Everywhere I went that summer of ‘78, starting in Boston and on across the US, I kept hearing about this CBS study! Looking back it was amazing because CBS, at that point, had only been in existence for three years! My last stop on that trip was in California. I was visiting some of the Campus Crusade staff women over a weekend; my friends couldn’t say enough about the CBS ministry… was God speaking? The more I heard about CBS the more interested I became. A desire to be a part of this kind of study had never left my heart, even though it seemed like an impossibility because of my university campus responsibilities, and I felt a growing anticipation that God was about to do something special.
The seed had been planted in me 10 years earlier in the late 60s. I was on the staff of the ministry then known as Campus Crusade for Christ, working on the Berkeley campus in the US during riots and demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. It was high turmoil. Just across Oakland Hills, in a much quieter setting, a fascinating study called Bible Study Fellowship was growing and flourishing. Later I was to lead an International Women’s Bible Study in London for five years. Little did I dream then that the seed of that Bible study concept, planted in my heart then nurtured carefully by the Planter, would wait 10 years before bearing fruit. God had His purpose and His timing was perfect.
So in 1978, after hearing so much about CBS and before I left the States to return to Britain, I called the CBS Founder and Director, Lee Campbell, 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 US. They had no way of monitoring a class overseas. 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”.
That autumn our little Bible study group, which had always hovered around 15, suddenly grew to 40. The Lord knew we needed a larger group from which to draw leadership! Initially, all the pieces seemed to be falling into place for a CBS class to start in the UK. Everyone we talked to was excited about it. There was a growing sense of momentum. Then the obstacles began appearing. 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 to attend the US training. We had only two leaders and everyone 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, whilst talking with one of the women, 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 new 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 and made our preparations to go for the training in Washington DC. Just a week before we were to leave, because of a family emergency, one of the women was unable to go. We needed the three leaders or we wouldn’t be allowed to attend training. What were we to do? Two of us had non-refundable tickets. We decided that we were just going to show up, the two of us! And so we went. I mean, after all, what were they going to do? Send us back to London? They bent the rules for us. God was in this too.
The two of us returned to Britain and began to hold informative coffee mornings. By the time our class started in the autumn, we had 95 people registered. 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. But we did not want this to be just an American Bible study. We felt from the beginning that this was a tool for men and women all over Britain and it was crucial to have a class in an English church. One of the British women in our group said to us “I think my church would be perfect – ”. We went and talked with the Vicar who was delighted about the prospect and welcomed us with open arms. St. Paul’s Church, Robert Adam Street, 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 God lifts your spirits!
One of the challenges of having a class in Central London was that there were many women who were only in London for a year or two because of their husbands’ work. We had so many ‘cliff-hangers’. A key leader would suddenly one day announce that she had to move in a couple of weeks! This happened to us many times. We panicked each time! We slowly began to learn – this was God’s work and He would always provide, even when we didn’t think it was possible. The upside was that it provided many opportunities for different women to grow in leadership skills – it pushed them out of their comfortable nests and stretched our faith too!
Our constant gnawing concern was “How can we help Brits get a vision for this ministry?”.We didn’t want an American huddle! There were any number of interested women outside of London with whom we talked, many of whom visited our class. All were excited about the possibility until they found that three people had to go to the US. to be trained before another class was permitted to start! But this is God’s ministry and He has His own wonderful, unique perfect purposes. At the end of the summer of 1981 I received a letter from Joyce Bromley from Bolsover, Yorkshire (wherever that was!). Someone had given Joyce a Campus Crusade magazine containing an article about the CBS London class. She had been wanting a Bible study in Bolsover. She read the article 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! The letter had been sent at the beginning of the summer, but because I was in the US I didn’t receive it for weeks and weeks. 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 that morning’s post! Sure enough, there was my letter telling her about CBS and inviting her to come up to London for a few days to stay with us and visit our class. We didn’t mention that training was required in the US until the end of her visit! But in all those weeks of waiting the Lord had prepared her heart for that enormous leap. When she returned home there was a wonderful confirmation when someone put an anonymous gift towards flights to the US through her letterbox. God handpicked Joyce and carefully prepared her, knowing that here was a woman who had a heart for Him that wouldn’t quit. Knowing too that she had a husband, Ian, who would join her wholeheartedly. Joyce later became the first UK National Director and, in her own quiet yet purposeful way made such a deep impact for Him through CBS.
Soon after that, through Joyce’s encouragement, another class began. God’s wonderful wisdom was shown clearly. After all, if folk from a little-known mining town called Bolsover could go to the States for training, why couldn’t folk from other places? A third class began in Hinckley, Leicestershire led by Hilary Fenby and Gillian Mason, two more faithful women that God has used so significantly over the years. It was in Hinckley that mixed gender classes began, and men began to do CBS in the UK. You can imagine how exciting it was to our class to see these other classes develop, grow, and diversify! At last the CBS stake had been firmly driven into British soil by God in answer to our prayers!
Not long after I left Britain for the US, the first UK National Servants’ Team was established, made up of the leaders of the classes in Bolsover, Hinckley, York, and London. God has continued to use CBS as a powerful tool to draw people into His Kingdom, to build leadership skills into their lives, and launch them into the ministries He has for them. To Him be the glory!
Abridged from an account by Thera Smith Barber
You can read Thera’s full account here.