When we at Bethel Church, Clydach were considering how better to reach our community with the gospel, one idea was to run a week-long mission. It had been a very long time since we’d done anything on that scale, and we were a small and relatively elderly congregation. Were we in danger of over-reaching ourselves? But whilst the elders were thinking about this, one of our young people, Liz, sprang into action! She was in university in London, and rounded up some friends who were thinking about short-term mission over the summer. ‘I know just the place,’ Liz told them, ‘you should come to Clydach!’
If we’re honest, we were encouraged by Liz’s enthusiasm, but a little doubtful as to whether it would actually work! We wanted the help, but trusting four strangers from a very different church setting (a large city-centre evangelical Anglican church) seemed quite a risk. But four lads (James, Stefan, Tim and Duncan) were willing, the references we obtained from their church leaders were positive, the brief conversations we had over email showed they were both eager to serve and to learn (a great combination), and Liz was very persuasive! So, we prayerfully took the risk, and six days before the mission began they arrived – in time for training, planning and preparation.
As soon as we met the lads and saw them at work, our fears evaporated. They were hard-working, prayerful, committed, and eager to share the gospel. Crucially, they were both happy to fit in with our traditions, but also willing to try something new to see if God was in it. So we asked them to go on to High Street and ask passers-by if they’d answer a questionnaire about their beliefs. The questionnaire helped us to understand our community better, but also was deliberately designed to prompt conversation about the gospel. It was on High Street that Tim met Mary. I’ll let them tell the rest of the story in their own words.
Tim: why did you get involved in the mission in Clydach?
Being a student I had a ridiculously long summer so when Liz asked me to help out with her home church’s mission, I jumped at the chance. I was really looking forward to it and seeing how it would be different from university evangelism, but I guess a little apprehensive as starting conversations with strangers isn’t something I naturally love and I imagined they’d all be twenty-stone Welsh rugby boys!
Mary: What do you remember about meeting Tim?
Well, I was accosted one day on the High Street by a very nice, tall young boy. We got talking, and he asked me if I was a Christian. I said, ‘I believe I am’ but when he asked me if I went to church I had to say ‘no’. He told me about some special meetings going on in the church. He invited me to the coffee morning and asked if I’d be interested in hearing Henry Olonga’s story. When I went to the meeting Tim was looking out for me and sat with me. Afterwards he said ‘why don’t you come on Sunday?’ so I did and I’ve been coming ever since.
Tim: What do you remember about your meeting with Mary on High Street?
I introduced myself and asked her if she would like to answer a few questions but we soon moved away from the questionnaire as she told me she considered herself a Christian and spoke about some of the struggles of life and that she no longer attended church. I went through the gospel with her and tried to encourage her to consider whether she was actually a Christian. We chatted for quite a while and I left her with an invite to a coffee morning. She came along to it and to some of the other events. After that, as I headed back to London, I was left with one thing to do: pray for her.
Mary: Why did you tell Tim that you were a Christian?
Many years ago I was very involved in a Methodist church. I taught in Sunday school and my children went regularly. I did a lot of good things. After the children had grown up and we moved I stopped going to church as there was no church near where we lived, but I still prayed and sometimes read my Bible, especially at times when things went wrong. But I understand now that’s not what makes you a Christian.
Tim: Was it a problem working in a church different from your own?
No it was great! I was in the same place theologically so I could easily get alongside and help out. I had to get used to speaking to significantly older people rather than students – they were often a lot more genuine and quick to listen, but many were convinced they were OK with God because they once went to chapel as a kid, which was very frustrating. There was a lot to learn as well including simple things like pronouncing Welsh road names!
Mary: How long did it take for you to realise that you weren’t a Christian?
As I listened to the church services I felt I wanted to know more, so I kept coming. I did Christianity Explored and then Discipleship Explored led by Paul from the church. Once we were supposed to look at 1 John for homework but I thought it said John 1. It was really confusing because they’re very similar, and it took a while before we realised that I was looking the wrong bit of the Bible! Because I’d missed out on 1 John, Paul came round to do an extra study with me and as Paul explained it to me, all of a sudden, I knew! I said to him ‘I finally know what you’re on about and I want to give my life to Christ’ so I did. That was about eighteen months after I’d met Tim, and one day before the church’s second mission started!
Tim: In what ways did helping at the mission help you?
It gave me more confidence in the gospel and in my ability to chat to all sorts of people about it. It made me more reliant in prayer. It was good to see a different church context to the big city and yet see that people there need the gospel just as much, and it’s just as powerful. I loved chatting to older Christians and see their love of the Lord and passion to keep persevering.
Mary: How has becoming a Christian changed you?
I am a much calmer and happier person. I don’t get so easily niggled with my husband David. Mind you, I do still sin but I ask God for forgiveness and He helps me. I also feel part of the church, I belong there now and I want others to experience what I’ve experienced, so I try to tell people, especially my family. And, best of all, I know that God is going to look after me. I often think, ‘Why did we move to Clydach, we didn’t know anyone here?’ And ‘Why did I go to the High Street that day?’ – I don’t even remember what I was doing! But if Tim hadn’t accosted me I would never have gone to Bethel and become a Christian. God knew what He was doing then, so I can trust Him for everything that’s in store.
Tim: Have you seen Mary since?
I visited the church about a month ago, two years after our first meeting. It was brilliant to be reunited with Mary! Liz had kept me updated and told me of Mary’s conversion, which was so exciting. At the end of the service, Mary came running up to me and said ‘Do you remember me?!’ It was wonderful to hear her recount the story of her conversion and to hear how she’s become quite the evangelist with her friends and family!
Shâron Barnes is a member of Bethel Evangelical Church in Clydach, Swansea.