SHARING FAITH in an ambulance
My doctor was insistent, almost threatening. “You must go to A & E immediately and have an MRI scan.” It was midday on a Thursday just before Christmas so I set off obediently for Hinchingbrooke Hospital a few miles away. For two months I had been suffering severe pain in my back and legs and I wondered what treatment was possible. When the unknown lies ahead of me, my first reaction is to pray and commit the future into God’s trusting care. Eleven hours later I was strapped securely into an ambulance by a team of three medics – driver Michelle and Mick in the front and Lauren, a 20-year-old trainee by my side.
“So what’s been happening to you?” Lauren asked as we settled down. My explanation about my old footballing spinal injury raised her curiosity and I asked her why there were three medics. “I’m a trainee. I just want to help people get better!” she returned. “But what was your job?”
As the ambulance lurched into movement, I responded simply that I was in ministry with Church Army to share the Christian message. “Oh” she said, “I’m an atheist!” She explained quite simply that she just could not get her head around the idea of a God who was “out there somewhere”. I responded with a smile: “We both share the fact that we have faith in what we believe - but I used to be an atheist too.” “So why did you change?” Lauren queried.
In the natural, though quite intense, hour that followed I shared a little of my faith journey. Wanting to be a reporter, I was accepted by two newspapers to train as a junior – in Hitchin which was only eight miles from Luton where I lived or Worksop 125 miles away. For some adventurous reason, I chose to leave home at 17 in 1957. As an atheist, I was reluctantly drawn into a new Church youth group and the first programme I went to was about five men called to take the Gospel of Christ to a South American tribe of Auca Indians. They landed their small plane by a river. After initial friendly contacts and giving flights to some of the tribe, they were speared to death.
My thought then as an atheist was: “Why would five men endanger themselves to take the news about a God who does not exist to a tribe that did not want to know?” (But some time later, wives of three of the men returned to that tribe and amazingly set up an active Church.) That true story stayed with me as I noticed how different the Christians in this youth group behaved and also spoke about their faith in a living Jesus. A year later in 1959, I committed my life to Christ and set about trying to help others come to know Him for themselves.
Lauren asked me “how I knew God”. I responded that God helped me to leave a swearing, careless and Godless teenager behind and become a disciple of a Jesus who was alive. “But how do you know?” she pressed me. I replied that I now knew a peace, joy and purpose that somehow had changed me for the better. Even my writing for the Worksop Guardian had improved and I wrote shorthand at 150 wpm and typed at 40 wpm.
Occasionally, Michelle or Mick would chip in with an observation or a question which added to our lively and fascinating conversation. At midnight, we arrived at Addenbrooke Hospital in Cambridge for my emergency spinal operation. Saying “goodbye” to Lauren was very hard but I urged her to review her understanding of Jesus in the light of our chat.
As Michelle and Mick wheeled me to my ward, they told me they were Christians so I told them that they should continue the 60 Minute “chat” at every opportunity. I left Lauren in God’s hands with two other disciples carrying the baton of witnessing to the life-changing love of Christ.
Being committed to Christ as I am, I realise that “My times are in His hands” (Psalms 31:15 AV) and, being aware of how God has led me, I need to respond prayerfully and sensitively to every opportunity He gives me. And wonderfully, my spinal decompression was a complete success!
9 April 2021
A proud Liverpudlian, Leslie lived most of his life in Luton but left home in 1957 to become a junior reporter with the Worksop Guardian. There he gave up being an atheist and became a Christian, marrying Jean from the Worksop Church youth group in 1967. His Church Army ministry began in 1964 and includes being Leicester and Chichester Diocesan Evangelist, an Eastern and London Area Coordinator, Western Regional Director, Press and Media Officer, and now allegedly "retired" to Little Paxton!
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