To speak of the ‘first meeting of the church’, seems somewhat arrogant, given the 2000+ year old world wide body of Christ; but in a local setting, it was the 12 June 2005 that around half a dozen believers met in the Market House in the centre of Ballynahinch to break bread, pray and gather around the word of God.
A few weeks previous the Lord had spoken to Tim concerning starting the work. Although not a considerable distance from home, the town of Ballynahinch was never a feature in Tim’s mind. But the Spirit of God began to impress the town in his heart, although he shared it with no one. Consequently, on separate instances two individual believers, unbeknown to each other, at different times gave witness to the birth of the work, and confirmed accurately what God had already impressed on the heart. It certainly seemed a vulnerable call to follow, given the prospect that helping further a-field in a large ‘well-established’ work of God was open, with a salary to support a growing family. Ballynahinch had already something in the region of 10 churches. And when Tim finally shared his intentions of how God was leading, it wasn’t exactly met with great enthusiasm. But those who truly walk with Him know, it is the great cloud of ‘unseen’ witnesses that urge on the believer in the Master’s call.
It was without doubt therefore in his mind, that the Lord was calling him to ‘start’ a work of God in Ballynahinch. How was that to be done? We prayed the Lord would give us a building to borrow for meetings. Preferably a hall that wouldn’t mean folks had to work on a Sunday to provide the facility. The Market House in the centre of the town, rented us an upstairs room and gave us the keys to open up weekly ourselves. The rent was reasonable and the room fine. We had been given a financial gift, enough to purchase a small PA system, so Sunday morning services were indoors, and the evening services were open-air meetings on the square. Wednesday evenings Bible studys were also held there. With just a small band of believers, everyone played a part in setting up, and labouring in whatever was needed. Door to door work began, giving out gospel tracts and inviting folks along. Prayer was of course, to be, and remains, the real ‘work’. As the hall was not available to us on other nights, we met in a precious believer’s barn (Sister Leila Malcomson) outside Dromore on many evenings to seek the Lord. She would faithfully have the barn prepared, heated on cold winter evenings and a supper spread for all for fellowship after prayer. Most of the small group of believers who met, would testify of years previous being impregnated by the Spirit of the Lord with a desire for an outpouring of the Holy Ghost. A shared burden to see a genuine revival from Heaven was the distinct focus of prayer. That God would pour out of Himself, would stir us deeply, would set us ablaze with the fire of His love to reach people in darkness, desperately in need of the Saviour. Isaiah 58 v 12 was to be a theme the Lord gave us for the work.
“And they that shall be of thee, shall build the old waste places; thou shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in.”
The work had begun, and although very few visitors ever came into the meetings, there was a great encouragement among the small group of believers knowing God was at work. Much slander was spread and a certain opposition to the work was undoubted, but still the Lord’s call was assured. Tim had come across an old book by Kenneth Weir called “Greater Things than These” which gave over 30 individual testimonies of individuals who lived in the town over a period of 50 years. Intrigued that an actual book had been written about such a small town, he flicked open a chapter one morning and read a story of a girl called Maggie Smith. As he read it, such a sense of the beautiful ways of God were displayed through the story of a young girl who gave her life to Christ at a Nicholson campaign in the town when over 500 souls came to Christ in one weekend. Her timidity, however, held her back from any outreach, until a time when the Spirit of the Lord spoke to her from John 12 v 24,
“Except a corn of wheat fall to the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
The Lord gave her the boldness of the Holy Ghost to stand with others on the town square and proclaim Him. He began to use her in many of the mission halls around the county and many came to Christ and were challenged through her ministry. But foreign missions burned within her heart and she believed the Lord was calling her to leave her home and go to India as a missionary. Those around her tried to discourage her, arguing how the Lord was evidently using her at home and urged her to stay. When a ticket to India finally came through, she left home, family and friends and made the long boat trip to India to serve her precious Saviour there. She was humble in all the reports she sent home by letter and it was only after her early death from smallpox that others wrote back highlighting how the Lord had used her mightily among those she lived and served.
Something in the testimony was so impressing that this was the work the Lord wanted to do. Not a religion of superstar Christianity, but ‘nobodys’, filled with the Holt Spirit, fully given over to the Lord as living sacrifices for His purposes. Stirring in the hearts of the young an appetite for missions; calling on behalf of the Lord to see who will go for Him? Tim would often share her story as he preached, believing this life was in some ways, a template, an example, of what God wanted to do through the work. Ordinary people, who understood the necessity to die to themselves, in order to be filled with God, and see a harvest for Him.
Meanwhile, Tim and his family had been looking for a home in or around the town for some time but nothing seemed to come up that would suit. After a whole year of asking the Lord, a small farmhouse a short way outside the town became available for rent. There were some old barns outside and the landlord gave permission for one of them to be converted, which appeared to be perfect for a study and a prayer hall where the church could meet for midweek prayer. There was, however, much to do to get the house sorted, and it seemed a lot of work to renovate, albeit simply, the outdoor barn also. While ironing one day before the move, his wife made a ‘noted thought’ to suggest to Tim to leave the barn renovation, as it seemed like much work, and simply make do with getting the new house sorted. As sure as the thought came, she testifies to the rebuke of the Spirit of God saying, ‘you’ll do nothing of the sort, I’m going to speak to him out there!’
It all seemed very strange but she shared what had happened with Tim anyhow and they continued with the plans. All the folks worked hard and helped renovate and move. On the moving day, the family were doing their last journey to return the keys of the old house when they met a believer, Sammy Somerville, on his tractor coming down the lane. After greeting one another he began to share some history, ‘You know the wee house you’re moving into wasn’t the original house,’ he said, ‘the barn you’ve converted to use as your prayer hall, that was the original. A missionary lady called Maggie Smith lived there!’
Now we all know that the Lord has little interest in bricks and mortar, but it seemed like the Lord was giving just a little pointer, a token for good, an encouragement that He was in it all.
In the summer months a tent was erected for a week at a time in local housing estates to have children’s meetings and evening gospel meetings. It was shortly before one of the planned weekly tent missions that a member of the church, Dawn Joy Lovell, 22, was suddenly diagnosed with an inoperable aggressive tumour. After declining treatment until the mission was completed, she testified at an evening meeting, with many unsaved friends listening, opening with Wesley’s words,
“I speak as a dying man to dying men.”
A few weeks later Dawn Joy went home to be with her Lord. The life and testimony she had among people in the town though remained. A life that was lived for the glory of God, serving humbly, walking closely to the Saviour, prepared to meet Him. Though so broken at the loss, the Lord gave a precious blessing to the family and church fellowship as she was mourned. Many months and years now of labour had passed, with very little outward results, but still a sure conviction that God Himself had called.
We needed a hall to have children’s meetings and various doors had been slammed closed. We were again praying for the Lord to provide facilities. An old third Presbyterian hall was lying derelict in the town. It had been purchased by a property-developer but the crash in the economy meant he wouldn’t be building for some time. He agreed to rent it to us in the interim for a reasonable price. The excitement spread again as folks got to work in another ‘restoration’. The Lord provided the few thousand pounds necessary to get the building ready for meetings. The opening of the building took place in December 2007, when a precious servant of God, B H Clendennen, who through his ministry had already been used of God to stir many of us in personal revival, came and preached the opening.
The work of the church continued, with faithful workers in street outreach, children’s ministry, youth work etc. Prayer and fasting was still to be the engine the church was powered by. The Lord continued to give much help and provide everything that was needed. It was evident now that we needed a minibus, particularly for the children’s work to offer pick-ups and drop offs to the local estates. We began to pray and leave it before the Lord. It wasn’t long after that we received a telephone call from Dawn Joy’s parents, Andy and Ruth in Scotland, that Dawn Joy had accumulated savings of £1000 when she died, and after praying, they wanted it to go towards a minibus for the children’s work. It was put into the church account and prayer continued. A girl in the church worked for an organisation that were selling a bus but told us they were looking around £6000, we didn’t have the other £5000. We continued asking the Lord to show himself. The girl came back and told the church the bus was still available and they had asked how much we had to offer. It was a rather humble amount considering what they were asking. Unfortunately it seemed to fall way below what they required. We continued to call on God. “And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us:” 1 John 5 v 14
A short time later the organisation called the girl in and again requested how much funds were now available. The answer was the same,- £1000. They told her to contact the church and come and pick up the bus. It was ours for the price of Dawn-Joy’s savings; £1000! Praise the Lord! Transport provided.
The church began to grow and the ministry increased. The facilities, though large as a main hall, had little or no places for babies and younger children. The decay and damp of the building, with its dry rot spreading though, never hindered the beautiful singing and praise that arose to the Lord in the meetings. The hunger in the hearts of God’s people for the preaching of the word of God was evident among the gatherers. The anointing of the Holy Ghost and the presence of God was manifest many times, dealing and ministering to lives, (unaffected by the large mushrooms that were quickly growing inside, along the walls of the building!)
We were feeling the need for different facilities. But the fear of running ahead of the Lord was present, knowing the deceitfulness of our own flesh often decides we have a ‘need’, when the Lord doesn’t! So we laid it before the Lord again, and asked for His direction and intervention. The answer came with a phone call from the landlord’s agent in late December 2013 giving us the news that they had gained their permission to build and the building we were in was to be demolished. (That is if it didn’t collapse first!) We were to be out of the building by Easter. We were actually delighted, as we knew it to be the direction from the Lord to begin to search for somewhere.
And the search began. There were very few if any options within the town, and we looked at fields, hills and valleys around, discussing the possibilities of building or whatever it took. The fact that we didn’t have a penny didn’t really factor in the search, the first hurdle to pray over was finding somewhere. The deadline for our move was very close and we still had no options opened to us, but the Lord graciously hindered the developers and they extended our lease month by month. After many months, the Lord brought to our attention a very old building on Main Street, just a stones throw from where we currently were. It had been derelict for many years, and was so unsightly, it was one of those places you walked passed daily and didn’t even notice! As Tim looked, he knew again the Lord was leading, and that rather than some fresh new building on the suburbs of the town, this would be perfect to actually be among the people to reach them. The initial viewing by the agent showed there was a shop front, a number of store rooms at the rear, and large Victorian house upstairs and an outdoor area which could not be accessed given the vines and trees that had become something of a jungle in their un-kept years. Immediately, the Lord gave Tim the vision for what was possible. The many rooms with stud walls at the rear could be knocked into one large sanctuary to seat approximately 200 people. The house could be renovated at the side as a kitchen and office and the house upstairs kept for missionaries and guests passing through. The garages underneath could be changed into a crèche area and multi purpose rooms. The building had been offered at the height of the market to a local shopkeeper for somewhere in the region of £800,000. When the property crash occurred, it dropped to approx £300,000. The asking price was currently in the region of £135,000. We believed it as the will of God to offer them £50,000. And so we did, and as one Godly man encouraged Tim that day in making the deal, “tell them it’ll be cash!” And so he did!
The sellers returned, slightly offended by the offer and asked for it to be ‘up-ed’. There was to be no moving on our part if God had spoken. And so we politely declined. A number of days later they returned and said they would accept the offer if their fees were all paid for them, somewhere possibly around £8,000 to £10,000. Again, we held to what we believed God had said, it was £50,000 only.
It was late on a sunny day in May 2014 that we got the call that the seller had agreed to sell at our price. We were over the moon. We of course had never mentioned to the seller that we didn’t actually have any money at all. Going to the bank was never an option. If God was in this, He would show Himself to provide, if He wasn’t, then we didn’t want to be either. The church had one mind and heart in seeking God for the money. The truth was believed that if we brought what little we had, God would then multiply it as the boy’s lunch. The paperwork for the sellers took some time, but by the summer when they called and asked us to come and sign, the Lord had provided every penny of the £50,000. Such joy, at seeing the Lord’s hand at work.
Now came the next battle. Unawares to us, there needed to be an application for change of use for the building. As the town mostly fell under a ‘prime retail zone’, there needed to be government planning approval to use the building as a church. The plans were submitted and refused. An appeal was made; local councillors made the case that the building had been an ‘eye-sore’ for years in the town and at least was going to have a better appearance! The whole issue that the space had to be retained for retail use was somewhat strange, give the 16 or 17 empty units around the town that were also lying empty with no sign of any retailers queuing up to move in! The town was far from flourishing in business. However, the second appeal was also refused. Meeting after meeting with councillors and the authorities were bringing little help. The lady taking charge over the case was resolute; there would be no church on Main Street. The procedure meant there was only one more meeting we could ask for and that had to be through our local MP. By this time, we were weary chasing politicians and the likes and just wanted to get on with the work, the bureaucracy seemed crippling, and their procedures unclear. It was however, a day or so before that final meeting with the planning office that we learned that after much prayer, the lady in charge, so opposed to our case was going off that week on maternity leave and another gentleman would take her place. The meeting passed and permission was granted! Praise the Lord!
To many it was a bit overwhelming just how much work needed to be done to make the building habitable. The architect who came initially to help us make plans, estimated it would take between £300,000-£400,000 and probably take 3 years for the work. We had neither the money nor the time. We continued to seek God. Over the months the Lord provided as the work went forward. On a number of occasions Tim would leave in the morning to work on the building knowing he had meetings that day with workmen asking for payment that the church did not yet have. One such occasion was a plumber who had arranged to call the next day and collect £6,000 that he was owed for work done. The church did not have it. As he sent a message to say he was on his way, it looked as though things were closing in and failing. But it was then that another message came through from the church administrator that £10,000 had just been transferred into the church account! Daily, God’s people were calling on Him for provision, believing His word that He cannot deny Himself. God is faithful!
It was many months of difficult work, unbelievable sacrifice of God’s people and a pouring out of great provision from the Lord that saw the building beautifully renovated and ready for moving in. All along, the Lord had hindered the developer’s plans meaning we continued to have our meetings in the old hall while daily working on the new. As a small group of men worked daily on the building, God gave opportunities with many passers by to speak to them of Christ. A small bench was placed on the pavement by the council, right outside the building and many folk there heard the message of the gospel as they stopped during a shopping trip, or to watch the work done. After remarkable effort from God’s people, and a constant testimony to the goodness and carefulness of God’s provision, the building was opened on 9th January 2016. Costs close to £120,000 were brought in under the Lord’s blessings to complete the work after the purchase. No monies were borrowed, no banks were involved. God spoke, then God performed that which seemed good unto Him. Blessed be the name of our God.
It is still to be seen and experienced what the Lord wants to do in and through the work at Ballynahinch. Only our unbelief will prevent God from moving.
“O that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence.” Isaiah 64 v 1