Sometimes life stinks

Brokenhearted when his wife died, leaving him as a single dad of four young children, Chris Drury pleaded to God for help. And God, it seemed, opened up a new world to him. Clive Price reports
 
As one world collapsed, another opened up. Chris Drury found himself on the frontline of community action – a path that took him all the way from Lancashire to Downing Street.
 
Just after losing his wife and childhood sweetheart Linda to cancer, this father of four asked God to let their pain help others find hope. That simple prayer changed everything.
 
‘There was HOPE08, Street Pastors, radio interviews, newspaper and magazine articles – and a trip to 10 Downing Street to meet the Prime Minister,’ said Chris, now 39.
 
‘The ways things just took off were incredible.’
 
Opportunities opened up for him to work with ‘hurting people’ – people just like himself. He saw it as ‘demonstrating the relevance of God to those furthest away from church’.
 
Chris and Linda had married in his final year at university. Though he studied in building, there was a recession – and no jobs. ‘I sent off 100 applications and didn’t even get an interview,’ he recalled.
 
‘The preacher at our church said as God is the creator, he could “even create a job for you”. A few days later I was called into an engineering company to be told they wanted to “create” a job for me – the exact same words.’
 
Like countless other young Christian couples, Chris and Linda learned to trust God. ‘I felt my future would include going into “the Church”,’ he said, ‘but God first wanted me to experience the pressures of “real work”.’
 
They started a family in the 90s. Their second child Olivia was born one month early and delivered by an ambulance man after a one-hour labour, 100 miles from home.
 
The day afterthird child Esther was born in 2001, Olivia contracted septicaemia. Chris spent the first ten days of Esther’s life sleeping on a hospital floor – while his two-year-old daughter underwent two operations.
 
‘Is there anything worse than carrying your daughter into an operating theatre and holding her while she’s drugged unconscious, then having to leave her there?’ he recalled.
 
‘I remember sitting on the ward waiting, crying my eyes out and saying, “God, help!”. I turned to the Bible to ask him to speak, and read, “Cry out in the night…pour out your heart like water…for the lives of your children”.’
 
A few days later, Olivia was discharged with just a couple of scars to show for her ordeal. But the biggest challenge was in 2002, when Linda became ill. They assumed it was just the fact she was pregnant again.
 
Chris was working ‘crazy hours’ in London for a large government organisation. ‘Things were tough,’ he said. Ten days before Christmas 2002,they were told Linda was actually suffering from an aggressive breast cancer.
 
Initially, doctors told them they couldn’t operate or treat her because she was pregnant. So the couple had to go home and choose if they wanted to keep the baby. Their church was shocked into a week of prayer and fasting for them.
 
‘When we saw the consultant a week later, she said, “I can operate, and I have a consultant here who has carried out chemotherapy in pregnancy before”. We were never asked to choose.’
 
Linda had a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. ‘The words of the Psalm – “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” – became very real,’ said Chris.
 
Five months later, between two doses of chemo, son Timothy was born. Linda finished treatment later in 2003. ‘The lessons we’d learnt changed our perspective on life,’ Chris recalled.
 
‘We wanted our experiences to be something that could help people to realise this “God thing” was true. Through a series of incredible pieces of guidance, it became clear God had called us to the north-west of England.’
 
They moved in 2004, and Chris became pastoral evangelist at a church in Preston. But in March 2006 Linda’s illness returned as a secondary, incurable cancer. ‘We walked together through the pain,’ he recalled.
 
‘We discovered that because God loves us, we could take him at his word and trust him. This brought us a real, tangible sense of peace. We learnt that just because prayers aren’t answered, doesn’t mean God isn’t listening.’
 
But 1.35pm on Tuesday 2nd October 2007 will be ‘a moment forever frozen in time’ for him. ‘My amazing wife, my childhood sweetheart and mum of four under-10s, died in St Catherine’s Hospice aged 37.
 
‘Sometimes life stinks.’
 
Grief hit him like a bullet. ‘I had pins and needles down one side all day, while my guts just screwed up inside of me for days,’ he remembered.
 
‘I found myself walking into rooms and asking myself why I’d gone in there... And the tears. I have never cried so much, or so deeply ever – the whole of my body shook from somewhere inside of me.’
 
One of the most frequent questions asked of him was, ‘How do you cope – and you a minister?’ Chris had only his faith in God – the result of years of learning to trust him through tough times.
 
‘We had learnt that even though things might not go the way we want, it’s not some superstitious leap in the dark…but a reasonable step of faith.’
 
His children coped very well. ‘We cried together,’ said Chris. ‘Then they simply got on with life. The scary thing is just how quickly kids do that.’
 
Their questions were heart wrenching, even funny: ‘Does God cook the party food in heaven?…If there’s no floor, mum will fall out!…Dad, when mum was here we couldn’t have pets – now she’s gone can we get guinea pigs?’
 
Chris returned to work, and asked God to lead him to the appointments he wanted. It was at that point, everything took off for him and his congregation.
 
‘Not only were we co-ordinating HOPE in Preston,’ said Chris, ‘but I also travelled a very personal journey of growing in hope, after being widowed and finding myself a single dad of four.
 
‘Knowing some of the pain of life has really shaped who I am as a person but also the way I minister. I’m passionate about reconnecting hurting people with Jesus and see them discover freedom and hope.’
 
It was shortly after Chris returned from bereavement leave that he got a call from Lancashire Police. They asked him to act as representative for Preston churches in police-led community projects.
 
His work with HOPE08 – the one-year initiative encouraging churches to work together in ‘words and action’ – drew the attention of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He invited members to Downing Street to congratulate them.
 
Then one day there was a personal breakthrough. Following a meal, a conversation, a deepening friendship – and what Chris called ‘a slow and careful walk forwards’ – a new companion, Dawn, came into his life.
 
They married in 2009, but knew God was calling them to make a fresh start together as a new family unit. In 2010 they moved to Lancaster. Chris looks back on that time as learning to enjoy ‘a second chance of happiness’.
 
Chris became pastor of Lancaster Free Methodist Church. ‘I was told the council didn't work with the churches at all. That’s turned around. Doors have opened with police, social services, council, charities and so on,’ he said.
 
The church joined in a council organised ‘Clean Sweep’ at a traveller park. ‘The council were more interested in letting us engage with the travelling community, helping the kids and identify underlying issues,’ said Chris.
 
‘Among travellers there’s often a distrust of police. The authorities said, “You can do what we can't do”. There is recognition that problems reduce as the community finds a sense of hope.’
 
His church has also launched 'Celebrate Recovery' – a Bible-based 12-step programme for freedom from life's hurts, habits and hang-ups. Police and council are even bringing people to the resource.
 
Under HOPE – the four-year continuation of HOPE08 – Chris’ congregation has joined other churches to contribute to ‘Street Pride’. This Lancaster City Council programme helps neighbourhoods smarten up their streets.
 
One single mother was so impacted by the kindness of volunteers clearing her garden, she decided to return to church. They had triggered the memory of a warm welcome she received on visiting church ten years before.
 
‘It's a privilege to see outcomes like this and we feel right about doing things a different way,’ Chris explained. ‘Instead of creating new action projects, this was a chance for us to serve our city by getting involved in their priorities.
 
‘As local Christians we can bring our unique piece to add to the bigger picture.’ Dorrington Road – Europe’s longest unbroken terrace – was the launch of this project.
 
Chris is also developing a concept called ‘portfolio evangelism’, to encourage collaboration. One church might run debt counselling, another might work with the homeless, another might have elderly support or youth outreach.
 
‘We work out what we can offer among the churches and what we can do together,’ he said. ‘As a result, a “portfolio” of services and activity can be presented at meetings with the council, under the banner of HOPE.’
 
His personal crisis inspired him to give something back. ‘We wanted our lives to count for something,’ he said. ‘Coming here was part of that desire to make a difference.’
 
(pull-out quotes)
 
‘Just because prayers aren’t answered, doesn’t mean God isn’t listening’
 
‘We wanted our lives to count for something’
 

 

Clive Price - Sorted Magazine, 17/01/2012
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