A couple of years ago I gained access to a data base of 660 Independent evangelical churches within the UK. These are not the total number of independent churches in the UK, but it is the vast majority. Over 50% are churches with congregations of less than thirty people with no pastor. Most have buildings and some even have a parsonage. This makes for good possibilities in church revitalization for missionaries coming to the UK in the future.
The pandemic has been hard for churches. Personally, we are seeing that 1/3 of people are just not coming back to church. Rather than going forward, ministries seem to be going backwards. Fears over the delta variant and the constant negative news beamed into everyone’s house has not helped. The reality is that many more churches will close. Government guidelines have been so tight that ministry was a real challenge but yet we have seen the Lord at work calling people to Himself.
So although we have seen people go missing-in-action, constantly saying that “soon” they would be back, we have also seen new people start to attend. It is always exciting to see a whole new family walking in to church for the first-time including grandparents. Unusual but very heartening to see.
What is also heartening to witness is how God has reached the lost at the height of the lockdown. I want to share the story of Curtis Owen. Below is his testimony, his story in his words, unfiltered.
It was at the end of June 2020, that I felt the presence of our Lord and Saviour in my life. Before this, I had never really given much thought to God or his Son, Jesus Christ. I was a strident atheist who didn't believe in anything beyond the material world and thought Christianity was just another mythological story. But now I know. I have faith. I believe. I have felt Jesus' loving kindness, experienced His grace and witnessed His mercy. God and his Son Jesus Christ are present in this world and in our lives.
I was having a really difficult time in my life for about four-five months before this. When Coronavirus hit, I was working in a mental health care home as a deputy manager. I was told that the manager of the home had to isolate due to being high risk because of her age. Four other staff had to isolate too because of having underlying health conditions. That just left me and two other ladies to look after a group of 6 people. It was a really difficult time coping under the pressure, especially knowing nothing about the virus and what was going to happen. I didn't really get much support during this time. I was living day-to-day. I had to adjust and cope in the best way I could. It felt like life was a snowball that was rolling down a mountain.
I was also having issues at home with my wife. She had to work from home during this time because of Covid. Our daughter couldn't go to nursery either, so my wife was trying to look after our daughter and juggle her work responsibilities. This was a lot of pressure for her too. It seemed pressure was coming from everywhere.
I thought I was coping well, and everything was fine until I noticed my wife and I were having arguments all the time and disagreements that put a lot of strain on our relationship. We didn't seem to be living as a unified couple anymore. I found, by accident, that she was talking to another man. I was at work one day, coming back in a taxi after an outing with a resident I support, and I left my mobile phone in the taxi. I had to use my wife's phone when I got home to contact my niece, because she was having difficulties at that time, and I noticed the messages. She had seen this man on father’s day with my daughter and didn't mention anything about it to me until I asked her about it. This really shocked me, broke my heart and caused me to lose my mind. On top of this, my niece was staying at our family home due to difficulties because of the stress of Covid, not going to school and my sister losing her job.
Everything is a little blurry during this time to be honest but I remember one day, before I had my breakdown, my family, along with my niece, were meeting with my dad and his wife, at a park. I appeared agitated and broken up and remember talking nonsense. As I was walking with my dad I said I needed to sit down. I sat down and watched my dad walk away. I thought to myself, my real father, our Lord and Saviour, would not abandon me like that in my moment in need. He would sit with me, comfort me and ask me if I was okay. This is when I felt the presence of God as my worldly father walked away.
Everything seems muddled after this. I am not 100% certain of what happened. I remember going to visit the hospital and recall walking back in the middle of the night and I broke down and started to cry. I was suicidal. I was ready to die. I felt like I had nothing to live for. I got back home and tried my key in my door and the latch was on so I knocked on the door. My wife was really surprised to see me. She was with her friend. I felt at that time my wife didn't really care for me or care for my wellbeing and she just wanted rid of me.
To cut a long story short, my relationship with my wife ended. I confronted her about speaking to another man and said I thought this was inappropriate (I always thought I was reading too much into it but in my heart I knew she was looking to leave me). My dad and his wife were looking after our daughter and my niece for a few nights so we could sort out our relationship. However, we had a physical altercation. After this she left our family home and I called the police and asked to be arrested because I felt bad about what had happened. I was alone that night and in a frenzy taking screen grabs of my wife’s phone of all the messages she had sent to the man she had been in contact with (it was an ex-colleague).
Everything is a blur from this point on. I wasn't sleeping. I wasn't eating. I had no sense of myself. I had lost my mind. I ended up staying with my dad and his wife to recover for the entire month of July. The second day I was with them, a man knocked on the door with an envelope. It was from my wife. She had served me 'papers' saying she wanted a restraining order made against me so I couldn't see her or my daughter. She had painted me in a very bad light and made me out to be an abusive husband. I didn't understand this but I remember she mentioned, during our arguments, that she married me because of the visa to the UK. I was totally at the bottom of life at this time. I had no hope.
Throughout this time I was encouraged to read the Bible and I started to attend church. I still feel confused about all the details of what happened to me during this time. Hopefully, it will become clearer in years to come. All that I am certain of is, When I needed Jesus, he rescued me. I remember reading a quote about someone who felt like they were falling into the abyss and that as their feet were leaving the edge they were pulled back by Jesus. This resonated with me as I felt exactly the same thing. I feel rescued by Jesus. I feel I have been given another chance at life under His powerful and everlasting mercy and grace.
None of what happened really matters now because I don't feel disordered or distressed or alone anymore. Jesus is my rock. I have spent the last months absorbed in the Bible and understand that I was saved by His Grace and His Mercy – all praise to Him, our everlasting Shepherd. I have accepted the Lord as my eternal Saviour. I know he died on Calvary's Cross for my sins. There is no hope of salvation for any of us without faith in Him.
I hope I am living my life the way Jesus wants me to live it. I am a Christian. A follower of Christ. I am not the strong Christian I want to be, but I feel like I am learning to live right with God.
Will you join with us in praying for Curtis?
We are beginning to disciple Curtis and will be arranging his baptism in the coming weeks.
Red Green Amber
International travel is now based on a light system. Green means good to go while amber means be cautious. Red means that on your return to the UK you are required to quarantine in a hotel room for 10 days at your own expense. Not something I would like to experience.
So right now we have no desire to travel anywhere outside the UK because the government will and have switched the colours on countries with a very short notice.
Melinda and I are well, encouraged and blessed.
Many blessings to you all
Graham & Melinda Forbes