The divorce of her parents caused a deep pain in Imogen Hill. But the faithful prayers of her grandmother started her on a path to healing – and the miraculous salvation of many of her family members
My grandma, Ethel, was a real inspiration to me. As a child, I didn’t really understand anything about Jesus, but she just seemed to embody his love. She used to talk a lot about her faith and, when we went to stay with her in the holidays, she took us to church and taught me to pray.
My mother totally rejected Christianity. It was the swinging 60s, and she rebelled against everything to do with faith. She left home, had my brother at 18 and me at 20. She was determined that her children would not be ‘indoctrinated’ – as she saw it – with anything to do with faith.
My parents divorced when I was ten, and that had a profound effect on the family. I remember always feeling sad, and my mum struggling for money, having to work so hard. My dad paid for me to go away to school. I was surrounded by wealthy kids, but living in real poverty myself. I thought that when you became an adult, you become happy. I remember getting my law degree and thinking: This is such a huge achievement, especially for someone from my background – but I was the unhappiest I’d ever been. I was so aware that there was something missing in my life, and I had no idea how I would ever reach the point of feeling fulfilled and happy. I said: “Mum, when am I going to feel like I’ve arrived?” But she didn’t have the answers. There wasn’t really much hope; it was quite bleak. I was pretty lost, drinking too much, doing all the things young people do.
A miraculous encounter
I was living with friends in London when a French girl came to stay with us. She wanted to go to church, and nobody else wanted to go. I thought: Oh, I’ll go, I’ll be polite. We went to a chapel and I encountered the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt like the roof came off the church, and my whole body flooded with light. I remember sitting in this very simple church service just weeping, thinking: What is this? This is the love I’ve been looking for all my life.
Shortly afterwards, I started work, and amazingly, there was a Christian girl there. We travelled on the tube together and she asked me how my weekend had been. She was holding a French Bible – I mean, of all things, a French Bible, and I’d been taken to church by a French girl! She invited me to go church with her, and I ended up doing the Alpha course.
When I went back home to Wales and told my mum I had become a Christian, she was furious. I remember her saying: “I’ve got a God-bothering mother, and now I’ve got a God-bothering daughter!” She was so angry. I was very close to my mum, but it caused a rift between us.
After about a year, she realised I wasn’t going to give up, and she also saw a change in me. She said: “You had an incredibly mean streak, and you could really lash out at people.” I think it was the sadness, the bitterness, the anger. When I came to faith, that lifted off me. The Bible says: “If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I really hung on to that.
Mum said to me: “I’ve seen such a change in you. I’ve got to investigate it myself.” So she went back to church and, a year after that, she became a Christian.
When my grandma died, we found that the carpet in her front parlour, where she used to kneel to pray each day, was worn away. At her funeral, the person who gave the address said: “If you aren’t a Christian now, I can tell you that by the time you die, you will be – because Ethel prayed, and she was praying for you.” Her legacy has just been phenomenal. Little by little, her prayers have had a domino effect through my family.
It’s not a coincidence that somebody came into my life, invited me to church and I had that encounter. My grandmother would certainly have been praying. I wasn’t expecting to become a Christian at all, but I’ve seen, over the years, that even coming from a really sad background, I’ve been able to find joy. My brother went totally off the rails and was a heroin addict for a long, long time. His life has totally turned around now and he says it was Grandma’s prayers that kept him alive.
During lockdown, when my aunt caught Covid, one of my cousins said: “Imogen, would it be OK to pray for Mum?” She organised a Zoom call and invited my mum, my sister, three of my cousins and my aunt. It was only when we got together that I heard everybody’s stories of how they had also become Christians. It was so uplifting that we could all pray together. Now we have a WhatsApp group called ‘family prayers’.
My grandma led such a life of prayer, and I have so much to be thankful for because of it. The impact she has had on the lives of her family, and probably wider, is just miraculous. To me, it’s a real rally cry to the Church to really start praying and loving people, no matter what their circumstances.
Imogen Hill was speaking to Emma Fowle