Reunited with Helen — after 36 years

   10.57pm. A most extraordinary happening. We went to the concert at Wells Cathedral tonight. At the close the man sitting behind me said to Freda, “Does the name Helen Walker of Acocks Green mean anything to you?” Freda called me back — I had moved out into the aisle — and said, “Look who it is.” I recognised Helen but still had to ask who she was. I last saw her, outside W.H. Smith’s in Corporation Street [Birmingham], about 36 years ago. In the last few weeks I have felt a great longing to see her again, had asked Freda where Helen lived and what was her married name — Bowran.

   It is one of the most extraordinary answers to prayer I have ever known. I was supposed to be in a drama at St Ben’s tonight but wrote to Philippa 2 or 3 weeks ago to release me. Then today the pain in my chest was so bad that we might easily not have gone. But we did go, waited in a queue, shivering with cold, for 15 minutes. When we were let in we went and sat on the second row on the north side of the aisle, and sometime in the next 30 minutes Malcolm came and sat behind me, and Helen behind Freda. Helen seems to have recognised us almost immediately, and told us afterwards she could not properly enjoy because of realising it was us.


A visit from the family

   10.06pm. We talked until about 3am of the events of yesterday, so had little sleep. The post arrived soon after 7am. We had a cup of tea in bed and a lie-in. I washed up after breakfast then we went shopping. After we got back I read the latest lot of press cuttings from Nancy and an article on Ken Dodd (and Anne Jones) from the Daily Mail, received this morning from Ann Price.

   I washed up after lunch and again after tea. The whole family visited us and stayed until after 9pm: Julia, Malcolm, Alexandra (who is having a nervous breakdown) and Charlotte; and Clarice and Rebecca. We had a happy time together. Rebecca’s home, close to the Avon at Stratford, is under threat of flooding in the worst floods for many years; several people have died.

   Yesterday will not soon be forgotten. I got a pile of letters done and drove to town to post them in time for the last collection before Easter. I was back in time for us to join the procession up Wearyall to plant the cross, about 50 of us braving the arctic winds. We stayed only a few minutes in quiet reflection, then Ray Cook introduced his son Christian, who told me that he had stayed in the home of a Cecil Pywell in Ashtead. We have known Cecil since about 1960. He was one of Pastor Rudkin’s very lively Surrey group which used to invade my meetings (and Peter Scothern’s) in the early 60s. We have been in touch ever since but we have not heard from him since May last year.



A funny thing happened in Malawi

   10.35am. We are sitting on the bench beneath the cassia spectabilis. Freda has been writing to Helen & Malcolm while, a little earlier, I sat in the lobby where Banda, 32, an elder from Calvary Church, had come to seek my help. He failed his exams to study medicine, is working instead as a medical laboratory technician, and complained of an inferiority complex. We had nearly an hour together and he went away rejoicing. I gave him T.L. Osborn’s The Power of Positive Desire, which I brought to read but only managed to dip into.

   Our time here draws near to a close. We had a blessed meeting last night and as we were driven away afterwards, the thousands present seemed reluctant to disperse. Earlier we had been to the midday prayer meeting where 23 of us sat round discussing the implications of the Lord’s word to us on the need for Malawi to turn to the Lord. I told them about Ethiopia [1965].

   In the morning I was driven to MBC [the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation] to record two messages of 10 and 20 minutes each (the longer one first) to be broadcast on Sunday, simultaneously on Radio 1 and 2. The weekly audience for each of these programmes is (I was told before leaving the studio) 2 million.

   I made a most embarrassing mistake on Sunday morning when, thinking only of myself, I did not put a jacket on. I thought we were going to a small church, but when we got there it was HUGE — the largest in the country. I was met by the Moderator and about a dozen ministers, all immaculate in black clerical attire, and I in shirt-sleeves! Only when I stood reading at the lectern, did I realise it was a God-sent opportunity. When I stood up to preach in the great pulpit and announced my text as Matthew 5:40, and asked forgiveness [for my lapse], further quoting 6:14–15, the situation was redeemed.

   All eyes were fastened on me as I began — “And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.” And I explained, “No one has sued me at the law, and no one has taken away my coat — I simply forgot to put it on. I am very sorry about that, I do apologise. Will you please forgive me?” A thousand very serious faces began to nod, a little slowly, as though they needed more time to consider the matter. And then I thundered — “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

   This gave me what I needed for the 5.45am Sunday broadcast, and when I recounted it in the meeting last evening — embellished with the account of my nervousness at the studio in the morning, with the enormous headphones I had been required to wear — it produced gales of laughter.

   In the afternoon we sat watching the birds visiting the birdbath, then went to the coffee shop, where we have all our meals, for a pot of tea.

   It was Justin who called for me in the morning. We gave him my shoes and pair of sandals which I have been wearing here, to be repaired and given to someone. We are also leaving behind three shirts and the two pairs of pyjamas I have been wearing here.

   11.25am. Back in our room before going to the post office and prayer meeting. I was awake well before dawn to see the Leonid meteors, and counted at least 12 crossing the tiny area of sky visible from my pillow, underneath the side window.

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webwork by Jim Nagel at Abbey Press, Glastonbury — this edition published 2007-06-30