Up until 1971, I thought I was living on ‘ok’ Christian life (when I look back, a lot of my ‘Christianity’ was pretense as a teenager at school) and was an active part of a great Youth Group in Heathfield, then it moved to Mayfield, East Sussex. I thought I was doing fine: my friend Andy and I had gone to the youth group from our homes in Eastbourne, feeling that the ‘Lord was leading us there’ – when truthfully, we’d heard there were a lot of pretty girls in the group, and Eastbourne – then – was a ‘cemetery with lights’ or ‘God’s waiting room’!! It was certainly right there were a large number of pretty girls – a wonderful blessing after what seemed a shortage of them at home!
God moves in mysterious ways, though(!) – and while we both found young ladies (I think without any doubt that Andy won the lottery out of the two of us!) – our ‘purpose’ in going to that group wasn’t God’s reason for us going there. I went as ‘pretend’ Christian, but within a few months at a weekend camp, where the speaker couldn’t come because he was ill, the replacement speaker was God’s plan for my life! A young, then unknown Clive Calver, fresh out of Bible College and filled with the Holy Spirit (which in the early 70’s was almost ‘taboo’ in evangelical churches), saw straight through my pretence and I knew he could see straight through me. To be in honest, in that moment, I absolutely hated him!
A few months on, Clive was going to lead an evangelistic mission – a coffee bar mission (there, that REALLY dates it, doesn’t it!!) and was going to teach us how to start conversations with people about the Lord, and lead them into a relationship with Jesus. Then he said that he wasn’t going to teach us, he was going to show us: ‘Paul, it’s time you got saved!’ If I’d hated Clive at the camp, now I was murderous! But that night, in 1972, I gave my life to Jesus: something I’ve never regretted, needless to say. I was working in a bank at the time, and I hated it – it was boring, monotonous, and I’d ‘done’ the only job that looked interesting – the counter, dealing with customers, and counting money! I stayed in the bank as it was then a good career, 2.5% mortgage (in an era of 14% mortgages!), with a reasonable salary and good pension hundreds of years in the future… Clive wanted me to leave and join Youth for Christ, where he was, by 1975 (I think) National Director, and I knew it was what God wanted, but I didn’t for the reasons I’ve just mentioned! So I argued with God for 4 years (I’m sure no one reading this has ever argued with God over a call on their life!). So God intervened again and moved me to another branch of the bank, which I hated with a 100% passion, so I demanded another move – to an even worse branch with an unbelievably awful manager (I won’t say where or who!!) – who insisted you give him 300% of your time and effort. So I finally caved in to God, and quit at the end of 1978…. Youth for Christ it was!
Would I go back? Not on your life! Was I living significantly in the bank? Not in a million years! Had I any idea when I started working for YFC in East Sussex where it would lead? Not in the slightest! I still had a house (though by now my salary had gone down the £0, no pension, and my mortgage to 15% (as it was a re-mortgage from the bank). Within about 4 weeks, my car – a wonderful(NOT!) diahrrea-coloured Austin Maxi (remember them? Remember that colour – only the dreadful Maxi, Marina, and Allegro were that colour! And as cars they were all as bad as each other!) – ‘blew up’ in Hailsham High Street, a wonderful sound of broken metal pieces hitting the road and a black river behind the car flowing down the road…. How could I do the job without a car? Well, God had that one up his sleeve, too: I was given an almost new Chrysler Alpine within a couple of weeks, which was an incredible blessing.
The desire to live a much more significant life was growing inside rapidly: you only get one life. Why spend it in insignificance? After 4 years came 9 months at a Christian Training Centre, then a move to become a homegroup leader, followed by Elder, followed by Youth Pastor at a church on the south coast (out of which came an event known as Cutting Edge, which became so big, and ‘spawned’ the wonderful worship band Delirious. Just as Cutting Edge was ‘taking off’ God hijacked me again (I so wanted to stay with Cutting Edge!) and said – ‘Hey, you, it’s to the four corners of the earth to preach, teach, and pray for the sick for you’.
I argued with God again! Didn’t want to do that – I’d never travelled, didn’t like foreign food, and didn’t have any money. A problem to God? Drat, no!! For 6 weeks and 9 prophetic words I told God he’d got the wrong person, but after the 9th, I realised God wasn’t going to shut up, so I said ‘Ok, Lord, I’ll go, anywhere except Africa or India!’. Don’t ever tell God what you don’t want to do or don’t want to go! Within 12 hours, 5 invitations – 2 to France (not such a problem as I loved baguette, cheese, and wine!), one to Hong Kong (not a problem as I love shopping and I knew HK was great for shopping, especially for gadgets! – but God was oh so sneaky on this one!), and two to Ghana (aarrgghh!). Ghana was first… thank you God, thank you very, very much!
I fell in love not just with a country but a continent, and saw wonderful things happen there, and in teaching at Youth with Mission schools, found a good number of students encouraged to go into ministry themselves planting churches in the bush region of Ghana, God’s sneaky trick with Hong Kong mostly took me into China, which I’d NEVER had agreed to if I’d known – but China changed my life forever, spending time with pastors living in revival and miracles, and meeting ex-dead people (resurrected by God with the expectation of the pastors that it had to happen as it said it in the Bible!), which grabbed me with a passion to see the same things happen wherever I went. I remember saying to God as I left China for the first time, ‘God I have to see these things happen, and I don’t care what it costs me’….
It HAS cost – a lot – not just financial, but in every other conceivable way. Would I go back? Never! When you’ve seen legs grow (from nothing to a full leg, not just popping down an inch or so!), when you’ve seen thousands and thousands healed all over the world, when you’ve seen the dead come back to life, thousands and thousands find faith in Jesus, lives transformed, churches planted, missionaries released into many parts of the world, had God provide in order to go to 111 countries (most of them multiple times – like Colombia 89, Romania 129, Mexico 35 and many more) – and when you bear in mind I come from a family that have had many serious illnesses and never liked travelling, and would prefer – probably – to die of starvation than eat rice and dal in India, or cow’s eyes and lips in Mexico, or cat and dog in China…. was so sick myself until I was six doctors didn’t think I’d live, was celiac until (much to my mum’s horror) eating sausages, beans, and chips a number of weeks in a row at a friend’s house, and when France laying on a sun-soaked beach in July would have been my ‘extreme’ travel choice, it’s been an amazing journey so far, and it’s going to get more amazing as the next years unfold…. and we can ALL do it……
Thank God he uses the foolish things of the world – and the fearful, who after kicking and screaming choose to be obedient… whoever would want to live a life of insignificance? I can genuinely say that I don’t want ‘fame’ significance, or ‘big platforms’ to preach from – just be great in the kingdom in God’s eyes, not people’s, by being the servant of all.