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Behind a frowning Providence

1 Mar

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It’s such a wonderful thing to go out in #faith on #God’smission and witness first hand the ways in which he provides for you. Previous to my calling I have read numerous books by #Missionaries of how they did nothing but pray and God provided for all their needs. Naturally this was exactly what I presumed would happen to me so I spent hours praying for help, did nothing in particular to promote the service except through word of mouth, and people came in their numbers.

After realising that God was calling me to care for the #lonely, the #depressed and #isolated it was then that the need for premises  arose. With no idea of how to go about starting an organisation God sent along people who had the skills and knowledge to direct me in the right way to go. After securing Charity status the Organisation was set up and we were on our way.

After experiencing blessings upon blessings our situation then changed dramatically. People got well and moved on, others emigrated to their countries of origin. Funds ceased from coming our way, bills pilled up as our situation worsened with less people in attendance.

According to what I’ve been told this should not be happening  unless I have strayed from God. I Knew that I was #praying, seeking #God’sguidance, and #servinghim as much as I could. I sought God for advice on how to continue meet the needs of those individuals in our care.

Waiting on God can be quite exhausting physically. We prayed and fasted – nothing happened. Every avenue we tried failed. and it seemed that God himsely had abandon us. We were waiting on God to answer our  prayers and  remove barriers, obstacles, and mountains so that we could see answers to our prayers.

For us waiting meant crying out for strength to cope in the struggles faced, for the help and support needed to carry out the task  and for financial support. At this time we were left with only six people meeting on a daily basis and not enough funds to pay our way. Yet, in all this struggle I clearly heard God saying: “keep the door open if it’s only one person attending”. I replied: “God that person will be very expensive to keep.”

I never expected to wait on God and in so doing have to experience #suffering, feeling broken, #abandoned, isolated, ashamed, loss and #unlovedbyGod. However amid the feelings of #abandonment and #brokenness I always  knew that God was near and close at hand.

In obedience we decided to organise a jumble sale event. We publicised the event as much as we could even in other areas outside our district. We felt certain that people would turn up, but on the evening to our utter dismay only two people came. I was disappointed and #heartbroken. I could not understand what was happening to us. I felt very much ashamed as I had re-assured everyone that we would raise a substantial amount of funds on the day.

The outcome made me very emotional. I was broken and wept openly before the volunteers that evening. I did not care who was there. As far as I was concerned I was speaking to my heavenly father and if any one wanted to listen in on the conversation that was okay with me. So I wept and poured out my heart to God openly and  unashamedly. I told him of the frustrations, the hardships, the workload, the time and effort it took to organise the event and then failing to make it a success. I told him how disappointed I was and wondered whether he cared or even had compassion for me. I wept so much that at times I gasped for breath and thought I’d suffocate in so doing.

We had tried everything, now we’d come to a dead end. We could do no more, and then in that time of utter #lossness and #hopelessness God turned up. Suddenly I felt his presence as he comforted me. I became overwhelmed in his love as he wrapped me tenderly to his heart. The experience  made me  rejoice as I’ve never done before. I was singing, dancing, and laughing all at one. It was as though God has taken away my pain and #reassuring me of #hispromises and filling me with #joy. I heard him saying:

I do understand. I too feel your pain but all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8: 28)

The overwhelming love that I felt was also poured out on the other sisters who joined me in singing and  rejoicing. All at once we found ourselves going up the stairs to the little Chapel where Thomas was heard playing the keyboard and we all joined in praise and worship to God.

In that moment of frustration I was reassured that all is not lost that God was very present in our situation. That suffering hardships brings us closer to understanding the ways of God. It enables us to trust him in the darkness of our lives and to keep a quiet heart.  It gives us a new concept of who is in charge of all our situations, and that he is able to get us through in his time, and he did so miraculously for us.

The Hymn writer William Cowper wrote: Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace: behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.

We may not always understand why things happen as they do, nevertheless I’ve learnt that nothing can stop God’s constant presence with us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. (Rom 8: 35,37).

Yes we have gone through much trials and tribulations but my mission has  survived  I  will tell my story truthfully of a loving Father who cares, sustains and provides for his Children. He does so in ways they may not always understand. All we need to do is trust him for his grace and favour. Blessed be his holy name.

Overcoming #emotionalstress to build a #safeplace in the community

19 Feb

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Lack of self confidence has been the ruling force in my life for many years. Criticism about the simple way I lived my life helped to suppress my development in confidence and drove the real me into hibernation.

Living my life contrary to my true nature failed to make me feel good about myself. Having a life that is dictated does nothing to make anyone feel secure. Living this way made me feel I had no goals to reach for myself. No ambitions to achieve, No decisions to make for my life and this made me feel voiceless and just an object.

For years I harboured bitterness in my heart towards those who made my life a misery. I felt they ruined my life through their constant criticism. I tried my best to please them and found I could do nothing that would change their opinion of me. I never felt appreciated, no one encouraged me, Instead I felt rejected, unloved, scorned and afraid of life until a spiritual experience changed my life forever.

That experience brought about the peace I longed for in my life. I still get depress on occasions but it does not have the powerful effect on me as it did previously. I am now more aware of my emotions and can take control over them. Allowing emotions to rule your life has destructive powers. Whilst I concentrated on what others were doing to me I overlooked the fact that I was the victim of my own emotions. Those bad feelings drove me into the wilderness and that’s a place I do not want to re-visit.

We all make choices every day, some good, some bad. I have made some bad choices i.e. I choose to remain silent instead of standing up for myself. I choose to hide my emotions because I wanted praise for being submissive to being insulted, harassed, and scorned.

When I finally came to my senses I realise that I had done more harm to myself than those that despised me. Holding grudges against others is destructive. It does not allow truth to be seen clearly. A distorted view of life does not allow self to be seen in an imperfect way, instead it allows you to be constantly eroded by your actions until your situation becomes hopeless.

After having that encounter with God I became confident, secure, and happy.  I began to look at life differently and took notice of other people’s plight and wanted desperately to help restore the lives of those suffering the effects of stress an illness that has been my constant companion for many years.

This new vision of life reminded me of a hymn written by William Tidd Matson(1833-99)

Lord I was blind! I could not see in thy marred visage any grace

But now the beauty of thy face in radiant vision draws on me.

For tho hast made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak

The dead to live, and lo I break the chains of my captivity.

Once upon a long time previously I had dreams for my life as every one else, but I had lost them along the way, only to find them when Jesus made my heart his home. This is summed up in one of my poems entitled Second Chance;

Out of the wilderness of life I stand,

And looked through the tunnel of time

From whence I’ve travelled years ago

A Lass with dreams most beautiful.

I took but one step and met my destiny

Too proud to let any one know

That I had fallen at the pit of despair

Along with my dreams and hopes.

 

Years went by while I lay

With my face into the ground

Each time I tried to raise my head

I was pushed further in the sand.

 Then one day Faith passed by

And lent a helping hand

He stood me firmly on my feet

And brushed away the sand.

 

He recovered my dreams

And laid them at my feet

My emotions became the better of me

And I stoop to pick them up.

 Now that we are reunited

I shall guard them with my life

In case someone else should steal them

And destroy me once again. 

 

 First steps

I opened up my home and started a #prayer group. These meetings were different from the traditional church prayer meetings.They were to be a means of helping people know the love of Christ Jesus and enable them to build confidence enough to share their opinions in open discussions. This created a space where people could come and openly talk and pray about their fears, disappointments, grieves, doubts, hopes, and above all faith in God.

Sharing our lives in this fashion gave people a new freedom to openly share their feelings/emotions. Many conservative people were now openly expressing their faith for the first time in their lives. People found new hope and meaning for their lives and many Friendships developed. They also found it easier to cope with their situations. I offered counselling and befriending sessions. Later on, a helpline was introduced to provide support to the shut-in.

At that time Social exclusion, injustice and inequality were widely experienced and talked about. We decided to call a meeting to find out what the people wanted to see happening in the community. Many people voiced their concern about the impact the economic decline was having on the lives of local people. Serious poverty was prevalent, whole families were unemployed; others lived in bad housing conditions, suffered from stress, and remained lonely and isolated in their homes. These people felt trapped in a recurring cycle of stress/depression and hopelessness. It was said that those situations also contributed greatly to the deterioration of mental ill health experienced by many members of the community.

The situation cried out for a community centre that would take a person’s physical, social, and spiritual needs into consideration and provide care for the whole person.

As more people began to tell others about the meetings, my home became a Drop in so I packed up my job to be there for the community. It was at this point that the seriousness of the situation was fully realized and we set about seeking ways for further development and became a registered Charity in 1989. We provided a programme of activities that would help to heal the lives of the vulnerable.

Never in my wildest dream would I have considered providing care and support for others when l was in need of support myself. Having gone through many years of stress, I was not in a fit state of mind to help anyone previously; even though one of my ambitions was to have a community centre to care for others. However by the grace of God this became possible when I yielded myself to Christ Jesus and was healed of a broken heart. God was now able to use my life to have a great impact on the lives of countless broken individuals.

 

Stepping out in faith

We started out without any funds what-so-ever. We organised Social/recreational activities, outings to places of Interest and a lunch club. Grateful people brought provisions to keep the Club going, and to help with the outgoings. I began to attend every meeting possible to gain information of the various services in Hackney around mental health issues.

We organised workshops on this topic in an effort to break down the stigma around mental health issues that existed. Attended training courses and took up membership with various voluntary sector organisations in London. This helped to gain support that would better equip us to meet the needs of this client group.

In an effort to fundraise we organised jumble sales, Caribbean evenings and barbeque events. We baked cakes and sold them at Christmas bazaars and so on. Catering for community groups events, salvaged discarded items from skips to recycle, took clippings from plants and I would go out in the garden in the rain to stick the cuttings in the soil so we could cultivate plants to sell. We also began to raise small amounts of funds from trusts.

All this time there were those who continue to refer to me as being worthless and confused whilst others asked if I knew what I was taking on. What about insurance, premises, renovation, staff etc., and what makes you think you could carry out the task they asked? The comments brought back memories to my past life when I lived in fear of the future, and the opinions of men. Now the only voice I tend to listen to is the voice of God who called me to this mission, and I would succeed come what may! I do believe the word of God which states: “I could do all things through Christ who strengthen me”. (Phil 4: 13) Therefore I never allowed any one to succeed in putting me down, and then rejoice when I fall. With this thought in mind I said “I am determined to succeed in this mission come what may. This organisation will be unique. With Gods help it will survive in this community”.

And it has survived these twenty seven years thanks to the faithfulness of God. Wayside Community Centre was feature in several media Publications for its work these include:

The Shaftsbury report on the effective work of faith communities

The Medical Journal (Working with students from St. Bartholomew and

St.Mary’s Hospitals).

The Voice newspaper

Hackney Gazette

City and East London Focus Magazine.

A short Film around Active aging shown at a conference at the European Commission in Brussels One of the sessions was recorded at the Round Chapel.

A Channel 4 program you deserve this house

The Wayside Community project aim to help improve the quality of life for people suffering the effects of stress/depression. Our service users are encouraged and empowered to take ownership of their lives. This is achieved by teaching them how to live a happier, healthier, lifestyle.

Our input helps to reduce social isolation to a number of local people. Wayside recognizes, the multi cultural people living in the Borough and now has extend its services to include people from Cuba, Spain, India, Italy, France, and other Countries. Our doors are open to anyone who needs our support. Many people from these countries are now volunteers at our centre and charity shop.

We provide a place for people to meet, engage and most importantly to be heard. Our intervention includes providing: A health programe which provides elderly people the chance to keep fit in a fun and safe environment

Educational projects which help to equip local people with the tools and skills necessary to assume control over their lives and livelihoods

Recreational events which provide people who are socially isolated the chance to explore new places and develop friendships.

A Charity shop to help people assess affordable goods to help maintain their dignity and feel good about their appearances.

The shop also helps bring the community together and promote social inclusion. It also provides a small income to help sustain the organisation.

Activities include: Gospel aerobics, Gentle chair exercise, Zumba Gold , Art & craft, Diabetes workshop Prostate Cancer and healthy eating workshop, Knitting & Crocheting We also provide: Outings to the seaside & places of interest, Guitar lessons, Sewing classes, Tea dance, and Christmas parties, and IT skills. Prayer and Bible study are held separately and open to all. We also partner with several international ministries over the years. I continue to marvel at how God can take a broken vessel and use it to bless hurting people in his own way. To God be the glory . Great things he has done. Visit http://www.waysidecommunity.org.uk and www.jeanvjohn.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The journey to finding God

30 Jan

person-clinic-cross-religion-54333.jpegOn spring bank holiday, May 1987, as I left home to walk the short distance to catch the coach to Derbyshire: the day seemed like any other day of the year. The neighbourhood was quiet and calm as people were still asleep. On this particular day I was among several members of our church party attending the final celebration weekend convention held yearly at Cliff College.

Cliff College was established in 1883 and provides theological and practical training in Christian evangelism, service and ministry for Methodism and the wider Church to students of all denominations and many countries.  The College is situated in Hope Valley in Derbyshire, in the beautiful Peak District National Park.

My only knowledge of the place was that one of my church sisters’, Carole, had studied there for a year and had invited others from our church to attend the various yearly conventions. On our way there I felt a sense of happiness to be travelling outside London for the day unaware that this journey would prove to be the beginning of a new chapter in my life.

As soon as we arrived we were confronted with the view of hundreds of cars, caravans, tents, and numerous coaches. Then there were those on foot. People seemed to be coming from everywhere.

The service was conducted in the open air with a make shift rostrum. A group of singers led the worship, which was very vibrant. From the expression on the people’s faces you could see they were happy to be there. They were smiling; more over they were very welcoming and made every effort to make space for us to find a spot. Their singing was joyful and their entire bodies were caught up in the act of worship. Some raised their hands in adoration, whilst others clasped their hands as if in prayer and occasionally people yelled Hallelujah, Amen, thank you Jesus. This was unusual to me; however I settled down unstirred by the emotions of the people around me and waited for the preacher to be announced.

As he began to speak it was as if he had mysteriously picked me out from among the crowd of people. He seemed to speak to me personally and every word spoken made a demand on my life. His voice penetrated into my entire being, which made me feel conscious that the congregation too was aware that his message was directed to me. This preacher was making a demand on my life telling me I had certain duties to perform in the church, and I certainly was not prepared to get involved there. By now I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable and had a great urge to leave the meeting. I simply switched off and went to a pity party with myself thinking of my own sad state of affair of the heart, the breakdown of my marriage, which was very painful. How was I going to cope? What would become of me? These were a few of my questions. I was not particularly good company and was getting rather critical of this group of people who seemed so full of themselves. Clapping, smiling even looking happy in Church: whatever next? I thought.

The church where I worshiped was quiet in contrast to Cliff College. In fact, all four churches in the circuit were quiet and reserved. Our church in particular could be full on Sundays and yet you’ll be forgiven if you were passing in the street for believing that only a few people worshipped there. The singing was soft and it was one of those places where no matter how hard you listen you could not hear the voice of the other person standing next to you. Peradventure someone came to church whose voice could be heard above the pitch of the others everyone turned to see who had violated the sacredness of the atmosphere.

This place was certainly different and instead of welcoming that form of worship I rejected it because of its vibrancy.

At the end of the meeting we made our way in search of somewhere to sit and eat. Once outside I was made even more aware of the vast numbers of people who had come to the convention.

The multitude of worshippers filled the park as far as the eye could see. They were coming from the upper tent, the Terrace, the children’s meeting, the big tent, and the lower tent. People were ascending and descending the hill, some were sitting in groups on the grass at the top of the hill others were sitting around their caravans. The beauty of the colours of their clothing amid the green grass and the surrounding hills was magnificent to behold. The sound of music mingled with the voices of children filled the air, and I could picture a biblical scene with Jesus on the hillside of #Galilee and a multitude of people coming there to hear him speak. I had never been in a place as this before. The scene was mesmerising, as I stood and gazed at the beautiful Derbyshire hills I said truly: “God is in this place”.

As we sat down for lunch the feeling of unease came again. There is definitely something spooky about this place I thought. The message about getting involved in the mission of the church was being transmitted in my brain and I was hearing it loud and clear so much so that I felt the urge to run away once more.

As I pondered over the situation my thoughts went on the bookshop up the hill. I loved reading and thought it would be good to browse around in the shop and see if anything on display caught my fancy.  Feeling more relaxed I began the short walk in search of the shop. On the way to the Terrace I remembered passing a sign that showed the position of the shop, so I went directly there. I was only there a few minutes when a friend who had arrived to the weekend celebrations ahead of us, approached me.  She was quite happy to meet up with me, but somehow she seemed to be in a hurry and quickly pointed out two books she thought I should read. Together we went to the checkout and paid for the books, the Holy Spirit and you and Nine 0 clock in the Morning.

She then invited me to the lower tent to hear Rev Colin Urquhart speak. In her excitement she told me all she knew about him. He was an Anglican Priest previously, but he was now an Evangelist and: “You‘ve got to hear him” she insisted. I had nothing against this man of God, but I was not particularly interested to sit among people who instead of sitting quietly and listen to the preacher respond with #hallelujah and #amen and this #Jesus thing. “Why were they saying his name so often?” I came to the conclusion that they were new to #church and thought they had to say his name. In my heart I was protesting: “No I’m sorry, but I’m not going.”  but I did not want to let her down.

All my life I‘ve tried to please others; never wanting people to think badly of me, after all this friend was enjoying the #conference. She happily told me what I had missed over the past few days. The bible study, Morning Prayer meetings, speakers, walking along the prayer paths, the new friends made etc. I could not tell her how uncomfortable I felt being there so I went along quite unwillingly to the lower tent. I did not know at that time that my life would never be the same.

Up to that period of time my life was a boring one. I was a very sensitive person, who took offence for the simplest of things said about me, kept very much to myself and I did not make good company. This meant I had no friends and was the worst off for being lonely and isolated.

I was brought up in a small country village in the Caribbean in a family that kept very much to themselves, which meant I had a very reserved upbringing. We lived across the road from the Methodist church that my family attended religiously every Sunday. The little chapel was used for Christian worship and sufficed as a school that provided education to children from the age of five to 16. My village and those from other areas also used this chapel/school.

The chapel was a hive of community events, as it provided various social activities organised by missionaries who taught several Irish and English folk songs.

I was very shy and particularly choosy in my dress sense. Unlike other girls of my age who wore ordinary below the knee dresses I liked mine ankle length. I also felt unable to have my arm, chest and back exposed and people referred to me among other things as being old fashioned, stupid, and why can’t you be as everyone else? I was constantly being criticised and felt very unloved, rejected, and condemned just for being me.

So here I was at Cliff College with various emotional feelings. I felt alone, abandoned, rejected and thought that there was definitely no hope for me finding my dreams come true. Now I was hearing testimonies of people who had similar life experiences. In communicating their life story they told of a loving father who came to their rescue when they called, they spoke of heartaches, pain, rejection, abuse suffered in silence and the bitterness they harboured in their hearts and of the release and freedom found as they invited Jesus into their lives.

I had never been at a place where I’ve heard of wonderful things like these. I felt myself wanting to be free from my pain, and gradually I was opening up but remained sceptical.

These were young people: I was now 43 years old and I still felt rejected, unloved, humiliated, scorned etc. “God, I will like to have a testimony, but why are they talking about Jesus so much.” I thought. Up till then I very rarely heard people calling on the name of #Jesus or even asserting that he did something for them. Were these people real? Again, I felt uneasy and wanted to make my exit, as I was about to do so a young man sitting somewhere along the pew decided to get up and beckoned me to his seat. We exchanged places just at the point of introducing the speaker the Rev. Colin Urquhart. Perhaps I’ll stay and listen to him after all. He came from the Church of England they won’t dare express themselves whilst he’s speaking.

He invited people to give their lives to #Christ. Even though I was brought up in the church, had attended #Sunday school regularly, at the age of 12 attended reception classes, learnt my catechism and made a commitment to follow Christ and was finally received as a member of the Methodist Church this didn’t feel right for me. As I reflected on these things I became aware of a headache that I had all day. I was beginning to feel miserable again, I thought about the difficulties of my life and of my longing to find peace, and happiness. As far as I knew peace could only be acquired in death, right now my life seemed to be of no real value what so ever. In fact, I was fed up of life.

As the minister prayed for people to accept #Jesus as #Lord of their lives I finally thought I might as well give him my life. I needed his #intervention and without any more #resistance I closed my eyes and said: “Jesus you can have my life. I don’t want it anymore. Have it. Here, catch.” I threw myself in the hand of Jesus and as he caught hold of me immediately I felt as though a large burden had fallen off my shoulders and I was filled with the most wonderful sense of #peace imaginable. From that moment I had no recollection of the people standing there in the tent with me.

The Marquee that contained hundreds of people suddenly seemed to be empty except for the #Spirit of God at my side and me. Suddenly I could hear the preacher speaking in tongues, but in English I heard a voice calling me by name (Jean), and telling me what he wanted me to do. I wondered how he knew my name and how did he find me among such a crowd. When at last I was able to open my eyes I found that the people were all there and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that something #miraculous had taken place. Even the atmosphere seemed changed; inside me was a hushed silence. My very soul was at peace and from that moment I had no recollection of the rest of the service. I was simply lost in wonder pondering over the mysteries of God.

I’ve heard the phrase born again but I had no idea how this came about now I had experienced a change and I suddenly knew. The person who stood there in the spot where I stood was not the same creature now. A transaction had taken place and I knew I was born again. “Why didn’t I learn about this mystery before?  Did everyone in the tent have the same experience?” I was deep in thought and was not aware of the time until a tap on the shoulder by one of my colleagues made me realise it was time to leave the meeting for the three hour journey home.

As I ponder upon the event of the day the words of two hymns came to me, one was by John Newton:

 Amazing grace how sweet the sound that save a wretch like me

I once was lost but now I’m found was blind but now I see.

Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come

God’s grace has brought me safe thus far

And he will lead me home (John Newton)

The other hymn was by Charles Wesley:

And can it be that I should gain

An interest in the Saviour’s blood?

Died he for me, who caused his pain

For me, who him to death pursued

Amazing love how can it be

That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

 

 Long my imprisoned spirit lay

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night

Thine eye diffused a quickening ray

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light

My chains fell off, my heart was free

I rose, went forth, and followed thee

 No condemnation now I dread

Jesus and all in him is mine

Alive in him, my living head

And clothed in righteousness divine

Bold I approach the eternal throne

And claim the crown the through Christ, my own. (Charles Wesley)

I’ve sung those hymns in church since childhood without understanding their true meaning. Now for the first time I understood the hearts of the men who penned those hymns. They too had met with the risen Christ and had left something powerful behind for other people to reflect on the grace of God. I felt free, and was later to comment that before I went to Cliff College I was a sluggish caterpillar with a diet of cabbage leaves, but by the time I left I’d become a butterfly with a totally new diet prepared for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally finding peace with God

3 Jan

On spring bank holiday, May 1987, as I left home to walk the short distance to catch the coach to Derbyshire: the day seemed like any other day of the year. The neighbourhood was quiet and calm as people were still asleep. On this particular day, I was among several members of our church party who were attending the final celebration weekend convention held yearly at Cliff College.

Our journey started at 7.00am, and was estimated to take three hours but took several hours due to the heavy traffic. We had hoped to arrive in time to attend the first of the seminars held outside on the Terrace, but by the time we arrived this activity was already in progress. As soon as we arrived we were confronted with the view of hundreds of cars, caravans, tents, and numerous coaches. There were those on foot walking from both direction and people seemed to be coming from everywhere.

We were so taken up by the crowds that no one noticed that our leader had mysteriously vanished. We were strangers to the area, so it was with some trepidation that we ventured out of the coach to go in search for her. Some went to the nearest tent, whilst others including myself found the Terrace.

The Terrace was an area located between two main buildings of the College, which evolved from an 18th century Manor House. Here, the service was conducted in the open air with a makeshift rostrum. Situated on the hill above and overlooking the Terrace was the most beautiful arranged flower gardens I’ve seen. A wall separated the Terrace from the garden, which was accessible by several rows of steps. As we entered we could see that the area was already packed to capacity. People were sitting in every available space possible – the garden walls, and even on the ground among the flowerbeds.

A group of singers led the worship, which was very vibrant. From the expression on the people’s faces, you could see they were happy to be there. They were smiling; moreover, they were very welcoming and made every effort to make space for us to find a seat. Their singing was joyful and boisterous; their entire bodies were caught up in the act of worship. Some raised their hands in adoration, whilst others clasped their hands as if in prayer and occasionally people yelled Hallelujah, Amen, thank you, Jesus. This was unusual to me; however, I settled down unstirred by the emotions of the people around me and waited for the preacher to be announced.

Soon after the preacher began to speak it was as if he had mysteriously picked me out from among the crowd of people. His message seemed to make a demand of me. His voice penetrated into my entire being, which made me feel conscious that the congregation too was aware that his message was directed to me. This preacher was making a demand on my life telling me I had certain duties to perform in the church, and I certainly was not prepared to get involved there. By now I was beginning to feel very angry and had a great urge to escape. I simply switched off and went to a pity party with myself thinking of my own sad state of affair of the heart, the breakdown of my marriage, which was very painful. How was I going to cope? What would become of me? These were a few of my questions. I was not a particularly good company and was getting rather critical of this group of people who seemed so full of themselves. Clapping, smiling even looking happy in Church: whatever next? I thought.

At the end of the meeting, we made our way in search of somewhere to sit and have our lunch. Once outside I was made even more aware of the vast numbers of people who had come to the convention.

The multitude of worshippers filled the park as far as the eye could see. They were coming from the upper tent, the Terrace, the children’s meeting, the big tent, and the lower tent. People were ascending and descending the hill, some were sitting in groups on the grass at the top of the hill others were sitting around their caravans. The beauty of the colours of their attire amid the green grass and the surrounding hills was magnificent to behold. The sound of music mingled with the voices of children at play filled the air, and I could picture a biblical scene with Jesus on the hillside of Galilee and a multitude of people coming there to hear him speak. I had never been in a place as this before. The scene was mesmerising, as I stood and gazed at the beautiful Derbyshire hills I said truly: “God is in this place”.

As we sat down for lunch the feeling of unease came again. There is definitely something spooky about this place I thought. The message about getting involved in the mission of the church was being transmitted in my brain and I was hearing it loud and clear so much so that I felt the urge to get away as fast as I could from the place.

Frustrated, I decided to spend the rest of the evening sitting on the coach. As I pondered over the situation my thoughts went to the bookshop up the hill. I loved reading and thought it would be good to browse around in the shop and see if anything on display caught my fancy. Perhaps I’d find a good book to read whilst I waited for the others to return from the service for the journey home. Feeling more relaxed I began the short walk in search of the shop. On the way to the Terrace, I remembered passing a sign that showed the position of the shop, so I went directly there. I was only there a few minutes when a friend who had arrived at the weekend celebrations ahead of us, approached me.  She was quite happy to meet up with me, but somehow she seemed to be in a hurry and quickly pointed out two books she thought I should read. Together we went to the checkout and paid for the books, the Holy Spirit and you and Nine 0 clock in the Morning.

Taking me by the hand she said we must hurry or we won’t get a seat. We went to the lower tent to hear Rev Colin Urquhart. Vera had heard him speak a few times before as he was one of the main speakers for the weekend event. In her excitement, she told me all she knew about him. He was an Anglican Priest previously, but he was now an Evangelist and: “You‘ve got to hear him” she insisted. I had nothing against this man of God, but I was not particularly interested in sitting amongst those who instead of sitting quietly to listen to the preacher, respond with hallelujah and amen and this Jesus thing. “Why were they saying his name so often?” I came to the conclusion that they were new to the church and thought they had to say his name. In my heart I was protesting: “No I’m sorry, but I’m not going.”  but I did not want to let her down.

All my life I‘ve tried to please others; never wanting people to think badly of me after all, Vera was enjoying the conference. She happily told me what I had missed over the past few days. The bible study, Morning Prayer meetings, speakers, walking along the prayer paths, the new friends made etc. I could not tell her how uncomfortable I felt being there so I went along quite unwillingly to the lower tent. I did not know at that time that my life would never be the same again.

Up to that period of time, my life was a boring one. I was a very sensitive person, who took offence for the simplest of things said about me, kept very much to myself and I did not make good company. This meant I had no friends and was the worst off for being lonely and isolated.

I was brought up in a small country village in the Caribbean in a family that kept very much to themselves, which meant I had a very reserved upbringing. We lived across the road from the Methodist church that my family attended religiously every Sunday. The little chapel was used for Christian worship and sufficed as a school that provided education to children from the age of five to 16. My village and those from other areas also used this chapel/school.

The chapel was a hive of community events, as it provided various social activities organised by missionaries who taught several Irish and English folk songs.

I was a weak child and suffered from some common ailment or other including asthma that plagued me regularly especially in the rainy season. This condition kept me from participating in most of these activities and attending school regularly, and I was absent for several months of the year. However, by living nearby I was able to work from home so in spite of the setbacks I was bright and succeeded in each stage of the school exams.

I was very shy and particularly choosy in my dress sense. Unlike other girls of my age who wore ordinary below the knee dresses I liked mine ankle length. I also felt unable to have my arm, chest and back exposed and people referred to me among other things as being old fashioned, stupid, and why can’t you be as everyone else? I was constantly being criticised and felt very unloved, rejected, and condemned just for being me.

As I grew up these feelings continued and I felt that I would never succeed in life as I had never been given any encouragement. However, deep down I longed to be somebody. After leaving school I was sent to study pitman typing and bookkeeping. On Arriving Here, in England at the age of 20, I continued my studies in typing and office practice, including several life courses but this fear of rejection continued with me throughout and even though I had acquired several certificates of distinctions I was unable to make a career in any of them through fear of not being good enough.

As a young girl I dreamt of marrying a gentle, loving and kind man but alas this was just a folly of a simple-minded girl who had no exposure to the world at large. People like me from a small village in a small island have no knowledge of places outside the vicinity where she lives, has no real life experiences and could only make belief. So my dreams were unrealistic, and after trying to hold on for the sake of the children the marriage ended after 20 years. So here I was at Cliff College with various emotional feelings. I felt alone, abandoned, rejected and thought that there was definitely no hope for me finding my dreams come true.

Now I was hearing testimonies of people who had similar life experiences. In communicating their life story they told of a loving father who came to their rescue when they called, they spoke of heartaches, pain, rejection, abuse suffered in silence and the bitterness they harboured in their hearts and of the release and freedom found as they invited Jesus into their lives.

I had never been at a place where I’ve heard of wonderful things like these. I felt myself wanting to be free from my pain, and gradually I was opening up but remained sceptical.

These were young people: I was now 43 years old and I still felt rejected, unloved, humiliated, scorned etc. “God, I will like to have a testimony, but why are they talking about Jesus so much.” I thought. Up till then I very rarely heard people calling on the name of Jesus or even asserting that he did something for them. Were these people real? Again, I felt uneasy and wanted to make my exit, as I was about to do so a young man sitting somewhere along the pew decided to get up and beckoned me to his seat. We exchanged places just at the point of introducing the speaker the Rev. Colin Urquhart. Perhaps I’ll stay and listen to him after all. He came from the Church of England they won’t dare express themselves whilst he’s speaking.

He invited people to give their lives to Christ. Even though I was brought up in the church, had attended Sunday school regularly, at the age of 12 attended reception classes, learnt my catechism and made a commitment to follow Christ and was finally received as a member of the Methodist Church this didn’t feel right for me. As I reflected on these things I became aware of a headache that I had all day. I was beginning to feel miserable again, I thought about the difficulties of my life and of my longing to find peace, and happiness. As far as I knew peace could only be acquired in death, right now my life seemed to be of no real value what so ever. In fact, I was fed up of life.

As the minister prayed for people to accept Jesus as Lord of their lives I finally thought I might as well give him my life. I needed his intervention and without any more resistance I closed my eyes and said: “Jesus you can have my life. I don’t want it anymore. Have it. Here, catch.” I threw myself in the hand of Jesus and as he caught hold of me immediately I felt as though a large burden had fallen off my shoulders and I was filled with the most wonderful sense of peace imaginable. From that moment I had no recollection of the people standing there in the tent with me.

The Marquee that contained hundreds of people suddenly seemed to be empty except for the Spirit of God at my side and me. Suddenly I could hear the preacher speaking in tongues, but in English, I heard a voice calling me by name (Jean), and telling me what He wanted me to do. I wondered how He knew my name and how did He find me among such a crowd. When at last I was able to open my eyes I found that the people were all there and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that something miraculous had taken place. Even the atmosphere seemed changed; inside me was a hushed silence. My very soul was at peace with God, and from that moment I had no recollection of the rest of the service. I was simply lost in wonder pondering over the mysteries of God.

Welcome!

19 Jan

The day I went to Cliff College I was a broken and sad person. Feeling unfulfilled due to a lack of self worth yet having a deep desire to accomplish something in my life. That Spring Bank holiday Monday however, I was given a glimpse of who God really is. It was as though heaven had come down to earth as God’s presence was felt where ever I went that day. Something supernatural was also happening as I continue to hear a voice in my head making a demand of my life. I was truly afraid of being there and the urge to escape was overwhelming. However I opened up and let God in and my life was wonderfully transformed. That experience not only enabled me to see the suffering of people in my community it also stirred me to open up my home in an effort to meet unmet needs and led to the birth of the Wayside Community Centre.