I was in my early twenties when my father died in 1981. We, as a family took various personal bits of his possessions and the one thing that I took was his Bible. It came home with me and sat on the shelf. I never opened it. I had no real interest in reading the Bible.
As a young man I discovered that I was quite entrepreneurial. I was very self-confident and got on quite well in my career in food, initially in retailing and then latterly in food manufacturing. In the late 80s I decided that I wanted to start my own business. It became the largest start-up at that time, in the food sector and went from nothing, not even a building, right the way through to a business that employed around about 400 people with about a £30million turnover. It was a phenomenal success, we won a lot of awards, I was Northern Entrepreneur of the Year, and everything was pretty fantastic in my life.
I sold my shares in that business in 2000 and decided to take my wife and our two little baby boys, two and four, travelling for six months around the world. We paid for it with the money that we’d been able to take out of the business.
It was a tremendous opportunity for us to bond together because building up a business like that, you do lose some of your personal life. Eventually we came back and I had no idea what to do, so we decided to go away again. It was all escapism really, we just didn’t have a plan, didn’t have any direction, but it was fun!
Because I had been so incredibly successful in everything I did, I bought a run down business and thought I would make it into the best thing in the food industry in the Southwest. Two years later it collapsed and all the money that we had made, all the money that had come from my parents’ house when it was sold was lost, everything was lost and we had nothing.
That was back in 2007. So for the first time in my life, I realised I wasn’t great at everything and there were times when things would go wrong. But I bounced straight back and thought, well, I’ll just start something else up, I’ll raise money and I’ll do it all again.
Meanwhile, my mum had Alzheimer’s, she’d had it for about ten years. She was now deteriorating quite rapidly at the point when I lost the business. She was unable to communicate or talk anymore, and was lying in a virtual coma in a home unable to speak. I knew that my mum had carried on praying for me after my dad died in 1981. Now she was in a coma.
My sister told me one day when we were with my mum that she was taking on that mantle and she would continue to pray for me. I would never say that I belittled that, I just thought well that’s really lovely, but actually the way that I’m going to get myself out of my mess is I’m just going to start up another business and do it all on my own.
I did believe in God but he was there in the background for those people who were too weak or unable to cope with things themselves and I knew that he would be giving great comfort to them, but I didn’t need his comfort because I was kind of self-sufficient. God was great for other people.
Having lost all my money I was wondering what to do next? We had about two months’ money left. We were now in a rented house and had probably about eight weeks to sort things. We would have to give up the house as we couldn’t pay rent.
My wife was so supportive, but she was getting really quite frightened because we had two boys to provide for. So one day, with nothing to do, I decided to go and see my mum in the residential home in Bristol. For some reason I picked up my dad’s Bible that had not been opened since 1981 and I took it to my mum.
I knew that when you prayed with her or when you read the Bible, when you put on hymns there was a reaction in her eyes, a fluttering in her eyes that was not there at any other time. And it just seemed to me even as somebody that didn’t have any real faith, there was something there that she was connecting with her God through some sub consciousness when she was hearing hymns or prayer.
Reading my father's Bible But when I opened it, a tract fell out and it was called, The Way Ahead. I’d never seen it before, I didn’t know what it was, I had no real desire to read it, but given I was with my mum who I love very much, but she’s got no ability to communicate, I had to do something, so I thought well I’ll just read that.
I started to read it, there were a numbers of chapters and headings in it, I read the first one which is The Way Ahead, then the Bible, then the cross and then I got to the page about the Holy Spirit and I got halfway down and I fell to my knees and started to cry and I just asked God to forgive me. I asked him to help me to understand what it was that he wanted for me because I wasn’t looking for him, but he sure as anything had decided that enough was enough and I was going to come home.
Filled with the Holy Spirit
I was filled with the Holy Spirit, there’s no question about it. It wasn’t just a feeling, I was shaking, not upset in a way that I was worried or depressed, but upset that I had waited so long for this to happen. And it was exciting, it was so, so exciting.
I just felt as if my life had changed utterly and completely. Previously, I’d had such self-confidence in myself that I didn’t really need anybody to tell me anything and even having lost everything before, I really believed I was just going to get all the material possessions back again. Now, with this experience of the Holy Spirit, I felt immediately challenged to let go of my worries and troubles. I felt so firmly that the Holy Spirit was saying that Jesus was coming to live within me. So I rushed home, I went into the kitchen, I remember telling my wife Ann that I’d been reading to my mum in the room where she was staying and I had found Jesus.
I didn’t know what it was because I didn’t understand about the Holy Spirit, but I just said I’d had this absolutely earth shattering moment where I just cried and felt so, so happy that my life’s changed. And her reaction was ‘Fantastic, I’m really pleased for you, but have you found a job yet?’ and that kind of broke the ice a bit for me when I remembered that actually I had some very real and serious problems to overcome.
So I started to read the Bible and I started to recognise that I needed to tell people, so obviously my sister Cilla was the first person that I told. She’d been praying all this time, and she was so excited in a way that I couldn’t have understood. I just didn’t get her excitement really, but she was just so thrilled.
And I thought it’s obviously important to tell people, who else can I tell, because it says in the tract tell people, but I didn’t know anybody to tell. Ann had just said ‘Get a job’. So the only other guy I could think of was my accountant, Roger who had told me in the very first meeting that he was a Christian, so I phoned him up and said ‘I’ve become a Christian’, I thought he’d say ‘Well yeah, but have you found a job?’ but actually his reaction was immense, he was so supportive and so excited and I learnt that he went and talked about this in the church the following Sunday.
So it obviously meant a lot to other people and I didn’t know what to do with this faith, didn’t belong to any church, didn’t know anybody else and so I kept reading the Bible and I just kept praying on my own in isolation, but I still didn’t get a job and the weeks were ticking down, and Ann was getting more and more concerned. Around about four weeks before we had to move out of our house, I was still clueless about what to do for work. Only 4 weeks money left and then I don’t know what would have happened.
It dawned on me that maybe I was going about things the wrong way and that if I just gave it all to the Lord and said ‘I can’t do this’ maybe something would happen. It was fine becoming a Christian, but actually I had to give everything including myself to the Lord and not just read the Bible and pray a bit.
Asking for help
So I did, I got down on my knees and I just said ‘Lord, I can’t do this, for the first time in my life I accept I can’t do it, help me’. The very next day I got a call from someone from the agency who had been looking for employment for me and he said ‘I’ve got somebody I want you to meet in London, he’s quite interested in seeing you, he’s got a short-term interim role at a place called Devizes, it’s a big PLC, they have a bakery division, can you go and meet them?’ I said ‘I will, but I don’t know anything about bakeries, I’ve never worked in a bakery, but I’ll go, of course I will, I’m desperate’.
Offered a job
So I went to London the next day and met this guy who I seemed to get on quite well with. I left his office expecting to hear back in two, three, four weeks, you know interviews, they take forever and people can take ages to come back to you. But 42 minutes later, I was at Waterloo Station and I got a call saying ‘They want you to start on Monday’. So I went on the Monday as an interim there for four months, that was over three years ago and I’m still there. But the story gets even better because I didn’t know anything about bakeries and on my CV there’s a section on there about a company called Katie’s Kitchen, which is a pizza manufacturer. The guy that took me on said later that he read that as Kate’s Cakes, which is a competitor of the company that I’m now working with. He didn’t even read the CV properly, so I don’t know whether his eyes were deferred from it or what happened, but anyway, 42 minutes later I got an interim role.
So that was great news and took the immediate financial pressure away. The following week, an insurance company that I didn’t even know I had a policy with, wrote to me to say they were sending a cheque for £25,000.
I couldn’t even remember having it, but it was an original endowment policy attached to a house that I’d sold years ago. When I looked at my records I was paying out some nominal £8 a month or something and it had matured to £25,000, so that was the second thing in a week.
The third thing within seven days was we were up at Ann’s parents in Lincolnshire and we were looking on the computer just to see if there were any properties available for us to move into. I asked her “What house do you want?’ and she replied that she’d been brought up on a farm, she didn’t want to live in a town or a city if she could help it, could we just have somewhere out in the countryside”.
(There were some lovely National Trust properties around us in Cornwall), Ann continued, ‘If I could have a nice National Trust cottage somewhere that would just do me’. So I prayed for that, went on the internet, the first National Trust cottage that had been available for two years was on there, they wanted people to go and see them for an interview that week!.
We were one of six people that were interviewed and we got the house. I have now learnt having been a Christian for a couple of years that’s there’s coincidences and there’s God-incidences, well as a practical businessman there is a limit to the number of coincidences that I can believe in, in the course of seven days and I was now going well outside my comfort zone on saying this was coincidence!
So almost pretty much everything fell into place in seven days from me saying ‘Lord, I can’t do this on my own.’ So the job as Managing Director at Hayden’s Bakeries, I got it on the Thursday, and I started on the Monday back in September 2008.
When I arrived in Devizes I had got this nagging feeling that the Lord had done all this for me but I didn’t have a church. I had no fellowship and I was really praying that I could get some help because I didn’t really know what to do. Not to mention the fact I was going into a job that I didn’t even understand how to do. It was all quite scary really.
So on the Monday I went in to work, fell in love with the people and the delicious cakes. I went for a run on that first evening and ran past St James’s Church in Devizes. They had a big banner outside advertising the Alpha Course. I didn’t know what the Alpha Course was but I did remember my sister saying something about it – that you got decent food.
So I thought, well I’m up here on my own, I’ve got no mates, it’s too far to travel home, so I was committed to staying up during the week. I phoned up the church and went along to the first session. A lady came to the Church door to welcome me, who I didn’t know, her name was Catherine and she said, ‘Hello, you’re very welcome, thank you for coming along, where do you live?’ So I said, ‘Well I can’t even spell the name of the village, but I live in Cornwall’. She said ‘I used to live in Cornwall’ so I said ‘Well it’s near the Tamar’ she said ‘I used to live near the Tamar’, I said ‘Well it’s near a place called St Dominic’s’ she said ‘I used to live near St Dominic’s’ and I said, ‘It’s in a place called Bohetherick’, she said ‘I know Bohetherick, I used to go past it every day to school,’ Now there are only 30 people who live in this hamlet and Catherine used to live in the next one. And the Lord is just so kind because I didn’t know anybody and the first person I met in Devizes, knew exactly where I was from.
So Alpha was a massive thing for me, it introduced me to the church, it introduced me to the Lord. I had got an instant raw faith through the Holy Spirit a few months before, I didn’t have any ‘Christian’education, I didn’t know who Jesus was in a real sense, I didn’t understand the connection between him and God and the Holy Spirit, I just had no knowledge.
Alpha was the most incredible experience for me because it taught me so much from the very beginning. And ironically, having done Alpha now, I have been helping as a leader for the last two years, it makes me realise how many Christians just don’t understand what they believe in and how important Alpha is, not just for people who have not yet got a faith, or people that have just got a faith, but also for those people that have kind of got stale and lost a bit and don’t really understand anymore what it is they’re doing.
So I am a huge fan of the course, it has helped me on this fantastic journey. Through Alpha and the connection with St James’s, I have met some wonderful people and some very close friends. Before I became a Christian, Jesus was just a guy for me.
I absolutely believed that Jesus existed, there’s very few people in the world now that wouldn’t acknowledge that Jesus was a person, I mean, that’s quite hard to deny. But he has changed completely into my best friend, the most loving person I can turn to. I just feel so blessed. It’s not all plain sailing, this is a fantastic journey, but actually there are days when it’s so hard.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean everything is going to be perfect or even ok, what it means is that you’ve got the best friend possible to walk with you through the journey, no matter how rough things become, I feel I am never, ever alone. Praise God!