Andy Hawthorne spreads the Gospel in Manchester, England, and he has an incredible story. He’s a British evangelist, author, former band member, and founder of The Message Trust, a Christian mission organization with about 250 staff, based in Manchester, England.
He has been working for over 20 years with young people in this area of the north of England, and his initiatives have been particularly directed at those who are traditionally hard to reach — those in prison or from disadvantaged communities. He also strongly believes in reaching the youth of Britain – specifically Manchester. In fact, Manchester is his mission, and he feels that’s where God called him to spread the Gospel.
Andy got the surprise of his life when, one day in 2011, he received a letter from Buckingham Palace saying that he was to be bestowed with the OBE (Order of the British Empire), and so he dressed up, and it was presented shortly afterwards by Prince Charles.
He is one of the very few British Christians to ever be awarded such an royal honor. It was given him after the Manchester Chief of Police had recommended that he receive it for his outreach into the crime-ridden areas of Manchester.
Andy Hawthorne is unashamed of his Christian faith and describes it as the “engine” of all that has been achieved through The Message Trust.
But he not only speaks on the mean streets of his city, but on June 21, 2011 he addressed a group of cross-bench parliamentarians at the National Prayer Breakfast at the British Houses of Parliament. He was invited to speak on the theme of “Raising the aspirations of young people,” and he said: “The Bible works – and Jesus is the answer …The message of the Bible raises the aspirations of young people — we ditch it at our peril. The best of our society is built on this precious book … The more we invest in today’s young people the values that God gave us in this book the better our society will become.”
In the early days before he launched The Message Trust, Andy was a member of the popular Christian band, The World Wide Message Tribe, which had success in the UK and American pop charts.
With a background like his, I was delighted to be able to interview him recently for my “Front Page Radio” show at Mariners Church in Irvine, California, where he was one of the speakers at Exponential West 2016, a huge church planting conference, where people were attending from all over the world.
“They have come to be stirred and mobilized to plant churches, and I believe the greatest tool for evangelism in this generation is church planting,” he said. “This is not about building big churches, but about multiplying, reproducing churches. So that’s what we’re all about here,” he said.
He then talked about how his band came to have such a strange name.
“We were called The World Wide Message Tribe, but I wanted to call it The Massive World Wide Message Tribe, but like most of my best ideas, it got watered down by my friends,” he said. “Initially, it was just myself, and a friend, and some dancers from our youth group, doing dance rave music in Manchester, and trying to reach people for Jesus.”
Andy explained that not everyone appreciated the band.
“The first time we went outside of Manchester, to Holland, and all these young people there, many were shocked that Christians could play this crazy dance music,” he recalled. “But in our hearts, we were just evangelists. I’m not really a singer, dancer, or rapper, but it was bizarre that we ended up selling hundreds of thousands of CD’s and going all over the world. But our passion and our commitment, was always to Manchester’s young people.
“We played in some secular clubs, but for 35 weeks a year, we would, and still do, go into local high schools to present the message of Christ. People here in America can’t believe that there is still an open door in Britain for Christians to go into high schools and be involved in what are called Assemblies. But, in fact, it is written into the law that schools have to hold a religious act of worship, which is primarily Christian, and also every young person [unless their parents opt them out] has to be taught about the Christian faith. It’s written in the law.
“Now some schools break that law, but mainstream schools usually stick to it. So we go into a school and say, ‘Look, we’re young men and women and we do this crazy music, but we also talk about our faith and give young people an opportunity to interact with us.
“We are allowed to be very clear in sharing out faith, but what we cannot do is an appeal [altar call] and invite people to become Christians or do healings, but we can clearly present our Christian faith. We have six bands and a theater company going into schools week-in and week-out.
“A couple months ago, we were in 55 Manchester high schools in a month, with our full-on mission teams. In fact, that was some 25 percent of all the high schools in the area. It is an amazing opportunity, and the door is still wide open; and we want to make the most of that while it is.
“At weekends, we would often do big evangelistic gigs, and we began seeing thousands of young people come to Christ. And then, as the buzz got around in those early days, we would get invited to go all over the world, but our focus was always Manchester, so we were known as the band you can’t book.”
Now things have moved on and the group that Andy Hawthorne now heads up is called The Message Trust, and so I wondered what had led up to that.
“The World Wide Message Tribe was actually born out of a business that I had with my brother. We used to do all this fashion accessories and embroidery, and around the early 90s, when we formed the band, we were embroidering all kinds of stuff,” he said. “At that time, Manchester was, for a little season, the center of the world music industry with all those crazy rave bands. And we were embroidering massive slogans like ‘Global Technics Posse’ items and with all sorts of funny names like that.
“So I thought, ‘that’ll be cool’ and I said let’s call the band, ‘The Massive World Wide Message Tribe,’ but it eventually got cut short. It was always just a platform to share the Good News of Jesus. So out of that business, we formed the band and we got such a buzz because we had started to fill big venues, that I left the business in my brother’s safe hands, and set up the original charity with just a one-man band. That was 24 years ago, and it’s been an amazing journey ever since.
“We’ve obviously grown, and gone from a one-man band to maybe 250 of us who gather in Manchester, and we’ve got multiple bands and different teams. We’ve also done 41 church plants, and we’ve have buses that go out into the city, and also take us to our prison work.
“We’ve got five businesses where we employ ex-offenders who’ve come to Christ in prison. So it’s grown exponentially, but still all the same heart with Jesus at the center, because only Christ can change your life.
“My great grandfather was one of the first Salvation Army missionaries to India and the Salvation Army early days have always been an inspiration to me. I believe that the brass band music was the rave music of William Booth’s day. It was the music of the pubs and clubs, the chart music, and it was when William Booth saw the impact that kind of music had on the street people, that he formed all the brass bands. It was never meant to be just collecting money at Christmas; it was always evangelism to those that don’t know Christ. And that’s the heart of The Message.”
More about Manchester
Manchester is obviously known for its two soccer teams, Manchester United and Manchester, but its earlier history is closely allied with textile manufacture that took place during the Industrial Revolution. The great majority of cotton spinning took place in the towns of south Lancashire and north Cheshire, and Manchester was, for a time the most productive center of cotton processing, and later the world’s largest marketplace for cotton goods.
Andy says the city has greatly changed since those days, adding, “There are communities in the city that are thoroughly Asian; where you it’d be hard to see a white face, and also they have a strong Muslim population with their large mosques. Due to the European Union, lots of immigrants from countries like Romania and Poland, have been coming to the city to benefit economically from the UK’s economy. So there’s a big multi-cultural community and yet we are able to do full-on Christian clubs in schools that are 95% Muslim, and we’ll have kids coming wearing their veils, while hearing about Jesus.
“Of course, you have to be massively sensitive, but some of our best young evangelists are former Muslims. We’ve got a guy called Mohammed Timbo, who is a church planter in one of hardest areas of Manchester. He came to Christ just before he went to prison for a long stretch and, while he was inside, he led 600 inmates to Christ. Now, he’s part of our team of evangelists. We’ve got another guy called Abdul, who’s just a passionate about sharing Christ. He’s been to Sierra Leone where he led his family to Christ. It’s all sensitive stuff, but it’s all got to be done.”
Having lived much of my life in the UK, I wondered how he saw the spiritual state of the country these days.
“By nature I’m an optimist, but actually the latest statistics from a guy called Peter Brierley, who does church statistics, says that are coming out of a ‘nosedive.’ And, in Manchester, the church is starting to grow again, mainly amongst young people; and we can see pockets of that growth also around the UK.
“Actually, we’ve lost about half of our people in Britain in the last few years, but a lot of that, I believe, was pruning for growth. Maybe, those people didn’t really want to be there, and were just religious guys who went to church. Now, I believe, we are coming into a season of great renewal in the church, and it is engaged in a way that it’s not been before in community. So I’m full of expectation and faith for this.”
Andy Hawthorne closed his fascinating interview by saying that, although he didn’t receive his OBE from Queen Elizabeth II, but from her son, Prince Charles, he has met the Queen on previous occasions, and says that she is a woman of deep faith.
“The Queen’s amazing, and is actually a Christian,” he said. “I’ve been involved in an organization called Hope, and we’ve just written a book which has sold a million copies, called ‘The Servant Queen and the King she serves.’ It’s all about her faith journey and how Christ has helped her.”
He added: “Queen Elizabeth is getting more and more bold with her faith and, once a year, her televised Christmas Day Queen’s Speech goes out to the people of Great Britain and also the whole of the Commonwealth. It’s a long-standing tradition that we all sit down to watch her speech.
“I tell you, Billy Graham couldn’t have written better speeches. It’s full on Gospel stuff and it’s amazing. It’s all there on the Internet for people to see. So the Queen agreed, amazingly enough, to endorse this book. She doesn’t really write books, but we just pulled out different things she’d said over the years about her faith, particularly more recently, when it would appear her faith’s really come alive. So, what a blessing it has been to get it into the hands of a million people in the UK alone.”
Click here to find out more about The Message Trust
This Article has been republished ASSIST News Service