Rachel Heaps is the daughter-in-law of Graham Heaps, who was the pastor of Dewsbury Evangelical Church for 41 years, before retiring at the end of 2014. .
Rachel grew up in a non-Christian household and had an unhappy home life. ‘When I was just 13, my mum left my dad, and took my 9-year-old brother with her. My memories of this are still vivid and painful to recollect’, she said.
‘God figured little in my life at this time. He was no source of comfort to me. I immersed myself in school work, household chores and self-pity’.
During her time at Liversedge Secondary Modern School, Rachel shared how she was feeling with her science teacher, Mr Douglass. ‘I told him that I couldn’t cope and wanted to run away, and he told me he’d pray for me’, she said. ‘I became aware that I faced someone who had a faith in God at a level I had never encountered before’.
Rachel proudly claimed she believed in God, but was inwardly doubtful of whether prayer worked. With her father’s consent, Mr Douglass arranged for Rachel to attend Friday Club, a regular youth club at Dewsbury Evangelical Church.
‘I wasn’t repelled by the fact it was a church club’, Rachel said. ‘My mum used to send my brother and me to a local church and Sunday school. Friday Club soon became the highlight of my week. I enjoyed making new friends, joining in with a variety of activities and even studying the Bible and singing Christian songs’.
‘I was intrigued. I clearly saw the leaders took God’s Word seriously and to them, he was real and active in their lives’.
In 1986, aged 14, Rachel went to a Friday Club weekend away to Scarborough. The weekend consisted of short talks, singing Christian songs and Bible studies, as well as leisure time in the town.
‘That weekend, through listening to God’s Word being shared, I became painfully aware that I was not the person I thought I was. I certainly wasn’t what one could consider a real Christian. I told lies, I hated others, and I judged myself to be better than others. These were just the tip of the iceberg’, she said.
‘On Saturday, I felt God was putting his finger on me. I realised the truth about myself and realised I needed Jesus to rescue me from the punishment my sins deserved — an eternity of hell’.
However, Rachel did not tell anyone this, nor did she ask God for forgiveness. ‘Instead I walked a tight-rope of fear. At one end were my newfound friends, who I didn’t want discovering my lack of faith. On the other end of the rope was my family, who might ridicule me, and a future that would change radically’.
On Monday, the small Bible study group Rachel was in looked at Luke 12:13-21, the parable of the rich fool. ‘God spoke, through his word directly and powerfully to the dilemma in my heart. Just as God said to the farmer, “You fool, this very night your life will be taken from you”, I realised that we don’t know how long we have, and our future in eternity is not something we should gamble with’.
‘When I came home from the weekend away, I asked God to save me from the punishment my sins deserved; to be my Lord to control me, my teacher to guide me and my friend to be with me. There was no flash of light, but there was a peace that flooded my very being. Through Jesus I was forgiven and safe for all eternity!’
Rachel finished her studies at school and college, going on to study history and education, with qualified teacher status, at St Martin’s University College. After graduation, she worked for a brief time in East London, before returning north to marry Matthew Heaps in 1998. Together they have two teenage daughters.
‘In the 30 years I have known Jesus, I have known his help in my relationship with my parents. He has gifted me many faithful friends and a wonderful family of believers. He has been with me in my marriage and my mothering, and patient in my continuing battle with an overly anxious heart’.
Over the last year, the Heaps family has faced troubling times: Sue Heaps, Rachel’s mother-in-law, was diagnosed with and recently died from an aggressive brain tumour. ‘We are painfully reminded of how fragile life is’, Rachel said. ‘But my mum-in-law knew the Lord Jesus and is safe and secure in his presence’.
‘Furthermore, the Bible tells me that there will be no more sorrow or tears in heaven, only the joy of being with Jesus. I hope and urge you to come, taste and see that the Lord is good!’