by Briand & Hélène Tatford
God does things in His way and in His time. Over the years, I have learned that communicating the gospel means constantly allowing the Holy Spirit to remodel me. Little by little, I came to realise that building the Church was much bigger than I had thought. We are not called to just increase the number of Christians but to make disciples of all men (Mt. 28:19).
As a young man, I was much blessed and helped by Dr Francis Shaeffer, a man with God’s message for those times. I learned from Shaeffer that every single individual has immense personal value before God his Maker. Listening to Shaeffer helped me to build bridges over the intellectual difficulties that coloured the negativism of nonbelievers. I had thought my priority was building churches but Jesus said, ‘I will build My Church’ (Mt. 16:18). If Jesus tells us to make disciples of all men, then our ministry must be to all those whom He places on our path.
Doors often opened for me through my interest in urbanism and having a brother-in-law who was well known in the same field with professional connections in many French-speaking African and European governments. Every time I went to one particular country in West Africa, the Minister of Justice would invite me to join him in his office. Once inside, he would lock the door and say, ‘Now we can talk about our faith and pray without being disturbed.’
Broken Window, Open Doors
While we were launching the first church in Eau Vive, George Burton served the Lord in a difficult area of East London. Gangs would invade his home, break the windows and leave a mess of books on the floor. Among the debris he often found Bibles with torn pages, but open and inviting to be read.
We had a similar occasion in l’Eau Vive Lille, France. A gang had been in the coffee bar asking questions but not getting the answers they were looking for. They asked where Hélène was. When they learnt that she was in our flat on the third floor, they all shimmied up the water pipes and broke open our window to find her already in bed. Fifteen minutes later I found them all sitting on our bed asking Hélène questions about faith! Burton’s book is entitled, People Matter More Than Things and so they do!
More important than establishing ‘our kind’ of church operating in ‘our way’ is to realise that we need to have open doors and be available to all those who come in. It was in this way that we saw several churches begin from scratch, in the style of a coffee bar. We tried to make all outsiders feel at home and therefore more ready to listen to what we had to share with them. Often we don’t realise how foreign the culture of our evangelical services is to the thinking and customs of the ‘strangers from outside’.
In His Word
Among those men who had a great influence on my service in living the good news was George Clark. He enlisted my service to drive his car to a military camp where he was going to distribute copies of the New Testament. On the 80-mile journey, he pressed me on how much of the Bible I knew by heart if I wanted to share it with my new friends. ‘How can a young man keep his way pure?…I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You’ (Ps 119:9,11). From then on, I was richly blessed in following the Navigator scheme of learning key Scriptures and communicating with those who were becoming my friends. We shared these living Scriptures with people who attended all our sailing or skiing camps, and many became pivotal in training others.
…we need to have open doors and be available to all those who come in.
Miracle on the Autoroute
In the early days of the Church, the acts of the Apostles began a revolution. The character of their relationships changed and they prayed expecting miraculous answers. We experienced something like this when Hélène spoke to me about a young woman who was in the ‘way of salvation’. She said that the Lord had laid it on her heart that our friend would shortly ring the bell of our apartment and ask us to help her urgently. I didn’t take this seriously but hardly ten minutes later someone was at the door. It was our neighbour, weeping. Through her tears, she told us that her daughter and her friend had been badly injured in a car accident. Photos sent to her by the police showed the car crushed between a huge lorry and the wall on the A8 Autoroute between Nice and Genova. Sheets of metal were piled on top of one another and they were under there somewhere. It seemed unlikely that the two travellers would survive. She was waiting for further news and beseeched us to pray. I poured out all to our heavenly Father. We prayed for the Lord to give His comfort and our friend returned to her home. The following morning she came over early and asked, ‘Have you seen the news?’ The headlines of the daily paper and on the morning news were ‘Miracle on the A8 Autoroute!’ Two young people who had been diagnosed at the hospital as ‘without hope’ were now fully recovered! The conclusion of all the journalists was that a miracle had taken place. Our neighbour is drawing closer and closer to the Saviour. Pray for her and her family.
Share the Good News
We met our dentist through our neighbour whose daughter miraculously survived the accident. He discovered the Lord on his own and on my first visit said, ‘Let’s talk of Jesus first and teeth afterwards.’ He told me of his joy in knowing Jesus Christ. Many people have never heard the gospel, yet there are open doors among our neighbours. In January 2020, I spent time praying with a gracious elderly lady in the entry hall of our block of flats. She left seemingly happy and at peace with God. In the hours that followed, we learned that she’d had a heart attack and passed away almost immediately after arriving in her flat.
Hélène, despite suffering with frequent tiredness as a result of Parkinson’s disease, almost at every waking moment shares the good news with someone she has just met. Whether it’s a chance encounter in the hallway, Hélène’s physiotherapist asking her the meaning of a Bible reference or conversations with our dentist, it is in these spontaneous contacts with those who have little likelihood of otherwise hearing the gospel that we see the Holy Spirit working. The Lord gives us opportunities to share the reason for our hope. As the Lord gives me His love for people, they in turn become close friends and share with others. May we be faithful to take every opportunity with those whom the Lord puts on our path.