At the age of 11 I worked hard to do well in my final year and this qualified for a place in the Girls' Grammar School in Dover, Kent. My parents were very proud of me and I remember shopping for my new school uniform and collecting my train season ticket from the station.
The only problem with a grammar school was that I was a little fish in a very big sea and it seemed to me that all the other fish were super-intelligent. During my first term I struggled badly with my maths lessons. I didn't like the teacher and nothing she said seemed to make sense. I often felt the panic rising when I sat in her class and couldn't understand what she was explaining on the blackboard. When I had maths homework I could never do it and so dreaded going to school the next day. I was terrified that after working hard to get to the grammar school I was going to get thrown out because I wasn't good enough and I could just picture the disappointment on my parents' faces.
It was about this time that the Gideons came and took an assembly, presenting everyone with a little red New Testament. I hadn't been sleeping because of worry and I lived every day in the shadow of being thrown out of school because I wasn't attaining high enough standards. One of the Gideons pointed out the "Where to find help when . . ." section and there was a long list of circumstances with my particular problem of worry listed. That night when I couldn't sleep I opened my Gideon Bible and read the relevant verses in Matthew 6:25: "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body what you will wear. Is not life more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?"
I read these verses over and over and as I read them I felt a peace wash over me. My strivings to do well and achieve fell into perspective. It wasn't the end of the world if I got thrown out of school - there were plenty of other good schools I could go to. I realised that my parents would want me to be happy and content rather than being stressed and anxious because I was struggling. God somehow pointed out to me the futility of worrying and I just handed my concerns over to him, rolled over and fell fast asleep.
From then on every night I would read verses before falling asleep and things started changing at school. The proverbial penny dropped and I began to understand the jumble of numbers and complex equations. My marks improved, my homework wasn't a struggle and so consequently I was much happier at school.
So began my journey with God, all because someone took the time to come and visit an assembly hall to give out New Testament Bibles. I never knew their names but I will be forever thankful to them.
A song by Ray Boltz tells the story of a man who dies and goes to Heaven. When he gets there many people thank him for the way in which his unselfishness and servant heart touched their lives. They tell him that because of something he said or did, they became Christians and are in Heaven as a result. Those two Gideon workers had no idea of the impact that receiving a Bible had on my life. But when I get to Heaven, I hope I recognise them because I would like to say thank you to them for the time they gave up to come into my school assembly.
My journey in the years since has had its share of ups and downs and I'm sure there will be many more of both to come in the future too but I have learnt the importance of trying to spend a time every day reading my Bible. Generally I succeed in this, sometimes I don't. But God doesn't threaten to throw me out of his family if I don't live up to expectations. He loves me unconditionally. The truths in this Book are as relevant for me today as they were at the time they were written and although I sometimes stumble and fall, I have his promise that he will never leave me.
That has been especially comforting in recent weeks and months. In April a very close friend of ours lost his battle with cancer at the age of 23. He leaves a wife and two year-old daughter behind. I found the days before Roy's death very hard as I watched him waste away but through those dark days God held my hand just as he was holding Roy's. I don't understand why he called him home so soon but I know without a shadow of a doubt that Roy is enjoying a new life with the God he served so faithfully and who he trusted right to the end.
My husband Tim and myself are also stepping out into a new venture which takes us out of our comfort zones and makes us rely more fully on God's guidance and power. We are moving to a small church in Cinderford in the Forest of Dean under the banner of part-time workers for Counties and The Church Planting Initiative.
It's an exciting time for us but also a bit daunting when we look at the work ahead of us in trying to encourage an evangelistic work which reaches into the Forest community and seeks to change lives. My prayer is that God's Word will continue to be a lamp to my feet bringing guidance, revelation and comfort and encouragement in the months and years ahead.
All this, stemming from a school assembly nearly 28 years ago - who would have thought it? We have a big God who has big plans and He uses little people like us to fulfil them. So keep up the good work and although you may not see fruit here on earth, you'll no doubt have a few surprises waiting for you when you get to heaven!
[This is a slightly edited version of a talk given by Katrina to the Worcester Gideons' Branch Friends' Open Evening.]
The above is quoted by permission from the Gideon News Autumn 2005