One of the greatest adventures of my life was crossing the Atlantic Ocean at the age of 16 with all of my belongings in one suitcase, alone (yet not alone) and coming to a land where I did not know anyone at all.
The first 16 years of my life had been memorable. I had grown up in a poor family, but just about everyone else around us was extremely poor so I didn’t think much about it. My early years were in the middle of World War II with the bombings, deaths and injuries. But my family and community were loving and caring, and we faced the oppression together. We would go to bed and just get to sleep when the air-raid sirens would go off. My older sisters would wrap me in a blanket and carry me into the basement where there was an improvised shelter.
Then the war ended. Happy days were here. Our family began to flourish. Despite some struggles, including abusive teachers in grade school, life was good. Our wonderful Lord was speaking to my heart. In the public schools of Yorkshire, a county in northern England, we started each day with an assembly, where we had a Scripture reading, a hymn and prayer. When I was 11 years old, my best friend invited me to attend Sunday school at his church. I attended that church for my remaining years in Yorkshire.
Then my cousin Mabel introduced me to youth hosteling. I escaped the dirty, industrial city of Wakefield quite frequently and spent enjoyable times on the moors and in the hills and dales of expansive countryside. While hiking alone on one of these occasions, I had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and my life changed forever.
At age 13, I was walking on Good Friday across a field near Otley. I meditated on the question of why Good Friday was called good. Then it came to me that Good Friday was called good because it was a good thing that Christ had done, and He had done it for me. As John Wesley would put it, “my heart was strangely warmed.” I had much to learn and experience, including confession, forgiveness, repentance, full submission, restitution and so on, but from that point on, I felt the indwelling presence of God leading and directing me through the maze of life.
So here I was crossing the Atlantic at age 16. I said I was alone, but I was not alone because the Lord was with me and watching over me. I did not know anyone on this side of the “pond” except my mother’s uncle, Peter Salt, who lived in East Liverpool, Ohio. The Lord prompted Uncle Peter, who was in his early 80s, to send me the passage fare so I could come and stay with him. He was giving me the same opportunity that he had been given when he came to these United States as an immigrant. My mother always said, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I say when God wills it, He will make a way.
As I look back upon my life, I see how our wonderful God led me all the way. He looked beyond my faults and saw my needs. After my heartwarming experience, and until I crossed the Atlantic, I was not making much progress spiritually. I did not have much spiritual direction at all. The minister of my church at that time talked about turning over a new leaf and doing good, but he said nothing about the claims of Christ and true discipleship. Then God brought me to a place of new beginning in my life.
The very first morning after I arrived in East Liverpool, I went with Uncle Peter to the worship service at the Salvation Army. During that service, Uncle Peter got up and went up front, turned around to face everybody, and told what the Lord was doing in his heart and life. Then that evening, Elsie Stansbury, the lady who cleaned Uncle Peter’s house, stopped in and invited me to attend the evening service at the Free Methodist Church, which was only a block away from Uncle Peter’s house. So immediately, I was nurtured by faithful, caring, loving followers of Jesus. I began reading and studying God’s word. I was growing in grace and in knowledge of Him. But I felt called to more than the contemplative life, so I began to teach Sunday school at the Salvation Army on Sunday afternoons. My Sundays soon began to look like this: Sunday school and morning worship at the Free Methodist Church, teaching Sunday school at the Salvation Army in the afternoons, and youth service and evangelistic service at the Free Methodist Church in the evenings. Sometimes I led the youth service. Pastor W.P. Jones befriended me, and when he held evangelistic services out of town, I would travel with him. The Free Methodist Church paid my way to go to youth camp for a week. The men of the church would touch me on the shoulder and encourage me.
Upon graduation from business school, I followed the Lord’s leading and moved to the big city of Cleveland, Ohio. There, I became a licensed lay minister in the Free Methodist Church and also served as a supply pastor for a year. I survived 17 years of night college classes (undergraduate and law) and became a certified public accountant and an attorney at law. I still practice all three professions.
Thank you, Free Methodist Church, for welcoming me, a poor immigrant boy who had to repeat himself three times to be understood.
Thank You, Heavenly Father, for Your guiding and upholding hand.
Brian Thompson, J.D., is an attorney, a certified public accountant and a lay minister at CrossPointe Community in Westlake, Ohio. He recently published his autobiography, “If I Settle on the Far Side of the Sea.”1