I grew up in a poor family on a council estate. My father left home when I was very small never to be seen again. At that time I had three younger sisters. My mam worked hard, as a single parent, to support us but we were poor. I can remember being told to hide behind the settee and pretend that there was no-one home when the rent man called.
I learned to read very early and was an avid reader. I would read anything I could get my hands on and can remember reading the Bible from a very young age. We occasionally went to Sunday School at the Methodist chapel on the Green but we were not regular church goers.
When I was about 8 years old we started to attend the Kingdom Hall and to take lessons from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One day, my mam was expecting the teachers from the Kingdom Hall to visit. She was in the kitchen doing the laundry and because it was a beautiful spring day she had the front and back doors open to allow a breeze to circulate.
There was a knock at the front door and, still busy in the kitchen, my mam called out ‘Who’s there?’ The reply came ‘We’ve come from a church.’ Thinking that it was the Jehovah’s Witness teachers, mam called back ‘Come in and sit down’. She came out of the kitchen to find two tall, young Mormon missionaries sitting on the settee. Strangely, the teachers from the Kingdom Hall never did call that day but we received the first of the missionary discussions.
I remember that the missionaries taught us with flannel boards – boards covered with a flannel type material – and pictures with sandpaper on the back that were stuck onto the flannel boards. I think the first lesson had pictures of the Eastern and Western hemispheres, the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I distinctly remember that I believed everything that the missionaries taught us – it seemed familiar, as if they were just reminding me of things that I knew but had forgotten.
In June, when I was 10, my mam, two of my sisters and I were baptised into the Church. Unfortunately, soon after we were baptised my mam and my sisters stopped attending Church. I kept going however, and was encouraged and supported in my church activity by my new friends in the church and by great leaders in the ward, like John Dale and the Ingram, Helps and Beaumont families who took an interest in the scruffy little boy from the Council estate. Harry and Maureen Beaumont, with six children of their own, unselfishly opened their home, their pantry and their hearts to me and a host of other young people who had families that were not in the Church.
Eventually, I somehow received a call to serve a mission in the England London South Mission. In the meantime I had become engaged to my Pearl among Women who promised to marry me when I returned from my mission.
While on my mission I met another missionary who knew Elder Curtis who had knocked on our door in 1968 and had taught and baptised my family. I obtained Elder Curtis’ address and wrote to him to tell him that the boy he had baptised 9 years was now himself serving as a missionary. Elder Curtis wrote back thrilled at the news but confessed that he had had to look at his journal to recall the family he had taught in Billingham who had ‘gone inactive’ as far as he knew.
I am grateful that there were people who had sufficient love to embrace a scruffy little boy from a single parent family and nurture him in the gospel.