I ATTEND CHURCH!
Finally I took the plunge, but left it until it was nearly time for the service to start before going inside. The building was very small and quite full, with about 35-50 older people and students. At once a tall, kindly man approached me, who I found to be the pastor Andrew Birchall. After welcoming me, he enquired if I was alone and from Aberystwyth. I felt a little uncomfortable, I did not wish to be too friendly as I explained my hearing loss and that Phyllis would soon be moving to Aberystwyth with the children to worship. At once he said “Praise the Lord.” So I told him to hang on, because I did not want him to have the wrong impression about me that I was a believer, that I would like to sit alone at the back. But he spoke to a man who came and sat beside me to show me the hymns and the scripture reading.
It was when the old familiar hymns were being sung, that I glanced around and noticed in the faces of many a joy and that reflected their assurance and peace in believing Jesus Christ. I had often seen that same joy reflected on my mother’s face, and on Phyllis. I found the worship conservative for a Pentecostal church, more in line with the way my mother worshipped. I could not follow the preaching because I would not look directly at the Pastor. But as I read the old familiar words of the hymns, it took me back to my childhood and stirred up emotions that I had thought long dead, and it made me so uncomfortable that I would have walked out but for the man blocking my way.
On the way out the pastor wanted to speak to me, but I thanked him and made excuses that I was working the night shift, resolving not to attend again as I felt that I had kept my promise to my wife. But I could not block out the memory of that service during the bakery shift. I found myself struggling within, as if I was pulled one way then another, with my mind going back to my childhood and the happy memories of the family altar, my mother praying and hearing the tunes of the old hymns. To my surprise I found myself experiencing a new kind of hunger, a longing that I had known for a long, long time, a longing to have peace, and strangely to be accepted. But my mind began to race, “to be accepted to what�? I pushed it away as weak subjective emotions. But the striving’s would not cease, so I began to make excuses to go back to the little church to make it doubly sure that it was the right place for Phyl. The following Sunday I crept in as late as possible, but came under the conviction that I wanted to speak to the pastor, but like a coward I rushed out as soon as the service was over.
During the coming weeks I struggled to find peace, finding my emotions battling with one thing, then another. A verse of a hymn portrays it.
Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried, that grace can restore.
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that are broken will vibrate once More.’
(Rescue the Perishing) . Fanny J Crosby.
One inescapable reality was a very good memory, that I had been well taught in Scriptures as a boy with the promises of forgiveness, peace and joy in Jesus Christ. Yet, on the other side of the scale I knew the Scripture verses that seemed to condemn me without hope. “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” Hebrews 6:4-6. 10:26-29- 2 Peter2:15- 1 John 2:19.
I was so familiar with the story of the Prodigal son, but I kept saying to myself. “Ah that was him, but he never went to such depths as you.” So while in one breath I cried for inner acceptance and peace, in another I was condemning myself for being so chicken-hearted and weak. Then another voice seemed to say, “How could you cope with it all? You are too far from God, there is no way back”. Then all my past sinfulness would flash before me and my pain became unbearable. But another voice was prompting me to ask and seek and knock.
My workmates thought that I was grieving and missing my family, which I was, but I was too chicken-hearted to say that it was not the problem. During the next few days I could not sleep, and thought of paying the pastor a visit, if only for him to confirm my loss. But it was delayed when I went home again that weekend, and although I never mentioned anything of my inner conflicts to Phyllis, she was aware of my spiritual battle, but did not seek to pressurise me.
My freshness spent is wavering shower in the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount
Wherein tear- drippings stagnate, split down ever.
From the dark thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
Such is. What is it to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what time in mists confounds.
‘Now of that long pursuit
Comes on at hand the brute
That voice is round me like a bursting sea,
‘And is thy earth so marred
Shattered in shard and shard.
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest me”
‘The Hound of Heaven’
During the following Tuesday evening, I intended going to the club before work when I found myself ‘propelled’, if that is the right word, by some inner compulsion to make a detour past the little Elim chapel, then to find myself as if in a dream going in and to sit at the back.
From the heart beneath, as if, God speeding me,
I entered the church door, nature leading me.
In youth I looked to these very skies,
And probing their immensities.
I found God there, his visible power;
Yet felt in my heart, amid all its senses
Of the Power, and equal evidence
That his love, there too, was the nobler dower-
Christmas Eve, R Browning.
There were a few people present and a prayer meeting was in process. I was glad that no one approached me, because my heart was in a ferment as I bowed my head, I did not know for how long only to lift it later to find the place empty, and the kind Pastor waiting across the room asking me whether he could help.
That night will always be engraved on my heart. I vividly remember crying back to him. “If only you could, because I feel that I have sinned so much against God, and light, that no one can help me to find a way out.” Then with a patience that I had also seen in Phyl he began to speak slowly to me. And what transpired next is far too difficult to put into words- and I do not wish to make light of it either-in the way that the power of God visits the heart- nor would I wish to dismiss it. Yet even now as I try to record it I am overwhelmed with emotion, as I recall the time when God’s grace melted my stubborn heart down to submission, by his immeasurable love and mercy. But the experience at that time-
Halts by me that footfall;
Is my gloom after all.
Shade of His hand outstretched caressingly?
Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest me?
The Hound of Heaven.
I felt that the “Dungeons blazed with light”- as I the hard man, found myself weeping. I cried in sorrow for what I had been, and for a joy, peace and cleansing power that I had never experienced before – as “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim.1: 12-14) I had arrived at last to the point in my desperation, to find that there was no remedy for my sin apart from Jesus Christ. That although I had the love and support of my family, my life would still be futile without God’s grace. Yes, at that time, I “heard ” the Saviour’s loving voice calling me. (Matt 11:28-30), that healed me of my spiritual blindness and hearing loss.
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
I am this world’s dark light;
Look unto me , thy morn shall rise,
And all thy day be bright.
I looked to Jesus and I found,
In him my Star my Sun,
And in that light of life I’ll walk
Till travelling days are done.
Yes, it was wonderfully true that;-
O joyous hour when God to me,
A vision gave of Calvary!
My bonds were loosed, my soul unbound,
I sang upon redemption ground.
Redemption ground, the ground of peace!,
Redemption ground, O wondrous grace!
Here let our Praise to God abound,.
Who saves us on redemption ground!
I stumbled back to my lodgings to change for the night shift, yet feeling as if I was walking on air. But I had no desire to eat or talk with anyone and worked through that night shift as if in a dream. During the week, the old familiar hymns so full of truth and doctrine, which were once to me items to sing in worship, became a living reality in spirit and in truth.
And can it be, that I should gain,
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Amazing Love , how can it be
That thou my God shouldst die for me?
Tis mercy all immense and free-
For O my God, it found out me!
In wonder lost with trembling Joy,
We take our pardon of our God.
Pardon for crimes of deepest dye,
A pardon bought by Jesu’s blood
Who is a pardoning God like Thee?
Or who has grace so full and free?
During the following weeks I was to be faced by my vulnerability when the enemy came in like a flood . For in spite of that wonderful experience on that Sunday night and the false confidence in my own abilities, I was not making much progress in the cold light of day. My moods were sometimes dark, sometimes depressing. The voice of the temper was very strong, filling my mind with my past sins and my path with many temptations and obstacles, jeering within that I began to have doubts. “How can you be a child of God with such thoughts, where is the cleansing now? Where is the blessedness? Why haven’t the ‘old things passed away, and all things become new?”
I realised that I was still a babe in scriptural knowledge. For although I could rejoice in many of the precious promises of God, the truth of his forgiving grace, that his son “loved me and gave himself for me,” I was still so confused as I still struggled with inner sin and corruption. I knew nothing of the great doctrines of grace and was confused as to what Sanctification, Mortification, the Sovereignty of God and Predestination meant. I was still ignorant of the teaching, “That the seed of every sin will remain in our hearts, that while it may not reign, it is only kept subdued through grace”. (Romans 6) The only knowledge I possessed was based on the Arminian teaching given to me in my youth.
Those in work saw the change, the change from a noisy teasing man to one of bouts of silence. They joked that my freedom was coming to end because the wife was on the way, and strong as I was physically, I was too chicken-hearted to tell them the truth. Again, although I had become reformed in character in many ways after I had met and married Phyllis, yet I had not been changed within. So I continued to struggle against inner passions and moods and what had happened to me?
The Providence of God took another turn when I was given two books by Andrew Birchall. A Brand Plucked from the Burning, and Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners by John Bunyan. The authors of these books spoke of their conflicting doubts and darkness and helped me to understand the nature of the true convert. Another thing, apart from my lack of knowledge of the great doctrines of the scriptures, I felt to be in a difficult position because of my hearing impairment. That while I had now come to the position of being able to carry on a long and intelligible conversation with others, it would be nigh impossible to be taught from the pulpit if I had to rely on my ability to lip-read from a pew for the development of my Christian life. I also found myself deluded by some of the testimonies that I had been told or read where ‘instant satisfaction and holiness’ came at the drop of the hat at conversion as easy as I had expected. So my spiritual life spun like a ‘Yo-Yo’ for the next few weeks.
The time came for me to sell our caravan (which was a new one, and eight-berth) and to bring Phyl and the children to Aberystwyth. I found that the presence of Phyl and the children gave the grace to resolve to make a stand, because I could not carry on as I was. So casting myself on the mercy of the Lord, I went nakedly to the Scriptures, which by then were my only source of instruction and power, in a way that I had not known as a youth. And I can remember vividly when the power of temptation came upon me strongly, that the Lord spoke to my heart. “You are of God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one in the world” (1 John 4:4) Later I was encouraged to take my Bible to work when I read Mark 5:1-12 ” Go tell -how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has mercy on you, so the man went”.
Two of the bakery workers attended a liberal church occasionally, and believed themselves to be devout Christians, and although their manner of speech and life denied this, they would have been angry if you questioned their Christianity in front of them. So I called all the workmen into the rest room, and being in charge of the work, they thought I had shift news for them, and they were taken a little aback when I told them that I had given my life to Christ, and the reason for my manner during the past few weeks, and why I had made the commitment. There was silence for a while, some thought that I was ‘tanked’ up and taking the mickey out of them, while another thought it a great joke. But when I explained that I was serious, the ‘churchmen’ said I was going too far, because they thought that I was condemning them. Then when they began to ask some hard biblical questions, I was unable to answer, but like the blind man in John 9 :11, I could say ” One thing I know that once I was blind, but now I can see.”
This showed up my deficiency in scriptural knowledge, so I went nakedly to the Bible more and more, ‘to learn the mind of God in it’. But as J. Owen admits, ‘that what we account our wisdom and learning may, if too rigorously attended, be our folly; when we think to sharpen the reason of scripture we may straighten the efficiency of it’. To my dismay, there was very little to read, or study on the Elim bookshelf, and that they were mostly of Arminian tendencies, or ‘the higher victories life’, which at that time, fascinated me more than helped me. By this time our daughter Linda had been to East Grinstead hospital where a surgeon had lifted the pressure on her eyes, which enabled her to sit up in a pushchair. So, the two children accompanied us to Sunday morning services. But it meant, that because Linda needed constant attention at the back of the church, I had to sit with my four-year- old young son Andrew, that while trying to teach him to respect the services, it often distracted me from what was being said in the pulpit. Then Andrew (the pastor) gave me a book of sermons by C. H. Spurgeon, which I found difficult to digest at first, he also invited me to the Tuesday Bible study in another person’s home, but it did not profit me much because it was often left to each individual to say what they thought of ‘such and such’ a passage. So, I became impatient to do something.
There was another godly man in the church who was the head deacon, his name was the late Sid Bowen, who was then the principle of the Further Education college in town, and like myself he had come from S. Wales. He had a great spiritual wisdom and a humility that was reflected in all he did and wherever he went. He began to encourage me and painstakingly speak to me, showing and leading me in the deep things of God. And although he was an emotional man, he never paraded that emotion in services as to gain attention, nor did he seek to be the first in everything.
Often he would teach with a clarity from the scriptures to the young Christian students, and ensured that I was included in every discussion, taking no notice of my stammering tongue in comparison with their refined voices. Then he encouraged me by putting my name forward as a deacon, and with the Pastor, he encouraged me to ‘say a word’ (which is the norm in Pentecostal churches). Sid Bowen was well taught in the scriptures, and his theological understanding was strong, and he was a ready preacher in the open air, always commending one’s attention to Jesus Christ. It was from him that I heard the doctrines of grace for the first time. I will always hold these godly men in high esteem for their holiness of heart and not just for their usefulness. And to be thankful that God gives different gifts to men, and for those places where the ministry is still energetically used by God to his glory.
I now began to take an active part in the church, but one thing that still tested me, was to pray in public, because I had not �heard’ anyone pray, or speak for nigh on twenty years. Also, I was too embarrassed to stand up to pray when another sat down, for often two or three prayed together, and I believed that I would be braying compared to them, or interrupting. So while I regularly attended the prayer meeting before going to work, I remained quite and prayed to myself. In this way the Lord was teaching the need of patience, because I was becoming a little envious (not jealous) of watching others so busy in the Lord’s work. To be truthful, I was still too impulsive and wished to be ‘up and doing something’ . I was still arrogant and blind to many faults.
I was still to learn a lesson and the wisdom of what W.M. Taylor says. “The tendency of much that is said nowadays is to make one dissatisfied with himself not to be engaged, in one way or other of the common departments of ecclesiastical work. Now, it is good to have a church which will realise John Wesley’s idea, ‘at work, all at work, and always at work’. But it is not good to advocate this in such a way as shall wound those who, because of the limiting condition in their lives, cannot respond to the call as, in other circumstances they would. I have known a gentle heart well-nigh broken because a minister, more remarkable for zeal than wisdom, almost as good as declared that those who were connected to his church, and who did not engage in a certain kind of work, were unworthy to be called Christians. But if he had only known it, the truth was that the quiet one whom he had almost crushed was every day doing a kind of service for Christ which required far more self- denial than that which the preacher would have summoned her, and one, too, which she could not have neglected without sin. But this is not all. The effect of such unqualified expressions upon those who are weak in health is apt to be most disastrous. It leads them to think that they are useless where they are, and tends to develop in them a spirit of impatience. But in reality the service of suffering is as well pleasing to God as well as is that of working. Usefulness is very good. But usefulness is not the whole of Christianity. Holiness is better, because holiness is useful without making any effort, and by the simple fact of its existence. Now holiness comes out in suffering as well as in working. And so, provided we maintain holiness within the limits of our chain, it is no disgrace to us that we cannot go beyond them” An Extract taken from ‘The Limitations of Life, 4th edition 1988, Dr W.M. Taylor, New York (Banner of Truth Magazine Issue 101 1972 p 7)
Sadly to my shame and sorrow, I did not see it that way at that time, I still had to be taught not to rely on myself, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor 1:9) I was still spiritually immature, and God was teaching me to refrain from relying on myself and to rely on him, in what W. M. Taylor was saying that, busyness or usefulness is not his will for my life, but holiness of heart. There was still a lot that needed to be crucified in my life, still a lot of self reliance that needed to be eroded. I needed to learn the painful lesson, that those who are not disciplined will be strangers to great usefulness.
But at that time, I felt impelled by God. ‘That everybody should know, who Jesus is’. So, I purchased a great number of Scripture Union gospel tracts. Then every afternoon after getting out of bed I began to read them all, to ensure that I knew what I was sending out, unaware at that time that the wisdom of God was teaching me further the gospel truths. Then for nine months on every Monday night before work, I posted them through every door in Aberystwyth, and then made appointments to see the headmasters of the schools to invite children to attend a Sunday school.
Then we were swamped by another wave, which was to affect us both, until we were drained physically, emotionally and spiritually. Our daughter Linda was then four years of age when Phyl announced the wonderful news that she was expecting another child. But, it was counter balanced by the sad and very painful decision that we came to make, to send Linda to the Sunshine Homes for the Blind in South Wales. (Although she had started to walk, she was still unable to see properly). Phyl was certain that she could be helped better there, and with the impending birth of the baby, that she would not be able to give Linda the twenty-four hour care that she needed.
What pained us most, was that in spite of needing constant attention, Linda had become so precious to us in the past four years, and it had never entered our minds that we would ever be separated. Sid Bowen took us to S Wales in his car, (as we had no transport of our own, nor a phone) and it felt as if a part of us were being torn out when we got to the Home, because we had never lost a child before. It was more heart breaking for Phyl, because Linda kept looking around and crying for her, and it was the most miserable journey back I have ever experienced.
Then came the second blow. During the months when Phyl was grieving at the loss of Linda, I had to go to South Wales for two days, because my mother was passing away with cancer. Then on the night she passed away, Phyl had a miscarriage in the flat in Aberystwyth on her own, with no one to help, and trying to cope with our six- year old son Andrew. It became so overwhelming for us that it left us numb, but she refused to tell the family about the bereavement. Then a few months later, Phyl had a call from the Home for the blind to say that Linda was not responding and grieving terribly for home and her mother. We contacted Sid Bowen, but he was unable to help because of College commitments, so we decided to hire a car and ask Andrew the pastor to drive it. And when we got to the Home for the Blind, the sight of Linda, who had put on a lot of weight through grieving, was too much for us both.
And while it was good to have Linda home again, and try and pick up the pieces, we were still numb with grief over the lost baby and the sight of Linda, and confused with everything that this should happen at this time. J. I. Packer described it. “The feeling that God plays cat and mouse with you. Having lifted you up by giving you hope, he now seems to throw you down by destroying it. What he gave to lean on, he suddenly takes away, and down you go. Your feelings say that he is mocking you, taking pleasure in frustrating you and making you miserable. He must be a heartless, malicious ogre after all. so you feel broken in pieces and no wonder” (Laid back Religion p 135) We began to understand in part–” The heartbreaking perplexity of God-given hopes apparently wrecked by God-ordained circumstances is a reality for Christians today, and will be the experience of more tomorrow” (Laid Back Religion p138)
For us then, it was very difficult to see the hand of God, he seemed so vague and far away. Yet, in what faith we possessed, we accepted that truth, ‘that the secret things belong to God’, and that we could not cope without Him-
Who every grief has known,
That wrings the human breast.
And takes and bears them as his own,
That all in Him might rest.
It was at this time that the comfort of the promises of the scriptures encouraged us. (Romans 15: 4- Psalm 119:50) “When you pass through the waters,, I will be with you, and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned, the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel. your Saviour’– ‘Why do you say , O Jacob, and complain O Israel,’ My way is hid from the Lord?’ My cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no-one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall. But those who waited upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on Wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint”. Isaiah 43: 2-3, 40:27-31..
Elisabeth Elliot Says: “We believe it – we bank all our hopes on it. Jesus is alive, and yet – and yet we sorrow. There is no incongruity between the human tears and the pure presence of Christ- He wept human tears too. Nor is there sin in grieving, provided we do not give way to it and begin to pity ourselves. It is still appointed unto man to die and those who are left must grieve, yet not without hope. Resurrection is a fact. There would be no Easter and no basis for the Christian faith without it. Hence, there is no situation so hopeless, no horizon so black, that God cannot there ‘find His Glory” (My underline)
A Path Through Suffering p 135
Yes, we grieved for a while, yet we were often strengthened by the promises of God. Also, we were slowly beginning to understand the doctrine of the sovereignty of God. That he is always in control. That though the claims of the gospel sometimes clashed with our everyday experience, we believed that we had been forgiven and set free, but that there will be some circumstances that might discourage us from living as we should. We were also coming to realise that our lives would get messy and difficult at times. This was the hallmark of Paul’s experience, as he continued faithful in his service for the Lord. The apostle Paul encourages his readers in Corinth, to view their hardships and difficulties that they endure because of their commitment to Christ.
And it was at this time that I began to cease from my quest to be healed of my sensory handicap. I had foolishly believed that I would be more ‘useful to the Lord’ if I could be healed, yet I was often discouraged at times when I came away after from healing meetings, after pleading with God to heal me, to find no answer. Then through grace I began to study 2 Corinthians 12:7-12. Where Paul prayed in faith to the Lord three times for the removal of his thorn, yet he did not have his request granted. Because God had an intelligent purpose for his affliction, it was something that he would have to adjust himself to. It was as if the Lord was telling him, ‘Paul, if you are going to be a minister to the gentiles for me, you have to keep the thorn’. And it clearly came to me, that if I was to carry on to know the Lord, then it was the time to pray for grace to bear it, because the promise was, ‘My Grace is sufficient for thee, for my strength is (not may be, or will be, but is always sufficient) made perfect in your weakness’. Because it was the same grace that Paul had experienced fourteen years before, it was sufficient then, and would always be sufficient. That I was to learn not to say, ‘Lord, this is a new problem’, because new grace would be given. Yes, like Paul, I felt my ‘thorn’, painful, but I began to believe, that though Satan ‘administered it’ God had ‘prescribed it’- that though Satan had ‘inflicted it’-that God had ‘allowed it’. This teaches us that Satan is still on a chain, and to remember that in all the providences that come our way, that God is still in control, He still takes the initiative. That although Satan is permitted to work, it is always with the limits imposed by God. For Paul knew that God ‘allowed the thorn’, so to God he sought deliverance.
We knew that we could only be patient in tribulation if we could balance our lives in that hope and truth. And to do this, God needed to strip away all vestige of our self reliance, and to cast ourselves continually upon him in prayer for sustaining grace and hope. My morning prayers exposed my weaknesses, and also my responsibility to depend upon God fully for daily strength and grace. That while I was praising God for each new day, for the wonder of who he was, and for what he had done for us. There was also the need to praise him and acknowledge my weakness and responsibility, to continue to ask for grace to support and guide me. “For without Him I could do nothing.” This truth and hope shone out, that God’s grace will never leave us nor forsake us, that he knows our frame, sees our trials, and that darkness and light are both alike to him. I humbly acknowledge, that I have tasted the bitterness of despair, and the corruption and the reign of sin. Yet praise God, I have always felt the abounding grace of God. Because, through my struggles and searching in the darkness, I have come to discover a greater God that I had even known existed, and in him is my only hope.
None other Lamb, None other name,
None other hope in heaven or earth or sea.
None other hiding- place from guilt and shame,
None besides thee!
Yet, as Phyl began to settle down again with Linda, I was still a little too restless for my own good, still champing at the bit to know what the will of the Lord was for my life. In my foolishness and ignorance I looked at every cloud for a silver lining, every sign to be the hand of God for myself. And the more I developed in my Christian life, the more impatient I got. Fearing that my life would pass me by before I had become useful for the Lord , or fearing that my past wilful and sinful life had disqualified me from representing any kind of work for God.
That was why, when the invitations came to join the New Tribes Mission students, who were doing a mission for two months, that I jumped at it. I found it so exhilarating to witness, to be ‘up and doing ‘ as we toured the student’s halls and held meetings in various churches. Then the group encouraged me to apply for training to a specific field. At that time I had been moved by the books “Commandos for Christ” (Bruce Porterfield) and “Through Gates of Splendour” (Elisabeth Elliot). The story of her husband and four others, who were martyred for Christ in Ecuador. The account of their unhesitating faith, and physical endurance to build homes and witness for Christ among the untouched, moved me to apply to that field. Phyl supported me in this, even to the thought of taking the children. So, we began to get the wheels in motion and applied for training in New Tribes Boot camp in America. I was on a high as we applied for passports etc. Then came the fateful decision by the Doctor that the ‘steaming jungles, humidity and conditions’ would be too much, for either Linda or me. I was disappointed, because we had believed at that time, to lay all upon the altar, and with the approval of the church, we thought that it was the Lord’s will. I tried to change the Dr’s mind, but he said that he was told to give an honest medical appraisal. Then the group tried to encourage me to go to another climate, or for the missionary work in Nairobi, working among the deaf. But I felt no call to work among the deaf at that time, and so I was discouraged, because it was the only place that I had my heart on.
I tried to read the intricacies of what I read in Acts 16:7. Surely it was a God-honouring aim for the apostle Paul to endeavour to take the gospel into Bithynia-“but the spirit forbid?” One thing was clear- the Lord shut fast the door into Bithynia, and Paul turned West, and the gospel came to Europe, and he is very clear that the door was opened- 2 Corinthian’s 2:12. There is something very decisive about a perfect passive. So although it was another hurdle on the road, I tried to take comfort in that. I began to realise that it was more a blow to my pride, a wounding that would need some attention, to teach me another valuable lesson before moving on. Martin Luther was right when he said.” I never knew the meaning of God’s word until I came into affliction, I have always found it to be one of my best schoolmasters”. Also- ” Affliction is the Christian’s theologian, it teaches him things what nothing else can”.
Yet at the back of my mind I still felt that, as if my handicap like a chain, had stopped me again, but the Lord was working out his gracious purposes in my life. I was to learn through God’s grace, that a ‘chain’ was not an indication that I was not a child of God, but that a chain is the part of all true followers of Jesus Christ. W. M. Taylor says. ” We all have our bonds. There is not one of us who does not feel himself fettered sometimes, or somewhere, so that he cannot accomplish all that he desires to do. Continually we discover that the realisation of our aspirations, or the attainment of our purposes is marred by some chain, even as the penmanship of Paul was made angular and irregular by his bonds. ‘We could have done so much better’, we often say, ‘if some unavoidable and disturbing influence had not prevented us”.
” Thus we are each carrying about us a chain, of which, so long as we working within its limits, we may be largely unconscious, but which brings us to a stand the moment we have gone to its furthest length” The Banner of Truth Magazine-Issue 102 -1972 p5).
Another weakness of mine, was that while I was sure that God guides his people through his word, I was totally ignorant of a clear understanding of how he does it. I was ‘like an infant’-‘tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching’ (Eph 4 :14) I was often giving way at times to strong subjective impulses in my heart and mind, and often misunderstanding whether they had come from God or not.
Sinclair Ferguson rightly comments:- ” In the question of guidance, as in so many other areas, the basic need for Christians is to learn to be objective and in the best sense ‘eccentric’, that is to live our lives out of God as their centre rather than self as their centre, to escape from a self- dominated view of Christian living, and to see that their chief end was to the glory of God, and to enjoy him, it is the failure to do this that accounts for a great deal of our present confusion about guidance. When we are concerned to glorify God , guidance will cease to be a problem, and appear increasingly as a joy and privilege”. (Add To Your Faith. Pickering and Inglis- p69)
The road began to get steeper, but I was getting lighter, as God was continuing to chip away, cultivating within me, an inner disposition to be fully dependant upon him. He was still directing me in the plain paths of his righteousness, for His Name’s sake. After the closing of the door to my ‘dream’ of working with the New tribes Mission, he began to make me question the level of my biblical knowledge and interpretation. This had bothered me for some time, because when I was asked some hard questions on the scriptures, that I found myself stranded to explain.
Also, I was becoming interested in the readings of the Reformed faith. So, I applied to the London Bible College-(the old one), and explaining my sensory handicap, they compiled a two-year theology course for me, which through the gracious providence of God, with the books they recommended, brought me further to the conviction of the truth of the Reformed Doctrines. I enrolled at the local library, and was also provided with many works of theology, becoming aware of the history of the Reformation in England.
So, it was with an excited state of mind that I began to study in earnest, and took many of the books to work to read during my meal breaks. And I came to find that much of what I was studying had began to create problems with the teaching, and experiences that I had received through the Pentecostal faith. Yet, although I was not prepared to leave this denomination, the goodness of God had recreated my interest and love of reading serious literature.
At this time the bakery was taken over by a new owner who changed my hours that allowed me more time to study, also to give me a joy of a free Saturday. This meant that I did not have to drag myself out of bed after a two-hour nap, to play with my son- who had shown incredible patience. Linda was capable of walking about the rooms, but was unable to roam on her own, or go outside, and still needed twenty-four- hour care and supervision. Phyl had become involved with the Local Mencap society, and she joined in the lobbying to campaign for a school and a day centre for the Mentally Handicapped, often taking Linda with her in the push chair.
This had to be put on one side for a while with the illness of my mother-in-law who had been suffering with Huntingdon’s Disease in Cardiff. Her illness had become so acute, that my father-in law could not cope, so we brought her to live with us for eighteen months to care for her, and to allow him to have some respite. I had a real affection for my mother-in-law, but the grace that she accepted her illness, without murmuring, and the fragility of her frame moved me immensely. This decline in her mother’s health did put some extra pressure on Phyl, but we had come to acknowledge our weakness, depending more fully upon the Lord’s grace to provide our needs.
After the death of Phyl’s mum, the Lord’s guidance and provision became more evident. We were provided with a house by the council away from the ‘tied flat’, to another part of Aberystwyth. We also were able to purchase an old car, although our finances were so low after the insurance and tax, that we could not afford petrol. Having the house delivered me from always being on call as I had been during the time we lived over the job. It also afforded us more privacy and room for Linda.
A SIGNIFICANT ENCOUNTER
One Sunday in church I became aware of some in the neighbouring pew. There was a woman bending over a book that she was constantly moving her finger along the pages. I realised that she was blind. But when the time came for the singing of the Hymn, she continued to sit down and move her finger along the pages. This appeared odd to me, because I knew that most blind people will stand to sing the hymns they know, or from their Braille hymn book. So I went across to the younger lady and asked, ‘Is your friend able to understand?’ She replied, ‘she is not my friend but my sister, and she is unable to take part because she is Deaf and Blind’. I had never met anyone with this double handicap before. It seemed that God was saying to me ‘Well Bud, are you now beginning to understand some things’?
Although over the years I had acquired some of the knowledge of the ‘British Sign Language’, in my blindness and pride I had not wanted to identify myself with that ministry, because I had always come to believe, that I would be used in another capacity within the church.
It was if all the years of my frustrations, anger, rejection and loneliness were brought before me, and the numerous and gracious hands that had reached out to lift me up. So that Sunday I turned to the younger woman and asked, ‘Could I change places with you?’. Then after I had introduced myself to my blind friend, I began to speak on John 14:1-6. And I felt as though I was sitting under a refreshing waterfall, and unknown to her, the tears flowed unabated. The tears that were mixed with shame at my selfish pride, yet with thanksgiving for what God had done so far in my life.
I had been running away from what my heart had been telling me for some time. I was refusing to face up to and accept my hearing impairment and determining what I would do for God. The encounter with that deaf and blind woman in that church made me feel that I had wasted much time. I felt I had to get involved with those who were going through the same afflictions that I had gone through, and to comfort them with the comfort that I had received from God. I no longer wanted to climb the steppes, or cross the ocean to the jungles of the dark continent of Africa. I began to understand the loving wisdom of our God, who had ‘allowed me to become deaf, that I might hear’. I could but praise his grace and longsuffering with me over the years.
What could I do to answer that call? So, throwing myself upon his mercy for wisdom and guidance, I began to study the surveys of the Deaf communities, and found to my astonishment, that there were over eight million Hearing Impaired in the UK, with a majority of them never entering a place of worship, or knowing the grace of the Gospel. I began to contact Deaf Christian Organisations, and I discovered a school for the deaf forty miles away. I was still studying, and did not wish to do things rashly, and then Lord’s providence began to direct me to a young deaf girl Betty. She worked locally as a seamstress after leaving school the year before, and she lived about twenty miles away from Aberystwyth in the countryside.
After much prayer, I decided to pay her a visit one evening so that I could meet her and her parents. After driving around for over a hour I could not find her home, and I got hopelessly lost. Then as I was attempting to drive back along the narrow lanes to the main road, I found my way blocked by an oncoming car. Because neither of us could pass, I got out to explain to the other driver about my hearing loss, and that I was lost after trying to find this house. He asked me in faltering English, (which was his second language), who had I been trying to find, and when I gave the name of the young woman and her house, he said ‘The girl you are looking for is in the back of the car, and she is my daughter’. I marvelled at the mysterious outworking of God, and felt like Abraham’s servant who said, ‘I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my brethren’
The family was delighted that someone was taking an interest in their daughter, and I could sympathise and understand her own isolation. She lived in a Welsh home but she could only understand the ‘British Sign Language’ (BSL) which is the language of the Deaf culture, taught and spoken in the Deaf schools and their communities. I learned that she travelled to work, and home by bus each day, and stayed at home every week end. So we made arrangements to meet Phyllis, so that Betty could occasionally stay at our home for the weekend and attend Sunday services with me. I thus began to teach her the gospel, while Phyl would help her in other ways.
Through Betty I was being taught to understand the mind of the profound deaf person, where English grammar and absolutes are unknown. I also improved my BSL. Needless to say, in the following months we began to attend Deaf Christian Conferences and preaching weekends, in England, there being no gospel outreach for the deaf in Wales at that time. While it broadened Betty’s outlook, it brought me to see the great need, that there were still many areas where there were sheep and no shepherd. Many had no opportunities to be told of the redeeming love of Christ. After teaching Betty for three years, she came to faith in Christ and was subsequently baptised in water, even against her parents’ protests, because they felt that they had her christened as a child. She also met and married another Christian from London.