The seed was planted in the late 60’s. I was on the staff of CRU (known then as Campus Crusade for Christ) working on the UC Berkeley campus in the midst of riots and demonstrations over the war in Vietnam. It was high turmoil. Just across the Oakland hills in a much quieter setting, a fascinating (to me) Bible study called Bible Study Fellowship was growing and flourishing to the point where I somehow heard about it. The format and the depth of the study were very appealing to me, but because of my campus responsibilities, it was impossible to even consider being a part. Little did I dream then that the seed of that Bible study concept which had been planted in my heart would lie buried ten years before surfacing and bearing fruit.
During the same years, I was at UC Berkeley, an American lady, Shirley Hinkson, along with her husband, Bud, and a team of 70 others had moved to Britain to establish the Campus Crusade ministry in the UK. She and her husband were living in London and while there opened her home to start a small women’s Bible study. That Bible study was the soil into which my seed would years later be planted.
In the early 70’s Shirley and her husband moved to Austria and the Bible study came to an end – or so everyone thought. Shirley, however, felt strongly from the Lord that it was not to die, so returned to London, called a group of the women together and urged them to continue. One of the women attending the meeting was a lady named, Donna Thrasher, who would later figure prominently in CBS. At that time, Donna would tell you that she was not walking with the Lord and was resisting the idea of a Bible study. But Shirley asked her if she would contact Norma Bourland (a Crusade staff member) and request that she lead the study. When Donna called Norma, she said she couldn’t. She was living in Reading – 30 miles west of London – and didn’t feel it was workable. When Donna reported that back to Shirley, Shirley said, “Call her back and tell her she can do it.” Norma finally agreed and the little class started up again.
In the summer of 1972 I moved to the European continent. The CCC ministry there which had begun in the late 60’s, was still in its infancy, and my responsibility was to travel to all the countries where the ministry was established and work with the staff women on the various teams.
During that first year I visited Britain at least a half dozen times and the more I visited, the more I thought, “This is where I want to focus.” So in the fall of 1973 arrangements were made so that I was able to move the UK, and for the next 13 years, Britain was my home. My responsibilities again were in a traveling role, working with the staff women on the various campuses in the British Isles.
That first year, my home base was in London. About halfway through the year, Norma Bourland approached me and asked if I would consider taking over the women’s Bible study she had been leading but was having to drop. At that point it was a study of about 15 women – primarily American, but also with some British and Internationals. I was very reluctant to consider it, first of all, because I wanted to work with British people (if I had wanted to work with Americans I would have stayed home), and secondly, I was on the road about 75% of my time. I just didn’t think I could manage it. But because there was no one also at the moment to take it, I agreed to take it for 3 months until they could find another teacher. So for the next three months we met on a fortnightly basis and I arranged my traveling schedule to accommodate this little study.
At the end of three months, we still hadn’t located another teacher, so I agreed to take it another three months. In the mean time I moved to Reading, but thought, “Well, for three months I can make this work.” Three months later – no teacher. “OK, I’ll keep going.” This went on for five years, helped somewhat by the fact that after two years in Reading I moved back to London.
Every time I considered dropping the class, there was this “God-given” encouragement to keep going and by the end of five years I not only didn’t want to give it up but became more interested in working with women than with students and our Crusade staff.
The summer of 1978 I was in the States visiting supporters, friends and family. I started out in Boston staying with friends, Joe and Ginny Viola, who told me about a mixed group study they were co-teaching in Park Street Congregational Church called Community Bible Study. I had never heard of it, but was intrigued because it reminded me of the study I had known about back in my Berkeley days. It was one of those occasions when everywhere I went that summer, starting in Boston and on across the US, I kept hearing about this CBS study. Looking back it was really rather amazing because CBS at that point had only been in existence three years. My last stop was in California. I was visiting some of the Crusade staff women over a weekend, and they were staying in a friend’s cabin at Lake Arrowhead. That cabin belonged to Dottie Larson who was the CBS Director for the western half of the US. I didn’t have a chance to meet Dottie, but my friends couldn’t say enough about her and the CBS ministry.
The more I heard about this program and the fact that the format was similar to Bible Study Fellowship (I later learned that CBS in was in fact a “spin-off” from BSF), the more interested I became. The desire to be a part of that kind of study had never left my heart, and even though it seemed like an impossibility due to my campus responsibilities, there began to be this growing anticipation that God was about to do something special.
Before I left the States, I called Lee Campbell, the CBS Founder and Director, and asked her about the possibility of starting a class in London. Well, she wasn’t sure at all! They had their hands full establishing classes in the U.S. They had no way of monitoring a class overseas (no cell phones, internet etc.) There was the issue of shipping large amounts of materials to us. How would the finances be worked out? Many questions, but the more we talked, the more she began to think, “This could very well be of God. Let’s pursue it and see what happens.”
Of course, the other big issue for me was, would my CCC Director give me permission to do this? After all, CBS is not CCC, but when something is of God, He prepares hearts and my Director (Gene Bourland, interestingly enough, Norma Bourland’s husband) gave me the green light to head in that direction. That fall our existing little study which had always stayed around 15 suddenly grew to 40. (Of course, the Lord knew we needed a larger group of women from which to draw leadership.)
Initially, all the pieces seemed to be falling into place for a CBS class to start in Britain. Everyone we talked to was excited about it. There was this growing sense of momentum. Then the obstacles began appearing. First of all we heard that a group of women in Central London was planning to start a Bible Study Fellowship Class. We knew because of the overlap there wouldn’t be enough from the pool of women we had to sustain both. (At that time we had to have 60 women signed up before they would allow us to start a class.) As much as we could discern, the Lord had been leading us and then we hit the wall. Very discouraging when you’re so excited about something and it looks as if it will fall through. We had to say,”OK, Lord, it’s in Your hands and we leave it with You.”
Not long after that, we heard that the women who wanted to start BSF had not been accepted for leadership training, so we were back on track. The next obstacle was that there seemed to be no one to fill the Coordinator role. You had to have a minimum of three leaders: Teaching Director, Assistant Teaching Director and Coordinator. We had two, me and Donna Thrasher, but every single woman we thought would be “perfect” for the job for some reason or other couldn’t do it. It was getting close to training time – and no Coordinator in sight. “Lord, what are you saying?”
One day in talking with one of the women, Nancy Laird, it came out in the conversation that she really wanted to do this. We hadn’t even considered her because she was one of the newer believers. But the more we talked with her, the more we sensed that the Lord was preparing her to do this.
So we had our team, made our preparations to go for the training in Washington DC, and a week before we were to leave, because of a family emergency Nancy found she was unable to go. What were we to do? Donna Thrasher and I had these non-refundable tickets. So we decided that we were not going to tell them in Washington. We’re just going to show up. And so we went, and they bent the rules for us. I mean, after all, what were they going to do? Ship us back to London?
We arrived in Washington a couple of days before the conference and stayed with some Crusade friends of mine, Frank and Judy Kifer who had formerly worked in Europe. Little did we know then how critical that visit was to be. At that time Frank and Judy had been giving tests to ascertain individual strengths and weaknesses and asked us if we would like to take the tests which we agreed to do. It became so very obvious after taking the tests that Donna’s strengths and skills lay with the Coordinator responsibilities and not with the assistant Teaching Director’s responsibilities. So we switched her roles. (In coming weeks it became so apparent that Donna was uniquely gifted for this job. God knew that in the next seven years there would be no one from leadership in the States who would come and observe us or monitor us or help us. Phone calls were few and far between. No faxes, e-mails, cheap airline tickets. Apart from a yearly trip to the U.S. for the Teaching Director’s Conference, we were on our own. So God gave us Donna Thrasher, an ideal coordinator who was a stickler for the rules. As much as we sometimes tried, she would not let us tamper with any of them. And that was so critical if solid foundations were to be laid for this ministry.)
So Donna and I completed the training, returned to Britain and began to hold informative coffees. By the time our class started in the fall we had 95 registered and by the end of the year, we had 120 in the class. The big question was where to hold the class? A lot of people assumed because there were so many American women involved it would be held at the American church in London. It was centrally located, the facilities were very conducive for it, but we did not want this to be just an American Bible study. We felt from the beginning that this was a tool that was transferable and could be used to reach women (and men) all over Britain, and it was crucial to have a class in an English church.
One of the British women in our group, Norry Brient, said to us, “I think my church would be perfect – St Paul’s Robert Adam Street.” We went and talked with the vicar, Cannon Harry Sutton, who was delighted about the prospect and welcomed us with open arms. St. Paul’s Robert Adam Street Church is truly a haven in the heart of London. It is a beautiful, peaceful, restful place of worship – an escape from all the hustle, frenzy and crowds of the city. You just walk into the building and it lifts your spirits. And the women loved coming to that church. It truly was a gift and we spent five wonderful years there.
One of the features of having a class in Central London was that there was a lot of turnover because there were many women who were only in London for a year or two due to the nature of their husbands’ work. Consequently, we had so many “cliffhangers.” A key leader would suddenly one day announce that she had to move! Who would take her place? This happened many times. Panic each time. We gradually began to learn – this was God’s work and He always provided when we didn’t think it was possible. The upside of turnovers was that it provided many opportunities for different women to grow in leadership skills – pushed them out of their comfortable nests.
Our constant on-going concern was how could we help British women to get a vision for this ministry? We were not content to have this be just a little holy American huddle. In addition to American women we did have a good number of British women, and by the third year, there were also women from fourteen other countries, but the “feel” was still American. The reason we didn’t have more British women was quite simply because so many of the British women we knew in Central London worked during the day.
There were any number of interested women outside of London with whom we talked, many of whom visited our class. A partial list shows the wide interest: Valery of Surrey; Phyllis of Barnett; Rosalee of Woolard; Sue of Reading; Honor of Ireland; June of London. There were others from Gerrards Cross, Cheshire, Hertfordshire and elsewhere. They would visit our class and think,”Yes, we can do this!” All were excited about the possibility until they found that three women had to go to the U.S. to be trained before a class was permitted to start. That hurdle again and again stopped them cold. It was too much for them to consider – even for women who were used to doing a lot of traveling. So many times we had high hopes that this particular area would be able to start a class, only to have them dashed because of the same reason. Very discouraging.
But this was God’s ministry and He has His own wonderful, unique ways of getting people to do what He wants. At the end of the summer of 1981 I received a letter from a Joyce Bromley from Bolsover (wherever that was!) The letter had been sent at the beginning of the summer, but because I was in the U.S., I didn’t receive it till weeks later. Someone had given Joyce a Campus Crusade magazine containing an article about the CBS London class. She had been wanting a Bible Study program in her location and as she read the article, thought this could be it and immediately wrote to me. The more she prayed about this the more interested she became, but weeks went by and she didn’t hear from me. One day as she was on her knees seeking the Lord, she heard the post come through her letterbox and just knew that the answer to her prayer was in the morning post.
Sure enough, there was my letter telling her about CBS and inviting her to come down for a few days to stay with us and visit our class, which she agreed to do. We had learned our lesson from previous experiences and didn’t mention that training was required in the States until the end of her visit – of course, a real shocker!! But she will tell you that all those weeks of waiting on the Lord for His direction prepared her for that enormous leap. After she returned home there was a wonderful confirmation when an anonymous gift toward air flights to the U.S. was put in her letter box.
God handpicked Joyce, prepared her, knowing that here was a woman who had a heart for Him that wouldn’t quit. And here was a woman who had a husband, Ian, who would back her to the hilt and join her in her effort. Joyce ultimately became the first British National Director, and in her own quiet, purposeful way, over the years made such an impact for Him through this ministry.
It wasn’t long after that through Joyce’s encouragement that another class began. You can see God’s wonderful wisdom in starting the second CBS class in a little mining town in Bolsover, Derbyshire. After all if women from Bolsover could go to the States for training, why couldn’t women from other areas? So a third class began in Hinkley led by Hillary Fenby and Gillian Mason, two other faithful women that God has used so significantly over the years. It was in Hinkley that men began to be involved in mixed classes. You can imagine how exciting it was to our class to see these other classes develop and grow, and to meet with them for leadership conferences. For the first time we felt we were not alone, and a CBS stake had truly been driven into British soil in answer to our prayers. Not long after I left the UK, the first British Servant’s Team was established made up of the leaders of the classes in Bolsover, Hinkley, York and London. Those who were on the team were Joyce Bromely, Hillary Finbey, David and Gillian Mason, and Marilyn Rowlandson. David and Gillian went on to start CBS in Malawi, a work which has flourished there.
In any ministry along with the “ups” there were also the “downs” – tough times that had to be worked through. As I mentioned, we loved being at St Paul’s Robert Adam Street Church, had been there five years, and blithely assumed we would be in those facilities indefinitely. That was not to be! In the spring of 1984 we found that the church was going to be used for others ministries and we were going to have to move. That was not easy.
“Lord, where do you want us to go?” We could have gone to the American Church of London, but we still felt at that point that it was important to be in an English church. CBS requires you to be in a church with an evangelical witness, and that immediately eliminated most of the churches in Central London. We also needed a church that could accommodate core groups, a nursery, the children’s program, and not many Central London churches could fit the bill. The obvious choices would have been All Souls, HTB, St Michaels Chester Square – but these had existing women’s studies. It was a huge dilemma.
A few days before I left for the Teaching Director’s Conference in the States that spring, someone mentioned Westminster Chapel, but I didn’t have time to pursue it before leaving. During the conference, this need was constantly on my heart and mind. Our conference that year was in the Colorado Mountains, and one morning in particular I was taking in the spectacular view praying, “Lord, if You created all this beauty and these mountains, You certainly have a place for our little study. I don’t know R.T. Kendal, the pastor. He doesn’t know me or CBS, but I do know that I can trust you to work out your purposes.” Easy to say now, but then when you had to make the final decision and so many people were depending on you to make the right one, it was a faith stretcher!
A few minutes later I went in for breakfast and happened to sit next to a gentleman, Dr. Sam Schultz, a Professor from Wheaton College. He was not a member of a class, but had been writing the commentary material for the new study that was being developed for the next year. In the course of conversation, I told him that our class was in London. He immediately said, “My son lives in London and I plan to go there in two weeks. I also hope to see a very good friend of mine, R.T. Kendal, pastor of Westminster Chapel!” Don’t you love God’s timing and surprises?!
Sam Schultz was our entrée to Westminster Chapel. Dr. Kendal warmly welcomed us and loved having our class there, but the longer we were there, the more we found that the location and facilities were just not adequate for what we needed, so in the end we did decide to move to the American Church which was a much more suitable location and had facilities that fit our needs. But by then, two things had happened which gave us the freedom to do this: one was that both Joyce Bromley and Hillary Fenby’s classes were well ensconced and established – rooted in British soil, and we also had a British lady, Rene Barker, who had begun to lead evening satellite core groups for British working women. That was something we had always been interested in doing, but until then had not the personnel to lead. Rene was a working woman, had always been free on our class day, but suddenly her schedule changed so that her free day was on leader’s training day. So she launched our evening British core groups. It was a wonderful answer to prayer. Later when Rene retired, she faithfully served for many years as the Coordinator of the London class. (A footnote – As a result of the contact with R.T. Kendal at Westminster Chapel, Dr. Kendal later came on the CBS Board of Directors, lending his name and endorsing this American Bible Study.)
I had the privilege of teaching and leading CBS for seven wonderful years. I left in 1986 and since then I’ve had a chance to observe the impact this program made on many women’s lives who attended our classes. Some went on to hold leadership positions in CBS : Marilyn Rowlandson was for many years the Teaching Director for the London class and a Regional director giving strong, faithful leadership to the overall ministry; Nancy Laird, the first Assistant Teaching Director for our class, moved back to the States and ultimately became the Teaching Director for a CBS class of over 300 in Louisville, Kentucky. Sandy Lindamood became a believer in our class, moved back to the States and eventually was on one of the CBS Regional Leadership teams. Altie Russell was a core leader in our class just that first year. She returned to Midland, Texas, and discovering there was no class there helped launch the first CBS class. Two or three years later a man by the name of George W. Bush, along with his friend Don Evans, attended that class faithfully for two years. We never know whose lives may be touched through this ministry. So many others over the years have been involved in CBS leadership in many locations around the world.
In ministries other than CBS, to mention just a few – one woman developed a mentoring program in her church. Sandy Lindamood (mentioned above) got a taste of ministering in CBS, went back to university, got her degree in Counseling and began a grief counseling program for children. Delores Feitle started a ministry called POWER which counsels and encourages pastor’s wives. Heaven alone will reveal all the kingdom “spin-offs” spawned by CBS. God has used it as a powerful tool to draw people into the Kingdom, build leadership skills into their lives, and launch them into unique ministries He has for them. It was one of the high privileges of my life to be a part of what He has done and is continuing to do through CBS.
Thera Smith Barber