“Do you want Grass with that bacon”?
The wind was blowing hard, the canvas snapped and strained as the rain beat down; I was half asleep listening to the howling wind when I heard a loud crack, the canvas went slack and began billowing wildly. I struggled out of my sleeping bag, ‘Mark! Mark!’ I yelled, ‘one of the ropes has gone!’ It was 3am, we returned half an hour later, soaked to the skin and sat there drinking hot chocolate to warm us up before we climbed back into our sleeping bags. It was 1967; Mark Drew and I were living in a marquee, pitched in a car park underneath a motorway flyover.
Living like that for three month had its challenges, one of them being that Mark was self-appointed chef, and every time he dropped anything on the floor, like the breakfast bacon, it was always my bacon sandwich that had the grass and gravel in it, never Mark’s!
The aim of this strange living arrangement was to be the security personnel as well as general dog’s bodies for a mission organised by George Canty.
The mission had two aims, to introduce the people of Port Talbot,
, to the living God and to establish a community of believers in the area. Wales
George had a very interesting process of gaining peoples attention. I thought that a huge marquee positioned in a car park would be an obvious draw to the crowds, but this was not enough for George. He produced a flyer in the style of a single sheet of newspaper; after he had written the copy he would sit there pouring over it for hours, eliminating every word or phrase that was in the least bit religious or churchy. He wanted the language to be the kind that normal people used every day. He was striving for a ‘red top’ newspaper style of advertising.
Stage two was to print and distribute the advertising newspaper. Mark and I blitzed the place, pushing them through doors, handing them out on the street and talking to anyone we met about the mission. There was already considerable interest since the marquee had appeared, people were curious to know what it was all about, all they knew so far was that it was in the car park and a couple of young lads were sleeping there. I say sleeping, but that was a euphemism, bear in mind we were underneath a busy motorway, in a huge draughty tent, in
, where it rains, a lot! If we weren’t shivering in our sleeping bags, we were running round in our pyjamas tightening guy ropes in the dark and generally keeping the meeting place from blowing away. Wales
The evenings developed a pattern, hundreds of people turned up each night, Mark and I showed them to their seats and George stood at the front beside an easel with a large white blank canvas placed on it. As George spoke, he produced an oil painting from scratch; he was the Rolf Harris of the mission circuit. When it was finished, it would be awarded to the person who had brought the most people that evening. After he had chatted to the crowd about how good God is, he would then offer to pray for anyone who was sick.
George came in for a lot of flack from the religious people in the area. The accusation levelled at him was that to give away an oil painting each night to the person who brought the most people was a ‘gimmick’ and not in the least bit ‘spiritual’. I asked George how he would deal with this criticism, his astute and sharp response still sticks in my mind, ‘One persons gimmick is another persons good idea!’ It reminds me of a similar quip from General Booth, when someone said to him, ‘I hate the way that you evangelise!’ Booth responded, ‘Yes, and I don’t like it much either how do you do it”.’ The truth of the matter was that the critic was not doing anything to share the good news.
During the three month period I saw some amazing things, one night a lady who was deaf came forward for prayer. I had showed her to her seat earlier in the evening and had been almost hoarse trying to make her hear, she was so deaf. She did not ask for prayer for her hearing, but for her sore throat. George, in his inimitable maverick style, ignored the request about the sore throat, stuck his fingers in her ears and prayed that the gifts of healing that God gives to his followers would be granted, and that she would hear again. He then moved to the opposite side of the marquee and began to have a conversation with this ‘deaf’ lady; he spoke in a very low, ordinary tone. ‘Where do you live?’ he said, ‘About three streets away’ she replied, ‘How long have you been deaf?’ he asked, ‘About 25 years.’ She replied. ‘How much can you hear?’ he said, ‘I can’t hear anything at all, I am pretty much stone deaf,’ she said. George continued this conversation with her for some time, the audience began to giggle sporadically, and then, as the conversation progressed, the whole place was falling about laughing. Gradually she became aware of the merriment, looked at the laughing crowd, then back at George, ‘How come I can hear you and answer all your questions?’ She said her face a picture of curiosity and astonishment.
Another lady had a very badly twisted leg; she couldn’t straighten it and therefore was badly incapacitated. God healed her, her leg became straight and she was able to walk again. I went to visit her at her home and asked if she would like to come to one of our church community meetings, she told me in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t interested in such things, all she had wanted was for her leg to be straight and now it was and she was happy with that. She bid me good bye and closed the door. I was reminded of the words of Jesus when he said, and I paraphrase; “It’s not really me or my message that you are interested in, you come and follow me because you have heard about food and you love to eat bread and fish.”
When the three months of mission was concluded, a small church community had been established. Mark and I stayed on for another three months to help it become established. Not, I hasten to add, living in the marquee!
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