Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 74) Reaching Out

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  During these tumultuous months a number of countries came to the fore - each deserving far more time than I can give.  UGANDA featured through our missionary Martin Brown.  CHAD (the poorest country in the world) because of Mario Thompson who was translating the New Testament into the as yet unwritten language of the Maba people.   in N. Chad.  We shared her astonishment in her discovery of a book in Paris which appeared to help in translation. What stories we shared as we commissioned her on Harvest Sunday, September 24th.

ROMANIA loomed large because our relationship began back in May 1985 when the church was twinned with 2nd. Baptist Church in Oradea.  In harsh Ceasescu days Sheila Moore, accompanied by my father (who taught himself Romanian), became our first ambassadors and links developed with the pastor Dr. Nic Georghita visiting us for a second time in Autumn 1989.  Plans were made for me to visit with my father (it would be his third visit) in Spring of 1990.  However, in December before we went the world was glued to the news of Ceasescu's downfall and our prayers outpoured for friends in this church.

Tragedies emerged as Romania became open to the West and the desperate plight of the orphans touched one of our members in particular, Dave Brunning, who drove a lorry to help in some of the worst deprived areas. What he saw changed his life.  His photographs and testimony on his return hit our church and far beyond.  This began some remarkable heady days as he spearheaded a LOVE ROMANIA campaign, filling lorries with necessities, including washing machines for the orphanages. His compassion and zeal touch us all.  On Radio 2 he raised £3,000 on two mornings alone. Appeals for 2 tons of soap power, 2 tons of children's teaching material, 7 tons of seed barley, 2 tons of paper, medical and clothing supplies.  Milton Baptist Chapel became the clearing house for mounds of material as the campaign raised over £20,000 and sent 28 tones of materials.

Few of us will forget living through these days of action.  Of course, this wonderfully complemented mission at home, which was crowned by basing the national Billy Graham Live-Link for our region with us. A large satellite dish perched strategically on our roof.  Over 160 people attended counselling preparation sessions in our Upper Hall with thrilling outcomes as hundreds attended and many made faith decisions for Christ.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 73) The Jigsaw Leaflet (c)

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  It is a great danger that in telling this story  only the few in obvious public roles are mentioned and the roll-call of other names (which is mighty extensive!) is just assumed - countless volunteers, helpers and prayers.  Actually, the momentum for all that was to happen came from the collective response of people too numerous to name. That was why the last key blank piece of the jigsaw leaflet asked 'Would you like to be part of the picture...by volunteering, praying, giving? And so many did.

In particular I should add the day-in-day-out commitment of the Treasurer, Vernon Gosden, and three men who succeeded each other in John 1:6 AV fashion: 'There was a man sent from God whose name was John.'  Because they were available' between jobs' these men gave their all to supervising the project liaising with architects, builders etc. and enabling detailed work like fitting out the commercial kitchen.  What a gift they were: John Abbott, John Whitmore  and John Watts.  Their expertise and dedication mightily blessed the project.

The Summer of 1989 was scorching (like our current one) and we were finally in position for a proper opening on the weekend of Saturday June 10th and Sunday June 11th. The build-up involved much practical work in order for the building site to be sparkling clean with beautiful floral displays. On the Saturday 500 people came together for the official reopening by Malcolm Allsop who was Senior Producer of Current Affairs for Anglia TV (and an active lay reader). Months later he was still talking about it: 'Your vision and the way it has been enacted is a lesson to Christians everywhere.'  It was such an exciting time. A new hymn was written by our organist, Geoff Warren - 'We are the body of our Lord Jesus Christ'. Yes!

The next day, Graham, Ron and Jenny were commissioned by Rev. David Harper (our Area Superintendent) for their ministries through the Stone Yard Centre and evening worship contained reflections from leaders who had seen the process so far.  An exhibition in the upstairs hall displayed brochures, photographs etc about the story so far. Looking back it seemed that God had been leading at every stage. There were too many coincidences not to be God-incidences.  Graham interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire said: 'We are sitting on a miracle'.  We were!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 72) The Jigsaw Leaflet (b).

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  The sixth picture showed Ron Messenger who was also an astounding answer to prayer.  One deacon said it was like asking Gary Lineker to play for the local football team.  He was the best known counsellor in the Baptist denomination and he came to undertake part-time counselling work after having spent the previous 25 years in counselling ministry - 20 years in the residential community of Greenwoods and the last 5 in the Family Ministry of West Ham Central Mission.  Ron's self-effacing gentleness with a strength of steel had immense impact on us all as he trained befrienders in the restaurant, gave marriage guidance and dealt with extremely demanding psychiatric cases. And what maturity he brought to our ministerial team.

The seventh picture shows Jenny Robinson-Joice.  In response to her own traumatic experience she had founded the Cog Wheel Trust to provide a Christian family counselling service.  She saw such need in Cambridge and with skills (and volunteers) was seeking to meet it.  But she required a central base.  Her prayerful search for this base paralleled the church's desire to develop marital and single-parent counselling.  On the top floor of the Stone Yard Centre she began with a Drop-In Centre which was to gradually build up its ministry.

The eighth jigsaw piece had the faces of John Peck and Steve Shaw who were project workers and co-founders of College House with a mission to apply the Christian faith relevantly to every part of life. With an office beside the library and resource centre they ran seminars, courses on a variety of themes including an introductory course on developing a Christian world view.

Looking back I marvel at this team of gifted leaders who came together in this new story...who could possibly have foreseen this a few years earlier?  Well, God...obviously!  But the rest of us were stunned by answered prayers.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 71) The jigsaw leaflet (a)

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Of all the leaflets and brochures we produced I treasure most the one we called the jigsaw leaflet. It comprises a jigsaw of nine pieces with one left blank.  Each interlocking piece has a face of someone who came into the story of the Stone Yard Centre - often from extraordinary journeys.

Along the top row alongside the obvious faces of Nigel Manges and myself is the face of the Director. Ending 1988 we had no idea who this might be. Advertisements went out early January 1989 with interviews scheduled for February.  Our Monday prayer meetings continued with particular focus on God's right person for this post.

Unknown to any of us in the fellowship Graham Thomson from Exeter was following a parallel path. Having been in business until five years before, he then became Deputy Warden of the Grapevine Family Centre for single parent families for the previous two years, and before that Co-ordinator of the Palace Gate Centre - a community centre attached to South Street Baptist Church, Exeter.  Graham felt called to full-time Christian service and all the steps of applying to Regent's Park College to train for Baptist ministry (and there are many of them) were being taken at the same time as our story unfolded. At the college interviews one of the tutors who knew of our situation suggested that this might be exactly what God was calling him to.  Graham's subsequent 'phone call to me immediately placed him among those short-listed.  And, it proved to be a glorious God-incidence when he emerged as our Director and we prepared to get to know Graham and Val in all the gifting they brought the church.  What a difference they were to make.

The second row had Roy Toseland who had been running the Job Club sine 1987 having previously been a professional football player and in business before training at Romsey House Theological College and coming to us.  The fifth jigsaw piece showed Mandy Dibsdale, our Catering Manageress who had previously been a chef in a local well-known restaurant before beginning to oversee the Stone Yard Restaurant.

Just four more.....

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 70) Look back in wonder

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  The possibility of appointing a Director accelerated enthusiasm to flesh out the details about how the Stone Centre might operate on a daily basis.

In October we held a Stone Yard Brain and Heart-Storming Conference.  I have a bulging file for this full afternoon because it required careful preparation to ensure maximum participation. Guidance for group leaders were provided. Think and Pray handouts were given beforehand asking everyone -
1.To list the four particular things or activities they would like to see in the Stone Yard Centre and why.
2.  What would you be willing to DO about your answers?
3.  Are there any particular problems you see? How should they be faced?

And wow did people participate. Six groups worked hard with their insights later summarized on yet another sheet.  I showed overhead acetates from the earlier day conference in 1986.  They highlighted some hopes and dreams for the centre which included:  help for the unemployed, counselling for families under pressure, and daily lunches in a restaurant.  All of these seemed so far off.  Now we marvelled at their prophetic insight and sheer cheek!  Now, some two years later these were becoming reality.  Roy Toseland was leading the Job Club for the unemployed and in September we had appointed Mandy Dibsdale as our Catering Manageress of the restaurant.  She immediately began planing for an opening on November 8th, providing lunch-time meals as well as routine coffee, tea etc. Others were also appointed to make the vision work alongside her.

We looked back in wonder at answered prayers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 69) Nudges and surges

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  All the time that this story was nudging forward finances were also nudging upwards.  Sometimes spectacularly.  Twice on Sundays in 1988 I was able to announce such nudges from the pulpit. (I was always worried about taking the edge off the gospel message but these encouragements were after all part and parcel of seeking to live in God's good news).

The latest disappointment of finding yet more dry rot was offset by an announcement I had been able to make in May that a trust had been able to provide around £45,000 to meet this latest set back.  Another step forward. But a more remarkable thing was still to happen. I was able to share on Sunday September 18th. an anonymous letter which came out of the blue -
Dear Michael,
I understand that it is not possible to appoint a Director for the Stone Yard Centre because of the financial position.  I have been thinking about the matter as I consider it to be very important that we begin as we wish to continue from the start as it is very difficult to generate enthusiasm to the full potential after a delayed start.  I should therefor like to offer £12,000 per annum for three years towards the remuneration of a full-time Director for the Stone Yard Centre. 
         Yours sincerely,
A Church Member.
Spontaneously the church rose to sing the Doxology.  For months we had prayed about a Director without a clue how it might be possible.  What a surge of confirmation. One person said: 'We've keep on being challenged about giving away to Sudan, Bangladesh, Romania, Barnwell but just look AT WHAT WE'VE BEEN GIVEN'.  Yes...a fresh surge indeed.

Monday, July 16, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 68) An empty shell

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Now, open yes. But that's how one leader described the new centre - an empty shell.  Great visions were far off still. Perhaps too far off?

Again the church set itself to prayer and agreed a Day of Prayer for Monday June 13th. Running from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm it focused on two parts, the details of which were agreed by the regular prayer meeting on June 7th.  It remained vital to pray about what we should pray.
- First, on major church needs that the Holy Spirit would freshly motivate us in many aspects of church life.  These were listed to include the leadership, youth work and continuing mission commitment.  Who we were as a community of God's people really mattered.
- Second, there were specific prayers for the Stone Yard Centre.  For guidance about personnel - the Director, Administrator, catering staff, volunteers.  For the first arrangements that activities would form a solid foundation for God's future work. For continued joyful giving and the leadership of the centre's management committee.  Lastly, prayers dared to ask for an official opening in Autumn 1988 when it would be full of mission!

I quoted Andrew Murray on the day's preparation sheet: 'A prayer meeting without recognized answer to prayer ought to be an anomaly. The mark that there has been true united prayer is the fruit, the answer, the receiving of the thing we have asked: 'I tell you...it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven' (Matt. 18:19).

On Sunday June 12th 1988 we were able to use the restaurant area for the first time - serving coffee to the morning congregation after worship.  For five years we had been unable to do this and a buzz of greeting and conversation filled the premises.  Partitions had come down so that for the first time in two years we could access the passage to the lower hall.  The kitchen and toilets sparkled in their newness.  From then on it was open on Saturdays serving refreshments to a growing number of users.  A group of happy volunteers helped to make the shell ring with friendship.

Yet it was still an empty shell throughout most of the week.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 67) Naming and opening

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). During much of the early story of the building project it was dubbed the 'Christian Centre'.  Few believed that this was the best long-term title.  The process of naming proved fascinating.  Alongside many good suggestions, our church historian - Ken Parsons (who had devoted years to researching local Baptist history) made a claim. 'Why don't we call it the Stone Yard Centre?', he suggested. 'That takes us back to our roots in the early eighteenth century when the first group of believers met in a stable in Stone Yard and worship began.'  Cambridge has a number of  famous 'yards' like Lion's Yard, Kettle Yard, all speaking history!  As the church meeting listened to the different ideas this name of Stone Yard resonated as a link with our city past.  The majority agreed to this name and today it has become a little part of city life.

Though I had been brought grim news about what we could not do in this new building, the church agreed that we needed a public opening soon. I was now well enough to be present when the President of the Baptist Union, Dr. Colin Marchant, cut the ribbon on May 1st 1988.  He was recovering from a terrible bout of shingles which had disfigured one side of his face and I was still visibly twisted - so we looked the oddest of couples..as though the sea had given up its dead.

The congregation filed through the new door into a (potential) restaurant area and then climbed up stairs to the first floor rooms and then further up into the spacious roof space and a small apartment set at the very front. The restaurant area had been set up with displays from each church organization. Always the danger of a project like this is that it can syphon off all a congregation's energy and commitment.  But, among the displays was rampant Missions Council enthusiasm and its work for the Sudan, Bangladesh, Oradea in Romania, and Barnwell (a Baptist church in Cambridge).  Each of these commitments had seen major gifts as though to emphasize just how much the 'outside' world counted.  We knew we had a long way to go to see the Stone Yard fulfilling God's vision but we were convinced we were on the way!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 66) Prayer and Poison

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Few of us enjoy injections but I remember my desire to get that needle deep into the twisting muscles at the back and front of my neck!  I was told that if I was one of the fortunate patients I would be unlikely to see any effects until after the seventh day.  Oh, how everyone prayed as I returned home and began waiting.  Seven days came and went with no progress.  Every morning when I awoke my twisting head was agony to lift from the pillow and it stubbornly remained unchanged.  I could only look ahead by forcing my right hand up against my chin to ram up my head.

Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve days all passed with no improvement.  Carol and the boys tried to hide their desperation that it was going to fail.  I felt utterly helpless wondering if the toxin was still working inside my muscles and whether it could be potent enough to stop the twisting.  Whether God the healer was at work in this process. And the nightly prayer meeting kept going.

On the thirteenth morning I woke up and for the first time in many months I could look ahead! I lifted my head up straight (or at least straighter).  I actually had some control!   I shouted out the good news.  Delirium broke out.  Rejoicing spread rapidly through the church.  I was obviously still nowhere near being upright in stance and the pain had not entirely abated but I was coming out of a long dark tunnel.

Vernon had proposed that the nightly prayer meeting continue until Maundy Thursday.  How extraordinary because it now looked possible that I might actually be able to preach on Easter Day.  Someone in the gallery later described that morning service which was led with such joy by Nigel.  He said I was obviously far from healed.  My body was still twisted with my head tilted on one side.  Everyone could see that as I stood before them. Yet, when I went up into the pulpit, I seemed to be set free and preached with freedom.  The National Hospital had warned me that stress would always make the dystonia worse, yet here I was set free. 

As friends know, I have proved to be one of those patients who requires botulinum injections every three months to keep offending muscles paralyzed.  And, to my immense gratitude, such injections have continued ever since.  Carol calls the story as Prayer and Poison.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 65) Bad news and positive poison.

(*please skip if you have not been following this story).  Some days of illness were just misery. One day, Albert Hull, a church leader who was helping as project administrator came to visit in order to 'put me in the picture'.  With other leaders he felt that I should not be left in the dark. He was so kind and gentle as he explained how the vision needed major corrections in light of problems we were encountering.  Planning for a restaurant as a welcoming pre-evangelism project now seemed far too ambitious and needed to be shelved.  Current finances could never allow us to even consider appointing a full-time Director of the centre.  Anyway, little could justify the appointment when several outreach ideas seemed to be coming to nothing. What would he/she do?  Plans to provide counselling to needy people was another area which regretfully needed to be postponed.  In my low physical state this sounded bad news turning worse. And to round it off he shared that he and his wife were retiring to live in another city!

Then I learned that the builders working behind the church had crashed into yet more dry rot with a further £45,000 needed.  The estimate for the project now soared to £869.000.  Bad news was really compounding!

Even as the church prayed every night I seemed to deteriorate.  But, extraordinarily, a few weeks before Easter, Carol (a Radio 4 addict) heard of a medical trial being undertaken at the London National Neurophysical Hospital for dystonia patients.  Brand new, early experiments at Baylor University, Texas, encouraged hope that injecting botulinum toxin straight into malfunctioning muscles could paralyze them.   Carol begged our Addenbrookes' consultant to push for me to be included in the London clinical trials.  This toxin is very dangerous indeed but apparently it could be positive!  Her advocacy (and prayer) won through.

I recall going by stretcher into a lecture hall at this hospital with tiers of white coated doctors looking down on me.  After examination, the consultant declared that I was an appropriate candidate to join the trial.  I was warned that US trials showed success rates varied dramatically.  A considerable proportion showed little or no change, and a only small fraction responded really successfully.  The rest found different levels of relief.   When I reached the day of the injections (and signed papers waiving hospital liability for many possible disturbing side-effects)  I knew the power of prayer upholding me.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Golden Anniversary

Yesterday Carol and I celebrated 50 years of marriage with wonder and thanks. (Actually I had to visit the doctor's in the morning for my ears to be syringed!)  When I was a minister attending golden anniversaries I always saw the couples as elderly with decrepitude just around the corner.  I felt a mixture of joy in their longevity together and sadness that they were now so very old! But if you actually arrive at 50 years of marriage I need to report that you don't feel that old facing imminent decrepitude.  Rather you remain astonished at the rate of the passing decades.

Though we have to postpone our family celebration until our US family can join us in August, we have experienced such a rush of congrats. from all over the world.  Many of the generous messages are undeserved but delightful to read.  Words are treasured.  One card called us -
To heartily celebrate one of the greatest gifts you've ever received -
God's gift to you of each other.
Enjoy recalling all you've shared
The memories, laughter,
Blessings, joys, trials and triumphs
That have enriched your life together
In so many ways.
You're incredibly blessed and a blessing to many.

We have recalled highlights from July 6 1968, leafing through the twelve black and white photograph album of our big day.  More importantly we have reminded each other of how special our relationship has been to each other through the years.   Our wedding was homespun with homemade invitations and service sheets.  Looking at one I see that we chose hymns carefully.  They are old ones!   I like how one of them begins and ends:
Now in the days of youth
When life flows fresh and free
Thou Lord of all our hearts and lives,
We give ourselves to Thee.....

Spirit of Christ, do Thou
our first bright days inspire,
That we may live the life of love
And loftiest desire:
And  be by Thee prepared
For larger years to come...

It has been a life of love which owes everything to God.  Ir really does!  To all of you who remembered us and have travelled some of the way with us - thank you so much.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A Cambridge God Adventure* 64) Dystonia disease...help!

(*please skip if you have not been following this story). With illness, living without a diagnosis (and prognosis) is extraordinarily difficult.  Just what was wrong with me?  After months of abortive treatments I was admitted to Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge for several days of neurological observation. After scans the consultant told Carol and me that I had dystonia disease which belongs within the Parkinson family.  Hitting me in my forties meant it was focal dystonia affecting my neck and twisting my body rather than general dystonia (which puts you in a wheel chair).  I remember him saying it was rare and there was no treatment though it would not kill me.  However, it would be unlikely for me to continue in my public role.  I knew that!

The January 1988 church magazine printed an article: 'What is wrong with Michael Quicke?' which explained dystonia and its permanent brain damage and described the stages of shock, anger, despair and depression that patients go through.  There seemed to be no hope. Yet, again as the church had engaged through the years, members came together for a Day of Prayer 8:00 am-8:00 pm on January 11th. It concluded with a communion service.  To my joy my previous church in Blackburn held a service to pray for my healing at the same time.  Carol drove me to the back doors of the church hall and supported me as I shuffled into a packed room of concentric circles.  I felt low and crushed yet physically cocooned in love and prayer.

I attempted to keep a journal as months extended.  It's honest and often grim reading.  My world felt upended at the very time when I wanted to be God's leader.  You can perhaps imagine the mixture of comments that came my way - some even suggesting this was judgement on the building project!  In the March church meeting, Vernon Gosden suggested that they should meet every evening of the week up until Maundy Thursday.  He said that as the early church in Acts 12 had prayed for Peter in prison they should pray for me 'imprisoned in disease'.  So, between 7:00 pm -8:00 pm every night people prayed and I was told an average number of 20 people met each time.  In my weakness I knew such love and care.