Pastor Stephen Holland
I was born in Wales, United Kingdom. Although sent to Sunday school as a young child (something which I hated!) I never once really heard the Gospel message. Strange as it may seem, one can go to a place of worship and yet never hear the message of God's saving grace. Two things I hated on Sundays as a child; one, having to go to the church up the road and attend their rather large Sunday school. And two, being reminded on Sunday evenings that I had school in the morning! I hated going to both schools -Sunday school and 'ordinary' school! I hated school and I hated books. How things change! It needs to be said, although I can count on one hand the number of times I've said this to anyone in a period of more than twenty years, that although sent to Sunday school to learn about God I would, very much to my shame, often rip pages out of my little Gideon's New Testament while blaming God for everything. How God is merciful! I now spend my adulthood no longer tearing pages out but preaching and teaching it to others.
At the age of 16, while working on a building site, I came into contact with my first real 'Jehovah's Witness.' Living in Wales, where it rains a lot, there was plenty of opportunity to get rained off and go into our grubby little hut for a game of cards and drink lots of tea, which none of us ever objected to. It was on one of those rained off days that I was given by a work colleague a rather colourful magazine. It was full of fanciful drawings of people and animals living in a perfect paradise. After my brief glance through he popped the question of what did I think. Whilst only partly interested I did give a rather nodding approval. He then asked if I'd like to know more, to which I gave a hesitated 'yes.' To my horror he then sort of invited himself up to my house for a Bible study. At that time I was too polite to say no you can't come.
We began a weekly Bible study in the living room of my parents’ home, with me and my newly acquired Bible 'guru' in one room and the rest of the household hid away in the kitchen. I immediately became fascinated by all that I was reading and discovering; never really ever questioning anything that was said as it was all backed up by supporting references from what I believed to be the Bible. What I did hate though was having to read out loud before my rather posh and well educated friend; being quite thick I found such rather embarrassing. As a result of such after about 4 or 5 visits I decided to draw things to a close. It must be said though not in the most honest of ways. After him traveling on a bicycle for about 15 miles, and that after a hard day's work, he eventually arrived at my door for our weekly study. Upon hearing the dreaded knock on the door, instead of answering, I hid behind the kitchen door and pretended to be out! I rather sheepishly apologized the next day. To my relief he suggested that it may be best for another JW friend living nearer by could visit me instead. This gave me the escape I'd been hoping for. I asked if it'd be okay if I study these things on my own, to which he responded with a rather blasé 'yes, that's fine, many do that.'
I managed to find work on a building project. After being there for about a week, while having our break the subject of religion came up. For some reason I blurted out, 'you can never really know, can you?' To my surprise, the guy sitting opposite replied, 'yes you can.' He had made a profession of faith some months before. His own church fellowship, being about forty miles to travel each way, necessitated him inviting me to go with him in search of a new church. We set off one rainy Saturday evening in search of a spiritual home. Our first 'port of call' was the local Elim, charismatic church, in the centre of Swansea. There was some sort of youth meeting on, just winding down. We were kindly invited to return the next day -Sunday. Yet were told, 'don't come in the morning, come in the evening -it's more livelier.' Even though not yet saved I went away feeling this is not what I'm looking for. I suggested we give up and head for town and find a pub instead. As we set off it was suggested we cut through a car park, as this would be quicker. Upon doing so we spotted a light on in a church. We decided we'll try there. In I walked on that rainy Saturday night, with wet scruffy hair, earrings, combat jacket and loads of holes in my jeans!
I began to attend this church regularly - Ebenezer Baptist Church, Swansea. This was in 1985. All was very strange to me at first, and I was reluctant to even enter the building unless my friend came with me -we would meet each other at the local police station and go in together. It was while sitting under the preached Word, that I came under a real sense of conviction of sin. As I wondered what was happening, the pastor commented, 'One of the first things the Holy Spirit does in the heart of a sinner is to convict them of their sin'. I realized that is what was happening.
Although I cannot pin point the exact point of my conversion it was sometime in April of 1985. I had said what has come to be known as 'the sinner's prayer' many times leading up to my starting to attend church regularly. This was the prayer often printed on the back of many Gospel tracts which I had been given over the months. I soon noticed a big change had taken place in my heart and life. I continued to attend Ebenezer Baptist, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Leighton H James. I loved the preaching and the Bible studies attended. In 1989 I left Swansea for Edinburgh to study for two years at the Faith Mission Bible College. That's another story that's for another time!
I am now the Pastor of Westhoughton Evangelical Church, since February 2003, in the north west of England. I am also the north of England 'Wycliffe Preacher' for the Protestant Truth Society.