Monday, 30 July 2012

Stepping Sideways

Stepping sideways

The message left on the telephone was brief but to the point. ‘I’m a missionary in Bulgaria’ said a woman’s voice. ‘I have just been asked by my mission to train women to lead bible studies and work with other women in their local churches. I need material. Can you help?’

Needing to consult an atlas before I was even sure where Bulgaria is, [I have always been geographically challenged!] I returned the call and invited V. to visit me as she drove south from a conference. I sorted out the various addresses where women’s study material could be obtained, and some samples of what I’d used successfully, and spent a fascinating evening hearing how God had moved after the fall of Communism [this was the early 90’s] and how many women had come to faith. But their husbands hadn’t joined them, and the churches were very patriarchal, so even though the women formed about 75% of the congregation, they were very closely overseen.

I added a copy of ‘I love God and my Husband' to the pile of paperwork that I gave to my new friend, waved her goodbye, and apart from an occasional prayer didn’t think much more about it. Eighteen months later I had a letter. ‘Could you come to Bulgaria this summer for 10 days?’ V. asked. ‘We want to train some of the women who have leadership gifts, and we also want to help women who have not yet believing husbands. Could you come and run some seminars for them? You could stay with me and I could translate for you. We would visit 5 different churches in different parts of the country. How would you feel about that?’

How would I feel? Shocked and daunted was the honest answer. Staying for ten days with someone I had only met for a couple of hours? This was certainly unfamiliar territory. I had spoken quite frequently over the past few years about the needs of women who were lone worshippers, but not overseas, and not through a translator. This was definitely water-walking stuff.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

It was from a little acorn ...

A word from God, reluctant obedience, little obvious fruit … is that the end of the story? Sometimes! But  not in this case.
When I felt God challenge me to write a book for women who were lone worshippers, I had written two novels for children, winning a competition for new writers when I did so, and fully expected that to be my writing journey. I had no thought of writing non-fiction, although I had written a few articles in between the books and having babies! But a book on a subject of which I had no first hand knowledge seemed a very tall order.
I knew enough about the writing business by then, to query a publisher before spending lots of time on a project that might have no future.  The first publisher to whom I wrote, came back to me with a resounding ‘No’.  ‘’We wouldn’t publish a book on such a topic” the editor replied “for two reasons. First  it is a very sensitive subject and for a woman to have a book about it lying around the house, might be unhelpful if her husband picked it up. And secondly there aren’t many women in this position!”

I don’t know what planet he was living on! My experience before and since has demonstrated that this is a very common situation that many women face, and most of them wouldn’t leave a book around if they thought that it would increase rather than lessen tension in their marriage. However I couldn’t argue and normally would have been sufficiently discouraged to close the door on the project.
 But God … Once again He kept reminding me of Doreen and the things she had shared, and so I approached a second small publisher. This time there was cautious encouragement. “ We agree that there is a need.”,” they said “Write the book … and we’ll see.”
Exciting stuff! But where on earth could I begin?

I prayed and as I did so, I realised that I now knew a few people who had been vocal at the Coffee Morning and to whom I could talk. I discovered women’s groups in various churches, whose members were prepared to fill in questionnaires – and pass them on to others. One group met in a country farmhouse and recorded their answers to the questions I’d asked. I believe that statistically you’re lucky if you get around a 10% response to questionnaires. I must have had about 50% returned. I was in business.
It was only a little book. 25,000 or so words long. But it was published and women pounced on it. It was published in America and sold some 75,000 copies in 12 years. Suddenly I was an ‘expert!’   But that book wasn’t the only fruit …!
Do you remember that old hymn ‘O Love that will not let me go’… In it is the line ‘I trace the rainbow through the rain.’ What rainbows can you trace, especially if you have written something short or long? I’d love to hear about it.

Monday, 16 July 2012

One step at a time ....

And so the adventure with God began. Graciously He had gone before us. When I mentioned the Coffee Morning to my next door neighbour, I discovered that not only did she share my faith, but that she would be delighted to come and make the coffee. Ethel recruited Mary, a toddler loving friend, whose own children were at school, and we bought a bargain box of mugs. We were in business!

For two years we jogged along happily, meeting fortnightly during term time. There were a few ‘interesting’ moments. One morning the speaker’s daughter managed to lock herself in the downstairs toilet, and had to be rescued by me squeezing through the open window, while her mother chatted happily to the assembled guests, completely unaware of the excitement in the hall. We hung the key on a hook on the wall after that!

The children did get sick occasionally. All of my three contracted chicken pox, and spent the morning tucked up in our double bed, while I ran up and down stairs for a visit every few minutes, and were none the worse for the experience. But nothing obvious HAPPENED spiritually until Doreen came to speak to us.

She had come to faith eight years after she was married and her husband was deeply unimpressed by this new passion in her life. She told us about the ways this personal relationship with Jesus had impacted her marriage, and her audience hung on her every word. We always had an opportunity for questions, but normally our guests just chatted among themselves. Not on that occasion. She was bombarded with questions.

‘What do you do about the children?’ asked one.

‘I’d love to have a faith but I’m afraid of what it would do to my marriage!’ said another.

‘What do you do about going to church when he wants to go out for the day?’

‘My husband reckons that the church is just after your money. I don’t have any money of my own so how could I give?’

On and on the questions flowed until finally I asked the assembled company ‘Isn’t there a book that looks at marriage from this perspective?’

‘Oh no!’ they assured me ‘All the books on marriage we’ve seen, assume that you share your faith.’

They just haven’t looked in the right place, I thought to myself. But when I began to research the subject I found it was true. There was one book available from the US at that time called ‘Unequally yoked Wives’ with a rather unhelpful cover decorated with chains, and that was that.

‘You write a book for these women’ God whispered.

‘How can I?’ I protested, not really believing what I was hearing ‘Gordon and I were both Christians when we got married. What do I know about such a challenging situation? Anyway I write fiction for children, not adult non-fiction.’

‘Step out in faith and I will help you’

It was another ‘I am sending you to Pharaoh’ moment. I wriggled and struggled but this time I wasn’t quite so slow to respond, even thought I hadn’t the slightest idea how to set about it..

Monday, 9 July 2012


I argued with God about it all summer.

“But Father “I prayed “most people think that talking about you belongs in church.”

“What did Jesus do? God whispered.

I thought about that for a while. There’s no doubt that Jesus often taught in homes and that one of his most powerful encounters was while he was just sitting by a well when his disciples went shopping. [John 4.] We don’t have any wells where I live but there are supermarkets where women gather. I shuddered. A coffee morning sounded easier.

“But Father “I said “who would I ask? And what would I say?”

“Trust Me. I’ll point you to the people and give you the words.”

“But Father we have 6 children under 5 years old between us. You know what it’s like in winter. What if they get sick? We’d have to cancel.”

“Trust Me.”

“Who could we find to run a creche and make the coffee?  We’d need two people without children … and anyway “I pointed out, clinching the argument. “ I wouldn’t have enough cups!”

The summer slipped by and I kept pushing all thoughts of coffee mornings to the back of my mind. Then, for the first time ever we went to stay with my sister in her London flat, and were able to attend Westminster Chapel, one of London’s famous churches, There was no crèche for the Sunday morning service so my husband took the children for a walk while I stayed to hear the sermon.

The reading from Exodus 3 and 4 was uncomfortably familiar. As I listened to the reasons Moses advanced for not being the person to confront Pharaoh, I heard my own voice. I squirmed uncomfortably as Moses pleaded ‘Lord please! Send anyone else!’

“Ok! I get the message” I prayed rather ungraciously “but You’ll have to do it Lord, because I can’t see how it will work.”

So I went home and Ethel and I started putting the arrangements into motion. I had no idea then that that grudging step of obedience would set my life on a new path.

Come back next week to find out how it happened.

Monday, 2 July 2012

What if ... God really speaks to individuals today

What if … God really speaks to individuals … today?

Some people would deny it of course, and say that ‘voices in your mind’ require prompt medical attention! Others would call it wishful thinking or an overly vivid imagination. But there have been a few times, usually when I’m simply getting on with my day to day routine, when God has spoken and the direction of my life has been changed.

I remember the first time as if it was yesterday. Ethel and I were walking back home from the shops, marshalling our gang of under fives as they toddled along, picking weeds from the grass verge, collecting stones and petting the neighbour’s cat.

As we reached my front gate, Ethel eyed her two year old twin sons and her three year old daughter and heaved a sigh. “I thought I was going to be a missionary” she said “and look at me now! Where do you find the ‘missionary’ bit in drinking coffee with other mums and discussing potty training?” Then her face brightened. “But I think God has given me an idea“  she said. “Why don’t we invite our friends and neighbours to a coffee morning and have a speaker who is a Christian.  She could speak about anything, but it would be from a Christian world view. I’m sure they’d come – even if they never go to church – because it would get them out of the house.”

“Good idea” I said only half listening, as my four year old pedalled his bike dangerously near to the road. “Where would we have it?”

“Oh at your house of course.” she replied “You have a large sitting room and a room we could use for the crèche.”

Now that was entirely different. My neighbours knew that I went to church but a coffee morning with a speaker … that was rather too public a step of faith. “  With three children under five,  lots of church activities and the beginning of a writing career to nurture I had plenty to do. “We’d have to wait till the autumn “ I said quickly. I looked at my 3 month old daughter cooing happily in her pram. “ I couldn’t do anything till Joanna has given up her 10 a.m feed.” [we fed by the clock in those days!]

I hoped that Ethel would have forgotten by then, and she may have done so. But God did not…

Come back soon for the rest of the story