COMING HOME TO WALES MAY 1964
I spent three years of my life in America, but the day after my graduation I sailed home. Many overseas students stay in the States, but some are called to bid it farewell. Just as I had done, Austin Walker and Keith Underhill both left America immediately their courses at Westminster Seminary were over, and they settled to long useful lives of service in Sussex and in Kenya respectively.
I came home for lots of reasons. Love for Mam and Dad. Love for Iola whom I married six weeks later. I was and am perhaps constitutionally conservative. I loved the land in which I had spent the formative first 23 years of my life, the Christians who had touched my life for good, the preachers whose ministry had shown me what was true preaching. There was little of that in Pennsylvania in those days.
Wales is a nation which you can know well in a lifetime. You can visit every town, climb every hill over a thousand feet, walk the full length of the border on the coastal path and the Dyke. The country is simply beautiful, and you bless God for the privilege of living here.
A school friend of mine once flew from Cardiff to Dublin. As he crossed Wales, the plane went over the farm where his parents were on holiday. He looked down and could pick them out in the field, yet at the same time he could look south and see the Gower, while northwards there was Snowdonia and Anglesey. That is Wales, a nation where you can see the individuals you love and yet also put them in the perspective of an entire nation.
You can know roughly the state of the gospel throughout the Principality: the Bible belt from Haverfordwest to Caerwent, then the Bible button, Cardiff, the religious consumer’s dream. The valleys have their materialism and access to bigger churches elsewhere, and so congregations are vulnerable to disputes. The empty countryside in the middle of Wales, where few preachers will stay for long, has small elderly congregations; they are shrinking works. What needs exist in the Welsh heartland, and how can they be met? You quickly learn of the encouragements, the explosion of activities in the summer months, on beautiful beaches, in camps and conferences. New faces are inquiring about Christianity. What a change for much good has taken place in North Wales in the last fifty years. Yet also how little we know of the kingdom of God.
Yet I know that next year, as every year, I will make fresh discoveries of awakening ministries of men I did not know, and I will meet growing Christians. That has been my journey over the last fifty years. One outpouring on one Welsh congregation, and Brazil and Finland would know tomorrow. Planeloads of people would be visiting the church inside a month. But we do not see that today. It has not been God’s way. We see thousands of anonymous followers of Christ, instructing their children in the Scriptures, worshiping in Bible-believing congregations, reading Christian magazines, attending conferences and camps, visiting Christian websites, praying for one another, grieving over the self-destruction of educational institutions, the drug culture, the collapse of marriage, the irrelevance of so many pulpits, and yet finding assurance that over Wales the Lord Jesus Christ is reigning and building his church.
And one day they will see a new Wales where the land they love, from its mountains to its blades of grass and drops of rain, will be replete with the righteousness of Christ. That hope energises us to work today, always abounding in kingdom activities. This is never in vain in the Lord.
GEOFF THOMAS; ABERYSTWYTH