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An interview with Sarah Yardley – Cornwall, Creation Fest and Christianese

Photo: Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale

Tell us how you came from California to Cornwall!

I started coming to the UK in the summer of 2009 and I came over every summer between 2009 and 2014. Over the course of that time I developed some phenomenal relationships, friendships and never envisioned myself living here, but really loved the people. In the summer of 2014 I came over with a little 40 pound suitcase for a summer of service and arrived in the UK and woke up to the news that the previous Festival Director for Creation Fest had passed away quite suddenly, actually the night previous.

At that point in time we were considering and had basically made the decision to close down the charity. It just wasn’t tenable to continue to carry on without someone full-time and dedicated and locally dedicated. I was reading my daily reading and it was from the book of Isaiah chapter 49 and it speaks in that chapter of God’s calling to the coast-lands, from the body of our mother God has named us by name and he has made his word in our mouth like a sword and he has called us to bring light to the nation and salvation to the end of the earth. I just remember writing in my bible ‘God are you calling me to Cornwall?’

Next week at the festival someone came and prayed that exact same passage of Scripture over me: ‘God we thank you for Sarah. We thank you that her calling is to the coast-lands. We thank you that from the body of her mother you have named her by name. He calls you to be a light to the nations and carry salvation to the ends of the earth.’

After that a third group came up and offered me all the financial support I would need to stay. So that little summer suitcase ended up being a summer and autumn suitcase for six months and then went to get my first set of visas and really put down roots and have been here since the summer of 2014.

Cornwall has this beautiful wildness. It’s close to the sea, it’s a fringe culture in lots of ways. People move here to escape or move here for a more broad outdoor lifestyle. I found it gives lots of opportunities to speak about faith, but speak about it in a way that’s really different from my Christian kid church background where everyone I knew was either a Christian or had just decided recently not to be a Christian. Being in the UK has given lots of chances to engage with people where they’re at but from lots of different backgrounds.

How did you become a Christian?

I was raised in a home where Jesus was loved and honoured and I don’t ever remember a time when I didn’t walk in faith with Christ. I do remember certain times when that faith became really real to me. When I was 9 years old would be when I made my intellectual decision – following Jesus continued to make sense. When I was 16 years old was when I realised that faith in Christ is going to cost me something and it needed to be worth that cost. When I was 25 years old was when I had a full experience of the grace of God. Each of those different times and in really different ways, there was an active faith in Christ.

As the Coordinator of Creation Fest can you explain your heart behind it and what you hope to see happen there?

The big vision that we have with Creation Fest is to celebrate the good news of a God who loves us. We celebrate the good news of a God who loves us by doing festivals, events and gatherings that are all designed to creatively communicate the Christian faith and inspire others to do the same. That might look like anything from a week-long festival in Cornwall to a pop-up city centre outreach in Dundee to everything in between. There’s a whole host of different expressions – worship gatherings, youth nights, things that can fall into that overarching context, but really we want to celebrate that knowing Jesus is good news and carry that in creative ways to the culture.

You have a gift and a passion for sharing the gospel with all people from different locations and backgrounds. When did that start and how do you go about sharing Christ for yourself?

I would say my passion for sharing faith started at quite a young age. From an American perspective, we are encouraged to speak as broadly about faith as we possibly can and so part of our lives and background is ‘speak about faith, speak about it in ordinary language, speak about it to everyone you know!’ I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t have faith as part of my everyday conversations. But the reality is that as I grew up I grew continually more passionate about finding the ways to speak about it with authentic relevance.

I think one of the biggest challenges we have in modern day UK is to speak about our faith in Jesus Christ using ordinary words and using the kinds of examples that don’t feel like they’re foreign to a post-Christian deeply atheistic culture. I think the passion to share my faith has been renewed by coming to the UK and realising how much of my language is, for lack of a better phrase ‘Christianese’.

Following this, what else have you found to be the main challenges of talking about Jesus to others?

I think one of the biggest challenges for people in sharing their faith is that they wait so long to find the perfect words and the perfect phrases that they don’t actually share anything. They’re so concerned about doing it right, but the reality is they wait so long to know what to say that they don’t say anything about their faith at all. I think that is one of the biggest challenges here in Britain.

Another challenge is for Christians to know their own faith with confidence. This morning I was texting with one of my atheist friends who said ‘I really want to know more about this Jesus guy.’ In quite a simple way, I was able to explain to her the four gospels, the difference between them, what they tell about the life of Jesus, why she might choose to engage with them. There’s quite a lot of theology in a very casual text conversation.

I think your own faith has to be deep for you to be prepared to give it away intentionally. I think a ‘baby Christian’ can share their faith – you don’t have to have walked with God for years to do that. But the reality is, in order to share it with others with intentionality, you have to know it well. I find quite a lot of surface Christianity here – people who perhaps know some of the right words to say but if you ask them ‘why is important that God is three-in-one?’ or ‘what does it mean for the Holy Spirit to anoint your life?’ they wouldn’t have the language to describe that.

What would be a way for them to get more equipped to share the gospel?

One of the really simple things and it’s so basic that hopefully we both will laugh is just for Christians to read their Bibles. There’s not necessarily any better place to start than by reading God’s Word. I also think in our world today there are phenomenal resources for people to connect with faith. For the YouTube generation, The Bible Project is amazing to start to understand the teachings of Scripture and to see some great visuals around that. For the audio generation, there is so much around podcasts – there’s everything from pastoral podcasts to training podcasts and everything in between. For the generation that really like to engage in person, there’s still great groups like Alpha, Christianity/Life Explored or the deeper courses like training in theology. I think a big part of it is looking at what is in your area or your interest because there will be something available to you.

What would you say to someone who is reading this that doesn’t yet know Jesus as Lord and Saviour? 

Jesus has come that we might have life and have it to the full. If in any sense your life feels less than full of joy, those are the things that we believe Jesus has come to bring. I would encourage you to simply ask that question: ‘have I considered the person of Jesus Christ and what he offers to us?’ and take the time to commit to asking that if he is real, he will reveal himself to you.

How do you approach studying the Bible and spending time with God in your daily life?

Mine is actually quite simple. I use two tools daily. One is the Bible App and I hit play on the Bible App every morning when I get up. I have Old Testament, New Testament and a Psalm literally read over me. The second thing I do is the journalling Bible – this transformed my personal study. I read whatever is next, as little or as much as I feel there is time to read that morning or as I am able to give. And just listen for what the Spirit has to say.

This morning I’m reading through Matthew and just read the passage about the blind beggars asking for healing and Jesus Christ stopped and said ‘what do you want me to do for you?’ They asked for healing and he gave it and just thinking about what does it mean for us to encounter healing in the presence of Christ.

Can you give a word of encouragement for Christians who are looking to share the gospel with others?

The word of encouragement that I’d give is that it’s the Holy Spirit that draws people to salvation. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself for having the right words, right preparation and the right everything. If you wait for it to be perfect you’ll never share your faith. But really just ask the Spirit would guide you and expect that it is Jesus and the Father’s desire that people would come to know him. It’s not about us.

Sarah Yardley is a Californian based in Cornwall who loves Jesus, family, friendships, coffee, travel, and guacamole. She grew up at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, served at Reality Carpinteria, and currently lives in the United Kingdom, serving full-time with Creation Fest UK and Tubestation in Polzeath. She loves discovering what it means to follow Jesus and inviting others to know and follow Him. 

You can follow Sarah on Twitter: @yardleysarah

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