Powerful praise, life-changing stories and compelling personal testimonies were the order of the day as once again, residents of Leicester were told to "come just as you are" last Saturday.
As the Jesus Loves Leicestershire (JLL) team hosted its sixth annual "Fire and Glory" event in the heart of the city, praise groups, singers, drama groups and evangelists took to the stage for a successful day of worship, praise and thanksgiving.
Curious shoppers flocked to the huge stage at Humberstone Gate, one of the main shopping streets in Leicester, to witness one of the city's biggest annual Christian outreach events, this year boasting one of the city's most famous names.
Rosemary Conley of "The Hip and Thigh Diet" fame has written prolifically about the benefits of a healthy physical diet, but on this occasion she was present to speak about another type of diet - her spiritual diet - and how God completely transformed her once broken life. She gave her compelling testimony to an increasing throng of people who were inspired and encouraged on hearing about what transpired after she pleaded with God to come into her once messed up life and to sort it out. The best-selling author spoke of how, in the early 80s, she had hit a low point, suffering from painful gallstones, a broken marriage, broken relationship, and financial hardship as she wound up her business.
During that time, she was introduced to a book, "Power for Living." She said, "I felt as though that book had been written just for me."
Encouraged and somewhat desperate, she knelt by her bedside that Friday night and invited Jesus into her life, asking Him to take control of her messed up life. "There were no bolts of lightning, claps of thunder or puffs of smoke," she explained. "But as I climbed into bed, I felt something that I could only describe as being 'made brand new'. It was as if He was saying 'follow me and I will take you forward', and my life from that moment transformed."
She went on to explain just how effective that transformation was. Her boyfriend returned just days later, and within four days, she proposed and this year celebrated her 26th year of marriage. She lost a massive amount of weight on her hips and thighs, leading to the stunning figure she has today, as well as her world-renowned book that has sold over two million copies which has put an end to financial struggles that had once blighted her life.
"I'd written books before 'The Hip and Thigh Diet' and they'd gone nowhere. What was different this time is that I had the Lord in my life," she explained.
Avid followers of her diet have said their lives have been transformed through reading her best-selling book, but whilst that may be true for them, it was ironically the lesser known book 'Power for Living' that changed Rosemary Conley's life forever, and not just in an aesthetically and temporary way, but a change that would have profound implications on an eternal level.
Anyone who thought that other speakers, groups and acts throughout the day couldn't live up to Rosemary's captivating testimony would be mistaken. The Oaks of Leicester in particular went on to steal the show again and again with their powerful gospel voices moving many hearts, as well as feet.
Drama replaced the puppet show and rappers of previous years, as Whetstone Baptist Church acted out a mock court scene. The drama was based on a man convicted of having broken many of God's commandments. As such, the only human punishment that appeared to be available was death. The moral of the story, of course, is that the Law simply shows us how sinful we all are, the punishment having been already laid on God's one and only Son, Jesus. The commentator at the end summed it up perfectly when he said, "We are made right with God through faith, and not by obeying the Law."
Of course, in terms of salvation, faith alone is insufficient, since there are many who profess to believe in God but whose lives and actions do not bear fruit. James 2:17 says, ".faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." Consolidating this fact was Dr David Adams who took to the stage mid- afternoon and used an effective analogy to encourage those present to become 'swimmers' rather than simply believers in God. "Jesus is the answer to everything, but it's not enough to simply believe. Anyone can say they believe in God just as anyone can believe in swimming. However, to be able to swim, you've got to jump into the water, learn about what is entailed, and grow in your expertise," he said.
It is a message that resonates with the hearts of Christians and non-believers alike. "To believe in God and the Bible does not make you a Christian. Eternal life is to get to know the Father through the Bible and then to make a commitment to give our all to Him" said Dr Adams before imploring the audience to do just that.
Musically, the Oaks of Leicester and Resonance were joined this year by Free Spirit, a praise group from St Peter's Anglican Church in Church Langton who specialize in bringing the gospel in to the high church. This event allowed them to shine in the center of a busy city as they sang Christian classics such as "Be Still for the presence of the Lord" and "Great is thy Faithfulness,"
"Hands up all those who enjoy secular music!" shouted David and Jonathan from Bible Hall as they took to the stage during the afternoon. The duo take well-known secular songs and transform them using Christian lyrics, and they did this very effectively with songs such as Bread's "Everything I Own." The audience were soon singing along with the song as they'd never heard it before. "You shelter me from harm, keep me warm, keep me warm.you gave up everything you owned, gave up your life to bring me home. I would give everything I own, since you brought me back again."
And these weren't the only songs that had been given a unique transformation. For the first time ever, the event hosted a Chinese choir who succeeded in touching many hearts through their renditions of popular Christian songs such as "Amazing Grace."
Attendees danced with colorful flags as the day's events unfolded under glorious sunshine and everyone from young children to the elderly enjoyed being together in the city for an event that has been known to transform lives each year. A drama group from Church of Christ in Beaumont Leys effectively re-enacted Lifehouse's harrowing and thought-provoking "Everything" skit to much applause.
When evangelist Maureen Musinguzi took to the stage she encouraged audience participation through asking those present to imagine going on a journey to a place in dire need where nobody will accept you or believe you have come to help. "If there is an earthquake there, you will be blamed for it. If there is hunger, you will be deemed responsible," she said, before reminding the audience that this is exactly what happened to Jesus, even though He had done nothing wrong.
Many attendees expressed how uplifting it was to witness such an inspirational event which was suitable for young and old alike.
Local resident Christine Glasse from Whetstone Baptist Church said of the event "Everyone who didn't make it today missed a fabulous day in which we were all able to celebrate Jesus our Lord together. Dr Adams' analogy of us being unable to 'swim' until we've taken the plunge was really effective and one of the highlights for me personally," she said.
Evangelist John Morgan from New Life International in the city said of the event, "I've had a fantastic day. Seeing people giving their lives back to the Lord and being able to pray with people is so encouraging. So many don't know how to or feel ashamed to ask in normal circumstances, but today, the Lord led me to these people and they to myself and others with whom they could really open up."
John's brother Paul also had a wonderful story to tell as he explained having approached four teenage girls at a nearby Muslim stall with Christian literature and tracts. "They put down the Qur'an instantly, took the literature, and were clearly seeking for the truth," he said. In spite of being offered the same literature, the stall holder chose to dismantle his stall and leave, which left John able to pray with the girls, all of whom subsequently accepted Jesus into their lives.
Former Mormon Kirkham Roberts from the Universal Kingdom of God church (UCKG) was seen holding up a small sign with the word "Jesus" on it as people dispersed. He'd been using the impact the event was having on the city to give out Christian tracts to market traders, bank staff and shop assistants in and around the vicinity and said that they had all been readily and gratefully received.
JLL Chairman Paul Hall said, "It was terrific! The event touched many hearts this year as we lifted the name of Jesus high in the streets of Leicester."
Rosemary Conley shares faith with city of Leicester
Published 26 September 2012 | Dee Pfeiffer, ASSIST News Service