(Written by Mary Beeke)
North Wales is very scenic. It has the same pastoral scenes that we saw in the Yorkshire Moors, plus steep and rocky passages through the mountains, many trees, and fast-moving streams tumbling over boulders next to the road. The Aberystwyth Conference had already begun when we arrived Monday evening. We met with friends Gareth and Ceri Edwards, then settled into our dorm room. This is Joel’s fifth time speaking at this conference, and my first. He treasures this conference because the people pray for God’s blessing during the entire preceding year. In a country that has small churches, and not many of them, it is amazing to gather with 1,200 people of all ages. The singing is hearty and inspiring. The whole group meets in the Great Hall for the morning “Bible Reading,” a sermon on the theme—this year it was D.A. Carson on Ephesians. The evening services are evangelistic. Joel took two of the four, “The Only Way to Live and Die” and “Gethsemane’s King-Lamb.” The crowd is a mix of believers and unbelievers. Throughout the day and late into the evening, different age groups meet together as well. Joel spoke at a seminar on the Puritan view of marriage and child-rearing, then to young people about praying like Jesus, and also to a group of people age 45 and older about contemporary issues on which the Puritans can serve as examples. I spoke to a group of ministers’ wives on “Little Things and Little Ones.”
Aberystwyth is a city of 14,000, and the university adds 10,000. It rates high in student satisfaction and safety. It overlooks the Irish Sea and is encircled by cliffs and hills. Our dear friend Geoff Thomas has ministered at Alfred Place Baptist Church for nearly forty-nine years. He is nearly finished preaching through the whole Bible. Joel has been invited for November, 2015 to preach his fiftieth-year commemoration sermon, D.V. Geoff and Iola also recently celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary. We were delighted to be invited to join them and their family and some friends for a luncheon to celebrate the occasion.
You might remember past pastoral letters describing the Hackney Evangelical Reformed Church in London. My dear husband was used by God for the conversion of several young people there. They came out of the Pentecostal church and never looked back, except to bring more of their friends with them. The church is now nearly twice the size it was, and eighty of these beautiful friends were at the conference. It was a joy to be with them, to answer their questions, and to sense their energy and witness their zeal. They have not had an ordained minister for years, but a gifted young man, originally from Nigeria, has been preaching there. He is engaged to a young lady with roots in Zimbabwe.
On Friday we drove to the Lake District in England and stayed in Ambleside, along Lake Windermere, the biggest lake in England. We hiked up the Langdale Valley, climbing along a rocky stream to Stickle Tarn (a small lake nestled in the mountains). It was like climbing uneven stones for about an hour. We came down part of the way through grassy areas that were a little less steep, though soggy and slippery in places, then back to the stone-step areas. The weather was constantly changing, but we always had a breathtaking view. We paused to watch a shepherd and his dog moving a flock of sheep up the mountain. It was fascinating to hear the shepherd whistle and shout to direct the dog to keep circling and corralling the sheep to stay on the path. We couldn’t help but think about the Great Shepherd, his servants (sheepdogs), and us wandering, straying sheep. What an amazing Creator and Savior we have!
On Saturday we toured the Yorkshire Dales National Park. There were many signs of Tour de France recently coming through in its initial stage: banners, spray-painted yellow bikes, and bikers following their route. We stopped in Hawes for a lunch of fish ’n chips; then in Reeth to check in at the Old Temperance Bookshop, run by Pastor David Levell and his wife Elizabeth. There were a number of RHB titles there, including some of my husband’s books. It was a small store but every inch of space was used. Also in Reeth is the Grinton Lodge Youth Hostel in which I stayed with Arlene Southway and Ruthann VanDalen about thirty-three years ago when we biked through the Dales while touring the UK by train and bike. We also stopped to see Aysgarth Falls.
David Woollin was an awesome tour guide. He knows the geography, the culture, and the history, especially church history, including the facts of all the churches in the area. We stayed in Haworth at David’s in-laws, Mick and Gill Lockwood, for the last two nights.
Mick Lockwood is pastor of Hall Green Baptist Church. His calling is to nurture small, dying churches to health. He came here fourteen years ago when there were four people in the congregation. There are now sixty members, with nearly one hundred attending Sunday mornings, a wonderful variety of folks of different ages, nationalities, and backgrounds. He said it is uncommon to have a traditional family walk in. Most often people come from dysfunctional families or have damaged themselves with sin or substance abuse. Joel preached in the morning and David in the evening. Joel was delighted to greet a fellow Puritan-lover, Alex, from California, who was in London for business and is touring the UK for a week.
The church that William Grimshaw served is only a few blocks from the Lockwood home, so we walked there. Grimshaw was one of the greatest preachers during the Great Awakening; God used him for thousands of people. Because his church could not hold the people, the church knocked out some windows, and put up scaffolding, so that he could simultaneously preach to a full church and a thousand or more people standing in the adjacent cemetery. When Whitefield preached there, four thousand people were in the cemetery.
From there, we walked to the Grimshaw homestead. There is a plaque on the side of the home stating that Whitefield, John Wesley, John Newton, and Henry Venn had all stayed in this home when they preached in this village. My husband found it all very moving and nostalgic.
The grand finale of our trip was visiting long-time friend Erroll Hulse. He lost his wife about nine months ago, then had a severe stroke while in South Africa. His left side is paralyzed, but his mind and speech are good. It was beautiful to see Joel and him conversing. Erroll is one of the most optimistic persons we know, though he is missing the felt presence of the Lord right now. He longs for the joy of it and relief from pain. He told Joel that he had to write one thousand pages on what the Puritans said about the subject! Even with a stroke, he directed the conversation and had a number of things he wanted to discuss. I am jealous of his zeal. Joel preached in Leeds Reformed Baptist church in the evening (Erroll Hulse’s former congregation).
Our homecoming trip was happily uneventful—God is good!