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Testimony - Val

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Picture of Val

I grew up in a non-Christian home in the 1950’s in what is now inner city Bradford. I have a brother who is 11 years older than me and in those days if you wanted a social life of any kind then the only place to get it was church. Our local church was Bradford Cathedral, so that’s where it all happened. My brother went to Sunday School and Bible Class every Sunday afternoon and being the somewhat precocious child that I was, I got to 3 and decided I wanted to go too. There was only one problem, and that was that you couldn’t attend Sunday School till you were 5. Apparently, and I find this hard to believe, I used to block my brother’s way out every Sunday and insist he sang songs or played with me rather than go to church. All this did was make him more determined to get out sooner than the allotted time to avoid all this. My poor mum took the brunt of it all and eventually told my brother to ask the lady who was in charge of Sunday School if I could go for a few weeks because she was certain I wouldn’t like it and get bored very quickly. Miss Elsie Webb, the Sunday School leader, agreed and the next Sunday a very excited Val skipped along beside a very embarrassed 14 year old brother to Sunday School. Did I get bored after a few weeks? No, I loved it!

Holman Hunt - The Light of the World

I grew up at the Cathedral doing Brownies, Guides, Sunday School and Girl’s Bible Class and Youth Fellowship. As I said, if you wanted a social life you went to church and if you wanted to meet boys then you went to church! That’s what I thought church was - a glorified social club for all ages and the services, hymns, prayers and Bible stories were all a part of what you did. Then when I was 15 I went on a Girl’s Bible Class holiday to Largs in Scotland. We did all the usual things during the day and then in the evenings we had various speakers coming to talk to us about a variety of subjects. But one night someone introduced me to Jesus by showing us the Holman Hunt painting “The Light of the World.” He talked about this painting so passionately and linked it to Revelation 3:20 which says “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them and they with me.” All of a sudden I realised that all the hymn singing, praying and being good meant nothing without recognising that Jesus had died for MY sins, that I wanted Him to forgive me and to ask Him into my life and that’s what I did that night when I knelt on a dormitory floor with other girls and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Saviour.

Arriving home from that holiday I was on a high and told my mum that I had become a Christian. With true Yorkshire grit she told me not to be so ridiculous and that I already was a Christian because I went to church. So, no support at home, but I was mentored by two girls who lived nearby. They taught me that my life now belonged to God and He would guide me and show me what He wanted me to do. I had only ever wanted to be a teacher and I was scared that He would ask me to do one of two things. Either to become a nun in a silent order, and those of you who know me will appreciate the fact that would have been torture for both me and the other nuns! The second thing I was worried about was that God would send me to be a missionary in Africa — more about that later.

I was confirmed at 16 because that’s what you did, and met the young man who was later to become my husband at confirmation classes. I went on to train to be a teacher, married at Bradford Cathedral in the early 70’s and although we had to travel in to church each week we did so as my husband was in the choir and his family were all involved there too. But, it was all very superficial and I truly believed that God and I were fine because I went to church, was Brown Owl there and tried to be good. I was heavenward bound and OK! Or so I thought! But then my life took a couple of turns for the worse. My mother had died suddenly just before Christmas, just before my 21st birthday, but my father then died suddenly 6 years later and as I was a real daddy’s girl this rocked my cosy little world and I ranted at God and grew more unsure of His existence. Then my husband confessed that he had been having an affair and didn’t know whether he wanted to stay with me or go with the other woman. To cut a long story short we ended up parting and no-one from that church supported me, phoned to ask if I was alright or had any contact with me. I was devastated and turned my back on God who, I believed, had deserted me.

I had 10 years in the wilderness of not having anything to do with God, church or religion, but life was fine. I had friends and none of them went to church. My teaching career was going well and I was taking on more responsibilities and becoming part of the senior management team. My hobby was amateur operatic and dramatics and I joined a society and was partnered with a man for the show who turned out to be a Methodist minister. As we sat and talked at rehearsals he listened patiently to my story unfolding and then one night put his arm around my shoulders, gave me a hug and said, “Come to my church, love, we’ll look after you.”

For all my years of church involvement I was still a nominal Christian. I was still very much a child in my understanding of the Bible and of my faith until I met the man who was to take the person I was then and lovingly mould me into the person I am now. Meeting my late husband Chris was, I believe, God ordained. Chris was a mature man of faith with a love of Jesus that just seemed to be so natural and normal. He was a full time wheelchair user having been born with spina bifida but never once blamed God or felt sorry for himself. He had been brought up in a strong Christian home that was almost Brethren in their beliefs and attitudes so I was a challenge — an older woman, divorced and a back slider. But we both felt that God had placed us together and we married and had five blissfully happy years together. Chris grew my faith through example, his love of the Bible, his willingness to talk about faith matters and his faith in the power of prayer. I was loved and I was nurtured and I became the child of God that I felt He wanted me to be.

Chris died suddenly on Christmas Eve 2006 and I could have so easily run away and berated God as I had done in the past. But, what for me was a miracle happened. We had joined the congregation of Gotham Church and had ‘thrown our lot in’ totally. Our home was open for Bible Studies and meetings and anyone who walked through the door was welcome. After Chris died I felt that every knock on the door, every card or letter, every phone call, every act of kindness was like someone putting together a blanket of knitted squares to wrap God’s love around me and protect me. This time I didn’t run away from God, I ran to Him, and I know that Chris went home to our heavenly Father and that one day we will be reunited in Heaven.

I could end my story there but there’s more. Do you remember that I told you that I had been afraid that God would send me to be a missionary in Africa? 11 months after Chris’ death I went with a diocesan group to Natal in South Africa to explore ways to extend the link with our two dioceses. For part of that visit I spent time in rural South Africa, in Richmond, where we now have a parish to parish link. That Sunday, I was asked to stand in the pulpit and tell my story. This was instead of the sermon — so no pressure there. But by God’s grace that is what I did and would you believe that in the church’s calendar that Sunday was Mission Sunday!

I know that my walk with Jesus is closer now than ever. I never would have believed that I would build a link with Africa and visit it three times, lead a Bible Study Group, lead a team of Sunday Club leaders or go into the local school with the Open the Book Team, edit Messenger and be unafraid to pray aloud at the drop of a hat. I’m busy, fulfilled, happy and content. I’m still a sinner, a work in progress, but by God’s grace and the love of Jesus I’m less of a sinner today than I was yesterday.