Sometime in May 1987 together with my wife and two young children I was appointed to be the Corps officer at Hatfield Peverel. It was without doubt what should have benn an idyllic appointment, a small country village with no more than 3000 population in the County of Essex. Yet it was here in these sleepy English lanes that everything went wrong for me. It was here that seeds the devil had planted in my heart many years before blossomed and produced their poisonous fruit. Just over a year later I found myself out of work, facing divorce, cut off from the only social life I had ever known, humiliated and completely and utterly lost.
A few years later God spectacularly changed my life. He forgave me for the bad things I’d done, filled me with his Holy Spirit and provided me with countless opportunities to serve him. Sometime later, remarried with two more children I decided to apply once again to become an officer. The route back into Officership was (quite rightly) long and circuitous. Eventually in 2007 my commission was re-issued and Tracey and I were sent to Dartford, a deprived urban town on the outskirts of London. Undoubtedly this appointment was a good reintroduction to ministry and God blessed us there.
Imagine my surprise when three years later we were appointed to Rayleigh in Essex just a short drive from Hatfield Peverel the scene of my dramatic downfall. Furthermore, in the 22 years that had passed, DHQ had relocated from its old premises in Walthamstow to a brand-new building in the car park of Hatfield Peverel Hall! Apparently, when this new appointment was first discussed, neither my old DC, new DC nor the personnel secretary took my history into account. So that is how on Thursday I found myself sitting in Hatfield Peverel Hall attending a training course on effective supervision. The irony of the occasion did not pass me by!
Today, I find myself in an almost identical situation to the one with which I was presented when I took up my appointment 22 years ago. Though Rayleigh is certainly a bigger town and a bigger Corps than Hatfield Peverel it is situated in the sleepy country lanes of Essex and when I look at the opportunities that surround us and the personnel that support us I cannot help but draw comparisons between the two appointments.
Praise God, the strongholds that dominated my life in 1987 have been well and truly demolished. However I would be lying if I did not admit that demonic snipers occasionally still lurk in the ruins of those strongholds and now and again from their insidious vantage points fire successful pot-shots.
There is (as in any appointment) incredible potential hiding within the people that make up Rayleigh Corps and the ingredients required to bring about revival are all to hand. God's grace and power is as super-efficient as it has ever been the needs of the community are, as always, evident and the willingness of the people to be led is refreshing - the one thing over which God has no control is the quality and consistency of my own consecration.
The damage that the enemy achieved at Hatfield Peverel is untold, according to the current CO most of the main players in the Corps back in 1987 (although now old and frail) are still active - I have often wondered how many people, how many potential converts, how many seekers after holiness were seriously wounded as a consequence of my actions. Although I am confident that God has forgiven my sin and removed it from me as far as "the East is from the West" the thorn that is Hatfield Peverel remains firmly in my side! Somebody once suggested to me that Paul's thorn was the fact that he had actually killed Christians and participated in their persecution. Did I kill any Christians or potential Christians at Hatfield Peverel? All I can do now is commit everything to God and hope that in his mercy he will be true to his promise to ensure that "all things work together for good".
I would not want to be anywhere else other than Rayleigh at the moment, however I must admit that being so close to my past does cause me some discomfort - but perhaps that is the way God wants it to be. I don't think, other than in the months that followed my conversion, I have ever been so wary of compromise and the dangers associated with giving "the devil a foothold". Certainly this appointment has driven me deeper into the arms of Jesus and I praise God for that! I feel almost as if God has deliberately presented me with a second chance, an opportunity (by his grace and in his name) to reclaim the years that "the years that the locusts have wasted."
The truth is, regardless of the past, "without holiness none shall see the Lord", my downfall 22 years ago was quite simply an absence of holiness and the cause of my success during my second sojourn in Essex can only ever be the presence of holiness. Hallelujah!
Grace and peace, Andrew.