“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” 1 Timothy 1:12-15 (KJV)
I was born and raised in the town of Neath in South Wales in the year 1925. In the preceding quarter of a century Wales had passed through two very different events which had left their mark on the church and nation, that is, the Welsh Revival in 1904-5, and the Great World War of 1914-18. During that time, the lives of my parents had been transformed, my mother converting to faith in Christ in the year 1917 through the ministry of Frank Joshua, whilst my father, fighting in the trenches in France, was wounded, and taken a prisoner of war.
By the time I was born, the third child of my parents, the sensational, and emotional effects of the Revival, whilst not forgotten, no longer affected people. The senseless slaughter of so many of the nation’s sons in the Great War had served to justify the exodus from the chapel and church that had been revived by God. There were very few who proclaimed the doctrines of grace. One prominent evangelical minister having heard Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones told him that he was like a man born out of due time. He began his ministry in Sandfields, Aberavon, five miles away from the place of my birth, when I was two years of age. Many within the non-conformist Chapel that my parents attended, had little knowledge, nor any theological discernment. Often they rode on the tide of emotionalism, with a worship that lacked any substance of the true gospel. The 1823 Confession of Faith of the Calvinistic Methodists was officially abandoned.
Itinerant preachers came on an annual rota to speak to ill-taught congregations. The themes were predictable. One might speak on the parable of the prodigal son, then two weeks later another would give their version of the same parable, and with what little grasp of truth they might have coloured the message. Again, while there were many sermons on the Old Testament types, I cannot remember ever hearing a sermon preached from the epistles of Paul. This was I believe, to do with a misconceived belief around at that time, that the letters of Paul were irrelevant to the gospels.
The rest of the teaching, was a mixture between Scofield’s Dispensationalism and ‘hell-fire’ shouting, intending to encourage the fear of death and judgment, but its extremes and harsh spirit distracted people from balanced Biblical Christianity. Usually the messages were powerless and generalised over sin, with very little attempt to teach the truths of the incarnation, justification, sanctification, mortification, biblical terms which I never heard mentioned until I was past 30 years old. So, as Sinclair Ferguson says- “The food of God’s word which builds Christians up in their faith is sometimes denied them, either because it is wrongly assumed that the only teaching necessary is the basic elements of the gospel and thereafter Christians can be left to their own devices, or because a premium is placed on experience, whether it be our own experience or the biographical experiences of others, rather than on the word of God” (Add to Your Faith page 5).
What characterised the services in the more conservative churches, were weekly ‘Altar- calls’ to come to the front and turn to Christ for salvation! The emphasis was more on man’s ability and a human decision rather than the out working of God’s sovereignty. The non-conformist services to which we were taken were the three Sunday services (afternoon Sunday School) and a meeting on most night’s of the week, except Friday night. These were made up of Temperance, children’s, choir or drama practice, coffee or social evening, and the Saturday night prayer meeting, where often people from other churches joined together. I truly enjoyed the prayer meetings when I was allowed to attend (and sit at the back), to hear the mixture of the Welsh and English accents, and the paradox of hearing such strong men and women humbly crying to Almighty God in a manner that contradicted their Arminian teaching. The prayer meetings used to go on until nearly Ten o’clock and were punctuated by various choruses that stimulated prayer.
My father’s first language was Welsh, and he had returned home wounded from a prisoner of war camp, having spent some time in a hospital. During his time in the Army he had acquired a better grasp of the English language, than when he had married my Mother. But, my father was a ‘man of his times’ and showed very little emotion, and never spoke of the terrible experiences and horror that he went through in the trenches and as prisoner of war. On his return home he tried to find work without much success, so he joined the Royal Artillery reserves. By the time that I was born, my father, like the rest of my mother’s relatives, had been brought to faith in Christ. He too was instructed in the new evangelism of Scofield’s dispensational teaching.
If there was one regret that I will always have, it was that my mother would not allow the Welsh language to be spoken at home, and so my brothers and sister did not do not know a word in Welsh, (apart from a few well- known hymns and ditties).I often went to my Grandparents, and my uncle Dai Phillips (who played Rugby for Neath and Wales) and was more acquainted with the Welsh language, but my father would never speak it in my presence.
My father was a strict disciplinarian, yet with him being away so often in training and camps, he took very little interest in us children, so my mother had the major influence on the way the children were brought up. I can look back and give thanks to Almighty God for his providence in allowing me to be born into such a home. She taught us all to pray, and although she did not have a good singing voice, she was often found singing some old Ballads or a hymn during her housework. Her favourite hymn was, “Take time to be Holy, speak oft with thy Lord”. Her Bible was always open on the table near the old Promise Box, where she would look and occasionally quote a verse to us. When my father was at home, she encouraged him to start the daily family altar before we went to bed, because we seldom saw him in the mornings. Yet, like everything else my father did, he gave orders more than instructed each of us. Even when I was about five years old, I had hoped that he would allow us to pray more freely, because by the time it came to my turn, I felt that there was nothing left to pray for as the others had exhausted everything.
I had been privileged to have been born with a very good memory, with a good speaking and singing voice, so that I was often asked to sing or recite at church and family gatherings. When the time arrived for me to attend school, I was sent to a different school than my brother and sister, to help me to progress, it was the St David’s Church of England school, and I was encouraged to take part in singing, choirs, and the Scriptural exams. In this decision I can trace the providence and wisdom of God, because by the time I had reached the age of 11 years old, I had a good grasp of the Old testament, the Psalms and the New Testament.
My father’s mood would change from time to time, while we would be unaware at the time that he was having nightmares. He ruled me with a rod of iron- it was a Draconian discipline – yet for some reason that strictness was not extended to my brothers and sister. I believe that he did love me, and longed for him to hug me, but I think that he was incapable of doing this. It seems that he was bent on instilling within me, the rule not to show any emotion, that, �It is not manly to cry; only weaklings cry’, and ‘never let your guard down.�
I can remember vividly at the age of six, marching behind him on a wet pavement by the chapel when I slipped and hit my left eye on the concrete corner of a house. It was to need six stitches, but I had got up and, holding the broken flesh back, marched behind him until I got home, then to hear my mother scream when she saw the blood. My father said, �Why didn’t you tell me?� To which I replied, ‘You have told me never to cry�. Again, I saw the hand of God in this that I had been taught to endure a great deal of physical pain without complaining.
Yet for all this I was a total stranger to psychological, or mental suffering. The limbless and sightless men I encountered from time to time, were in my mind, the ‘heroes’ of the war. There was an old woman whom I often avoided, who had to hide her face because cancer had ravished it. There was still a lot for me to learn from life.
A DECISION FOR JESUS
I can remember at the age of eleven, (before I took the ‘scholarship exams’ as they were called then) when I was encouraged in the chapel on a Sunday afternoon with two other boys ‘to give our hearts to Christ’. Yet, as I made the promise to follow Jesus, I was wholly unconscious of the need of repentance, or saw myself as a sinner, only that I had accepted what the Bible taught, that Jesus died for our sins. The whole family were delighted that another had ‘found the Lord’, and I can remember there being a fuss over this. I counted myself a good Christian, in comparison to those who went on charabang outings on a Sunday, or who never entered a place of worship except for festivals. With my singing in the choir and my knowledge of scripture, I was too righteous for my own good, that when a visiting missionary came and showed slides, I vowed that when I was old enough that I would go and help to save those poor people, not realising that I needed saving for myself. What I had experienced was more a change of my intentions than a change of heart.
I enjoyed my schooldays, and passed my exams, even when I had the bad tempered and well-known referee Albert Freethy as my teacher for two long years. He had the reputation in Wales for being the first referee to send off an All Black in the 1925 International Rugby match. Then with the drums of war sounding in 1938, my father pressurised my brother to take the army as a profession, ‘to make a man of him�.
We later moved to Briton Ferry, where my Mother became a member of the Foursquare Gospel (now Elim) church. By this time literature, poetry, singing, taking part in plays, and sport had been my forte, and I sought to excel in every subject. Then the coming of the war changed not only millions of lives worldwide, but my own too, when in my late teens, I was to be placed in the furnace of affliction to learn some realities that I would have never discovered in any other way
REGAINING CONSCIOUSNESS IN HOSPITAL
One terrible day in my late teens, I found myself in unalleviated darkness of pain and confusion, for which little had prepared me. Following a serious accident that resulted in a brain haemorrhage which they termed Meningococele Meningitis, I was brought to death’s door. The words of Job had been very familiar to me through the many sermons and funerals. �The Lord gives and the Lord has taken away, may the Lord be praise � (Job 1:21). But it was a very hard concept to accept while my body was suffering so much- to understand that truth, �Shall we not receive good from God, and not trouble?�(Job 2:10).
Yet although I could not see God while I lay suspended in the darkness of that hour, later I came to understand that he had not forsaken me, and that he had been besides me every step of the way in my despair and confusion, as he was when his own son was crucified and hung suspended between heaven and earth.
As I regained consciousness I did not know how long I had been in the hospital, nor could I remember anything of what had taken place to get me there. I had been very ill, and my father was sent for so that he returned home on compassionate leave. After I was rushed to the hospital, the Doctor gravely told my parents that I had only four hours to live. That, if my parents were desperate for me to live – and the doctor was uncertain of this- they would have to give consent to allowing him to give me an injection in my brain. They were actually experimenting with this drug, which later in 1952 was taken off the market. The Doctor warned them that the result could well be that I would become a virtual cabbage, deaf, or blind, or both, so that it could be wiser to leave me. It appears that my mother having spent some time in prayer, gave the consent to the injection. I lived, but the drug destroyed the residue of my hearing, and paralysed my speech for over four years.
My first awareness of my surroundings in the hospital, was on waking up, and feeling my body pulsating with pain, while my head seemed the size of a barrage balloon about to explode. There seemed to be searchlights, or lightening flashing across my brain. I felt as if I was bound hand and foot so that I could not move, with a weight pressing down on my chest restricting my movements. I found later that I was half encased in plaster. Figures floated past me from time to time, with a solitary figure in dark, which I found to be my father in uniform. Now and again I felt something cold on my lips, but I was still unaware that all residue of my hearing had gone, and my speech was impaired.
Sometime later I became conscious of searing pains tearing through my throat, that was overshadowed by the numb shock of seeing a figure in white holding card with the words, “You screamed, do you want water?” I thought this writing a message to me was ridiculous, but I became increasingly aware that I could hear no sound. I wondered whether I was having a nightmare, but I had to accept that the pains were a terrible reality. Some time later I was able to focus more clearly, but I still could not recognise the people who were bending over me, nor how I had come into such a condition. In fact, it still hurts to try and remember any events prior to my hospitalisation, and I can only vaguely remember the months that followed. I was fed through a drip, and given pain- killing injections while nurses would turn up with cards with requests on them I became aware of the screaming noises in my head, and yet the pain seemed to me to come from without. The words that were placed before me on cards would vary from day to day, “You have become profound deaf. You are unable to speak, because your speech is affected. It will take time to sit up and to walk.” So on and on the days passed, and everything only added confusion to my grief.
I was absolutely bewildered, because I had no understanding of what had happened, what was happening, or why it had happened. I was only conscious of the intense pain and mental suffering. Yet the real problem was not that I was going through untold mental and physical suffering, but that it would be bearable if I could understand its meaning. Because at that precise moment, I could not reconcile my pain and confusion with the promise that was said to come from it.
Slowly I came to some self-understanding, and through the mists of pain I began to panic, and it began to hit me hard as to how my handicap would completely change the pattern of my life, and the hopes I had for the future. I battled with despair. My initial reaction was one of bitterness, and I wept in anger, while groping for an answer to questions about a hopeless future. How would all the compassion and support in the world be able to erase the reality that I would henceforth be classified �as handicap�- �a twp� as they say colloquially in South Wales. I screamed, and screamed to God in my pain to help me, but he was remote and silent, so that I felt abandoned by him. I began to believe that I would be better off dead and that it would result in peace if my life ended then.
How was I going to cope? I thought I had known my strengths and weaknesses, but nothing had prepared me for this. I struggled with the faith I had been taught, trying to reconcile the teaching of my boyhood, “that suffering implied sinfulness, that God does not afflict his children, that he is a God of love, who is quick to respond in the day of trouble.” Then if this were true, how could he have permitted this to happen to me? As I tried to find some means of alleviating my distress, nothing consoled me and life seemed so pointless, and I had once offered to spend my life working for God.
I did not have an understanding of the Sovereignty and Wisdom of an Almighty God. I had exclusively been told about the love and mercy of God, and little of his righteousness. My own worthiness before him, that I was living in rebellion before him and deserved nothing but death- was unfamiliar teaching. Without any concept of the divine justice I began increasingly to be sorry for myself. I had done nothing to deserve this fate. Terry Johnson in his paperback-How The Doctrines of Grace Change your Life- says, “From our point of view, much of the discussion of the �Problem of pain� and suffering gets started on the wrong foot- -Adversity then is viewed as an unfair or unjust intrusion into the life of the one who is undeserving. Thus we regularly question, “Why would God have allowed this to happen to such a fine (and undeserving) family?” When Grace comes Home p 43
In my ignorance I was unaware that nowhere in the scriptures are Christians described as being exempt from suffering. Even Paul, the chief of Apostles was not exempt from pain, as he felt the reality of his ‘thorn’.(2 Cor: 12.) The teaching of Jesus to the man born blind, was that neither he, nor his parents had done anything to warrant his handicap, but that somehow it would be to the glory of God. (John 9).
I was yet to learn more difficult lessons in my handicap. But while the wisdom of God, allowed me to be sifted, there was also that promise of Christ, that my faith would not fail. But, if anyone had tried to tell me this at that time, I would have laughed them to scorn. But God did it in such a way, that I did not see it at first. Samuel Rutherford says in one of his letters: “If God had told me some time ago that he was about to make me as happy as I could be in this world, and then had told me that he would begin by crippling me in my arm or limb, and removing me from all my usual sources of enjoyment, I should have thought it a very strange mode of accomplishing his purpose. And yet, how is his wisdom manifest in this! For if you should see a man shut up in a closed room, idolising a set of lamps and rejoicing in their light, and you wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all his lamps, and then throw open the shutters to let in the light of heaven”.
Yet such actions are within the paradoxes of the longsuffering and wisdom of God. He allowed me to become profoundly deaf, so that I would learn to rejoice in the music of his name through his spirit and his word in the inner ear of my heart. I was to know the God of all comfort, and the joy in sharing with others that grace that was manifested to me over the years. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1. 3-7. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation, if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings.”
I was to begin the long and hard journey down the road of obedience to Christ through suffering-
And work in me to will and do thy pleasure,
Let all within me, peaceful reconciled.
Tarry content my Well beloved’s leisure.
At last, at last, even as a weaned child.
But I can honestly admit, that while I can say today with the Psalmist, “It was good for me to be afflicted- because, before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I have kept thy word” Psalm 119:67 & 71. God has worked out everything for my good so that I might be conformed to the likeness of his son (Romans 8;28). Yet, it was a bitter pill to swallow, at the time, and it has left many scars that still grieve me today.
THE STEPS OF RECOVERY
As the days progressed, I was able to sit up with support, but it did nothing to my confidence that the nurses, easily conversing with the other patients, neglected me to contend with the noises within and the inability to speak. There was also the unpleasant experience of having a face placed so close to my own, and a mouth opening and closing without a sound, trying to convey some message. I felt patronised and humiliated that it only increased my frustration and anger. To cap it all, my sense of esteem and security evaporated when I began to get use of my right arm, and I took a mirror to see my face. I could not recognise the gaunt skeleton features that stared back at me, the hair missing from half of my head. Again I was promised on a card that, like everything else, that it would be OK in time..
After the plaster was taken off, and I was given some sort of physiotherapy to increase movements to my arms and limbs, I was instructed to try and perform these exercises myself, but once, still a little confused, and on the assumption that I improved, (because some of the pain had receded from my arms and legs), I foolishly struggled to get my legs over the side of the bed to stand. I quickly found myself collapsing headlong and being revived some time later. Eventually it was with the aid of sticks, that I was able to drag my body along. The fainting fits receded slowly, but it was a struggle to walk across the room unaided.
The time came for me to be taken home, to a slow convalescence, to face a wall of silence, unable to communicate or walk properly so that I had to be carried around. In my misery I felt too ashamed to face the friends and neighbours, that I shut myself in my room to save embarrassment to others, and frustration for myself. This added to my resentment and depression, that I refused to co-operate with my family and friends. I believed that I would not be able to retain the vigorous life style I once enjoyed, that instead of a full life, there stretched before me a bleak existence. I felt that I would not be able to cope. The fact was, that my total deafness and the ability to speak were beginning to unnerve me, because during my past I had totally depended upon my ability to hear and speak. Helen Keller had confessed: “The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex than that of blindness, deafness is a much worse misfortune, for it means that the loss of the most vital stimulus, the sound of a voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir, and keeps us in the intellectual company of others”.
Also, the abhorrence of my condition and the constant pains and noises were difficult to cope with. In my solitude I tried to read the Bible and other works to shed some light and obtain some relief, but I could not find the answers to what I was looking for immediately. Psalm 38 was a reality to me and I waited in vain for a reply, but, I was looking at it with the mind of the natural man. I realise, that I was being taught another valuable lesson, that it is impossible to know the deep things of God without the spirit of God. Who can understand how God works while man ignores the truth. My dashed hopes were caused by untaught faith, the misuse of verses from the Bible, and attempts to read into scripture for assurances that God had not sanctioned. Someone has said,- “You cannot manipulate God into any technique, it reduces God to a celestial vending machine-insert some praise- select right button- then get what you want”.
The following months I was to get glimpses of what it meant to walk in darkness, to have no light, to be rejected, patronised, and even pitied by those who thought that my injuries had also affected my mental capabilities. Even by those who had known me well began to mouth words to me very slowly, and with vocabulary of a little child. There were many times that I would have like to escape from it all in some way or other. Now I understand, that God’s grace was given in my weakness, in not allowing me to be tempted more than I could bear. “For you, O God, tested us, you refined us with silver, you brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let men ride over our heads, we went through fire and water, but, you brought us into a place of abundance.” (Psalm 66;vv10-13)
My depression also stemmed from my ignorance of God’s mercy and grace that made us in his own image. I foolishly thought that while I remained deaf, and unable to speak, that I was counted for nothing, or as someone told me later, ‘only half a man’, that I was only fit for the pool of rejects. I was yet to learn what Lily Trotter meant when she said. “God may use the things he has wrought in us, for the blessings of souls unknown by us- where individualism is forgotten- God only knows the endless possibilities that lie unfolded in each one of us.” Job 23: 10) says. ‘He knows the way I take, and when he has tested me, I shall come forth as gold”.
I was now getting stronger, and with the help of friends my mother had me taken to the healing meetings of Stephen Jefferys in the Elim Four-Square Gospel Church. She believed that God would heal me from my deafness, speech impediment, and strengthen my limbs. I was very unclear about all this at that time. The only experience I had of healing, was when I was a young boy, I had heard a young woman I knew, professed to having her limp cured. Yet I saw one of my friends aged 14 years old die of consumption, although prayers had been offered for him. My mother attended the Elim Pentecostal church and strongly believed that Jesus would heal me, that it was not the will of God for me to suffer, that the Bible taught that if prayer is offered in faith in the name of the Lord, then God is bound to raise up the sick person, and so on. In my state of despair I clutched at each straw if it would enable my life to get back on an even course. But I myself did not know God.
I began to feel a little embarrassed, as a young man being carried down the aisle with the other sick folk and having Stephen Jefferys touching my ears and head with oil. He would pray (I noticed his mouth moving over each person,) and then his hands would press behind my head. It actually brought on the sound of drumming hoofs so that I nearly passed out. But I stuck out as I thought it might help me . Then I had to stand and to endure the inevitable passing out, and coming round with a glass of water pressed to my lips. These healing meetings went on for a long while and they served to drive me to greater despair. But my Mother and well-meaning friends exhorted me to stick it out, telling me that my faith would get stronger, until I finally protested that I was detesting this exhibition of being taken to one meeting after another. It was merely aggravating my loss.
Panic attacks would characterise many nights, with the strangled cries coming from my throat. I was longing to hear even my own voice. There were times when I was alone in the house, and suddenly the noises in my head ceased, and I became afraid. For although they were not human voices, the sounds actually gave me gave me some crumbs of comfort in that they focussed my attention, that although they irritated me occasionally, they had become a new found companion. In my desperation, I would then throw a saucepan on the floor, or a kitchen bowl- anything that would create a sound. Finally I would stagger outside to try and find someone or some sort of movement that would assure me that there was life, and that I was not dead. It was the most terrible feeling that I had ever experienced, as if I was suspended in a void, and deserted by everyone, just utterly alone in a world of silence that could be felt.
I longed to hear an assuring voice, or even the touch of a hand-“the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that has stilled.” At times it seemed as if I was clinging to a precipice by my finger tips, soon to plunge into an abyss of no return. I was so depressed that I believed that I had been brought to the place of self despair, a feeling of nothingness, with no reason to go on. It was only the grace of God that kept me sane, that he was still there, “Unseen yet for ever at hand”, as he was when his son cried out in the loneliness of Calvary.
I was feeling that the world had turned against me, because although limbless and blind persons are prevented from doing certain things, I found that my deafness was cutting me off from people themselves. I was beginning to lip read very slowly. The problem was that people spoke too fast, or I was unable to respond back to them, which caused more heartache and misunderstanding. It is true that we learn more through our ears than through our eyes. Also, people became impatient too quickly, because they could not see any visible handicap, other than my stammering tongue and my limp, so that after a while, they began to look around for ways of avoiding me.
I went deeper into my depression as my world was collapsing around me. Who could I turn to? The hopelessness, the loss and rejection, reading pity in the faces of people, with the physical pain, all served to overwhelm me. My misery fast became the focal point of my life. I found myself entering a pit, losing any faith that I possessed, complaining to whoever would hear me, that “a little talk with Jesus” never made things turn out right. The pendulum swung back and fore and there many times that I felt like Jeremiah, “I have been deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is, my splendour has gone and all I had hoped from the Lord.”
During this time of darkness and depression, the teaching and discipline of my father came to me. I believe that it had been used in the providence of God to instil in me the resolution not to give way, for he taught me not to quit, but act like a man. In spite of terrible pain I exercised my legs and arms, (there being no physiotherapists at that time) I tried to remember the ways I trained in sport and boxing, and after months I was able to walk without sticks, and even run a few strides. Increasingly I kept more to myself, because I could not separate the laughter of my friends and family from ridicule of myself, often seething with misery but longing to join in. Also, although I was learning some new words, I could not determine whether people were discussing me, or another subject. For in laughter the shape of lips move too fast to be understood.
Then my life began to change in the shape of a young man. His name was John Thompson who had studied at Elim Bible college before coming to Neath as an assistant pastor. At first I was a little wary when he called, expecting him to preach or try and coax me to attend services and healing. To my surprise, he went out of his way to encourage me to make use of my vocal chords. He painstakingly wrote on note pads, and helped me when I struggled to read lips, or make sounds. Nothing was too much trouble for him, yet I did not recognise at that time that God was answering my prayers.
He was a very patient friend who accepted my anger and made me laugh for the first time in many months and to relax again. I always had a sense of peace and security when he came around, for he made me feel accepted, and to forget my handicap. I was slowly learning some valuable lessons. One was that he never imposed upon me any regimen of goals to struggle towards but that he helped me to overcome the difficult tasks. Secondly, he did not take on too much responsibility for my happiness, but was always preparing me for the time when he would have to go away so that I would be able to cope on my own. I responded to his kindness by going along to services at Elim, but only because he was there, as I had lost all interest in the things of God. He also introduced me to a young woman name Lucy Thomas who came from a Salvation Army background(she later married an American Air Force chaplain). It was she who began to teach me to communicate the Deaf Manual alphabet and to improve my lip-reading.
It was a very sad day when John Thompson finally went. Sadly I never met him again, but I believe in him I had been entertaining an angel without knowing it. He had taught me a simple but invaluable lesson concerning the patience of God, the importance of drawing alongside someone in their time of need without imposing upon them, just to be there, to listen and to care. (cf. Luke 10. 25-37) Again, through the love and companionship of that young pastor, God had provided a way out, so that I began to bear my trial and it helped to bring me through those first crises. (1 Cor .10:13).
Finally the Second World War came to an end, and my body, although half of its former weight was getting stronger. So I made a resolution to get away from everybody I knew, and I applied for rehabilitation with other servicemen, working alongside German prisoners of war on the land in Pembrokeshire. Yet unconsciously, still running from The Hound of Heaven.
I fled him down the nights, and down the days,
I fled him down the arches of the years.
I fled him down the labyrinthine ways,
Of my own mind, and in the midst of tears,
I hid from him, and under running water;
Up vistaed hopes I sped and shot precipitated.
Adown titanic glooms of chasmed fear.
From those strong feet that followed, followed after..
The Hound Of Heaven (Francis Thompson)
Yet there was another incident at time which I now see as the providential care and protection from God. With my legs a little stronger I foolishly decided to strengthen my muscles by going for a swim in the old canal near the river, I had always been a strong swimmer, and had no fears as I climbed up to the bridge parapet. As I climbed, I noticed another man swimming further down the canal. I dived, but found to my horror that as I hit the water that I had lost control over the lower part of my body. In my desperation I tried to tread water, but began to spin and spin until I lost consciousness until I woke up on the bank with a man pumping water out of me. He was a boxer who lived near me, and when he saw me dive in and not coming to the surface he had got a little concerned and dived in to save me. He knew of my injuries, so the word got round that I intended doing myself some harm, which was further from my mind, (and in my swimming shorts!). But another valuable lesson had been drilled in, not to judge so quickly at similar circumstances.
When I arrived in Pembrokeshire, I joined the ex-service men and women who were recovering from their many traumas. Some were returning from the war with no family to go back too, while others were adjusting to civilian life after the terrible experiences which they had endured. To my relief I found that I was accepted at once among them as ‘normal’. As the old army lorry wended its way to where we would camp, they even encouraged me to join in (with my strangled notes) the old familiar songs that were often sung on such journeys. “The White Cliffs of Dover- I’ll Walk beside you.- Smoke gets in your eyes” etc. All my embarrassment and fears began to dissolve as I worked alongside them and played on the beach. They watched and encouraged me to swim even to using my voice more, then to accept some work responsibility. I even attended the church services with them. But sadly, and to my everlasting shame, it was then that I was tempted to take my first drink of alcohol, a very strong cider, which I suffered from for days.
Slowly my body began to develop through the work in the sun and the fitness training. I had made many friends who had helped me to recover before they left to go back home. Yet I was still profound deaf, suffering from Tinnitus and struggling to muster a little conversation. But my lip-reading skills had improved, and I attained a self confidence that had been missing for a long while. More importantly, I was beginning to accept the way I was.
So I did not hesitate when a letter came to offer me work in ship breaking and salvage. Yet it was a decision, which to my sorrow would lead me down a path that I am still too ashamed to speak about, that left scars that still haunt me from time to time. (Psalm 51:3-4). It is only now that I can trace the sovereignty of God in the “Footsteps that followed after” even there.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me, grimed with smears,
I stand amid the dust o’ the mounded years-
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke.
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
When I began the job, I became aware that everyone without exception, from the yard manager down to the yard-ganger was enormously helpful. They took no notice nor showed any embarrassement at my stammering tongue, which helped me slot into that team of men. It was a dangerous job, yet their attitude instilled a confidence in me to attempt the tasks that they were doing, even to handle some of them on my own until I was finally given the vote of confidence by the ‘Gaffer’ to take responsibility over others.
The men I worked with were not the type who spoke much, nor liked to have their peculiarities recorded, or to have judgements passed about the way they thought or acted. Their conversations came in small snatches about their work, the union and life around their families, so slowly I began to lose interest in the things I once cherished. Yet true to their kind, those men never left me out of any decision, nor activity because I was deaf. I can vividly remember the time when the team had to go to London, and during a break one evening they were asked to create a �Welsh night� and sing a few songs. When the time came, my closest friend (who later was to be killed), knew that I would have stuck out like a sore thumb among the English people they were entertaining, and so he dragged me up on the rostrum and told me, “Bud, watch my lips and mime with us whatever we sing”. I became the first deaf man that sung Calon Lan and other pieces in the makeshift Welsh choir.
During that period in my life, I saw many of those friends killed, blown apart, crushed, or burnt, but apart from a few cuts and broken bones I came through that time unscathed. I will always be grateful for that struggle to get accepted, for the support and sincerity of those ‘comforters’, because I believe that those non- Christians were used by God to further his purposes in my life, and were drawn up into those things that God worked for my good. Even in the death of Jesus Christ, where evil seemed to be in control, God used the anonymous to fulfil his purposes, as Peter concluded in Acts 2.23. “This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death, by nailing him to the cross .”
It has helped me to understand that nothing escapes the Omnipotent purposes of God for his people. None of the circumstances of my life took God by surprise, as he used everything for my good, and his own glory (2 Corinthians 1. 3-11). This has been an amazing truth which has become my great support in other difficult times ever since, helping me to respond to suffering, temptation, trials and false accusations. C.S. Lewis says. “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right, and stopping the leaks in the roof, and so on; you know that there jobs needed doing, and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building a quite different house from the one you thought of- throwing up a wing here, putting up an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage; but he is building a palace. He in tends to come and live in it himself “. Mere Christianity p 172
By the end of the decade I had become proficient in lip-reading, and my voice, although not back to its original quality, was strong enough to carry on a full conversation. I had taken up climbing and got involved in sport aiming for total fitness, which I foolishly considered to be the apex of manhood. It was only the death of some friends, and the fact that most of the ships from the war had been salvaged made me restless to move on. Yet much of my resentment at being a handicap person (or a twp) had disappeared as I learned to adjust living in a silent world. I had also re-discovered the joy of reading.
It was then the providence of God moved the young new manager of the dock to ask me to help him to build his house in the evenings and week ends, then to invite me to his wedding- in which I had no interest- but was pressured to attend it.
�Still with unhurrying pace and unperturb-ed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy-
Came the following feet��
When I arrived at the church, I came face to face with the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, whom God had designed to be my helpmate for life. She was arrayed in a blue bridesmaid’s gown, and although I could not hear her voice when she sung at the reception, I imagined it to be the sweetest sound ever. I stood captivated and wondered how such a person like me could think of speaking to her, let alone asking her if she would come out with me. But, I took courage and did so, and it was no surprise to find that she did not see my deafness a handicap.
Phyllis came from a strong Roman Catholic family, but to my state of mind at that time it mattered very little that whatever her faith appeared to be. My life began to take on a new perspective, when with the help of God’s grace this caring patient woman began to re-shape my life, that I knew that I was being loved and cared for with an intensity I had never known before. At once she took it in hand to correct my pronunciation and vocabulary, commented about the radio news, wrote painstakingly in all meetings we were to attend, and included me in conversations when we were in the company of others.
The Lord first blessed our wedding with the birth of our son Andrew. Then eighteen months later when Phyl was carrying our daughter she had a longing to attend a place of worship, because she had not been accepted into the Roman Catholic church since our marriage. My mother who attended the Elim Church, invited Phyllis to attend services with her. Then four months before the birth of our daughter Linda, she came home from church and dropped a bombshell. “Bud”, she said, “I have given my heart to Jesus Christ. The Lord has saved me”
Now while I still had nothing to do with church or religion, I loved my wife and family and I would do nothing to hinder her. But neither was I in the position to help her so I was a little reluctant to get involved. I had also believed that I was past the pale for mercy.
We were living in a caravan at the time, and although we were excited with the birth of another child, we realised that we should look for another place. Two months later an enormous blow fell on us, and what little faith I possessed took another nose-dive as the props were knocked from under me by the birth of our daughter Linda. We found that she could not be brought home from the hospital with Phyllis, and kept in the dark by the Hospital authorities for the actual reason. It was not for a few weeks that we were told what had happened. It appears that there had been complications at Linda’s birth in the hospital, which resulted in her being born brain damaged, and with little if any, retention of her sight.
I was overwhelmed by it all. Although my life had been transformed since marrying Phyllis, I was devastated at this fearful providence. I was physically strong, but I was still mentally crippled by my emotional and spiritual failures of the past, and I could not understand why God’s hand was so heavy upon us. I was also concerned that Phyllis had another handicapped person to care for. The doubts again filled my heart. Why had God allowed these things to happen to me? Was I not to have any joy in my life but to be constantly reminded of my handicap and past grief? What else was God going to do? Was he going to take away the only morsel of love and joy that I had begun to find and destroy every hope for the future? Sinclair Ferguson says, ” Satan was living up to his title- and ‘ambushing’ Job (myself- my insertion) from a place so well hidden that Job and his friends mistook his activity for that of God. What was Satan’s purpose in all this? It was to twist the heart of Paul from the love of his Lord, just has it was to drive the hapless Job (myself) from the comforts of God’s presence. How nearly he succeeded in Job’s case:-
‘Surely, O God, you have worn me out:
You have devastated my entire household.
You have bound me- and it has become my witness;
My gauntness rises up and testifies against me.
God assails me and tears me in his anger
and gnashes his teeth his teeth at me…
All was well with me, but he shattered me;
He seized me by the neck and crushed me.
He has made me his target’.
Like another saint in the old dispensation, he felt that God had ‘taken me up and thrown me aside’ (Psalm 102;10). But the truth of the matter was that it was not God who had done all this, and by his deceitful disguise, all the hatred which should have been directed towards Satan, was beginning to turn upon Job’s only refuge. We cannot doubt that the same demonic strategy was at work in Paul’s experience’ . (Add to Your Faith . pp 122-3)
Although I was not aware of this at the time, I was to discover a new dimension, a new insight in the sovereignty and grace of God, that he would strip me further and to break the hard self-sufficiency to which I still clung, until I would find myself entirely helpless before him. I was also to witness the quiet submission to the will of God that Phyl manifested at that time. For although she had always been patient and loving, these graces were transformed since she had come to faith in Christ as her Saviour. That while others in the past had been allowed to draw near to me, in an attempt to help me to take my place in society, Phyl began to make me face up to my past failures and self pity with honesty.
When we received the news of our new daughter Linda, I found to my shame, that after Phyllis had cried for a while at the news, she turned to me and said. “Bud, I do not know what is happening, but one thing that I am sure of, is that God will bring good out of this.” This to my amazement was her powerful confession of trust in God, and that after only being a few months in that faith, while I had been surrounded with it since a child! I was to witness her strength and love more than this. For while caring for our son and myself, she had to carry our daughter Linda, bound to her to her body, twenty four hours a day. (Because of the pressure in her head, Linda could not lie down, which would cause extreme pain. I only took a few turns in carrying our daughter when I was at home.) If one should have asked Phyllis what she thought of a God who would allow such an event to take place only a few months after committing her life to him, she would have said, that she never could have coped with the situation without him.
I remained confused at times, yet I began to draw comfort from the faith of Phyllis to such a degree I had never experienced before. I longed to take the burdens from her shoulders, but it was through these months that the compassion of Christ was continuing my healing, not of my sensory or physical disabilities, nor anything ephemeral, but the healing of my resentment and pain where it had hurt most. It was a healing that helped me to come to terms with the situation, and so little by little my defences against God and his providence began to crumble into the dust.
While I was not given the answers at that time (John 13:7) I felt that the birth of Linda had brought Phyllis and I closer together, because I saw in her the grace of submission to the good and acceptable and perfect will of God for our lives. As I sought to bear Phyllis’ burdens, I became increasingly aware that I myself had immense needs to be met. God’s purposes were continuing to fit together, as he continued his process of making me weak to depend upon the strength of others, so that I might later be equipped through his grace to do the same. God was changing the rooms. E. Elliot says.” So God fits us with exquisite precision, each according to his vocation, for the place He wants to occupy. The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of a building, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. In him, each separate piece of building, properly fitting into its neighbour, grows together in a temple consecrated to the Lord. You are all part of this building in which God himself lives by his spirit” (Eph 2:20-22. JBP)
A Path Through Suffering. p 123
A CHANGE OF WORK
Eventually I began to get restless, restless for a change from my work with the departure and even the deaths of some of my friends, and the running down of the ship-salvaging business. Also I had been given family responsibilities, so I no longer sought the company of my old friends in their haunts. I began to feel that it was time to be moving on. Yet although Phyllis attended chapel as often as she could, I was not in the rush to commit myself in that way, but I patiently listened to her comments on what she had been taught in church yet not seeing myself as a sinner in need of saving.
Providence took another hand when my brother found me a job in a bakery. I did not jump at it at once, because it would be difficult working in such heat after being exposed to the elements for over a decade. Yet I was moved to take it because it would give me some more time with my family. During the time I learned the trade I lost two stone through the heat of the bake-house, but I did qualify and was offered promotion to a bakery in Aberystwyth on the coast of mid- Wales. The attraction was that a large flat over the bake-house with three bedrooms went with the job, the draw-back would be the continual night shift (six a week). I accepted it, for though it would curtail the hours that I would be free, it provided a stable home for the family from the six-berth caravan with room for Linda to develop. Yet I was still a stranger to the mysterious ways of God in his sovereignty and mercy, and the way that he was dealing with me so that I would confront my sin, and himself.
I went to Aberystwyth ahead of Phyllis and the children for about four months, to see if it would work out for me and the family, and to give me some time to prepare the way in refurbishing the flat. During that time Phyl made me promise to look around for an evangelical church where she could be able to worship.
I did not find it easy to settle, because I found my first absence from my family demanding, and trying to adjust to a small town bakery and new friends. So I took every offer of a lift on the bakery van from Cardiff, so that I could go home on the week end. During the weekends Phyllis would continue to remind me to look for a place of worship. So during the evenings of the following week I began to scout around the town for the churches, but the notice boards outside the churches did not tell me much of what went on inside. So I played for safety and found the location of the little Elim Chapel, taking note of the times of services. But Phyllis would not settle for my being in Aberystwyth and not attending the place of worship to get some details, so she continued to pressurise me to attend a Sunday service. Because I was still reluctant and uneasy I did not do this at once, for apart from weddings and funerals, it had been a very long time since I attended church. Yet Phyllis continued to pressurise me to attend a Sunday Evening service before I went to work to find out about the worship.