Would This Story Make a Book?Written by email@example.com on Apr 28, 2016 in blog - 2 Comments Print This Post
God made us all individually. Everyone comes to Him by different journeys and so we all have a story to tell about our Christian walk that may help and encourage others.
Life is in a way like a rope, made from many intertwined strands. Here are some of mine, unpicked, but much summarised.
I was born in Lowestoft, the last year of the post-war ‘bulge’. My mother and father, George Porter, ran a motorcycle business. We lived above the shop and I can hardly remember a time when they weren’t working.
My younger sister and I were raised in a nominally Christian family and had the benefit of Bible-based teaching at school and at Christ Church’s Sunday School for a time. As an early teenager I was confirmed into the Church of England.
When I was 15, my sister was 12 and my mother was just 34, my father was killed in a car crash. He was 40.
The shock of that loss, the way it devastated, crushed, bewildered and hurt us for years, made me blame God and turn away from anything to do with him and his works.
By the time I grew up and finished school I was totally absorbed by drama and the performing arts. Embracing a bit of the hippie lifestyle, I went to a drama college in London where after 3 years I qualified as a teacher, rarely thinking about religion.
From there I co-founded a touring children’s theatre company. I was fulfilled developing the business and doing things that I wanted. Then I met Sarah on a drama course I was organising for the National Association of Drama in Education and Children’s Theatre at Norwich. She was a final year teaching student.
That meeting changed my life’s direction, of course. She was a vicar’s daughter and a Christian! And so I came up against religion again. We married in 1978 within a year of meeting and moved to Lowestoft, my home town but a strange place for Sarah. We started our family.
I was the first Head of Drama at the new Benjamin Britten High School and immersed myself in my teaching, school productions and writing. I was also in the early beginnings of what became a political career when I was elected to Waveney District Council as Gunton councillor.
By 1981 the politics took me over and I knew that I wanted more. I left teaching, thinking I’ll never go back to it, and started training as a Conservative Party agent. That led us to leave Lowestoft for a brief stint as agent in Eltham in London followed by me securing the post as agent to Norwich North in 1983. It would have been sensible to live in Norwich at that time, but I am a Lowestoft boy… so I drove there each day.
When the opportunity came to be the agent in my home area of Waveney, I grabbed it. It was almost like a full circle. Then, Jim Prior, our MP since 1959, announced that he’d not stand again. I threw my hat into the ring, was removed from the selection process as the serving agent, and from 187 hopefuls, I was finally chosen.
From that moment till the next election, was my candidate period when I became a man obsessed – meetings, people to talk to, places to be seen in, issues to get involved with, publicity to manage and a campaign to prepare for. It was at that time that Sarah joined an evangelical church, Lowestoft Covenant Church, that had been formed by a breakaway group from the Lowestoft Bethel.
It horrified me. A lot of rather batty, over-enthusiastic, well-intentioned Christians! But it filled a need in Sarah, which was vital, but I did not want to know for myself.
When I was elected in the 1987 General Election as MP for Waveney, I was equally elated and proud to represent my home community.
Our lives changed a great deal at once. Our family had by now grown to three – Victoria, Thomas and Samuel with Alice arriving in 1988. We decided they and Sarah should stay in Lowestoft and I’d travel to London and back, often several times a week.
The story of how Sarah and the children coped with those years is theirs to tell, but for me, I had a dream to live, a task to achieve and another election to win.
I did that in 1992 and was convinced that I’d done it all in my own strength. But God was ready to show me that I hadn’t, that HE made the big decisions. Oh I’d often think, faced with the beauty of the beach, or a mountain on holiday or the night sky, that there must be something made it all. But even when a spate of MPs dying in their 40s made me reflect, I still did nothing about my own salvation.
I’d attended the odd LCC service (and I mean odd), and we’d even been to a couple of Bible weeks at the agricultural showground, Stoneleigh. I tried to keep to myself, help with the children, engage in minimal social activities and certainly avoided any religious meetings.
Sarah prayed long and hard for me over many months to ask Jesus into my life, but I felt it wasn’t for me. I knew that others in and beyond LCC were praying the same – Mike Betts felt I was almost ready to accept Jesus. I often talked to Gary Streeter, a Christian MP and I read a lot, most notably CS Lewis, the great Christian writer.
I had occasional unexplained chest pains, like a heavy anvil on me. One night, driving home late from London, in Wrentham I saw a Roman soldier crossing in front of me! I didn’t know it, but God was on my case.
During 1994 there was a widespread move of the Holy Spirit; the wind, breath of the Holy Spirit (ruach), a time when people in huge numbers were affected by physical manifestations of the presence of God. There was much of what I thought was self-indulgent hysterical laughter, falling down in the spirit, healings and visions.
On the final evening I was persuaded to go to a Stoneleigh meeting. As the wave of the spirit swept across the hall, I felt strange, but struggled against giving in to it and stayed sat still, arms folded.
From Stoneleigh we escaped to what was then the new Center Parcs near Bath for a family break. We had a day trip into Bath and among other sights, saw a statue of the same Roman soldier I’d seen in Wrentham!
On the last morning there after a great week I was playing snooker with the children when I was gripped by a terrible stomach pain that bent me double.
The pain grew. I was sweating; in intense agony. They got me back to our villa and I lay down. Pain grew worse. Tom was sent off on a bike to get help. When that arrived, an ambulance was called. I didn’t feel I’d make it.
I felt that I was dying, slipping away.
There was a blackness, a total impenetrable darkness like of the grave closing around me, as my functions shut down. Ahead of me I saw a light from a rectangle, like a doorway.
I knew with an overwhelming certainty that through there was Jesus. That Jesus that I had rejected for so long.
Sarah was praying beside me, waiting for the ambulance, sensing that something really big was happening in front of her. I spoke aloud, ‘God help me. Jesus save me’.
Sarah knew something was going on with me, and those words confirmed it – yes, she heard that cry in my last moment of desperate need. Jesus save me.
The ambulance arrived and I was taken to a hospital in Bath, screaming in agony as they stretchered me out of the vehicle. Testing began at once and continued three days.
Gradually the pain eased and the doctor told me there was nothing physically wrong with me and never had been.
Sarah had to check out of Center Parcs and find a hotel in Bath with the children. When they came to visit, Sarah said I had a glow from within, through my eyes, that was not there before.
The reluctant convert
I pondered it all as we drove back home. I had called on Jesus in that dark hour. He had saved me. In the words of CS Lewis the Christian writer, I became the ‘reluctant convert,’ which was the title I gave my talk when I was later invited to speak at churches, men’s groups and businesses locally and in other parts of the country.
Less than two weeks later, I was baptised by LCC and gave my testimony for the first time. I was welcomed into the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, a cross-party grouping of believing MPs who meet for bible study, prayer, special talks and breakfasts.
My new Christian journey was far from straightforward, though. The lows included the discipline of Sunday mornings at church, hearing talks delivered sometimes badly. Praise and worship that seemed interminable. Relationships that took time and a lot of learning to undertake.
I’d enjoyed the freedom of ‘me-time’ on Sundays while Sarah took the children to church. I was not at that point bathed in the Holy Spirit, so my belief was intellectual with some emotional content. It was not yet ingrained and steadfast.
The highs included being asked to speak at dinners and breakfasts. I spoke at a London for Jesus rally at the Royal Albert Hall. to 4500 people. That was an amazing experience.
Everybody comes to know God through his or her own journey.
Well, it’s been, and still is, a long road, which is perhaps material for a second blog. When I was defeated in the 1997 General Election and had to watch another man do what I did, albeit differently, enjoying the privilege of representing 85.000 people in Parliament, it was hard to take. It felt like a bereavement, like someone had died.
I had died. I was the job and when it went, I was devastated. But the Lord provided. He gave us special and unique family time and closeness. He gave me a job teaching Drama at Kirkley High School, where I stayed for 13 years – the longest job I ever did. And I loved it. It has also provided me with exam and writing work that means today I am neither retired nor ready to be so,
I am very much a work in progress. Through my natural self-discipline I have no trouble in reading the Bible daily – indeed, I am one of those sometimes misunderstood souls who like to read a different version of it from start to finish in a year.
Sometimes I rebel at the one-size fits all approach of church life. If someone tells me to stand, I instinctively stay seated, partly through a physical inability to stand for long and partly through my sometimes stiff-necked response.
I pray. I give. I do what I can. I am thankful for Sarah, our family, my life’s rich experiences, travelling, the arts and relationship blessings which God has showered upon me. My talents are used occasionally in the church but I am aware that there is more to give and more to be done for the Lord.
The full story is told in my forthcoming autobiography, A Rebels’ Journey, which should be out this year!