The students are coming….
I went to a college in a place called Capel, Surrey; it’s just between Horsham and Dorking.
I used to come home to Birmingham during the holidays, if I couldn’t cadge a ride off one of the other students going in my direction I would hitch-hike as I never had any money.
I had been at college a year and was home in the summer holiday; as usual I visited my home church to say hi to everyone. The leader of the church at the time was George Canty and he pulled me to one side, ‘Let’s have a chat in my office.’ He said. I knew George well as I had worked with him in Port Talbot, Wales when he was running some meetings there.
I sat down in his office, expecting a friendly chat when he said, “I think you have had a very lazy year, you have had nice theological conversations, drunk lots of coffee, talked with friends and pontificated about all sorts of things. There is a world to change and you have wasted a whole year. I’m expecting you to go back for your second year and use your time more constructively.” I looked at him amazed and wondered which wardrobe he had been hiding in and under which bed he had been secreted, his summary was terribly accurate.
At the start of the next academic year I pulled some of my college friends together and say, “Hey guys, I got chewed up during the holiday period, I’ve come back to college with the intention of turning over a new leaf. We need to change the world so who is with me, I want to start with Dorking.”
We set to with a vengence, I’m sure the exams suffered a little, plus we lost a lot of sleep working on the mission and trying to study at the same time but it was profitable, not least for Dorking and also for us, we learned a lot.
First of all we pulled together those students with graphic art and advertising skills, we were a mixed bunch from all walks of life. Then we hit the town with a subliminal advertising flyer, ‘Look out the students are coming’ is all it said. No address, no dates, nothing else. It even took the police three or four weeks to track it back to our college; they were worried and sent a delegation to interrogate us. Did we intend to invade this small town? What were we planning? Good question, hard to answer because we didn’t know, we were making it up as we went along.
The college principal got wind of developments and he also wanted to know what was going on. He wanted to know how it might affect exams and I wasn’t sure I wanted to enlighten him on that
We approached the town with a ‘let’s try everything’ attitude. We set up a bookstall in the market which was on each weekend, my future wife Pauline got the job of selling the books. We were not really interested in selling books; this was just an excuse to talk with people about the good news.
We discovered that the local paper was often short of copy to fill the pages, and they loved it when someone else did the work. Each week David Butcher was commissioned to produce a relevant photo, and we would then produce copy and post it off to the editor. Every week, almost, the paper contained an article about ‘those students’ and the fact that they were coming!
Quite a few of the students were musical so we formed a band ‘Contacts International’ two members were from the UK and two from the USA. Each weekend we stood them on a street corner with instructions to sing a few songs, this gave us the opportunity to chat to passers by and answer questions about why the students were coming.
We talked to the kids in the town; we ran fun events for them and told them the students were coming with good news.
Finally, after many months of this razzmatazz we booked the Dorking Halls and invited the townspeople to come and meet us. We even managed to get a big American band called the Forerunners to come and perform. The hall was packed, the town came. Some of the local religious people were incensed by the terrible music, why is it that religious people always get so incensed?
The conclusion of all these actions was that people found Christ, we opened a small community church and before the year was over, we borrowed a building that had a tank in it (that’s one that holds water not one that shoots shells) and in it we baptised many of the local people.
Would I do it all the same way again? Probably not. Do I think the time was wasted? I doubt it, but I guess only eternity will clarify that point.
12th April 2010
For Ourlab Stories
Editor A. Brookes.