In March 1991, Ethna came home from a meeting at AOG Darlington having been to a gospel service where she had made a decision to become a Christian. When she came home, Ethna told me I was a sinner and if I didn’t put my life right with God, I was going to hell. She said she had made a decision to follow Jesus that evening and as a result she was going to heaven and she didn’t want to go there with out me. As you imagine, I was none to pleased about being told I was a sinner. I thought I was a good man, a loving husband and a devoted father. How could anyone, especially my own wife think I was a sinner? As the weeks went by however, I found myself asking about this Jesus more and more. In the end I asked to speak to the leader of the Church Ethna was now attending, Pastor Ken Evans. Pastor Evans and I talked at length and in depth about how Jesus’ death held great significance for me and the steps I needed to take to develop a personal relationship with Him. It was during those early conversations that I decided to become a Christian. Ethna and I were baptised later that same year (Sept 1991). Although I longed for the baptism in the Holy Spirit, it was some months later that this took place. In a prayer meeting for those seeking baptism in the Holy Spirit at AOG Darlington the elders Alan Hind and Steve Chase prayed with me and for me. As they did this I began to speak out in tongues.
Ethna and I began to attend the bible studies at AOG Darlington as well as the prayer meetings and Sunday meetings. During this time God set a word in my heart:
“He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches”. Matthew 13:31-32.
As this word began to literally ‘take seed’ in my heart, I began to believe that God had called me to serve His people and that I should seek to serve Him with my whole life. I went to see Pastor Evans to talk about this and ask him to teach me how to present God’s Word to others, which he agree to do. During this time I also had a series of dreams. The dreams showed my family and I on mission working with different people groups. Shortly after these dreams I talked to Pastor Evans, who advised me to store them in my heart. In the summer of 1991, Ethna was at a tent meeting where evangelist Ian Green was speaking. Ian picked Ethna out of the congregation and spoke to her about mission and how mission would play a central role in her Christian life. More things to store in our hearts. After about a year of working with Pastor Evans, I began to minister in the Sunday services. I also attended a part time Candidate Minister course in the region.
In the mid 90s an opportunity arose to get involved with Incare – the AOG arm of home mission. This involved collecting books, clothes and various other items to help people who were vulnerably housed or homeless. At this time I was also invited to help form a team to work with Gypsies in Romania. I worked for New Life Missions (a project set up by local travellers) for two years collecting food, clothes and medical supplies and transporting them to Romania. This was a time of great learning for me as I had to learn skills in negotiation (how to successfully cross Hungarian border patrols at gunpoint) and planning complex missions in a multi-cultural and international context. Towards the end of that two-year period, an opportunity came about for me to support a project working with street children in Gambia, West Africa.
During a trip to Gambia, I felt God speak to me about work that He had for me in Iceland. This seed grew and when I came home it became so important that I began to seek out information about Iceland and the Pentecostal movement there. I made contact with Hinrik Þorsteinsson, who at the time was the Icelandic leader of NTH – Nordic Mission Movement. Hinrik was also the Pastor of a Church on the national Pentecostal site in Fljótshlíð in southern Iceland. I first met Hinrik in Scotland at a World Horizons bible week. Six months later I arranged to meet Hinrik in Iceland. Ethna and I then decided that we should visit Iceland as a family and make a final decision as to whether this was the right path for us. A visit was planned and it was during this visit that Ethna felt God’s leading and we finally agreed to move to Iceland as a family. This was not a decision made in haste, but the result of two years careful research and prayer.
In those early days of language learning and skills development in Iceland, God began to show me how little work was being done with young people in isolated areas across Iceland. In response to this me and a good friend of mine Þröstur Freyr Sigfússon began to think about and develop the Guardians program (in Icelandic Útverðir Íslands). The Guardians programme was a pioneer work based on the principles of discipleship. Working with a dedicated group of young people, we held our first summer camp in 2001, which attracted around 20 teenagers. In the years that followed, the Guardians project attracted many hundreds of young people from every corner of Iceland and the programme has now been adopted into all the major Churches in Iceland under the banner of Royal Rangers Iceland. The uncompromising message of the Guardians ignited within the young people a willingness to learn to witness, pray, preach and teach. Their growing skills and willingness to serve has blessed all the Churches where the Guardians project is established.
The Guardians project was (and is) successful because it grew out of the young people’s hunger to be taken seriously and to be discipled in a way that was relevant to them. The mantle of leadership was handed over to Þröstur whose original dream of a uniformed youth project inspired us to develop Guardians and under his leadership, it continues to flourish. Throughout my time in Iceland I was also involved in ministering within local Churches as a lay preacher. Within this capacity I preached, taught bible studies, facilitated ‘how to preach’ workshops and developed a number of support programmes for people of all age ranges. Over time, it became clear that not only should the Guardians programme be handed over to an Icelander but also that our time in Iceland was coming to an end. In February 2005, as we made plans to move back to England, God led Ethna and I back to the Darlington Assembly, where David Gibson was now Pastor.
I worked with Pastor David for twelve months full-time as an unsalaried worker and during that time I developed a Prayer Centre, started a youth group – Rock Solid, began a men’s fellowship group and developed and led a working party to redecorate the Church building. While doing these things at Darlington AOG I was seeking God for His Will for our lives. Travelling down to the AOG General Conference at Blackpool, Pastor David, began to tell me about Cornerstone Christian Centre, Evenwood and their search for a Pastor. I came home to Ethna and told her about this conversation. We both felt God’s peace about approaching the fellowship to talk to them about the post of Pastor. After ‘preaching with a view’ over the spring and summer, the fellowship voted unanimously to accept my application for Pastor and in August of 2006 I took up the position.
Cornerstone Christian Centre, Evenwood
The role of a modern Pastor is varied, particularly so in a small Church community like Evenwood where the Pastor serves not only their immediate congregation, but also the wider community. In addition to helping to organise and supervise the daily activities of the Church, i.e. lunch club, coffee shop, mothers and toddlers, children’s club, Bible studies, prayer meetings, Sunday services, special events, etc. I encouraged the leadership of the Church to develop a strategic vision for sharing God’s love abroad in the village. In addition to this, I facilitated a number of leadership seminars for emerging leaders.
In addition to these everyday activities, I have also developed a comprehensive network of ‘allies’ in the local community including with the Heads of two local schools, the manager of an older person’s home, the local publican, the police and local councillor. As a result of these and many other valuable networking opportunities, I was able to offer the Church facilities to the local police for a monthly surgery, the local Credit Union (which does a brisk trade) and conducted weddings, baptisms, blessings and funerals for people in the local community. I had an opportunity to speak on local radio, was interviewed in the local press and was always on the lookout to develop the profile of the Church locally, so that local people could begin to understand that the Church is there for them – whatever their present need.
To ensure the Church was able to meet the needs of its local community I led the Church in a modernisation programme which overseen the implementation of a child protection plan, a health and safety plan, a food hygiene plan, a first aid strategy and the implementation of a disability access strategy. In addition to this I worked with a number of people to devise and implement a comprehensive Church media plan which resulted in the creation of a Church website (www.cccevenwood.org), a complete set of professionally published literature on the Church’s activities and a new multimedia facility for the main Church auditorium.