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January 12, 2015 I moved, smoothly I think, out of the eighth and into the ninth decade of my life. That’s right, I celebrated my 80th birthday. Grace, my beloved wife, thinks that this occasion merits that I share some thoughts on the subject, so here goes.
I have been asked whether I feel different now that I am 80 years old. I cannot say that I do. I was taken aback when, on my birthday, I turned on my computer and went online. As the browser loaded, displaying the Google home page I immediately saw there was a “Doodle” showing a birthday cake and some other festive items. When I hovered the cursor over the artwork a statement appeared, “Happy Birthday Martin.” This has never happened to me on any previous birthdays and I do not know whether it is something Google has introduced during the past year and, from now on, all Google account holders will get this greeting on their birthdays or, perhaps it is reserved for those birthdays that the folk at Google consider to be particularly significant – like becoming 80.
As I reflect back over the 80 years of my life I immediately feel impelled to say that I have lived a wonderful, full and greatly blessed life.
I feel very much loved. My beautiful family decided they wanted to celebrate the occasion and spoil me and they did this in two parts. On Saturday evening, January 10, at the home of Jane, one of my nieces and her husband Wes, the Gouldthorpe side of the family hosted the event that included a sumptuous supper. I was deeply touched by their desire to do this as well as the love and affection that was shown me.
The following day, Sunday January 11, a similar celebration, with another sumptuous meal, took place at lunchtime at the home of Huw (Grace’s nephew), his wife Pam and their children. This was attended by my in-law side of the family (the Franklins) and other friends, including Jan and Lada Kylik and family, Janet Hitchcock, Ann King, Gail McKintuck and Don Dirks, all of whom are definitely “family.” Pam, welcoming everybody put it very succinctly when she said that she and Jane had talked about how best to do this and decided that dividing it into two was best. As a result, the “blood” side of the family partied the evening before and now it was the turn of the “grafted in” members of the family. Again I was deeply touched by the love and affection that was shown me. For Grace and for me it was a double blessing and also, I had a birthday cake on Saturday and a birthday trifle on Sunday!
My life changed dynamically when, at the age of 15 years I, by faith, received Christ as my Saviour and turned my life over to Him. As I look back I can clearly see the mark of the Holy Spirit’s continual guidance. He certainly took me seriously when I told Him that my life was His to use as He pleased. He gave me mature Christian friends who loved, taught and helped me. He placed a calling on my heart to serve Him in full time ministry. When I went off to do my compulsory military service in the RAF the Lord gave me friends who were also believers. We were able to be mutual encouragers in the faith.
At a weekly Bible Study that my fellow airmen and I attended it was suggested that we should pray for the girls who the Lord wanted to be our wives, whether we, individually, thought that we had already met her or not. I had not a clue but it seemed a good idea and I began praying for this unknown young lady. I was in Edinburgh, Scotland and the subject of my prayers was still in high school in Port Talbot, South Wales, oblivious that a young man over 300 miles away was praying for her. The Holy Spirit organized how and where we should meet almost three years later. I was now a student at the London Bible College and Grace was training to be a teacher at St. Gabriel’s College in London.
We were married in 1958 and now that we were in matrimonial harness together the Lord gave us work to do after our training was done. It was a total surprise, as the Lord’s plans for His children often are. He gave us a ministry among young people that came to be known as the Grange Fellowship. This lasted from 1961 to late 1974 and brought into our life the most wonderful, beautiful, lively and loveable young people imaginable (a description like that is OK to write because I know it is true). As I look back over those years I am filled with wonder and gratitude to the Lord for the torrents of blessing that He poured into Grace’s and my life through those young people, our spiritual children. They remain to this day beloved in our hearts – family. Of course it would not have been possible without Grace, the four founder members (13 year old girls) of the Grange Fellowship were all students of hers at the school where she was a French teacher. Grace was and always has been the perfect godly partner for me. No one can convince me that God does not answer prayer!
God’s blessings certainly did not stop when He moved us in the mid 1970’s to British Columbia, Canada. The first tentative invitation was given to us as early as 1970 but it was not until 1974 that we believed the Lord was releasing us from our work in London. We came to the beautiful Fraser Valley, east of Vancouver, to the town of Abbotsford. I came to be the pastor of a country church named Prairie Chapel. Grace, in addition to being a partner with me in that ministry, went back to university for two years extra studies and then became head of the French department of a highly respected Christian school, founded in the 1930’s by Mennonite immigrants from Russia.
The people at Prairie Chapel were not just a congregation, they were a family and quickly became a family to and for us. We loved them and felt their love for us. The Lord had not finished yet. Within a few years, both Grace’s and my closest relatives in the UK moved to Canada and joined us here, so that we have nephews, nieces, great nephews and great nieces, as well as close friends who we regard as non-biological “family” members. I will not forget to mention that two members of the Grange Fellowship moved out here as well. Ann King was one of the original four and Janet Hitchcock, a teacher who became a close friend in England and moved here the same year we did.
Now retired (I really think that is a bit of a joke) we are so, so, so blessed by the gracious hand of our loving Heavenly Father. We are now members of Sevenoaks Alliance Church located in the town centre where we have many brothers and sisters in the Lord with whom we have a close and loving friendship.
He has over and over proved to us that, “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)
I agree with King David (although I don’t feel old the way he said he did) when he wrote, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken …” (Psalm 37:25)
God willing, Grace and I will celebrate our 57th wedding anniversary in July 2015 and we are both ready to handle as much more of life together as the Lord pleases and plans to give us until he takes us home.
Note: Should you be interested in reading more of our story, Grace has written extensively about her life and our life together and published it on her blog: http://www.gracesbiograhy.wordpress.com. There is too, the Grange Fellowship website, the link to which is: http://www.thegrangefellowship.wordpress.com.