Trusting God is the cornerstone of the Christian life. But the still, quiet voice in our heads can sometimes come up with some unusual ideas. How do we react when serving God can make us look foolish to others? Here, people share their stories of when they took a risk.
New York fairy tale Back in 2001 I was working as a consultant in London, when my PA informed me that I had a week’s holiday that needed to be taken. I felt a prompting in me that said, ‘Peter, go to New York.’ I found out about a project at Ground Zero run by the Salvation Army, giving toys to local children affected by 9/11. I called them and said I wanted to help. They said ok, and I told them I’d be with them by the following lunchtime. I booked a flight online, turned up early the next morning at Heathrow and was told that there was no record of my ticket. I’d have to book a new flight then claim back the money on my return. While arranging this, the attendant asked why I was travelling, I told her, she spoke to her boss, and they decided to backdate my ticket order so I’d pay the cheapest rate. Arriving in Manhattan, I headed straight to the toy fair. I ended up working with some guys who, just before the end of the day, asked me where I was staying. I told them I hadn’t had time to book anywhere. They said one of their party had changed plans, leaving a spare hotel bed, so I could stay with them – but only until Friday morning... which just happened to be when I was due to leave. The week was great, and when I came home I wrote to the travel agency about refunding my ticket. A couple of days later, while checking my bank account, I noticed they’d paid me twice. I contacted them, but they insisted they’d only paid me once. In the end, when I sat down and did the sums from the receipts of the flights, restaurants etc, I discovered that to the penny the extra payment covered my expenses. I literally spent nothing. It was awesome. All because God said, ‘Go to New York’ and I said yes. Peter Ould is a Church of England priest, blogger and speaker. This is the Way... I was a doctor. I loved it. But while I was at medical school I started to sing to people, and they listened. So I had always wondered whether there might be any space in my life for more of that. I felt God was calling me to take a risk, so I decided not to apply for my next medical rotation job. My colleagues and family were aghast at me being in limbo. Two friends came to visit me on a retreat, brandishing the same job advert – leading a band. Two weeks later (after the closing date had passed), something nudged me to call Youth For Christ. They said ‘We’ve extended the closing date to tomorrow.’ I’d decided to attend a conference in London. When I asked my boss if I could book the relevant Thursday and Friday off, he said, ‘Take the Wednesday off as well.’ Then I got a call asking me to come for an interview – and that the only day they could see me would be the Wednesday! That lunchtime I perused the Internet to find out about YFC – only one document came up (it was 1997). It was a strategy document that said, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’ across the top. After lunch I returned to the ward I was working on. A Christian nurse said she felt the Lord had given her a verse for me – “This is the way, walk ye in it!” I did. Fourteen years later, I sit here thankful for the incredible adventure that started then. I may not be working as a doctor any more, but I have seen so many people opened up for healing through music. Andy Flanagan is a musician and director of the Christian Socialist Movement. Gentle guidance I go for a swim each day, walking up to the local sports centre. On this occasion, I had to pop into the bank, so, unusually, had my wallet on me. As I was choosing which crossing to use, my attention was drawn by a commotion. Just the other end of the nearer crossing, a bearded man in a black leather fringed jacket was kicking in the phone box. We had just had a week of riots in London, and this sight was violent and concerning. The Lord’s still, small voice said, ‘Go up to him and talk with him.’ As I got nearer I could hear the expletives; when I got up to him, I could smell the alcohol and cigarettes. What should I say? The words came: ‘Did it swallow your money?’ He looked uncomfortable and apologised for swearing. ‘Here, I can give you a pound.’ I reached into my bag. And then it all poured out. He had been trying to contact the hospital to ask about his son’s progress through a brain tumour operation, complicated by three haemorrhages surrounding the tumour. Distraught, he then told me that his wife had died of a brain tumour only ten months earlier. He had picked up one of two identical mobile phones that morning – the one without any credit. I then told him I was a Christian, and offered to pray with him. To my surprise he said yes and we prayed for his son, the need for news, and for God to bless him in the name of Jesus. I gave him a pound, and he left to find another phone box. After finishing at the bank, I walked on to the pool. With no knowledge of my plans, he was standing outside the sports centre when I arrived. His son had been brought through to recovery. He did not know whether the boy was through the woods for the future, but was visibly relieved. God wants to use his people to touch lives. A few weeks before, I had been too embarrassed and scared to follow his call to speak to a different person. I am truly grateful that he heard my prayer of repentance, and gave me this opportunity and gentle guidance through it. Anonymous. My funny valentine It was Valentine’s Day this year, and for once I had a boyfriend who not only remembered Valentine’s Day, but also remembered to get me flowers. I was quite overcome by the fact that he’d gone to so much effort, and so was in a good mood. I had already bought myself a bunch of roses, pre-empting my cynical belief that my boyfriend would forget, and so I decided that I’d pray and ask God what to do with them. I walked up Didcot high street with a bunch of roses sticking out of my bag, praying for some divine message as to who would want them. The first man was sitting on a bench alone, and I said ‘Happy Valentine’s Day,’ and gave him a rose. He got up and hugged me. I was encouraged that he didn’t report me to the police, so I carried on. I ended up in a charity shop buying some random item that I didn’t need, when an older lady behind me in the queue commented on the top I was about to buy, saying how nice it was. I knew straight away that I was supposed to give her the flowers, but was struck motionless and dumb with fear of looking and sounding stupid. But I had to do it. I turned to her and said, ‘Happy Valentine’s Day. These are for you.’ She looked surprised, and welled up a bit, and then said, ‘Thank you so much. I lost my valentine a long time ago.’ I wish that I had said something useful in response, but I think I said something totally stupid and inappropriate like, ‘Oh well, there you go.’ How insensitive am I? But I left the shop thinking that it was worth it, just so that this one person felt loved on a day when most people probably feel aware of their losses and loneliness. Nicki Rogers is a singer/songwriter. God’s grace in King’s Cross Susan, a 32-year-old ex-RAF woman, had suffered from depression and anorexia for 15 years. The conditions were brought on after her parents divorced and she was sent to a boarding school where she was desperately unhappy. Susan was a sometime Christian – sometimes she prayed, sometimes she went to church, sometimes she read the Bible. But most of the time she drank too much, slept around, and needed 15 cups of coffee to get through the day. One day, Susan was walking her dog in the park when she cried out to God to help her, to send her a shepherd. The next day, she went to King’s Cross to catch a train, when the Holy Spirit told her to withdraw £40 from a cash machine. The Spirit then directed her to take the first carriage, where there was only one seat, next to a woman. The ticket inspector came and told the woman sitting next to Susan that her ticket was invalid. He said she’d have to pay a fine – £39. Susan took the £40 she had withdrawn at King’s Cross (well, you can’t withdraw £39) out of her purse and offered to pay the fine. The woman told Susan she was a full-time evangelist and pastor who ran a ministry with her husband. Both the woman and Susan were getting off at Coventry, and there, on the platform, the woman prayed over Susan and she was set free from her depression and anorexia. Two days later, Susan received a thank-you card from the pastor, and an invitation to go to Israel on a pilgrimage. She was baptised in the Jordan by the pastor – and shepherd – she met on the train. Susan now works for the pastor. A true and amazing story of God’s grace on the 5:15 from King’s Cross. James Hastings is a journalist. Call to Kabul As long as I can remember, I had wanted to visit India. Not with any mission agenda, just to see the country. My sister was at uni, and while looking for something to do with her summer, found that BMS World Mission did a gap year for 18–25-year-olds to many places, including India. I was 24 so decided to apply and see what happened. Next thing I knew, I was flying to Kolkata with a team of four to do mission stuff for six months. When I returned I had the mission bug, and began to explore a long-term call, but at that time the doors seemed to be closing rather than opening. I got a job working for BMS, and although I continued to feel a long-term call overseas, it just felt as if the timing wasn’t right. Then I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan as part of a staff scheme. I went for just over three weeks, and had a chance to see various projects as well as help in the head office of a local NGO. I came back to the UK feeling that it was a place I could work, but it would need to be the right role and that I wanted to have regular contact with local people. I filled in the paperwork and my CV was sent to several countries for discussion. A job opportunity came back from Afghanistan to work in a business development project which enables local women to gain literacy and numeracy skills to run their own businesses. So now I find myself getting ready to move to Kabul. Being a single woman means my freedom about how I can work and socialise will be restricted; I will often not be able to go out alone, will have a curfew, and take a female role in a Muslim country. Then there’s the challenge of learning the language and dealing with the constant dangers of roadside explosives and the threat of kidnap. My immediate family are all Christians so can see God’s call and have been very supportive, but others who don’t share our faith find it difficult to understand. Some have said some quite hurtful things. But I know God’s hand is on this and want to follow where he leads. Becky – missionary in waiting. Twlight years While working at Lee Abbey Conference Centre in Devon, I sat down to chat with a teenager. One of the things about Lee Abbey is trying to be welcoming to those who come there each week. Having sat down, I immediately thought, ‘What have I done this for? I have nothing in common with this person.’ I noticed she had one of the Twilight series books, which my wife was reading at the time, so I tried to chat to her about it. But all the time I was thinking, ‘What am I doing here?’ Eventually, I slipped away and escaped, feeling a bit of a fool. Later on, the girl’s mum stopped me in a corridor and thanked me for making a big difference for her daughter, who had felt on the edge of things and not really involved. Somehow, my bumbling conversation had changed things. Sometimes, following God is just about geography – putting yourself in the right place, even though you feel an idiot and have no idea what’s going on. David Hopwood is an author of Christian books including The Bloke’s Bible.