Amnesty Bins, Canvas Cathedrals, and Just Ten Commandments: How one evangelist in Britain is bringing new meaning to Thou Shalt Not

Amnesty Bins, Canvas Cathedrals, and Just Ten Commandments: How one evangelist in Britain is bringing new meaning to Thou Shalt Not

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

STOCKTON-ON-TEES, UNITED KINGDOM (ANS) -- Possibly the most well-known evangelist in the United Kingdom today is J.John, a Greek-Cypriot by birth, who is causing quite a stir with his Just Ten crusade series.

J.John in Newport Beach, California last year.

J.John has been described as "refreshing, humorous, passionate, earthy, accessible and dynamic," and to date, he has completed thousands of speaking engagements at conferences, towns, cities and universities in 54 countries on 6 continents. He has authored 21 titles, and there are over million copies of his books in print in thirteen languages.

One of the hallmarks of J.John's ministry today is that it features a ten-week series on the Ten Commandments called Just Ten. He told journalist and author Dan Wooding about them in a July, 2007 interview with ANS.

"Back in 1999, many people were thinking, 'we're going into a new year and a new millennium and we should we be re-thinking how we do things.' I was praying through 1999 and I just had this great sense that I should preach the Ten Commandments when we got into the new millennium. I knew that this was a 'God idea' rather than a 'good idea.' I've got lots of good ideas, but I don't think I would have thought of that one. I started to think, pray and read about it, and then I was watching the pop charts on television and they had them in reverse order, so I thought, 'I'll teach the Ten Commandments in reverse order.'"

J.John said that he read all the "though shalt not" phrases contained in the Ten Commandments and began searching for a way to teach them positively.

"So I took coveting and used the title, 'How to find true contentment.' Then with lying, I called it, 'How to hold to the truth' and with stealing I called it, 'How to prosper with a clear conscience.' With adultery, I called it, 'How to affair-proof your relationship.'"

Peter Wooding, Senior News Editor of UCB Radio in the UK, recently caught up with J.John at one of his crusade meetings and asked him about his Just Ten series of events in English cathedrals and how that idea developed.

"After I did it in the church and I saw what kind of response there was, I mean I call it Zacchaeus evangelism because Zacchaeus met Jesus, but his encounter with Jesus produced repentance and restitution. Sometimes our associations with Jesus don't really produce repentance or restitution, or a change of heart, or a change of attitudes or actions," he said.

"So I was constantly being invited to do missions. I then suggested to people 'hey, I've got this new concept Just Ten. So would you like us to try that one out?' and then it kind of grew and grew. And in towns and cities when I get these invitations normally we want to use the largest venue possible and in a lot of cities the largest venue is the cathedral. And they were built for the glory of God and to accommodate thousands. So we've been able to have some fantastic Just Ten series in Chester Cathedral, York Minster, and Lincoln Cathedral, as well as various other cathedrals."

J.John was asked about the response in the UK to the amnesty bins he uses during his meetings.

"I do this series in reverse order so I start with number ten which is coveting and then number nine, which is lying, and number eight, which is stealing, and when I first did this I was actually teaching it and I thought look if we don't do something about this I'm like preaching to myself while I'm actually preaching and I'm thinking goodness if we don't do something then this is information. And I just had the idea look we've got to return our stolen goods. So I said I'm challenging you in the next seven days to return your stolen goods to their rightful owner. But if you can't then we'll have amnesty dustbins and please put them in the dustbins and the value of everything we'll give it to hospitals or hospices or homeless shelters. I've been staggered -- I mean so far I've done the series twenty-six times we've had about a quarter of a million pounds in cash, jewelry, library books, hotel bathrobes, computers -- I mean you name it, we've had it. All the monetary value has gone most of it into hospitals, which is really great . It's really exciting."

Have there been any particular stories or responses that really stand out as being just quite remarkable?

"At the end of the day it's the little stories that kind of reveal the impact of this kind of series. When I do the murder talk, which is dealing with the whole issue of anger, we have an amnesty for guns, knives and ammunition," said J.John.

"In one place, we had so much ammunition the police had to send two armored vehicles to come and take it all away. But in the evening of that particular topic it's yes they've got problems in their marriages and it began a process of you know redeeming lost situations and producing reconciliation. When we've done honoring your mother and father there've been reconciliations between parents and children, children and parents. So those kinds of stories are deeply impacting because it's more than just creating a belief system. Everyone in the whole world needs a new heart and we know that but if you've already connected with Jesus then you don't need a new heart but the problem with a lot of people who call themselves followers of Jesus is that they've got blocked arteries. This series, because of what it's about, enables God to have access to people's hearts and to clear those blocked arteries."

J.John organizes his Just Ten series with the combination of a tent crusade and the Ten Commandments. He was asked if some people would say those kinds of crusades have gone out the door and yet thousands are coming each night to his meetings. What is it about these meetings seems to be working?

"The thing is we were looking for two large venues and they weren't available -- that's the problem -- finding a suitable venue that can accommodate five-thousand last night, five-thousand tonight, and also to be able to have it for ten Tuesdays or ten Wednesdays and that's quite a logistical problem, hence the use of cathedrals rather than a secular venue, because they're not always accommodating. So I call these 'canvas cathedrals' and it's an amazing landmark really because you know when it goes up it's huge, it's gigantic and when our cathedrals were first built they were built to the glory of God and they were built to accommodate people. So I see this as a sacred cathedral for a ten-week period to accommodate as many people as possible."

To what does he attribute to the fact that so many are coming?

"I think people are spiritual, they've always been spiritual -- I mean they may have lost their map and not quite know where they're going, but there's still a spiritual hunger. But I feel that the principles of the Ten Commandments, the venue system, are something that really connects both with those who go to church and with those who don't go to church, and it's a bit like doing a Ministry of Transportation road test for your life. I mean you know we have MOT's for our cars, but most people wouldn't have an MOT for their life to reevaluate their actions and attitudes. So I think the way it's perceived is a very positive thing. And even if you didn't actually take on some of the belief system of Christianity, most of it would help you anyway. So I think it's a great thing to be able to invite anyone to, of faith or no faith."

J.John was asked about his very conversational style, with the use of a lot of humor, and a lot of illustrations. Does he think that's part of the appeal to come and hear him?

"Hopefully, I'm trying to make it simple without making it simplistic. Obviously, Christianity isn't simplistic, but it is simple. Even Jesus said that a child should be able to understand it, and it was said of Jesus that he never spoke unto them without using a parable. So he never spoke without telling a story. So I hope in some ways I'm reflecting the manner in which Jesus communicated by telling stories, by illustrating things with contemporary examples, and by hopefully bringing the Bible alive in a way that people can understand. Because I think a lot of people's understanding of Christianity is a misunderstanding. It's part of our job is to clear those misunderstandings and present what the truth is in an accessible and palatable way."

He was asked if seeing so many thousands of people coming to hear him speak ever overwhelms him?

"It's an amazing privilege. When you look at Jesus he spoke to five-thousand men plus their wives, fiancés and children, you know twenty-thousand people, but he also went and spoke at Levi's home to his ex-colleagues so that you know could have been twenty. He also stopped at a well and spoke to one woman, and I engage in all three actually. But it is a privilege when you know you have the opportunity to address ten-thousand people on two evenings and particularly knowing that not only am I only speaking to ten-thousand people in a live setting but the potential that tens of thousands potentially millions could even have access through radio and television, that blows my mind. I'm like 'oh, wow!' This is a privilege and it's something I have to take responsibility for and not be casual about it."

Wooding commented that events like this are happening right across the country as part of Hope 08, particularly as the nation of Britain seems to be facing a time of hopelessness. What is J.John's observation of how the nation is doing spiritually? Is there some hope?

"I think sometimes you have to fall down before you look up and maybe the infrastructure of our country has to fall down before there'll really be a turning a significant turning of millions of people looking up, because currently for example, in Britain seven percent attend church. So ninety-three percent don't; that's a lot of people. But I feel very optimistic and very positive that the church is beginning to seize the opportunity and realize its responsibility. As Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said that the church is the only society that exists for its non-members. I think we need reminding that actually the church exists for those that don't come. Let's get this message out and communicate it."

J.John concluded the interview by saying he wanted to encourage believers to "seize the opportunity that we all have, because we are the only Bible most people ever read.

"They don't actually read the Scriptures -- they read us, and therefore we're either good news or we're bad news. We need to become intentional in communicating conveying good news to other people. A lighthouse doesn't make any noise, but you can see it. So sometimes we've got to communicate without words, but sometimes we have to use words and explain what it is that's lighting us up."

ANS would like to thank Robin Frost for transcribing this interview.

** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael's involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of ACT International at: Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International.