Charles:I was born on a dairy farm in Staffordshire, the youngest of 4 sons. My parents took us to church every Sunday and sent us to Christian boarding schools. One summer at the age of 10 the teacher took our class to the river bank on Sunday afternoons and read from a book called Treasures in the Snow. I was struck by a verse from the Bible (Revelation 3:20) mentioned in the book. It describes Jesus Christ knocking at the door of each person's heart, with the invitation to ask him in. I decided that was what I wanted to do.
At the age of 19 I went to study in Sheffield. Despite having a Christian upbringing, I didn't actually know what a Christian was. I thought it was one of those 12 people who followed Jesus around when he lived in Palestine 2000 years ago! I didn't know about Jesus' claim to be God, and I didn't know on what basis I could have a relationship with God. In Sheffield my ignorance was shown up during a conversation I had with a couple of Christians I met. They asked me if I'd like to study the Bible a bit, to find out more, and although I wasn't really bothered and a bit scared I found myself saying yes. Actually, this turned out to be the beginning of an intentional attempt to walk with God.
Catherine: My mother sent me to Sunday School from a young age and my teacher was also my next door neighbour. Although when I was 6 we moved away and I went to other Sunday schools, I always remembered that teacher. As a teenager I heard and understood that Jesus had died for me and was calling me to follow him, but I thought I would wait until I had seen more of life and done some of the things I wanted to do! Maybe when I get to be 50, I thought! However, God had other plans and when I went away to college, I was challenged again to make a personal commitment. A verse that was really important to me was from 2 Corinthians 6. ‘Behold now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.' I knew I could delay no longer. Not long after I made that initial commitment, I wrote to my old Sunday School teacher and told her about it. I still cherish the letter she wrote in reply.
How did we meet?
Charles: I had a couple of girlfriends (not at the same time!) in my 20's but sadly nothing ever worked out. In my early 30's I became self-employed where energy, time and money were sucked away, so the idea of marriage got pushed aside. I was into my 50's when a friend encouraged me to look again at the idea. After deliberating, then praying, taking advice and subsequently contacting a Christian organisation, I received a letter along with a long list of names. Taking my cue from an ancient king in Israel (see 2 Kings 19:14), I set aside the next evening, got out the list of names and "spread it before the Lord". Catherine was one of those I selected and I wrote her a letter.
When Charles' letter arrived in June 2005, I had been living in Kent and working as a teacher there for many years. I had very much wanted to marry, but unfortunately, despite a shared faith, my previous couple of relationships had never worked out. The Christian organisation we belonged to operated on different levels and I already had a number of penfriends, but in his second letter, Charles wanted to meet up. After much deliberation, prayer and support from a friend, we ended up meeting at Hatfield House in Hertfordshire, which was roughly about half way between Kent and Sheffield, in July. What started out on my side as friendship and companionship, progressed to the point where we became engaged on February 14th 2006. During that period, I was very aware of God leading me onward into what seemed to me to be a scary unknown future. There was a special verse I remember in Isaiah 43:10 about God taking my hand and holding me and also a phrase that I heard in one church service about the Holy Spirit being ‘the midwife of change'. The amazing change in my life took place on September 9th 2006 when we were married, 14 months after our first meeting. (And I had always maintained that long distance relationships and fast moving relationships were not a good idea and rarely worked out!!)
How did we come to be living here?
Charles: For Catherine, marriage meant leaving her old life in Kent behind; house, home, job, friends, church. She came to live in my world in Sheffield where I had been living for 30 years. Within a year I suffered a heart attack, in 2007, and consequently slowed down at work and at church. In 2014, as retirement approached, we began considering the future that was opening out before us. We prayed, sought advice and got others to pray, so that by the end of 2014 we came to believe that God was moving us on to a new location.
My father, who is 99 now, lives in Staffordshire and we spend every second or third weekend caring for him. Consequently, we were looking for somewhere that was no further away from him, as well as being a more rural and central location. It was also very important for us to find a new spiritual home, so we investigated churches as well as villages, because we felt we should be part of a church community in the place where we lived. During one of our forays we went into Cottesmore church and decided to email Marcus, who subsequently invited us round one day, when we were viewing houses in Barrow. We made the decision to move in December 2014, started actively looking in February 2015, and by April had found a house we liked in Barrow. We feel God has led us to this place, at this time, and we are looking forward to seeing what He is going to do next!