God broke into my life in 1981, when a sermon spoke directly into my heart – “declutter your commitments and make way for God to do something new in your life”. I started to declutter and a couple of months later a friend gave me a Campus Crusade magazine saying, “Here, I think you need to read this because every time I see it in my home the thought ‘give this to Joyce’ comes into my head”. So, I read it and one article caught my interest. It was about a Bible study that one of the Campus Crusade staff members, Thera Barber, had started in London. It sounded just like the kind of study I would love to attend. There was an address at the end of the article, so I wrote to Thera asking where my nearest class was.
The reply was not altogether good news. There was no class in my area. In fact, the London class was the only one in the UK, but she gave me a warm invitation to come and stay with her and visit the class so that I could experience the study. I had three wonderful days visiting the London class, talking to the ladies who attended (in 1981 it was a ladies-only study) and learning a lot more about things from Thera. I came home feeling very blessed but thinking too that, that was that. There was no class in my area and it was very unlikely that there ever would be because leaders had to go to America for a 5-day training programme at their own expense.
Four days after arriving home, I came in from shopping to find an ordinary white envelope on my doormat. On the front were the words, in capital letters – FOR AMERICA. Inside this envelope there was £200 in £10 notes. £200 in 1981 was a considerable amount of money and to this day I have no idea where it came from. After I had got over the shock, I decided I needed to write to Lee Campbell, the founder of Community Bible Study (CBS) in America, telling her what had happened, and informing her that I had no training, a minimum of education and that Bolsover was a working-class mining town. Her reply was reasonably encouraging. She said that it sounded as if God was doing something, and not to worry about training as that would be given, but a team of three people needed to attend training, so to keep on praying. Again, I thought nothing would come of it, but over the next three weeks two different people approached me saying they felt God wanted them to offer their services. On the surface it looked as if we were all set to go BUT we only had the gift of £200 which wasn’t enough to pay for one fare, let alone three, and none of us had the resources to finance ourselves. However, in faith we applied for training and were accepted for the April 1982 training in McClean, just outside Washington DC.
As 1981 became 1982, I attended a Watchnight service. The text for that service was Joshua 1:1-9 “I say to you and these people, get ready… Be strong and courageous because you will lead these people… Do not let the Book of the law depart from your mouth, meditate on it and be careful to do everything written in it… you will be successful, have I not commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified or discouraged, for I the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”. As these words were being read it was as if everyone else in the church had disappeared and God was speaking directly to me. So sure was I that God had spoken, we started to prepare.
The first thing we needed to do was book tickets. The cheapest fares then were Apex tickets and needed to be purchased three months before departure. We were daring and went to the travel agent and asked if we could book the air tickets but pay in installments for them. The travel agent not only said “yes” but gave us some money to add to the £200 we already had! This action seemed to open the bank of heaven, because during the next week we received a further £900 (£1100 in total), enough to purchase the three air tickets, plus three train tickets to get us to Heathrow and have just a little contingency money left. These monetary gifts came from all kinds of places and people, much of it anonymous. What a mighty bountiful God we have!
We flew off to Washington where we were very graciously received, although we felt somewhat overawed by everything. As we went through the training programme, we started to believe that CBS could never work in Bolsover and that God must have made a mistake (how arrogant can you get?). I was nominated to tell Lee Campbell we had wasted everyone’s time. The last thing that happened at that time at the end of a training programme was to have a meal together, then a commissioning service. I was unable to speak to Lee before the service. A guest speaker came for the commissioning service and his text for that service was Joshua 1:1-9! We couldn’t believe it, we knew it was a message from God, so with tears streaming down our faces we were commissioned to return to the UK to start the very first totally international class. Yes, there were classes in other countries – Canada, Peru and London, but they were all led by ex-patriate North Americans and the bulk of their members were also ex-patriate Americans. We, very ordinary, very average Brits, were going to start a class of totally British folk, in a forgotten little mining town. What a great sense of humour our God has!
We returned to Bolsover and began the process of setting up a class. This was not without many problems and a great deal of opposition, mainly from the clergy. Being an interdenominational Bible study raised a lot of suspicion. However, we did have a class by September 1982. In the years that followed we still encountered many difficulties and problems and many times I felt like packing it all in, but God constantly kept reminding me of Joshua 1:1-9 so I kept on keeping on.
Eventually this very ordinary woman became National Director. Now we were autonomous and did our own training, the number of new classes grew every year, and CBS UK evolved and grew too. In 2005 I felt God say – “alright you can retire from being National Director of CBS in 2007”. As 2007 drew near however, I began to have cold feet about it all – did God really say I could go in 2007 or was it my imagination? Then our amazing God gave me a final blessing. He gave me another Scripture, a rather obscure verse so I had no doubt it was from Him and not me clutching at straws. Ecclesiastes 9:7-8 “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God is pleased with what you do. Always be clothed in white and always anoint your head with oil”. I feel like one of the most blessed and privileged of women in the world. Thanks be to God.