Amy Orr-Ewing: Evangelism and Apologetics to Skeptics, Students, and the Taliban
An interview with Amy Orr-Ewing on Premier Christian Radio.
Dr. Amy Orr-Ewing spoke with Justin Brierley on Premier Christian Radio about how her family converted to Christ, doing evangelism from a young age, confronting liberal Bible scholars at Oxford University, taking Bibles to the Taliban, and why her husband is called Frog. Listen to Amy's interview on The Profile here, or read a transcript of the discussion below.
Justin: Hello, and welcome along to the show. I'm Justin Brierley, theology and apologetics editor for Premier, hosting this week's edition of the Profile, where every week we sit down with a Christian to talk about their faith, life, and ministry. Don't forget the show is available by podcast and brought to you by partnership with Premier Christianity Magazine, your monthly source of news, views, reviews, interviews, and cultural commentary. Do get a free sample copy of the mag over at PremierChristianity.com/freesample.
Justin: Well today on the Profile, I'm joined by author, evangelist, and speaker Amy Orr-Ewing. Amy is senior vice president with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and co-director of the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics. She leads a team of pioneering apologist evangelists, and speaks around the world on how the Christian faith answers the deepest questions of life. She's also the co-founder of REBOOT. It's a youth apologetics initiative aimed at helping young people think more deeply about faith, and it runs all over the world now, and it's coming to London very soon. In fact, Saturday the 21st of September. Amy's also married to someone called Frog and has three boys, so we can find out all about her life, faith, and ministry, what it's like being a mum and doing all this amazing evangelistic and apologetics work around the world.
Justin: Amy, welcome on to the Profile.
Amy: Thank you so much for having me. It's great to be on.
Justin: It's really great to have you on, Amy. I've been a long time fan, as you know, and you've spoken at my Unbelievable conference and been on the Unbelievable show a couple of years.
Amy: That's right. Well, likewise, love what you guys are doing with that.
Justin: Bless you. Well it's nice to be able to get the chance to sit down for a proper long old conversation about your own background, though, which I've never really had the chance to do properly. The first question to clear up is how did you get married to a man who named apparently after an amphibious creature? There's not many people with the name Frog, so do you want to tell us exactly what that's about?
Amy: That is true. We met at university. Actually, Frog is just his nickname, but it sort of stuck when he was really small. His real name is Francis, but everyone knows him as Frog. Yeah.
Justin: Well, that explains it. I was going to say, the only other person I could think of with that sort of name was Bear Grills. Thanks for clearing that one up. We'll get to the story about you and Frog a bit later on. Just in the first half of today's program, we tend to start going back to the beginning. So tell me about life growing up, because I don't think your parents were actually Christians when you came into the world, were they?
Amy: That's right. My mum and dad were both unbelievers. My dad was an academic, professional academic, and my grandfather had been a really elite scientist, very, very committed atheist, so much so that he forbade his kids from reading the Bible or talking about God. My mum had a sort of I guess fairly traditional middle class upbringing, went to boarding school, went to school chapel a lot, and so knew stuff about religion but was completely and utterly uninterested, and would probably have described herself as a strong agnostic, if not an atheist. My dad moved to Australia, well, my parents moved to Australia with my dad's job, teaching at the university of New South Wales, and it was there that a colleague took him to an event at lunchtime that was just happening on campus, and he took his lunch with him and heard the speaker giving a talk about the resurrection of Jesus, and my dad just thought, "Oh my word, this is absolutely bizarre, hearing someone talk about religion and truth in the same sentence. Those two things definitely, definitely don't go together."
Amy: My sister and I had been born out there in Australia and my parents had a really nice life. They had sort of everything you would want lifestyle wise. But I think my dad would say he was really sort of searching for, is there more? Is this it? Is there anything more that brings meaning to life? But that's about the extent of it. And then one day my mum had gone up to bed, my sister and I were asleep, and my dad was marking some exam papers in his study at home, and he had a vision of Jesus and his whole life flashed before him, and he experienced what we might describe as conviction of sin. He sort of saw the reaction on the face of Jesus to the things that he had thought and said and done, and then he saw a vision of Christ on the cross and he just knew intuitively that Jesus was offering to forgive him. So he knelt down and thought, "I need to say something but I have no religious language. I have no language for prayer," so just words popped out of his mouth and he said, "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief."
Justin: I've heard that before somewhere, I'm sure.
Amy: Well, he hadn't is the funny thing. So a few weeks later when he bought himself a Bible and read that in Mark's gospel, he was quite astonished. But yeah, he went and he woke my mum up and said, "Oh Jane, the most amazing thing's happened. I've become a Christian." And she was less than excited about this. And he sort of began to think, "How can I meet other people who are also Christians? Maybe church." And he said to my mum, "I don't want to go on my own. You've got to come with me." And she thought to herself, "I know how to cure my husband of Christianity," so she said, "I'll only come to church with you if it's Anglican," thinking once he's experienced that he'll be cured for life. He'll be fine. So they show up, and of course, this is Australia, it's Sydney diesis, so it's a Bible believing evangelical church, and they show up and it's a sort of 45 minute sermon on the book of Romans chapter one. My dad is weeping his way through it and my mum is absolutely furious, absolutely hating it. So about six months later she became a Christian as well and really the whole trajectory of our lives as a family was just totally transformed by Jesus.
Amy: So all of their priorities changed, their relationship even with each other was just wonderfully transformed, and as children we definitely saw the reality of Christ in them. And they were in their first year, he had already established a lot of patterns of life, but just brought Christ actually into the center for our new life, reading the Bible together and praying, and my dad went on to become an evangelist and also got ordained. We moved back to the UK and he became a church planter in the Church of England. So I grew up in a context in which faith was not cultural and it was certainly not nominal, and it was very, very dynamically evangelistic, undeniably. People became Christians in our home probably most weeks. It was just part of what it meant to follow Jesus, is other people were finding him. So in my first or second year of primary school, I was sort of sharing, in a very simple way, sharing the gospel and led my friend to become a Christian, and then my mum led her mum to Christ, and they joined the church. So I didn't realize that that was unusual. We just grew up doing evangelism and experiencing evangelism and seeing the reality of Jesus. Yeah.
Justin: So do you feel, then, in that sense, the seed for being an evangelist I guess was planted at an early age? Is that something you always saw in yourself continuing to do...?
Amy: Yeah, I think so. As I say, they didn't really know anything different. You know, like read the Bible and let's do it. Let's go for it. But looking back, I can really see that that probably was unusual, but also I didn't really at that point have fear about doing it. Obviously as you get older and experience rejection then there are more challenges and obstacles to evangelism. But yes, I mean, I was just let's say thankful for my parents for that. And then when I was 11 we lived in Birmingham, we lived in the inner city of Birmingham, and Josh McDowell came to Birmingham, I think hosted by what was then Campus Crusade. It's now Agape. And my mum and dad got to know him. He actually came and spoke in our church as well. And I just sat through sort of day long seminar of the essence of the Bible aged 11 and was completely and utterly patient with it. I just found it so fascinating and inspiring. And then as a teenager I got involved with King's Kids, which was this sort of teenager's arm, I guess, with Youth With A Mission, and we went around Europe and other places other summer for three or four weeks at a time doing evangelism really, and they gave me opportunities to preach.
Amy: At age 15 I preached to 2000 people in Wenceslas Square in Prague. And it was just after the wall had come down and there was just such an incredible openness to the gospel. When you're in it, you don't think it's strange, but I'm so thankful to those leaders who were like, give this female 15-year-old the mic and get her to preach.
Justin: I mean obviously it's kind of been in your bones almost since day one then, the evangelism side, but also in a way bringing that together with the intellectual aspect of this and bringing it to the skeptics as you have been doing for so much of your life now, Amy. That in a sense was part of the story. As you grew up you were obviously very academically gifted and ended up going to Oxford University as an undergraduate to study theology. Tell me about that, because I can imagine that held its fair share of challenges as well. People often say if you want to lose your faith quickly, go and study theology at secular university. So what was that like for you, going into that kind of atmosphere?
Amy: Oh, that's fascinating. In fact, at my interview for Oxford, I actually had multiple interviews, but at one of the interviews, I still remember so clearly one of them said, "Well, you're obviously an evangelical Bible believing kind of Christian. How are you going to cope psychologically and emotionally if you come to Oxford and all your naïve little ideas about the Bible come crashing down?" That was the question. I mean, really, really patronizing. I sort of actually very, very naively but with full faith in that moment just said, "Well, I'm not interested in something that isn't true, and Jesus said I'm the way, the truth, and the life. So if it turns out not to be true, I don't think that will be psychologically damaging. I'm only interested in intellectual honesty. But I wouldn't be so sure if I were you that that's what I would discover if I came here." I said something like that. And moved on to the next thing. I definitely had confrontations up to my first year exams and a very, very senior professor of Old Testament really, really well known, extreme, liberal theologian, he'd been teaching me, tutoring me one-to-one, sort of took me inside and said, "Look, I think you've got real potential. I think you could be a professional academic, but you're going to have to drop your evangelical views about the Bible if you want to do well."
Justin: It sounds remarkably like a story John Lennox tells about when he was a young undergraduate.
Amy: Yeah, obviously him as a scientist.
Justin: And being taken aside, yeah.
Amy: And I really remember we had this network of us who were studying theology, who were part of the Christian union. There's quite a group of us, and we really prayed together. I remember sort of crying and praying through that and making the decision that I wasn't going to compromise what I believe to be true in order to try and be successful. And ironically in my kind of final exams, in the end, the highest grade I got was in that Old Testament paper. So you know how people often say God honors those who honor Him, I just really did find that to be the case.
Justin: I came up to Oxford about a year after you left I think, and I have to say you had made your impact, because there was the legend of Amy Orr-Ewing and her finals.
Amy: No, there wasn't.
Justin: There was. Seriously, I spoke to people who said, "Oh yeah, there was this undergraduate, Amy Orr-Ewing, and she got first, but it was really contested." So do you want to tell us the story about what happened?
Amy: Oh gosh, yeah. So basically Frog and I were getting married after we'd met at university and we'd been doing all these missions trips and stuff. At Oxford you take your finals and you do, as you know, Justin, you do kind of two weeks of very, very intense exams, three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon, and that goes on for two weeks and then it's done, and you have to wait for your degree results. So the result comes out about three weeks later. Basically that was going to be the day before our wedding. So three days before our wedding my tutor rings me and says, "Listen Amy, the thing is it's quite unusual and I really, really don't want you to worry, but we're calling you for a viva," and that means a sort of oral exam where you have to defend what you've written. And usually that only happens for a doctorate, for a PhD.
Justin: Yeah, I was going to say, I only have ever heard of that happening for a PhD or a Master's or something.
Amy: I don't think it had happened for sort of 25 years before it happened to me. So anyway, he knew the inside track, which he told me later, but I didn't know this, so three days after that phone call I had to go in Sub fusc, so in all the you know the robe and the white shirt and all that, go to exam schools and sit in this chair surrounded by 14 doms of the university and already answer any question they wanted to ask me. It was unbelievably intimidating. Anyway it turned out that what I had written in my four gospels paper had really offended one of the very liberal New Testament scholars, so basically he'd given me zero for my essays in that paper, and because I was quite good at New Testament Greek I'd got nearly a hundred percent in that, but zero in the essay, and the external moderators noticed this anomaly and said, "This doesn't look fair on this student." I actually was still going to get a first, but I would always have had a very low grade in New Testament, so they insisted on it being remarked. He refused to put the grade up, and so they had to call everyone back to do this viva, and I was basically grilled for I think nearly an hour verbally on Jesus and the New Testament, and it was absolutely incredible.
Amy: I did end up getting my first as you say, but it was such a preparation for what I'd gone on to do, and you know in the Gospels where Jesus promises that when we're called before councils, and we're called before kings or whoever, that he will give, the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say. I definitely experienced that. But it was quite stressful.
Justin: I can imagine. I mean, goodness me, exams and just before your wedding.
Amy: Yeah, the day before my wedding. Can you imagine? It was on a Friday. Most people were, I don't know, getting their nails done or something.
Justin: But I tell you, it makes for a great story on this program however many years later, Amy. Anyway, this is all so fun and I love it. Time's whipping by and I really need to get on to sort of other things, but there's lots of other exciting adventures. Can you briefly tell us about going to Afghanistan with Frog? So you met Frog at university and then you were off on a mission trip.
Amy: Yeah, so at that time there was a real sort of awakening of the Holy Spirit amongst students in the 1990s, so sort of 94 to 97 I was at Oxford and we were having these prayer meetings for the world, early morning, 7 a.m., people just gathering in colleges crying out to God to move the nations of the world and send a missionary movement again. And out of that, a small group of us, so Frog, myself, and another guy, really received this call to go to Afghanistan. The Taliban had just taken power. They had about three quarters of the country and it was humanly impossible to get a Visa. We actually got Visas as journalists representing the Oxford University newspaper. The plan initially was we were going to go pray and intercede for the nation and just see if we could get interviews with people there and then try deep conversation evangelism kind of thing. But the night before we left, I had a dream, and in that dream I saw us giving Bibles to high ranking members of the Taliban.
Amy: And so on the morning of our flight, and we had to fly to a neighboring country and then get a train and cross the border on foot, the morning of our flight we went to Scripture Gift Mission and filled our rucksacks with 14 New Testaments and four copies of the Bible, and a brief version of the story is that we did actually get invited into the military headquarters at the Taliban. We met the education minister, foreign minister, and the religion minister as well as others. And we spent about two and a half hours interviewing them about their belief system and what their theological approach to Islam and longing to God, and then began to share with them something about Jesus. And then got these Bibles out and they're all sort of got their Kalashnikovs there, heavily, heavily armed, and we didn't know whether this would be the end, but we handed over these Bibles saying that this is the most precious gift we can give you.
Amy: And the thing I think I will never forget is the keeper of the holy Qur'an, the religion minister, saw the Taliban, the same one that John Simpson interviewed for his groundbreaking BBC documentary about the Taliban, he took the Bible and he said, "I know exactly what this book is. I have been praying to Allah for years that I can read this book. Thank you for bringing this in answer to my prayers. I'm going to read it every day until I've finished it." And after that, everybody else, the education minister, others, just relaxed and felt I think a liberty to take the Bible and read it. And for us, I think that has really shaped, in a way, my life, but the way that I see people who are outside the faith, who are perhaps really hostile to Jesus, that there is no one who is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit, and we write people off way before God writes them off. And it's Him that draws people to Jesus and He's the God of the impossible. He can do it. And sometimes in the work that I do now, using apologetics, we're trying to reach skeptical people, we're on campuses, in banks, in universities, in parliaments, and it can feel like people are so far away from Jesus, but there is no one beyond his reach.
Amy: So that was a very formative experience.
There is no one who is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit; we write people off way before God writes them off.
Justin: An extraordinary experience as well. I don't know. That probably trumps the Oxford viva. I was going to ask though, just cheekily, what's more scary: being surrounded by 14 Oxford doms or armed Taliban in that situation?
Amy: Well funny you should say that, Justin, because I have to say, we'd been to meet the Taliban the Easter before, so in our second year, so going in to those doms did not feel as frightening as it sounds, cause in comparison to the Taliban, we nearly didn't get out. We were rescued in an amazing way. There's a whole \nother story that's part of it too. So again, I think Simon Guilbeau talks about this too, just having that sense that our steps are ordained by the Lord and we live each day as a gift from him. And I think that experience taught me that, to kind of trust God with each day. And sometimes when he takes you through quite dramatic things like that, it's an encouragement in the more mundane or daily fear, is to trust God.
Justin: We'll talk about RZIM and your role there and REBOOT. shortly after a quick break. Before we get to that break, just a little bit more on Frog. He obviously went on to become ordained in the Church of England. I know that was a very specific and strong calling that you both felt for him to do that not long after you got together and were married. Where you are now, where your church is is quite an interesting situation, isn't it, Latimer Minster, it's a church plant effectively. Do you want to just describe what it is and what the ministry is like there?
Amy: Yeah, so yeah, Frog is an amazing Christian leader and it's just such a fun adventure sharing life and ministry with him. So we were in the inner city in Peckham for seven years and saw God do amazing things there, and at the end of that, towards the end of our time there we were really asking the Lord, "What are you calling us to do?" And we just felt very strongly, both of us, that he was calling us to plant a minster church, and minster is what the Celts, the sort of model that they used to evangelize pagan Britain in the sort of 5–700s. Really it meant kind of establishing a base of strength, of theology, of church life, but also industry and hospitality, as a kind of apostolic sending place from which people would go plant churches and other minsters. And so as we were praying, Frog really very strongly, well we both had independently a vision of a wooden barn church surrounded by fruit trees. The Celts built that church in wood, interestingly. And then Frog drew a map and just said, "I think God's calling us to plant our minster here," and just put an X on this map.
Amy: So obviously we prayed about that, and eventually, a year and a half or so later, we moved really in faith to that area near where the X had been on the spot, and we started with eight people. And then the farm that we're now on came up for sale, and if you lay Frog's map over the ordinance survey map, the X is exactly where our farm is. The tent that we meet in meets on the threshing floor. We'd have this scripture from the end of Samuel where David buys Arena's threshing floor and it actually becomes the site for the temple, place of God's presence and truth on the outskirts of the city, et cetera. So really it was lots of prophetic words leading us to now. The minster meets, Latimer Minster we call it if you want to look it up, we're in Buckinghamshire just on the outskirts of London and we have quite a few hundred people now. We have a flourishing farm. It just so happens that the farm is a fruit farm so it has plums and cherries that were the fruit that sort of fed London in the 17 and 1800s.
Amy: And so the main sort of focus is being built in the people of the church, but we're also restoring this very broken down site into a place of beauty and we have 70 acres. There's a sort of environmental ecological element to it too. And lots and lots of people have come and have met Jesus there, and for those who perhaps are put off a bit by institutional church or the sort of hierarchical approach or a very formal or buildings or whatever, it just really resonates with them. So it's been a complete joy. It's really hard work planting a church in Britain nowadays. It's not easy. But we're just been blessed to see a move of God.
Justin: Fantastic. Amy, we're going to take a quick break. So much more I want to ask you, but we're going to talk especially in the next section of the program about a very exciting event coming up in London, REBOOT. It's really aimed at young people, helping them to think through their faith and answer the tough questions often thrown at them at that stage of life. Amy and a number of others will be there for it, so do make sure you can get along, or if you know a young person who'd like to get along, certainly, to REBOOT 2019 in London Saturday the 21st of September, and we'll be talking about that and other aspects of Amy's ministry in a short moment here on the program the Profile.
Justin: Welcome back to the second half of today's show. Pretty interesting edition of the Profile today. I'm Justin Brierley, sitting down with the author, evangelist, and speaker Amy Orr-Ewing. Now don't forget before we leap back into the interview that today's show is available on podcast and it's brought to you in partnership with Premier Christianity Magazine, your monthly source of news, views, reviews, and cultural commentary. It helps you live your faith wherever you find yourself. Do get a free sample copy of the latest mag right now over at PremierChristianity.com/freesample. We've been hearing today on the program already about Amy Orr-Ewing's life growing up, the extraordinary story of how her parents were converted, but then her own evangelism through that, university, going on this extraordinary trip to Afghanistan, meeting the Taliban and surviving to tell the tale, and of course, since then, Amy, you've really been involved since university at one level or another in apologetics specifically through Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. When did you sort of meet Ravi himself, who obviously founded that, and how has that ministry grown since you've been there?
Amy: Yeah, so after university, and actually during university, sorry, Frog and I were both in a kind of prayer movement that was like a national prayer movement, which encompassed people from [inaudible 00:30:20] and all sorts of other churches from all over the UK. And at that I met a guy called Michael Ramsden, or Frog and I met him, and we kind of really clicked. He introduced us about a year later to Ravi Zacharias, and we had dinner with him. We were just kind of sharing stories. I was sort of sharing stories of speaking at various universities like I'd spoken at the Sheffield University and told him a story of what had happened and shared a bit about Afghanistan and stuff, and really as a result of that, Ravi had had this vision that the ministry would be established in Europe and Michael was just getting involved in it and beginning here as an apologist, starting the Zacharias Trust. They asked me to come on board right then at the beginning in those early days. And so yeah, I've been working with the ministry for 22 years. And from that start of just two of us as young people in our 20s starting out as evangelists, we have kind of planted apologetic ministries all over Europe, most of the European countries right into the Middle East and into Africa.
Amy: We've also established a center, the Oxford Center for Christian Apologetics, where people come and study for the year and really train and learn practically how to be evangelist apologists. So we now have quite a massive team operating out of our Oxford headquarters, but offices led by indigenous leaders all over the world as well. So it's been an amazing 20 years to see the Lord's hand on the ministry and how things have grown phenomenally.
Justin: What I've always been encouraged by with all this is although the organization obviously bears his name, Ravi is very intentionally, I think, brought up a whole new generation of apologists and evangelists, and that's really what it consists of these days, isn't it, this large team?
Amy: Yeah. Ravi himself is in his 70s and he's still pursuing his own preaching ministry, but yes, very much so. The organization is led by our generation now, and we've got loads of young ones coming through. So it's wonderful to see that the message is being multiplied.
Justin: Obviously you've shared so many stories, so encouraging so far on the program. Obviously there must also be huge challenges along the way. Not in the least obviously, I knew him a little at least myself, but the story of Nabeel Qureshi who obviously came on this. An amazing apologist evangelist himself from a Muslim background, and obviously contracted cancer and died about a year later. How do you, I don't know, I suppose it's the classic question, but sometimes you deal with it intellectually and sometimes you face it head on with something like that. How did you as an organization, you personally Amy I'm sure knew him well yourself, deal with that?
Amy: Yeah. Well, yes. Nabeel's death really hit lots of us very hard because he was a beloved team member and colleague, and coming from a Muslim background himself, he very much had a sense of family in team, and he had a young daughter and his wife, Michelle, I just saw her a few weeks ago, she was visiting the UK, surviving him. And actually we also had another very dear colleague, Dr. Keith Small, who was an Islamic tech specialist, died last year too. So I think one of the things that you know, one sort of thinks in a situation like that, is that however much we're serving the Lord and however many miracles and breakthroughs we see, as God's people, none of us are immune from that kind of suffering. And the promise that the Bible isn't "Come to Jesus, and if you really, really serve him with your whole, whole, whole heart, these bad things aren't going to happen to you or your team." I think we read our own story and our own losses within the story of the Bible, and I know that Nabeel completely and utterly trusted God and trusted his timing.
Amy: Sometimes we can't see that because we know how incredibly gifted he was and how incredibly needed his voice is in this generation, but he absolutely trusted God, and so we do as well. I think that his legacy, given the power of his writing, if anyone listening hasn't come across it, do read his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. It's a classic of our time, I think. So the legacy is there in the writing and also some of the Internet ministry too. But as a team, certainly we've really grieved together and we've needed to. It's been a devastating loss. The ministry has to always be bigger than one person, and we are a team. Sorry, Justin.
Justin: Yeah, I was just going to say, even I as someone who only met him a handful of times and interviewed him for this very program actually, was very struck. I can't imagine what it was like for those who obviously served alongside him for years. It is as you say. It is the reality. None of us are promised security from the realities of danger and life and illness and everything else, just as the first disciples experienced in their day. Look, we must talk about the REBOOT, which I have just been in awe of what you guys have established in a relatively short time with REBOOT. Seeing thousands of young people turn up every year to these conferences, we've gone all over the world now, but specifically coming up on Saturday the 21st of September here in London. Before we get to that, let me depress you with some statistics here, Amy. Okay. So apparently, according to the recent British Social Attitudes Survey earlier this year, Christianity very much on the decline in the UK in the west. More than half, 53%, of the British public apparently now describe themselves as having no religion.
Justin: And it's even more precipitous among young people. Seven in ten. 71% of young people age 18 to 24 say they have no religion. And of course we've had secular society and the humanists and so on all making a lot out of that and saying it just shows that we're all leaving religion and Christianity behind. So what's your response, first of all, to that kind of a statistic, Amy, and can you give us any kind of encouragement on the back of what you're seeing through REBOOT?
Amy: Yeah, sure. So I think my first reaction to that kind of statistic is that I think a lot of the people who may have previously described themselves as religious who now currently don't may not have actually been professing Bible believing Christians. I think what's fallen off the cliff is nominalism or a kind of passive general atmosphere of Christian religion hanging around your life. So what I don't think has happened is a huge, huge generational turning away from God, although I do think that the statistics you say significantly impact the experience of on fire Christian teenagers today. Their lived experienced is that they're quite alone and that they need bolstering, they need support. They are kind of on the frontline. So part of the vision of REBOOT came about because we'd been involved for 15 years in university evangelism and we were meeting a lot of people on campus who might have grown up in the church but had either drifted away or quite actively turned away from the faith and turned away from Jesus. And often because of some sort of intellectual question that they just said was never addressed or never resolved. And some of those questions were really quite easily resolvable, but by the time you were meeting them at university, it was almost too late.
Amy: And so the vision for REBOOT to emerge from this pattern, to come alongside young people at exactly that moment when they're really on the frontline, going to secondary school, you're gaining independence from your family and from your church to some extent and you're beginning to forge your identity at school. And if you're going to stand for Jesus, that is going to mean you're going to be really, really different and it's going to mean you're going to be asked questions. The vision and the passion of REBOOT was can we put the really best of resourcefulness at our disposal into the hands of those young people so that they could not only hold on to their faith through those teenage years but so that they could actually reach their world, reach their generation to Christ? That was the vision. I remember sharing it and thinking I think it's meant to be very, very niche. The youth ministry world is a huge world and I think this might be a small part in that world that we're called to do. I was imagining a hundred or 200. So we were overwhelmed the first year we had over 400 teenagers come to the first day of the REBOOT.
Amy: And they wanted to make sure that it was really genuinely shaped and led by their questions, and so we have short talks, the short talks are kind of 20 minutes, and then we use this Q&A platform called Pigeonhole where they can ask their questions, people vote on which questions they want to be answered. We have loads of Q&A panels during the day, and it's sort of highly interactive. And all the speakers don't retreat off to a green room, we make ourselves available to talk to every 12, 13, 14, 18 year old that wants to come and talk to us. And I've found everything from the pastor's child who had a question about a particularly graphic Old Testament story and he just couldn't understand what it meant or how it could be in the Bible, and I spent 15 minutes with him talking him through the narrative structure of the Bible, what the nature of that writing was, how it fitted, how he could understand God is a God of judgment and a God of love in the context of this text. We talked it all through together.
Amy: And to my total surprise, he absolutely burst into tears and said, "Right, well, what you need to know is my faith has been hanging by a thread. I've asked everyone. I've asked my youth pastor. I've asked my parents. I've asked other pastors and I've never found answers to these questions, and I decided if I didn't get an answer to that today, I was giving up my faith. But today I'm committing myself and I feel called to be an evangelist." So we prayed for him. This was like four or five years ago now. So amazing stuff like that. Another story from last year at REBOOT, one of our young team, a guy called Zoe, was speaking on suffering and sharing some of his testimony, and this 14 year old boy comes up to him in tears and says basically, "Two years ago my mum died and at the funeral I was asking lots of questions in my heart," and a church leader at the funeral, his mum's funeral, is talking to him and he's saying, "I don't understand why God would allow this to happen," and the church leader says to him, "Well, the thing is that you loved your mum more than you loved God, and so God had to take your mum away from you."
Amy: Yeah. So Zoe is there with this boy, he's heard a really solid 45 minute kind of deep apologetic around suffering. He's also heard some of those stories where he knows this isn't just theory. Zoe was able to talk through why what that person said was so wrong and it's so antithetical to the gospel. It's absolutely opposite of the gospel. And prays with him to receive Jesus and to experience the love of God, and that child's life was changed. So every year at REBOOT we're really trying to take the questions the kids are asking, so everything from "Can I smoke weed even if it was legalized? Would it be all right to smoke weed?" To "What does God think about homosexuality?" To the trans debate, to God in science, and this year we've got Professor John Lennox coming to speak on God and science and to pour confidence into the hearts of those young people that you can be a brilliant scientist and you can believe in God. These two things actually support each other. We're going to be looking at is Christianity racist? Has the church supported that? How can we answer that question? So loads of questions and the opportunity to ask individually as well as in the big group setting, and every year as well the opportunity to respond personally to the gospel, and teenagers bring their non Christian friends and loads of people make commitments to Christ each year at this thing.
Amy: So yeah, I'm so excited about it. If you're a young person or you have a young person, do consider coming along to London on the 21st.
Justin: It is interesting, and let me just give the website as well.
Justin: Rebootglobal.org is the place to go if you want to find out more or book tickets, and you'll actually find that REBOOT takes place all over the world in fact, but specifically looking at London really soon, Saturday the 21st of September.
Amy: Yeah, that's right. Yeah.
Justin: We've got about ten minutes left, and in some ways what I wanted to ask on the back of talking to REBOOT reaching young people and their questions, you're a mum yourself of three boys in their teens, I'm guessing, or a couple of them now. Has that been a helpful thing in terms of what you've gone on to do with REBOOT, just having the experience of living alongside teenagers and the questions they have and everything?
Amy: Yeah, absolutely. I would say that it actually starts when they're children. My sons both found themselves in evangelistic and confrontational conversations at school about the existence of God from about the age of six or seven, and they needed evidence to share. They needed a framework to help them process the questions of their friends and to actually give their friends an answer as well. So definitely that has, and also the children of other people in our team. So we started REBOOT before my kids were actually teenagers, but I could see the teenagers in my life growing up. I thought, "Why do we have to wait for university to equip them in this way? You need this stuff when you're 12. You need five solid evidences for the existence of God when you're 11 or 12." When you're 13 and your biology teacher is mocking you, you need to be able to formulate some kind of answer about God and science. Same for questions about sexuality and all the Bible questions or how can God be just when these terrible things happen in the world? These questions are raging in the hearts of teenagers. So I just feel this real passion that I want us as the church to be serious about how much they are on the front line, and their potential to reach others as well if they had confidence that it was actually true.
Justin: I don't know if in your Oxford days, or even now I suppose if you're in and out of Oxford, you haven't bumped into Richard Dawkins, but I know that he's got a new book out this autumn. It's called Outgrowing God, and from what I can tell, it's basically the God Delusion for teenagers. So there's a kind of sense in which teenagers are not only living in a generally more secular society, they've also got lots of people, like the Dawkins and others, spinning a certain narrative about religion. So in some ways it's harder I think growing up as a teenager nowadays than maybe when you and I were growing up or a previous generation. Would you agree with that?
Amy: Yeah. I think that is probably true. I think numerically there are less of them, believers. Obviously we know that. And as you say, the sort of scale of hostility, and also the kind of massive changes in culture as well of the way people live, the decisions they make, is so much further than the Bible. So Christians seem much, much weirder in some ways. And so yeah, the support our young people need is so, so important.
Justin: I wonder what Dawkins would make coming along to REBOOT. It'd be interesting.
Amy: I don't think he likes John Lennox very much, does he? John definitely held his own in his debates with Dawkins. Yeah.
Justin: Just before we have to close off, it does bring me finally to just the fact that you do so much, you're spinning so many plates yourself, Amy. You've got obviously what you're doing on an international level with RZIM, REBOOT, you're a mum, Frog himself has a very full ministry on his side. How do you keep that all together? How do you stay sane? How do you manage to squeeze in interviews like this? What's the secret to being the super apologist evangelist Amy Orr-Ewing?
Amy: Oh, gosh. Well, I remember someone saying to me awhile ago, or sort of giving me the challenge of, is the Christian life your aspiring to live livable without the power of God? And if it is, is it really the Christian life? And so what I hope is that if people look at my life, they don't think, "Oh gosh, there's someone who's brilliant with the to-do list." Although I do try to be really organized, I hope they don't think, "Oh, there's someone who's just got endless energy." But more, "That must be God. God must be real and actually active in that person's life." That's certainly how I hope to live. I feel like I have to just daily lean on the Lord and receive his power and his strength, and not live under a sort of fear of not being able to achieve things or not being able to do certain things to the right level, because we all have those struggles, but to trust Him with the outcome as well. And I think in evangelism that's particularly important, that our confidence is in God and our trust is in him bringing the outcome. And so we just have to be faithful with our bit.
What I hope is that, if people look at my life, they don't think, "Oh gosh, there's someone who's brilliant with the to-do list." Although I do try to be really organized, I hope they don't think, "Oh, there's someone who's just got endless energy." But more so, "That must be God. God must be real and actually active in that person's life."
Amy: I absolutely love spending time with my kids and my family, and so I do try to be pretty careful about the diary. Bring the children with me on lots of ministry trips as well. I want them to see God at work in the way my parents introduced me to God at work in their lives. So yeah, lots and lots of different ways, and Frog's an amazing support. I have to say, I would really emphasize that. As a woman in ministry, having a husband who believes in my ministry way more than I do and is prepared to really share the task of raising the children and share responsibilities in the home. Then in the same way, I want to help him share responsibilities in the church. So trying to serve each other in that way. We certainly don't always get it right. Sometimes the wheels come off and then we have to just throw ourselves on the grace of God again. Yeah. So I certainly don't feel like I've got it all together, Justin, let's put it that way.
Justin: I suspected you might say ... and everything you're saying, I can echo in my own different situation with my wife, who's in Christian ministry, full time Christian ministry, and knowing that it is a partnership in the end, and so much of it depends on that. Look, it's been such fun talking to you, Amy. Just before we finish up, a few decades on from being that girl who just saw her life about naturally leading to her inviting her friends to follow Jesus as well, is it the same feeling now when you see people come to Christ? What's it like 30 years on I suppose from when you made your commitment?
Amy: I feel like joy in leading someone to Christ only increases. I feel way more joy than I did then, age five. When I lead someone to Christ, it's so wonderful to see the kingdom break in to someone, to see their countenance change, to see someone filled with the Holy Spirit, or to see someone who's been really, really struggling and to have a question answered and this sort of release of things settling and realizing, "It's okay for me to question. God is big enough. He can answer these questions. He can send answers in different ways. He's big enough to cope with our doubts and our questions." Incredible joy to see that. And I think at the same time, that sort of urgency as I get older, you realize time is short. We lose colleagues like Nabeel, although, of course, as Christians, we don't lose him. He's gone to glory, gone to be with Jesus. But it's a helpful reminder that our time is short and every hour, every day is a gift, but it's also a responsibility. What are we going to do with those opportunities we've been given, the relationships we have? Are we using them? Are we sharing Jesus? Are we being bold and brave and stepping up for him and trusting him?
What are we going to do with those opportunities we've been given, the relationships we have? Are we using them? Are we sharing Jesus? Are we being bold and brave and stepping up for him and trusting him?
Justin: Amy, thank you so much for being my guest on the Profile this week.
Amy: Thanks for having me, Justin.
Justin: It's been an absolute pleasure. You want to find out more about REBOOT, happening in London Saturday the 21st of September, go and check it out on the website rebootglobal.org. For now, I've been Justin Brierley here on the Profile, and we'll be back with another guest at the same time next week. Don't forget that you can find out more interviews with all kinds of Christians in all kinds of walks of life from Premier Christianity Magazine. Get your free sample copy over at PremierChristianity.com/freesample, and don't forget that today's show and many more besides available from the show podcast wherever you get your podcasts from.