• Ross Moughtin

How I met up with Jesus in the fog

Fascinating phone conversation with John last night. The last time we spoke it changed my life. It was way back in February 1963 when Roger from my Covenanter Group invited me to the 6.30 pm Gospel Service at the sponsoring church, Oxford Hall, a small Brethren assembly. By then I had been attending Covies for a few months, having been rescued from the sheer boredom of Prayer Book Matins at St Nicholas’, my childhood church. I could sense somehow that God was at work in Roger, and so I said “Yes.” However, on that particular evening a thick smog from the Mersey estuary drifted over Waterloo. Even so I headed out, not far to go, to find that Roger had not turned up as promised. So I walked in anyway. To discover just a very small congregation, of what appeared to be very elderly women. They were probably in their late 50’s/early 60’s. I guess nowadays the service would have been cancelled, not least because you could phone round. So the service proceeded. It was taken by a young man who had come specially over from Over the Water. And it was totally unlike any church service I had ever experienced. When it came to the sermon, I was transfixed. For the first time in my life the Gospel message came together. I had already had all the material in my mind, thanks to St Nick’s school and Sunday school. I knew my Bible stories. Of course, I knew that Jesus was crucified, that he was raised to life on Easter Day. But the one thing I had not realised – because no one had ever told me – is that Jesus died for me and that I needed to make a response to his act of love. A hugely important decision not to be side-stepped. So I decided to follow Christ. A key moment in my life. And yesterday was the first time I had spoken to this young man from Rock Ferry – except that John is now an old man living in Prenton. Jacqui’s nursing friend, Joyce, knew my story and knew that the speaker in the story was her friend, John Pope. And so the other day she gave me his contact details and suggested I phoned him. Which I did yesterday afternoon; for John, right out of the blue. It was great to talk to John and to thank him somewhat belatedly for his ministry some 54 years ago. It was fascinating to hear the story from his perspective. He can remember the evening and the difficult journey by train to get to Oxford Hall on time. He recalls walking in the smog past the bleakness of the railway coal yard. And then discovering just a very small congregation – which hardly made his journey worthwhile. A few old ladies and a young lad - that’s all. . What I did not remember was that after the service it seemed I approached him with several “very intelligent” questions. The quote is his, I hasten to add. Apparently I then said “Thank you” and walked out. And that was it. He never had any idea of my response until Ted Morrell some years ago related my story to him. But that experience has been formative in my life and ministry – not least the strategic importance of small, poorly attended meetings. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8). As a rule of thumb God works in the way contrary to our common sense. We see this, above all, in the cross of Jesus. Here is this man, betrayed, humiliated and in considerable pain, we may know the love and power of God himself. The apostle Paul writes “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. . . so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27f). So in my ministry I am not fazed by failure or disappointment. For more often than not the Holy Spirit works most powerfully in the small and the weak. For – as Paul has just explained - no one can be in any doubt who is at work. It’s great when the church is packed, when we have powerful worship or a celebrity speaker. But by no means does that mean that a more bountiful harvest than in the much smaller and simpler service later that evening. Of course, you don’t turn this on its head and not do your best, whatever the context. There is no reason to delight in mediocrity or relish failure. But when it comes to spiritual fruit, even a hundred-fold return, Jesus can so easily use our few loaves and a handful of fish when surrendered to him. This understanding makes all the difference as we do God’s work. The apostle Paul knew this only too well: “And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.” (1 Corinthians 15: 58)

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