The last Sabbath of 2019 was a unique one for the Great Brickkiln Street and Pendeford churches of Wolverhampton. Not merely because they worshipped together in a nearby hall on 28 December to give thanks to God but because of the nature and content of those services.
Wolverhampton has not been immune from the scourge of youth crime that has swept the nation and indeed the world in these latter days and the ever present incendiary cocktail of youthful enthusiasm, time and chance, and the ever present unseen spiritual warfare for human souls. There have been two church rallies against knife crime in the city in the last two years. One conducted by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the city centre in 2018 and one by the Church of God of Prophecy in the form of a march in 2019. But the Great Enemy of the world has more than one way of trying to destroy the families of humanity.
Chaplain Nigel David preached in the morning with his customary potent delivery, making reference to his personal experience of doing time 'inside' where his own journey on the road to Damascus began. When he completed his term of incarceration, he emerged wielding the most powerful weapon he had ever used − God's Word.
Because of his own journey he gained a unique insight into the redemptive power of the Holy Spirit. He also came to understand the judgmental and condemnatory attitude that we, his church brethren can sometimes take towards those on the low road that leads back to God. He adjured us to be more patient, encouraging and caring towards those on that journey and to refrain from tearing down with character assassination and gossip. Indeed, it is important to remember that we are in the 'Glasshouse' in one way or another.
But before he stood up to present this message to us a mother was called up to the front to bear witness through the hard talk of an interview, about how God had led her and continues to do so through that journey that no parent wants to ever take. Alas it was her lot to walk behind the funeral cavalcade of her own child to lay him to rest till Jesus comes.
Her son was not involved in knife crime and did not hang around the dangerous fringes of society. But, as was stated earlier, Satan has many ways to attempt to destroy life in whatever track of society we find ourselves on.
I met Ethan Mornan-Jones on the morning of Thursday 16 August 2018, coming out of Lidl's. We exchanged a few pleasantries and shook hands. I have on occasion wondered, if only I had talked to him just a little longer or a little shorter that day, might it have changed the outcome. Who knows what the small delays or twists and turns of daily life may save us from or deliver us to in the journey of existence. For one week later, on Wednesday 22 August, as a passenger, he was the only one taken in a fatal car crash at the young age of 23.
The car he was travelling in was travelling in excess of 90 miles an hour in the 30 mile an hour speed restriction of a residential area.
But his mother, Joy Mornan-Vaughan almost felt her heart stop when her name was called to come up out of her seat in the congregation and give her testimony by way of an interview. She relates that by this time her heart was almost thumping out of her chest. Yet, she also speaks of an unimaginable calm settling upon her the moment she stood up and began to walk up to the stage alone. She was about to do what no mother ever wants to have to do, to find God's leading in the worst thing that can happen to a mother.
Yet Joy (who is aptly named, for she exudes an unquenchable positivity and confidence in the very midst of bearing her cross and heartache, that has greatly astonished and inspired others who have heard parts of her story − though her birth name is Nadine it is rarely used) was able to tell of the remarkable way in which God led her by a chance visit (if you call it chance) to a cell phone shop in Wolverhampton city centre. The conversation she had with someone in that shop led, through a small chain of people to the fireman who was at Ethan's side and tried to save him at the very last moment as his life ebbed away.
Joy once spoke to me of some of the last words that her son said to her that assured her some weeks earlier, that reassured her he was in a good place in relation to where he was with God and so in the eternal scheme of things our Father saw fit to allow it at this time. And so that all Satan has achieved in snatching Ethan so cruelly and abruptly from those who love him here is to enable God to snatch him safely forever from Satan. Joy was also able to meet the fireman who tried to save Ethan's life face to face only to discover that he himself had been waiting for over a year to meet the mother of the young man who passed in his arms. It was a most emotional meeting for them and provided a degree of closure for her.
As the narrative panned out one catches a brief glimpse of the wider scheme of things and how God creates openings for others in the midst of sorrows.
Joy relates how one day she was at the cemetery attending to the upkeep of her son's grave, finding, as is normal, others in their own private revere at the graveside of their own loved ones. Before long she found the loquacious disposition she possesses had her engaged in conversation. After the question arose "So is Ethan with Jesus now?", you can only imagine the opportunity this opened up for someone like Joy. Before long she found she was surrounded by a small crowd of listeners eager to hear what the Bible as opposed to popular tradition actually said about the 'State of the Dead' and the believer's hope as manifested in Joy Mornan.
But God had not done with this remarkable Sister yet, for in the very midst of her own grief, in characteristic style she could be seen reaching out to that other family with whom we had to deal on that very special Sabbath day.
This other family also came up to give thanks to church members who had visited and prayed for them during their plight and to thank God overall. For their experience was connected in essence but of a totally different nature.
On 20 September 2019 Gideon, the 18-year-old son of Godfrey and Eunice Olotu, was hit by a car again driven by a youth again travelling in excess of 90 miles an hour in the 30 mile an hour speed restriction of a residential area as he attempted to cross the road.
He was knocked many feet into the air, such that any onlookers felt death was inevitable upon landing, especially as he came down at speed with his full weight on the edge of a free-standing metal road- name sign. To put it plainly he was nearly cut in half and lay disemboweled on the pavement. Visually survival seemed impossible. As the emergency services were called a police cordon was placed around the area with Gideon lying in the centre of it close to death.
Somehow a friend of Godfrey, Gideon's dad who was nearby at the time saw the young man on the ground and immediately made that most difficult of phone calls, but it was so urgent there was no time for emotion and prudent language. "Something terrible has happened to your son − a serious car accident. You need to get here now!"
There are times in life when we just have to drop whatever we are doing and go. Such was this time for Godfrey. Space does not permit to set down here what was going through his mind as he drove alone to the scene. But he somehow managed to arrive while his son was still conscious. But the scene was so awful that attempts were made by police to prevent him getting through the cordon. They quickly realised that a parent should not be prevented at such a time, no matter what. So he was let through and led to his son and communicated with him as he lay on the hard cold pavement.
As Gideon passed out of consciousness Godfrey's resolve as a father eventually gave way and he broke down. Gideon's mother Eunice was contacted as the air ambulance landed and took Gideon away to the emergency rooms at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and thence straight through to theatre.
His pelvis, arm and leg were broken and his abdomen was ruptured and internal organs bruised. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be told by the surgeon that "The chances of your son's survival is slim and cannot be guaranteed." But this is what Godfrey and Eunice had to face and to wait out those 11 hours. There were no reassurances not even the surgeon could give them. All they could do through that time was to wait it out totally in the hands of God.
Their son underwent 11 hours of surgery while his parents and family waited anxiously and word began to spread.
As God guided the hands of the surgeons the attentions of the nurses and physiotherapists and the lifting of Gideon to God in prayer by his local church members and their frequent visits to the hospital, including Joy Mornan-Vaughan, who was facing her own ordeal at the time.
Gideon made gradual and steady progress such that he was able to relate his remarkable testimony of being fully conscious as he flew through the air. He recalled thinking "This is not gonna end good." He was able to think with sudden clarity of his family, his life and God the All-Father. As he flew through the air time seemed to slow right down. The last thing he heard before the darkness descended was his earthly father's voice as God allowed him to arrive at the scene just before he lost consciousness.
It is not clear how Godfrey would have coped had he arrived too late. At the time of this article going to press Gideon had been protected from seeing the videos and photos of his own appalling injuries taken at the scene and posted online by strangers as is the culture today. But in the afternoon of 28 December while dear Brother Hudson was being interviewed in the AY programme at Great Brickkiln Street church about his amazing Moses-like ability to remain fit and hale well into his late 80s, he was as surprised as most others as Gideon suddenly walked into the AY programme unannounced on crutches escorted by his proud family to spontaneous applause and heartfelt 'Amens' from a surprised and delighted congregation at his family church.
Brother Hudson, catching the significance of the moment, gave place and allowed for Godfrey the father to thank the church for their prayers and visits and care (especially the young people but not only the young people) from the time of the incident to that very moment. Gideon himself was then interviewed in depth by Michael Danzie (new Youth leader at the church) about his own testimonial journey. This enabled everyone to catch the perspective firsthand from Gideon the victim and Gideon the victor. It was especially meaningful that the youth of the church were present to witness this and see firsthand the amazing power of God in the life of one of their own generation.
Jon Danzie from Leicester church then stepped up to the plate as the minute man and addressed the church off the cuff in a five-minute inspirational delivery on the power of God.
Finally, Brother Hudson, Pastor Herbert and Sister Steele presented Gideon and his family to God in prayer and gave thanks.
For me and many (Youth especially) it was one of the most profound and remarkable end of year Sabbaths we have experienced at GBK.
We thank God and bless Him and pray that He will bless Chaplin Nigel David's ministry in California and wherever he goes.
One surprise element of the day, that cannot be overlooked, was a much longed for duet, Pastor Herbert and wife Ann-Marie. For the day's meditational, they blended harmoniously in a song that directed us to focus on a time when all sadness and heartache would be over. They sang, 'I've fixed my mind on another time'.
But here we ask, at the beginning of this year 2020 that God will uphold Joy Mornan and Gideon, and their families as they journey through the next 12 months and God will reveal His power and glory in their lives.
Satan may await us in many forms through the weeks and months ahead. But God is mightier and He will reveal His greater power if we allow Him.
May this be the experience of all our churches in the Union moving forward.