WWII was three years in the past when I was born. We live in Willesden, London and it is the first place I go to school. Never liked school.
Mum and I used to regularly visit her Sister’s family in Harringay at weekends. My Father never came with us.
We arrived one weekend as usual and simply never went home again. My parents had separated. I was seven. My best friend, who had lived next door was called David Hughes. I didn’t get to say goodbye and never saw him again. Our new home is now with my Aunt and Uncle and my two cousins, who still, to this day, are like Sisters, and I love them dearly. Living in different places was to be a recurring life pattern.
About a year later we moved again, but only a couple or roads away. A year after that, whilst I spent a month in the Middlesex Isolation Hospital with, I suspect, blood poisoning, the family moved to Essex. I never saw any of my school friends again.
It’s now the early 60s, I’m 16, I have lived in 6 different homes. The Beatles were the new kids on the Mersey block. I had just started an Avionics Apprenticeship when I met my first Christian. Of course, I didn’t know he was a Christian. As far as I was concerned he was a religious nut who blathered on and on about God and Jesus and getting ‘saved’.
However, although I didn’t realise it at the time, meeting him set my feet on a different path, a faith path, and a new destination was just over the horizon…..
….. and after two years of relentless nagging I was persuaded to go with him, and a whole coach load of young people, to hear Billy Graham, the American Evangelist, at Earls Court, in London. It is 1966, and I find myself standing in front of the charismatic American saying the sinner’s prayer. The Holy Spirit had fished another one from the waves and it hit me like a thunderbolt. I felt like Jesus was a pillion passenger on my Honda 50 riding along this new path.
Going to the small Brethren hall for the first time was a cultural shock. I managed a few weeks, but I didn’t own a suit, and I felt uncomfortable in this weird and alien environment. I left and joined the young conservatives (much less weird and alien), learned guitar, formed a folk duo and managed to avoid God for a year. But the Holy Spirit still had his fish-hook attached to me and began reeling me in.
The folk duo split as Pete, the other half of our folk duo went to RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), and mainly because I had failed to find a girlfriend, which I had been led to understand should have been a dead cert, the attraction of the Young Conservatives faded also. So after a year of constant invites to a young peoples’ Bible study, and having run out of other diversionary excuses, I begrudgingly got back on the faith-track. It was at that Bible study I began to learn what being a Christian was really about. It was also the place where I met my future wife, Jan. At the time of writing (2016) we have been married 44 years! Nice one God!
The next few years saw us involved variously in a coffee-bar evangelistic team, a couple of local churches, getting engaged, a Christian rock band, getting married, buying a house and then, getting hit, full-pelt, by the Holy Spirit: a real game-changer. I left my job to take time to find out what God wanted for us. We knew there was something, we just didn’t know what. There were still bills and a mortgage to pay, and God clearly said, don’t ‘sign-on’ and to trust him. Tough. Does wonders for your, sometimes desperate, prayer life. All the bills were paid for the next few months until it became clear that the one thing we really didn’t want to do, which was go to Bible College, was exactly what God wanted us to do. A letter plopped through our letterbox inviting us to Birmingham Bible College. Where was Birmingham? We had to get a map out. I took a temporary job while things got sorted, and about a year later…..
….. we’re sleeping on the floor of an old house in Birmingham. Our sparse furniture is stacked around us. Our house in Essex? Sold. Our bridges? Burnt. We’re at Bible College. Another destination along the path, and this section of the path was both straight and narrow and with a really steep learning curve.
That time was, and remains, 33+ years later, a priceless spiritual experience at the feet of men and women of God who led us to places we would never have visited in a local fellowship (church) situation. It was a path that we were certain was signposted – ‘Missionary Radio’. It was logical, with my Electronic and Radio engineering background. Seems the Mission Societies had different ideas because none of them wanted us. Never happened. Not our path. Confusing.
Faith in God is easier when things are going well. Real faith grows when you have nowhere to turn, except toward God. Many times at College we find ourselves praying that our Father will meet our different needs. Money to buy food and clothing (we never go hungry or naked!), healings, guidance, spiritual insight, courage, battles. But through all that we find God is faithful, sticks with us, and teaches us some profound lessons that were, and still are, invaluable.
1984 was a great year. We have a Son and I work with Mission England in Birmingham which brings Billy Graham back to the UK. Full circle for me! The water of a number of different jobs and different church fellowships, flowed under our bridges over the next few years.
As a family we work together at a Christian outdoor centre and then we move to the North-West, to the Wirral, and I work for a few different Christian charities. In the local church we belong to, we are involved in home-group leadership, diaconate, worship group, preaching, teaching, Sunday School. The steep learning curve in Birmingham pays dividends.
Then the local church falls on difficult times. There are leadership splits and traumas. We wonder should we stay. God says stay. We stay, but often find ourselves caught in the middle as people take sides. The path gets very rocky and we lose friends for a while. At the right moment God says it is time to go. We join with the ex-Pastor building a new fellowship; a fellowship which will do things differently. The difference lasts a few months. It isn’t working and the Pastor and his family, move back to their North East home.
Our pathway starts to lead in a strange and very unexpected direction and we wonder if our map is wrong. For the first time in decades we realise our path is leading away from the institutionalised church we have been used to, have been an integral part of, and could never imagine being outside of. We’ve walked to the city gates and exited. The path leads away and we are outside the old familiar walls.
And this is where we find ourselves now, still continuing along the path of faith, still following Jesus, still fellowshipping with other Christians, but not aligned to a building, denomination or man-made religious institution. We are openly involved with the body of Christ – which is what ‘Church’ really is – but not behind doors and within brick walls, not under some man-made idea of ‘church’, not hedged around by man-made rules and ideas and strictures.
In 2012, out of the blue, we had to move. It was rather a shock. But we ended up in New Brighton, a lovely little seaside resort in Wirral. We had bright ideas to start a home Bible study group amongst the neighbours in our street (You can take the Christian out of the Institution, but you can’t take the Institution out of the Christian?).
But….. ‘If you want to hear God laugh, tell him about your plans’ (Woody Allen).
Within a few weeks of moving I had a ‘mild’ heart attack. Didn’t expect that, but you don’t do you. Recovery was lots of walking around our new community. Without really thinking about it we found ourselves involved with volunteer beach cleaning, a band of Pirates(!), our local GP’s Patient Participation Group, our local Park ‘Friends’ and the local Council’s Problem Solving Group: God’s plans eh!
Good friends of over 30 years visited us recently. They are leaders in their church fellowship. We go out for a meal, we talk endlessly. We share a wonderful evening and they are very encouraging. We all pray together before they go home and give us a picture from God which we all agree says – be prepared. For……? Well, the next turn in the path perhaps. We’ll know when we get there.
The journey continues. We keep our feet on God’s path as best we can, despite often stumbling along. Sometimes tripping, sometimes slipping and sometimes getting detoured, But along the way there have always been new and interesting destinations, and we reckon there will be more to come.
But the final destination is still over the final horizon, and in the dark sky of this fallen world, its glow is now brighter as each day passes, and we keep our eyes fixed on that one final destination; The New Jerusalem!