Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Spiritual Journey (2)

So I got to 1976 and my discovering that all the time I’d been chasing after God, he’d been chasing me and now I was caught. Some people have dramatic conversion stories, mine almost passed me by. I didn’t realise what I’d done until I was talking with some other guys at college and they could see that I was changed.

Very quickly I became a challenging member of my Christian subculture. I wasn’t about to conform to some imposed pattern that made me just like every other well-behaved member of the small group. I was, and still am, a little bit of a maverick. So I asked awkward questions and sought out deeper conversations.

In 1977, six months after coming to faith, I found myself in Germany at the European Congress on Disciple-making, run by the Navigators. I still have great admiration for this interdenominational organisation. I soaked up a lot of ideas over the few days we were there and it was at that conference that I first felt the gentle nudge of God’s Spirit to enter the bigger picture of God’s plan and purposes in the world. I didn’t know what it would mean, but I wanted to be part of whatever he was doing.

The following year I found myself in a 17-seat minibus travelling through North Africa with 15 other people. It was a trip organised by British Mission, later to become World Horizons. Two significant things happened on that trip. One, I got nudged more clearly by the Spirit to think about full-time ministry in the context of the UK church. Second, I finally connected meaningfully with the woman I would marry! Anne never could tell right from left and that left her at a disadvantage when trying to cross the road in Casablanca. I seized the opportunity and took her hand. We married two years later, which makes this year our 30th wedding anniversary.

Coming back from Africa we wrote to a number of colleges to enquire about possible training. BBI (Birmingham Bible Institute) very wisely encouraged us to find jobs, settle into being married and learn about life outside of the cloistered world of university and education. So we did. For seven years I worked for British Gas in R&D until I finally entered college to study theology.

During those years the call grew and I grew in fits and starts as I struggled to work out my faith amidst the questions and challenges of a church that generally wasn’t working. That’s not a criticism of any of the churches with whom we connected, but just a general feeling of unease that things were not as they should be and that all was not well among God’s people. Neither is it a precursor to my prescription for fixing anything. Even after 20 years of ministry I still haven’t worked that out.

In college I found out that my paternal grandfather had spent some of his life as a missionary in Gambia, and I began to wonder if I was part of a bigger story even within my own family.
College was great and it gave me the chance to explore things in new ways. One of those things was the place of the church in God’s mission. Something I tried to wrestle with in an essay.

More of that next time.

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