By Laura McKillip Wood
Leslie sat in the dorm lobby on her Christian college campus thinking about the last question on the get-to-know-you survey she and the rest of the girls in her dorm were completing. Her sophomore year had just begun, and Leslie had been considering where God was leading her. The last question asked, “What is something you have dreamed of doing?” She scribbled her answer in the blank: “missions in Europe.”
Leslie Hall had been learning about the decline of Christianity in Europe, and she wondered what God might be doing there. “I guess God paid attention to what I wrote,” she says. “I spent the next year in England on a study abroad/internship experience in youth ministry.” During that year abroad, Leslie experienced God in ways she had not before. She left with a passion to return and to see the kingdom of God flourish in England.
Steps of Faith
Leslie grew up in Ohio and attended a Catholic school. Her family identified as Christian, but the gospel had little impact on their daily lives. Leslie learned about Jesus and faith in school; the dedicated people she met there sparked an interest in Christianity. In middle school, Leslie began attending youth group with a friend, and eventually she made a decision to follow Christ. She did not know how that decision would change her life.
“Once I was in youth group, following Jesus was really the only thing I cared about.” She hung out with her friends from church and began leading small groups. “Serving and loving the church became the call that God began to plant in my heart,” she says. That naturally led her to attend a Christian college and prepare for ministry.
A few years after graduation, Leslie returned to England, to the town just outside of Oxford where she had worked during her internship. She first served in a church-owned coffee shop designed to reach out to the community. In 2019, she moved to the London area, where she now lives. She works with Greater Europe Mission at a church called St. Albans Fulham.
“I am passionate about seeing people, especially my generation, grow as resilient apprentices of Jesus,” Leslie says. “My ministry is to see the church grow both deep and wide—to see more people come to know freedom in Christ and for followers of Jesus to be deeply shaped by doing what Jesus did, becoming like Jesus, and being with Jesus.” To that end, she structures her ministry practices around spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation.
Leslie uses the term apprentice in her work because, “within the post-Christian context of the UK, apprenticeship is a common experience that many have in a working environment.” The term apprentice is easy to relate to and understand, and it accurately describes the relationship between Jesus and his followers.
Faith in COVID-19 Times
Leslie’s community experienced the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in deep ways. COVID-19 hit London hard, and the community took the lockdown seriously. Most people did not leave their homes for weeks, except to get food and essentials. Many people in the community where Leslie serves were sick with the virus. One person on her street died.
“Our church community went into a wartime mentality to do everything we could to ensure we could serve and care for people in our community.” Leslie’s church moved services online, and they also collected donations of iPads and mobile devices to make sure everyone could stay connected. They delivered copies of sermon notes to those with no internet access.
Many doctors, nurses, and other health care workers live in her community, so the church and Greater Europe Mission mobilized a twice-daily prayer initiative for health care workers and all the people of Europe. Additionally, London also participated in protests against systemic racism that coincided with the pandemic. St. Albans has begun working toward long-term goals to transform the community and heal the wounds caused by systemic racism.
Faith in a Post-Christian Context
Many people in England consider themselves to be Christian while participating in a form of cultural Christianity, meaning they do not incorporate biblical teaching into their daily lives. They are not transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. They have a level of knowledge of Christian teachings but little to no commitment to a personal relationship with Jesus.
Christianity flourished in England for generations, but no more, though occasionally people from former British colonies come to England and bring faith with them . . . back to a people who have let it fall to the wayside.
“Post-Christianity is a cultural context that desires the kingdom without the King,” Leslie says (quoting author Mark Sayers). The culture’s emphasis on justice, equality, and social activism has its roots in Christianity, but attempts to achieve those goals without involving Jesus in the work.
Additionally, people who call themselves Christians have hurt many people in the past and have created unjust systems that have continued the pain. This created a reluctance to trust Christians and a desire to maintain the good parts of Christianity without adopting the submission to God. Leslie’s work in this post-Christian society involves bringing the healing and light of Jesus to people who have not experienced it in their interactions with Christianity in the past.
One of the most rewarding aspects of Leslie’s work comes via encouragement from her small group of friends. Even though they come from different faith backgrounds and don’t yet follow Jesus, they are always open to asking hard questions about faith. “We have open and honest conversations” she says; Leslie values these talks.
When COVID-19 hit and the lockdowns began, Leslie began sharing about the importance of creating new rhythms of life centered around spiritual disciplines. She wrote about these on her social media, and that opened doors for discussions about navigating difficult life circumstances, such as the pandemic. It even prompted one of her friends to read the book of Matthew out of a desire to know more about Jesus’ teachings and how faith can affect our everyday lives.
“I’m constantly being challenged and encouraged that God is doing transformative work in God’s perfect pace and timing of things,” Leslie says, “I don’t need to worry myself with thoughts of ‘Am I doing enough in ministry?’ or ‘Why am I not seeing God move in people’s lives in the ways that I long to see?’ It’s a reminder that I am not the one who transforms the heart; [rather,] it is the Spirit of God moving and making all things new in the world. I am only called to be a witness to what God is doing.”
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now lives in Papillion, Nebraska. She serves as an on-call chaplain at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.