell people about Jesus!”
After secondary school, Lem moved to America for university and to prepare for the mission field. “In that time God taught me a lot to prepare me for what lay ahead,” he says. “In 2016 I came on a short-term mission trip to help with the revitalisation of Compassion Church in Bridgend, Wales.
“I came with expectations that a place like Wales didn’t need any missionaries. I was completely wrong... I saw a spiritual hunger amongst the people to know the good news of Jesus Christ.
“I came back thinking there is a need in Wales but not knowing that this was our assignment. As I prayed, God began to impress upon Tobey and I that this was indeed our assignment. We sold everything that we owned and within a three-month window, God provided for us to be here.
“Tobey’s parents were missionaries in Kenya, but have since retired. My parents are also missionaries in South Africa. And we are definitely ‘missionaries’ here. We have to raise support from America to be here in Wales.”
And things are looking up for Compassion Church, Bridgend. In early May, the church opened a Hope Centre for needy women – and the impact is spreading through the community.
Lem says, “Our church is best known for reaching out to the needs in our community. We have deeply impacted the orphaned, widowed, homeless and hurting people of Bridgend. People know that when they set foot into our building, they will experience something of a supernatural nature. They will feel and experience the presence of God like never before.”
As far as the love of pastoring a church is concerned, Lem has one thing at the top of his list. “The people will always be my most favourite thing,” he says.
“It’s not only the people in the church who are my flock. When I walk the streets of Bridgend, I consider this community to be the one God has called me to pastor. God has a special place for hurting people in his heart.”
A great example of leaders with a servant heart
Pastor Clyde Thomas, from Victory Church in nearby Cwmbran, who is a friend of the couple, says, “I’ve known Lem and Tobey for many years now.
“I visited their church in America, which is an incredibly powerful church in multiple locations, with an apostolic heart looking to send people as missionaries across the world into different church settings. Lem and Tobey are just excellent servant-hearted leaders. They have been able not only to stabilise the church but to also grow the church to about 100 people attending most Sundays now.
“There’s a great kids’ work there, and the testimony of their sense of family and how they live out their lives is echoed in the church.
“What’s exciting for us as a movement is that we’re beginning to see that in years past we sowed missionaries, but now our land needs a huge missionary impact, and the bottom line is we need to receive people as well as send people.
“The way these guys have been received is excellent and their heart is just to win the lost and create a church that is outreaching to the lost, which is guaranteed to grow!”
In churches that want change, I see a sense of hunger for God
The differences between the USA church and the British are huge, says Lem. “Church, in general, in America (especially in our locality ‘the south’), can be superficial; meaning people can be there because culture expects it of you. I found this hard to contend with because you never really knew who was truly impacted for Christ and who wasn’t.
“However, Compassion Church in America is a phenomenal place. With Hope Centres closely associated with each Compassion Church in America,
you see real-life change. People at our 33 locations of Compassion Church in America are sold out for the living, breathing and speaking Jesus in all that they do.
“The Church (in general) over here in Wales seems to be apathetic. They want to settle for what was and what is. There seems to be a sense that we are OK, that the Church seems to be decreasing and dying at such an astronomical rate.
“This is my opinion based upon what I see and hear and based on my own research. However, on the flip side of things, in the local church and in churches that want to see change, I see a sense of hunger for God.
“I see people who aren’t superficial about their Christianity but full of passion to see the gospel preached. I see people who are fed up with living life without meaning and want purpose.
“I see such a great evangelical awakening happening here that will rock the world as it once did. We must wake up though to our apathy.”
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