wherever I go
Mary Ecclestone shares how God has directed her to a very outward-looking life, leading her to work in schools and prisons, as well as reach out to drug addicts and homeless people
I spent my childhood on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales and was bought up in a churchgoing family. Although I wouldn’t say I had a personal faith of my own, I do remember as a little girl seeing the beauty of the landscape, and saying a prayer of thanks to God.
When I left school, I had a gap year working in a Christian children’s home in Jamaica. A dear lady on the staff there had a significant impact on me, as I realised that she knew God in a way that I did not.
After my time in Jamaica, I went to university in London to study nutrition. During the Freshers’ Week mission I heard Rev David Watson speak. It was at that meeting that I made a decision to follow Jesus and, a few years later, I was prayed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I remember becoming so excited at how real and powerful God was.
After graduating, I applied to Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) to join a nutrition project in Zambia. I signed up, had a medical and was then refused because they found I had tuberculosis. I was devastated and spent six very bleak weeks in hospital getting treatment. It seemed that everything I tried to do failed, and I wondered where God was and what he was doing!
Once I had recovered, I got a job working for a project looking at the nutritional status of school leavers in Newcastle and Birmingham. For some reason I felt God saying that there was something for me in Birmingham, but I didn’t know what it was.
When I arrived, my brother introduced me to a friend who was running a Bible study. I went to the meeting, and a chap walked in with long dark brown hair and suede shoes. His name was Barry Ecclestone. We got to know one another, ended up leading the Bible study together and eventually got married in 1973. God did have something for me, in Birmingham!
Life as a family on mission
We moved to south London and started going to St Mark’s, Kennington. The vicar, Rev Nicholas Rivett-Carnac, had been an army officer and then a probation officer, and had a real heart for helping those less privileged. One of the church’s main aims was to reach out to the inner city community all around it, which was very multicultural.
As a family, we used to prepare Sunday lunch and then invite whoever we felt should join us after church. It might have been someone on their own or one of the homeless people who used to come to church. This grew into a new family tradition: having Christmas lunch with the homeless in church, which was wonderful. By this time we had three daughters: Ruth, Sarah and Joanna. In 1978, after the birth of one of our daughters, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). It was a scary time, but God spoke to me from Psalm 118:17, which says: “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” My lovely husband would wake up early and pray for me. By God’s mercy I have had many years with few symptoms, and have been sustained by prayer over the years. I now walk with two sticks.
Becoming involved with schools
I was very shocked by the Brixton Riots in 1981, all just round the corner from where we lived. I was at a loss to know what to do to help. In the end I thought the best way was through education. Our eldest daughter Ruth was going to the local church school, and so I started listening to the children read. In due course I became a governor and then chair of governors of the school. I shared the determination of the headmistress to keep the school a Christian school; every child had an opportunity to hear the gospel, and a member of our church congregation led worship in assembly regularly. My involvement with local schools continued after St Mark’s, as I did a course to teach children with dyslexia. I then spent a number of years involved with a local charity doing just this in a school in Peckham.
IT WAS AMAZING TO SEE THE POWER OF PRAYER – DRUG ADDICTS WERE DELIVERED FROM THEIR ADDICTION
Inspired to undertake prison work
When Barry retired, we took a holiday to Hong Kong to see our daughter Sarah. She was working as a volunteer with St Stephen’s Society, the charity founded by Jackie Pullinger.
While we were there, Barry and I both felt we wanted to go back and spend longer working with the charity. Jackie agreed so we got our visas, packed our bags and returned for 18 months. It was amazing to see the power of prayer – drug addicts were delivered from their addiction simply by being prayed for.
After 18 months we returned to south London, where we were living at that time. We tried to see if we could volunteer with charities working with addicts, but they all seemed to be fully staffed. We were wondering what else we might do, and then the idea of going into prisons came into my mind.
We began by helping to run the Alpha Course in Wandsworth Prison. After getting to know the chaplain, we asked if there was a way we could spend more time with the prisoners. He suggested we start by attending the church there on Sundays. So, for seven years, Wandsworth Prison chapel became our church.
It was wonderful to see God breaking into the prisoners’ lives, and filling them with his love. One man had lived on the streets since he was eight years old. He couldn’t go anywhere in prison without an escort as he would always get into fights. It was amazing to see the change in him once he accepted Jesus into his heart.
A new calling
When all our daughters married, we wondered if it was time to leave London but were not sure where God was leading us. We thought about moving up to Newcastle to be near our daughter Ruth in Durham. On paper that idea seemed perfect, but I didn’t have peace about it. We then went on holiday at a retreat house in Wales and when I walked into the chapel, I felt God say: “This is it, you have an open door here.”
So in 2016, we moved to south Wales. Back to the place where, as a little girl, I was moved to thank God for the beauty of his creation, even before I knew who he was. We know God has called us here and we pray and watch to see how he will move.
Knowing God’s faithfulness
I had wanted to be a missionary abroad. That did not happen; instead God sent me to south London. God is so faithful, self-pity is a waste of time, it’s a bad route to go down. God has always met me, in illness, parenting, and daily life. He has never ignored my prayers either. He has said yes, no, or wait, or I know he has heard and it’s a “not now”. What I have learnt is that he is always trustworthy.
Article taken from the October 2020 issue of Premier Woman Alive.