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Friday, 8 July 2011

How the Salvation Army Returned to Whitby by Major P. Charlesworth

Whilst in Notting Hill/London, Major Pat Charlesworth and Major Norma Richardson offered their services to God and The Salvation Army to pioneer the work in a place where there used to be a Corps.

The year 1991 dawned with the earnest prayer that God would direct them and clearly show them what He wanted them to do, and then equip them for the task. In the Autumn of the same year God spoke to them through three vivid dreams which Norma had.

In the first dream, Pat decided that we must go and sit in a certain field where there was one sheep. Deciding to move a little closer to the middle we were joined by another sheep. After a while we walked into the middle of the field and were surrounded by all sorts of different animals. We then fell asleep, finding when we awoke that all the animals had turned into people singing and praising God. We went with the people into a flat roofed but but it wasn't big enough to hold everyone. We walked past some water, a harbour wall, and- then walked half-way up some steps which had something at the top, we did not know what. We looked down' and saw a building which stood out amongst the houses. "That's the place" Pat said, pointing-to it. We went back down the steps and walked through the cobbled streets until we came to the derelict building. We gained the owner's permission to use it and, cleaning it up, found an old Army drum, a cornet and a trombone in a cupboard under a platform. We then realized that this building must have been used by the Army in the past.

After we had opened the hall as an Army Centre, the first person to enter it was an elderly woman in uniform. She thanked God for answering her prayers and gave us cartridges covering the past thirty years! Another woman came in, also saying that she had been praying that the Army would recommence work in the town and asked how it had happened. We told her that it was long story, and asked her if she knew where we were.

At this point Norma woke up. She shared the dream with Pat, saying she thought the place was Whitby, but she had only been there once. Pat had been to the town on several occasions, however, and from her description, she indeed recognized it as Whitby.

Wanting to know about the Army's link with the town, they contacted the Army's Heritage Centre. In reply they were sent a programme of Whitby's Corps anniversary, 1932, in which it stated that meetings used to be held in the old town hall, and whilst the services were held upstairs, animals were being sold underneath!

They received information from the Tourist Board at Whitby, including a map of the area and a list of Churches. They marked out the list of Churches on the map and realized two housing estates were without a Christian expression and that one of these could be seen from the 199 steps. This area included Meadowfields.

As if to confirm these findings, Norma had a second dream about Whitby a few weeks later, on 20th September 1991. The location was the same, but this time more detailed: After parking the car Norma arid Pat walked through the narrow, cobbled streets. At one point we were restricted by a fence across the road, but we easily stepped over it. We then negotiated two more, progressively getting higher fences. But a fourth fence was so high that it was impossible for us to climb over. There was a pile of house bricks nearby and, using the bricks as steps, we managed to get over the fence. We walked and there were no more obstacles. When we decided to return home the fences had gone. Norma woke with the shock!

During their private devotions they received further confirmation from the Lord that all they had been experiencing, though puzzling, was within His plan for them. They were constantly assured of God's presence and purpose through such Scripture verses as: "There is still a vision for the appointed time, it will testify to the destined hour and will not prove false. Though it delays, wait for it, for it will surely come before too long." (Habbakuk 2:3 REB) and "Take heart...Begin the work, for I am with you, says the Lord of Hosts." (Haggai 2:4 REB}; as well as other verses of encouragement from Exodus and Deuteronomy.

Norma had a third vision on 7th October: We were back on the steps overlooking the houses and we had with us all the information we had acquired about Whitby, including the maps. Pat felt we should turn to the Bible to Isaiah 58: 11 -12, even though she did not know what this was.

Norma woke up and shared the dream with Pat and together they read from Isaiah: "The Lord will be your Guide continually and satisfy your needs in the bare desert; He will give you strength of limb; you will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Buildings long in ruins will be restored by your own kindred and you will build on ancient foundations; you will be called the rebuilder of broken walls, the restorer of houses in ruins." (REB)

They attended officers' councils at Swanwick in October and as they were half-way to Whitby they decided to visit 'The Promised Land!' Knowing the visions to be real and prompted by the Holy Spirit, they asked God to give them direct confirmation of the direction their lives were to take from at least one person. In fact, they were inundated with confirmations as they prayer-walked around the district. .... "Don't tell me the Army is at last coming to this God-forsaken place." "I used to go to the Army, until I moved here." "We need the work peculiar to the Army." Others assured them "we'll pray for you as you present this to the Army for consideration." These prayers were answered as, after sending details of all these confirmations to THQ, the Army Leaders listened to them and accepted God's directions.

So at last in May 1992 they were appointed to Whitby. They even took the original Whitby Corps Flag - another sign of God's amazing forward planning. A Cadet working with them at Notting Hill told her father about Norma's visions and he just happened to have the flag in his possession.' He had acquired it some 20 years ago.

They started with open-air meetings on the East-side of Whitby, after prayer-walking the estate, and it was so encouraging to see the interest roused by these. Leaflets were given out by a group of vocational fellowship members from the Division and 50 children came to the first 'FUN HOUR' Many of the parents sat around the fringe watching and listening to the activities. Encouraged by this, they planned open-air Sunday Schools, wondering what the response would be. Imagine the thrill when 38 children attended.

However, not all was plain sailing and as Norma's third vision had warned, there were obstacles to overcome. Not least of these was the need for premises in which to hold meetings. Driving along the Scarborough/Whitby road through torrential rain one Sunday morning in early September to hold open-air meetings seemed like blind faith, but God did not let them down and within two miles of Whitby the rain had stopped.

The other pressing problem was the fact that the living quarters was in Scarborough 21 miles away. To really get to grips with the work in Whitby, it was imperative that accommodation was found in town. Back on 12th June God had given the officers a promise that on the 24th September He would bless them in full on that day (Haggai 2: 18 - 19) and no longer would they be at half measure. On that very day they received a letter from Scarborough Council telling them they could use the Community Centre in St. Peter's Court on Sundays and Thursdays free of charge! Glory to God for His specific timing.

Progress was also being made on scaling what the officers had come to think of as the fourth barrier in Norma's dream - a quarters in Whitby. After drawing a blank on trying to obtain rented accommodation, the Army allocated money for the purchase of a house on the estate where the community centre was. Contracts were at last signed and the house has been named 'Ebenezer' (Hitherto hath the Lord helped us). Further confirmation of God's hand in all that had happened came when the keys were received a year to the day that the Army Leaders had been presented with the vision for Whitby.

Work is now being established within the Centre with Sunday Service, Sunday School, Bible Study, Lunch Club, Home League, Junior Soldiers Classes, Timbrels and Mime, Savings Club and a Good News Van, and the Army Periodicals are sold regularly in town. 10 Adherents have been enrolled also 2 Senior Soldiers and 5 Junior Soldiers. After 12 years, at last a 15 year lease has been signed by the Council for the Centre and the Army has carried out extensive improvements, making the building disabled friendly and a purpose built kitchen. We believe God is ready to show us new and challenging work which he wants us to engage in and we wait for His direction and man power. Give to Jesus glory. He is a great God who can do far more than we ever think or dare to imagine.

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