I was 17 when, on holiday in Austria, I set out on a walk in the mountains. It was already hot and we soon felt thirsty. A fellow walker reached over a stone wall and plucked an orange from a tree. There was a kindly rebuke, “If I want an orange, all I need to do is to ask my Heavenly Father and He will give me one. Remind me to tell you one of my sermons about stealing!” With that, we’d barely walked a hundred yards when an orange landed at the speaker’s feet!
The recipient of this orange was Jim Fry, a vicar from Chalk, in Kent. When I found myself striding out alongside Jim we began to talk. “Pete, where is God in your life?” No one had ever challenged me like that and I thought hard before replying tremulously, “I really don’t know”. Jim responded: “That’s a good place to start”. By late afternoon my life was back on track.
I had been brought up to honour God. I hadn’t enjoyed Sunday School but always attended church, was confirmed and became a server. It was when I left school and was training to be an aircraft fitter that my faith floundered. Who was I? I seemed to be living multiple lives and no longer had the assurance that God was interested in me.
And then came the incident with the orange.
Moving on a couple of months, I joined the youth group from Jim’s church for a weekend at Hildenborough Hall in Kent. Young people were discussing the Bible and enjoying it. They were playing guitars and singing. This was such a contrast to my experience of hymn singing. This was relevant and good.
At work in the aircraft factory I overheard a fellow apprentice describing his holiday. It struck bells with me and we exchanged experiences. My new friend was a Christian and had been to a houseparty run by TES, The Evangelisation Society. I started attending Steve’s church in St Albans and the youth group run by Steve’s dad Reg. As I began to grow in my relationship with God. I found a desire to understand the Bible. Reg gave me my first opportunity to speak in a village chapel and a gift of preaching began to develop.
When Christine and I married in 1976, we revelled in evening classes at London Bible College (now LST), attending conventions and immersing ourselves in church life. I became a youth leader and Bible class teacher, learning just one step at a time ahead of the class. I loved inspiring young people to live for God and to know the Bible. Personal experience had taught me how much teenagers need to be valued and shown by example that faith is a life-shaping experience.
After leaving Hawker Siddeley I moved to BT, eventually working on their Community Programme. In 2001 a new role came up with Prospects, the Christian learning disability charity. My friend Malcolm, a volunteer with Prospects, declined an invitation to apply, saying, “It’s not for me but I know a man who can do it. He’s not available and he won’t want it!” To cut a long story short, I was unexpectedly made redundant, applied for the job I didn’t want and, although fearful and lacking in knowledge or experience of learning disability, ended up with the job and have never regretted it.
In 2016 Prospects merged with Livability and 12 months later Christine and I felt called to start Count Everyone In (link: www.counteveryonein.org.uk). Building on previous experience, we lead accessible streams at festivals and events and offer local church training in sharing the love of Jesus with people with learning disabilities. This year everything has been cancelled but we have launched the Count Everyone In YouTube channel with resources to sustain people in difficult days.
Sometimes I stop and think:
• What if an orange hadn’t landed at Jim’s feet?
• What if he hadn’t asked, “Where is God in your life?”
• What if Reg hadn’t believed in me and encouraged me?
• What if Malcolm hadn’t urged me to apply for a job I didn’t want?
I wonder, am I missing opportunities to help other people find faith in God and live for Him? How about you?
Biographical note: Now living in Newbury, West Berkshire, Pete and Christine are members of St Nicolas’ Church where they have started ‘Meet Monday’ for adults with learning disabilities as well as running Count Everyone In. They have two sons and daughters-in-law, all engaged in Christian work, and five grandchildren who already know the power of prayer and the role that faith has in transforming lives.
Link to YouTube: www.youtube.com/c/counteveryonein
This article originally was published in UK IDEA magazine. idea is the Evangelical Alliance’s bi-monthly magazine which keeps members up to date with what evangelical Christians around the UK are doing to make Jesus known and provides a platform for us to share solutions to some of the challenges we face.
Photo by link: Philippe Gauthier on Unsplash