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Bob and Sally Townsend

Forty Years in the Wilderness

Sally – I was born in Dudley in 1944. When I was nine years old my mother died and four years later my father also died. At this point, my brother, Alf, became my legal guardian. As a child I attended St Edmund’s Church in Dudley and was confirmed when I was twelve years old, but I stopped going when I was about fifteen because none of my friends went. At sixteen, yet another member of my family, my youngest brother, Ted, died. It was at eighteen years of age that I met Bob and we started going out together.

Bob – I was born in Tipton also in 1944. I had no interest in church throughout my childhood being preoccupied with playing sports, especially football. I attended church once a month, but only because I had to – it was a necessary condition for playing for the best football team in the area. After leaving school I worked as a technical trainee at a local steel works, attending college two or three evenings and one full day per week. The rest of the time I did what most people do at that age.

At eighteen, I met Sally and a year later, in 1963, we were married and after scraping together a deposit for two years, we managed to buy a house in Gornal. In 1969, we were very happy when our first daughter, Beverley, was born. Five years later our second daughter Zoe was born. When she was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome, we were both devastated at the news and our lives seemed to be turned upside-down. Sally devoted her time to giving Zoe the exercise and stimulation which had been recommended by specialists and thankfully she made excellent progress and started walking much earlier than expected. She also became very vocal!

Later, we moved to Dudley and I started my own engineering business. About this time, Zoe’s health deteriorated and she had numerous bouts of serious illness. On Tuesday, 29th November 1983, Zoe died. She was only nine years old. Sally found it very difficult to cope with the grief, especially having previously experienced so much loss. Her Mum had been taken from her at an early age followed by her Dad and brother, and now she had lost Zoe too. Sally went into a depression, not wanting to get out of bed and hardly eating. She was extremely bitter and blamed God for all that had happened in her life. I buried myself in work, being there all hours and some would say I was a ‘workaholic’. Sally and I seemed to be drifting apart.

About twelve months later, new neighbours moved into the house next door, who, we soon found out, were born-again Christians. Learning what had happened to us, the woman spoke to Sally about God and, on a number of occasions, invited her to church. Sally firmly told her that she wanted nothing to do with God. Finally, she asked Sally again, saying there would be a guest speaker at St Matthew’s Church, Tipton – the church where we had been married. Sally agreed to go just to stop her asking.

The minister spoke of how Jesus, the Son of God, willingly went to the cross to take the punishment of all who would believe on him. He asked if God had spoken to anyone and Sally, with trepidation, went forward. The next morning when by herself, Sally prayed to God and the tears flowed, not this time with any anger against God, but with a release of bitterness and anger, knowing that God loved her. She knew her life had been completely transformed and she now had a new purpose in living. I noticed the change but carried on devoting my time to the business which was doing well.

A few months later, Sally asked me to go to church with her and after a number of requests I agreed to go, not because I wanted to, but because she was doing so well and I did not want to hinder that. I went with her a number of times, but then said I would not go any more because I did not like hearing the minister telling me what to do. I did not realise God was convicting and challenging me for my way of life. After further encouragement from Sally, I agreed to go to a different church. The minister preached about how we have all sinned and the way sin affects our life and keeps us from God. He spoke of our need to be saved from those sins. At the close of the sermon he asked if anyone wished to repent of their sin and be saved. That evening I felt totally different from previous occasions and I knew I needed to respond to his appeal. I repented of my old way of life and asked Jesus to be my Saviour.

From that moment our life as a couple was transformed. We had a thirst and a desire to know more about God and our Saviour and to be in fellowship with like-minded people. We started attending Dudley Baptist Church about 30 years ago and found faithful preaching and teaching about what God wants for our life. We often refer to those years without God as the forty years in the wilderness. We can now both say we know Jesus and are sure of our future of eternal life in His presence.

Last year, we celebrated 51 years of marriage. We praise God for all that he has done for us in the past and look to Him for the future.

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