Sometimes God amazes me as he works out his purposes in my life.
It was a damp and cold early winter evening in 1962 as John Eaves moved uncomfortably in his chair at home. It was not physical discomfort he felt, though he had been recovering from pneumonia. It was the urging of the Holy Spirit to go out onto the streets of St Leonards-on-Sea and give out gospel tracts. Convinced of this call from God and against the advice of his caring wife, out John went from 27a Springfield Road and into the cold evening air. At first he could find no one to speak to, neither on London Road nor Bohemia Road, the two main roads nearby. He stepped out of the cold into a shop doorway to pray. “If you wanted me to come out please send the person you want to have a tract soon; I’m not feeling too well!”
As he stepped out onto Tower Road he spotted a man in naval uniform hurrying down towards him. He selected a tract at random and held it out. The man grasped it and pushed it into a pocket as he hurried on. John went home and told his wife that he had given a tract to a sailor and that he was convinced that God was going to save him and that God had a plan for the man’s life. They prayed together that night and John sent newsletters to friends asking them to pray for the sailor.
The young man was not a sailor, but a sea cadet. He was also a person who desperately wanted to sort his life out. Having rejected his Christian background, he had drifted into an ungodly lifestyle. Worse still, he influenced his peers into a hedonistic way of life. Sometime later, in the privacy of his bedroom, he read the tract and found the story it contained curious and bizarre. It was about two young men who had attended a Christian meeting for fun and mocked the preacher. The preacher prayed for the Holy Spirit to convince them of their need. Almost immediately they broke down suddenly distraught and with a sense of their need for forgiveness. Bizarre as the story seemed, it had echoes of stories from the Scriptures that the “sailor” recalled from earlier years in Sunday School.
The two young men only found peace when the preacher spoke with them, quoting from John 6:37, “Whoever comes to me I will never turn away”. In the quiet of his bedroom a prayer was breathed: “If this is true, please accept me as I am. My life is a mess.” Nothing dramatic happened immediately, but a change began to take place. A few months later he had started attending a Christian youth meeting, mostly because he was attracted to a girl whose father was a former minister. After a couple of weeks, the minister of the church who led the group announced that the young man would speak on his favourite psalm the following week. Not wanting to lose face in front of the girl, he agreed.
He wanted to be original and for five days he struggled to find a talk on the only psalm he knew other than psalm 23. It was then he picked up a picture postcard he had purchased on a school trip to the Tate Gallery. It was of sheep in hazardous situations. He turned it over and saw it was called “Strayed Sheep” and painted by W Homan Hunt. He turned to a study Bible he had been given years before and read the notes that went with Psalm 23. These pointed to other verses of Scripture: Isaiah 53:6 and verses from John 10 and Luke 15. The next Tuesday evening he gave his talk and confessed himself to be a lost sheep for whom the Good Shepherd had sought and for whom he had given his life.
After the meeting, the minister restrained him and urged him to be baptised. There followed a series of preparation classes which he attended with two other young men. The baptismal service was planned for Easter Sunday evening. Easter Saturday evening, a woman evangelist had been booked to speak on Hastings Pier. Sylvia Smith worked for The Evangelisation Society among London’s strippers and prostitutes and it was advertised she would speak about her work. Unsurprisingly, this sounded interesting to the young man who attended with his friends. That evening, after speaking about her work, Sylvia spoke on “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. Taking each character in turn she spoke of Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, Herod’s desire to be entertained, Pilate’s washing his hands, and the soldier’s cat of crucifixion. After each she quoted the words of Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness.
As he listened, the young man recognised himself in each of the characters she described. And as he heard that prayer repeated, the love of God took hold of his own heart. The gospel he believed intellectually became a profound experience as he sang as the meeting closed, “Love so amazing, so Divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”
The following evening, he was baptised before a packed church. He started to witness to friends and family, leading some to the Lord. A few months later he applied to join a mission organisation and went on to ordination and many years of fruitful ministry. Many months after his baptism, he found that tract and re-read it. He recalled the night he was given it and went off to share his story with a Christian friend who ran a shoe mending business in the town. The show mender listened then produced a newsletter he had received asking for prayer for a sailor who had been given a tract. It was from John Eaves and bore his address. That day John received a visit from the man for whom he had prayed. You will imagine his joy.
I was that young man.
About a year ago I was booked to speak at a Torch Fellowship Group meeting in Melton Mowbray in last Monday 14th November 2016, and had chosen to share my testimony but to explain how the pathway followed sometimes brought sadness and frustration as well as blessing. I entitled it “Rehoboth: Journey into Space” and based it on the story of Isaac’s frustrated journey as recorded in Genesis 26. As the meeting was about to start, an elderly man came into the room. He was unknown to all but had seen an advertisement in the local library. I suspected that he had not realised it was a Christian meeting, so I said a little about the work of the Torch Trust to introduce the fact.
He explained that he had not realised it was a Christian meeting, and was a little embarrassed as not only was he not a Christian but that some life experiences he suffered as a young man had stumbled his faith when he was preparing for ordination in the Church of England, turning him away from God. Instead of pursuing a pathway into ordained ministry he had spent his adult life working with troubled young people living on city streets, some of whom worked as prostitutes.
Members of the Group quickly put him at ease and I started my talk. We were sitting around a table and he was on my right out of my vision. As I got to the part about the meeting on Hastings Pier, the host of the meeting stopped me. Pointing at the stranger she said, this man has something to say. Apparently, she had seen a shocked expression on his face. We turned to see him shaking his head. “I can’t believe it” he said. “In 1963 I was visiting my Gran who lived in St Leonards. I saw the posters for the meeting on the pier and because the speaker seemed to be doing similar work to me, I attended that meeting. But what drew you actually pushed me away”.
Had he not been able to provide further evidence I would never have believed his story. He had moved into Melton Mowbray from Leicester only a few months before. He had attended a meeting he had never been to before where he met a man he never knew giving a talk he had planned some month’s previously, only to find that both he and the speaker had been in the same meeting some 53 years previously. I assured him that although he had lost his grip on God, God had never lost his grip on him. He was already reminded of the prayer of Jesus for forgiveness so I reminded him that Jesus had also said that whoever came to him he would never turn away. Will you please pray for Jeff as John Eaves and others prayed for me? God has a plan for Jeff’s life, just as he has had a plan for mine. Please pray that after the years of rejecting the gospel, it will now bring life, peace and joy.
More from the Diary
Please pray for my work in the prison, and for all chaplaincy staff at this time of stress in the prison service. Last Tuesday my regular visit was cancelled. I am due in again this coming Tuesday.
This Sunday 20th November I am taking the service at Clarendon Park Congregational Chhurch, Leicester.
Later in the week Doreen and I will be staying with her sister in Kent. While in that part of the world I have meetings planned in Dunks Green, Kent and in Hastings, East Sussex.
On Friday I shall be attending a service of thanksgiving for the life of a former collage, Heather Stainer. Philip and Heather worked with Doreen and me in Mission for Christ: Rural Evangelism, for many years. Please pray for Philip and the members of their family at this time.
Please pray for my colleague in Rural Mission Solutions, Katrina, as she is laying the foundation for a meeting next Spring for those leading children’s work in rural churches in the Southeast of England. This is part of the process of picking up on the work previously done by the late Monica Cook. Please also give thanks for the faithful support being given by friends of Monica to enable this ministry.
May God bless you abundantly as he works out his purposes in and through your life.