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Sought and found by God

December 2017 | by Stephen Holland

I was born in Wales, United Kingdom. Although sent to Sunday school as a young child (something which I hated!), I never once really heard the gospel message.

Strange as it may seem, one can go to some places of worship and yet never hear the message of God’s saving grace. Two things I hated on Sundays as a child: one, having to go to the church up the road and attend this rather large Sunday school; and two, being reminded on Sunday evenings that I had school in the morning!

I hated going to both schools, Sunday school and ‘ordinary’ school. I hated school and I hated books. How things change! Although sent to Sunday school to learn about God, I would, very much to my shame, often rip pages out of my little Gideon’s New Testament, while blaming God for everything. How God is merciful! I now spend my adulthood no longer tearing pages out of the Bible, but preaching and teaching it to others.

Jehovah’s Witnesses

At the age of 16, while working on a building site, I came into contact with my first real Jehovah’s Witness. Living in Wales, where it rains a lot, there was plenty of opportunity to get rained off and go into our grubby little hut for a game of cards and drink lots of tea — which none of us ever objected to.

It was on one of those rained-off days that I was given by a work colleague a rather colourful magazine. It was full of fanciful drawings of people and animals living in a perfect paradise. After my brief glance through, he popped the question of what did I think. While only partly interested, I did give a rather nodding approval. He then asked if I’d like to know more, to which I gave a hesitated ‘yes’.

To my horror he then invited himself up to my house for a Bible study. At that time, I was too polite to say, ‘No you can’t come’. We began a weekly Bible study in the living room of my parents’ home, with me and my newly acquired Bible ‘guru’ in one room and the rest of the household hid away in the kitchen.

I immediately became fascinated by all that I was reading and discovering; never really ever questioning anything that was said, as it was all backed up by supporting references from what I believed to be the Bible.

What I did hate though was having to read out loud before my rather posh and well-educated friend. Being quite thick, I found this rather embarrassing. As a result of this, after about four or five visits I decided to draw things to a close — it must be said though not in the most honest of ways.

After him travelling on a bicycle for about 15 miles, and that after a hard day’s work, he eventually arrived at my door for our weekly study. Upon hearing the dreaded knock on the door, instead of answering I hid behind the kitchen door and pretended to be out! I rather sheepishly apologised the next day.

To my relief, he suggested that it may be best for another Jehovah’s Witness friend living nearer by  to visit me instead. This gave me the escape I’d been hoping for. I asked if it’d be okay if I study these things on my own, to which he responded with a rather blasé, ‘Yes, that’s fine. Many do that’. I now realise that this group, for all its Bible study, are not true Christians, as they do not believe that Jesus Christ is truly God.

Finding a church

I managed to find work on a building project. After being there for about a week, while having our break, the subject of religion again came up. For some reason, I blurted out, ‘You can never really know, can you?’

To my surprise, the guy sitting opposite replied, ‘Yes you can’. He had made a profession of faith some months before. His own church fellowship was about 40 miles travel each way. This necessitated him inviting me to go with him in search of a new church.

We set off one rainy Saturday evening in search of a spiritual home. Our first port of call was the local Charismatic Elim church, in the centre of Swansea.

There was some sort of youth meeting on, just winding down. We were kindly invited to return the next day, Sunday, yet were told, ‘Don’t come in the morning. Come in the evening; it’s livelier’.

Even though not yet saved, I went away feeling this is not what I’m looking for. I suggested we give up and head for town and find a pub instead. As we set off, we decided to cut through a car park, as it would be quicker. Upon doing that, we spotted a light on in a church.

We decided we’d try there. In I walked on that rainy Saturday night, with wet scruffy hair, earrings, combat jacket and loads of holes in my jeans! I began to attend that church regularly — Ebenezer Baptist Church, Swansea. This was in 1985.

All was very strange to me at first, and I was reluctant to even enter the building unless my friend came with me. We would meet each other at the local police station and then go in to church together. It was while sitting under the preached Word that I came under a real sense of conviction of sin.

Conversion

As I wondered what was happening, the pastor commented, ‘One of the first things the Holy Spirit does in the heart of a sinner is to convict them of their sin’. I realized that was what was happening. Although I cannot pinpoint the exact point of my conversion, it was sometime in April 1985.

Before attending this church regularly, I had said many times what is now known as ‘the sinner’s prayer’ (a prayer printed on the back of many gospel tracts that I had been given over the months), but this time I soon noticed a big change had taken place in my heart and life.

I continued to attend Ebenezer Baptist Church; I loved the preaching and Bible studies. In 1989, I left Swansea for Edinburgh to study for two years at the Faith Mission Bible College.

Since February 2003 I have been pastor of Westhoughton Evangelical Church, in the north west of England. I am also a ‘Wycliffe Preacher’ in the north of England for the Protestant Truth Society.

Stephen Holland