With a background of Anglican baby sprinkling, parochial school education, choir boy, "decision for Christ" in the early 60's, B.G.E.A., being baptized to be "a new man" at the age of 15, I was no match for the old man and the calling of the world, and sank in the quagmire of what the world had to offer. Even my Mum advised me that "the world was my oyster"! I became a rough, uncut teenager, and thankfully, in my case, I joined the British Army when I was 17 1/2. Now my old man was subject to rules and regulations. Nevertheless, I still got in trouble. In Malta I met a girl in the Women's Royal Navy, to whom I got married in 1969 - and to whom I am still married - and that in it helped me to mature out.
Eventually I ended up in Naples, Italy. One evening, at the invitation of the Officer's Mess, all the Senior Non-Commissioned Officers were invited to dinner. First the good Old Italian wines, then just "a touch" of beer, and the finale was Cognac by the glassful!
When my wife recounted the previous evening's disgraceful events, I wanted to reduce in size like a creep and hide in the cracks in the floor. I wandered down a lane and cried out from the depths of my heart (actually the first time I knew a heart had depth) and complained bitterly against this lifestyle. I figured I wasn't that bad, but not that good either. This wasn't a cry particularly to God, but now I know that He had heard, and He acted. Two weeks later my wife brought home a magazine called the "Plain Truth".
These magazines captured my interest but particularly when it wrote of Jesus Christ. I even wanted to become a minister for the Plain Truth Organization. I even kept the Friday-Saturday Sabbath! I had to, I would be killed if I didn't! One thing that did happen was that the magazines got me to read the Bible. We only had one Bible at the time: it was a small Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Commemoration Bible given to my wife from her Grandparents back in 1953. It was a King James Bible! Whilst reading this Bible I discovered the errors of the Plain Truth organization.
Not only that, but the Bible informed me that the Holy Spirit enters and dwells in those who believe and receive Jesus Christ. Well it happened. I was so excited! My American Christian friend wondered what on earth to do when it was forcibly and intensely stated to him, "Do you know the Holy Spirit comes into you when you believe?!"
No one told me (the Holy Spirit did) to go to church except the Scripture, "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves as the manner of some is." I instantly retorted to my wife that we were not obeying the Scriptures, and we prayed. Where are any English-speaking churches in Italy? Prayer was answered when a young USAF man visited us. We asked him if he knew of any English speaking churches. It "just so happened" that he knew all of them in that area.
No one told me (the Holy Spirit did) to read the whole Bible through but I had an intense desire to do so and did so. No one told me( the Holy Spirit did) to witness or leave tracts around, but that seemed to be the right thing to do.
I picked up a book called "Rees Howells, Intercessor", and discovered a Bible College in Wales, U.K. My wife and I were accepted, and we spent two years there when I got out of the Army. (Our recommendation came from an American Pastor). To me those were wonderful and intense days. There are times when God's presence is evidenced more than others. That period of time for me was more of God's presence being evidenced.
Anyway, I'm not finished in Italy yet. I definitely was "born again saved", unlike any previous religious experience. It was then 1974. It is now 2000, and I am still saved with absolutely no desire to enter back into what the world has to offer. When God saves, He saves! Anything else can be disregarded.
When I was first saved I still drank! No, I did not get drunk, but "a little tipsy" as they say in England. To my shame, at one time, I was teaching the Bible with my Bible in one hand and a glass of something or other, alcoholic in the other hand! Clearly, something had to be done. A young evangelist preached against drinking one Sunday evening, and I'm afraid I took him to task.
We left each other still smiling, however. The following Sunday morning at another church, the Pastor preached on ... guess what? The next Sunday morning service again, at the previous Church, the Pastor preached on ... guess what?!! Well, during his sermon I responded by bowing my head to the Lord and saying that it looked like He did not want me to drink any more, therefore I vowed not to. With the help of God I have kept that vow -- well almost! You see one Sunday I went to a Communion Service in a local Anglican Church in England. I was used to having just grape juice when we celebrated the Lord's Supper in other churches, but unfortunately I discovered that what they served was the "real McCoy"!! I will never take the Lord's Supper in ANY church or fellowship unless I know that a non-alcoholic juice is used. I have a vow to keep!
Whilst in Italy the Lord graciously looked out for me, led me, directed me and protected me. What of the Plain Truth magazines, etc.? I was building a brick fireplace in our rented villa at the time, and it was coming near to completion. It seems the Lord began to deal with me in the matter of the magazines. It was simply impressed upon me (for want of a better description) that I had a choice to make: the magazines, which stacked a couple of feet high, or that little blue Bible! My first fire in the new fireplace saw the elimination of those magazines.
Whilst still young in the faith I encountered a J.W., Italian type! Boy, he knew the Word academically! Anyway, we debated and discussed for 12 hours (on one 24hr shift), and he won the first round. I even went to a Kingdom Hall. My knowledge of the Word was limited and weak. This J.W. was professional and very knowledgeable. I had to leave the military before I could be baptized, he said. I really wanted to be baptized. Well, during my three days off before my next 24-hour shift the Lord dealt with me, and was gracious to redirect my thoughts to get me back on track. With a great sense of purpose I went back to work, saw the J.W., and simply stated, "Leave me alone, I'm not interested!" He did.
It comes in threes, so they say. Well I had: 1) Armstrongism, 2) The J.W.'s, and now came number 3): my Mother!
Shortly after my wife and I were baptized, I felt I had to write three letters, specifically to: 1) my Mum and Dad, 2) my wife's Mum and Dad, and 3) A Great Aunt and Uncle.
I was really going now as a Christian; reading my Bible, learning to pray, going to Church and having fellowship, Bible Studies, etc. Then came a letter from my Mum. She blamed all my misfortunes and lack of desire for worldly things on my wife. How could the only other woman whom I greatly loved and looked up to say such things? It was a deeply harrowing experience. My desire for God's Word was stopped; I could not pray, and I was "Les Miserables."
After three days of this nonsense I finally got down on my knees and prayed. The answer in my heart was that I had known my mother all my life; God, I had known only 6 months. I had to make a choice of whom I was to follow. Stated like that, for me there was no choice. I followed my Lord. In Scripture there is a misunderstood section where Jesus says, (in paraphrase), Unless you hate your loved ones you cannot be my disciple. Now I know what God means. I have never hated my mother, nor ever shall, but that turning-point of my life was to increase my love for her. It made me pray for her and witness to her for her eternal life in Christ. The act of preferring God, to my mother was an act of hating my mother in this case. God gave me in return, for preferring Him, a far deeper love for her.
I am now a small-time Pastor here in Fort Bragg in Northern California, visiting prisoners, visiting the elderly, and preaching and teaching God's Word to whoever wants to listen and getting involved in missions. God is real, and I am greatly desirous to be with Him, His Son, the Holy Spirit, and all the angels in Heaven.
Please Lord, help me continually fight against the old man, the world, the principalities, in your precious Son's name, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Ex Sgt (E5 or E6) Thomas Marshall