Last month in Cheltenham, England I decided to end a five-day course on missions at Westminster Theological Centre’s Residential by sending students out on a mission. My teaching covered diverse dimensions of mission: Biblical overview, advocacy & human rights, reading the Bible with people on the margins, healing and deliverance, liberation theology, sustainable development… For our last hour most everyone excitedly agreed to divide up into small groups to go out on the streets on a “treasure hunt.”
The notion of “treasure hunt” comes from Jesus’ parable in Luke 15 of the woman who loses a precious coin, sweeping her house clean until she finds it. Jesus’ second parable is about a shepherd who leaves the 99 in search of the one lost sheep “until he finds it.” More recently “treasure hunt” strategies have been developed in books like Kevin Dedmon, The Ultimate Treasure Hunt: A guide to supernatural evangelism through supernatural encounters and Mark Stibbe’s Prophetic Evangelism.
Everyone was nervous and excited as we numbered off so as to have five groups of three. One of the students, John seemed uncomfortable and asked to be excused from the mission. Another student, Rowena, asked if she could stay back and pray because she didn’t feel up to walking around town.
Once everyone else knew their group number & before breaking up we prayed for divine “intelligence” or clues regarding the “treasure” God had for us to find out on the streets: places, names, physical characteristics, conditions God wanted to heal, clothing color, etc. We took five minutes for each of us to write down thoughts and impressions that came to mind before breaking up into groups, praying for each other and then sharing our thoughts/impressions in our small missional groups. Our plan was to offer to pray prayers of blessing or healing for people we found who fit descriptions we received in prayer. We agreed to return 30 minutes later to debrief.
In my group Jan’s list of impressions included a man with beige overcoat holding umbrella, lower back pain. Rob had written down “black and white,” “Z,” confetti and arthritis. I envisioned a big parking lot, a bright blue car, a man with grey pants and black shoes and knee pain.
Since there were acres of big parking lots adjacent to the Church of England complex where we were meeting, we headed into the parking lot looking for blue cars and men with grey pants, black shoes, beige overcoats with umbrellas, “black & white,” & confetti. We searched through parking lot after parking lot, finding blue cars, but nobody anywhere on the streets matching any of the other clues! I was feeling some embarrassment, thinking: “Oh no, I’ve set up our groups for disappointment” and “did we hear wrong—all of us?” Praying for breakthrough, we headed back towards the church with only 5 minutes left before we needed to meet up with everyone else in the classroom.
We were heading back across the last parking lot, no treasure yet found when suddenly from a distance we spotted a man with a beige overcoat approaching a blue car. We picked up our pace. Were his pants in fact grey? (I later learned that in the UK pants=underpants & “trousers” is proper English). The closer we got the more the clues matched. Yes, his trousers were grey. Yes he had black shoes. He even was carrying an umbrella!
Then he spotted us and walked towards us, arms outstretched. It was John—the student who had opted out. John was the treasure we’d been sent to find! While his lower back and knee were pain free—his hip was hurting. We prayed for him and were all very moved and delighted by God’s seeking and finding of John, the reluctant one, one of our very own sheep, through us.
We then spotted a white Z pattern on the bottom of a young man’s shoe that faced us as he sat on a concrete planter with one leg crossed over the other. He had a black coat with a white collar, matching Rob’s “black & white.” We approached him and learned he and his girlfriend were homeless. While they didn’t have knee or back pain they were glad to receive our prayers and blessing.
We returned excitedly together with John to our classmates and heard some beautiful testimonies from other groups who had had found treasures of their own. I include John’s testimony and photos below.
Trying to run away from God
My name is John. Last week I was on a Residential Study Week in Cheltenham with Westminster Theological Centre. The pace of the teaching was extremely intense, with lectures from 9.0 am till 9.0 pm. By the end of the week I was exhausted, and longing to go home. Our final lecture commenced at 5.30 pm on the Friday, and you can imagine my dismay when our lecturer, Bob Ekblad, announced, “we’re going on a Treasure Hunt in Cheltenham at the end of this lecture.” I thought to myself, “Oh, no, we’re not.”
When it was time for the Treasure Hunt to start, I told Bob I would not be taking part. He was disappointed, as he wanted us to bless the people of Cheltenham, but he agreed to my request to stay behind in the classroom and pray for the others. At this other point, another student named Rowena said she would also stay behind and pray. The remainder of the class, including Bob himself, split into groups of three, and went to different corners of the room to pray, and to ask God for pictures of the people He wanted them to bless. Bob was in a group with my fellow students Jan and Rob.
All the students dispersed around Cheltenham, while Rowena and I stayed behind and prayed. After 5 minutes, I told Rowena, “I’m sorry, I can’t stay any longer. I’m anxious about the journey home, and I need to find the three first-year students I’m giving a lift to.” I left the building and went across the road to Trinity Church to find my passengers. I found two of them, Sarah and Tim, but Lee had gone missing. Sarah surprised me by presenting me with a beautiful bunch of spring daffodils.
As we needed to wait for Lee, I decided to use the time by walking across to the car park in Portland Street to put Sarah’s daffodils in the boot of my car, which is a blue Peugeot. I put on my beige raincoat, on top of my grey suit, and carrying my umbrella, went to my car. As I was closing the boot, I was conscious of Bob Ekblad, Jan and Rob walking across the car park towards me. Jan was laughing, and the closer they got to me, the louder Jan’s laughter became. I could hear her saying, “It’s John!! Would you believe it? It’s John!! Ha, ha, ha!!” I was puzzled as to why she should be so surprised to see me, as we had spent the whole week together in lectures.
When the three of them came face-to-face with me, I asked them, “Did you find any of the people on your list?” Jan, still laughing, said “We have now.” I looked around, but could not see anyone else nearby. I asked, “Who did you find?” She replied, “We found you!!” When they had been praying in the classroom, God had given Jan a picture of a man in a beige raincoat carrying an umbrella; and He had given Bob a picture of a man in grey “pants” (meaning trousers) getting out of a blue car.
Jan announced, “You are our treasure, John, and God has told us to pray for your back pain.” I replied, “Praise God, I don’t suffer from back pain, but I have got a sore right hip as a result of sitting on those small metal-framed chairs in the classroom for twelve hours a day.” Bob, Jan and Rob gathered round me and prayed for my hip. I felt a warm sensation immediately, and have not had any pain since.
I know that God was smiling, as He saw me trying to run away from His plans for a Treasure Hunt, when I fact I was running headlong into Him.
Servant of God and Disciple of Jesus