For me it began with a waking dream: one word, MACEDONIA, like a place name I saw once on a Welsh railway station, with the letters embossed, standing clear of their background. Pouring over a map later, I realized that, for the apostle Paul, the call from a man of Macedonia was a call to take the gospel west across the sea to Europe. Was God calling me to go west across the sea to America? I knew no one in America and saw no reason to go there.
Ten years later, in 1974, when I was the Methodist minister at Bolsover near Chesterfield, I was in my study thinking about this again. By then I had an open invitation to visit someone in Florida and a pressing request to allow two Americans, Charles and Lucille Gipson, to take me to a Lay Witness Mission if ever I visited the U.S.A. I was also keen to see how the Lord was at work in various situations being affected by the Charismatic Renewal which was then at its height. I decided to go for it.
So it was that I found myself in a remote community in the Appalachian mountains where a small Methodist church was having a Lay Witness Mission. I could see the potential for the U.K. Several months later, early in 1975, I had a letter out of the blue from Dr. Roger Haining, a dentist living in Seattle, asking if I would be willing to help him introduce Lay Witness Missions to England.
The idea was that we would have a joint American and British team for the first weekends that Roger would lead. My task was to find the British team members and the churches to have the first missions. Roger was hoping that they would be held later that year but as time went on it became apparent that though it was easy enough to find some volunteers to be the first British team members, finding enough churches willing to have an American led mission about which they knew nothing was a different matter!
The Lord knew that I needed help. I recall vividly the day when Nev Marples, a neighbour and a member of the church at Bolsover, called at the manse looking very worried. He told me that he had been putting on his boots ready to go to work at the local Coalite plant when he heard a voice telling him to go to America. When he recovered from the initial shock and asked whereabouts, the answer came back clear as a bell “Spokane”. This was totally outside Nev’s experience and when I asked him why he was looking so anxious he told me that he thought I might recommend him to see a psychiatrist! He had never heard of Spokane (neither had I for that matter). Looking it up on a map he found that it was near the west coast!
After Nev’s visit I came across the word ‘Spokane’ on three separate occasions, one of them in a letter from Roger saying that the Methodist church in Spokane was thinking of sponsoring one of their young people to join the team. I realized that Spokane was not all that far from Seattle and asked Roger if he would like to invite Nev over to sample a LWM so that he could then come back and help me find the churches to have the first missions.
The day came when Nev was dropped off at Spokane and told that he would be collected again later in the day. Looking around and wondering what he was doing there, he noticed a building with a cross on it. When he went to investigate he found that it was a shelter for disadvantaged men. Nev ended up having lunch with the director who told him how he had been a successful cattle rancher when the Lord called him to the work in which he was now involved: how reluctant he had been and how he had been thrown from his horse, ending up on his back with plenty of time to think. He told Nev: ‘If the Lord calls you to do something you’d better do it!’
Nev was taken to a Lay Witness Mission and also saw their potential for the U.K.
When Nev came back home he had an amazing story to tell and was the one who encouraged churches to have the first missions as well as becoming a member of the management committee and going on missions himself. Sadly, Nev died a few years ago.
The 1,000 Lay Witness Mission was held in October 2006. This coincided with the 30th anniversary of the first mission being held at Bolsover.
Looking back it feels as if I had the privilege on entering into something that God was doing.