We have often heard the phrase "words cannot express" and because of its frequency of use this phrase is often not taken seriously. Words truly cannot express the spiritually moving experience I had on that night in June 1961 at the Pilgrim Holiness Church, Chimborazo, St Joseph, Barbados. These days when I reflect on my conversion at a humble altar of prayer these words come to mind:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light
My chains fell off, my heart was free
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
My conversion was like a spiritual fountain, overflowing within, and producing wave after wave of indescribable emotion. No one had prepared me for such a moment. Yes, I heard testimonies in the previous years and some of the old saints could really testify. Yes, I had a few friends in the church who were already converted and in their own way talked to me about becoming a Christian. And yes the pastor of the church, Rev. Clarke would speak to me from time to time and tried to get me to commit myself to the Lord but in my early teens all these pleadings were of no avail and I just could not take Christianity seriously. Until that night.
Many times previous to that memorable night I knelt at an altar of prayer primarily because others were doing so and copy-cat fashion I followed suit. Many times I went because the preacher preached a frightening message or I was asked to come forward for prayer but on none of these occasions did anything significant occurred neither was there a lasting effect on me spiritually, morally or socially; I had no inner compunction to serve God, my language and ways did not change and I associated with the same bad company as before. Then that night everything changed.
I have heard of people telling about their conversion who gave the name of the preacher, the scripture text he used, the topic of his sermon and such like and truth be known if I regarded these things as important I would have been more diligent in committing them to memory. Alas I have not. The preacher preached, an altar call went out and without prompting I went forward and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. It left me with a sense of thorough cleansing; energizing, uplifting, filling grace hitherto unknown but at the same time feeling so right as if this is what I had always aspired to and at last had attained. I had accepted Jesus Christ and made up my mind come hell or high water I was going all the way with God.
Salvation was something I had accepted through the mercy of God and it left me with a deep sense of gratitude and no little humility. That God could extend his love to me who am so undeserving and bring me into His family, adopted me as a son, make me a joint-heir with Christ and gave me eternal life is too wonderful for words and that moment of recognition changed everything. From that moment, at the age of 16years, my perceptions changed and I began to see things differently and God came centre stage of my life. I now belong to God and I laid myself bare to his pleadings; if God wanted me to say or do anything then as his faithful servant and true soldier I would not hesitate to carry out his commands.
Conversion is not a nebulous concept and cannot be hidden however hard one tries. My parents and my siblings noticed the difference and my mother, herself a devout Christian who constantly prayed for me and my siblings was overjoyed and would hold me up as an example to my siblings. My school mates as well as my teachers noticed the difference and often commented on my changed lifestyle. My village and all of those who knew me commented on my new life and I found this out because of feedback from my family and friends.
One of the biggest and most lasting effects of my conversion is the sense of nearness to God. I feel that God through his Holy Spirit has drawn me into a nearness to him to the extent that on many occasions without having to agonize in prayer or search relentlessly through the scriptures I know the will of God. This does not mean that prayer and Bible study should not take pre-eminence in one's life. However it is an assertion of the scripture that says "His Spirit beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God". I feel this nearness from the time I awake in the morning until I go to sleep at night and it is extremely comforting. Many times I feel and sometimes I do shout, Immanuel (God with us) and the rhythms of my heart resonate with the verse of scripture in the Psalms, "For the Lord of Host is with us and the God of Jacob is our refuge" and again to compound the nearness, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me and your rod and your staff they comfort me". Yes this is a blessed result of my conversion and continually motivates me in my Christian service.
Immediately after my conversion the devil increased his assaults on my soul and through much prayer, Bible study and regular attendance at church I was able to resist him and grow in spiritual strength day by day. Following converts class a year later I was baptized by full water immersion and accepted into the church as a full member in July 1962.
God knows us so well as individuals that his dealing with us is always tailored to suit our persona, personal preferences, level of maturity and spiritual awareness. It is still amazing, at my age, how as a young man God took me through an amazing journey of actualization in order to convince me to do his work.
As a Sunday school student from the time I can remember, about 4-5years old, I was in Sunday school virtually every Sunday and as such became very familiar with the Bible and all things pertaining to church. Very soon after my conversion I became quite active in the church holding the post of Sunday school secretary, taking up positions in the youth movement and going to retreats and seminars all over the island. Hitherto all these activities were church based and I had no interest outside the church. Then something happened that introduced a paradigm shift in my spiritual life.
God willed it that I should go and visit my great uncle and unknown to me he was very sick. As I spoke to him, and listened to the conversations going on around his house, I deduced that this man was on his death bed and talking to him I realized that he was not a Christian and I did not have the experience or the knowledge to lead him to Jesus Christ. When I left my great uncle's house I hurried home and the first opportunity I got I contacted the head of my church's outreach programme and asked him if he could arrange a cottage meeting at my great uncle's house so that me might lead him to the Saviour. About two weeks later the outreach leader asked me if it was all right to hold the meeting this coming week at my great uncle's house and I told him that it was too late, my great uncle died last night.
At the age of 17 years to be confronted with a dilemma such as this was most perturbing and perplexing and I began asking questions. Why did we not visit this man and gave him a chance to accept Christ before he died? Do Christians really care about these things? Why was I so useless in this situation? These and many other similar questions dominated my thinking and I was drowning in a world of guilt. I began to blame everyone in the church for their lack of action; old, retired members could surely have found the time to visit; the pastor and his wife should have made it a priority to visit and do their best; the outreach leader could have arranged a cottage meeting in a more timely manner. As I was throwing all this blame around something happened that shook me to the core. A voice said "Why didn't you do it?" I looked around and saw nobody and realized that God was speaking to me. I had spoken to my friends about church and salvation, I preached in the young people's meetings on various subjects, I debated topics in church with ease but how was I going to cope with senior adults who would argue back and try to contradict me and play hardball. I just was not ready for that.
I can affirm that when God calls you for service he opens doors of opportunity to enable suitable preparation. Within three months of my great uncle's death the Church District arranged a series of seminars held on Saturdays and mandated that each church send suitable people to be trained in ministry. Among the subjects taught was systematic theology and homiletics and for about 6 months I along with two others from my church attended every Saturday. Through this system I improved enormously and preached not just locally but in the zone and my confidence grew exponentially. Remembering what the voice had said "Why didn't you do it?" I threw myself into local evangelism and preached at open-air meetings, went door to door and generally became quite active in the local church and the zone. This went on for about three years and then God willed that I needed to go to the next level.
I arrived in London, United Kingdom on 18th January 1965 just one day before my 20th birthday and after settling in to my work commitments I attended and transferred my membership to Busby's Place Church, Camden Town. The pastor observed that I was making a substantial contribution in the Sunday school and that my knowledge in debates was admired by the members and he asked me to preach for him one Sunday night. The response to my message was quite outstanding and I was asked to preach two weeks later on Sunday morning at our worship service. Again the response to my message was quite outstanding and thereafter I was asked to preach regularly at the morning worship service and the evening evangelical service.
Within one year my preaching became known within the assemblies in London and following my sermons at UK District Conferences in Leicester and Birmingham I received many invitations to preach at many churches. I decided to concentrate on building up my local church and helping the other churches within 50 miles or so of London. Then I was asked if I would accept the appointment of assistant pastor of Bedford Church and I turned it down. I continued to do my evangelism because I was convinced that God wanted me to do that, to use all my gifts and resources to persuade people to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour but there was still the nagging feeling that by turning down the Bedford appointment I was, like Moses, saying not me Lord send someone else.
Sometime around late 1968 the call came for me to pastor the Brockley Church in Southeast London and after much prayer, discussions, elections and a little arm twisting from the District Superintendent I was appointed and installed as pastor.
My ministry thence consisted of a number of portfolios each competing with and at the same time supporting each other. I was appointed Chairman of the District Building Committee and I was engaged almost continually in evangelism not just in the London area but beyond to Bedford and Northampton and down south to Slough Town.
Working for the Lord has many challenges but I am motivated by God's hallowed presence and the love of helping some to come to Jesus Christ and the burning desire at the end of my journey to hear these words "well done thou good and faithful servant".
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Dr. Henderson Ward received his Doctor of Divinity in theology, with distinction, from Masters International School of Divinity, USA, where he is currently a post-doctoral fellow. Dr. Ward's career involved pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. Copyright 2013