It was an unusual way for any couple to celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary – moving out of a four-bedroom house where they had lived happily for 17 years for the cramped living conditions of a static caravan in the isolation of a 10-acre field.
The caravan, which was also to accommodate four of their five children, aged from seven to 17, was the first move by evangelists Jem and Sue Hudson to fulfil a remarkable faith-based vision to extend their ministry alongside the work of a church they planted 15 years ago on an estate in Stenson Fields, Derby..
The church, Stenson Fields Christian Fellowship, which is now regularly attended by 120 local people, was itself borne out of the success of the Explorers children’s outreach which they began in 1989, and which on average now attracts every Friday night about 100 children who take part in Bible study programmes.
It was in faith, too, that the Hudsons, members of the Association of Evangelists, launched three Bible exhibitions in schools, which to date have been seen by more than a million schoolchildren. They also produce highly professional visual aids portraying Bible stories which are distributed worldwide. To co-ordinate and promote their various projects, they recently set up a charitable trust, Foundation Matters.
But their current walk of faith, which began in earnest in January last year when the couple employed the services of a planning consultant, is in a very different league – the construction of a £2.5 million Christian camp and training centre to accommodate 60 children or young people, plus their leaders, for weekend and school holiday evangelism and discipleship. Also planned are mid-week and weekend training seminars for church leaders, children’s workers, and those involved in evangelism and discipleship, and local evangelistic events.
The site plans, drawn up by a landscape architect, include a multi-purpose sports hall, a woodland walk, a one-acre lake, a book café, staff accommodation, offices – and a home for the Hudsons as well as one for staff members. The entire construction will be in log cabin-style to help create a sense of open-air adventure.
“Yes, it is ambitious,” said Jem, 41. “But this is what God has impressed upon our hearts and minds to do and over the last 20 years and more God has unfailingly supplied without exception all our needs.”
Being convinced of God’s leading in this new venture, Jem’s first step, after much prayer, was to find the land, which led to him knocking on doors in the Stenson Fields area, as they want the centre to be located reasonably close to their church. It wasn’t long before he had successfully negotiated the purchase of 10-acres of nearby farming land subject to planning permission – which was far from certain.
In fact, planning officials believed that South Derbyshire District Council’s planning committee would give it the thumbs down due to the size and nature of the project. Instead, to the astonishment of all involved, on June 10 last year all 13 council members voted in favour.
Three days later, on the day of their 21st wedding anniversary, 41-year-old Jem, and Sue, 49, with their sons – Jonathan 17, Simeon, 15, Ben, 11, and Reuben, 7 – were on their way to the static caravan. There was no room for their eldest son, Sam, 20, who moved into his grandparents’ home until his wedding on July 5th.
The exchange of contracts on the sale of their house for £173,500 had already taken place, on June 6. The purchase of the ten acres went through on August 4. A sizeable chunk of the house sale cash was used to purchase the land, surveys, planning fees, and the rest was earmarked for the construction of an access road a third of a mile long to the site from the main road.
To help cut costs, Jem went on a two-week training course to learn to drive a JCB, skills he used in the laying of the access road, which took four weeks to complete and required three thousand tons of hardcore to raise it above flood plain level. Impressed by their aims, Jem’s instructor and a colleague, both non-believers, offered to work on the road at weekends without payment. Also giving a hand was son Jonathan on a dumper truck and a Bomag roller to compact the tons of access road hardcore.
Voluntary help, both physical and technical, came from a variety of sources – a vicar from Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire, and a former quarry worker able to drive a JCB, who gave up three weeks of his sabbatical; a construction company in Surrey; a landscape architect from Warrington; an environmental engineer from Liverpool; a structural and civil engineer from Stockport, Cheshire; and a quantity surveyor from Nantwich, Cheshire. Said Jem: “The Lord brought together a great team.”
But considerable time – and money – was spent in satisfying the concerns of the county archaeologist that no long-buried ‘prehistoric artefacts’ or roundhouse remains would be damaged in the excavation work necessary to lay the foundations for the buildings and in digging the lake. It meant the Hudsons had to bear the considerable cost of an archaeologist being on site to carry out a watching brief on behalf of the county archaeologist.
The construction of the log buildings, whose foundations have been excavated and ready for laying, is scheduled to take place in July by True North Log Homes, a leading Canadian company specialising in the design, manufacture and installation of log buildings. Donations totalling £46,000 have arrived to cover the cost of the deposit.
“As well as being beautifully designed and outstandingly engineered they have that wow! appeal, which we are sure will excite the imaginations of young people,” said Jem. “Their ‘green’ credentials were also a major plus in the council’s planning committee granting its approval.”
In addition to the completion of the access road and entry gates, 500 lorry loads of soil are soon to be delivered to build up the perimeter boundaries for the planting of 2,500 trees and fencing.
The Hudson’s plan to have the main accommodation centre and buildings, the manager’s house and office, and their own home, ready for occupation by next January, 2010 which will enable them to formally open the Camp and Training Centre. But their home will be the last on the list, which was one of the conditions of the planning committee’s approval to ensure that the Hudson’s planning application was not a ruse to build a home for residential use and then quietly forget about the rest of the development.
By 2011 the Hudson’s plan to see the completion of the second phase – the book café, staff residence and multi-purpose sports hall.
“We have some way to go”, said Jem, “but we are trusting completely in the Lord to provide the funding as the project moves ahead. And then, when everything is finished, we shall be trusting in Him to make the centre a success so that He is glorified.”
They have seen the generosity of the Lord’s provision at each stage of the developing project. “We are so thankful for the many gifts both large and small that we have received including timely gifts of £10,000 that covered the remaining costs for the access road and then another gift of £100,000 toward the costs for the basement of the main centre,” said Jem.
The sheer size of the project has prompted one or two Christians to question the wisdom of its undertaking, particularly in such financially difficult times, but, at the same time, they have been extremely encouraged by the prayerful support and positive comments of so many other Christians.
Said Jem: “We could have remained in the comfort of our own home and asked the Lord to provide the estimated £2.5 million but we believe He responds when His people move in faith, which we are sure He has called us to do, to trust Him a step at a time. That is the journey we are walking with Him.”
His wife, Sue, commented: “It was never a difficult choice in selling our home because we really felt it was something that the Lord wanted us to do as part of our ministry vision. He was opening doors time and again. We knew that He simply wanted us to follow Him.
“We prayed with the boys about it, and we came to agreement as a family. There have been times when it has been difficult, particularly in this weather when the water in the sink waste pipe and the chemical toilet in the outside loo freeze up. The biggest thing for me, though, is all the endless mud that is brought into the caravan!
“But He has given us the grace and the ability day by day to come through it all. And the really important thing is that it has not in any way hindered our ministry activities. That would have been a real blow.”
There can be little doubt that the Hudson’s have taken on a task that would challenge the faith of the staunchest believer. But who dares to doubt that it will not be long before the Camp and Training Centre is alive to a multitude of voices in loud praise and worship to a God whose pleasure and business it is to bless those who live by the truths of His Word and, because of it, makes possible the seemingly impossible.
If you would like to receive a prayer letter, please email or write to: Foundation Matters, C/O 100 Beaufort Road, Stenson Fields, Derby. DE24 3AZ.