‘Below me, the clouds’


Old School Christianity

One dark, blacked-out evening early in 1945, when returning from an evening service, I overheard my brother Harold quietly speaking to mother.

She was distressed at seeing her eldest son, Fred, go to Malaya as a soldier. Harold himself would soon be joining the army. She was naturally afraid that she might lose both sons in the war. He spoke to her gently of death as a gateway into ‘the Lord’s presence’ and not the end of life.

Jesus makes a difference

All this reminded me of what Fred himself had said to me the day before he left for Malaya. I had been sobbing about his imminent departure and was half way up the stairs to have a good cry on my bed when I met him coming down. He sat me down on the stairway, put his arm around me and told me about Jesus and the difference he made to living and dying. I cannot honestly say that Fred’s comforting words meant anything to me at the time, but Harold’s subsequent chat with Mum prompted my memory and made me think.

When I went to bed that night I prayed that, if God could be so real to my brothers, would he please make himself real to me in a way that I could understand.

Some three or four weeks passed and, typical of a nine-year-old boy, I forgot all about my prayer until one day I was surprised to find I was no longer fearful of the air raids!

War over

On May 8 1945, the war in Europe came to its end and the whole country rejoiced. Our family contributed its own celebrations to the night of victory by leaning out of the front bedroom windows (glass now intact) and blowing ‘V’ in the Morse code on wardens’ whistles! We also began the ‘ceremony of the colours’ by hoisting a Union Jack above our porch every day and ‘striking’ it every evening.

No more air raids! Life was incredible! Day and night followed day and night without death’s shadow hovering over us. We were able to sleep all night, every night, in our own beds! We were free!

However, the war in Japan was still raging and Fred was out there in Malaya. He was away from home for four years. Then, on August 15 1945, Japan surrendered following the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fred’s only task now was to guard Japanese prisoners. Soon Fred was on his way home.

A source of light and warmth had pervaded my life which was to brighten in intensity over my future years: the Lord Jesus Christ had revealed himself to me in a way that I could understand. I now knew for myself the source of my brothers’ peace and serenity.

Lunch-time meetings

Soon after my arrival at the Purley Grammar School I had made contact with four other Christian boys. We met every lunch-time for 15 minutes in the store cupboard where the French text books were kept. It was private and quiet. We prayed that the Lord would teach us to pray in a manner that would glorify him. We found ourselves praying for individual boys by name: particularly for those with whom we naturally rubbed shoulders during the day. We prayed for those we travelled to school with on the bus; those we sat next to in the various classes; those we ate with at lunch, and so forth. One of those who joined us in the French store cupboard was John Murray: young brother to Christine and Pamela who attended the Sanderstead Kindergarten and Junior School with me. Another was John Balchin. More of him later.

Soon we could not all get into the French store cupboard, so we asked permission to form a school Christian Union and move into a classroom. Subsequently we grew out of the classroom and took over the school library. In my final year at school we frequently met in the gymnasium in order to accommodate those attending!

Like revival

I have never seen anything more like a revival. It happened over five years and there were periods when boys were acknowledging Christ as their Lord and Saviour every day of the week.

On one occasion a Mr. Will Smart visited the Croydon area. He was an evangelist with the National Young Life Campaign and an ex-bomber pilot in the Royal Air Force holding the rank of Squadron Leader. Permission was given for me to invite him to speak to the school squadron of the Air Training Corps. As a result of his talk a number of cadets asked him very significant questions and requested he be asked to come again. Just a week later he was invited to speak to the Christian Union. I met Mr. Smart off the bus and was walking with him up the path to the school entrance when he abruptly stopped. In a very quiet voice he said: ‘The Lord is here. He is going to do a mighty work in this school’.

I have recently found a typewritten account of those remarkable days in the back of my Pupil’s Report Book: ‘Every lad who professed to have accepted Christ as Saviour has been given a Next Step (G.C. Robinson) booklet, a sample of the Scripture Union Key Notes [and the book In Understanding Be Men by T.C. Hammond].

‘The Christian Union had been praying for Mr. Smart’s visit for some time but during the preceding week had met for prayer every dinner hour and for half an hour after school each day.

‘On Friday November 6 Mr. Smart spoke at the junior and senior Christian Union meetings at 12.30 and 1.00 pm respectively. The total number who heard God’s message that day were 140 plus. Mr. Smart visited the school each lunch hour from Tuesday to Friday (during the following week) and addressed the junior and senior meetings, the combined attendance (on each day) averaging 80 boys. Four masters also attended these meetings and two made profession of faith to Mr. Smart.

Follow-up

‘With the mission over, the Christian Union has continued its prayer meetings at 1.00 pm on Mondays and for 20 minutes after school each day. Average attendance at the Monday prayer meeting has been 35.

‘On the Friday that the mission ended we held our combined meeting with our sisters from Stoneyfield (the Purley Girls’ Grammar School) in St. John’s Church. What a crowd there was and what a thrill to see such a number of lads, some only three hours old as Christians, singing so thoughtfully and thankfully to the one who they now knew as their Saviour!

‘Now the work of following up each and every individual has begun and so we need your prayers! It is a task fitting up the lads with Bible classes and churches, but arrangements are being made and all is working out slowly and surely.

Results

‘The real results of this mission can be seen in the faces, lives and quality of work of more than 50 boys in our school. To God be the glory, great things he has done!’

Over the intervening years I have lost touch with the majority of the boys who were Christian Union members, but I know that John Lewer became a physiotherapist in the Royal Air Force with the rank of Chief Technician, Kester Carruthers entered the Church of England ministry and subsequently became an army chaplain of senior rank, as did John Murray following his initial ministry in the Baptist church. John Balchin, after ordination in the Baptist ministry, got his doctorate and became a lecturer at the London Bible College. Prior to retirement he was minister at the Above Bar Church in Southampton and before that at Purley Baptist Church which he had attended as a boy. John Pink became a Wing Commander in the Royal Air Force, Roger Tyler went to teacher training college and returned to the staff of the Purley Grammar School where he supervised the Christian Union. Peter Wortley became a Baptist minister, as did Jim Baker who was minister at Stroud and has now retired there.

This article is an extract from Below Me, the Clouds by Ron Collard (Onwards and Upwards Publishers, ISBN 978 1 907 509 315, £13.99), and is used with permission.

This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057